The Journal: On Traditional Publishing

In today’s Journal

* Topic: On Traditional Publishing
* Yesterday and Today
* The Numbers

Topic: On Traditional Publishing

Be sure to check out David Farland’s link in “Of Interest” today, and then let’s all have a good cry for traditional publishing.

If you didn’t catch it, that was sarcasm. For a major writer who influences so many other writers to defend traditional publishing so stringently, especially while omitting a lot of pertinent information, borders on the irresponsible.

I can only wonder how many writers were on the verge of beginning their careers as indie publishers only to be nudged back to traditional publishing by his article. I added the link to it below only to provide a reference point for this topic.

Listen: It isn’t the authors’ fault that the TradPub industry is clinging to outmoded ways of doing business. The 1980s are over, and the sooner traditional publishing recognizes that fact the better off they’ll be.

Traditional publishing also publishes ebooks (not mentioned in the article). They typically charge 3 or 4 times the cost an indie author charges, yet they have the same overhead for ebooks (practically nothing) and they still pay authors almost nothing.

And frankly, in exchange for purchasing ALL RIGHTS to an author’s IP for what amounts to a pittance, traditional publishing as we know it doesn’t deserve to survive.

If anyone out there knows of any big-five (or big at all) traditional publisher who offers a fair contract, does not buy all rights, and includes a rights-reversion clause within a reasonable time period (say 3-5 years) from anyone other than a Stephen King or possibly Dave Farland, please please please let me know.

Folks, trust me on this: Don’t go with traditional publishing. If you do, chances are you will get screwed. It’s one thing to say you can always walk away from a bad contract; it’s another to actually do it when you have stars in your eyes.


Because as a general rule, we writers devalue our own work. Your IP doesn’t weigh anything. It doesn’t have physical substance so it seems to have no immediate value. Yet here’s this big publisher offering you $5,000 or $10,000 or $15,000 or even $50,000 for all rights for the life of the copyright. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to sell?

And as for Farland’s basic premise that the poor, overhead-laden traditional publishers simply can’t afford to market and promote your book? Bullsh*t.

The fact is, your book means nothing to them beyond the monetary value of the IP and what it does for the bottom line of their company. Look:

1. When you sell them all rights to your IP, the publisher’s accountant adds that IP—which is now the publisher’s newest asset—to a spreadsheet. It adds value to their company even if they never publish the book.

2. Lawyers check amortization schedules against the author’s current age to determine roughly how long the author will live, then add 70 years. That’s how long they will own the IP (and it will add value to their company) before it drops into the public domain.

3. Other lawyers asses the potential earning value of that IP during that time period. Maybe it has film or TV series potential. So maybe they value that IP at $3,000,000 dollars (and that’s on the low side).

Yet for an investment (your advance) of $5,000 or $10,000 or $15,000 or even $50,000—which they typically pay in three or four installments, by the way—they’ve just increased the value of their company by 3 million dollars.

That’s not a bad trick if you can pull it off, and traditional publishers pull it off every day of the year, always at the expense of some new, starry-eyed writer who thinks he or she just received the deal of a lifetime.

If this were you, and had you walked away, you would not have received your advance, 15% of which would have gone to your agent. Nor would you have received your 10% to 15% royalty after you “earned out” your advance (and again, 15% of any royalty payments also go to your agent).

Instead, you would indie publish. If you were smart, you’d go wide and distribute to around 240 stores and around 1000 libraries around the world. You’d earn around 70% on every sale, and if a film (or gaming) producer did decide your story or something inside it would make a good film or game, YOU would still own all rights.

You and your IP attorney would negotiate a deal, and in the end you would cut out a tiny slice of your IP (film rights or gaming rights, for example) and you’d STILL own all rights to everything else.

When the film or game is made, you get paid. When a book sells, you get paid. When the film or game takes off and they create and sell merchandise based on the film or game, you get paid. And your IP keeps making money for you and your heirs for the rest of your life plus 70 years after your death.

But by all means, do what you want. I offer this only as food for thought.

Yesterday I had a pretty good day of writing. This morning I received input from first readers on Books 3 and 4 of the series.

I took a little time to add the input from the reader for Book 3, then saved the input for Book 4 until a later time. Then I wrote and posted this and turned to my writing ‘puter.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “43 Writers’ ‘Rules for Writing'” at Of course, Heinlein’s Rules didn’t make the list.

See “The Hidden Costs of [Traditional] Publishing” at I still get angry even reading the title of this post.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 980 words

Writing of The Journey Home: Part 5 (novel)

Day 1…… 4179 words. Total words to date…… 4179
Day 2…… 4825 words. Total words to date…… 9004

Total fiction words for December……… 106289
Total fiction words for the year………… 558820
Total nonfiction words for December… 20280
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 205490
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 764310

Calendar Year 2020 Novels to Date…………………… 9
Calendar Year 2020 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2020 Short Stories to Date… 13
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 54
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 214
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

2 thoughts on “The Journal: On Traditional Publishing”

  1. Really important article, Harvey. Yours, not the Of Interest. I don’t need to read those based on your comments.
    I’ll spend my time with your Journal, your insights and of course, actually writing!
    Joke taken about the safety of the writing desk. Been hanging out there to good effect!

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