This is the most competitive but prestigious route. Publishers pay out of their own pockets for your book’s publication because they see it as a worthy investment; in return, they will request the rights to your work in exchange for (at most) 10 percent of the royalties.

What makes it competitive is that there aren’t many slots offered to new authors, especially if you don’t have a strong writing background or publication history behind you. What makes it prestigious is essentially the exact same thing—its selectivity.

How It Works

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Who The Publishers Are

Traditional publishing is a big umbrella term that covers three differently sized presses: large (the “Big 5”), medium, and small.

Pros & Cons

I think it’s important to summarize traditional publishing by outlining what its benefits and disadvantages are, so I’ve listed these below:


It’s Free: The cost of publication is fully covered by your publisher in exchange for your book’s rights (in return you get 10% of the royalties, at most).

Expert Team: You get an experienced team of editors, designers, and other industry experts to support your publication process.

Credibility & Prestige: You become a part of the 1-2%, can leverage the name of your publisher (especially beneficial to nonfiction authors), and you’ve gained new industry connections.

Physical Distribution: Your book is most likely to make it into brick-and-mortar stores, like Barnes & Noble and independent bookshops.


Minimal Rights: In exchange for traditional publication, you are transferring—or selling—your work’s ownership from you to the publisher.

Lower Royalties: At most, traditionally published authors will receive 10% of their book’s royalties; for example, if you’re book is $10, you would get $1.

Large Time Investment: Writing your book, editing it, finding an agent, and the publishing process itself can take years due to the volume of submissions and the size of the publisher (especially if it’s one of the Big 5).

Lots of Rejection: As you begin to pitch to agents and/or small presses, you can expect to face a lot of rejections and/or radio silence.

Other Resources

I would highly recommend checking out this Publishing Pathway Overview created by the amazing Jane Friedman . She does such a phenomenal job of outlining a lot of the nitty-gritty, good-to-know info that encapsulates the massive umbrella of traditional publishing. She also updates this graphic yearly.

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