Would I Use a Traditional Publisher Again?

In the last week, I finalized the manuscript for Exodus, and began the process to distribute the book on August 26th. Everything looks like it will be done on time or before deadline, providing a little time to reflect.

After independently producing my own book, would I reconsider my February statement, and work with a traditional publisher again?

I think I would, not because I like publishers, but because producing a decent book independently requires significant effort. The key word here is independent, and not self-publish. Publishing a sub-par book that lacked writing quality is not an option.

Achieving quality has been more arduous than I had thought. As someone who has not quit his day job and is publishing as a hobby, I have to admit independent publishing requires significant bandwidth!!!

In addition to my own labors over the past eight months, several key parties worked on Exodus. Jessica Dell cleaned up my original manuscript with all of my handwritten edits in the first quarter. Then I hired three different editors, two for development and one to proof the manuscript; Erin Feldman, Jennifer Stevens, and Kirkus, respectively.

From a production standpoint, Jess Ostroff helped me figure out distribution, cleaned up the last round of edits, and has been instrumental in moving the book to market. Aaron Mahnke designed the cover, and Chrisy Shim laid out the advance copy PDF (email me if you want a copy). Justin Gutwein is producing the video trailer.

Getting the picture? A lot of people have contributed to this effort. Yes, modern publishers rarely help their smaller authors do much much with marketing. But publishers offer more than you think when it comes to editing and production.

For someone like me who is already occupied with work and family, the percentage of proceeds yielded may be worth recouping the time. Of course, I don’t know what the results will be from Exodus, but if you asked me today, that would be my answer.

I am still planning on independently producing the next books in the trilogy, but the effort has been significant giving me a new appreciation for what traditional publishers do. If one came a knocking, I would seriously weigh working with someone else. I would have to really like the publisher, and they would have to believe in my vision.

What do you think about independent publishing?


  • I just think this whole journey is amazing and exciting and I am so happy for you.

    In regards to regular publishers, I am becoming more and more disenchanted with publishers, at least based on the books I’ve been reading. I’m reading an excellent book by a very smart person right now but the editors failed them. There are typos and missing words on almost every page. It seems there are significant pros and cons for every path you follow in this world.

    • Well, you know I have suffered that result at the hands of a traditional publisher, too, so I have to agree with you. My last experience with Que was better on the production front, marketing same non factor.

    • Often we only hear the author’s “side”, Margie. Both Sam and I were lucky to have an awesome team, and a great experience, so maybe I’m biased.

      But I have heard horror stories from good friends on the publisher side, where they get the blame for page counts promised by the author falling short; writing so bad it has to go through the Development Editor multiple times; or simply the author didn’t carry out a thorough enough review when they have the final edition in the Author Review process.

      That all affects the timeframe for a book coming to market, that’s already had a distribution date and agreed shipping date with resellers. This results in either rushes to print, or cancellation.

      Suffice to say, the “blame” isn’t always cut and dry when it comes to pointing fingers.

      • I’d gave to disagree with you. The publisher chooses the author, and that has everything to do with their vetting processes. And frankly, I had a much different experience with your team.

        • I don’t see where I was talking about the “vetting process” of being picked for the publisher’s roster. I’m talking about things that happen once the writing process has begun and the submission dates, milestones, etc., are agreed upon, and how author action (or inaction) can have an impact as much as blame being laid on the publisher can.

          • And if a publisher can’t vet that in advance, shame on them for signing them. It’s part of the risk. It’s like a sports team that signs players in spite of character issues, then claims that they got fooled. I feel zero pity for publishers in this transaction.

          • How do you identify character issues in a previously unpublished author?

            Using your sports analogy, how many would have seen Aaron Hernandez’s future? Or Lance Armstrong’s vices? Or countless other sports stars and All-American Hero’s gone wrong?

            Traditional publishing wasn’t a great bedfellow for you, you’ve shared that numerous times, and that’s unfortunate. But nothing’s ever as cut and dry as the side that’s usually shared the most vocally, and I was simply offering @MargieClayman:disqus an insight into some of the stuff that can – and does – go wrong that the publisher is incorrectly blamed for.

          • Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever you say, Danny. You’re a publishing pro now.

          • Wow Geoff. I hope you’re kidding. This is actually a really interesting discussion, especially for those of us who haven’t been published.

          • Says Danny’s business partner.

            Sent via the Pony Express

          • Yes, and Danny’s friend, but also someone who commented on your Civility post regarding Guy Kawasaki. I don’t get it; and FYI – Danny and I disagree on plenty.

          • OK. Glad you disclosed that, as it adds light to your motive.

            And I have every right to question Danny’s point of authority on his statement. Especially his apparent lack of knowledge about author vetting processes that publishing houses go through, given his vehement defense of his original and off response to Margie.

