Working for a publisher for the last 11 years, I know first-hand the number of manuscript submissions that hit our editors' desks, electronically and hard copy. It's staggering the abundance of people who believe they have a book that must be published. That said, traditional publishers are responsible for publishing about 275,000 books a year and self-publishers are printing that much and more! Maybe there in lies the difference. Traditional publishers are not just printing a book that's supposedly earned the key to the city of publishing nirvana, but that there is an enormous difference in being "published" versus "printed" by a self-publisher.
Consider a moment, agents as gatekeepers to editors, then once a manuscript passes their critical eyes, they contact the editors who choose to have their editorial assistants peruse the would-be book and then if it passes their tests, they pass it along to the editors. Even with a system as scrutinizing as this, there is still a 90% rejection rate. The books that actually end up being published are supposed to be the crème de la crème. The buying public is under the assumption that because a book is published by a known publisher such as Random House, Harper, or Simon and Schuster, that the book is worth their time to read it.
Well, as a publishing insider, I can vouch for the fact that while a publisher may choose to publish a particular book it does not guarantee that it is well written, error proof, or interesting. Editors have quotas of the number of books and the amount of revenue they must produce annually. How they choose to meet their positions’ demands can be played out as differently as the roll of the dice. Some editors may choose to put their money on a few high-profile authors, sinking all their budget dollars on what they believe to be a sure thing, relatively low risk. These authors are usually celebrities, experts in their field of endeavor, have a solid track record of speaking to thousands, and media contacts up the Wahoo. Sounds like a no-brainer risk, right? Yes, probably, but there are so many unknowns that no matter what the author has in his or her favor, things can go wrong.
For one thing, because of the global environment, if the author’s non-fiction subject matter isn’t current and sought-after at the time of release, no matter how much they have going for them, they will not be able to deliver and meet the publisher’s expectations. What if the author falls ill and can’t make public or media appearances? You can kiss the book sales good-bye. What if the author has written a book on relationships and he/she finds himself/herself in the middle of a bloody divorce just at the time their book is hitting the bookshelves? Yes, the media loves a story and publicity is always good, but not in this case. The publisher might as well throw the books in the incinerator. These are just a few of the scenarios I have dealt with during my tenure at a publishing house.
Just because a book is published by a trade publisher doesn’t guarantee its success, but it does minimize the overall risk, and increase the capacity for wide-spread distribution through all the book selling channels. The publisher has a team of experts in the fields of publicity, sales, creative design, events and marketing. They know their client-base better than anyone. As an author/writer this expertise and support is truly, what separates them from the self-publishers.
On the other hand, if you are a writer and you have pitched your story to the trade, but have not been welcomed into that elite club, choosing to self-publish your work is a viable option. Maybe you are a good writer and because the publishers are inundated beyond, what you can imagine, your book is just one of many they are considering, and because they happen to be friends with another agent, not yours, they decide to pass on your book.
What I’m trying to say is that whether you are published by a traditional publisher or are printed by a self-publisher, there’s still a place for you, but it’s ultimately up to the writer/author to make or break the sale of his/her book. Self-publishing is a risk for the writer and thus, confirms that they are committed to getting their message out, no matter what. I think we have to admire that and while many of the self-published books are not sold in mass quantities and may be poorly written, for a writer to put himself on the line, his/her reputation is at stake, not a publisher’s. I tip my hat to them and wish them all great success.
If you know someone who is a writer and looking to improve their craft and to find out about the behind-the-scenes publishing process, I recommend that you check out www.theartandbusinessofwriting.com and join the conference taking place November 13-15, 2009 at the world famous Gurney’s Inn Resort and Spa, Montauk, N.Y.
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