The Author As Publisher

This post, by Mary W. Walters, originally appeared on her The Militant Writer blog on 5/30/11.

(2nd in a series of articles about the new realities for writers and readers)

It seems inevitable to me now that unless they take up the sideline manufacture of weaponry or bath salts to subsidize themselves, the major publishing houses are going down. There will certainly be a role for niche publishers in future (literary presses that focus on poetry or esoteric fiction among them, teetering on the brink of expiration as they always have, and non-fiction houses that specialize in such limited areas as the flora and fauna of Paraguay or the battles of World War II), but for the majority of mainstream fiction and non-fiction book writers, independent publishing will soon become the norm.

In this post, I examine the “services” publishers have traditionally provided to writers and their books (and therefore to readers, I suppose), and then I look at how I believe these same functions can be managed—often in a more effective manner—by the authors themselves when they publish their own books. The post examines five specific areas:

  • manuscript selection
  • editing
  • production
  • promotion/sales
  • distribution

There are other areas that publishers have traditionally managed for writers, often with the help of agents. Most of them relate to subsidiary rights—e.g., translation rights,  dramatic rights, merchandizing rights, and so on. Publishers have traditionally taken a chunk of the money that accrues when a book has been translated or made into a movie. They have argued (with good reason) that after a manuscript has been accepted by a publisher and turned into an attractive book, it becomes more appealing to rights purchasers. Publishers have at times facilitated the process by presenting their books to prospective foreign publishers at the London and Frankfurt book fairs, for example, but for the most part they have simply secured some portion of the subsidiary rights without actually doing much to encourage an income flow for either themselves or the author from such sources.

So, on to the “services” they have offered and fulfilled.

Read the rest of the post on The Militant Writer for more in-depth analysis of the five specific publisher "services" in the context of the past, present and future, and also see the first post in the series.