Why I Chose a Traditional Publisher

Guest Blogger: Nathan Bransford

One of the more common questions I receive in interviews and the like is this one: You have a blog, you were in the business by virtue of being a former literary agent, why didn’t you self-publish? Why didn’t you do it on your own? Couldn’t you have made more money self-publishing?

I know there are lots of people out there asking themselves whether they should go through the potentially months- or years-long finding-an-agent-and-then-a-publisher process or just get right to it and self-publish. But I decided to go the traditional route with Penguin for a two book deal (JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW and JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE), and I’m very pleased to announce that we finalized a third, tentatively titled JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE INTERSTELLAR TIME WARP!!

So why did I choose a traditional publisher? Many many reasons.

They are…

My Editor is Amazing

Having a professional editor in your corner is indispensable, and here’s the part where I give heap tons of well-deserved praise on my amazing editor, Kate Harrison, who understood and believed in WONDERBAR from the start. Kate has a ton of experience, I trust her instincts and editorial eye, and she is deeply committed to making every book as good as it can possibly be.

We went through pretty extensive revisions for COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, and I think they resulted in a much stronger book.

I Don’t Have Time to be a Self-Published Author

I have a very full-time job that I am deeply committed to and a blog that takes up a good chunk of my free time. I don’t have time to hire an editor, hire a copyeditor, hire an illustrator, hire a cover artist, buy ISBNs, make sure the formatting is right for all the various editions, choose trim size, write cover copy, and all of the other seven billion tasks that go into making a book.

I write, I do the bloggy things, I do the Twitter and the Facebook, and Penguin handles the making-of-the-book thing. Better still? Penguin does a fabulous job. I love my illustrator, I love my cover, the interior looks amazing. They did a way better job at all of that than I could have done on my own.

Print is Still Where It’s At, Especially for Children’s Books

Yes, this balance will continue to change as we move into the e-book world. But as I articulated in a post a few months back, this is still a print world. Even with the exponential rise of e-books we’re still somewhere between 65-80% print, and perhaps even a bit more for children’s books. Parents aren’t exactly rushing out to buy their 8-12 year-olds e-readers.

That may well change in the next five years. But for now? Print is still where it’s at. And if you want to get into bookstores you need a publisher.

I Appreciate Penguin’s Cachet

A few years back I honestly don’t know that the average consumer really knew the difference between a traditionally published and self-published book. If it was bound it was a book. Who cares what name was on the spine?

Now though, in the past year or two I feel like I’ve noticed a subtle change. People will hear I have a book coming out and I’ll see them squint, and they’ll say cautiously, “Oh, really? Who’s it with?” Then when I say Penguin the reaction is different.

This isn’t to take anything away from self-published authors, many of whom are really really great writers and who I know are very hard at work bucking that skepticism. It’s nothing personal at all, I just think being associated with an established brand helps.

An Advance

Yes, in the long run maybe I could have made more money self-publishing. Then again, maybe I couldn’t. Maybe I would have made ten bucks. Who knows.

But hey. When you get an advance you can literally take it to the bank.

And finally…

I Believe in the Traditional Publishing Process

Having worked in publishing I have a deep appreciation for the professionalism of publishers. They are in the book-making trenches. They know what works, they love words, they are eating, sleeping and breathing books.

Now, I don’t think the traditional publishing process is for everyone, and I don’t consider myself an advocate for either traditional or self-publishing. But for me? When my writing career is getting started? I really appreciate having a professional editor who is invested in the outcome of my book. I appreciate the expertise of the designers and the marketers and the sales team and all the people who help make the process work smoothly.

As I alluded to in some recent interviews, traditional publishing is a collaborative process. The author doesn’t have total control. I’m okay with that, in fact I appreciate it and I think it’s resulted in a better book than I could have produced on my own. Other authors may want more autonomy. It’s important to know who you are.

Nathan Bransford is the author of JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, published by Dial Books for Young Readers. He was formerly a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd., but is now a publishing civilian working in the tech industry. He lives in San Francisco.


  1. Thanks for this awesome guest post, Nathan and Janice! Logically expressed and affirming of my own choices (although I’m far behind Nathan on this path). I’ve already forwarded the link to an author friend trying to make her own torturous decision.

  2. These days the decision to self publish or fight the traditional path to publishing has become very personal, based on a number of mitigating factors. After hearing your reasons, Nathan, I can certainly understand how you might feel that way.

    But not every publisher has Penguin’s cachet, and there are plenty of editors at traditional houses – even the big 5 – who aren’t exactly an asset.

    In your space, I would agree 100%, print is still the primary channel for reaching your readers, but if you were to change lanes to erotic romance, or even mainstream literary fiction, digital consumption might win out today, and will certainly win out in the future.

    Having a publisher and all that resident expertise in your corner can be tremendously valuable, no doubt about it, but again, only when the author has their attention, which can be painfully short-lived in the overworked, underpaid world of traditional publishing. I know an author with PW starred reviews whose books have languished because his publisher didn’t put a promotional budget behind the books (but they had $2MM to throw at a self pubbed author).

    All that said, I’m with you. While we live in a time of transition, an author should still fight to become traditionally published, if only to have the ability to be ordered through the local B&N, and to have that seal of cultural approval that comes with having made the cut. Even if in ten years (or less), it might be considered an old school measuring stick.

  3. Thanks, Nathan, for your insights and reasons for choosing an established publisher of print books. That certainly seems the best route for children’s book authors. While adult readers may switch to reading e-books, I can’t see children doing that. Young children are too tactile. They like to hold books and turn pages. They like to have stacks of books that are their own. At some age, they may begin to prefer the e-book (I’ve no good guess what age that may be — maybe with books for older children that are no longer illustrated); however, young children want print books.

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