            As to your civility reference, we often disagree on what civility is. That hasn’t changed. Cheers.

          • I don’t have a motive, I was just caught off guard by your snark, not by your questioning Danny. Danny and I disagree on topics more often than anyone else at my company, and have for years. What you said to Danny, and your response to me, was in no way civil.

            So what if you disagree on self publishing vs traditional publishing? – THAT is an interesting topic. The snide-ness you brought in simply makes you look nasty and I am actually taken aback by it. Civility isn’t debatable.

          • I’m sorry that you have chosen to take offense. I still don’t agree with you, nor do I agree with Danny.

            I did not call Danny a name nor did I talk about his character. What I did was call into question his experience which contrasts his certainty of opinion. And I am not going to yield in this instance. Frankly, given how often your blog takes brands to task I don’t really think you have much room to talk on this topic. The debate continues.

          • One way for publishers to avoid the problems you mentioned, Danny, is to vet their authors better. You ask: “How do you identify character issues in a previously unpublished author?” Well, in our business/marketing/social media expert world (Que, Wiley, and so on), there are these things called “blogs” that pretty much every previously unpublished author typically has. Most of the time, there are years worth of blog posts and articles that sort of answer most of the questions that an acquisitions editor should be asking:

            – Can this person write?

            – Can this person write more than 5-paragraph long “Top 5” posts/content?

            – Does this person legitimately have time to work on a book project?

            – Does this person actually know what they are talking about?

            – Is this person passionate enough about the subject matter to be able to write a 250-300 page book about it?

            – Is this person professional or is he a self-serving sociopath?

            – Judging from the comments on the blog, is this person rational or is he/she a raging asshole?

            Sometimes, the author is the problem. Sometimes, the publisher is the problem. And sometimes, the distribution channel is the problem. Most of the time, all three contribute to making a book less successful than it could be.

            It’s pretty silly to give publishers a pass based on the notion that they tend to be “incorrectly blamed for” things that go wrong. Assuming that it wasn’t the publisher’s fault for selecting a crappy writer to write a book, or a writer who doesn’t really know enough about the subject matter to write a book about it, or a writer who is completely full of shit or guilty of plagiarism, the editing of the book is ultimately the publisher’s responsibility. The design of the book, including the cover, is the publisher’s responsibility. And most importantly, both the marketing of the book and the distribution of the book are the publisher’s responsibility.

            If the publisher’s sales team doesn’t do their job, or if the publisher doesn’t want to spend anything on marketing the book, retail chains like Barnes & Noble will only carry one copy per location instead of 3 or 4 or 10. That means 1-2 turns (sales per month), which is a pretty crappy number. And I haven’t even mentioned the people attached to publishers who claim to be working in PR. Clearly, they aren’t working on commission.

            So… let’s try to keep things in perspective. Everyone, at every stage in a book’s life cycle, is responsible for their part of its success. If anyone drops the ball or doesn’t know what they’re doing, the book is basically done. Statistically, it is a lot more likely that the publisher will drop the ball than the author.

            Fact: if a publisher decides not to invest in a book’s success, there isn’t much that a writer can do about it. That’s why so many authors are turning to self-publishing. Consider that an author gives up 80-90% of the book’s revenues to the publisher EXPECTING the publisher to give it exposure, drive distribution, push sales and do some PR … The problem is that many publishers basically sit on their asses and let books sink or swim once they release them. The PR is nonexistent, the placement in stores is MIA, distribution is shoddy at best (we should talk about the airport book stores racket at some point, which publishers won’t tell you about when they are trying to sign you on as an author), and good luck trying to get many publishers to even advertise online, play with SEO or get into the Amazon game. I could write chapters on some of the conversations I’ve had with editors, PR folks, authors and book sellers.

            I was lucky with my first book – it did well – but I have seen some much better books than #smROI fail miserably… and I can tell you with absolute conviction that it was 100% the publisher’s fault. (Publishers, actually.) If you are lucky enough to have a great team working with you inside a traditional publisher, that’s awesome. But for anyone else, self-publishing might be a much more effective (and lucrative) route. And you know what? Publishers have no one but themselves to blame for the growth of self-publishing among talented, demanding, business-conscious authors.

          • I’m not giving publishers “a pass”, Olivier. Nor am I giving authors a hard time. My response to Margie was simply to say things can go wrong that aren’t always foreseen pre-writing and submission. Contrary to the belief here, this wasn’t based on being a supposed “publisher pro now”, but conversations with publisher friends as well as seeing the way some authors run into roadblocks – through no direct fault of publisher or author – further down the road.

            With regards publishers doing little afterward, agree – and you might find more folks in the publishing industry agreeing to that as opposed to disagreeing. But that’s something that everyone knows going in, so it can be a bit disingenuous to raise that as an issue after.

