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  • Dave Butler

The Third Option: Traditional Publishing

By Dave Butler

Following up on Pam and Greg’s posts over the past two weeks, I want to share some of my experiences in traditional publishing.

As you’ll see from our three posts, deciding among the three options -- independent, hybrid or traditional – means, for all authors, weighing the pros and cons of each. And realizing that there is no right answer as to which is best.

Once I had my first novel finished (at least the first draft…) and the next two in the series sketched out, I was fortunate to be offered a three-book deal by a traditional publisher. At the time, I didn’t have an agent, so – after much back and forth with the publisher’s contract manager – I signed the contract. To say that I was excited would be an understatement. I realize that that is a common experience with first-time writers, one of which some publishers take full advantage… Now, with the benefit of experience and the advice of an experienced agent, I know that I should have negotiated (or at least tried to negotiate) a very different contract. But you know what they say about hindsight…

Post-contract, the excitement continued when I met the team with whom I would be working. For the first time ever, I had a publicist. I had on my team a story editor and a copy editor and social media professionals to track media coverage and create content, and to ensure that my books were stocked in stores across Canada and into the U.S. There was even a graphic designer to design the cover of my books. It was a dream come true.

All went well with the first book in the series (‘Full Curl’), and I was pleased with the degree to which the publisher supported me. I had great assistance for launch events, and regular reports on how the book was selling in Canada and elsewhere. The fact that it won an award for the Best First Crime Novel in Canada certainly bumped up sales. While I worked hard on my end of the bargain, trying to be innovative by posting on social media featuring my images of settings in the novel, scheduling signings at book stores, and doing readings in libraries and schools, I felt fortunate not to have to drive around western Canada and the Pacific Northwest with boxes of books in the trunk of my car, trying to sell them as if they were encyclopedias or vacuums.

Then came a change of ownership at the publisher.

By the time my third book was out, I was on my sixth or seventh publicist. Many of them had not read my novels, nor did they have a clear strategy for promoting them. It was then I realized that any significant support or attention from the publisher came only in a very narrow window of time just before the book was out, and for a few short weeks after. Beyond that, I was on my own.

Promises were made and not kept. More often that I would have liked, I heard “we don’t normally do that.” I created opportunities by engaging new markets beyond the traditional mystery and crime fiction world – such as organizations focused on conservation. This made sense, at least to me, because my novels were environmental mysteries. I planned a book

launch at a big city zoo, with a guest speaker from Namibia (attending on his own dime…) who would talk about rhino conservation. It was -- or so I thought -- an innovative way to host a cause-based event to promote ‘In Rhino We Trust.’ But windows of opportunity like that opened, then quickly closed, due to inaction by the publisher.

While I could not reach an agreement with that publisher on a second contract for more books in the series due to … uh, let’s say ‘creative differences’ … I do look forward to working with a new publisher on my next stand-alone thriller, and on my next series.

With the help of my agent, and some hard-earned experience, I’ll go into that next contract with eyes open … and lowered expectations.

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