So with that caveat, here are some of my issues with them.
First, it’s hard to get a contract in the first place. Since there are only a handful of the big traditional publishers, and there are millions and millions of wannabe writers in the world, the volume of material flooding them is just immense. If your book is an amazing scifi story about rabbits, and they’ve decided that the target market for the year must be an amazing scifi story about gerbils, they won’t take yours – because they’ll already have ten gerbil stories to choose from. They won’t take something that is “nearly perfect topic” because they have plenty of “absolutely perfect topic” submissions to choose from. The volume is that heavy.
Many times a big publishing house will only work through agents. That means you have to find an agent you trust (more on that later) and give a portion of your already slim profits to them. A literary agent can take up to **15%** (or more!) of your profits. If you’re already at the 10 cent per book level, and they then take 15% of that, you are down to literal pennies.
Let’s say you get a direct contact with a big publisher and don’t use an agent. Now comes the changes they make to your book. However you wrote it, they will feel (quite strongly) that they know exactly what the market needs and how to alter your book so it sells well. That can mean changing all sorts of things. Adding things. Removing things. This book is going out in YOUR name but it is now full of content that might be diametrically opposed to how you feel on a topic. You might bite the bullet and accept it. You might also be so emotionally upset by this that just looking at your book now turns your stomach. I’ve seen both cases. You might think it’s worth the $10,000 (or whatever the advance is) to just muscle through this. But from authors who have been there, they’d have rather worked to make that same money self-publishing and not shouldered the emotional angst. After all, the book is out there for your entire life.
Then we come to the cover. And the illustrations, if you did a book that uses artwork. You might think this is a minor thing – but I’ve seen authors who absolutely hated the covers chosen. One romance author wrote a book set in the middle ages and the publishers chose a cover set in late Victorian times. The book got deluged with complaints. Every time the author tried to go out to signings people complained about it. She had to apologize over and over. This takes a wear on one’s emotions.
The same can be true with illustrations. If you wrote a children’s book with a certain look in mind – and the publisher goes in the exact opposite direction – it can change the entire tone of your story. I’m sure you can imagine some potential examples.
You might think at least that traditional publishers help with marketing. That is very hit or miss. I know several authors who have to completely pay their own way with book signings and set everything up themselves. They get no help at all.
Even worse, one author had their publisher go through a re-org and decide not to publish new copies of her books for a while. The inventory literally ran out. She couldn’t print her own, of course – the publisher had the rights to do that. So now – and I’m not exaggerating this – the author had to go around on eBay and Amazon BUYING COPIES OF HER OWN BOOK in order to bring them to book signings she’d already set up. Talk about a nightmare.
When you turn over your manuscript to a big publishing house, you are giving them nearly ALL control. They have lots of lawyers. They have a sense that they know everything and the author knows nothing. They are going to do what they want to do. If you’re lucky, you might find a way to be content with the results.
And then there’s the issue of their rights. They have the rights. You want to make an ebook? Nope, not unless they decide it’s worth their time. Audible version? Nope. New cover? Nope. Fix that typo? Nope. They control everything and your pleads often fall on deaf ears.
So lots of things to consider before signing that contract. I know many authors who make far more money self-publishing, since they get 100% of the profits, and they are publishing what they wrote. Not what a NYC market researcher decides will sell in the current year.
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