7 Secrets That a Publisher Will Not Tell You About Publishing Your Book

A bookshelf filled with vintage books

7 Secrets That a Publisher Will Not Tell You About Publishing Your Book

By Rodney Fife, for Edwardsturm.com.

You’ve recently finished your manuscript after many grueling hours of tear-filled work. You are elated that the process is over and prepare to send the manuscript to your agent or directly to publishers.

Here’s an important-to-know list of secrets that publishers will not tell authors while wooing them.

1. Your Book Is One of Many They Are Publishing This Year

A huge pile of books flowing down from the sky, illustrating that book publishers publish many books each year

Many publishers will put more than 100 – 200 books out in a given year. The more books that a publisher puts out means the less attention your book will get. Many publishers have the attitude, “Throw everything up and let’s see what sticks.” The reason that so many books are published in a given year is a hedge bet to protect the publisher’s profit margin.

2. You Will Be Expected to Do Your Own Marketing

A long line of fans waiting to have their books signed by a particular author

This is a big one and is particularly true if you pick a popular medium size publisher like Cedar Fort, Inc. They publish over 160 titles a year, yet maintain a marketing team of only 2 – 4 individuals. If you do the math, then you will realize that you will not get much time devoted to your book. The top publishing houses like Simon and Schuster maintain a larger marketing team with more time and resources, however, they, as well, will expect you to help them market your own book.

3. You Will Most Likely Not Be Able to Quit Your Day Job

An author, hunched over his paper, staring away in frustration

According to this startling Q&A with Alan Jacobson, a National Best Selling Author, “Typically, an author can expect to receive the following royalties: Hardback edition: 10% of the retail price on the first 5,000 copies; 12.5% for the next 5,000 copies sold, then 15% for all further copies sold. Paperback: 8% of retail price on the first 150,000 copies sold, then 10% thereafter.” The average first-time author sells between 500 – 1,500 copies. This is important to keep in mind before taking on any large expense.

In addition to this, be aware that publishers are still actively trying to reduce royalties so you may need to fight to get the pay you deserve.

4. There Is No Guarantee That Your Publisher Can Get You into a Particular Store

A glowing Barnes & Noble book store sits as customers walk towards it

A competent publisher will have an effective sales force. However, the final decision for a book to be in a particular store is up to each individual corporate buyer, and a lot of times it’s a total crap shoot. If a publisher offers you a guarantee that they can get you into a store, be wary.

5. You May Not Have Editorial or Creative Control of Your Book

A piece of writing with tons of corrections marring it

A lot of publishers have you sign away any rights you may have in regards to decisions like the cover, edits, or even the feel of your story. You may want to seek the advice of a competent agent or read your contract carefully. The publisher seeks this control to smooth the process and give them the ability to change anything they see fit.

6. People Will Steal Your Book

The logo for The Pirate Bay, a very popular torrent website

In the Internet era, authors get the privilege of dealing with the piracy problems of musicians and filmmakers. Someone will most likely take your book and put it on a torrent site so people can read it for free. Your publisher will most likely do nothing. It is hard to pin the culprits down and is usually not worth the fight.

7. You May Be Stuck with Your Publisher for Your next Book or Two

A black and white image showing book publishers of old forcing their laborers to stressfully toil

Many publishers insist on the right of first refusal for your next book or even the next three. This is something you may want to consider negotiating on. If you have a foul experience with a publisher you may not want to be stuck with them forever.

What Should an Author Do? Find a Great Agent.

Now that we have exposed some of the secrets of the trade. What should an author do? I always recommend to those who want to start a career in writing to find a great agent. An effective agent will give you leverage in negotiations and will be there to give you sound advice. When shopping for an agent I would recommend several rounds of interviews both verbally and written. You can find a list of agents on sites like Poet & Writers or Writer’s Digest. A Google search will also bring up a list of names as well. Picking the right agent will save you a lot of heartburn. A big plus in hiring a literary professional is that most agents require the publisher to give their clients an advance on their royalties. When picking your representative keep in mind that qualified professionals will work on a commission and will not charge you a fee up front.

Another key piece of advice is to join writing groups. You’ll find that these groups will help you in in your writing and will give you sound business advice based on their experiences. I recommend that you join these groups with the spirit of becoming a member and not try to peddle your book. Keep in mind, there are also many local Facebook Groups for writers and that there are a lot of authors who would love to give you sound advice.


Publishing a book can be tricky business, but hopefully this brief guide can help you stay clear of many of the pitfalls involved.

Have any question that only an expert can answer? Need advice that you’re not getting from your book group? Write your thoughts and questions in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Rodney Fife

Rodney Fife

Rodney Fife is the Founder & CEO of Ironrod Media. He’s a five year marketing, selling, and public relations expert in the book publishing industry and in the last two years has garnered over 25 million dollars worth of media coverage for clients in publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and on television shows such as The Today Show. He welcomes you to send him an e-mail at PR@Ironrodmedia.com for more information.
Rodney Fife