Creative Writing Writing 101 2020-03-20 00:00

Five Reasons Why I'm Traditionally Published

When I saw that a fellow ProWritingAid blogger was going to write a post about the perks of indie publishing, I thought it was a terrific idea. Being traditionally published myself, I also saw an opportunity to present the other side of the story so that ProWritingAid readers could compare and contrast the two perspectives.

  1. A Few Caveats . . .
  2. The People
  3. The Money
  4. Translations!
  5. Weird Opportunities to Feel Important
  6. Time to Write
  7. One Writer’s Perk is Another’s Curse

A Few Caveats . . .

Dictionary showing the word caveat Let’s get this out of the way right at the start: not every traditionally published author has the same experience. In fact, it’s safer to say that every single one of us has had different ups and downs in our careers. That’s because there’s no “typical” author journey—and that applies to both traditionally published and indie authors. I’ve know fellow big-5 authors (that’s the “big” five publishing houses like Hachette and Penguin Random House) who are struggling and others who are rolling in royalty payments. That’s no different than for indie authors. I was recently at the 20BooksTo50K conference in Las Vegas (a fantastic experience, by the way—friendliest conference I’ve ever attended) and met indie authors pulling in six figures every year and a whole lot more who’d dropped their savings into covers, editors, and ads only to sell a handful of copies to family and friends. Now, astute indie folks will tell you that’s because those authors were doing it wrong. Maybe that’s true, but by the same token, when you hear traditionally published authors saying the business is a disaster you’re often hearing people skip over all the mistakes they made in negotiations or never keeping an eye on the publication process of their book. Business is business, and we all have to be savvy about our careers. I’m bringing all this up at the beginning because otherwise if I caveat every single “perk” described in this article we’ll never get to the end. So suffice it to say that what I’m presenting is based on one author’s experience—an author who’s nowhere near the top of traditionally published authors and nowhere near the bottom. I make a great living but the private jet will have to wait for next year. With all that said, I present to you the perks of traditional publishing, presented in the categories that I think are most meaningful to me and hopefully to you as well.

The People

Boy planting tree with help of his father Okay, weird one to start with, right? But for me, some of the people I’ve gotten to work with on this journey have been outstanding. They’ve helped me put out the best book I could achieve and made me a better writer. Editors are some of my favourite people on the planet. I’m continuously amazed at how people with such keen intellects could devote themselves to someone else’s books instead of just running off and writing their own. The editor for my Greatcoats swashbuckling fantasy series is the inimitable Jo Fletcher. She’s worked with famous fantasy authors across the spectrum, and the fact that I get to harass her on a regular basis to help me improve my own books is a priceless gift. These days many publishers have started either pushing too many books at once on editors or farming them out to freelancers, but in my case, I’ve gotten to work with editors that I never would’ve found on my own, and that’s a perk for which I’m eternally grateful. But it goes beyond editors. The art director for the Spellslinger series in the U.K. brings so much experience, talent, and just love for beautiful books that readers endlessly write to tell me they picked up the series because of the covers. There’s my agents who truly champions my work, negotiate the contracts that have ensured I’d have income for years at a time, and are so full of joy that my wife and I walked Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England with them just for fun. Not everyone is great to work with, of course. But one of the things you learn along the way is first, that most people want to be great and it’s a problem with their job or the industry getting in the way, and second, part of my job as an author is to figure out how to work with them when I can and around them if I need to. What I love about the process—even when it’s hard—is that in the end I’ve always felt like the book that got published was the best one I could write, and that’s in no small part thanks to the people I get to work with.

The Money

Chest filled with gold coins Might as well get into the controversial stuff sooner rather than later. No aspect of traditional publishing is as insanely varied as the money. Advances—and here I’m only talking about medium to large publishers—range from as low as a couple of grand up into the stratosphere. That’s why, if you’re pursuing a traditional deal, you have to walk in with a clear, well-informed sense of how much of an advance you need to be happy. My approach is to ask myself this question: if I never make one cent over the advance, will I still be happy? If I can’t say yes to that question, I don’t sign the deal. As a side note, when I was at the 20BooksTo50K conference, anytime someone recognized my name they asked what I was doing at a self-publishing conference. My reply was that as a traditionally published author I too am a beneficiary of the self-publishing revolution because it means if I need to walk away from a traditional deal there’s an entire other way for me to put my books out into the world. That option gives writers a must stronger negotiating position when working towards a fair contract, which is why I’m always grateful to the indie authors pioneering alternatives for all writers. Back to advances, which typically get paid either in thirds on signing, delivery, and publication, or quarters with a fourth tranche paid on the mass market paperback publication. All my deals have been in thirds. Royalties in the traditional world are significantly (which is to say often less than a quarter) of royalties received by self-published authors. That’s a compelling reason for many to go the indie route—especially for audiobooks in which the royalty rates for traditionally published authors border on the scandalously low. However there’s a flip side to the royalty equation, which is that I never pay a nickel of my own money for production, covers, editorial, marketing, publicity, or anything else. In the case of my books, we’re talking about thousands of dollars of upfront costs on top of my advances that are made without any guarantee of recouping. Fortunately, all my books have been profitable, but the risk was always there and I wasn’t the one taking it. Beyond that, though, there are other financial benefits that come with traditional publishing, but I’d like to deal with them in the context in which they matter to me, starting with . . .


