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In Praise of Traditional Publishing

by Dianna Dorisi Winget

It's incredible how popular self-publishing has become. So popular in fact, that the last several authors featured in Sandpoint, Idaho, have all self-published their books. I can't help wondering why so many are choosing this route.

While I understand self-publishing may be the perfect choice for some writers, it bothers me to think they may be choosing this option simply because they feel there are no alternatives.

Maybe they've been told their chance of being traditionally published is one in a million, or that it's just too hard. So why bother? Well, I'm here to show you the other side of the equation. To assure you that being traditionally published IS an option, and to share a few of the many advantages.

Everyday, all year, agents are being found, editors are accepting manuscripts, and deals—many involving debut authors—are being made.

So what's required?

A measure of talent, the willingness to work on your craft until your writing is truly of publishable quality, and then an enormous dose of perseverance.

I'm not going to delve into the craft of writing in this post, because there's an abundance of information in print and online. However, if you're not willing to bring your work up to the highest quality possible, you shouldn't be publishing, period.

What I can tell you about is perseverance. It took eight years to find the right agent and sign a deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for my debut children's novel, A Smidgen of Sky, which will be released on November 6, 2012. So was all the work worth it? Absolutely!

The biggest benefit of being traditionally published is that the publishing house will pay YOU for your book, instead of you paying to have it published. An advance often involves several thousand dollars even if you are a debut, or first time author. Though most marketing and publicity efforts fall on the author nowadays, reputable publishing houses carry a lot of clout. They will support you in many ways.

A good editor will offer revision notes, proof read, fact check, copy edit, line edit, and do countless other things to elevate your book from good to great. He or she will also guide, direct, and champion you as one of their authors. The old adage about being overworked and underpaid surely fits most editors, and a good one is a true friend and ally not to be taken for granted.

How do you find an editor like that? Your chances go up exponentially if you have an agent to help you. But wait, you say, do I really need an agent? Not in every case. There are still some publishing houses, especially small ones, which accept unsolicited manuscripts. Nevertheless, more and more are closing their doors to all but agented submissions.

Frankly, there are so many advantages to having an agent I'm not sure why anyone would want to go it alone. Here are just a few:

  1. Agents stay on top of the constantly changing publishing industry.
  2. They know what individual editors like and are searching for.
  3. Agents keep your manuscript out of the infamous slush pile and get it read much faster.
  4. They believe in your work and "get" what you're trying to say.
  5. They offer encouragement when you feel like giving up.
  6. They negotiate the best contract, usually a significant improvement over the boilerplate contract offered to a writer without representation.

They do many other things as well, but you probably get the point. So how do you go about finding the right agent? The tried and true method worked for me. I bought the print version of the 2010 Guide to Literary Agents, by Chuck Sambochino. Using the index in the back I made a list of agents who handled children's novels. Then I visited the websites of these agents to learn more about their history, backgrounds, likes and dislikes.

When I'd whittled my list to thirty agents, I began to query them in batches of five, being careful to follow the submission guidelines of each. A few didn't reply, most politely declined, and some expressed interest and asked to see a partial manuscript. One of the latter was Mary Kole, who was then with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

I ended up signing with Mary, and sixteen months later she sold my book. I'm not sure which of us was more excited! Mary writes an award-winning blog for children's writers. Even if you're not specifically aiming for kids, it's chock full of great writing advice. She also wrote an article detailing the effort it took to sell my book, formerly titled, Fly a Little Higher, Piper Lee. A number of authors have found the story encouraging. Let me know what you think.

It's hard to describe the enormous satisfaction that comes from being able to say, "I did it. Someone considered my work good enough to pay me for it."

So before automatically deciding to self-publish, at least give some serious thought to being traditionally published. And don't let anyone tell you your chances are one in a million . . . the odds are far better than that!

© Dianna Dorisi Winget