Traditional Publishers Love Self-Publication

Written By: Timothy Fish Published: 5/7/2007

Harvest House Publishers is one of the better known Christian publishing companies. Some of their authors are quite popular within some circles and many church libraries have, upon their shelves, several books that were published by this company. The other day, I went to visit their website with a simple question in mind. If I wanted to get them to publish a book that I had written, what would it take? It turns out that they, like most publishers, no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts. For authors who wish to have them consider a manuscript, Harvest House Publishers recommends submitting the manuscript through a third party and they provide a link to this company on their website. The author need only pay $98 and his proposal will be made available to publishers for a period of six months. The publishers may or may not enter into negotiations with the author. Essentially, the $98 places the authorís proposal in the slush pile.

The cost of submitting a manuscript to publishers is interesting when you consider that for a dollar more the author can get his manuscript in print through services that many have called vanity publishers. Consider this. An author can go the traditional route and he ends up paying $98 and he isnít even guaranteed that his manuscript will be considered. An author can spend a dollar more and he is guaranteed that his book will be in print. He isnít guaranteed that anyone will purchase the book, but as part of the price he will receive a copy of his book , which he can try to sell to recover the dollar if he wants. Which of these two options, I ask you, is more vain? In both options, the book may be considered for publication by a major publisher. Is it not vanity for an unknown author to believe that the $98 is well spent when he knows that the vast majority of manuscripts will not be picked up?

The situation gets even more interesting. Harvest House Publishers actually recommends that authors consider taking the self-publishing route. They also recommend an adult themed website, but I trust that link will be removed once there webmaster reads the e-mail message I sent him or her. Granted, Harvest House Publishers are recommending some options that are more expensive than submitting a $98 proposal, but one has to wonder why a publisher would want to recommend that authors consider self-publication.

In traditional publishing, the publishing company makes money by selling books to the public. The authors are like hired guns. Some educational publishers have a staff of writers, but for other kinds of books it is too expensive to keep an author on the payroll in hopes that he will produce a highly profitable book. Instead, authors go off to do their thing and when they have a book, they present it to the publisher. The publisher makes a decision of whether he can make a profit from the book and whether that profit is enough to justify publishing that book rather than another one.

While it may seem counter intuitive, the self-publication model is one that benefits the traditional publisher. In the traditional publication model, thousands of manuscripts are sent to publishers who must pay someone to read them or they must declare a blanket rejection policy. Yet, publishers who donít sign authors lack the talent that is required to make money. If there was no self-publication option, the authors would keep beating the door down, just to get published. With the self-publication model in place, the traditional publishers can continue to publish books authored by their most successful authors and at the same time they can be looking for the rising stars among new authors by looking at sales rather than spending so much time reading manuscripts. A publisher might sort the results on by sales rank and limit the search to self-published books. The publisher might not even have to purchase a copy of the book before he knows if he is interested. He reads several pages through the Search Inside feature and then he contacts the author with a proposal. The money he saves by not paying someone to read through the slush pile is more than enough to make up for the losses sustained from self-published books that are competing with books published with his imprint.

In the future, I expect that we may see some partnerships between traditional publishers and subsidy publishers. An author may receive special features or a reduced price if he signs a contract that allows the traditional publisher the exclusive option of picking up the book. If a book appears to be on the way to success, the traditional publisher would then need only to assign people to it and would not have to compete with other publishers.