Tales from Traditional Publishing

In December 2021, Berkley Publishing let it be known that they would accept submissions for a limited time directly from authors. With The Admiral’s Wife in good shape at that time, I decided to take the plunge and submit. Over the next few months, I kept checking the link for my submission but there was never any news. So, in early May 2022, I self-published The Admiral’s Wife and since then, it has won three indie awards – very exciting!

Lo and behold, yesterday I heard from Berkley Publishing. You know where this is going, don’t you?

Notice the warm, welcoming tone and professional courtesy. Notice the feedback on why it does not fit their list. (A bit of sarcasm there.) Notice that it has taken 15 months to reply to my query. 15 months!

Do they really expect that in today’s environment, where an indie author can publish as soon as a novel is polished and ready, that authors will wait that long to hear from a publisher? And even if I had waited and been successful, Berkley (or any other publisher) would likely need another 18 months or more before the book was actually released.

Mike Shatzkin, who spent his working life in the publishing industry, recently posted an article: Running a big publishing house is not as much fun as it used to be. He notes two big changes.

One change has to do with where books come from. Mike says that there are now up to a million new titles a year. A MILLION!! In the past, almost all titles came from the publishing industry. Now they come from self-published authors as well as “entities that live in some other world but which can use books to the benefit of their main enterprise.” Much, much more competition.

A second change is how customers find and choose books. As Mike says, and as all authors are acutely aware, it’s no longer just through book retailers and mass merchants like Costco. “Today, it is likely that fewer than 30 percent of physical books are purchased in retail locations. They are transacted for online, as are all ebook sales.”

Under these circumstances, control has shifted from publishers and retailers to readers and authors.

Readers pay little attention to whether a book is traditionally published or self-published. They are looking for a satisfying read and will use mechanisms like Goodreads, bookstagrammers, book bloggers, and other reader hubs for discovery.

Authors who have been traditionally published and then let go by their publishers, can still appeal to their reader base by self-publishing their subsequent books, a reader base that their publisher helped them build. And if their books are good, that reader base will grow. Those same authors can drive additional revenue from their backlists given the availability of e-books and print on demand. Indie authors have a similar opportunity.

Speed to market with a high quality product is where publishing is going. 15 months for a reply doesn’t cut it anymore.

I’m not suggesting that there is anything new in today’s post – but hearing from Berkley made me want to repeat the message.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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25 Responses

  1. First, Mary, congratulations again on THREE awards! It’s frustrating to be a writer in the midst of publishing upheaval. As always, your blog is an anchor to maintain hope and sanity. Thanks. Chris

  2. Thanks, Mary, you’re saying what all of us are thinking. Further validates going the “indie” route, as I have for many years after a few attempts at the traditional process (which kind of worked at first then it didn’t.) thank goodness our readers find us without the big publishing companies! Your awards are proof of the right decision for you!

    1. Many thanks, Mary! I worked and worked at the traditional route – and now, I’m beginning to realize all the benefits of going indie.

  3. Also, I sent the mss of my Portraits novel about John Singer Sargent to Sourcebooks, back in 2012, and got a rejection which stated the book was “too Victorian” because “nothing happened”, all the characters did was talk, and it needed “more on-screen sex” (a literal quote). I think by then they were using emails, and I wish I had kept it!

    1. OMG…That’s now on my TBR list. He was on my list of possibles for a future work…crossing that one off.

    2. More ‘on screen sex’. Wow. So many very well known authors either don’t include sex or do so very sparingly! It points out another problem with traditional publishing which is the ‘tyranny of individuals’ and their personal tastes and preferences. I remember someone saying ‘I don’t think I can get behind your book with the right passion.’ Well, what about all the other readers out there who might not have the same ‘passion’?

  4. More and more and more and more I am leaning towards self-publishing. Thanks for pushing me even further.

    1. You’re welcome, Cheryl. And don’t forget, I invite guest posts on the blog with an opportunity to feature one of your novels 🙂

      1. Looking forward to taking you up on that in a few months. Perhaps a we can chat at the HNS conference?

  5. Thanks for this, Mary. It’s such good information for readers to have and gain an understanding as to the challenges facing authors these days!

  6. Hallelujah Mary! And precisely why I chose to go hybrid for my debut novel. What traditional agent/publisher is going to take on a first time author with an epic novel and no established ‘writing credentials’ or platform? I suspect I would have been holding my breath for longer than 15 months. Now I’m feverously crafting marketing plans and building that platform in anticipation of a December launch. I pick up my first bit of conference swag next week! Yes we can!

  7. It is a very competitive world, thank you for reminding us. Could you share the indie awards you received? Well done for that! I remember reading your book on the Siege of Paris… Still have to publish mine.

    1. Hi Michele – many thanks for your comment.The Admiral’s Wife received awards from Brag Medallion (they only give you a medallion if the novel is deemed worthy), The Historical Fiction Company (gold), and The Coffee Pot Book Club (gold). I was thrilled with the recognition! Best of luck with your novel.

  8. Well said, Mary.
    I had a similar experience with my latest hist.fict, Reliquary. I had immensely positive responses from the editor to whom it had been sent (this is not at Berkely, by the way). Then this excellent publishing house with many fine authors was taken over, my editor and point of contact left, the new editor to whom my manuscript had been given emailed to say she would be in touch ASAP.
    I waited. And waited and waited and finally stamped my foot and said ‘To Hell With It!’ I decided to indie-publish and I didn’t bother letting the new editor know. I’ve always been an indie writer since 2010 and shall probably end my days as one, but I have been a master of my own destiny and a skipper of my own ship for better or worse.
    Congrats on The Admiral’s Wife. You’re such an excellent writer. And those awards are stellar and highly deserved.

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