Traditional Publishing – “The New Vanity Publishing”

Traditional Publishing has become the new vanity publishing.

“Ask The Publishing Guru .com” ( said it back in July 2010, in a guest post with Scott Nicholson (read it here).  Then Lexi Revellian mentions it in April 2012, here.  Tracey Writes, July 2012 article here.  Huffington Post’s Bernard Starr talks about it here in August 2012.  The Guardian’s James Bridle mentions it August 2012 here.   And today, Alan Peterson over at sent out an article about it.

Here’s a quote from Bernard Starr’s article which sums it up perfectly:  “Commentators on the current upheaval in publishing have observed that many authors desperately seek a traditional publisher when self-publishing would serve them far better. Traditional publishing has thus become, in many instances, the vanity choice. Does it make sense?”

It makes perfect sense to me.  From everything I’m reading, and of the horrors of finding an agent that is your advocate, not the publisher’s (read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s The Business Rusch: Advocates, Addendums, and Sneaks, oh my!), it seems to me that I’m having a very hard time answering the question “why traditionally publish rather than self-publish?”

No agent to take a cut of your profits (or worse).  No publisher that’s going to make you do all the marketing anyway and pay you far less than what you could make if you self-published.  A producer paying you a mere $1 for “all rights in that particular story.  In perpetuity and in the entire universe.”  (Yikes).  Getting published immediately versus many months from now and the possible amount of money you’d lose each month your book isn’t available for sale.  I read an article about this very thing.  Some self-publishing guru (and his name escapes me, sorry) did an analysis of how much money he made from his trad published book vs. another book he wrote that he self-published.  December 2011 (one month!) he made $22,000 in revenue from his self-published book, vs. $20,000 he made on the traditionally published book in THREE YEARS.  Those dollar figures may be backward since I’m not looking at the actual article, but you get the picture.

The more I ask myself what a traditional publishing company can do for me that I can’t already do for myself, I can think of nothing except perhaps give me bragging rights.  Bragging rights to whom?  My family is already proud of me no matter what I do, so it makes no difference to them.  High school friends I haven’t seen in twenty+ years?  Mmkay, who gives two shits?  I’m sure if I was a very popular writer, I could ask a publisher for the moon and get it, but new writers are really struggling to find a foothold with publishers without getting shafted in some way.  Or every way.  I can self-publish an eBook (and/or print book) on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iPad and various other formats very easily and quickly.  Sure I would have to jump through a few more hoops for the print book but it’s absolutely doable.

So why are so many of us new writers (read: me) hung up on getting a traditional publishing contract?  I don’t know.  Perhaps I’m resistant to change.  This industry is and has changed so quickly in the last few years, my mindset can’t keep up.  A traditionally published book has always been the pinnacle of success for a writer.  Times are changing but my mindset apparently isn’t.  Perhaps I should use millionaire Amanda Hocking’s success story as my goal – self publish until you become so wildly successful at it that the traditional publisher approaches YOU.  At which point, presumably, I could afford to get shafted.

This struggle to decide between going the traditional publishing route vs. self-publishing with my first novel, Starting Over, is like a tennis match for me.  My decision swings back and forth between the two with regularity.  I think I’m going to let the novel itself decide its fate.  If it makes it as a finalist in the RWA‘s (Romance Writers of America) Golden Hearts contest (a contest open only to unpublished authors, which I entered in mid-November), then I will pursue traditional publishing.  Otherwise, I’ll put it up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. and have total control over its fate, its success or its failure.  Because of the Golden Hearts contest rule, it cannot be published while its under consideration, so in the drawer it goes until March.  Stay tuned!

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