Self-PublishingTraditional publishing

Traditional publishing vs. self-publishing revisited (ADDENDUM)

From Rick:

I know that I was going to blog only every other week until the end of April, but after reading over the two previous blogs on self-publishing, Scott Gamboe offered some additional thoughts from his experiences. Being short, I figured I’d slip this one in.

From Scott:

I checked with Borders when my first book (traditionally published) hit the shelves (in 2006). Their website allowed you to select any store in the country and check to see if a given book was in stock. I found that only about half the stores had it. And that number may not be accurate, because I only checked about two dozen stores, which wouldn’t be much of a representative sample. So, as Rick said, there are no guarantees how many stores you’ll get into, or how long the book will stay.

I did a number of book signings. They lasted anywhere from 2-4 hours. I would end up selling anywhere from 1-4 books per hour. Since my royalty percentage was in line with what Rick outlined previously, that wouldn’t even pay for the gas to drive to the bookstore, not to mention my time.

CONS FOR TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING: Some publishers use what’s called “basket accounting.” The author signs a contract and receives an advance. The only way you receive any royalties beyond that advance is to sell through it. In virtually every contract the publisher gets the right of first refusal on your next book in the same genre. If they decide to publish that next book, then before you receive the advance, they take a look at previous sales. For example, if you fell $500 short of selling out the advance on the previous book, they deduct that amount from the advance on the new one. (Rick adds: So, if your first book sells way short of expectations, then your second one might not bring you any additional money until or unless its sales are sufficient to make up for the first one. On top of that, you may well not be offered any additional contracts.)

CON FOR SELF-PUBLISHING: Although self-publishing no longer holds the stigma that it used to, the publishing houses still look at your sales record. If you self-publish and don’t sell at least a few thousand copies, you may not have a chance to get a contract with a traditional publisher, regardless of the quality of your work.


Even though Scott and I are strong advocates of self-publishing, we’ll be the first to say that it’s not for everyone nor is it a runaway clear choice. This is why some authors have become “hybrid authors.” This means that they use both routes depending on the book.

Another con with traditional publishing is that authors of a series may well never to get to publish all the books in the series if the first ones don’t sell well. An author could end up with a stranded third book in a trilogy if the publisher doesn’t want it.

Depending on the contract, the author could well be prohibited from publishing it by any other route without the publisher’s permission under a “competing material” clause often found in traditional publishing contracts, and what is deemed competing material is solely at the publisher’s discretion.

I don’t know if this has changed in recent years, but in the past some authors had to fight for the right to publish other books in a series if the original publisher didn’t want them. All of this goes back to ensuring that your contract leaves you plenty of leeway if things don’t go as you expected.


2 thoughts on “Traditional publishing vs. self-publishing revisited (ADDENDUM)

  • Codi,

    Thank you for the comment, but I guess I’m puzzled over what you disagree with. I read the article you cited (I subscribe to and read all of The passive Voice’s posts), but there is very little overlap in the two articles. The TPV article focused mostly on how publishers viewed Amazon (at that time). Scott and I don’t even mention Amazon. We talked a lot about publishing contracts and how publishers don’t always have the author’s best interests at heart. This isn’t just our opinion. It’s verifiable. So, what exactly do you disagree with in our post?

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