Making Money Despite The Publishing Conundrum

If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.

~ Stephen King

The professional move from a hobby-writer to a compensated author is a dream many of us treasure. What is the difference between these two types of writing? The quick answer is the motivation behind the goal that drives them. Hobby writing requires the hobbyist to spend money on their love. A professional writer gets paid for their time and skill.

Compensation is the key.

How do we make the professional jump in an industry that depends on its Catch 22 Conundrum described in the next paragraphs as a means of vetting to weed-out writers and book proposals?

Let’s begin with some hard facts concerning publishing and then move into a plan. 

Before he died, my first agent told me, “Despite popular thinking, publishing companies are not all about publishing books. Publishing companies are focused on making money.” Publishing is a multi-million (and in the case of some of the Big-5 Publishers, a multi-billion) dollar industry.

Publishing is a means to an end, and the end-game is MONEY.

When you want to be conventionally published, you are stating that you want to make a career move that includes monetary compensation and play ball with the Big-Boys. And, The Publishing Big Boys play Hardball to win.

Have you heard of or experienced the Catch 22 Conundrum of Conventional Publishing?

Most conventional publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. That means they do not accept documents or book proposals from authors. They only accept them from literary agents.

If you have ever tried to get an agent, you may already know that many Literary Agencies do not accept unpublished authors. They may take 2% of all new querying authors per year. Fledgling authors have not yet proved themselves in the literary world and are a success and marketing risk. Agents and publishers do not like to take risks. They think much like Bankers.

To a Banker, no deal is a good deal because the bank did not lose money.

And, to get a literary agent, you must research them according to the subject matter in which they specialize, because like doctors, agents are also specialized. When you find an agent who represents books similar to yours you must draft an eye-catching, attention-grabbing query letter, an impressive Book Proposal,  and follow the directions of the agent’s query and submission requirements to the letter, or your hard work will be deleted, and there are no second chances to fix mistakes concerning querying agents.

My first contact and contract with a literary agent occurred at a Writer’s Conference after sending in the first three chapters of my book for critique. After his death, I signed with my second agent after an author friend recommended me to her Literary Agency. I still had to query the agent, but the formal introduction was helpful.

Before signing me as a client, one of the first things the agent did was check out my social media reach because the publishers would do the same. The agent realized there was no future in signing a client whose work would be rejected due to the lack of selling potential. My first agent had also shared the wisdom, “It does not matter how wonderful your book and the message is if no one finds it to read it.”  As publishers cut costs and shift the responsibility of promotion onto the shoulders of the author, this statement is critical for today’s marketing.

As the author, you must promote your book.    

Literary Agencies and agents are big-hearted people, but they are not focused on getting you published out of the goodness of their heart. They are business professionals focused on finding authors who will make their agency money to offset the cost of publishing a book. The best authors for their agency are the ones who have already proved themselves by being published and were able to pay back any advance given by the publisher.

That is the Publishing World’s Catch 22 Conundrum. Now onto Shocking Statistics.

Approximately 1% of solicited manuscripts are conventionally published each year. Further research states a book has less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore. And, according to Forbes 99% of titles printed will never sell enough copies to recover all the costs associated with creating and publishing them.

These facts make publishers reluctant to publish new authors, especially if they do not have a proven track record that consists of reaching their platform, selling a product, building substantial social media numbers, or a professional platform to reach and promote their books. Simple economies of scale show us that marketing, sales, and fulfillment costs alone require a sizable social media “list” of followers to be economical.

If you are already an Indi-Writer, with the dream of becoming conventionally published, you are on the right path.

In conclusion, publishers have managed to stay afloat in this worsening marketplace only by shifting more and more marketing responsibility to authors. An established stable connection between the author and their platform is of vital importance to the publisher. This new trend in publishing allows publishers to cut promotion costs and prop up book sales. Publishers use the agents to vet possible clients thereby reducing their chances of getting a non-producing author. In recognition of this reality, most book proposals from experienced authors now have an extensive (usually many pages) section on the author’s marketing platform and what the authors will do to publicize, market, and promote the book. If you want to make the shift from Independent to Conventional Publishing start by finding, and building your platform. If you are already an Indi-Writer, with the dream of becoming conventionally published, you are on the right path. Continue to build it, and they will come.



Kat O'Keefe-Kanavos
Kat O'Keefe-Kanavos
Kathleen (Kat) O’Keefe-Kanavos is the award-winning author of Surviving Cancerland, and co-author of Dreams That Can Save Your Life. She’s a three-time cancer survivor, and co-publisher/editor of WEBE Books Publishing. Her dreams diagnosed her illness as seen on Dr. Oz, Doctors, NBC News, American Express Open, in Newspapers and magazines. She’s a Contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul, TV/Radio Host/Producer- Dreaming Healing on DV7Radio/TV Network, Wicked Housewives On Cape Cod™, Kat Kanavos Show, Internationally Syndicated Columnist in BIZCATALYST 360°, Dream Columnist in Positive Tribe Magazine, and Desert Health Magazine, Keynote Speaker, Performance Coach who taught Special Ed & Psychology @USF, and Lecturer who promotes patient advocacy and Spiritual guidance. She is co-author to the inspiring books; Chaos to Clarity: Sacred Stories of Transformational Change and Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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  1. Yes, I only have one published book that I am looking to republish and promote- Have only self-published, same with my oracle cards-. will look it the indi-writer option.
    Thanks for sharing- I think I write for the joy and to inspire xo

    • Suzie, writing for Joy and to Inspire is the roadmap to success. The challenge is finding the road in real life. Good luck. I know if anyone can do it you can. Let me know if I can help. I’m always here for you. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Thank you for this informative piece. I often think of the quiet introverts who write but are never published or seen. I wear many hats. One that brings money and insurance and one that feeds the creative soul inside of me. I have made peace that not all of us will be published and make a living doing so but it will not stop my internal need to feed myself creatively.

    • Yes Raissa, it is so important to “Feed Our Need” with writing and make money elsewhere. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Yet we write. We tell our stories and a friend or someone you have never met will say What a touching story. To me that is inspiring. I never have any expectations when I write other than I love to write. Thank you for sharing my friend.

    • Writing for the joy and love of writing is beautiful and fulfilling. Write-On my friend!

    • Thank you. It is funny as the days pass and retirement just a few more months away I find that I need less and less to be happy