Tempted By The Fruits of Publication

Girl on Writing

by Elizabeth Conte

My goals when I started writing were very different than they are now. I thought, naively, that I would write a book, put it out into the world, and get published. Isn’t that how it’s done?

No! No, that is not how it works.

Writing was just the beginning. Editing was a whole other beast. Then there was the reality check that I needed to learn my craft. Next was to find my voice, a platform, and understand my audience. And just when I thought I had the writing thing down, there was the business of writing – the publishing business.

Half of writing is writing. The other half is publishing.

Understanding the world of publishing can be overwhelming. For some it can be nearly paralyzing, stopping the writing process altogether. The writing business is not for the lighthearted. It takes skill, creativity, and a will of steel. And still, in his article, The Writer’s Odds of Success, William Dietrich reminds us, “The odds of any author making it big remain very long.”

As I start my fourth novel, I am very aware that I have yet to debut. According to Ava Jae, in her article, Books Written Before Debuts: Stats, the average author wrote 3.24 books before their debut publication. I am on track! But publishing is still eluding me. So, what does that mean for a writer who is ready to be published? The publishing business is changing, and it may be time to look at the outlets for publishing: traditional vs the alternate options that are becoming more mainstream.

Self-Publishing Through Vanity Presses

Vanity presses are companies that pay-to-publish and offer services in editing, book covers, and printing. They appeal to writers who want to get their work out into the world. It costs from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. Professional advice is to avoid this kind of publishing, as they tend to prey on the naïve and the eager. But they can offer a final product to hold in your hands, give to others, and tangibly confirm you have a published book.

Indie Publishing

Authors who want to maintain control over their careers and books create their own small presses and start their own publishing company. The indie author maintains complete creative control over his or her book and works with independent print-on-demand companies, and e-book distributors, like Amazon, to market and sell their books. Small presses make their profits by selling books to consumers, rather than selling services to authors or selling a small number of copies to the author’s friends, differentiating themselves from self-publishing.

Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing houses require an author to submit their manuscript, through a literary agent, where they accept or reject the manuscript. They, the publishing houses, hold control of the editing, cover design, marketing, and sales of the books, with no monetary output by the author. In today’s marketplace, the compensation is usually a small advance—a no-interest loan that will be earned back after the book’s release. But what comes with the traditional houses is prestige, if not legitimacy, to those in the industry. It is the brass ring for most aspiring authors, but finding an agent can take years, and the process to publication operates at a snail’s pace.

Small House Publishing

The Big Five publishers gamble on massive book advances, big names, and big hits, with smaller, unknown authors left to fend for themselves. Smaller houses focus on creativity and originality over sales. The query process is the same as the traditional houses, but many do accept submissions without agent representation, offering an author a more direct opportunity. These independent presses are earning more of the literary conversation, and their books are gaining reviews by noted journals like The New York Times, The Guardian, and The New Yorker. An author may not get rich, but they will get the professionalism, exposure, and credibility the big houses offer.

In the end, an author must decide what tempts them: fame, fortune, or the feeling of accomplishment? I am not sure they are can all be accomplished at the same time. Maybe it’s a matter of timing or just dumb luck. As for me, I haven’t quite decided.



Elizabeth Conte

Elizabeth Conte

When I am not writing books, tormented with poetry, or inspiring others with my blog at Writerdeeva.com, you can find some of my work published in Lost Coast Review and PennWriters, and I am a regular editor/contributor to Industry News for Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA).

2 thoughts on “Tempted By The Fruits of Publication

  1. Good overview, Elizabeth. I’m very happy with my small house. Someday, maybe, I’ll return to the agent search, but the royalty splits start looking pretty microscopic unless you hit the lists. Sigh. It’s a hard knock life, as the song says.

  2. Elizabeth,
    This is a great breakdown of publishers. I had those terms floating around in my head, but wasn’t quite sure of the exact delineation of each. I’m wondering if your Scottish writing workshop talked about the publishing industry as well. I imagine it’s the same all over the world.

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