I Published 106 Novels Traditionally.
But that was a different time, different companies, different contracts, different level of respect for authors. I would be a distant and faint memory in writing now if not for indie publishing. Never would have continued to work in the current traditional publishing environment. Never.
So let me list a few reasons why I try to keep writers with dreams away from traditional publishers.
THE SHORT VIEW… TRADITIONAL
Most early-stage writers have a very, very short view of being a writer. They think that just selling a few short stories and then getting a novel sold to a major publisher will make their career. Nope. But that is impossible to teach that fact because it is a belief system, based on a dream.
Most writers who break into traditional publishing are done in two books. Maybe three if they are lucky. And when I say most, I would give a conservative guess of 95%, more than likely closer to 99%. A lot of writers are chewed up and spit out to get that one writer who sticks past three books. But even then, a ten or twenty book writer is often tossed aside if anything goes south along the way.
But that is impossible to tell an early-stage writer with the dream in their eyes of being a writer.
So these writers take the short view. And they do the following.
1… They sign with an agent who will more than likely keep more of their money than they are supposed to.
2… They sign horrible contracts that not only takes all their IP for the life of the copyright, but often leaves the young author liable for all kinds of lawsuits.
3… They are often forced by first an agent, then a baby editor, to rewrite the book until it is nothing close to their original intent. But alas, these early stage writers are thinking they are being helped and will fight you to the death if you tell them otherwise.
4… Most of these new writers are paid in the range of $3,000 to $20,000 per book, paid out in three segments over a two or three year period. After agent fees, a $10,000 contract can get an early stage author about $2,800 per year to live on. And that is finished in three years and they will never make another cent off their book for the rest of their lives because they sold all rights.
5… Traditional publishers will tell you what to write, when to write it, and if you don’t, you are done. You can’t change genres, or just write what you want. You must write to their needs at the moment and then if the book doesn’t sell, it will never be their fault, always the author’s fault.
6… The process of getting a book from “done” to an agent and then to a publisher and then finally into print can take from three years if lucky to five or six years or more if not so lucky. I know one writer who has rewritten a book four times and has been waiting for the magic publication for seven years now and counting. Sad. Think how many books the writer could have written and published indie in those seven years of writing and rewriting.
THE LONG VIEW… TRADITIONAL
There is no long view in traditional publishing anymore. None.
When I first broke in back in 1987, there was a long view. You sold novels, they came out, you grew readers until you became a lead title of a line in a month, then if you could write bigger books, you “broke out” of the genre into bestseller numbers and you could live off your writing.
I lived off my writing back in those days from 1987 by being prolific, a slightly different path. I did not care about writing under my own name, and I wrote upwards of 18 novels in one year for seven different publishers under many pen names. I did that for over a decade, year in and year out. And I edited for New York and other companies as well.
But it is not possible to do that now. There were twenty or more major publishers when I broke in, now there are four. And a few mid-sized one that play as publishers.
There is also no loyalty now. When I came in, the editors and publishers were loyal to their authors. Now an author is nothing more than a number on a spread sheet and if the number doesn’t match what someone thinks it should be, that author is gone. That’s why they can fill the shelves these days with so many two-and-out authors.
SHORT VIEW…. INDIE
The short view for indie is that you will do a lot of learning, pay a lot of money for workshops, books, conferences, and so on. You will do a ton of learning on how to write better stories, how to lay out books, how to do your own covers, and how to promote when you get to the right about of books published. And unless you are lucky, in the short term you will make coffee money and not much more.
But a lot of that can be done and behind you in the same about of time as a traditional writer will spend in the three to five years it will take to publish one book.
In fact, if you add up the money you will make from publishing your first book over the following five year period, most indie writers will make more than that new writer in traditional. And then the traditional money stops while the indie money on the same book just keeps on going and going, refreshed at times, and so on.
With indie, you own all your own copyright for the life of the copyright and unlike traditional publishing thinking, books don’t spoil. You can keep the books out to readers for a long, long time, changing covers, redoing blurbs, marketing them.
In the same time as it will take an traditional writer to be pushed aside, try to write something new, and be dropped by their agent and realize they will never be published traditionally again (usually about 7 really brutal, dream-shattering years), an indie writer who just writes at a decent speed can be making decent money. Some might even be making a living.
And with indie, the money can just keep on coming in if you are smart.
But you are in control. That is a good thing for most of us, a bad thing for a few.
LONG VIEW… INDIE
With numbers of titles building up, licensing options now all around us, and the author in total control, the upside on indie is the sky and beyond. But you have to know business and learn everything along the way because you are in charge. You make all the decisions, it is your copyright.
Some indie authors have now come and gone. They set up a production schedule that was impossible to keep up, or put too much weight with money on the writing and thus bogged down and lost the fun of writing.
But many are making great money, continuing to have fun and write what they want. In fact, many of us indie writers now make far, far more money per year writing what we want when we want than all but a few of the very biggest traditional writer brand names.
One Last Comparison…
Traditional writers make from 6-8% from every sale, a little more on hardbacks. A lot less on heavily discounted books like at Walmart. So 6-8% is about average over all.
Traditional writers have to pay 15% of that to an agent. And often an agent holds more because traditional writers want to be taken care of and trust a stranger with all their money.
Indie writers make 70% of a sale. And closer to 25-40% on paper and hardbacks.
Indie writers get to keep all licensing money, translation money, audio money, and whatever comes in. (Traditional writers sell all rights these days, remember, so they get nothing from any of that. And if there is a sale outside the contract, the agent usually keeps a ton of the money without telling the author.)
Any wonder why I really push writers away from traditional publishing when I can?
I have lived in both worlds over the 40 years in this business. I watched traditional change and I was in the gold rush days of indie and watched it grow up.
So this was a long answer to the question as to why I am so against traditional publishing.