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The Book Deal

Getting published: The inside scoop from 3 top editors

Despite all the excitement about self-publishing these days – and I’m a big proponent –many writers still dream of being published by a big house like St. Martin’s Press or a prestigious literary publisher like Algonquin or Bloomsbury.

“I want the pride of making a major-league team with superstars on the roster,” a writer client told me recently.

“I want a big advance and that distinctive imprint on the spine. I want to tell my family and friends that I’ve finally made it, that I’ll have that beautiful jacket, that gorgeous type design, and a whole staff of first-class editors, sales and marketing people who think I’m just great.”

It’s a goal worth pursuing for authors who have good connections or the patience to keep pursuing that key gatekeeper, the literary agent; for those who may have already self-published their book and achieved sales numbers that can make an agent or publisher sit up and take notice (10K or more); and for those who are building or already have a solid online platform.

Three top editors tell all

Acquisition editors at major publishing houses are hot to find the next big thing, especially that elusive debut author whose manuscript both inspires their personal devotion and appears to have the necessary commercial appeal. Forward looking editors also see exciting new opportunities for authors coming down the pike, books that are interactive, “books that are more than books.”

That’s some of the scoop from these three savvy, successful acquiring editors I surveyed recently, all VIPs in the field.  Read on for more:

Jennifer Enderlin, Vice President and Editor-in-Chief at St. Martin’s Press, one of the largest publishers in America, with 700 titles per year under eight imprints. Enderlin is a top dealmaker, recently signing a six-book deal for a family saga by Kieran Kramer called The House of Brady and another with New York Times bestselling author Sandra Dallas for a historical novel called The Deliverance.

Chuck Adams, Executive Editor at Algonquin Books, a literary press publishing quality fiction and nonfiction books, often by young up-and-coming authors. Adams signed Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen, a publishing phenomenon on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year with 2 million copies sold.

George Gibson, Publisher of Bloomsbury USA, which published two recent hits: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson and My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler.

Do you sign up many books from “debut” authors?

Enderlin: Signing up books from debut authors is what I live for!

Adams: We publish a lot of debut authors, preferring to take promising but unproven writers and attempt to launch their careers, rather than getting into a bidding war for the next bestseller from an already established author.

Gibson: We publish quite a few debut authors, both fiction and nonfiction

Will you consider authors who originally self-publish?

Enderlin: Absolutely

Adams: Yes, one of my favorite buys in the past year was a self-published memoir by Julia Pandl called Memoir of the Sunday Brunch and prior to that I purchased a self-published novel by Stanley Gordon West, Blind Your Ponies. I think publishers are increasingly open to considering books that have proven themselves, albeit in a fairly limited market, and that’s especially true today, since self publishing has become so much easier, and more writers are taking that route without even attempting to find an agent or publisher first.

Gibson: Yes

What can a traditional publisher offer authors that they can’t get with self-publishing?

Enderlin: The entire business end of it:  everything from designing the cover, to selling it into accounts, to publicizing it, to marketing it online and through traditional methods. There are at least 50-75 people involved in the publishing of your book.  Could a self-published author pay 75 people to do what we do?  Not unless he or she was very rich!

Adams: An established publisher has relationships with the national network of bookstores that an individual can only dream of developing, plus the house’s professional publicity and marketing teams know which reviewers, which publications, which media outlets are most likely to respond to any given title, and they work to get attention for the book in a way that an individual could never duplicate.

Gibson: Editorial guidance, leverage with all major sellers, marketing experience, connections with the media.

Do you acquire most books from agents, from authors, or from your own initiative and ideas?

Enderlin: Mostly from agents

Adams: Most come from agents. In fact, in my entire career I’ve only purchased two titles directly from an author.

Gibson: The vast majority come from agents

What’s the most effective way you’ve found to market books today?

Enderlin: Early word-of-mouth campaigns to key booksellers, bloggers and reviewers. It’s a plus if an author feels comfortable connecting through social media online.

