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ID-100110333We were asked this question recently by a WWW reader: Does it make sense anymore to try to get a big publisher interested? They seem frantic with their survival and only name authors get enough marketing/publicity help!

Well, you’ve said a mouthful there, sister. Let’s break it down:

1. Look, everyone’s frantic with their survival these days; I don’t think we can limit that to just book publishers. Start-ups have to worry about being one-upped (there’s ALWAYS a bigger, better idea around the corner). Bookstores have become coffee shops with books. Libraries will likely soon begin to resemble high school computer labs (no doubt complete with chewed gum stuck to the undersides of tables and chairs). And yes, book and magazine publishers continue to struggle with their identities and who/what they’re going to “be” in this brave new world.

2. Keep in mind that big publishers, while struggling like the rest of us, are still putting out relatively the same number of titles they’ve been putting out each year for the past five years (around 288,000 collectively). So on the one hand, that’s good news for authors as publishers still need to put out books. On the other hand, with trimmed staffs that’s probably more work an author must take on themselves, but you’d do that as a self-published author as well.

3. An author’s path to being published well is always going to depend on their own needs.

  • If you’re doing a back-of-the-room book for speaking, or something that’s very timely and needs to get out there NOW, self-publishing is no doubt the way to go.
  • If you’re a newbie that wants a bit of hand-holding and also the benefit of a publishing co. “name” behind you (because many bookstores and reviewers just won’t “deal” with self-published authors) then a hybrid publisher is an ideal option.
  • And if you want the benefit of a “big boy” behind you, that comes with sales staff that’s also working to get you shelf space, and guaranteed distribution that you’re not paying for yourself, then traditional models are no doubt your better choice.

My personal feeling is that this is the real beauty of this brave new digital world – it gives an author OPTIONS. Our PubSmart keynote speaker Jane Friedman will be speaking on this very topic. As the former publisher of Writers Digest, she has keen insights into what works for who.

She’ll then moderate a panel that will include some heavy hitters from each of these areas to discuss Which Publishing Option is Right for You? Included in that discussion will be Random House senior executive editor Will Murphy; successful hybrid publishers Terri Ann Leidich of BQB Publishing and Frank Monahan of Rocket Science Productions; the enormously successful indie author Hugh Howey; and David Symonds of self-publishing giant CreateSpace.

We’ll all have a chance to ask these folks to defend their models, and look forward to hearing new insights about why each might be better, depending on the author and their goals…

10 thoughts on “Do Big Publishers Make Sense Anymore?

  • April 14, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    I am a writer with four self-published books. I now may have the opportunity to sell to a large traditional. Here is my quandary. As I understand it, large publishers use Ingram or Baker and Taylor for distribution and these distributors demand use of the “returns policy” which means they send books to stores for no cost. The stores can keep them for five or six weeks then return them at no cost or, if the books sell, they can then pay for them. Once they are returned, the distributor may destroy them or sell to a discounter and neither publisher nor writer benefit. If you are an unknown writer, you get no publicity and stores have very little incentive to keep you books on the shelves. Also, many book stores are folding so there are fewer places left to sell them. If you sell to the large publisher you give up all rights and the publisher may make no further effort on your behalf and you have no right to keep the book either in the book stores or on the internet as an ebook. However, if you are not skilled at sales and publicity you self published book languishes anyway. Should you gamble all your rights and sell to a big publisher in hopes they will be successful or hang on to the rights?

  • April 13, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Shari, I especially like your statement (3.): “An author’s path to being published well is always going to depend on their own needs,” and one of your summary statements, “My personal feeling is that this is the real beauty of this brave new digital world – it gives an author OPTIONS.

    • April 13, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      Thanks, Barbara! Yes, we all have different definitions of what it is to be “well-published.” The coolest point I’ve heard made recently too is that it doesn’t have to be either/or — Traditional authors are looking to self-published models for backlist titles, self published authors move into other ways.

  • April 11, 2014 at 11:10 am

    I’m in a quandary — whether to bang my head against the rejection wall of large publishers — seek out small indie publishers (who don’t get your book in large bookstores) — or self-publish (more often an exercise in futility). Problem is: I can’t stop writing and pursue a different avocation.

  • April 9, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    I wrote a memoir ten years ago, and at the time I worked really hard trying to get a publishing company to take the book. I contacted both small publishers all the way up to the large companies and didn’t get a single bite. I became very discouraged and then very busy so I didn’t return to the issue of publishing for along time, but recently I decided to self publish a book of essays I’d written. I mean, why should I go through all that disappointment a second time? I don’t know if the rejection of my initial book was justified. I know that I worked hard to get endorsements from well known authors who had written similar books. All I know is that I am enjoying the process of self publishing my book and I am looking forward to investing the kind of commit I have in my own work towards marketing and selling the book myself. This way the success of the book, the fate of the book, is in my hands, and not in the hands of some editors who have never met you and don’t really bother to take your work seriously. And yes, because publishers are so nervous and the industry is in turmoil, it is hard to get them to focus and they are unwilling to risk their own success on a person they don’t know. Maybe one day if this upcoming book I am publishing myself becomes successful, I will then have a platform to operate from. Bottom line is I have confidence in myself and my ability to sell my own work, and I don’t want to waste time with the negativity involved with publisher’s rejections.

    • April 9, 2014 at 4:52 pm

      All great points, Cathy – and let’s not forget that the bulk of the profits will be in your hands as well! Wishing you all success and shout if we can help!

  • April 9, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Great post Shari! I look forward to PubSmart. Thank you for all your efforts behind the PubSmart Conference and the opportunities you are presenting to serious authors to help them understand their options in this ever-changing publishing environment.

    • April 9, 2014 at 1:45 pm

      Aw, thanks, Terri! We’re so very excited about next week’s big to-do… Even more wonderful is how excited all the faculty is, and how eager THEY all are to learn from each other… It’s a conversation we need to be having, for sure!

  • April 9, 2014 at 10:30 am

    Great post. My partner and I present a workshop on Traditional vs. Self-Publishing Pros and Cons. This type of question/concern is pervasive. Providing the right information in the best way possible to new writers as well as established writers is our goal.
    I always read your page, and this is one more example of something worth sharing. Thank you.
    Jeanne E. Rogers,
    Award Winning Author

    • April 9, 2014 at 1:48 pm

      Thanks for weighing in, Jeanne! Tell me – where are you located? It IS a pervasive topic, and a continuing conversation we all need to be having. Many traditional authors are coming to PubSmart too, to learn what options may better serve them for future work, changing genres, marketing backlists, etc. FUN!

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