Traditional Publishing

Post image for A New Renaissance in Literature by Karen Jones Gowen, WiDo Publishing

One of the hallmarks of the Renaissance of the 15th century was that new voices were heard in the areas of art, literature, religion and basically all aspects of cultural life, touching and influencing thought from the highest levels of power down to the lowest, allowing the common man to finally realize his potential.  William Tyndale, who translated the Bible to English, was key in this transformation. He captures its essence in these few powerful words to a noted clergyman:  “If God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!”

For the past five decades, the publishing industry, represented by what is commonly known as “the Big Six,” have been the ones controlling what books were available in bookstores and libraries. When the offerings were the best literary voices of our time, nobody complained; but when it veered to commercial garbage that sold in huge numbers (think Harold Robbins, Jacqueline Susann and their copycats), then people wondered where all the good books had gone.

Small niche publishers emerged to offer books not available through the large publishers. The self-publishing movement is often seen as a backlash, not only to the power held for so long by the big publishers, but also to these small independents  with their choosy submission guidelines. By self-publishing, you can write what you want, how you want, publish it immediately, and avoid the gatekeepers altogether. This movement is quite accurately referred to as the “self-publishing revolution” because its proponents are revolting against all the old rules of publishing.

Although William Tyndale revolted against the rules of the Pope in his day, and subsequently gave his life for his principles, I believe his role was more Renaissance than Revolution. The word renaissance means “rebirth,” the word revolution according to Wikipedia is “from the Latin revolutio, a ‘turn around’, a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time.” The Renaissance took centuries, a revolution happens quickly.

There’s no doubt that a publishing revolution has occurred, and it has been a very exciting time indeed.  However, I believe it is time for writers and publishers to use these opportunities to create a literary renaissance, not just a publishing revolution. How to do that?

Think of men like Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, and Michelangelo Buonarroti. Were they simply revolting against the status quo, or were they contributing knowledge and truth through the medium of their art? Scientists like Copernicus and Galileo Galilei were first and foremost seekers of truth in scientific knowledge and methods.  Religious leaders such as Tyndale, along with Thomas More, Martin Luther, and John Calvin fit into the same category—not simply part of a revolution but because of their devotion to truth and the good of mankind, were part of something much more than a tirade against the Pope or the Church of England.

Millions of books are now available that could never have made it through the gatekeepers of old. To name just a few types: poorly written, barely edited “novels” written fast and published even faster;  10 or 20 page ebook summaries using widely searched keywords, like how to simplify one’s life or write a Kindle bestseller; erotica, basically pornography masquerading as romance for women.

In other words, if you can write it you can publish it; whether it’s any good or contributes to the literary culture is beside the point. The focus is on the selling rather than on the writing. Really, how is this any different than the era of The Valley of the Dolls? The publishers may have changed names from the Big 6 to one million ebook writers, but if the focus remains on churning out stuff for the mass market, where is the revolution? It’s just a whole lot of people now trying to get in on the action.  What the self-publishing revolution has done for writers is what the state lotteries have done for gambling. Remember when people had to go to Vegas to gamble? Talk about the old days! Now you can go to your corner convenience store, buy a lotto ticket and hope to win big.

As writers, why not turn this revolution into a renaissance? Let’s contribute to the literary culture, not just churn out stuff as quick as we can. Let’s write stories that are true, with characters who are “real,” using language that transcends common everyday speech. Let’s write books that, using the very best of our skills, polished and practiced, will carry our readers to a greater plane of understanding as we enlighten and entertain.

It’s time for writers who care about books to contribute to a re-birth of literary excellence. Opportunities abound. Let us take advantage of the many ways to make our voices heard as we do our best work, write meaningfully and well, and become part of a new renaissance in literature.