Adams: Marketing begins inside, as publishers work to create a “buzz” around a title. We do this through the machinations of our amazing publicity and online marketing staffs, and through the store-by-store, title-by-title pre-publication hand selling by the head of our marketing department, who focuses his efforts primarily—although not exclusively—on the independent booksellers. They tend to be true “book people,” and if they respond to a title, they will get behind it and help to make it a success.

Having a “platform” is increasingly important in marketing a writer’s work, so when we take on a new author, we always work to create an online presence if one does not already exist. Typically, this involves the creation of a website and establishing active social media accounts, especially Facebook, Twitter, and GoodReads.

Gibson: Good major publicity still is key, but increasingly we’re going direct to consumers online, and it’s working. We also push authors hard on self-marketing.

How has the role of a traditional publisher changed?

Enderlin: I’m not sure it has.  Retailers look to us for quality control.  If we as a publisher are standing behind a book saying, “This is good” then the seller has a better chance of believing it because it has had to pass through so many levels to get there.

Adams: In many ways, the role of the traditional publisher has not changed at all. We still look for talent, for a writer and a manuscript that we feel will connect with a large readership. We develop that manuscript, prepare it for publication in a way that hopefully will attract readers, market and sell it to the stores and other suitable outlets. We pay for all this, plus we warehouse the books and, sadly, still take the returns when a title fails to sell as hoped.

Traditional publishers are also insisting more and more that a manuscript be in a more or less “finished” form when it comes in, meaning that the author and/or agent may have to hire an outside editor to polish their work.

And, obviously, the increasing sales of eBooks is creating a whole new kind of “product.” There are whole new opportunities for books in this brave new world, for books to become more than books, certainly more than anything anyone of us in the business could have imagined only a few years ago.

Gibson: Much of the process is the same: Good books are the key. The big change seems to be in how we reach the marketplace. We used to rely on bookstores as the conduit. As their number has diminished and more business has gone online, we need to learn how to reach the consumer directly.


So there you have it, the inside track on traditional publishing today, at least according to these three smart acquiring editors. The message is clear: If your dream is a traditional book deal, you’ve got to go in through an agent, it helps if you’re a fabulous unknown, and you’d better be prepared to self-market like there’s no tomorrow.

Both Jennifer Enderlin and Chuck Adams, by the way, will be appearing in person at the upcoming San Francisco Writers Conference, February 24-26, 2012.  I’ll be there too.

What About You?

Are you going for the big enchilada, and if so, what’s your strategy?  Or are you considering alternatives?  I look forward to your comments.


  1. says

    Refreshing to read the comments about self-publishers, because mainstream publishers do turn down a lot of books that go on to demonstrate they have a readership.

    I’m in London, where indie sales figures apparently need to be stratospheric, like Mark Edwards’ and Louise Voss’s, before an agent or publisher takes notice. But no doubt we’ll catch up with you in time.

  2. says

    Self-publishing continues to be very tempting on the surface because it looks so easy. Getting it to sell well is another ballgame entirely. Both paths, traditional publishing and self-publishing, have their challenges, and I am still undecided as to which route I’ll attempt.

    I’m very curious about publishing in foreign countries. Responses from my U.K. beta readers were very positive, so I’d like to try to sell mine in the U.K. Do many U.S. publishing houses have branches in the U.K.? Or, would it be better to try to land an agent in the U.K. and start from scratch?

  3. says

    Thank you Alan. First, it thrills me to read that debut authors still have a shot. It should be obvious to everyone by now that times have changed and an online presence is crucial to the success of new writers. Having my work professionally edited before submitting was something I hadn’t considered.

    Regardless of what the future of publishing is, or how it may change, the bottom line remains the same: The talent, sooner or later, emerges on top. The best stories will always find readers.