          • I have to disagree with this response, too. Your comment definitely read as pro-publisher, as did your successive responses.

            Publishers take risks, and that’s part of the deal.
            Mitigating risks is part of their decision process. That’s why it’s so
            hard to get published. Some publishers are more discerning than others, frankly. But to blame the authors that do get published,
            no, once that contract is offered then a decision was made and responsibility needs to be owned by the editor/publisher who made that call.

            Most publishers determine contracts by potential, and know that some will bomb. And they weigh the aggregate total in their overall decision. It’s black and white like any human resources decision.

      • I am not really sure my response was centered on “pointing fingers.” I am telling you what I have experienced, including with your own book, Danny, where there was a pretty glaring mistake I informed you about. In the book I am reading now, there are typos and missing words on almost every page and the author informed me that several rounds of corrections were ignored by the editorial staff. My main point, as I ended my statement, was that there are pros and cons to every path you travel as an author. I am not sure why every conversation must revert to an argument these days.

  • I understand what you are saying here, Geoff. I weighed both sides of this issue heavily and decided to try to garner agent/publisher interest in my first book. As with your book (even though it’s a novel), I see a perfect storm with my memoir; its issues and themes are front and center right now in our society. But even if one is attempting to go the traditional route, everything I hear is that my book had better be as polished as I can make it to compete on a level of quality. That is why I am investing significant dollars in a professional editor (amazing, she is) to not only provide developmental editing in the beginning, but copy and line editing as I progress through the chapters. Can’t wait to read your book!

    • I totally agree with you. Editing is the key here, and going through the paces with a strong professional editor is simply invaluable. When does your memoir come out?

      • I am shooting for a completed manuscript by October 1. The agent who was interested will need to see the completed manuscript before she makes the decision to sign me. Then I guess we just go from there. In some ways, I wish I had selected the self-publishing path, because I could get it out a lot sooner, but the advice from the professionals I have come to know and trust have advised me to go the traditional publishing route. Hey, I just saw your trailer on Facebook. I love it!

  • I’m pleased see you are asking the right question. I is up to you to “use” the publisher, not the other way around.

    Publishing pros know their stuff. You can hire them to do whatever bits you want done best, and you can choose to turn your whole production over to them.

    The myth that sending manuscripts to publisher might give an unknown, broke author a big break is dead. There are so many great authors hustling with a platform that the dinosaur publishers still have there pick. It very much up to the author to have a platform.

    Fortunately, there people who can help, no matter where you start. The only question today.. “who will you USE?”

    • I totally agree. Especially with the author choosing to use a traditional publisher. Too many people fall into the camp of prestige with this conversation. The truth of the matter is I don’t really think that matters much outside of the traditional houses and their authors. Even then we see more and more frequently that traditional houses use independent publishing results as a farm system for talent.

      No, I think an author should go in eyes wide open and figure it out for themselves whether or not it is a good deal. Some value the freedom more than anything, and I get that. Hope you are doing well.

      • I’ve worked with thousands of authors and hundreds of best sellers. I’ve never met anyone that isn’t totally biased, who care at all about who the publisher is.

        When I was a kid, self-publisher books were called “Vanity Press” but that really meant that the author paid the publisher.. there was still many technical hurdles that made publishes one’s own book very hard. Today, there’s aren’t any technological hurdles and I say that publishing is like making a peanut butter sandwich.. Any kid can do it, but Mom’s taste better. It does pay to use talented professionals

        The people who thought there should be a stigma based on whether the big NYC publishers blessed a book are dying off and retiring.

  • This is a great question. I haven’t written a book and won’t for some time, but I do think about it a lot. I just received Kawasaki’s APE and am going to read it, but I think I’ve probably read enough blog posts on the issue to get both sides of the story.

    You have more credibility and must put in less marketing effort through traditional publishing but make less money and, vice versa, you have less credibility and must put in more marketing effort through independent publishing but make more money.

    When I do write a book, I’m counting one of two things happening:
    1. My exhaustive fan-base will be so excited that I’m writing a book that they’ll pre-order it before I even write it, or
    2. Publishers will see my exhaustive fan-base and line up to make me offers I can’t refuse.

    • I think you’ll find APE to be instrumental. I used elements of it literally during the developmental stage of the book.

      The credibility thing is a non-factor, IMO as more and more people are breaking away from model, including names like Godin, Kawasaki, etc. Hell, even Mark Twain published independently. I think the only people who pupport this credibility myth still are the publishers themselves, and they are happy as all hell to sign an indie who can chunk out a 20k book.

      On the fan-base thing, so many people are producing books these days, I definitely think creating a great product that they will love is elemental.

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