Why aren't more people using traditional publishing?

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Why aren't more people using traditional publishing?

Dear ABCers,

A few weeks ago Karl Wiggins set an interesting question in the forums: why aren’t more of us self-publishing? I recommend it to anyone who missed it (http://www.abctales.com/forum/fri-2014-10-24-1129/why-arent-more-abctalers-self-publishing). It’s a good debate.

That got me asking myself why no-one seems to make a serious attempt at the more traditional route into print via a publisher, especially the poets amongst us. Now, before anyone says it, I already know what most of you are thinking – ‘That’s easier said than done’. And you’d be right but that doesn’t mean more ABCers  should not be choosing it, or at least giving it a real go. However, I’m not about to proselytize or waste oxygen talking the talk. On the contrary, if I think it’s such a good idea then I should be prepared to give it a go myself. And that’s exactly what I intend doing.

For a would be poet that means getting a track record with the more reputable literary magazines before trying to get an agent or a publisher interested in a collection. Which leads me to my first problem. Having reread them all, none of my poems (and I’ve got hundreds) are good enough. I’ll have to start from scratch and build up a brand new collection of unpublished poems (that will have to be better than anything I’ve so far written) and start submitting.

Obviously this isn’t going to take place overnight – in fact it may never take place at all. There are things I need to have in place; three things I need to be doing:

  • reading more high quality contemporary poetry (the more the better – currently I’m reading Norman MacCaig)
  • keeping a notebook and writing in it two or three times a day
  • subscribing to some poetry / literary magazines and researching the market

I have already started of course (the notebooks and the reading bit), though it will be a little while longer before I start submitting anything. I’ll give it twelve months and see where things are.

So until then, I must take my leave. I’ll still be popping in and out of ABC and maybe commenting or even posting once in a while. And if I have any successes you’ll be amongst the first to know.


Au revoir



Lots of luck Scorpio. You have a plan and you're on the move. Everything is worth a crack.


Excellent!  Fair play to you s88.  Go for it.


Good luck, Scorpio. I did consider it a few years ago and seriously researched it. Chose this way instead for purely personal reasons. Good luck to anyone who takes that route. Hope you get there.

Parson Thru

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has spent years trying the traditional approach with no luck. You have to get an agent before most publishers will look at your look, agents get flooded with submissions (and I'm sure a lot of it is rubbish), and I'm sure that many don't have the time to look at everything they receive before sending the rejection letter.

And if you get an agent, they can run into some very negative attitudes among publishers. I've had two agents over the years and both have told me the mindset among publishers is to look for reasons to say no rather than yes ... unless you're a celebrity or have connections in the business.

It's not impossible to get published, but it's become more and more difficult over the past thirty years, and I'm sure that a lot of good books have never found a publishers. That's why self-publishing on Amazon or some other forum is attractive; at least it gets your back out there, even if it doesn't have a marketing campaign to give a push to sales.

That being said, I wish you the best of luck Scorpio.


Publishers like Carcanet like you to publish in their magazines first. Michael Schmitt teaches PHD students at Glasgow, knows a few languages and is the main man. His time is extremely limited. You are dving into a very small pool. I wish you well, but you talk as if self publishing and traditional publishing are two seperate paths. They do not have to be. You can do both. 


Yes celt, I agree.  The two are not mutually exclusive routes.  I've got a novel at the stage where it's ready for review and I am 100% realistic about it ever getting off the slush pile.  Won't stop me trying though and ultimately I'll pluck away untill it gets a wider readership in some form or another.  Of course we'd all like an agent to be bowled over and bend a publishing house's ear and get taken on.  Lottery odds though...


I'm not from the UK, but I'd say that, globally, the market for poetry is diminishing. The majority of poetry I read comes from small boutique publishers who are on a small budget and publish, say, 2-3 collections a year (maximum), and only of those poets known in the locality (to scrape sufficient sales to cover their costs, most likely). The other poems I read come from well-known journals. 

However less we want to admit it, and, as poets, however much we want there to be a perfect market, the fact remains that today's readers want the dystopia, the chick-lit. There just isn't a large enough market for poetry to accommodate all the deserving poets in the industry. 