    This, of course, does not apply to the music business. :)

  4. says

    I went back and forth a long time between self-publishing and going traditional for my young adult fantasy. I ended up signing with an agent, and thus far I’m really happy with my decision. I’m revising right now, and this round with my agent has made a huge difference in the quality of my manuscript. I’m really happy that I didn’t self publish the manuscript that I queried with. Fingers crossed for the submission process, although if that doesn’t pan out, I’ll be perfectly happy to self publish my book as well.

  5. says


    Yes, most U.S. publishing houses have branches and sell their original edition of the work in the U.K. You or your agent need to read the fine print of your contract, though, and negotiate what kind of royalty you get on U.K. sales since commercial publishers want to pay a lot less than they do for domestic U.S. sales, what with shipping, overhead, and other mysterious costs they claim.

    It’s rare for an American author to sell directly to a U.K. publisher, since hardly any U.S. agent can negotiate a contract where anyone but the publisher sells any foreign rights. U.S. publishers, however, may use a literary agent based in U.K. to sell European and Asian rights, since they tend to have long-standing cultivated relationships with those translation-based publishers.

  6. says

    I enjoy self-publishing e-books at Smashwords. Sales are not great but they do happen. Best of all I am learning how to pull in readers with a combination of catchy cover and title backed up by strong content. Unfortunately the best results and feedback come from my shortest pieces, which are sometimes offered as a free read.

    Thanks again for another informative and interesting post.


  7. says

    Dear Alan,

    Insightful, trend-setting, as always.

    I am still struck by the statistic that ten times as many authors will self-publish or use a small/indiepub this year than will TradPub (Anchor Books news release). That, and the Publisher’s Weekly survey revealing that 90% of the agents at BEA were being asked by their clients (authors) how to reach-back on their titles in order to self-publish.

    There’s change a foot, and as an IndiePub Coach I couldn’t be more thrilled! You are the source I quote most often in workshops and coaching sessions. Thank you.

  8. says

    “It should be obvious to everyone by now that times have changed and an online presence is crucial to the success of new writers”

    And as more and more brick and mortar bookstores go out of business, you know, that ‘distribution the publisher is promising seems less and less interesting.

    Adam Carolla got his first book into the NYT Best seller list because he’s had a long career and built up a huge fanbase (several TV and radioshows). His platform now is his worldfamous Podcast, which he can attribute most of the sales of his book to (daily shows, promoting the book, going on talk shows promoting the book). The goal is to build up a platform like Adam has done, then sell your book, which is also awesome. You won’t sell a bad book ever, but if it’s a great book and you have a platform, then great.

    My problem is the Publishers won’t really give you a platform, or a fanbase, or anything. But they will put your book in thousands of empty brick and mortar bookstores, and they will take half the revenues (half, 75%? whatever) from the book sales.

    In case you were wondering why thousands of authors skip the traditional route and try to ‘go it alone’: because they’re ‘going it alone’ no matter what they decide to do. But at least self publishing you get to keep more of the money.

  9. says


    No one can give you a platform, to be sure, and publishers don’t actually have thousands of empty stores to ship to any more. The number is dwindling steadily. Regarding the share of revenues, publishers generally pay some kind of an advance against royalties on a sliding scale of 10-15% of the retail price, plus a share of the subsidiary rights (ebook, translation, dramatic, audio, reprint and others) that’s negotiated by your agent.

    If you publish it yourself the royalty is higher, but the price is lower: from 99 cents to $2.95 for ebooks and currently $7-12 for print-on-demand. The math is changing constantly but there’s no doubt that if you can generate the volume you make more money on your own.

  10. says

    While a big traditional publisher could get your books onto the shelves of Wal-Mart or Target, a huge percentage of books on shelves in brick and mortar retailers end up pulped.

    I’ve heard horror stories of publishers sucking back the advance paid after sales flopped.

    Can a debut author really consider signing a contract ‘hitting the big time’?
    Does the struggle for artistic recognition really change with the publishing model?

    Of all the debut writers picked up by big imprints, do we know what percentage experience a serious level of success?

