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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What Defines "Traditional" Publishing? What You Don't Know CAN Hurt You.

by Anne R. Allen

The blogosphere has been full of debate about "traditional" vs. "indie" publishing since the dawn of the E-Age.

We've also seen lively discussions about the definition of the terms.

"Indie" once meant small independent publishers, but since the introduction of the ebook (and Kindle Direct Publishing) it has evolved to mean self-publishing as well.

Or maybe instead. The line is blurry these days. The word "indie" can change meaning depending on who you're talking to.

The traditional small independent press is now often called a "boutique publisher" or a "micropress" to avoid confusion. But I admit that I have often called myself "indie" since I'm with a boutique press, and I've been included in two "indie" anthologies.

Last month I joined the actual self-publishers for the first time when I re-published HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE all by my ownself (well, with co-author Catherine Ryan Hyde and some generous aid from the blokes at EBUK and the helpful Jason Anderson at Polgarus Studios, after our agent left the agency that published us in February.) So I guess I can say I'm truly "indie" now.

Meanwhile, some writers prefer to define the non-self-published model as "legacy" publishing rather than "traditional," because the tradition of self-publishing has been around at least since Benjamin Franklin.

But recently I've seen some odd statements on blogs and forums like, "only the Big Five are legitimate traditional publishers," and "you're just an indie unless you're with the Big Five."

So what's "traditional" publishing?

Of course the definition of "traditional" is going to be different depending on whose traditions you're talking about.

There may be people who believe only something printed on Johannes Gutenberg's actual printing press can be truly "traditional," and others might favor the papyrus scroll, the clay tablet, or the wall of a cave.

But most people in today's publishing industry—on both sides of the self-publishing fence—agree on the definition of traditional/legacy publishing.

Here's a version of that definition from Writer's Digest: "Traditional book publishing is when a publisher offers the author a contract and, in turn, prints, publishes, and sells your book through booksellers and other retailers. The publisher essentially buys the right to publish your book and pays you royalties from the sales."

And a here's a handy infographic from Writer's Digest Books' former head honcho Jane Friedman that lays out all our publishing options out in a colorful easy-to-read format.

Many thanks to the always-reliable Alex J. Cavanaugh and the good people at the Insecure Writers Support Group for those links and the tip about this new wrinkle in the indie vs. trad debate.

So is there any truth to this new claim that only a handful of multinational mega-corporations can be called "traditional"?

In a word, no.

Even if we all agree that multi-national media mega-conglomerates have been one of the world's most treasured traditions since 1998—when Bertelsmann swallowed Random House—traditional publishing is still defined the way it has always been defined, um, traditionally.

In fact, the whole argument is silly. By this new definition, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books were not traditionally published, because they were issued by Scholastic in the US and Bloomsbury in the UK—neither of which are members of the Big Five.

And most Harlequin authors would have to be called "indie"—since Harlequin was not part of the Big Five until May of this year when it was bought by HarperCollins (owned by NewsCorp, aka Rupert Murdoch's evil empire)

Ditto all Kensington authors, although now that they've made a deal with Random Penguin to use the Penguin distribution channels, maybe they can now wear the "traditional" tiara too.

Ruth Harris, former editor and publisher at Kensington, will be fascinated to hear she wasn't working in traditional publishing all those years.

I do understand that it may seem that the French, Germans and Aussie Rupert Murdoch control 100% of publishing on the planet, but that's slightly exaggerated.

The truth is, we have a tradition of publishing right here in the little old U. S. of A. And not all of it is owned by Carly Simon's family.

Here are a few non-Big Five publishers who are as traditional as Bertlesman, Hachette and NewsCorp: Scholastic, Kensington, Hay House, W.W. Norton, Rodale, Llewellyn, Chronicle Books, Workman (includes Algonquin), Sourcebooks, Sunset, F + W Media/Writer’s Digest Books...and hundreds more, including all academic presses from the University of Alabama to Yale University Press. (Although I can't guarantee some of them won't have been gobbled up by the Big Five before I hit "publish" on this post.)

Many prestigious smaller presses like Beacon Press, GrayWolf, and Copper Canyon Press have been around longer than the mega-monopolies of the Big Five, too. You can find whole books listing all the well-respected small presses in Writers Market, the Literary Marketplace, and the Poets and Writers Guide to Small Presses.

These are all considered "traditional presses" by the publishing industry. Some use digital technology (POD) these days and some still use offset printing. What makes them traditional publishers is the economic process (contract, royalties etc) rather than the printing technology.

Also defined as "traditional" are the more recent ebook-first presses like Ellora's Cave and Samhain. They have traditional contracts and pay royalties just like paper-first presses.

And Amazon itself has become a traditional publisher, with imprints like: 47 North, Montlake, Thomas and Mercer, New Harvest, Encore—with new imprints added all the time. They pay advances and royalties and generally you need an agent to sign with them, just like the Big Five and most mid-sized presses.

So why do new writers need to know this stuff?

Because I fear new writers may be duped into staying away from all these legitimate mid-sized, smaller and digital-first publishers and steered toward the subsidy or vanity presses now owned by the Big Five, thinking anything with a Big Five label is somehow more "traditional" or "legitimate".

