Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing,  On Writing,  publishing,  Topic of the Night

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Traditional Publishing Takes Less Time

This chapter came from a conversation at a writer’s lunch and hearing this myth from dozens of writers over the last few months. Finally just got fed up with it. And when I am fed up, duck.

Chapter Five

There is this belief that if a writer could just get a traditional publisher to take care of them, all would be great, they could only write, create great art, eat candy all day, sign books for adoring fans, and roses would grow in the dark out of their asses.

Or something like that.

This myth comes from traditional publishers because, in this modern world, it’s about the only thing they can shout to the skies long enough for beginning writers to believe.

But, alas, it’s a total myth. The truth?

Doing your own book indie takes far, far less time than working with a traditional publisher on the same book.

That is the truth.

How Do I Know This?

Well, I had 106 books published by traditional publishers. (That’s my most recent count. I keep remembering others.) I have had more books than that now published indie. So I have done both. (I only count books that make it into paper stand-alone.)

So I have done a lot of book on both sides of this fence. And yes, I had an agent for 17 years on the traditional side. So I know those problems there as well.

But if you want to know all the problems with traditional contracts and agents, go to Kris’s blog. She’s tearing all that apart nicely. This is just about the time and the myth of time which sometimes makes otherwise sane humans do really stupid things like sign a traditional book contract.

The Myth

Beginning fiction writers are told that if they would just sell their book to New York, the publisher would take care of everything.

That’s what beginning writers and some older, myth-trapped writers believe. That is false.

But since we are talking about time, let me just sort of point out two obvious areas that don’t even make this a contest.

1… Finding a Publisher…  Traditional publishing writers spend a ton of time to try to find an agent, find an editor, submit a book and get it rejected a ton of times, not counting the time it takes to learn how to do query letters and so on. (Or rewrite for an agent…. shudder…)

In the time it takes a traditional writer to spend the years doing that, an indie writer could already have a pretty good career built with a half-dozen or or more books published.

For some reason, beginning writers never think of this part of the equation and I wouldn’t want to pop those bubbles. But honestly, there is no comparison here when it comes to time.

2… Publication Wait…  Traditional publishing takes almost two years from sale until publication of a book. An indie writer can get a book ready for promotion and print in a month or two.

So again, in the time a traditional writer is waiting for a book to be published, an indie writer could be building a pretty good career.

For some reason beginning writers love being a novelist for those two years without the book actually coming out. It’s a safe period for their egos where their book hasn’t been published and failed yet.

On the other side, indie writers are out taking chances, working to find more readers and so on. Again, this area is no contest. Indies win the time battle easily.


It is a sad fact that traditionally published writers have to do exactly the same amount of promotion as an indie writer, usually more.

That’s right, usually more. Often indie writers have the ability to hold on promotion, do little, wait until later in a series and so on. Indie writers control their promotion amounts.

Beginning writers are under the impression that their traditional publisher will promote their book while they sit back and eat chocolate-covered strawberries and they are rudely slapped into reality when they discover that is not true.

We’ll just pretend this is a draw for time, but in reality traditionally published writers spend far more time per book on promotion than indie writers.

Mechanics of Publishing

This is the one area that writers believe that traditional publishing will help them with time. Compared to the first three areas, this is a minor area, but it gets all the attention. So to some reality.

If you love quality and control, stay with indie.

You can make sure of your quality of cover, blurbs, and copyediting with indie.

In traditional publishing, you have no control. None.

And here is where the time comes in. If you get a bad cover, you live with it but spend a ton of time stressing on it and making calls.

If you get a bad copyediting, you spend days trying to fix it, if the editor allows you to.

If your blurb gives away your entire book, you are on the phone with your editor and agent fighting to have it changed.

And chances are by the time you see it, it can’t be changed.

Time for traditional published writer spent: From ten hours to days and days just on the mechanics of trying to control things they can’t control.

Time for an indie writer to layout a book, do their own cover, look at copyedits from a hired copyeditor or friend… Ten hours to a few days. (Granted, doing the first one takes a learning curve that takes time.)

I am using my own numbers here. I could lay out a very complicated Smith’s Monthly issue (70,000 words, a novel, nonfiction, four short stories, a serial novel, a lot of book covers, and two-column format) and do the cover in about ten hours. Sometimes less.