  11. says

    “If you publish it yourself the royalty is higher, but the price is lower: from 99 cents to $2.95 for ebooks and currently $7-12 for print-on-demand. The math is changing constantly but there’s no doubt that if you can generate the volume you make more money on your own.”

    I’m just talking about eBooks. The standard price on Amazon is $9.99. Only Stephen King (1000pp tomes) drifts up to $15-17 for a digital book. So if I, as a complete nobody, self publishes at $4.99-$9.99, I just have to pay 5 dollars a month for the shopping cart. The economics there are very very compelling.

    A fellow blogger, who has self published a handful of books this way, and also offers other courses/programs on his website, said to me,

    “Self-publish for money, Traditional Publish to grow the platform(eg. get famous, get high profile interviews, reach a broader audience, etc)”

    So a great strategy might be to alternate between these two. Self publish one year, then Traditional publish the next year, go back and forth, or have two sets of books that you’re working on. Your fame will make you more money on the ‘next’ book, and that wealth with help the publisher devote more effort to the next book. At the end of the day, it’s shallow, and egotistical, but when you tell people your book is on bookstores across the country, they ‘respect’ you more, or see you as more ‘legitimate’

    Little do they know, you’re only being paid $5000 for THAT book, and you made $50,000 last year off the digital one being sold on your website. 😉

  12. says

    Whether it’s going the self-publishing route or getting a major publisher route, the success rate is still quite low. Of course, if one is lucky to get a $200,000 advance (non-refundable) from a major publisher like an acquaintance in my home town got, the success of the book does not matter all that much. In this case, my acquaintance’s book sold fewer than 10,000 copies. I estimate that the publisher lost at least $240,000 on his book. The best I have been able to get was a $14,000 advance from a mid-size publisher. My book also did not earn out the advance.

    But I have been able to earn over $500,000 from a self-published book (How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free) that was turned down by 35 publishers. Another book of mine (The Joy of Not Working) that was orginally self-published and is now published by Random House/Ten Speed Press has earned me over $600,000.

    Even with my success, however, I know that I will have as difficult of a time placing my next 3 books that I am working on with a major publisher as a debut author will have with his or her first book. If I have to go the self-pubishing route, I will not look at POD or ebooks as the way to go. I will still print at least 3,000 to 5,000 copies for the first print run and generate the sales through creative marketing.

    Regarding foreign rights, I have negotiated 107 book deals around the world for my books with publishers in 28 different countries. I have an average of 7 foreign rights sold for every one of my books. And most of these deals have been directly between the foreign publisher and me. In some cases I have also used agents in Japan, Korea, and China. But I have never used an agent in the U.S. for any of my foreign rights deals. One more thing: I have never been to the Frankfurt Book Fair where a lot of foreign rights sales are made.

    In short, there are always ways to do things that go against the face of convention and the best part is that these ways are much more profitable.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    Content Creator, Innovator, and Prosperity Life Coach
    Author of “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 150,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  13. says

    What a wonderful post – hopeful for those of us who are yet unpublished. Self-publishing market is saturated and alas, with some work that would be better left on a hard drive, unseen and unread, except by author. Long live print publishers.

  14. says

    How has the role of a traditional publisher changed?

    Enderlin: I’m not sure it has. Retailers look to us for quality control.”

    WHAT retailers? People don’t buy books from traditional retailers anymore. Like the record store, bookstores are crashing because they can’t adapt to the market. Do people buy less music/books? NO. THey just buy it differently, but publishers (like record producers) still keep trying to use the old systems they set up.

    Stick to it guys, you’re doing a bang up job of self imploding.

  15. Mark says

    This is the same bunk real estate agents try to push on you – we’re worth the money because of all we do, when in fact it can all be done for a whole lot cheaper by oneself. The publishing world is on its last legs, just trying to survive and adapt. Unfortunately, there are still too many lazy people out there who think realtors have all the knowledge. A possible solution: dramatically lower what publishers and realtors keep vs. authors. The result: lower prices and more customers = little if any loss of income.