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In the last decade, most of the vanity presses in North America were bought out by AuthorHouse and brought under an umbrella called "Author Solutions". In 2012, Penguin acquired Author Solutions. Then Penguin merged with Random House.

That means that technically Author Solutions is part of the new Penguin-Random House group owned by German mega-corp Bertelsmann and therefore part of the Big Five.

But it's just that—a technicality. Their self-publishing packages do nothing with the Big Five except fill their coffers. All the editing, production, promotion, etc, is done strictly in-house by Author Solutions.

Ditto Simon and Schuster's vanity wing Archway, Thomas and Nelson's Westbow Press, Hay House's Balboa Press, and Guidepost's Inspiring Voices. These are vanity presses, all owned and operated by Author Solutions. (Writer's Digest has recently—and I think wisely—severed connections with their Author Solutions affiliate, Abbott Press.)

What's the problem with vanity presses (sometimes called subsidy publishing)?

They are not always a bad choice and not necessarily scams. There are good reasons why some people prefer to use a vanity press. If you want to print a book of poems, a memoir, club recipes, or a family history—and you want something special to give as gifts or promote your community group or organization, a vanity press can be just what you're looking for. Some use old-school offset printing and can provide a lovely, beautifully bound product.

But for a career writer they can be a disaster. This is because:

  • They make money FROM the writer, rather than making money FOR the writer.
  • Their services are usually priced way over market value.
  • They often masquerade as something they're not, or claim they'll get you on the road to publication with big name publishers.
  • They often charge so much for a printed book that the author is unable to make money on resale.
  • They often charge for non-existent or sub-standard editing.
  • They often offer no distribution: you just get a box of books to sell out of your garage.
  • They push overpriced marketing packages that do little to sell books. (How overpriced? Check out these prices.) 

Or to quote one of the many lawsuits against Author Solutions (from Writer Beware), "It is a printing service that fails to maintain even the most rudimentary standards of book publishing, profiting not for its authors but from them." For more, here is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association on why not to use a vanity press.

So what does this have to do with the people claiming the Big Five are the only "traditional" publishers?

I'm not sure. But when I heard from the IWSG about the bizarre "Big Five are the only traditionals" pronouncements, I remembered something.

Planting shills in writers' forums is something Author Solutions has done in the past, with sock puppets like the infamous "Fake Jared," and his friends.

And it seems Author Solutions has been paying kickbacks to bloggers who will steer newbie writers to their deceptive websites, according to April Hamilton of Publitariat.

I don't mean to say that all the people making these weird claims are working for Author Solutions. It's quite possible they may simply be contrarians or gadflies who enjoy stirring up a discussion with claims to know silly "facts". 

There are always people like Cliff the Postman from the TV show Cheers, who loved to regale the bar crowd with his "little known facts" like "the harp is a predecessor of the modern day guitar. Early minstrels were much larger people. In fact, they had hands the size of small dogs."

Or they could be newbies who've been taken in by the hype of the vanity presses. That's more worrying, because that means the hype is working.

Why does it matter what you call your publisher?

Personally, I don't care if people want to call their publishers "traditional", "indie", "legacy", or "snookums."

But what I do care about is newbie writers getting steered away from solid publishing deals with a small or midsized press and into the arms of a vanity press because they believe a vanity press is a road to the big bux of the Big Five. (Although as I said last week, you should always run any publishing contract by somebody knowledgeable in contract law before you sign.)

I am in no way discouraging anybody from real self-publishing. Self-publication is an excellent road to a solid writing career. In fact it may be the best way in these days of shrinking advances and draconian contracts.

As I said, I've recently self-published myself. You can read some great reasons for self-publishing from David Henry Sterry in last Tuesday's Huffington Post. He also gives good reasons to publish with a small or mid-sized press. (Which are actually the MOST traditional. Media mega-corporations are a phenomenon of the last few decades)

Self-publishing is a good path to a writing career, but it's not the best road to publication with the Big Five, unless you're the one-in-a-million breakout superstar like Hugh Howey.

Self-publish because you want to control your own career, not because you eventually want a Big Five contract.

Yes, three or four years ago we were told "the ebook is the new query", but that was back when a lot of indies were making huge sales and it was easier to make that leap. In those days, Amazon's algorithms gave cheap indie books the same weight in calculating the bestseller lists as they did the big-name, expensive Big Five titles. And in those early days of ebooks, Big Five publishers weren't selling their backlists for 99c apiece through Bookbub.

So if you think you want a traditional or "hybrid" career, you should start by querying, not by self-publishing—or query with a different book from the one you self-published. For more this, here's a post on the subject from agent Pamela Van Hylckama Vlieg.

Most agents won't look at a previously published book unless it is steadily selling 10,000 or more units a month. And very few vanity published books get picked up by anybody. (Although I realize Author Solutions makes a huge deal of the handful who do.)

What if you DO want to publish non-traditionally?

If you want to self-publish—and go truly "non-traditional"—there are several excellent companies you can use.

There are aggregators like Smashwords, BookBaby, and Direct 2 Digital, who help you format and publish your ebooks and then distribute them to dozens of retailers all over the world.

Ditto Amazon itself, with CreateSpace for paper and KDP for ebooks. And you can publish direct to Nook, iTunes, GooglePlay and Kobo by yourself as well.

