Welcome to this month’s edition of Ask Bethany House! I’m Amy Green, the fiction publicist here, and I’ve been answering some FAQs submitted via our survey. (Next month, we’ll be doing a post of interest to aspiring writers—be sure to check back!)
Question: In the modern era, when anyone can self-publish, what are the benefits of working with a publisher?
Answer: This question is kind of like asking the local Downtown Café owner why there is still a need for coffee shops when anyone can get a Keurig. First, the person answering has a pretty significant bias. But, second, bias aside, there are still good reasons for the more traditional option to exist.
I want to start off by saying that I have nothing against authors who self-publish. (I also, incidentally, have nothing against Keurigs.) Self-publishing can be a great option depending on your goals, but it’s also an area I am not equipped to talk about. There are lots of bloggers and indie writers out there with great information about the process of and merits to independent or self-publishing, so I’d advise taking a look at them to balance out your perspective. I’m not trying to say that traditional publishing is the best option in every situation, or that it has no downsides. I’m only saying that traditional publishing has many benefits, and that it’s by no means irrelevant.
Like the coffee shop owner, I recognize that my answer will be biased, but I hope it’s helpful anyway. (And that you’re now in the mood for a nice caramel latte to sip as you read the rest of this post.)
Here are three reasons I think traditional publishing matters in a self-publishing world.
Because Traditional Houses Have Greater Reach
Practically, if you want to see your book in brick-and-mortar stores, traditional publishing is the way to go, because A. physical stores have a limited space for inventory and B. buyers for LifeWay or Family Christian or Barnes & Noble or the independent stores trust that the books from Bethany House will be high-quality Christian fiction. We have a reputation with them.
Beyond retail stores, the same principle applies with bloggers, media contacts, and ad reps. Traditional publishers (and their corresponding promotional budgets and databases of reviewers and staff members dedicated to marketing books) can do more to get books noticed.
Because Anyone Can Self-Publish
In the early years of self-publishing, it was easier to get attention for lower-priced, self-published ebooks because not very many people were giving it a try. Now, the marketplace is very, very crowded. As I said, some of those participating are very talented authors…and others are that guy down the street who didn’t pass high school English but always wanted to write “a book about crime or something, like Stephen King.” And it’s getting increasingly difficult to tell the difference.
Readers know a traditionally published book will be of high quality in every way. They don’t have to take a chance on an unknown, because Bethany House already did that by searching through hundreds of unpublished manuscripts to find the ones we wanted to publish.
It’s hard to be noticed when you’re one small voice in a crowd of screaming people. The benefit of traditional publishing is that we give authors a microphone, a sound system, and a stage.
Because I Want Authors to Focus on Writing
This, to me, is the most important benefit of traditional publishing.
At Bethany House, we emphasize to our authors over and over again that their primary job is to be a writer, not a marketer. I am a fiction publicist. I am paid to market books—they are paid to write beautiful, compelling stories.
When they self-publish, authors are writers, but they must also be marketers, and sometimes editors and designers, spending as much time and effort or more on selling their work as they do creating it. Many authors aren’t willing to do this, either because they don’t enjoy marketing or because they just don’t have the time.
Indie and self-published authors do an incredible amount of detailed, behind-the-scenes work, sometimes filling the roles of a dozen employees here at Bethany House (or hiring freelancers to serve in those roles). That’s amazing, but it’s also true that they are more qualified for some of those roles than others. And they only have so many hours in a day in which to do everything.
Our authors know they have a team of professionals with decades of experience behind them to do the big things, like designing their covers, editing their manuscripts, placing ads in magazines, and pitching books to media—as well as the little things, like creating book signing posters, fact-checking tiny details, issuing shut-down notices to people pirating ebooks online, and writing blog posts answering reader questions about traditional publishing.
That way, our authors can focus on writing that next book.
Remember, if you have a question or two you’d like to see answered in this series, submit it to our survey!