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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Traditional Publishing


1. QUALITY CONTROL. To be published, manuscripts and their authors must successfully jump through the hoops of literary agencies, acquisitions editors, contractual negotiations, editing, production, and marketing. Books are chosen by editors and marketers who more often than not know a good book when they see one. Manuscripts that get through a publisher’s rigorous screening process are more likely to emerge as worthwhile, readable books.

2. FAVORABLE CASH FLOW. Trade publishers (publishers selling to the book trade, not to schools and universities) in most cases pay authors an advance against royalties. This advance is the author’s to keep, even if the book does not sell enough copies to “earn out” the advance. Authors can use the advance to buy some time from regular work for researching and writing their book.

3. MAINSTREAM EXPOSURE. It’s true that many an author’s heart is broken when their shiny new book hits the bookstands and the publisher promotes it with little enthusiasm. However, authors stand their best chance of getting public recognition for their work when they and their books are part of the publishing, library, and bookstore infrastructure set up to garner book reviews, media interviews, award nominations, award wins, and so on.


1. LONG LEAD TIME. It can take an author years before they are signed up by a publisher and it can take another year or two after that for their manuscript to work its way through the editing, design, production, and marketing process. As a result, authors writing about topical events are often frustrated by the length of time it takes to get to market.

2. LACK OF SUPPORT. Publishers today expect proposals and manuscripts to be highly developed by the time they hit their desks. Gone are the days when editors took painstaking efforts developing writers of promise and marketing people conscripted marketing money for an author’s first book to prepare the ground for their second and third books.

3. TOO FEW BERTHS ON THE SHIP. Publishers today are spending most of their energy and cash on “frontlist” books — their new books that stand a chance of becoming bestsellers. Other types of books, no matter how worthy they and their authors may be, are finding fewer and fewer berths on the good ship publishing. These are “midlist” books —information books, how-to books, cookbooks, regional history books, first novels. Indeed, some publishers are increasingly ceding this ground to regional publishers, print-on-demand publishers, and self-publishers.

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