Saturday, January 12, 2008

"Traditional Publishing"

One thing I have trouble with, in discussing self-publishing, is what to call the other main approaches--the other options potentially on a writer's plate. I don't want to get sucked into a pointless definition war, something this whole area is already rife with. But there does need to be some reasonable short-hand term for the mainstream publishing model.

A common choice is "traditional publishing" which iUniverse defines as the "traditional way of publishing a book in which an author must find a literary agent or a publisher willing to review the manuscript." However this term is used very loosely to contrast not only with self publishing, but also non-self-published e-publishing and use if print-on-demand technology.

The term also has unsavory connotations in some quarters for example the SFWA who write ""Traditional publisher" is a term of very recent origin. It was invented by the first of the author mills in order to distinguish itself from the POD services (whose business model, except for the fee, it otherwise followed very closely). The term has no meaning in the publishing industry, which by definition doesn't include vanity and self-publishing operations. ("Commercial publisher" or "trade publisher" is more appropriate.)"

However, it must be noted that the SFWA are not exactly all over self-publishing and this page lists links to several long-extinct websites. Even so, it is safe to say that referring to "traditional publishing" brands one as a n00b in many quarters, no matter how you mean it--and its use by a publisher is widely considered a red flag. The term appears to have been invented, and is frequently used, by some of the less reputable self-publishing service providers.

However use of "commercial" seems to imply self-published are not engaged in "the exchange or buying and selling of commodities on a large scale involving transportation from place to place" (Merriam Webster online). Is that fair, even if it is in a great many cases (clearly not all) reasonably accurate in terms of the 'large scale'? As a term "trade" just seems to hopelessly vague the general sense of the word and too specific in the sense of referring to specific types of publication.

So the question is, how do you refer to other sectors of publishing, if indeed you feel the need to do so?


Mrs Giggles said...

"The New York houses"?

"The big old boys"?

I have used both "commercial" and "traditional publishers" only to be told snootily by people via email that "only scammers like PublishAmerica" uses these terms. Of course, they offered no suggestions as to what the "correct" term is.

Emily Veinglory said...

It has become a standard usage criticism--perpetuated widely on forums. But the best alternative I have is "nosp" (not self published).

Anonymous said...

I think perhaps it is worthwhile to consider the other side of the argument: I don't consider my book, Entrekin to be self-published (heck, I'm not even sure about 'published'). I mean, certainly, it's available if you want it, right there on Lulu. I did all the lay-out, design, and editing myself (and am professionally qualified to do so, at that). But when people ask me if I'm published or with whom I am published, I simply hand them my book.

Question rendered moot.

Honestly, I think in another few years the whole argument, on either side, will be rendered less definite. It's already become far too easy for absolutely anyone to figure out a way to make their book available; it will, too, become more difficult for publishers to accurately find their audiences. Literary magazines are on the way out; they're published by writers for writers so that writers will have a market for their work, all the while neglecting something extremely important:


Know any readers who can name a publisher by name? Any one at all? How about a literary magazine? One you can't get on newsstands?

No. Readers know writers and stories, and will take them from whatever sources they can get them. Readers don't care who published the pages they're reading, so long as they care about the story.

This is also one of the reasons the writers' strike in Hollywood is somewhat misguided; by the time writers manage to come to some sort of agreement for a way to get paid, their audience will be seeking entirely new ways of distribution and consumption. How do you negotiate a business model that doesn't exist yet?

Starbucks and Apple are about to roll out a way for people who want to drink coffee to order their drinks via their iPhones. A few years ago, nobody would've even imagined it was possible. In a few years, people will wonder how they possibly lived without it. Einstein once said that he didn't know what WWIII would be fought with, but WWIV would be fought with sticks and stones.

We can't know where publishing is going (nor what to call it), because in the next five years it's going to change as much as it has in the last five hundred.

~Will Entrekin

DanPoynter said...

For definitions of the different ways to publish and your choices for breaking into print, see
InfoKits. Detailed information on book writing, production and promotion.

Get the f.r.e.e InfoKit #2 on Publishing
--Dan Poynter

Emily Veinglory said...

The question is not moot if I want to ask it, or answer it. I think it would be perverse for me, as a blogger specifically on the topic of self-publishing, to suggest there is not distinction between publishing models. I think there is, and that it is not trival to me as a writer, commentator or reader. I also think those who obfiscate the difference may do so for good reason (e.g. Maggie Anton) or for bad reasons (e.g. Publish America) and I support and encourage people to know the difference.

Emily Veinglory said...

Thanks, Dan. That link seems like it should be:

U may be overly caustious but this kit is available by email only and although you have a postive brand and say you won't ditribute the emai address--it is not specified that you won't use it for in house purpoes other than sending the kit. As a, no doubt overly, suspicious person I tend not to meail unless 100% sure the material will answer the specific question I have with no unsolicited contacts.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean your question is moot; I only meant that, so far as my readers who ask if I am published are concerned, I render the question moot, in my case, when I hand them my book. Generally they don't care whether the book was printed by Lulu or by several parties removed to get into a bookstore, so long as they have the stories in their hands.

That was all I meant.

As far as obfuscation goes, I think the situation and industry are doing better jobs of blurring distinctions than any writers or printers ever will.

Consider: general hearsay is that uber-popular, brand-name writers don't really see their manuscripts edited much; what you buy when you purchase a book with Stephen King's name on the cover is, according to poplar wisdom, pretty much what Mr. King handed his editor, at his publisher. Is this not the case with most self-published writers?

What your post truly bears out is that the business model that has held for the past half century or so is changing due to the introduction of various new technologies. But in terms of nomenclature, I'm not all together certain it matters. I don't call publishers "traditional"; I call them TOR or Scribner or Scholastic or whathaveyou, because those are their names.

It's also why I generally try to avoid the self-published label in the first place; why talk about how I published when we can all talk about what I published?

"You will know me by my work" (not by how I put it out there)

-Will Entrekin

Emily Veinglory said...

And I understand why you wish to do that but it isn't very helpful to me as I do not wish to do that. I wish to have the freedom to refer to all levels of the system depending on what is apt for the conversation. Just as I want to be free to refer to Fido, a spaniel, or a dog--depending on what is called for. Calling a specific animal a dog, or a not-cat, doesn't say anything about whether he is a good or a bad dog.

Anonymous said...

"Good" dog and "bad" dog are rarely objective, but I get your point. The problem with wanting to refer to "all levels of the system," though, is that, like Linnaeus, you'd have to delineate what all levels are.

-Will Entrekin

Independent Book Report said...

I use commercial usually. Traditional just sounds so...sleazy. Mebbye because it's got the stink of PA all over it.

Becky said...


I think the problem is there's so many shades of grey here. I generally use "traditional publishing" because that's what other people use, but it's not a straight forward delineation when I think about it.

There's big publishers who pay you (probably up front), small presses who pay you (probably not up front), POD and e-book micropresses who pay you (definately not up front), subsidy presses who claim to pay you but actually scam you, very occassionaly there's even honest subsidy presses who tell you you almost certainly won't make back what you pay them, offset self-publishing, PoD self-publishing (and then there's a major difference between say Going direct with LSI, going with Lulu and going with someone like iUniverse who charge up front)

How can we divide things into simple black and white terms when things simply aren't black and white?

Perhaps we should call things what they are? Big name publishers, small presses etc rather than trying to lump things into two groups where there's more than two groups.