The Often-disregarded Advantages of Traditional Publishing

Rewriting strategies lead to better stories

Despite the run towards self-publishing, the ability to self-publish an ebook without huge printing costs, the opportunity to say “So there” to all those agents and publishers who have rejected your work, the necessity now for most authors to market themselves and their books … there is one huge advantage to traditional publishing that I think is getting lost in the rush. Great editing. And I don’t just mean the editor you work with when your book is accepted. I’m also including the great editing you – the writer – are forced to do in order to have your manuscript seriously considered.

Writing is hard, we all know that. To complete 90,000 words or so, on your own, often while you are working at a paying job, is a monumental task. Not only that, but those words have to be good ones, and they have to work together excellently to produce plot, character, setting, style, etc. But good is not actually good enough. Those words have to be reworked, re-ordered, replaced with better ones, until you have a novel that shines. A novel that pulls the reader in on Page One and doesn’t let them go until the end. Let’s face it, we all want to write a novel that will keep someone reading until 3am!

Most writers know that revision is the key. It’s in the revision process that your novel is wrestled into shape, honed and refined, and made into a great reading experience. It might take three rewrites. It might take ten, or twenty. But when the “carrot” at the end is a publishing contract and your book being out there on the shelves, being bought and read — well, you suck it up and do as many rewrites as it takes, and you keep learning the craft and improving your skills and eventually you have a terrific book and you get a contract. I know that’s not always the case. There are books that get rejected over and over, perhaps because they are too “different” in some way or they appeal to a niche reader (publishing is mostly reliant on numbers of sales). But the time and effort you put into rewriting pays off in many ways. Ways that impatient writers forget about. If you practise the part of your writing craft that is your “editor’s hat”, you will have a much better book to show for it.

Then, when you have that contract, you get to work with an editor. This is a person whose job is to help you make your book the best it can possibly be. Writers who have never worked with a good editor don’t understand this. They don’t know what happens when you work with someone who has a keen editor’s eye, who makes great suggestions, and who pushes you further than you thought you could go. You thought your novel was as good as you could possibly make it, and you’re right, it is – for you. But you’re a biased reader! A reader invested in what you have created.

I don’t know any published writer who hasn’t felt dismay (or worse) on receiving that first letter from their editor, the one that points out all the things that need fixing or rewriting. I’ve heard of writers receiving letters that are 16 pages long (single-spaced)! Just when you thought all was good, here comes this editor telling you No, it can be lots better, and here’s what you need to do. Three days is the average time it takes to calm down and realize the editor is right, and that you have a lot more work to do. But usually what comes with that is excitement and anticipation, the further realization that “Hey, this person is on my side, and she/he really does get my story, and yes, I really can make this into a fantastic book!”

You don’t get that when you self-publish.

You get the opportunity to do it your way – of course. But many writers who self-publish do so too early. They’ve stopped rewriting because the “carrot” has gone, and so they may be ignoring their inner voice that says “not ready yet”. And because paying for a professional editor costs a fair amount of money, they’re also missing out on that experienced eye and the opportunity to push the novel to the next level. I’ve helped many people self-publish over the years, and I’ve done it myself, so I’m not against it at all. But the one question I ask writers who want to self-publish is: If a reader pays money for your book instead of one in a bookshop that’s been through the traditional publishing process, are they going to feel they got real value?

There are many aspects of traditional vs self-publishing – but I think rewriting and editing are two of the most important. What do you think?

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  1. Self-publishers can get that. You just need to hire a great editor that can share your project vision. A lot of self-publishers don’t hire editors, but that doesn’t mean they should or couldn’t.

    • With the downturn in publishing, there are quite a few very good editors who have become freelancers – they’re worth their weight in books!


  1. […] The Often-Disregarded Advantages of Traditional Publishing has much, much food for thought! Sherryl Clark has had nearly 50 books published, and she speaks from experience here. […]

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