Monday 4 January 2016

Paths to Publishing 1: Trade Publishing

By Iola Goulton

Happy New Year!

The New Year is traditionally the time when we make resolutions about what we are going to achieve in the coming year—perhaps lose weight, exercise more, read the Bible and pray more, read more books.

For those of you reading this, a writing blog, resolutions might include write a book or finish a book or publish a book (do I see any hands?). For others, the resolutions might be more around marketing, to make 2016 the year when you finally start a website, a blog, a Twitter account, a Pinterest page. Or maybe the resolution is to reignite the existing accounts and actually DO something . . .

Australasian Christian Writers will be covering all these subjects (and more) in our Monday craft posts this year. But we’re going to start with the beginning of the publishing journey. Over the next four weeks I’m going to look at the four main publishing routes:

1. Trade Publishing
2. Small Press Publishing
3. Self-Publishing
4. Co-operative Publishing

We’re going to begin today with the granddaddy of them all, trade publishing.

Trade Publishing

Trade publishing is the industry term for a traditional royalty-paying publisher (although you may see self-published authors refer to trade publishers as legacy publishers).

Under the trade publishing model, an author writes a book, and a publisher purchases the rights to publish and sell the book in specified formats (e.g. hardcover, paperback, digital, audiobook) and in specified locations (e.g. the United States and Canada, Australasia) in a specified language (e.g. English).

In return for the specified rights, the publisher will pay the author a royalty on the sale of each book (which is expressed either as a percentage of the recommended retail price, or as a percentage of the actual selling price), and may also pay an advance. A publishing advance is similar to asking the boss for an advance: it is an up-front payment which will be credited against future earnings (in this case, royalty payments). An author who gets an advance won’t get any other payments from the publisher until the book has sold enough copies that the royalties on the sold copies equal the advance payment made. In publishing terms, this means the advance has “earned out”.

For many Christian fiction authors, this is the publishing dream: a contract from one of the major publishers, whether a Big Five imprint, or one of the major independent publishers operating exclusively within the Christian fiction market. These are probably are the publishers who publish your favourite Christian writers, authors like Irene Hannon, Karen Kingsbury, DiAnn Mills, Tracie Petersen or Susan May Warren. These are the paperbacks you see in your local Christian bookstore, online at Amazon or Christian Book Distributors, and in large print hardcover at your local library.

The big publishers publish four or more fiction titles a month. They have beautiful covers. The books are well written and well edited. The authors have pretty websites, and the Amazon pages are full of glowing reviews (often because the publishers have included an expensive blog tour as part of the book’s marketing package).

It’s easy to see why any Christian fiction author would want to be published with one of these companies. It’s a sign you’re a ‘real’ author; you’ve made it.

But there is a down side. While these publishers produce four or more fiction titles a month, that’s only a tiny fraction of the titles submitted to them, and most of their books will be from established authors. They may have as few as six slots in their annual publishing schedule for novels from a debut authors.

And few (if any) will accept direct submissions from authors.

It is generally accepted that the best route towards a trade publishing contract with a larger publisher is through a recognised literary agent who is active in the relevant market—for Christian fiction writers, this means a reputable agent who is active in the CBA. Many smaller presses accept submissions directly from author, which makes it important for the author to know what differentiates a quality small press from an amateur, or worse, a vanity press masquerading as a “traditional publisher” (which we’ll cover in a future post).

Next week, I’ll be back to look at small presses: trade publishers which don’t require an agent. In the meantime, what questions do you have about traditional publishing?

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website (, or follow me on Facebook (, Twitter (@IolaGoulton) or Pinterest (


  1. Looking forward to this series Iola. Great post.

    Rising above the volumious 'slush pile' is definitely a challenge with the big traditional publishers. And even when they accept debut authors, they often concentrate the bulk of their promotion on their big name authors - and they can be quick to drop new authors if the first or second book doesn't sell as well as they expect. Still, getting a contract with the big publishers would be a dream.

    While not specifically related to Christian publishing - many of the big publishers do allow email submissions at specific days or times (eg Penguin monthly catch, HaperCollins Wednesday, Allen and Unwin Firday).

    1. Thanks, Jeanette.

      I've seen the open email submissions, but only for Australian publishers. I've not heard of it for the US CBA publishers, which might mean they don't do it, or might simply mean I've never seen them.

  2. Replies
    1. Of course we can all dream!

      But we also need to realise different dreams have different routes to success, and we need to understand what our personal dream is to ensure we are on the path to achieving the dream. My aim for this series isn't to destroy anyone's dreams, but to show them the different dreams have different paths.

    2. Agree wholeheartedly, Iola. And finding your audience is a big part of it.

  3. Iola, great post! We have authors in our group who have dreamed big and signed contracts with the larger traditional publishers in both the CBA and general market. We have authors in our group who have signed with literary agents, including Steve Laube (my agent), Tamela Hancock Murray (Carolyn Miller), and Chip MacGregor (Kara Isaac and Lucy Thompson). It's not impossible, although traditional publishing is no longer regarded as the only highway to success. Many authors publish both traditionally and independently (self-publish), depending on the project.

    We're thrilled that Kara Isaac has her debut Christian romantic comedy, Close to You, coming out with Howard Books in the US in April. And, we have another blog member who is sitting on some very big news regarding a contract with a large traditional publisher. Stay tuned in the ACW Facebook Group for the author's big announcement. I promise you, it's very exciting! :)


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.