5 Reasons You Should Still Pursue a Traditional Book Contract

May 23, 2016 | By | 24 Replies More

DSC_0528 (4)I can’t tell you how often I am asked if I am self-published, and even though it’s a fair question I admit I am a bit sensitive to the assumption that I couldn’t have gotten my book published the old-fashioned way. This is because I worked pretty hard to be traditionally published and while I might self-publish someday, I’m glad I went through the traditional publishing journey. You might be wondering, why does it matter? After all, the industry has become more accepting of self-published books, right?

It’s true that there are more opportunities for aspiring authors than ever before and self-publishing has lost much of its stigma due to quality self-publishing, but many authors have still chosen to try the old-fashioned way first. What many of us have found is that traditional publication is still worth pursuing, so before you rush off to add your book to one of the millions in the self-publishing ocean consider these 5 points:

Vetting is important. Having a traditional novel proves your book has been vetted by the industry and that your writing has been found worthy. When it comes to bookstores carrying your books, being traditionally published is still the best proof that your book is professional, well-edited, and has a great story that readers will want to read. You can be vetted in other ways if you are self-published, but it isn’t easy. Having a traditional publisher is still the best route if you want a wider readership.

The traditional submission process makes your novel better. Sure, you are going to get rejected. I’ve been rejected my fair share, and so have J.K. Rowling and John Grisham, but if I had to go through all of that rejection again, I would do it. The great thing about the traditional submission process is that every time you are rejected, you have to revisit your manuscript and make it better before sending it out again. Revision is a great teacher, and I’ve learned a ton from editors who have rejected my work. If you still decide to go the self-publication route someday, you will be glad that your manuscript was read, critiqued, and rejected by editors who knew what they were doing.

TheRealThing-LARGE Being traditionally published is a VIP Pass. If you manage to get traditionally published, it will be good for the rest of your career. Even if you self-publish or go with a small publisher later, as I have, you’ll be able to say that you were previously published by a large traditional publisher. This isn’t just for bragging rights, but so that new doors and opportunities to reach your readers will open up to you. For example, when I first queried one of the small publishers I am now with, I noticed that all of their existing authors were previously with larger legacy publishers. Well, good news. So was I. I am sure it helped my submission on some level when I was able to say I was previously published by Random House.

 Indie doesn’t always mean self-published. Some authors think that Indies are all self-publishing machines, but this is not true. Indie can also mean that a publisher is simply independent of the big houses. They are not owned or subsidized by the legacy houses and are operated and owned independently. Think of your favorite independently owned restaurant that isn’t a chain. So, while indie can definitely mean self-published, it’s not always the case. You can submit your books to many small houses that still acquire books the old-fashioned way, by requiring submissions, and paying for publication of your book if it is accepted. Just like a big publisher, only without the frills.

Finally, you COULD Get Published. If you have been submitting for years and you know for a fact that your writing is worthy of publication, then you know you are worthy of publishing it yourself. Go for it, but make sure you aren’t throwing in the towel too soon. If you don’t try, you will never know. I am a firm believer that ever serious writer should go the traditional publishing route first. How long you pursue it is your call, but definitely try it. It’s like running a marathon. If you are prepared and in shape, you might be in the front of the pack, but even if you don’t win, finishing is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s the same with pursuing traditional publication. You won’t be sorry you tried.

Tina Ann Forkner is a substitute teacher and award-winning author of four novels, including her newest release The Real Thing. Her novel, Waking Up Joy, is a recipient of the Virginia Romance Writers HOLT Medallion Award of Merit for Romantic Elements. Tina is also a proud member of Tall Poppy Writers and American Fiction Writers Association. Learn More: www.tinaannforkner.com

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  1. ‘Hybrid’ author is becoming respectable. What is means is a combination of traditional and self-author publishing. The reality is that some experienced authors may choose both routes simultaneously for different kinds of work. Self-publishing may be appropriate for niche or topical subjects where the distribution may be via talks or workshops. Traditional is preferred for the reasons mentioned of ‘vetting’ the editing and better distribution and on-going publicity. Plus contracts, advances and royalties.
    The common factors are the need for quality in content and format. ‘Vanity’ publishing is a different matter, where there are big profits for the unscrupulous and frustration for the naive. Self-publishing requires much time , investment and energy on the part of the author and while that might be possible for one title, it is difficult to sustain for more. Publishers are experts in their own fields too. It’s difficult for one person to fulfil all roles well (author, publicist, editor, publisher ) and have a life.

