Part 1 of this series covers a comparison of Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing.  Go check it out & catch up!

What is a Publishing House?

A traditional book publisher or publishing house is in the business of publishing and disseminating  the work of authors to the public for commercial profit.  While anyone can start a publishing house, and there are several smaller companies, when one speaks of publishing they are usually referring to “The Big 5”.

The Big 5 are publishing giants within the industry and are responsible for the majority of the books that are sold within the commercial market, whether fiction, nonfiction, textbooks, etc.  They are Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Hachette, Harper Collins, and Simon & Schuster.  Each of these companies have several smaller imprints that specialize in specific genres (i.e., romance, fantasy, self-help, inspiration, etc.).  

How Does a Publishing House Work?

In the simplest terms, a publishing house handles everything (except for the actual authoring) involved in the process of delivering a book for consumption.  This includes but not limited to:

  • Editing & Development                                                                                    

  • Marketing
  • Distribution

They choose from among millions of submissions from hopeful writers that have the promise of the most profitability. Once the writers are chosen, they are offered an advance (sometimes in six or seven-figure amounts) to fund the creative process.  Now, who among us wouldn’t appreciate a large lump sum of cash that would basically pay all of our living expenses allowing us to just create?  Not to mention, unlike self-publishers, there is no learning curve, no trying to figure out who our audience is, how much to sell the book for, etc.  Pretty sweet, right?

Except, when you think about the amount that is paid in an advance, if you do the math you realize that perhaps you may be getting the short end of the stick.  Publishers typically pay the author royalties, ranging up to at most around 25% (on the generous side).  Ok, so you’re thinking…”and what’s wrong with that?” Well, let’s say you are offered a $1M advance.  Do you think that a company would offer you one million dollars because you are just so wonderful and such a brilliant writer?  Perhaps. Think on this. If they are willing to pay YOU one million dollars before anyone else reads a word of what you have written, then think about how much THEY are poised to earn from selling your book!  Now let’s say that your deal includes royalties of 8%, and your book is selling for $24.99 per copy (hardback).  Your agent (because you’re going to need one if you plan on getting your manuscript in front of the Big 5) is making a 15% commission by the way.  You would earn approximately $2.16 per book.  And your book would need to sell around 463,000 copies for you to earn out of your advance.  This means that the publishing company would need to recoup the advance that they paid you before you receive a royalty payment.  Not necessarily terrible, except for a couple of things:

  • You may not sell 463,000 copies right out the gate if you are relatively unknown, don’t have a large following already, etc. In all honesty, it could take a few years, even with a strong marketing push.
  • Remember, we are talking hypothetical numbers here.  Realistically, you probably won’t be offered a million dollar advance.  

Now, this isn’t to bad mouth publishers at all, because it’s not like any of this is actually unfair.  They are running a business, and this my friend is not personal at all, it’s just business. They do have to pay those editors, marketers, distributors, etc., after all.  This is solely an attempt to provide a realistic view and to educate.  A lot of us think of the glitz and glamour surrounding publishing and not enough of us look at the gritty truth.  The truth is, when dealing with a publisher, as a writer you are pretty similar to a contracted employee.  So, in a nutshell, if you blow through the advance thinking that the cash is going to flood in when your book hits the shelves…think again Cupcake.

For those of you that blog, I am sure that you have seen the successful book launches of A Belle in Brooklyn, Luvvie Ajayi, and others, and feel like you could be the next big thing.  Well, here’s the thing… both of these examples have huge social media followings. Luvvie for example has 113k Twitter followers and over a quarter of a million Facebook followers.  It stands to reason that a large proportion of her followers have purchased her book, “I’m Judging You:The Do Better Manual” (myself included and it’s Awesomely Luvvie!).
It makes good business sense for a publisher to a) offer her a deal and b) most likely offer a sizable advance, because it’s just about guaranteed that she is going to do great numbers.  Sure enough, she has been on the NY Times bestseller list since the book’s debut.

So while Luvvie’s case is inspirational, it also requires that you look at your own aspirations realistically.  She has worked hard building her platform.  She has been blogging for YEARS and this is the culmination of her hard work.  Don’t think because your church members and family follow you that you are going to land a book deal.  300 followers is nothing to a large publisher. You need to build your platform! Get featured on other blogs and large publications to start.

The bottom line is that no matter which path to publication that you choose, writing the actual book is only the beginning.  To even be considered by a publisher, there are still still several steps and lots of behind the scenes work that you will need to do.  Download our free pdf guide to preparing for traditional publishing and get started today!

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