If you are considering traditional publishing for your book, then you need to understand the traditional publishing process.
There are a lot of nuances and complexities to the world of publishing. Having an insider’s look will help you navigate it more easily and confidently!
In this blog, we’ll be diving into the behind-the-scenes reality of traditional publishing, from the author’s perspective.
The Publishing Team
There are a lot of gatekeepers you will need to pass through in the process of traditional publishing.
Most of them are kind, but even the kindest person in the world can be toxic in your life if you believe you are beholden to them.
No one in the traditional publishing world is “doing you a favor.” Books are a business.
You need the publisher, and the publisher needs you. That’s right. They need you. Without your ideas and words, there is no book to publish.
Traditional publishing is a team effort.
So, here is a brief primer of what to expect when you join your traditional publishing team.
What to Expect in the Beginning
Your literary agent will pitch your book proposal to an acquisitions editor. If the acquisitions editor selects your manuscript to move forward, they will act as an advocate for you.
The next stop is the editorial board, or ed board, of the publishing house. This group of people will determine whether your topic is relevant and whether the writing itself meets their standards.
If they select your book proposal to move forward, the next stop is the publication board, or pub board. This group of people evaluate the business side of publishing your book.
They look at your previous accomplishments, the size of your audience on social media, your experience with presenting and interviewing, and determine the general sell-ability of your book.
It doesn’t matter how beautiful your writing is if they can’t sell it.
After you make it through all of that, the publisher will then decide on whether to make you an offer. If so, your literary agent will contact you to let you know that negotiations have begun on a book contract.
This is why you need an agent. They take care of everything at this stage, thankfully.
Your agent will explain every detail of the contract before you sign.
When you enter into the contract, you agree to an advance in exchange for the printing rights to your book.
An advance is an amount of money that the publisher pays you before the book is created. I kind of think of it as a loan that you don’t have to pay back.
If the publisher pays you an advance of $30,000, you will not ever owe that money back to them (unless you do not deliver the manuscript as promised). However, you will not make another dime until you “sell-through” the advance.
That means every book sale counts against the advance until you reach $30,000.01. After that first cent over the advance, you will receive royalties from all future book sales.
Be aware that it is harder to sell-through an advance than you think, and most authors never do.
How the Advance is Distributed
It is important to note that the advance is not distributed in one lump sum. It is broken down into smaller chunks that are attached to certain milestones in the publishing process.
You may get $4,500 for signing the contract, then $5,500 for turning in the manuscript, then $3,000 for turning in your marketing plan, and so on, until the final installment on the day of the book’s release.
This is important to know because it can be 18 to 24 months between the signed contract and the book’s release.
An advance of $30,000 sounds incredible when you fantasize that it will arrive in one lump sum. But it loses its shine when you realize it will arrive in bits and pieces over a two-year period.
Think of it as working a job for which you are paid $15,000 annually. That’s below the poverty line.
Not many people explain this before you enter the traditional publishing world, but it's important information to know.
There are a few other enlightening details you should know about how you will be compensated in a traditional publishing agreement.
As I mentioned, your book sales will count against the advance, and when you sell-through, you will begin earning royalties.
But as you do the calculations to determine how fast you could sell-through, please do not think in terms of the retail price of the book.
If you did that with a book priced at $15.99, you might think you only have to sell 1,876 books in order to sell-through. But that is not the case.
Other entities take the lion’s share of the sale.
How It Works
The bookstore or online retailer gets their cut. Then the publisher gets their cut, which includes the expense of producing the book and printing the book.
Most authors retain only 16% of the sale.
That check goes to your literary agent, not to you.
The literary agent then takes a 15% cut, and you will finally receive your check from your agent ... which is 85% of 16% of the sale of your $15.99 book.
Also, it arrives 90 days after you meet the milestone written into the contract.
In other words, it will take a lot more books to sell-through your advance than you think.
The entire retail price does not count against the sale of the book. Only your 16% does.
So, at $2.50 a book, that means you will finally sell-through your $30,000 advance after 12,000 book sales.
It’s going to be a lot of work before you see your next penny.
And it is worth noting that your contract will have different percentages for different types of books ... audio book, e-book, hard cover, paperback, mass market paperback (the kind with unattractive, rough paper), books in other languages, etc.
All of these details are why your agent deserves their cut. Your literary agent is there to help you through the weeds.