  2. I made a decision that I would publish my memoir traditionally or not at all. And my dream is coming true. Yes, it was a long road. Yes, it took years. But along the way my book got better and better. The vetting process is crucial. The way I see it, anyone can self-publish. Not everyone can publish traditionally. I was willing to wait.

  3. If you could open a door for me to an agent, I would give you a great big virtual hug. Traditional has not worked for me. *mega sad face*

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Fiona. I understand! It doesn’t work for everyone. Having an agent can definitely get you down the road much faster. I am currently working without an agent, but I feel as if I wouldn’t have published my first novel without one.

  4. Lynn Bryant says:

    I agree. And it makes me feel like a failure because I did try. My first serious attempt to get published traditionally happened when my children were babies and they are now 18 and 15.

    Now I have four books published on Amazon and I’m writing more. I’m not famous and I’m never going to be but I don’t write for that reason. I love what I do and I’m not sorry that after years of writing for myself and revising and struggling and being upset, I took a deep breath and a big chance and decided to try publishing for myself.

    I wish it could have gone differently but it didn’t and since I can’t stop writing I will treasure the sales I get and the ratings and the reviews and keep going. I think fourteen years of being told I was a good writer but my books weren’t marketable was long enough for me but everybody is different. And for me, some people reading them is better than none.

  5. Mike says:

    This is good advice, though it won’t be welcomed by many. We’re in an age of instant gratification. And heck, the process of writing and submitting is hard. The temptation to upload your unappreciated ms to Amazon is alluring.

    I wrote two novels I could not sell. That was not the way things were supposed to go, but I wasn’t about to give up. I got serious about learning the craft from folks who knew what they were talking about. A dozen or so short stories and a successful novella later, with a second novella in the wings, I’m glad I stuck it out.

    • Tina Forkner says:

      You are right. The process of writing and submitting IS hard, Mike. I’m glad you didn’t give up. Hard work pays off. Perhaps it comes in different ways than we set out for, but pursuing traditional publication is not a waste of time. Congrats on your stories and novella.

  6. An article like this really should address the business decisions involved and the financial implications.

    • There are many business implications involved and to touch on them they need their own post. There are many good posts on the topic out there already, but perhaps you should write one and give it a new spin, JA. I bet it would be well-received.

  7. denise says:

    great thoughts!

  8. Skilbey says:

    Great post. I shall definitely be following the traditional route first. The experience gleaned is invaluable for a writer. Thanks!

  9. Thanks for reaffirming my faith in the path I’m following. I’m in writing groups with several self-published authors who have tried to convince me to go that route. But I’m querying agents, getting encouraging responses and continuing to revise my manuscript and submission materials. You’re absolutely right that the process makes the book better. I’m so glad I didn’t rush to publish when I first thought it was ready. Whether I’ll end up with a traditional publisher remains to be seen, but at least I will have given it a shot.

  10. Wonderful article — thank you, Tina. Early in my journey to publication, I was fortunate to receive this same advice (from a former agent, now turned freelance editor and instructor in the business of writing/publishing). I found a fantastic agent and have had a great publishing experience with HarperCollins (and 12 international publishers) for my debut novel. When asked, I advise up-and-coming authors to at least try the traditional route. Regardless of the outcome, the lessons one learns via the process of submitting to agents (and, by extension, traditional publishers) are invaluable.

  11. Aneesa Price says:

    I wish I had gone this route instead of rushing to self-publish. I have made a decision to submit my next completed manuscript to an agent with a view to having it traditionally published. This article helps validate my decision. Thank you.

  12. Great post, Tina!

    Whenever I “sit at a table” selling books I am asked the same question — I guess people think traditionally published authors only stand at podiums! I’m glad I waited out the process too. These days especially, the accomplishment shows tremendous grit and ability.

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