I don't care much for the first-of-the-year blogs that predict what any industry is likely to do. Some are educated guesses and some wild speculation but I'd venture to say if you went back through last year's predictions, you'd find a real hodge-podge of what actually came true and which were greatly off the mark.
I've read a lot over the past couple of years about traditional publishing, and its imminent demise. With the invention of the Internet and web-based sales as well as easier methods of printing and publishing, there's no doubt that a lot has changed. But does it mean the traditional publisher is dead?
A good traditional publisher will spend time and effort in quality editing. The marketplace has stiff competition from all sides so well-written words have never been more important. The vast majority of submissions I receive are poorly written and in dire need of a good editor. If you choose to self-publish, do yourself a huge favor and find a professional editor.
Typesetting and Formatting
It's true the old methods of typesetting are long gone. With authors writing their manuscripts in word processing software, it makes it much easier and less time consuming to import the text and reformat it for publication. A traditional publisher will know how to do this so it is visually appealing to your audience, whether they're reading from an eReader or a printed edition. We go through the format at least six times before it goes to the printer, correcting every error no matter how small. The worst thing you can do is rush your book into the market before it's ready.
We've experimented this past year with asking our authors for their input on the covers. Sometimes they are well off their mark, resulting in covers that don't grab the readers' attention or they don't adequately portray what the book is about. Someone in the business of publishing knows what colors are grabbing the public's eye. They know whether to use an action-based design, a photograph or custom art. And they also know that a cover must change over time and editions, to keep up with the changing taste of the consumer. Take a look at the New York Times bestselling books. Those covers were not by accident. Sometimes thousands of dollars went into their design. Learn from the masters.
Last year Drake Valley Press moved toward hybrid printing. Before that, we were doing traditional print runs. This meant forecasting the number of copies we'd expect to sell in a specific time period. We have two warehouses, and the overhead with keeping poor-selling books can become quite extensive. On the flip side, if we don't print enough books, we run into a backorder issue, which can cost us sales.
So in 2013, we moved toward a mixture of print-on-demand and traditional inventories. For those authors who have a track record with us, we need only look at their prior sales to know how many thousands or tens of thousands of books to print - and we go with a traditional print run.
For those authors who don't have a track record with us, we opt for print-on-demand until we have an idea of their book sales. POD has its advantages, because we can correct errors and change covers without the requirement of depleting current stock first. Its disadvantage has been its reputation for a lower quality, which has quickly been changing. They also can not be returned by book stores and retailers if they don't sell, but fewer publishers are continuing that tradition of consignment sales.
A good traditional publisher will help the author with their marketing campaign and promotional efforts. This is where a lot of authors fall short because they think the public will swarm to their new book like flies to honey. First, you have to tell the public that your book exists. Second, you have to connect with them. Third, if your books aren't selling, you need to analyze why and tweak or completely revamp your campaign.
There's a reason why manufacturers of any product spend millions of dollars on marketing. With each book we produce, we will spend more time on marketing strategies than we do on the book's production. It is also our biggest out-of-pocket expenditure.
This isn't to say that when a book performs well below expectations, we'll continue to throw good money after bad. But we're more likely to think outside the box and make suggestions to improve book sales than an author trying to go it alone.
No matter how good your book is or how well it's marketed or advertised, if you don't have good distribution no one can buy your book. A traditional publisher understands that income is made when readers buy books - versus a publisher/printer who makes their money off the author buying their own book.
Distribution means the book is in Ingram's and Baker & Taylor's databases. Distribution means the brick-and-mortar stores as well as online retailers have the book in their system. It doesn't always mean the book will be carried in every book store (unless it's selling millions of copies) but it does mean it is available through all standard outlets.
Are traditional publishers dead?
I don't think so. Until authors learn that publishing is a business in and of itself and they master every aspect of the business, there will always be a need for professionals to fill that void.