What to Expect in the Middle
The main reason most new authors want to go the traditional publishing route is because they want the publisher to handle all of the production, distribution, and marketing.
Two of those are reasonable expectations to have of your traditional publisher. One, however, is not.
Your traditional publishing team is a powerhouse when it comes to production and distribution. They will have a first-class team of editors on the project to make your book as flawless as possible.
You will have some interactions with these team members, but there will be long periods of silence as well.
They may not contact you for weeks and then, suddenly, an edited manuscript will be sent to you for review.
You must read the entire thing, and then you will be allowed minimal pushback in areas where you question the edits.
Your traditional publisher will have an interior designer typesetting your words to make them readable and beautiful on the page.
When the text is typeset, you will receive galley proofs (usually digitally). Galley proofs will show you what your book will look like in print.
You will be invited to read through the galley proofs one more time before the book goes to print.
Seeing the galleys for the first time is my favorite moment. Your manuscript will really look like a book for the first time. There is nothing so important as a stunning interior.
The cover designer will create a fantastic cover that will meet market standards and compete with other titles in your genre. Sometimes you will have some input in the cover design, but other times you won’t.
The cover design is often one of the first things decided (sometimes, even before the manuscript is turned in) because it will be used in promotional materials and posted for pre-orders online.
What to Expect at the End
After your book is created, a traditional publisher can print them at a remarkable discount because they are printing so many books at one time. They have an advantage in this regard.
A sales team will do their best to distribute your book in as many places as possible.
Be forewarned that just having a traditionally-published book does not mean you will be in every store or airport.
The sales team will be selling your book to these outlets, and some will agree to carry your book, but some won’t.
The connections that a sales team can make is one of the big reasons to choose traditional publishing.
But marketing is not a reason at all. Your traditional publisher will do very little to market your book.
Their promotional budgets are reserved for celebrity authors who have an enormous readership champing at the bit to buy their next title.
Everybody else has to do their own marketing.
Oh, there will be a few things a traditional publisher might do for you in the first 90 days of a book’s release, like help you land interviews on a few radio shows, but even so, the majority of the marketing is up to you.
In fact, it was a real shock to me to find out that one of the compensation milestones in a book contract is your marketing plan.
You will need to turn in a detailed plan to market and sell your book. This task is tied to one of the payments of your advance.
You may want to outsource the creation of this marketing plan and work with someone who will help you outline the promotions you need to make sales. I did this for both of my traditionally-published books.
On that wonderful Tuesday when your book launches (books always release on Tuesdays), you will feel ready to conquer the world.
After the Launch
Launch day is truly a glorious day. But the work has only just begun.
And what if your books do not sell as well as you hope? Well, there are a few things I think you should know.
You have sold your printing rights. Not your copyright; that’s still yours. But your printing rights are not.
So, if you want to boost your book sales by creating ancillary works like a group Bible study that goes with the book or notecards or a calendar with quotations, you will have to discuss it with your literary agent.
Depending on your contract, some of these ideas are not available to you.
One Last Thing...
One more thing. Printing the actual book is not available to you, even if your publisher decides to stop printing it, like they did with me.
Everyday Genesis did not sell as well as we hoped, even though it is one of my favorite books I’ve ever written.
The poor sales were entirely due to the fact that I did not not market the book. It is very much my fault.
But three years after it was released, the publisher decided to stop printing it. They still had copies in the warehouse and those copies were going to be destroyed or sold to markdown outlets.
So, they called me to ask if I wanted to buy the books before they liquidated them.
I said “yes, yes, yes!”
I could not stand the thought of something I had created meeting an untimely end.
So, I made personal sacrifices and took money out of my retirement account to buy them back. Now they are stored in a small warehouse near where I live.
We sell them in my online shop and ship them from the warehouse.
But I still cannot print any new copies because I don’t own my own printing rights. One day, I will buy the rights back from the publisher and begin printing the books again.
You see, I love my own creation so much that I am willing to do anything to redeem it from destruction and empower it to fulfill its purpose.
As a Christian, that storyline sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The world of traditional publishing is complex and nuanced. It takes a little grit, know-how, and persistence to make it happen. But it is possible!
Understanding the publication process and the ins and outs of how traditional publishing works is sure to help you navigate the world more easily and confidently.
Now that you know how the process works, get out there and make your publishing dreams happen!
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