For paper books, Lightning Source (owned by major US book distributor Ingram) and Lulu, as well as CreateSpace and BookBaby, are great choices (and I hear D2D can now shepherd your book through CreateSpace.) They all use POD technology and offer distribution as well as printing.

Distribution is the key here. If a company feels their job is over when they give you a box of books, your book hasn't been published, it's been printed.

All of the above companies take a percentage of what YOU make, so if you're not making money, they're not making money.

But a vanity press makes money off you, not your book.

You can get great info on how to self-publish profitably from David Gaughran's blog and his two books Let's Get Digital and Let's Get Visible. You can buy both for under ten dollars. (And no, I have no connection with Mr. Gaughran except that I've read his books and follow his blog.)

You can also learn a lot of the basics of how the publishing industry works and how to avoid getting scammed in the book I've written with Catherine Ryan Hyde, How to be a Writer in the E-Age: A Self-Help Guide.

To me, paying ten or fifteen bucks for a few guidebooks beats paying a vanity outfit $25,000 for a "premium package" which comes complete with your own personal spambots to "market" your book to unwilling victims...and an empty promise that you'll be "considered" by one of the Big Five.

As I have said before, making a living writing books is hard, and there are no shortcuts. You need to do it because you love it. If you have delusions of instant fame and fortune, you're going to be a prime target for the armies of scammers out there.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you define your publishing path as "traditional" or "indie"? Have you run into people who say small and mid-sized publishers are not traditional? How do you define "indie"? Do you have more faith in multi-national mega-corporations than mid-sized companies? What other books do you recommend for self-publishers?


A book and a video that both poke fun at the scams that plague starry-eyed new writers


Murder, mischief, and a little romance at a writers conference in the wine-and-cowboy town of Santa Ynez, California. When a ghostwriter’s plot to blackmail celebrities with faked evidence leads to murder, our oh-so-polite sleuth Camilla Randall must team up with a cross-dressing dominatrix to stop the killer from striking again. Meanwhile a wannabe writer who happens to be a hot L.A. cop may or may not help Camilla recover from her recent divorce.

Ghostwriters in the Sky is now only $2.99 in e-book at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA iTunes, Kobo, Inktera, and at Barnes and Noble for NOOK.

Ghost Writers is set in a writers' conference in Santa Ynez Valley, where I've lived for twenty years.... This book is hysterically funny AND accurately depicts the Valley. Anne Allen gets it right, down to the dollar bills stuck on the ceiling of the Maverick Saloon. It was so fun to read as she called out one Valley landmark after another. Allen got the local denizens right, too, the crazy characters that roam our streets...Sandy Nathan, award-winning author of The Bloodsong Series


NOW IN DVD: only 9.99 at Amazon.com also available at iTunes. Every writer who has been in a critique group has to see this one...

AUTHORS ANONYMOUS: An ensemble comedy about a weekly critique group of unpublished writers whose fabric is threatened when one member scores an agent, a book deal, and a movie deal in quick succession. Starring Kaley Cuoco of the Big Bang Theory and the late Dennis Farina. (And written by SLO's own Dave Congalton)


CHICKEN SOUP - HEARTFELT STORIES BY MOMS Pays $200 for 1,200 words. Stories can deal with the pains and highlights of motherhood, the wonders of parenting grandchildren, special moments of raising a newborn, being a role model to a teenager, or anything that touches the heart of a mom. Deadline September 30.

Barthelme Prize for experimental flash fiction. $17 Entry Fee 500-word limit. $1000 first prize, $250 hon. mention prizes. Online submission form. Deadline August 31.

Want to Appear in Writer's Digest? Here's how. Have you ever tried to write a book in a month-as part of NaNoWriMo, with a writing group, or just on your own? What was your experience? WD wants to hear from you. Tell them about your write-a-thon! Send your story-along with your full name, city and state to writersdigest@fwmedia.com with "BIAM" in the subject line. Responses may appear in Writer's Digest publications and/or on WritersDigest.com.

Short Romance stories with holiday themes: Crimson Romance Ebooks (A division of F & W, publisher of Writer's Digest Books) is looking for holiday themed shorts (10K-20K words) Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa 2014, New Year's Eve 2015, Deadline: August 15th

BLUE EARTH REVIEW FLASH FICTION CONTEST $2 ENTRY FEE. 750 words or less. Limit two stories per entry. First place $500. Second place $250. Third place $100. Winners will be published in the Blue Earth Review, the literary magazine of Minnesota State University. Deadline August 1.

A ROOM OF HER OWN FOUNDATION ORLANDO PRIZES $15 ENTRY FEE. Four Orlando prizes of $1,000 each and publication in The Los Angeles Review are awarded twice yearly for a poem, a short story, a short short story, and an essay by women writers. Deadline July 31.

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Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks for the clarification, Anne! I definitely consider myself traditionally published.
The hybrid authors I know all began their careers with traditionally published books and then branched into self-publishing. Elizabeth S. Craig is very successful as a hybrid author. So is Elana Johnson.
Hopefully no one is duped by the subsidy publishers owned by those companies.
And still not calling my publisher 'snookums.'

