Ever since the printing press was invented, the publisher has had a huge say in what got in front of readers. They chose who to market and how to pay them. Some of the better ones even helped in the editing process.
But then came indie publishing. At first, it was confused with vanity publishing, where an author paid to have his or her book in print and then had to work out how to sell the copies. That has now changed so that the stigma of publishing yourself has pretty much gone.
In its place we have a glut of books, many of which are awful in terms of style, plot, cover, editing or all four. But, balanced against that is the freedom to be in control of your own destiny. Instead of having a year between manuscript and publishing, you can get your book out pretty much as soon as you have the cover and blurb ready. Plus, and this is the biggie for most indie authors, you can make more money from your own efforts instead of getting small payments from your publisher occasionally.
In traditional publishing, bookstore placement is vital. Not so in the indie world. Traditional publishing might give you an advance, a smallish one, against future royalties, but it’s rare for any large sums to be handed over. In fact, the truth of traditional publishing is that they have no idea what is going to sell well, and if they think they spot a trend, they’ll jump on it. Remember the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? A strange new genre seemed about to take over. A Swedish writer speaking of a Sweden of extremists. Word went out to find other new Swedish writers. Hardly any were found. But that didn’t stop agents and publishers offering money to them. The point was, it seemed like a good idea, so let’s repeat it!
And then traditional publishers began to catch on. Instead of looking for a new trend, why not find ones which already exist? How to do that? Simple! Look at Amazon’s indie publishers. Find the ones which are already selling well and who have an existing readership (no need to spend a lot on marketing!!) and get them to sign for you. Hence you have Fifty Shades Of Grey and The Martian.
But many indies don’t want to work with traditional publishers because, as I said earlier, it’s too restricting. Plus, as an indie, I get paid every month. Compare and contrast with the traditional model where you can expect a check twice or even four times a year paid out on lower royalty rates.
And don’t forget, nowadays, most traditional publishers won’t do much at all to market your book. That costs money. So, you have to do it yourself anyway.
Finally, let’s say that you make it big with a publisher. What do they want? More of the same. Keep writing in the same genre. But what if you want to break out and try something new? Not so much support for you there as that means you’re back to being an unknown quantity. Publishing houses are in it for the money. That’s not a bad thing. But not so much of that money finds its way down to the author. Which is sad, as without authors, publishers would be out of business.
PS Have you seen what traditional publishers are charging for ebooks?? Sheesh! Costs are virtually zero, but the price doesn’t change. When are they going to wake up?