Mainstream Publishers – Is it Worth it?

I recently did my first book fair.  Okay, so that’s not huge news in itself, but what I found interesting was the Q&A held afterwards, where we discussed the pros and cons of the self-publishing industry. 

In the pro-corner were arguments like how cheap, easy and accessible it now is for anyone with an internet connection to publish their book, especially if they’re happy for it to be an e-book only.  In the con-corner was the difficulty in getting news of said self-published books out there so it stands up against all the other millions of books a reader can choose from.

All this, we suggested, would be negated if only we could find a publisher, whose job it is to push the book and make sure sales are achieved.  One lady at the back stuck her hand up.  ‘I’m not self-published,’ she said.  ‘I have a book deal.  Even when you get a contract, the days when a mainstream publisher will promote your book are long gone.  They don’t push my book.  I have to.  That’s why I’m here.’

A couple of others agreed with her.  It seems that, these days, getting a publishing deal doesn’t  mean your book gets marketed.  Yes, the publisher will put your book out.  And they have the ‘in’ so their books get more attention from reps than a lowly self-published one.  The publisher will get it onto Nielsen’s database, get it taken up by Barns and Noble, Amazon, etc.   

Frankly, most self-publishing sites can offer that.  Aside from the ‘in’ with the reps.  But, you say, a mainstream publisher also offers other benefits, such as professional editing and proofreading. 

Do they?  This lady also pointed out that, no.  That’s the writer’s job.  Apparently.  These days your job as a writer extends to editing, proofreading and, believe it or not, formatting (aka typesetting) your book.  Before okaying it, you – yes, the person who also produced this entity from nothing – have to ensure your book is print-perfect. 

I’d heard that the massive advances writers used to get in the dim and distant last century no longer exist.  At least for people not named Stephen King.  This idea that there’s no copy-editor or proofreader to check your manuscript before it goes to print was a new one to me.

Then I remembered writing a review back along after reading Gavin Smith’s ‘Veteran’.  I was frankly dumbfounded that his book had been released in the state it was in.  It was riddled with bad grammar, plot holes and misuse of words.  Its layout made it look like a school essay.  The ‘published by’ page claimed the book was from Gollancz.  I checked, just in case Smith had been fibbing.  No.  He hadn’t.  He’s on their website, along with the bibliography of all his published books.  It’s a Gollancz title.  GOLLANCZ!!!  Imprint of the massive Orion group.  Clearly this book had never been within a sniff of an editor, let alone a proofreader.  And yet they’d gone ahead and put it out there.  Gollancz!

It does make you wonder what you actually get for having a book deal.  Aside from ity-bitty royalties that mean you have to sell thousands of copies to make any money at all.  Sure, there’s the old ego-thing.  The vindication that some editor with a pile of submissions to look through happened to like yours.  But the whole book-submission thing is subjective, as is well-established.  Or we’d know nothing of Harry Potter.

If being mainstream published means you have to do absolutely everything a self-published writer has to do, but for a tiny royalty, then is it worth it? Unless you’re already established as a writer, or you’re a well-known celebrity, you’re pretty much on your own.  You still have to work for every sale.  You still have to edit your own work to within an inch of its life or (if you can afford it) pay someone else to do it.  Aside from the kudos of being a published, rather than self-published, author, what’s the benefit?

I can’t see one.  I kind of still want a publishing deal, because I’m a writer and writers like kudos, but I’m beginning to wonder why.

Man, that’s so depressing!



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