Lessons From The Traditional Publishing Model—The Book, The Book, The Book!

By: Susan Mary Malone

Traditional publishing is in the toilet. Big news flash, right?

But what can we learn from big publishers’ successes and failures? A lot. So let’s dive in and today talk about the thing new writers are missing all over the place—putting the product, the book, first.

This really does seem like a no-brainer. I mean, we’re writers, right? It’s what we do—we write, we hone our craft, we study, we get critiqued, we write some more. At least, that’s the way it used to be!

One of the issues new writers (and many seasoned ones as well, although they handle it differently) have with the Traditional folks is that this takes f o r e v e r. Yep, it does. At every single stage of the process, writers get to hurry-up-and-wait. Hurry up and produce exactly what that agent, novel editor, etc., requests, and then sit on their hands for months and wait on responses. It can drive a sane woman batty. I’m in the process of getting one of my great YA writers agented, and of course, as it’s August and all of publishing is on vacation, my writer is frustrated that the agent won’t read his work until September. Hey! That’s actually quick!

But back to our point. What this enormous time lag did was to give writers all this glorious waiting time to actually focus on the book. To learn. While they banged their heads against publishing’s seemingly impenetrable wall, they wrote. Joined critique groups. Got bashed there. Went back and dove in again to make the story better. Used novel editing services and worked with a fiction book editor Wrote some more.

All of this took years. But now, with the advent of instant publishing, you don’t have to go through all of that. Presto! Your book can be published without having to do all that incessant waiting. You’re a book author!

But not a very good one. The waves and waves of schlock being “published” these days boggles the mind. Oh my, is so much of this stuff just terrible. Cringe-worthy awful.

And here’s the dirty little secret Traditional publishers know: You can put megabucks behind a new release’s marketing. Hire PR agents. Get the best cover in the world. And maybe sell a lot of books because of all that. But if the book’s bad, readers won’t buy the second one. In other words, you’ve totally lost the audience you worked so hard with marketing money to create.

You’re the same way, right? You buy a highly touted book and by page five, it’s so awful you toss it into the trash, never to read that author again. And I mean, ever. No matter if said author ends up on the morning television shows touting her next one. What sticks with you is the awfulness of what your hard-earned money was wasted on.

But then, the converse is also true, no? You read something wonderful, and seek out that author’s backlist, while waiting eagerly for the next one. I did that very thing with Pat Conroy not long ago. For whatever reason, I picked up “The Prince of Tides” for the fourth time (one of my all-time favs, obviously). Then I got on a Conroy jag, reading the ones I hadn’t read, while waiting eagerly for “The Death of Santini.” They could package up the yellow pages and put Conroy’s name on it, and I’d buy it.

Of course, Pat Conroy came of writing age during the time when the only choice was to hone one’s craft. Learn from him! Dive in, learn your craft, hone it and hone it and hone it. Have a great developmental editor sign off on it before the presses run. Ah, now you have a budding career as a book author!

“Should I set an hour/time or a word-count as my goal?”


When it comes down to the crux, fiction writing is a very personal endeavor. And all serious scribes do set some sort of production goals. The point is to find what works for you. And, to do so within the context of producing. In other words, it matters not how you get from point A to point Z, but only that you get to Z!

I know great book authors whose goal is to work for an hour a day. Period. The point is, for that hour they sit their butts in front of the computer. Every day. Even if each word typed is excruciatingly done, they still work. After all, the muse can be fickle, and some days she refuses to play. Not your concern if you’re committed (you always know she comes back!). And some days she roars with creativity, and three hours fly by without you knowing it.

Many others set word-count goals. And no “right” number exists for that. When I’m writing fiction, I set a goal of 1,000 words per day. Again, sometimes getting 250 down proves difficult. Conversely, some days’ work produces 3,000 brilliant ones (at least until I look at them the next day!). But usually that 1,000 words ends up being my average. It works for me.

If all this seems rather arbitrary, it is. Because a goal is just a goal—a standard to help guide you. To keep you honest. To keep you writing. It matters not how many actual words/scenes/chapters/pages you produce a day, nor how many hours you spend doing it. It only matters that you write. Regularly.

Especially when working on book-length fiction or nonfiction, when The End lives somewhere in the elusive and distant future, getting sidetracked is quite easy. And especially easy when you find yourself slogging through those dreaded sagging middles. Having a set daily writing goal kicks you in the butt to sit at the computer, whether you feel an ounce of creativity or not. Again, the muse will return at some point. And oddly, often in those very times of arid writing, you find yourself turning down a really right road you otherwise would have been racing too fast to see.

But even if what you write that day is schlock, you still wrote. The beauty of writing is that no other person on the face of this earth will see your first draft, and everything is up to debate whether it stays or goes. All that will be hashed out anyway by the developmental editor. Taking advantage of novel editing services is worth its weight in gold. So who cares if you write tripe in one session? You can always ax it the next day, or down the line.

Because in the end, all that matters is that you wrote.

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Susan Mary Malone (, book editor, has gotten many authors published, edited books featured in Publishers Weekly & won numerous awards. See more writing tips at & see her latest video Tra

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