 

About Karen Jones Gowen: Born and raised in central Illinois, the daughter of a Methodist minister from Indiana and a school teacher from Nebraska, Karen Jones Gowen has down-to-earth Midwestern roots. Karen and her husband Bruce have lived in Utah, Illinois, California and Washington, currently residing near Salt Lake City. They are the parents of ten children. Not surprisingly, family relationships are a recurring theme in Gowen’s writing. She is the managing editor for WiDo Publishing and the author of four books, all of which fit loosely into the category of LDS Fiction. Karen’s website: karenjonesgowen.com. WiDo Publishing website: widopublishing.com

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Post image for A Few Publishing Facts by Lyle Mortimer/Cedar Fort

There are a lot of things about the publishing industry of which most authors are not aware. By learning about what goes on behind the scenes with your publisher, and in the industry as a whole, you will be better equipped to understand the environment in which you are trying to sell your book.

Here are a few facts.

Average book sales are shockingly small, and falling fast

Combine the explosion of books published with the declining total sales and you get shrinking sales of each new title. According to BookScan—which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books (including Amazon.com)—only 263 million books were sold in 2011 in the U.S. in all adult nonfiction categories combined (Publishers Weekly, January 2, 2012). The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime. And very few titles are big sellers. Only 62 of 1,000 business books released in 2009 sold more than 5,000 copies, according to an analysis by the Codex Group (New York Times, March 31, 2010).

A book has less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore

For every available bookstore shelf space, there are 100 to 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space. For example, the number of business titles stocked ranges from less than 100 (smaller bookstores) to approximately 1,500 (superstores). Yet there are 250,000-plus business books in print that are fighting for that limited shelf space.

It is getting harder and harder every year to sell books

Many book categories have become entirely saturated, with a surplus of books on every topic. It is increasingly difficult to make any book stand out. Each book is competing with more than ten million other books available for sale, while other media are claiming more and more of people’s time. Result: investing the same amount today to market a book as was invested a few years ago will yield a far smaller sales return today.

There’s little agreement among publishers about what advertising does, other than make the author and the author’s agent feel better, and demonstrate that the house is capable of spending money on ads.

If you’re lucky enough to publish with a house that has a publicity and marketing staff so much the better. You’re one of the lucky ones. Advertising and marketing are some of the gambles that make trade publishing so risky.

Most books today are selling only to the authors’ and publishers’ communities

Everyone in the potential audiences for a book already knows of hundreds of interesting and useful books to read but has little time to read any. Therefore people are reading only books that their communities make important or even mandatory to read. There is no general audience for most nonfiction books, and chasing after such a mirage is usually far less effective than connecting with one’s communities.

Most book marketing today is done by authors, not by publishers

Publishers have managed to stay afloat in this worsening marketplace only by shifting more and more marketing responsibility to authors, to cut costs and prop up sales. In recognition of this reality, most book proposals from experienced authors now have an extensive (usually many pages) section on the authors’ marketing platform and what the authors will do to publicize and market the books. Publishers still fulfill important roles in helping craft books to succeed and making books available in sales channels, but whether the books move in those channels depends primarily on the authors.

No other industry has so many new product introductions

Every new book is a new product, needing to be acquired, developed, reworked, designed, produced, named, manufactured, packaged, priced, introduced, marketed, warehoused, and sold. Yet the average new book generates only $10,000 to $20,000 in sales, which needs to cover all of these expenses, leaving only small amounts available for each area of expense. This more than anything limits how much publishers can invest in any one new book and in its marketing campaign.

You may have noticed that the numbers of bookstores have decreased significantly over the past decade. Most notably was the demise of Borders, which had a large market share. You have probably also seen that the ranks of publishers are thinning.

As you understand the risks and responsibilities of publishers you will be much better able to interface with them, your expectations will be significantly refined, and your project is much more likely to succeed.

 

Lyle Mortimer and Lee Nelson started Cedar Fort in 1986. Lyle has been an active participant in the company for over 25 years. Cedar Fort’s vision is to publish uplifting and edifying books. You can connect with Cedar Fort at the website, www.cedarfort.com.