Certainly you'll never get rich writing poetry. But there is a market out there. Bloodaxe, Faber, Carcanet, to name but a few publishers. However, the only way into them is to have a track record for being published in reputable magazines and literary journals, of which there are plenty. It's not easy being published that way but nor should it be. Competition is fierce. Only the best should make it and that's what makes it worthwhile. It's hard.

I think a lot of poets who self-publish are missing the point: the true reward for writing poetry is not publication but the journey. And it shows in the results. I have yet to read a collection of self-published poetry that comes anywhere near to the standard of their traditionally published alternatives. Although I accept there will be the rare exception, I have yet to find one.

However, the increase in people writing poetry, especially on sites like this one (and the self-publishers) have led to a revival in the poetry market. Quite simply, they're beginning to buy the traditional books, the journals and the magazines, making the market more robust today than I can remember.





touche, I wish you well. 


Setting aside for a moment the question of being accepted by a trad publisher, I think some of the reasons more people aren’t currently using them are;


They no longer need to waste time going through that routine of sending copies of the book to everyone they can find in The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook
They don’t have to wait for a 9-month print run. They can publish tonight if they’re ready.
They’re in TOTAL control of their own work


That TOTAL CONTROL bit is a joy. The ‘modern’ author decides upon the price himself, corrects typos, makes changes, deletes chapters if he wants, adds chapters if he likes, changes names and does not have to wait to see if the trad publisher will re-publish after the first print run. He just carries on selling. And, of course, he doesn’t share a percentage of his royalties with an agent.

There are several stories out there of Indie authors being offered a trad deal and managing to negotiate control of their own e-books. Many Indie authors feel it would have to be an exceptional deal to tempt them into giving up control.

In this article David Gaughran writes, “Plenty of indie authors would consider a publishing deal ….. but would have a lot of conditions that may or may not make such a deal palatable for a publisher”


Here’s another article worth reading;


And this brief but excellent article discusses five questions Indie authors should be asking trad publishers when they come knocking with a traditional publishing contract in hand, and finishes with the warning to “Be very, very, VERY slow to give up your e-rights.”


The article goes on to state that trad publishing contracts are unfavourable to authors, and when agents and publishers tell you things are ‘not possible,’ what they’re really saying is ‘that’s not how we usually do it.’

I’ve been unable to find the interviews or articles concerning Indie authors who’ve negotiated their own deals with trad publishers who, let’s face it, have had things their own way for far too long. In all honesty the only thing that keeps them from realising they're a dying breed is nothing but their own bloody arrogance!



Interesting points Karl, and as someone who has self-published I'd agree that these are attractions. But there are a couple of important points on the flip side.

First, we can all benefit from a professional editor looking at our work, even those of us who reach breathtaking heights of literary genius. wink

Secondly, and more importantly, the trad publishers are much better equipped than any individuals to get a book noticed. They have the marketing budgets and the relationships with booksellers (even though the latter have the upper hand these days) to make a book a lot more visible to the public, and even after taking their cut will usually provide greater returns to an author.

I know that a few people have broken through from the independent route, but I bet the success rate for sales going through traditional publishers is still a lot higher.

Frustrating for those of us who have never had a result with a publisher, but I think that's the reality of it.


Mark, good points. If we're fortunate enough to be picked up by a trad publisher, we'd want to know exactly how much time and expense they're prepared to put into a making our book a lot more visible to the public.

Can they get us in the Richard & Judy Club? What chances are there they can get us on the New York Times Best-Sellers List? Can they get us in Amazon's top ten? What other authors are they promoting? Will they put the same amount of time and effort (and money) into promoting our book as they would, say, Linda Bellingham's 'There's Something I've been Dying to tell you'  

Or are we just to be another also-ran?




To be honest the chances are that most of us would be back among the 'mid listers' (the polite term for 'amost rans'), and I should think that an unknown author who wasn't a celebrity or cozy with people inside the company couldn't be at all demanding about how much effort they would make. But it still gives you a better chance than doing it for yourself.

And I go along with that frustration over the way they get behind celebrity authors when - and  no offence to the recently deceased intended - we all know that most of them would never stand a chance of being published without their celebrity, and that a lot of them don't even write the books, and that some are probably incapable of writing a note to the milkman.

I feel a rant coming on. Time to leave the computer and go for a long run.



Totally agree. Wayne Rooney could write a book on ketchup and it would be a best seller.


He's more likely to get ketchup all over a book.