  16. says

    Great interview. While I agree that self-publishing is changing the landscape, there is a place for traditional publishers, as these editors point out. Just because it’s now possible for a writer to bring in income via self-publishing does not mean that authors should stop looking at other methods of publishing, including traditional publishing.

    I’m also starting to see some very interesting deals (a recent one for a political book with Crown, for example) that deals very differently with the digital content — recognizing that in the digital realm, content is not static the way it is with a printed book. Publishers will and are adapting.

  17. says

    Oh boy… *sigh* I still want this. Call me a traditionalist, but the self-publishing hype just doesn’t carry the same weight as having a “big leaguer” find you. Anybody can self-publish; not everyone is good enough to gain the backing and credit from an expert and have them honestly say, “I believe in you enough I’m willing to invest in you.”

    Gotta keep writing.

  18. says

    I’m doing both. My agent Debbie Glovan of Glovan Arts Australia is still looking for a publisher for my YA fantasy, lethal Imheritance, meanwhile I’m self publishing on ebook, some short stories and early next year a novella prequel to the novel series. It should all help the sales of the novel for whatever publisher licks it up and if no one wants it, I’ll have reader base for it already. At least that’s the plan.

  19. Gary Dewyn says

    Traditional publishers take on the cost of printing, distributing, marketing, and customer service issues such as returns. That is very expensive and must be paid for by the self-publishing author. Having said that, of course, I understand the frustration many commentors have about that route.

    One thing I noticed not mentioned is advising authors NOT to submit manuscripts of the same genre of their best-selling author. In other words, do not submit a horror book to Steven King’s publisher. They won’t bite the hand that feeds them.

  20. Marsh Rauser says

    I recently completed my second book in a ya series. Trying to find an agent is like looking for a needle in a haystack. They will only accept a one page query. Realistically you couldn’t possibly comprehend the complexity of a novel by reading one page, makes me think they have decided to turn you down before they even read the one page. My first book is self-published. The problem with self-publishing is the costs that are involved in marketing. Many a good book has gone to book heaven for the want of a reader.

  21. says

    Traditional publishers make most of their money from celebrities, publishing their gossip or memoir-type books, and the books of brand-name real authors, which account for about two books out of every ten they publish. That means eight books out of ten either barely break even or lose money for the publisher. From the way the editors talked, their teams of highly professional staff members use their expertise and savvy to publish winners submitted by the gatekeepers, the literary agents. Yet, when I go into bookstores and discount dollar store outlets, I see the remainder tables full of books published by these savvy New York Publishing people that didn’t sell. And when I read some of them, I can understand why they didn’t sell. And the first question that comes to my mind is why did the “experts” think this boring book would be commercial? I’ve stopped trying to figure “those” people out. But to tell the truth, I’ve published with indie publishers, and I’m not enthused about them, either. We writers can only depend on ourselves to promote us. But, as a writer/editor, I recommend to all indie writers thinking of self-publishing to first get a professional editor to evaluate their work and to help them get it ready for publication. It’s worth the effort and the expense. Most editors only charge two dollars a page for novels, including myself; and included in my price is the coaching phase, after the editing phase, which other editors also do to help the writer polish his/her novel before submitting it to regular publishers or to agents or self-publishing it. Be professional and give your work the second effort it needs, since everybody needs an editor. I have a private editor who critiques me, and she’s a real nitpicker, and that’s what you need and should want your editor to be–an annoying but effective nitpicker who points out all your mistakes and saves you from embarrassment after your book is in print.

  22. says


    It’s OK to submit a manuscript to a publisher of the same genre as their bestselling author. In fact, many acquisition editors at traditional book publishing houses develop a specialization in one category, like horror, romance, mystery, memoir. And here’s a reality check: Simon and Schuster, who publishes Stephen King, has 151 other horror books listed on its website.

  23. says

    The self-published books purchased by acquisition editors for traditional book publishers are usually represented by a literary agent who’s taken on the project because of a high level of success (i.e. 10,000 sales) and the expectation of  continuing self-marketing by an author with a growing platform. An increasing number of literary agents now make it a regular practice to seek out and welcome successful self-published authors as their clients.