Man and woman speaking with flags between them I don’t know why, but there’s almost nothing that makes me more excited than finding out one of my novels is being translated into a new language. So far my books have appeared in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Czech, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Russian, Dutch, Danish, Hebrew, Polish, Romanian, and Turkish. Fourteen languages! Now I just have to learn how to speak them all . . . Indie authors are starting to appear in translation as well, either by securing their own deals with foreign publishers or paying for the translations themselves and then selling directly to consumers in those countries. However it’s a ton of work and can come with significant financial risk. Also, I really like getting the weird, random e-mails from my world rights publisher telling me one of the books is about to appear in a new language.

Weird Opportunities to Feel Important

Man in suited putting crown on his own head When my first book came out in 2014, people said book tours were dead and publishers wouldn’t pay a dime for authors to travel. I’ve had three different book tours in Europe going to places like England, Scotland, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, and even the Czech Republic (best getting-mobbed-by-fans experience ever). My publishers were the ones who kindly arranged these ventures and bore the cost—knowing there was no guarantee of a resulting flood of sales. In a couple of weeks I have another interview to do. I really enjoy doing interviews, even if I’m prone to saying the stupidest things possible at the time. I enjoy library visits and bookstore events and pretty much any chance to get in front of readers who enjoy my books. All of these are things that one can theoretically arrange for oneself (and sometimes I do at my favourite local store), but all that arranging takes time that I prefer to spend writing. Coincidentally, that’s our next subject.

Time to Write

Masked criminal stealing a clock One of the things I admire about the indie movement is the amount of expertise being generated by that community about covers, branding, and advertising. They’re getting it down to a science, and it’s a science I suspect many traditional publishers are watching closely to incorporate those indie-created insights into their own business. There’s also an appeal to hiring editors, securing cover designs, and A/B testing add campaigns while micro-targeting audiences using the perfect combination of keywords. It’s also incredibly time-intensive and requires not just diligence but all-around professionalism. Me? My default state is to be a goof-off. I get excited about something, play with it, then get bored and start something else. The only reason I get entire novels finished is because that’s the one part that no one can do for me. Also I find delving into the business side of my books makes it tricky for me to actually write them. It’s not just the hours, but it makes me look at the book from an outside perspective when for me it’s imperative to be inside the story. The hardest thing I ever do is write books. I wish I could say I’m like Stephen King and just live with this constant impulse to write, but I don’t. I love writing but I get blocked, disheartened, and sometimes just plain lazy. I’m also obsessed with writing the best book I possibly can, and that means putting vastly more hours into it than I would if I needed to pump them out as fast as possible. That’s not to say a book written in six months is better than one written in six weeks, but for my books? Yeah, I like having the time. Sure, I could hire people for the covers, blurbs, editorial, layout, marketing, publicity, print set up, and everything else, but the toughest part of business isn’t paying for quality work; it’s finding the people who deliver quality work every time.

One Writer’s Perk is Another’s Curse

Sketch of brain with technical left hemisphere and artistic right No doubt as you’re reading this, there are probably so-called “perks” that sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to you. That’s okay. My hope is that my experience will provide context for other writers to decide what’s best for them. Maybe the thought of standing up in front of hordes of people at a literary festival gives you hives. Me? I love it. Perhaps you’re excited about being in control of every step of the process. Terrific—have at it. In fact, as happy as I am with my own experience, I can’t imagine not publishing something independently in the next year or two. Not all of my books suit my traditional publishers, but I’d like to see every one of them out in the world. By the same token, I’ve met highly successful indie authors who are taking the occasional traditional deal here or there where it best suits them. The best thing about this current era for writers is the amount of choices available to each of us. That also comes with risks, because every route to publication has its own pitfalls. But for me these past six years have been profitable, rewarding, and the adventure of a lifetime. I hope whichever path you follow brings you every bit as much joy and satisfaction!

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