Some Reasons To Avoid Traditional Publishing

Hi Folks,

Please Note: This is a guest post by Dean Wesley Smith, who graciously allowed me to cross-post it here. You can find the URL for Dean’s website below and in the Quick Links in the sidebar. This was originally posted on Dean’s site on February 20, 2018.

There Are So Many…

I mentioned that I had taught at a wonderful writer’s seminar called Superstars. Put on by Kevin Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, Dave Farland, Brandon Sanderson, and a fantastic staff. I was a guest instructor on the writing side. I had a blast and the conference ran perfectly from my perspective.

There were also industry guests like Mark Coker from Smashwords, a New York agent, some editors, and other fun people.

The conference tries to help everyone and I was, of course, on the indie publishing side of things, even though I have published over a hundred novels with traditional publishers. The conference really does attempt to keep it balanced between both sides of the publishing world.

Because of that, there were many, many young writers focused on the traditional path and I didn’t say much at all to change any minds. I didn’t feel like it was my place to be honest.  I presented some indie sides of things. But it is every writer’s job to take the information they can find and pick their own path.

I came away from that kind of exposure to those young writers with stars in their eyes and agents in their sights with a bunch of reminders how much things have changed.

So I thought, just for fun here, I would list some reasons I believe are important to know to avoid traditional publishers. These are my opinions, so take that as you will.


No matter what you do in traditional publishing, if you go begging to them with a tin cup in your hand, you will get a contract that will take all rights to your book for the life of the contract and there is little to nothing you can do about it if you are set on that path.

You have no bargaining power at all and they want all rights to the IP for their accounting bottom line.


You lose all control of your work. Complete loss. Your agent will take some of your control from you, the publisher the rest. They flat don’t want you in the process.

And they can publish the book or not publish the book. It will not matter with the modern standard contract. And they can put any cover they want on it and do a crap job of copyediting or in some cases not even read the book.


Unless you get a mega-contract with upwards of mid-six-figures per book, they won’t do much promotion at all. Oh, sure, they will put it in their catalog and maybe list you for some e-arcs through some ABA program (that you could get into as an indie publisher).  You will be expected to do what promotion is going to be done yourself, just as you would do as an indie author.


Your book will be off sale (except for electronic) and forgotten within two months of publication. The traditional publisher must keep up the churn and you are just more meat into the water.  There will be no follow-up promotion, redoing of bad covers, nothing that you would do for yourself as an indie publisher.

And remember, you have sold them the book for life of the copyright, which means 70 years past your death. In other words, in two months after publication, that book you sweated over is dead.


You will be giving your agent 15% of all money you should get for making a few phone calls and looking at a contract that is illegal for them to negotiate because they are not lawyers. At Superstars I asked the agent on a panel I was on if they split payments and he just looked at me like I had grown a second head. I had to explain it to him that splitting payments meant that the author got directly from the publisher 85% and a copy of the paperwork and the agent got directly from the publisher 15% and a copy of the same paperwork.

After I explained it he said no, they don’t do that. So think that through. You are giving an unlicensed person you don’t know all your money and all the paperwork tracing that money and then just hoping they will send you some. Yeah, that’s a good idea. But going traditional, that’s what all those writers will do without thinking about it.


And this one just shocked me the most. One writer I talked to had been working on the same project with an agent for THREE YEARS. No sale, nothing yet at all. And the writer was happy about that.

I published at least forty novels and many other books in those same three years.

I had forgotten the extreme time it takes in traditional publishing. Wow.


So those are some major things I observed on my adventure into the real world of publishing.

Writers willingly want to give all rights to their book away, lose all control, let agents steal from them, just to have their book published for a few months and then tossed away while they wonder what happened and why they can’t sell another book.

This traditional publishing system just flat kills writers. I don’t even want to mention the levels of rejection by gatekeepers these poor folks go through to even get to the point they can give away their book in a contract.

Watching the traditional side just made me shudder. And thank my lucky stars that indie publishing came along when it did.


Harvey here again. You can find Dean Wesley Smith’s website at If you’re serious about learning the craft of writing, I strongly recommend visiting it regularly.

You can also sign up for my own The Journal (, an almost daily blog in which I often mention Dean as well as other resources that I believe are of interest to writers.

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‘Til next time, happy writing,