  24. says

    As a long-time freelance journalist and first-time author, I have to say I’m not a fan of self-publishing. The editorial guidance from magazine and newspaper editors has helped me become a much better writer, and the editor I worked with for my novel pointed out flaws that weakened my manuscript. Working with editors is like having teachable moments, and I plan to keep learning and growing as a writer with every manuscript I produce.

  25. says

    ” The problem with self-publishing is the costs that are involved in marketing. Many a good book has gone to book heaven for the want of a reader.”

    Agreed, but the publishing industry hasn’t cracked that nut either. They don’t get marketing. They just have connections to brick and mortar book stores. They’re not actually going to spend money on you unless you’re a hit writer (eg. chicken and egg); they’ll spend money on marketing if they know you’re going to be a homerun.

    The other thing the Publisher is good at designing book covers. Pay a random Graphic Design student to for 3 covers then crowdsource your twitter followers (or set up an experiment at the local borders, like Tim Ferriss (not his publisher) did.

  26. says

    Always glad to from authors who appreciate their editors. Unfortunately, most acquisition editors at traditional book publishers aren’t doing much developmental editing these days, since what they’re anxious to have is finished manuscripts ready for production on a tight schedule for seasonal release.

    Therefore, many authors, whether they’re seeking traditional book deals or intending to self-publish, hire their own developmental editors. Authors need to choose carefully, but there are many good ones out there. Here’s my advice on finding the best.

  27. says

    I just self published my debut novel, The Secrets They Kept. The learning curve was steep and there were many times when I thought it would be great to have a team taking care of all those things that didn’t involve writing. Fortunately for me my previous life was in sales and marketing so the juggling of that was something I was not unaccustomed to handling. I learned more about publishing than I ever would have if I was simply the author. I found an editor, a cover designer and an interior designer who all had big publishing house experience. Would I be delighted to get an offer from a big house? Yes, but I would look at it differently, with a much more knowledgable eye.

  28. says

    Thank you, Alan, for this great interview! I DO plan to go the traditional publishing route for the reasons mentioned above. Maybe someday I’ll self-publish, but I want to first “prove” to myself that I CAN get published by a traditional publisher, preferably one of the Big 6.

  29. Tally says

    Typical tripe. These publishers care more for their profits than passion. If given the choice between art which would be a loss in its initial printing, if not in its generation, and some vapid skein of self-aggrandizing perspectives which vaunt the ethos and could be profitably packaged each would choose the latter. Rot to you.

  30. says

    Interesting read. Obviously I’d like to get a huge deal, even if it means I have to find an agent first. However, I won’t run away from self-publishing; I like the idea of the control being in my hands, even if the sales would be small.

    Marketing scares me though… I just want to write!

  31. Madison Woods says

    Great information and you’ve validated some of the answers I’ve been getting at my blog. This past week I’d posted a poll to find out how readers find new books. So far, the majority are saying they browse brick and mortar stores. Word of mouth was next. I’d asked as part of my own marketing research while trying to decide between the self-pub or traditional route.

  32. Terry-Joyce Ritchie says

    I loved reading the top 3 editor’s quotes. What they had to say was a thrill to me.
    All was so opposite to previous information that I have read elsewhere.
    Thank You!

  33. Larry French says

    Alan, I found your article informative and confirming; informative from the standpoint it verifies TP is still alive and confirming in the way it accurately portrays the frustrating partition that separates many in their quest to be in print. It takes a lot of work to find the right agent to finally possibly be able to pitch to one of these publishers. Most people skip all of that and go the SP route.
    I’ve been sending queries and networking now for almost two years and I’m beginning to get some positive responses from both agents and publishers. That’s okay because I know my writing is worth it so I’m determined to do it right. Your article was some encouragement to that end. Thanks

  34. says

    From Alan, “Therefore, many authors, whether they’re seeking traditional book deals or intending to self-publish, hire their own developmental editors”

    Ba-doom CHING!