In traditional I spent far more time than that looking at copyedits and then page proofs and mailing both back to editors and letters to get things fixed in my traditional days. And that was when things went well with traditional.

So this area is a push as well just to be nice to traditional publishing.

The Problems of Money

This area is where beginning writers flat don’t understand traditional publishing. Let’s say the beginning writer just doesn’t know any better and lets an agent have all the money and paperwork.

So to get paid, your checks go to an agent who sits on it from a week to a month before forwarding it. And you can’t see your sales until nine months or more after your book is published. And go ahead, try to figure out a royalty statement (if your agent bothers to send them to you.)

And I don’t even want to mention returns. And holding returns on your royalty statement.

I can’t begin to remember without shuddering all the time I spent trying to chase down money that was owed me by traditional publishers and agents.

Indie makes all that silliness head-shakingly stupid.

Indie writers set up accounts directly with distributors and bookstores (Amazon, D2D, IBooks, Kobo, and so on.) And every month the money is directly deposited into the indie writer account. (Forget for this topic how much more per sale indies get over traditional.)

And shockingly, you can know your sales at any point.

Indie wins the time battle with money easily.


There isn’t even a remote similarity between the time on a book in traditional publishing and the time on a book in indie.

Indie writers can publish a dozen or more books before one book comes out traditional.

So why does this myth continue if it is so bogus?

My honest opinion… A bunch of reasons.

1… Fear. It takes real courage to put your work out there for readers. Traditional writers believe that traditional publishers will take care of them, so it helps the fear.

2… Lazy.  Writers want to be taken care of because they believe they should be for their hard work of sitting alone in a room and making shit up.

3… Just not educated. This is also head-shaking to me in this new internet world, but traditional publishers and editors and agents are great at their own self-promotion.

And up until the last eight years, traditional publishing had no competition. But now they do, so they work to find the uneducated writers who buy into the myth of the last century.  Sadly, these new writers are stripped of their copyright with bad contracts and ground up by a system that doesn’t care.

So next time you hear someone say they could spend far less time if they sold their book traditional, just turn away before you laugh. You won’t be able to help them. They are a believer, not in facts, but in a myth.

And as we all know these days, fighting a myth with facts is often impossible.

Have fun.


  • J. Steven York

    I’ll just add that, in any discussion of time and traditional publishing, you’ve got to take into account all the manuscripts that get rejected and NEVER get published, and all the lost time they represent. It used to be in the traditional world that there were a lot more publishers and lines, and that a rejected book stood a much better chance of getting picked up somewhere. But with repeated mergers and the shuttering of lines, that’s no longer true.

    And this has always been a business model based on lines of writers standing at the door, hat (and manuscript) in hand, knowing (or at least believing) they have no other choice.

    And as for the idea that “it got rejected, therefore it obviously wasn’t worth publishing anyway,” that”s a myth of its own. (You alread got a post on that somewhere, Dean? Probably.)

  • Vera Soroka

    I thought that at one time being with Scholastic would be the best thing in the world. I follow an author who is published by them and she works her ass off. Every book she writes is THE EVENT of the year. She is an artist as well so her promotions usually are art related. That is a lot of work. Her promotion is all on her. She also it seems that when it comes to editing and copy editing that she has to do most of it. I always want to ask her, doesn’t Scholastic give you a copy editor? By the time she goes through the book her eye are bleeding. Her editor is also a writer for them. She sometimes does tour events with him. And her tours? I’m not sure who organizes these things because when it comes to where she is going to stay, it seems like she has take care of that and pay for it as well.
    I shake my head. Tradional publishing would be the last thing I would want now.

  • JoDee Wells

    Dean, As always a well-composed lesson meant to help us newbies flourish while we skip our way through cow-pattied fields.

    Thanks again!!

  • Noor Al-Shanti

    Hearing from several published authors\’ blogs that you are expected to do your own promotion even with traditional authors is one of the main reasons I decided to just try self-publishing. It\’s crazy to me. One of the main reasons I would have considered traditional publishing \”better\” would have been not having to worry about promotion. Thanks for these great blog posts.