July 13, 2014 at 10:20 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Anne, thanks for a valuable post! As someone who's worked in Big 5 TradPub (Dell/Delacourt, Bantam, Macmillan), Independent TradPub (Kensington) and SelfPub (moi), I think these distinctions are becoming more and more irrelevant. What matters is that readers now have many ways to find the books they love. They (readers) don't give a hoot who published what or where.

July 13, 2014 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

Hey Anne -- in answer to your question, I really appreciate your definition of "traditional". I'd like to find homes for my novel-length manuscripts somewhere in that traditional world. The few anthology experiences I've had have involved excellent editors, book designers & all, traditional distribution methods, & the solidity (or perceived solidity) that comes with all that. Micro, small, medium, behemoth -- as long as there's someone other than me making my work the best it can be, I'm happy.

July 13, 2014 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger Melanie Schulz said...

I can't tell you how many people I've come in contact with who are duped by vanity presses. They're sharks, nothing more, feeding off people's dreams.

July 13, 2014 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Alex--And you certainly are traditionally published. If you have a contract and get an advance and royalties, that's the MOST traditional kind of publishing. Anybody who says otherwise is confused.

Those are two examples of well known hybrid authors. And of course Ruth is "hybrid" as well. So is Catherine Ryan Hyde. And I guess I am too, now that I have a self-pubbed book.

July 13, 2014 at 10:56 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ruth--That's why your experience is so valuable to us! I think where people get confused is between "independent trad pub" and "indie" meaning self-published.

You're right that readers don't care a bit. It's only the content that matters.

July 13, 2014 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

CS--Some people really prefer to work with a team. I know I do, which is why I've been happier with a small traditional publisher. I'll be branching out more into self-publishing now that I know how to put my own team together. But it takes time to meet people and learn the ropes. Some people prefer to have others do that for them. It can seem scary, but vanity publishers aren't the answer.

July 13, 2014 at 11:01 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Melanie--"Feeding off people's dreams" is a good way to put it. I feel so sad for people who get caught up in their schemes, especially the overpriced "marketing" packages that are often nothing but spam.

July 13, 2014 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Linda Maye Adams said...

I believe "traditional" was originally coined by one of the POD vanity publishers as a marketing tool to differentiate themselves from the New York presses.

It's always amazed me how many writers simply don't even want to understand how the business works. All they see is that a publisher is a chance for them to fulfill their dreams, and it seems to override everything else, even the most common sense items. I've seen writers say "I've heard X is scammer, but I'm going to give them a benefit of a doubt" and they send their stories.

I'm sort of a hybrid. I'm sending short stories to pro-rate magazines because that's a heck of a lot of visibility, and I'm pondering sending my novel to a small press publisher. But I'm headed for indie publishing later this year.

July 13, 2014 at 11:03 AM  
OpenID paulfahey said...

Anne, great post. Love my traditional small press, JMS Books. And I was plain lucky in finding it. Love WD's definition of traditional presses: "Traditional book publishing is when a publisher offers the author a contract and, in turn, prints, publishes, and sells your book through booksellers and other retailers. The publisher essentially buys the right to publish your book and pays you royalties from the sales." This is exactly what I have in my small press publisher and I ain't going anywhere. :)

July 13, 2014 at 11:38 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Linda--Well, that may explain all the misinformation in the forums. If the first people to use the term "traditional" were the vanity presses, no wonder people are confused. When writers talk "indie vs. trad" they usually mean self-publishing vs. contract with a publisher. But of course vanity publishers are self-publishing. Just not a very cost-effective method.

I feel the same horrified amazement when people say they're going with a known scammer because they want to "decide for themselves." That's like "deciding for yourself" if fire can burn you.

I think when people talk "hybrid" these days they mean the way you publish books, not articles. But of course articles can pay more than books these days. If you think you might like to trad publish, a small press might be a good choice, but if you're fairly sure you want to self-publish, make sure you don't sign any contracts on a series.

July 13, 2014 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Paul--You might enjoy the David Henry Sterry article I linked to. He's with a small traditional press after being with the Big Five and finds it a vast improvement. Like shopping at an upscale boutique instead of Walmart. You can get personalized treatment, often more marketing help than from the Big Five, and careful editing. It sounds as if you've found the best home for your books.

July 13, 2014 at 12:21 PM  
Blogger Wm. L. Hahn said...

Anne, this one goes beyond fun and useful- it's just plain important. I'm sure there will be many newbie authors who can take valuable warning from the way you called out the emperor's lack of clothing on vanity presses like Author Solutions.
One small correction, though: cave-painting was the original self-publishing! This path was older, used more (and worked better in my opinion), long before trad-pub and maybe long after if things keep on like they are.
I reflect on your words and realize, a bit sadly, that I've probably let the horse out of the barn via self-pub. I don't regret it. But now that I'm finally releasing the trunk novel (in four novellas, to be followed by PoD via my first-ever contract with a micropublisher), that's pretty much end of the line for the old dream of winning representation. I've got a quarter-million words out there now, and if I was moving 10k units a month (hah! a year) why would I want to sign with anyone else?
But self-pub has made me very happy, no matter how feeble my platform. Now I write things, knowing I have deadlines (which I set, and which I know I can make). Without it- just ideas and that dream, like winning the lottery without buying a ticket.

July 13, 2014 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger G. B. Miller said...


