When Publishers (Aren’t) Useful2 min read

Pile of booksWithout looking too hard, you can find some very good, very cognizant articles on why publishers will still be necessary in the brave new world of eBooks 1. ( Scalzi | Hines | Stross | Buckell ) They are fundamentally correct. Publishers are useful… most of the time.

As Scalzi put it (and really, you should read his post, it’s funny as all hell):

Won’t I need an editor? Or a copy editor? Or a cover artist? Or a book designer? Or a publicist? Or someone to print the book and get it into stores?

And he’s absolutely right. But that’s also where the “sort of” comes in.

I’ve been doing a lot of cons this year, and talking to quite a few people in the publishing industry – small press, large press, authors, editors, and so on. And I’ve I’ve now heard three publishers (of various sizes) 2 say two things that really bothers me:

Authors are solely responsible for publicizing their own book
Authors are solely responsible for making sure their book gets distributed to booksellers.

Sure, authors need to hustle to promote their book. Readings, signings, interviews and the like are definitely part of our responsibility. And sure, authors should make themselves known to local bookstores, sign their stock, and the like. But these publishers were putting all the responsibility on the authors. I have no idea how to get a paper book carried by any of the chains – that’s what publishers and distributors do. I can’t fund an advertisement (save maybe some per-click ads, and who the hell clicks those?).

I can do most of the things publishers do – or hire someone to do it for me. There’s a cost (whether my time or my money), but most of those things are reasonably affordable. But out of the list of jobs that publishers do, there’s two things that are a lot harder for an independent author to do: Publicize and distribute the book. Yet those are the two things that authors were being told to do on their own.

So here’s your warning, folks. Yes, authors have to hustle and promote their work. And yes, authors need to contact and work with local bookstores and libraries.

But if a publisher isn’t going to step up and work with you in those areas, how necessary are they?

1 This is also tied to the argument that print ain’t dead yet.
2 I’ve also had other publishers categorically say that they oppose those statements. This isn’t a slam on all publishers, just some.

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  1. August 31, 2010

    Out of curiosity, were these advance-paying publishers? Because those statements sound like the kind of thing you get from vanity presses and outright scams.

    I've heard legit publishers say they want the authors to help with promotion, but to say the author is solely responsible for promotion and distribution is ridiculous.

  2. August 31, 2010

    I don't think so – but I'm not sure. I've had minimal interaction with two of them (they're out of genre for me); one self-describes as a small press.

    But yes, I agree with you completely – which is why I'm posting it to warn folks. I've spent a good part of the con season surprised how few people know of Yog's Law.

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