The Career Author Podcast: Episode 98 – Pursuing the Traditional Publishing Path


Pursuing the traditional publishing path has been something that independent authors have traditionally avoided for many reasons. Whether it’s lack of control or a smaller share of royalties, many self-published authors have become career authors without playing the game with the Big 5.

But could there be legitimate and worthwhile reasons why indies would pursue traditional publishing now? Join J. and Zach in an honest conversation about that “other side” of publishing that has been historically difficult to cross into.

The Career Author Podcast is a podcast where co-authors J. Thorn and Zach Bohannon share their struggles and successes as full-time authors, advice for improving your writing craft, and honest discussions of what it takes to build a successful career as an author.

In this episode, you’ll discover:

  • The definition of traditional publishing
  • Why authors can’t choose traditional publishing, but only to pursue it
  • When an author should consider the pursuit of a traditional publishing contract
  • What J. is doing with an unpublished manuscript
  • Why Zach might want to pursue traditional publishing

Also, discover the one question you need to ask yourself to avoid plot holes and character inconsistencies.

Send us your ways and hacks – https://thecareerauthor.com/waysandhacks/ 

Leave us a comment: Is traditional publishing something you’ve pursued? Why or why not? If so, what has been your experience?

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J.’s mastermind group – https://theauthorlife.com/mastermind

The Writer’s Well Episode 145: Should I give up or double down? – https://shows.pippa.io/thewriterswell/episodes/ep145

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22 thoughts on “The Career Author Podcast: Episode 98 – Pursuing the Traditional Publishing Path

  • Morning guys. Interesting subject today. Valuable hack Zach. “Why?” is a useful question that needs stressing. Some of us have been conditioned to ignore it through being repeatedly told in life “because I said so…” 🙂.
    Ref the prestige of the “big five”; what prestige? It might mean something to la-de-das in celebrity parties in New York; but it’s like any fashion brand; fragile and temporary. If some go bankrupt, the financial fallout of unpaid earnings etc. will mean their brand may become toxic. All big businesses appear solid and stable until they aren’t. Compaq, Enron, Woolworth’s, Arthur Anderson and Pan Am were all untouchable massive household names, until one day they weren’t.
    I’m with Zach; “who cares?” To quote Ultravox; “🎵It means nothing to me…🎵”
    To answer your question I tried unsuccessfully for a trad deal in the 1980s and 1990s with a spy novel and before I knew about structure. This was when self-publishing involved paying a print company to print x thousand copies, and one stored them in boxes in a garage until they got damp. Thankfully I was never vain enough to go down that route. I had interviews with agents and got some nearlys in terms of rejection letters. You could pitch directly to most big publishers in those days. Recently I put my drawer full of rejection letters in the recycling bin because that is their value today.
    For me it’s a question of resources. One has limited resources in terms of time, enthusiasm and energy. I choose not to waste my time, enthusiasm and energy trying for a trad deal. One is unlikely to be offered large sums of money today unless one is already earning large sums of money – think Amanda Hocking etc. Publishing is a business, not a charity.
    I see the argument for non-genre literary books perhaps. But I wouldn’t waste too many resources trying to get them trad published. It might be a waste of opportunity cost.
    Great show guys.

      • Something worth mentioning hopefully without being too scare story. If a publisher goes bankrupt you do not get your “rights” back. They are assets belonging to the publisher and can be sold by the receiver to any company that wishes to pay for them to get funds into the bankrupt publisher’s account. The new owner can do whatever they wish with those rights including sit on them for years and the author has no rights to their own work.

        • I thought there was a 35 year rule or something where you can get them back after 35 years. There might be a fair use rule (I am sure that is not the name) where if they don’t do anything productive for x years you can get it back. Plus make sure there is a clause stating that you get the rights reverted after x years. Always have a lawyer go over the contract and preferably one that is familiar with books.

  • It is something I did pursue and will again in the future. But I would also like to keep going with the self publishing, trying to make a name and build an audience that way.
    There is a book series I have in mind that I would like to shop around to other publishers and agents. But that isn’t something I am going to do at the moment, my main focus is trying to make a living off of self publishing.

  • Hey, guys. I’m a longtime listener and lurker, but I think first-time commenter on this show.

    I studied Creative Writing in my undergrad (2010-2014), and during that time, I was told that traditional publishing was the only choice and that all self-publishing was pure vanity publishing. The message was: struggle to write the next Great American Novel, eat a lot of ramen, and pray for a publishing deal. It was really unappealing, and I couldn’t bring myself to finish any novel I started because A) it might not be “good enough” and B) when I finished it, it might not get published anyway.