I hate Blogger. It ate up my comment!

The Cliff Note version of my comment would be this: Having done all three, I will stick with self-publishing for the foreseeable future as one, it's cheaper, and two, less grief/less heartache for what my writing preference is (novellas).

Father Nature's Corner

July 13, 2014 at 1:26 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Wm--Do spread the word to newbies where you find them. Unfortunately the people who really need to see this don't read blogs. They tend to be the kind of people who think the Internet is a fad that will go away any minute.

You're right of course that the most traditional publishing IS self-publishing.

I think you're taking exactly the right path for your books. Self-publishing novellas instead of shopping around one long epic novel to 10,000 agents, none of whom will read anything longer than 80K words sounds smart to me.

Great to have a micropress for your paper books, too. Congrats. It sounds as if you're doing everything right. It takes a while for a niche series to find its audience, but I have no doubt it will!

July 13, 2014 at 2:15 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

G.B.--I'm so sorry Blogger ate your comment. I hate when that happens. And yes, they do it to me, too.

Something is weird at Google today. I couldn't post anything at Google Plus for a couple of hours and this blog didn't post to Facebook until 1 PM (it went up at 10 AM) I think it seems to be fixed now, but your comment was probably a casualty.

As you probably know, a lot of self-publishing authors are making more money than trad pubbed these days, so your choice sounds wise, especially since the bigger trad pubs haven't caught up with the novella trend yet.

July 13, 2014 at 2:19 PM  
Blogger Linda Maye Adams said...

I've heard hybrid also means doing a mix of pro and SP. Not many people go that route, but I'm also a bit of a maverick. Hurts nothing to try, and everything I write now is focused more on genre and how I could market it in the future. I wanted to opt for a small press publisher because, again, it's visibility, but it also will likely be a faster process. I've been the agent route three times before, and frankly, spending years just sending queries to agents and maybe having luck maybe not is just not a good time investment for me. I can be out there building my stock and designing covers.

July 13, 2014 at 2:31 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Linda--When Bob Mayer coined the phrase "hybrid author" he was talking about book publishing, since there isn't much self-publishing of magazines, but I'm sure you can call yourself "hybrid."

Surveys tell us hybrids make the most money. I'm hybrid myself, since I'm with a small publisher and I've just self-published as well. Most of the biggest names in self-publishing are hybrid: Hugh Howey, Barry Eisler, Joe Konrath, etc are all hybrids. My co-author Catherine Ryan Hyde is doing very well indeed as a hybrid author.

I've had a total of five agents, so I totally hear you on that. I'm so glad I was rescued from the query-go-round by a small press. They are indeed much quicker and you get real editing and personal attention. I've had good luck with several micropresses. But it's also nice to be embarking on the self-publishing journey as well.

July 13, 2014 at 2:50 PM  
Blogger sue mcginty said...

Another great one, Anne. Your Central Coast Sisters will be smilin'. I'd add, beware of publishers who call themselves traditional and are really vanity presses in disguise. You find that out by having someone who knows, a trusted attorney, check over your contract. I found that out the hard way, and I'm still recovering from the experience.

July 13, 2014 at 3:08 PM  
Blogger Belinda Pollard said...

Omigosh, only the Big Five are traditional? Then what was I working in, all those years?

There is such a lot of absolute nonsense circulating the web, Anne. Thanks for inserting a little sanity now and then.

One comment I'd add is that it's such a mistake to think, "If I get signed by the Big Five, I'll be successful." So often it actually means you'll get buried on the mid-list, get very little promotion, and end up in remainder stores in 8 months' time. Smaller presses will often take a bigger risk on a new author, and spend time developing them and promoting them, even if they haven't got the latest fad book.

July 13, 2014 at 3:30 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sue--That's exactly why I wrote this post. There are way too many outfits making money FROM authors instead of FOR authors. Tthe fact they call themselves "traditional" is a nasty trap. They follow a tradition all right: the time-honored tradition of fleecing newbies and feeding on people's dreams.

July 13, 2014 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Belinda--Exactly. As I said, Ruth Harris was surprised to find out that she wasn't working in traditional publishing when she was at Kensington.

You bring up a great point--also brought up in David Henry Sterry's article I linked to. He made no money when he was with the Big Five. His "marketing person" had ten books a week to promote, so mostly did nothing for any of them. The book died. When Sterry went to a small publisher, he became a star because they treated him like one.

July 13, 2014 at 3:44 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Prue Batten sent this comment via email (curse you, Blogger, for not taking Wordpress IDs!)

"Thank you for this post. I've just had this discussion with a friend and a link has been to sent for her ease of understanding.

I've been small press published (print and ebook) since 2008 but in 2010, decided to go completely independent and have never been happier. I am my own CEO, and responsible for own bottom line. I have a team of three - quality editor, designer and formatter - who work with me. I am building a lovely, loyal readership and owe no loyalty to anyone but my reader. I am no Howey but I'm immensely happy with the contract between myself and my reader. When all is said and done, that's really what it's all about - isn't it?"

July 13, 2014 at 5:31 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Prue--You have indeed had a great career since you started self-publishing. And you have some of the most beautiful covers of any books--trad or indie--that I've ever seen. Your Gisborne series is fantastic!

