Is Traditional Publishing Dying?

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There has been a great deal of discussion and controversy over the question:  Is Traditional Publishing Dying?  For those who are not aware of the conversation or the meaning of the question, I will explain.  Many different people have been saying that the large publishing houses will soon be finished or reduced to rubble and that the self-publishers will take over.  For my take, read the rest of this story.

Traditional Publishers vs. Self-Publishers

I will discuss briefly the difference between traditional vs. self publishing just to make sure that we are all on the same page.  Traditional publishing is described as the act of writing a book, sending it to a literary agent, having the agent “shop it around” or try to interest a publisher, having the publisher’s many departments (editor, proofreaders, designers, and so forth) mill over it and whip it into shape, and then release it to the mass market.

On the other hand, self-publishers write the work, either publish it themselves, use a subsidy press, or a third party micro/small publisher and release it.  There are usually no editors, proofreaders, designers, or other folks involved in the process.

So, is it dying or what?!

Traditional publishing is not dying, and I’ll tell you why.  First, the traditional publishing method is, despite some recent financial setbacks with sales, firmly embedded in the publishing world.  Many, many books come through their doors waiting to be published.  Is the traditional publishing model having some trouble?  Yes, perhaps, but it is far from death throws.

If that’s so, why have so many people started self-publishing?

The reason self-publishing has seen a rise in popularity is due to the ease of entry and the guaranteed release.  There is no usually not very much shopping around of the manuscript: it is submitted, and it is later released in book form.  It is also easier to self-publish, and people stand a better chance of getting more of the profits per sale of each book sold.

Why doesn’t everyone self-publish, then?

Easy:  marketing and quality.  When going the traditional route, there are “gatekeepers” who keep work of bad quality or low marketability from reaching the book shelves.  The early self-publishers have created a stigma that we all are forced to live with now:  self-published work, on average, is usually rather bad horrendous.  It is so bad, in fact, that even readers have become wary of self-published works.

Marketing is also another consideration:  the traditional publishers have the money and connections to get the classy reviews and put up the television commercials during prime time.  Self-publishers rarely have that opportunity, unless they are very, very good or have already been established in the publishing industry prior to self-publishing.

Should I risk my money on self-published books?

That all depends.  When shopping for self-published books, check out the writer’s credentials and website (if he has one).  Look at the book cover.  Do any of these look sloppy?  Do they contain correct punctuation, grammar, and spelling?  Do they look professional?

All of these questions can be placed in lieu of “Should I buy it?”  If your answers to the above generally fall as “No”, then you probably would be better off passing on it.  If you still are curious, try to get an electronic version of the book.  If you hate it, then you would feel better for spending less on it than the hardcover or paperback version.

I like a self-published author.  What do I do?

Tell other people about them!  The best advertising is word-of-mouth advertising, and self-published authors who actually produce quality work should be spread to your friends, family, and co-workers.  They do not have the big advertising dollars of the major players, so you can count it as a form of charity, as well.

If the author is terribly bad, then you can feel free to say so.  It’s a two-edged sword, after all, and the small guys should be subject to the same things the big boys go through.


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