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An Unexpected Path to Publication by Darrel Nelson

April 22, 2013
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LDSP Note: Normally, I don’t post personal stories of how a writer finally got published, but this is a unique case of an LDS author being picked up by a traditional Christian publisher. I get asked all the time if that can happen. It’s rare, but here’s proof that it’s possible! My route leading to […]

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Why Going Through a Reputable Publisher Makes Sense by Rodney Fife/CFI

April 10, 2013
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Recently, there have been many authors who have thought about self-publishing their book. While it is understandable why this may be attractive in regards to profit, there are advantages to going with a traditional and reputable publisher.  So you may ask, What does a Publisher do that I can’t do myself? A reputable publisher can […]

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A Picture Book: What Do I Do Next?

November 28, 2012

I am looking for advice on publishing an LDS children’s book.  My book is in the very early stages.  I’ve written a first draft, and have an artist who has agreed to do illustrations.  Everyone who has read the story has told me I should get it published (without me asking, and without them knowing […]

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Jessica Park’s Take on Traditional vs Self-Publishing

July 11, 2012

I just read Jessica Park’s recent blog post featured on Amazon.com’s front page on June 19th. Among other things, it lists her reasons why she would choose self-publishing over any traditional publishing deal nowadays. She also talks about publishing houses being out of date with the changing market. In your estimation, is the publishing world […]

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The Lowdown on Multiple Submissions by Anita Mumm

June 12, 2012
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Is it okay to query several agents at once? Absolutely. In fact, we recommend it. If you wait to hear back from each agent before approaching another, you could end up waiting months or years for an offer of representation. But there is a protocol to follow. Here are some things to bear in mind […]

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Traditional vs. Self-publishing is a False Dichotomy by Nathan Bransford

June 7, 2012
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I really like Nathan’s take on this. Go read it! Us vs. them is fun. It gets people’s blood boiling. It instills fear. It’s thrilling to be on a team, especially when you feel like your team is winning. These days it seems like traditional and self-publishing are increasingly pitted against each other on blogs […]

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Is an ebook only publishing offer worth it?

June 6, 2012
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Hi LDS Publisher! A smaller, but quickly growing, publisher has very recently offered to publish my book (yay!). Because I am a new author, they want to publish it first as an e-book. If the book sells, then they would publish the book more traditionally. Is this a new trend in publishing? What are your […]

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Timing Your Submission

March 20, 2012

Hi, I love reading your blog, and when a question came up about publishing in the LDS world, I knew you were the first person I had to ask. I have an LDS romance story that is about 99% completed right now. It’s in the final stages of revisions and I hope to have it […]

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Children’s Picture Books

March 8, 2012

Thanks for taking the time to write your blog.  I’m just getting my feet wet in the publishing world, and you have given me a place to start.  I have written a children’s picture book.  I’ve been rejected by three publishers so far, and searched dozens of other LDS publishers who are not accepting submissions […]

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Common Reasons for Rejections

March 7, 2012

Hello, [my trilogy] was just turned down by deseret publishing on my first book of this project. I’m 75% done with the second book and will then immediately complete the third of the trilogy. There has never been books like these as they are unique and experientially based. Can you help me? It is not […]

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Looking for an LDS Publisher with National Marketing

March 6, 2012

Hi, I’m a fiction writer. I want to query one or more of the LDS publishers, but I don’t know which ones are the largest and with which one I would have the best chance of getting into the national market. I have already been rejected by Shadow Mountain. I’m thinking Covenant or Cedar Fort. […]

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Nine Month Manuscript Approval Process???

January 30, 2012

I stumbled onto your blog tonight while searching for LDS publishers, and I think you might be able to answer my questions (or just put my mind at ease, at least). Here’s my situation:I submitted a manuscript to [ABC Publishing] last winter, and in May the editor told me they loved my book and went […]

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