July 13, 2014 at 5:32 PM  
Blogger Shelley Schanfield said...

Anne, I've been a stalker on your site for years. I always find something useful in your posts, and this one was no different. The EBUK site you recommended had a fascinating article on why Google Play will be the first truly global e-book provider. (http://bit.ly/U8PiIu) Useful information for me; India may be a significant market for my novels. The article had many interesting points on the disadvantages of Amazon if you're looking at an international market.

Great stuff.

July 13, 2014 at 5:42 PM  
Blogger florence cronin said...

Anne, it's a good thing that you continue to give your readers up-dates on all of this. The landscape changes constantly and it can get very confusing. I think I will morph into a hybrid ... and from my lips to "His" ears ... all I have to do is get one of them published one way ... then turn the tables and do it again myself the other way.

My good friend Christi Corbett, who won a RONE Award for her debut novel Along the Way HOme, is with Astraea Press, a small press and has gotten great results. The bottom line is still ... can you write a good book? Thanks for another one :)

July 13, 2014 at 7:07 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Shelley--Thanks much for de-lurking! I'm so glad to hear you're finding the EBUK people useful. They've been amazingly kind to me. I learn something from every blogpost they put up. Very different information from what we hear in most places.

I believe them that the next leap in publishing is going to be international and indie writers especially can find huge opportunities in the international market. If you saw their blog today, you saw they're going to start indexing cover designers, editors and formatters. I think that's going to be a huge help to indies all over the world

I'll post more information on that when I have it.

July 13, 2014 at 8:05 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Florence--I've been happy to see that Christi is doing so well with a small press. I know a number of writers who have had similar experiences--as I have. We shouldn't discount the small press even though self-publishing is more glamorous right now.

Keep trying all the different avenues we have available. That's the great thing about being a writer right now--we have so many choices--and each one can lead to a solid writing career.

The one thing to be wary of is anybody who promises instant riches...for a fee. The only one getting rich on that kind of thing is the person making the promises.

July 13, 2014 at 8:09 PM  
Blogger Julie Musil said...

Excellent descriptions. You explained them the way I'd imagined them. I definitely describe indie as self published, but that may be because I'm a newbie. I just think of myself as an independent publisher, and therefor an indie :)

July 13, 2014 at 8:55 PM  
Blogger Claude Nougat said...

Anne, as always, you give valuable advice aspiring writers would do well to follow! Everything you say about Author Solutions is the absolute truth and you're right, they are incredibly pushy, they even tried to ensnare me, ha ha, but no go!

But I do feel we are all missing on the benefits to be derived from the Big Five or small, respected legacy presses, if we don't realize that the legacy publishers offer something more than a contract and royalties: they offer a chance to be reviewed by independent professional critics in the mainstream media and to access all the prestigious prizes - and this should be also said loud and clear and I hope you dedicate a future post to this. Because all this is CLOSED to indies!

July 14, 2014 at 1:48 AM  
Blogger Jan Ryder said...

Another important post, Anne. Thank you. We all have writing friends who've been duped by vanity publishers. Going to share this and have bookmarked it into my writing business folder.

July 14, 2014 at 2:11 AM  
Blogger Liza said...

Wow. So much to think about here. Thank you for sharing, and educating!

July 14, 2014 at 4:27 AM  
Blogger L. Diane Wolfe said...

Subsidy publishing is so expensive. (Ironically I posted on subsidy publishing today.) Writers can self-publish on their own for a fraction of the cost.

And you're either traditionally published, self published, or subsidy published. The idea that only the big five are traditional is idiotic. Traditional refers to the method not the size.

July 14, 2014 at 5:14 AM  
Blogger Crystal Collier said...

I remember when I first heard about the big five working out "label" and charging authors for the privileged of labeling themselves. I rolled my eyes and bit my thumb at those money grubbing corporate executives. Seriously, what jerks.

July 14, 2014 at 7:41 AM  
Blogger Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Very informative post, Anne. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on traditional publishing. I agree with everything you say (of course).

July 14, 2014 at 8:14 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Julie--"Indie" is definitely a big umbrella. Micropresses like to hang onto the title, because in many ways they are treated like self-publishers. But the definition is moving more and more to meaning only self-publishers.

July 14, 2014 at 9:17 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Claude--You make an important point that many writers may not be aware of when they choose to self-publish. Most reviewers won't review your books and you'll be excluded from all but a few self-publishing-only prizes. This is why literary writers usually do better when they go the trad. route. Self-publishing works best for genre writers. (Who wouldn't be considered by those reviewers or contests anyway.)

July 14, 2014 at 9:20 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jan--I'm always sad to see when a writer gets sucked in by the hype. They start quoting catch phrases and jargon the vanity publishers have invented and then you know they've drunk the Kool-Aid and there's no saving them.

July 14, 2014 at 9:22 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Liza--I'm glad it helps. Spread the word if you see any newbies falling for these guys.

July 14, 2014 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

L. Diane--I'll have to go check out your post. Self-publishing doesn't have to be expensive. The big expense is editing, but writers can save a lot on that by workshopping the book before it goes to an editor.

And yes, the definition seems obvious to those of us who have been in the industry a long time, but newbies are easily bamboozled.

