Friday, June 28, 2013

What Do Traditional Publishers Do?

With traditional publishing, writers submit their work for consideration to a publisher (or an agent), who in turn either rejects or purchases rights to the manuscript and publishes the book.

However, the definition and characteristics go deeper than that. Writers need to know all the aspects of traditional publishing, and just what, exactly, traditional publishers do.

Traditional Publishers:

• Accept queries/manuscripts from either writers or agents.

• Accept or reject submitted queries/manuscripts, selecting only the most marketable for publication.

• Offer writers a legally binding contract that covers rights and royalties. The publisher purchases rights from the author in exchange for publishing the book.

• Offer authors a percentage of sales (royalties) based on either the net or retail price of the book and with or without an advance on those sales.

• Work with authors to make editorial changes using either staff or freelance/outside editors.

• Format the interior and the exterior of book. (Author illustrations are rarely used, although small presses are more open to the idea.)

• Form a marketing plan. Titles with large sales potential receive the most attention and marketing dollar.

• Send books to outside printers for physical copies.

• Send books to wholesalers, distributors, book clubs, retail outlets, libraries, etc.

• Send authors royalty checks based on sales. (Less the initial advance, if any.)

Traditional publishers, whether large or small, have numerous resources available to market a book successfully. They possess knowledge, experience, capital, and the necessary connections. Since these presses are investing their time and money, they are selective. Every project is a gamble and can be affected by factors such as the market, the economy, timing, and promotions. Their goal is to make good on their investment. After all, it is a business.

Any questions?

Care to share your publishing and promoting knowledge? I am looking for guest posts on any subject surrounding the book industry! Full guidelines are HERE.


  1. Thanks for the informative post, Diane!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

  2. I think that covers any questions I'd have.

  3. Yup, that about covers it. What is the difference between what a traditional publisher does and a small press?

  4. It's a business, for sure--it's easy for us to forget that. Nice overview, Diane.

  5. Great stuff! I wasn't aware of some of the things publishers do.

  6. Because writers are artists, I think it's easy to forget that the publishing side is, first and foremost, a business.

  7. You know, while reading this it just clicked as to what an "advance"

    A lot of good information here and I was wondering if it's better (in your opinion) to get representation before submitting a query or does it make that big of a difference?

  8. A small press publisher is always my first port of call with a new manuscript - I'm pretty traditional.

  9. Karen, the biggest different between a big press and a little press is the clout. The bigger press has greater distribution more money to spend, but they are often less personal than the smaller presses.

    Mark, a lot of publishers take direct submissions so an agent isn't necessary. And agent can negotiate a better deal for you, but getting one doesn't guarantee you a book contract. Nine out of ten agented books never find a home.

  10. Sometimes authors forget this is a business, and when you self-publish you are running your own business.

  11. always great info here! marketing is the only thing CQ is lacking in, but thats a huge part! glad i have how to promote advice from you & your book!

    have a grast weekend!

  12. Very well explained, Diane. Since they have a lot to lose as well as gain, they take the time to make the finish product very good. Some self published could take a leaf from big business with regard to their finished product. After all, a small publisher or self published author are all in business of selling a product, aren't they? As a consumer, I want the best products when buying at the market. If I want seconds or *it will do* ho-hum, I know where to buy them too.


  13. It's all about business. Would love to get my hands on traditional publishers' data. :)

  14. I might be interested, but I don't know if I have anything to offer. :-)

  15. Tweeted and shared.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  16. As always, great information. They certainly have the business side down and that's the part self-pubs need to learn well. The benefits and pros and cons between the two grow less and less disparate.

  17. Great informative post, Diane.

    Happy Weekend!

  18. Well, now I do have a clear idea! Now I need to get the book done.

  19. I work with three small traditional publishers. Very different experiences with all of them. One definitely has better marketing judging by sales alone.

  20. I often wonder about a lot of these points mentioned. I just pitched a query and am waiting two weeks. It is a magazine article-do the guidelines change much on queries?

    Thank Diane!
    Now back to writing more poetry ;D

    Happy Friday to you n' yours~

  21. Steven, it is a business.

    Thank you, Tara.

    Sia, that is true. Self-published authors need to give their very best, too.

    Julie, they know the business and have the connections.

    Susan, and sales are what ultimately matter.

    Ella, I've never pitched a magazine, so I don't know.

  22. They do have their place.

  23. Hi Diane,

    Your information is highly informative, as per usual. I cannot add anything to your list. However, I do know somebody who is an author and is getting stressed out right now in regards to her book publishing. I shall inform her of your post.

    Also, thank you for your kind, support comment on my latest posting. Much appreciated.


  24. Thanks for the information, Diane!

  25. It's hard work all around, and always takes longer than we think just to get the book out there. It's good to have this info to get an idea of why traditional publishing does take so long. Writer’s Mark

  26. For me, this post reinforces the fact that self-pubbed writers have to don that business hat from the get-go!
    Writer In Transit

  27. AnonymousJune 30, 2013

    It's a business, mos def. Musa Publishing (the only small press I've dealt with so far) turns out quality products, but the marketing side of things is almost entirely on the authors' shoulders.

  28. I'd sure like to get to know one better...up close and personal! :)

  29. Even if you are traditionally published, you often have to do a lot of the marketing yourself. Very informative post. Thank you for sharing!

  30. Nice, easily digested outline of traditional publishing, Diane. The only thing I'd add/emphasize is that trad. publishers don't necessarily accept "the most marketable" books but those they think are "most marketable." So many big-name authors, as we know, were rejected countless times by traditional publishers.

    Be well.

    PS Sorry you can't drink the chocolate wine I have in my fridge. Thanks for stopping by.


  31. No questions here, Diane. Nice summation of how it all works.