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  • Writer's pictureErin Swan

6 Things Nobody Told Me about Traditional Publishing

As much as self-publishing has taken off over the last several years, being published by a traditional publisher is still the goal that most aspiring authors have. There’s a certain amount of prestige connected to it, I guess. Plus, let’s be honest, you’re far more likely to turn your book into a hit when you have the backing of a well-known publishing house.

So, for these and other reasons—such as my complete inability to do any competent marketing for myself—I always knew that I wanted to publish traditionally. Of course, I always had this idea of how that process would go, if it ever happened. And, boy, was I wrong… Honestly, a big part of that may have been my fault. I probably could have done a lot more research into the process before picking this path. But in case you’ve ever wondered, here are a few things I didn’t know about getting published until I started the process

Contracts Are More Complicated Than You Think

When I imagined getting published, I never spent much time thinking about the legal end of things. But let me tell you, that part of it takes a lot of time and negotiation. Lucky for me, I had the Inkitt team handling all of the contract negotiations on my behalf, so I didn’t have to worry too much about picking through the little details and decoding the legal jargon.

But even being a step removed from this part of the process, I still received multiple copies of the contract with lots of scratch-outs, write-ins, revisions, and reconsiderations. There are things in that contract that you would never think about. For example, you not only have to decide whether or not you want to sell the rights to print that book to the publisher, but you need to consider the rights to e-books, audiobooks, movie and television adaptations, recreations of your characters, how quotations from your book can be used, etc., etc., etc. The sheer number of different kinds of rights associated with one manuscript blew my mind.

And if you really want to negotiate on that contract, rather than just signing on the first offer from the publisher, those negotiations take a ton of time. It was about a year from the time I got my initial offer from Tor to the time we had a contract signed. I grew an entire human being just while going through the contract stage of traditional publishing…

It Takes Years… Literally, Years

Once you have the contract stuff behind you, don’t expect things to suddenly speed up. Traditional publishing is a really slow process. Bright Star has been delayed two years at this point; however, things seem to be on schedule now, so hopefully there won’t be any more! I thought at first that this was just an abnormality caused by the initial length of my manuscript, plus some other circumstances I won’t go into details about.

But in talking to other writers, I’ve learned this is not all that unusual. Having several years between signing on your offer and publishing your book is kind of the norm. So, if you’re a writer and you want to publish traditionally, you better be prepared to wait!

They’re Usually Not Buying “As Is”

I never expected to be able to give my manuscript to a publisher and have them publish it with absolutely zero changes. However, I never expected the amount of revising that they would want on the manuscript. Nobody ever told me that a publisher is buying the “potential” of your manuscript more than they’re buying the manuscript itself. But that’s kind of what happened.

Now, granted, Bright Star was very unpolished. I never planned to publish this book; I just wrote it for myself, so I didn’t put a ton of effort into structuring it well, pacing it perfectly, and so on. So, I did expect quite a few revisions. What I didn’t expect was something close to a total rewrite.

If you’ve read the original version of Bright Star, you know that it was somewhere around 800 MS Word pages. The publisher wanted it around 350. So, I had to cut it down to less than half the original story. There were other major parts of the story that I had to revise, and this was a struggle for me at first. However, in the end, I recognized that all of these changes greatly improved the story. They moved the plot along more quickly, strengthened characters, and helped build a richer world.

So, with all that being said, just keep in mind that you’re not going to be publishing your work as you wrote it. If you publish traditionally, you’ll likely be publishing an entirely different version of what you wrote. But, odds are, it’s going to be a whole lot better.

You Have to Pick Your Battles

While we’re on the topic of revisions, here’s another important thing I didn’t know about traditional publishing—you have to know when to negotiate and when to hold back. As writers, a lot of us go in full mama-bear mode with our manuscripts. We’ve nurtured this story for years, and we don’t want anyone to hurt it.

But with traditional publishing, your publisher is the one making the financial investment in publishing this book. So, they deserve a say in it too. Think of it as co-parenting your book, and the publisher is kind of the disciplinarian in the relationship. You might want to shelter your creation, but sometimes, it needs a firm hand to grow into something decent.

So, you really have to know when to pick your battles. Is it really worth arguing with your publisher over a new title? Do you really want to delay the editing process by fighting over the removal of one scene? Of course, there are some parts of your creation that are worth fighting for. You just need to know what your non-negotiables are, and be willing to compromise on other points.

Ultimately, your publisher is probably more experienced in this than you are, so unless it’s a huge issue to make the changes they want, I’ve found it’s usually best to defer to their expertise.

You Do a Lot of Waiting

As I’ve mentioned, this all takes a lot of time. But another thing I didn’t know about the timeline of traditional publishing is just how much waiting the author has to do. After the initial contract is signed, you start working with your editor on revisions right away. So, it’s all a busy whirlwind of edits and rewrites and more edits for a while. But once you’ve finalized major revisions, most of your work is done—and you’re still about a year out from your publication.

And so, you wait. There are a few things to do here and there, and of course you still have to continue your personal marketing efforts to build your following as best you can. But, when it comes to actual work on your book, there’s really nothing for you to do. You wait for your editor and the marketing team to put together pitches and strategies, and just hope for the best.

The Tiniest Bit of Progress Is Thrilling

Maybe it’s the sheer amount of time that traditional publishing takes… But when I thought about taking this path, I only ever thought about the final product. I knew it would be thrilling to have my book in my hands someday—but there are so many other parts of this process that are so incredibly exciting.

Finalizing your contract. Getting final approval on your manuscript. Receiving that first draft of cover art. Simply hearing about how other departments at the publishing house have reacted to your book. All of these little steps, these tiny bits of progress, are far more exciting than I ever thought they could be. Of course, I haven’t held Bright Star in my hands yet, and I’m certain that will far surpass any other parts of this process in terms of excitement. But for now, I am enjoying these little steps that bring me so much unexpected joy as we gradually move towards publication.

Whether you’re a writer or a reader or both, I can promise you that the experience of traditional publishing is not what you would expect it to be. But, for writers and readers alike, it’s the final product that makes it all worth the wait.

#writerslife #amwriting #publishing #writingtips

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