July 14, 2014 at 9:25 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Crystal--Mega-corporations are scary, partly because the buck doesn't seem to stop anywhere. Nobody takes responsibility when things go wrong. It will be interesting to see if any of the Author Solutions lawsuits lead anywhere.

July 14, 2014 at 9:27 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Michael--Thanks! Good to see you weighing in. I saw such silly comments over at Alex's blog. Vanity publishing may have a long tradition, but it's not how we define "traditional" publishing.

July 14, 2014 at 9:28 AM  
Blogger Fundy Blue said...

Thank you for a very informative post, Anne. I came here via Alex Cavanaugh's blog. I'm going to send a link to my sister who is a published author and other writers in my family. Have a good one!

July 14, 2014 at 9:41 AM  
Blogger Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I wrote a bit about the 'Big Five' on my blog today too. I've been with a small press for over seven years and ten books. I'm happy with them and consider myself traditionally published. I think this discussion is going around and around.

July 14, 2014 at 10:06 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Fundy--Alex was my inspiration for this blog. Thanks for spreading the word!

July 14, 2014 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Susan--Good post. I think people tend to forget about small publishers, but they can be the best of both worlds. They're nimble and can follow the changes in the industry much faster then the big guys. And they are the MOST TRADITIONAL form of publishing. Multinational media conglomerates are a recent phenomenon. Small presses have been around since Gutenberg. And they can be the best path for many career authors.

July 14, 2014 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Here's a comment from Sasha Palmer, who is on vacation in Russia. Apparently Blogger doesn't trust comments from Russia. :-(

Anne, congratulations to you on (re)publishing your book!

So many publishing options - makes my head spin, but it's good to have options.

I think (self)publishing on Booktrack might become very popular, it has potential and it's really a lot of fun to create soundtracks for your stories.

I have a Hugh Howey fanfic story BORN on booktrack.com, BORN has been doing okay so far, but new readers and commenters are very welcome. Please, spread the word.

(Anne, hope a little bit of self-promotion on your blog is okay. Thank you.)

Thank you, best,

Sasha A. Palmer

July 14, 2014 at 12:20 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sasha--Thanks for taking the time to comment even though Blogger is being rude. Congrats on the Booktrack project. I think Booktrack looks like a lot of fun. I'm allowing the promo because you found out about the Hugh Howey fanfic opportunity in the "opportunity alerts" here on the blog. I want to encourage people to try the new avenues I list here. It sounds like a fun, creative way to get noticed. I wish you lots of luck.

Enjoy your Russian vacation!

July 14, 2014 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger Tara Tyler R said...

so much awesomeness!!!
really appreciate the thorough pub breakdown!
and bonuses at the end!
thank you!

July 14, 2014 at 1:29 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Tara--Welcome! And thanks for the enthusiasm.

July 14, 2014 at 1:43 PM  
Blogger Rosalyn said...

Very thought provoking--thank you! Do you know off-hand of good guides to small presses?

July 14, 2014 at 1:47 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Rosalyn--Just click on the link above to the Poets and Writers Guide to Small Presses. It's a free database.

July 14, 2014 at 1:56 PM  
OpenID fornow said...

Great article, Anne. And thanks to the link to David Gaughran's article.

I met with the original Trafford back in the day and quite enjoyed the experience. Some of their reference pages on their web site were excellent for making format choices. And then they got bought out by Author Solutions and started spamming with ever-rotating reps.

Later, i joined a writers group with speakers, including editors, vanity press, small trads, and hybrids. That was a good education.

Myself, I don't use the terms that way but quite agree with your trad definition. Trad vs Indie is too black and white. I think of it more as a spectrum. I definitely prefer the smaller traditional publishers to work with. The authors I know with many books out all use smaller houses.

Also loved the point about distribution - that deserves a sub-section title or highlight.

One listing I've seen recommended several times is Predators & Editors. This is the Publishers list.

July 14, 2014 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

fornow--Back before ebooks and KDP, vanity presses were the ONLY way to self-publish, and Trafford had a good reputation. The problem is the vanity presses got left behind with the Kindle revolution, and they got all bought up and run by sharks.

I think you're right that it's a spectrum. Boutique publisher usually use the sales techniques of self-publishers, so on a spectrum, they are "indie" too. That's why I feel I can call myself "indie."

Good reminder about Preditors and Editors. They are a great watchdog group and a must-check before signing any contract--with agents, publishers, or anybody in the business.

July 14, 2014 at 3:07 PM  
Blogger Empty Nest Insider said...

Thanks for the thorough breakdown of publishing options. There is so much to think about, and these guidelines help make it less overwhelming. It was also nice of you to include the additional links. I'm glad that Alex sent me over!


July 15, 2014 at 1:17 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Empty Nest--I'm glad it helps. There are a large array of options and choices. Unfortunately scammers use that to their advantage: "We know it's all too hard, so we'll take care of everything for you." At 10 times the price, of course. Alex is the best!

July 15, 2014 at 8:51 AM  
Blogger DMS said...

This is such a helpful post and you did an excellent job explaining everything very clearly. I am glad I learned about your post on Alex's blog. :)

July 15, 2014 at 3:44 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jess--Welcome! I'm glad I'm helping new writers to make sense of all this. It can be awfully confusing--especially when some people are actually making money off the confusion.

