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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"Traditionally" Published

On Tuesdays I usually share personal thoughts about life, jam, weather, roses, grandbabies, or whatever comes to mind. Today I'd like to continue yesterday's look at what it means to be "published" and why books that are "traditionally published" are different -- at least in some ways.

This has become a major issue in writers' organizations since print-on-demand (POD) publishing and self-publishing have become so readily available to anyone who has something to say and all these people are "published," yet writers' groups often exclude them.

As I mentioned yesterday, some of these works are excellently written and very worthwhile. Some gain huge cult followings (look at the work of Amanda Hocking. Way to go, Amanda!) and some do so well, they gain world-wide acceptance.

So what's the difference?

Sometimes the differences are few. Some self-published work is very well written, cleanly edited, and presented with fine art work and high production values. But much of it is dreck, a word for garbage borrowed from German Yiddish. Why?

Traditionally published books go through an extensive process. Take for example my newest book with Covenant, A SECRET FAMILY RECIPE. I submitted the manuscript together with multiple forms about marketing ideas, potential art work, key concepts and scenes, and more. Then the process began.

First the manuscript was reviewed by my editor, who loved it. Then it was sent to three outside reviewers, two of whom gave it glowing reviews; the third approved. When a package had been completed with my manuscript, copies of the outside reviews, and all the forms I had sent in, the whole thing went to committee.

At Covenant, the publishing committee includes the managing editor, my editor, plus representatives from marketing, art, publicity, and every arm of the company. They spend hours wrangling over which books are worth their time and the company's money. In the case of RECIPE, they liked it, but wanted major changes. Two months later, I resubmitted. The new package sat on the shelf for weeks, waiting its turn, until it went to committee again and was accepted.

So far the publication process has taken about ten months since my first submission and the book isn't scheduled for release until 2013. This is fairly typical of my experience with nine novels and three publishers.

What this means to writers, readers, and writers' organizations is that every traditionally published book has been extensively vetted, considered in detail, and given the best chance possible of being the best book possible.

Quality is not assured. I've read a few traditionally published books I wanted to throw through a wall, and even a couple I have trashed (while my mind screamed "desecration!") simply because I didn't want anyone else to read them.

Still this process is a better predictor of quality than anything promised to readers of self-published work or works produced by vanity presses (those that require the author to bear all expenses of publishing and distribution). It is one way authors' organizations can recognize work that has passed through the fires of traditional publishing and come out more refined on the other side.

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