    Imagine my surprise when I was introduced to the Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast and learned that self-publishing was a viable business and writers were actually earning a living from it! Just learning I had another choice was the kick in the butt I needed to finish my book, and I’ve self-published three novels since. Like J, I have considered pursuing traditional publishing in the future to prove that I’m “good enough.” But for now, I’m still working on making self-publishing a successful career path for myself.

    Thanks for the topic and for doing the show!

  • J, I get what you’re saying about Traditional being Big 5, but many authors (like me) say we’re traditional because so far that’s the word the industry uses.

    When I’m talking to normals or trying to get on a health podcast, I just say we were published by a company that focuses on health and wellness books. Or we say “our publisher is Propriometrics Press.”

    When I’m talking to writers it’s usually to indicate that we did choose (for one of our five books) to let a publisher take control of the book after we wrote it. There are pros and cons I can share with them about indie publishing or traditional publishing because I’ve had both.

    In my experience, most new authors don’t know anything but the words publisher/traditional publisher or self-published. If you use a different word you’ll have to waste time explaining when they are still nowhere near the stage to hear what you’ll have to say. 😉

    • The waters are definitely muddy. I bristle when it’s author-to-author talk and someone says they’re “traditionally” published by Joe’s Book Shack Publishing Co.

      • I get it. I’ll never tell YOU I’m traditionally published …now. 😉

        I think of it as shorthand for not doing it myself. Say the word and authors know what you mean. Of course, I tell them I’m with a small press and share what I think are the benefits of that vs trying or waiting for a Big 5 deal.

        I’m usually trying to convince them to do something other than wait for an agent or contract that may never come and will very likely do little for them. Maybe you haven’t been to a local writer’s event in a while, but it seems like most are there for the pitching and not writing their next book.

        With authors closer to our level I just assume they’ll think small press unless I clarify that it’s Tor, Random House, or some other famous publisher or imprint.

        I do get what you’re saying, though. I hope you’re okay.

  • I haven’t published anything yet, but I’m definitely going indie. I want control over the rights to my work. I want to work on my own timetable. I can see, though, why you both want to pursue it at this stage in your careers. Why not? I hope you keep us updated!

    One thing to remember is that the choice of whether to go indie or pursue trad publishing depends on your genre. If you write literary fiction, then traditional publishing is a better choice. However, if you write romance, then indie is an excellent choice. A few months ago, an agent spoke at my RWA chapter meeting. She said romance authors can typically make a lot more money as indies than they can with traditional publishers. A lot more!

    On another note: I’m with you, Zach, on liking stand-alone novels. I also love trilogies. I bet 90% of my reading is trilogies and stand-alones. I’m actually not a huge fan of long series. I get tired of the characters and the author’s quirks after a while.

  • I thought there was a 35 year rule or something where you can get them back after 35 years. There might be a fair use rule (I am sure that is not the name) where if they don’t do anything productive for x years you can get it back. Plus make sure there is a clause stating that you get the rights reverted after x years. Always have a lawyer go over the contract and preferably one that is familiar with books.

    • This is my very very very 2nd comment even though i accidentally clicked twice on my first.

      I am not sure why J is working towards getting traditionally published. Simply to build your brand in terms of authority? Especially if you are taking the stoic attitude that it doesn’t matter if you get it or not. Most of the time doing say work out reps means you want to lift greater weight. But if you have so much free time you feel that you need to work on your querying reps for some reason I guess go for it.
      Wouldn’t it be better to write more books? I mean you are pretty good at writing at this point but the more craft you put in the better you will get right?
      I am still looking for 75k words published so I will just go back to writing. 🙂

  • The first book I wrote was picked up by a small press and I was on cloud nine! It soon became obvious that, even though they were legit and run by people in the industry, that they were basically doing what I do as an indie now. The edit they gave was so-so, the cover was alright, and the 1 page pdf on how to market my own book wasn’t much at all. It was very disheartening, though that was mostly because of my own incorrect assumptions and perceptions. I now know how to do everything they did (and I know they loved the trade), and I can control my price (they were charging way too much). Despite this, I am still grateful for what they provided and for appreciating my story.

    All that was back in 2011, and I know things have changed. I believe that unless a small press can offer an actual money-value service that can’t be replicated with a little self-effort and education, it doesn’t seem like a viable path for a career author. My experience with small press is limited, and I’m sure that some are better than others. But as far as trad publishing goes, I’m definitely in the go big or go home camp.

    Of course, I’m not successful… yet. So I may not be the one to listen to. 🙂

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