July 15, 2014 at 4:28 PM  
OpenID jamieayres.com said...

Thank you for this insightful post . . . saw Alex give it a shout out & so thought I'd visit :-) I just recently watched that Authors Anonymous after I saw it in Redbox--hilarious!

July 16, 2014 at 6:32 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jamie--Welcome. I hope you'll stop by again. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed Authors Anonymous as much as I did. It's definitely "writer humor".

July 16, 2014 at 9:34 AM  
Blogger Sheryl Nantus said...

Excellent article - it might be good to remember that in the Great Gold Rush the richest people by far were the ones selling the shovels, tents and equipment to the miners - not necessarily the miners themselves!


July 16, 2014 at 10:11 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sheryl--What a great thing to know! And a very wise reminder. Yes. I think the people making the most money off the "Kindle Gold Rush" have been the suppliers--both legit and non-legit--while only a handful of authors make the big bucks.

July 16, 2014 at 10:21 AM  
Blogger Leanne Dyck said...

Thank you for clarifying this matter, Anne. I once wrote my goal as--to be published by a traditional publisher. After being entangled in this 'indie'-'traditional' debate I now write my goal as--to work with a publishing house to release my novels and short story collections. Wordy. Awkward. But clear.

July 16, 2014 at 11:37 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Leanne--You might want to clarify your goal still further by saying "a traditional publisher who doesn't charge any money up front". The vanity presses claim to be "traditional" but when they start talking about YOU paying THEM is when you know the tradition they're talking about isn't the one you want. :-)

July 16, 2014 at 12:29 PM  
Blogger ryan field said...

A long time ago a small press wanted to publish me if I paid $600 for them to edit the book. I knew it was a red flag and I declined. There's so much to know and posts like this really make things better for new writers. I know that's a very broad statement, but it all helps.

July 16, 2014 at 9:54 PM  
Blogger Linda Covella said...

Small and mid-size publishers are great alternatives for writers. Thanks for this informative post!

July 17, 2014 at 4:11 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Linda--I agree! I've been very happy with small publishers, and many authors I know feel the same way.

July 17, 2014 at 4:53 PM  
Blogger Tyrean Martinson said...

Wow! Thanks for this incredibly informative post!

July 20, 2014 at 8:27 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Tyrean--I'm glad it helps!

July 20, 2014 at 9:16 AM  
Blogger Ernie J. Zelinski said...

Overall, a great article and very informative for anyone who is not that familiar with the publishing industry or self-publishing.

I would like to add to this comment, however.

"Self-publishing is a good path to a writing career, but it's not the best road to publication with the Big Five, unless you're the one-in-a-million breakout superstar like Hugh Howey."

Actually, I am no superstar and I started self-publishing in 1989, yet I know that I can use self-publishing to get published by one of the Big Five. In fact, my self-published "How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free" was coveted by Random House, who asked to take it over in 2009. An editor at Wiley also contacted me two years ago wanting to take over publication of the book. I told both publishers to take a hike since I make 3 times as much money by self-publishing. What's more, I am much better at marketing and selling foreign rights than any major publishers are.

The point is, I know that I can self-publish at least another two of my books and have major publishers wanting to take over the books within three of four years of my publishing the books. If a publisher sees that a book is selling 5,000 to 10,000 copies a year for several years, the publisher will gladly take over publication of the book.

Ultimately, however, most authors will make much more money by self-publishing than having a traditional publisher publish the book. This does require a great book and great marketing.

Incidentally, my role model who inspired me to self-publish my first three books was Robert J. Ringer. He is the only person to the best of my knowledge
to write, self-publish, and market three #1 "New York Times" bestsellers. Not so long ago two of Ringer's books were listed by "The New York Times" among
the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time. Interestingly, Robert Ringer has since then had several books published by traditional publishers. Interestingly, his latest books published by traditional publishers have not come close to having the success that his first three self-published books had.

Here is one piece of advice from Robert J. Ringer's "Looking Out for Number 1" that has served me well over the years, whether the book is self-published or published by a traditional publisher:

“It’s better to do a sub-par job working on the right project than a great job working on the wrong project.”

Ernie J. Zelinski
The Prosperity Guy
"Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free"
Author of the Bestseller "How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free"
(Over 200,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
and the International Bestseller "The Joy of Not Working'
(Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

July 20, 2014 at 6:11 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ernie--Congrats on getting high enough on the Amazon lists in 2009 to be approached by Wiley and/or Trident. They were trolling the bestseller lists and offering draconian contracts to indie bestsellers who didn't know any better back in those days.

Luckily, those days are long gone. Five years ago is the Jurassic era in publishing. But that's a good thing. Now most indies know they can do better on their own or with a small press than with a predatory agency.

Nonfiction authors especially do better as indies. I've had agents ask me to guarantee 10,000 pre-ordered sales before they'd even look at a nonfic book. They only want politicians with SuperPacs. The nonfic market is seriously corrupt in the Big Five, I fear.

July 20, 2014 at 8:01 PM  
Blogger Michael Spelling said...

This is one informative post. Thank you for this!

January 27, 2015 at 12:35 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks Michael! Glad to hear you find it useful!

January 27, 2015 at 9:30 AM  

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