What Dolly Parton Taught Me About Traditional Publishing

Dolly Parton - Glastonbury 2014
Dolly Parton – Glastonbury 2014

Thanks to J.A Konrath and Ireland’s very own trailblazer Catherine Ryan Howard, I’ve spent many hours in the last weeks devouring everything I could find about the art and craft of self-publishing.

As mentioned in my original blog post, I wanted to use this medium to ultimately find my own voice, practice the discipline of daily writing, spark my creative juices and ultimately find an audience for some of my as yet unpublished work. Nothing has changed in that respect.

I’ve read the many arguments for and against self-publishing and these are well documented online but in brief summary here are several of the more striking points:

  • Self-Pub. can release your book into the market place within hours. Trad. Pub. can take up to 18 months to work its way through the various channels.
  • Self-Pub. costs are covered entirely by the creator – including editing and book illustrations. With Trad. Publishing, costs are covered by the Publishing House.
  • Self-Pub. requires strong entrepreneurial skills and self-promotion efforts to succeed. Trad. Publishing houses have sales and marketing teams inhouse to raise the awareness of your book.
  • Self-Pub. has virtually no barriers to entry enabling anyone to launch their Magnum Opus to the unsuspecting masses. For this reason the quality of the work in general can be poor. Trad. Publishing typically filters out such work so what remains is (usually) of a higher calibre.
  • Self-Pub. routes your work toward digital readers, where profits are maximised. Paper Books are also an option with POD (print on demand) but profit margins are smaller. Trad. Publishing routes can take any format.
  • Self-Pub. gives the creator artistic license to shape their story, and present it in their own preferred way in the channel of their choice. Trad. Publishing typically involves influence from agencies and publishers to shape your story in a style that will most appeal to readers at the risk of losing a little bit of your own identity in the work.
  • Self-Pub. can give the creator anything up to 70% royalty of each book sold. Trad. Publishing is much lower at 12-15% royalty as more people are involved to get your manuscript from typed pages to on a Bookshelf.

When I first read about the potential profit gains to be made by going through the Self Publishing route, I licked my lips in anticipation. For anyone to make it in self-publishing they really need to have a strong following through their blog, be heavily involved on social network sites, become shameless self-promoters and have more than their fair share of luck.

My primary concern is that by going down the self-pub route my own work will be crowded out, lost in a sea of other kindle books. Balancing a full-time job with writing is hard. Throw in the added factors of marketing, selling and promoting, especially if you want your little story to take flight and gain some traction in the community.

For that reason, I am going to focus all my energy on breaking into the Traditional Publishing Route. If all else fails, then the self-publishing route isn’t such a bad backup. The much publicised case of Amanda Hocking is testament to that, aswell as the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon which was originally released and really caught fire as a Kindle Book (though I think a lot of the popularity could be traced back to the fact people could buy it discreetly and enjoy it on their e-readers without drawing attention).

I don’t own a Kindle. I’ve never read an e-book before. I’ve always preferred the paper option. For me, it has always been a dream and a certain achievement that I needed to unlock to call myself an actual fully fledged Published writer. I think every unpublished wannabe needs that validation in some way and that is something you just can’t get by self-publishing.

The traditional route also gives readers an easier way to find you and your work – especially if you don’t have a strong online presence at this point.

I know that overnight successes are incredibly rare, and I am all too aware that this hobby of mine might forever remain just that. I can only work hard, keep writing and hope for the break to come. It’s important to be realistic about your own work too, and that’s why I would never quit my day job to pursue writing full time.

I had the fortune of attending Glastonbury festival in Somerset last weekend with 160,000 others. They had two legends perform on the Saturday and Sunday night – Metallica and Dolly Parton. I’m personally not a huge fan of either, but in an age where news streams are awash with the latest escapades of new reality stars suddenly launched into the media spotlight, something seems to have been lost on our generation. There are no short cuts to success. Seeing Dolly strut her stuff up there at age 68, crowd in the palm of her diamond encrusted hand was something to behold.

She explained to the gathered audience how she had arrived at the festival at 5am that morning. This is a woman who spent over an hour on stage in her white jumpsuit, dancing and singing her way through some of the songs from a back catalogue of over 3,000. She also told how she had had her fair share of knocks in her life but that’s what made life worth living, and she got through the tough times by working hard.

Ultimately, the self-publishing route is a seductive, short-term quick way to get your work out there. But for true longevity like Dolly, I believe it’s worth grafting hard, and aiming for perfection. If you care that much about your story, it should be worth the extra time and effort especially if you are serious about being a writer. Aiming for traditional publishing also pops the safety bubble of protection that you might have created, especially if you submit your manuscript to agencies. Even JK Rowling had rejection receipts from her Harry Potter debut. I think the rejection, criticism and feedback are essential to honing your craft and in a lot of cases, this is free advice which can only help you long-term. I think I’ll leave the last word to a country artist from Tennessee who knows a thing or two about success having performed for over sixty years.

The way I see it, if you want the rainbow you gotta put up with the rain!

4 thoughts on “What Dolly Parton Taught Me About Traditional Publishing

  • Most people underestimate the power of eBook publishing!
    Check out Pay Flynn’s eBook on “How to successfully write and publish an eBook”, helped me a ton, will give you a better understanding of how it all works. It is way easier than traditional publishing!


  • I’ve had the same thoughts myself of self publishing vs. traditional publishing. For me, I think it comes down to what kind of audience I’m seeking and whether what I do will work in mainstream. But I read a lot of authors from Amazon who self publish and many are quite good, so it’s not all a bad idea either.



    • Thanks for stopping by Nancy. Yes, I agree with you. Audience and your own motivation are important. Of course, I think the dream for many would be the traditional publishing route, but there are enough success stories of self-published authors out there to give encouragement if the traditional pub door slams in your face!


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