    So either your on your own, or… you’re on your own. Why are we giving these guys half the revenues again? Because they have Jeff Bezos’ email address? I’m not being snarky. I’m genuinely thrilled to be plotting out my next few years of self-published book releases, working on the platform, sharing preview copies with fans, and getting feedback. In fact, I’m ecstatic. Hearing that one of the last things Publishers are actually claiming to do, isn’t actually being done, just reaffirms me even more. Full steam ahead!

  35. says

    “The publishing world is on its last legs, just trying to survive and adapt”

    That’s the thing. They’re not trying to adapt. Because of the Kindle (the first popular eBook reader) they’ve been disrupted, finally, by the Internet. Just like the TV, Movie and Music industry before it.

    Back in the mid-90’s, the Industry collectively laughed at Stephen King for trying to sell a digital book. Sales were abysmal. That was back in the day of Sony eReaders. No one wanted to read digital. Finally we have a great eReader, at great prices, with great design, with great wifi and Online Store integration. Who’s laughing now? Stephen King has digitized 83 of his books and sells them all over the world, 24/7, through Amazon, many of his (enormous) titles breaching even the $15 mark.

    Smart guy.

  36. says

    This is a great post with some very timely issues. As the publisher of a small “traditional” publishing house (Sourced Media Books), I struggle daily with the question, “Which is best? Self-publishing or traditional publishing?” Authors love our company, because we offer extensive editorial services for first-time authors and 50% royalty rates, along with national distribution, marketing, and publicity. However, with this business model, there is considerable risk–and it is tempting for small publishers like us to minimize risk and go for the “sure thing.” As publishing goes increasingly digital, there is a risk that the publisher will become the middle man that eventually gets pushed out.

  37. says

    Thanks Alan, this was very helpful.
    I am in the process of self-publishing a novel. With professional guidance I have revised it 3 times, cut in half three times, and am getting another editorial evaluation on it. It has not been that costly (I am a starving artist) But I learned so much that it improved all of my other projects. I started writing short stories and have had instant acceptances for some. All have been published so far online or elsewhere. Writing short has vastly improved my long writing style.
    My book, The Roses of the Moon, will come out the spring. But I am working on finding an agent for another book and am beginning with referrals via a friend’s agent. Fingers crossed. I am so sick of being poor that I long for a serious career with a nice windfall of money (advance) and the street cred that that gives. There are writers groups who will only accept “published authors who have received advances” proving that snobbism is alive and well.
    What of you have grown to dislike social media? The honeymoon is so over for me. Part of it has to do with the social media itself– the constant annoying demands that they make and the increasing lack of control they allow you over organizing your platform. I’d rather hit the road on book tour. At least that’s a adventure!
    I am hoping that having lots of short works online will prove valuable to my platform as well.
    Thanks again!

  38. says

    I self-published my first novel “Touch” in January 2011 through an indie publisher in Oregon who lets you “brand” yourself as an imprint under their larger traditional publishing umbrella. I had spent a couple of years doing the agent search, but when I discovered this self-publishing model, I decided to go it alone and ditch the agent search. For the most part I was very impressed with their professionalism and skills, and I loved the end result of finally being able to tear open a box and pick up my own beautifully finished product.

    However, the biggest issue has always been marketing. I have neither the know-how or the moxie to really put the effort into marketing my book in the way that it needs. When no one knows who you are yet, you’re automatically starting out with a different set of rules and not a lot of outside help. I have always believed that if I could publish through a traditional literary publishing house, the marketing services and expertise I’d receive would make everything else worth it. Part of me understands the importance of getting comfortable with marketing yourself if you want to be a successful author. But I feel it’s a losing battle, like asking anyone with limited talents to show up at the Olympics. There is a reason why I’m a writer and not a marketing pro. And I know many other writers would say the same thing.

