Getting Published – Is a Mainstream Publisher Worth the Effort?

There are five main avenues to getting published. The publishers like to call themselves all kinds of fancy names (especially if they’re trying to sell you a debatable service), but fundamentally they all fall into one of the following categories: ebooks, vanity presses, print on demand (POD), and mainstream publishers.

99.9% of all the books you see in your High Street bookstore were published by mainstream publishersIf you dream of sales in the thousands or millions, the other options are not for you. A “best seller” in ebook-land is a book that’s sold more than 100 copies. To sell more than a thousand copies of a self-published book is very rare indeed.

Like it or not, only mainstream publishers have the money, experience and access to bookstores that can make your novel a blockbuster. If that’s your dream, the only way you’ll do it is by getting it accepted by a mainstream publisher. Period.

Don’t get sucked in by the idea that if you self-publish, it will improve your chances of being noticed by a mainstream publisher. Mainstream publishers won’t even look at a book that’s been self-published unless you can prove it’s sold 4,000 or 5,000 copies – and that’s a huge amount for a self-published book.

True, self-publishing first has worked for some writers, but the reason it makes news is because it’s so unusual!  Google and you’ll find lists of authors who started out by self-publishing. Check closer and you’ll find many of the names are from last century, when the publishing world was a different place and bookselling operated differently, so they’re not relevant. That leaves just a handful of modern authors – rare indeed.

Why Mainstream Publishers Distrust Self-published Writers

Yes, being self-published can actually count against you with a mainstream publisher!

Did you know that when a manuscript has been accepted by a mainstream publisher, the author’s work is only just beginning? For weeks or even months before publication, the author works with the publisher’s editor, polishing the novel until the publisher is happy with it. Now remember, this is a manuscript that is already so outstanding, it has managed to jump all the hurdles to being accepted by a mainstream publisher in the first place. And that includes major bestelling authors like J K Rowling and Dan Brown.

When you self-publish your book, that tells the mainstream publisher you think you’re too good a writer to need an editor – you judged your book good enough for publication without any outside help. They worry you won’t be humble enough to take an editor’s advice, that you’ll be difficult to work with and object to their requests for changes. There are plenty of authors out there, so why should they take a risk with someone who’s going to be arrogant and difficult?

That may sound harsh, but think about it – by putting your book into print without professional editing, you’re saying “My writing is better than J K Rowling and Dan Brown”. If they needed editing, who do you think you are – Shakespeare? Mainstream publishers invest big money when they take on an author, so they don’t want to take risks. It’s a business, after all!

It’s all too hard….

We all know getting the attention of mainstream publishers isn’t easy. But it is possible. J K Rowling did it, and so did Dan Brown – and they are now making millions. Yes, they wrote for years with no return and many frustrations. But what’s better: giving up and self-publishing, which means you’ll earn a few hundred bucks (if you’re lucky) per novel – or hanging in there, with the potential to eventually earn a much bigger paycheck and, more importantly, a much bigger readership and a name that may last for posterity?

When you add the fact that being self-published can actually count against you with the mainstream players, it’s important to think carefully before you take the plunge.  We tend to be an “instant gratification” society these days – but if you go the self-publishing route, be aware you’re sacrificing something potentially much greater by settling for the small gains now.

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