    So it’s great to read this post because mostly it just makes me want to try harder to get published the traditional way again. Not knocking my self-published book at all–I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world–but I know I want more for myself as an author.

  39. says


    Think of marketing as an extension of your creative process. Tell your potential readers what your book is about in a manner that makes them want to read it. Decide for yourself which of the many new self-marketing options is most comfortable for you. If you’d rather write online and social network than perform in public – that’s fine.

    But if you want readers, it’s part of your job as an author these days. Traditional publishers depend on authors to sell their own books, since they’ve realized the old methods don’t work. So don’t count on anyone to market for you. Readers want to hear from you directly.

  40. Jeni Swem Edmonds says

    I have two self-published books, while the first one was unedited, the second was edited, and I broke even. I honestly think my second could have done much better but with me, as it is with most people who want or have self-published, it is all about the money. I just cannot afford the marketing. It is sad that there are so many of us that simply have to let it slide with the punches. Broke is broke, but I am more positive than ever with my third novel, The Ring in the Shell, copyright 2012. It is not out – yet, and of course, everyone thinks their book is the best. I am no acception. I love to write, I will always write. I do think however that I will go with Smashwords and try my luck at an ebook with The Ring in the Shell. Thanks.

  41. CHRIS says

    if you read between the lines here, they are really saying that they do nothing much at all but take your book, and if it sells well, keep most the cash. all the hard work is now done by the author. these people dont even pay for editors anymore. and the need for a ‘platform’, by which to sell the book, and the insistence on one doing all the online presence crap, which is about as useful as a book signing…. well. it is overrated and an ego trip, more than anything, unless one has THE BOOK that people will love to read. that is sure. the only sure thing is a book that the people will love. and nobody, evidently, knows the secret to that one. until it sells.

  42. says


    I agree that it’s the author’s book that people love and sales are the ultimate barometer of their pleasure.

    But editors are the author’s champion and love the book first. They work very hard to make it the best possible book they can, and I know from my own experience that authors are grateful to have their help and support throughout the process.

    Also, editors are on a salary, so it’s the publisher who after overhead and direct costs like retailers discounts, royalties, paper, marketing and sales, winds up with a net profit that is less per copy than the author.

    Finally, self-marketing by authors is not an ego trip but a creative new aspect to promulgating your work — made possible by connecting directly with your readers through the internet. I’ll bet William Shakespeare would have loved the opportunity, since he was always in tune with the audience in his theater.

  43. LBalara says

    Please pardon what may seem to be my arogance, but I have a question about the reverse of this topic. I completed my doctoral dissertation in 2000 and like many of my fellow students was excited about getting it published. Toward this end I signed publishing rights over to ProQuest/UMI and am seeing no royalties. I have also found my dissertation available for free and numerous places on the net. I would now like to take total control of publishing it. How do I go about revoking the rights I have given to ProQuest/UMI?

    I would appriciate any help you can offer!! Thanks!!

  44. says


    That would depend on the agreement you signed. Is there a termination clause or point when the right revert based on either unit sales or minimum revenue? I’m not an attorney qualified to give legal advice, but suggest you read your agreement carefully, since it should have some provision for an occasion like this.

    If not, get in touch with them directly and work something out based on your relationship. If there are no royalties that would seem to indicate no sales, so they may be happy to return your rights.

  45. Broadnax says

    I’m interested in self publishing my writing. I’ve done research and discovered that the best way to do this is to transmit my work into PDF format and then advertise my work on my website. Sounds easy, right?
    Well, the part I’m having trouble with is creating my own website with a blog. How can I obtain a trustworthy and efficient website? Or is there a way just to get a blog? Feel free to post any ideas.

    Also if you know any good writer blogs to join I would be thrilled to join them.


  1. […] Three acquiring editors, including Jennifer Enderlin, editor-in-chief of St. Martin’s Press, tell consulting editor Alan Rinzler that traditional publishers offer writers certain benefits self-publishing can’t match. Find Rinzler’s Q&A with the editors at […]

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