While familiar territory for some, the current state of publishing and how we got here is skillfully summarized by John B. Thompson in Merchants of Culture. (See my first in this series here.) He covers the rise of agents, the rise of superstores, the rise of “mass-market” hardbacks, the rise of publishing conglomerates, the rise of sales to big box stores, the rise of advances, the rise of Amazon, the rise of the number of books published, the rise of ebooks.
At the same time this story also includes the demise of independent stores, the demise of superstores, the demise of literacy.
Of course, these “demises” are problematic. But the “rises” have had their down sides as well. Publishing in the sense of making a book available to the public has never been easier. “But to publish in the sense of making a book known to the public, visible to them and attractive, and attracting a sufficient quantum of their attention . . . is extremely difficult” (p. 21). As one publisher put it, “Any old sod can publish a book now, but actually getting it out to the public has become much trickier” (p. 239).
Which brings us back to a topic discussed here and here before—the need for authors to have a platform to help the book stand out in the fray.
As Helen Lee, one recent author, put it in response to a blog, “The point about the author needing to do much more marketing and promotion is absolutely true. It feels relentless and overwhelming, but it is now an accepted part of the book publishing process.”
What then is the value of having a publisher at all? Much in every way, Lee says:
The value that the publisher brought to the table that went beyond what I could have done well on my own included:
1. Cover design
2. Internal copy design
3. Copy editing
4. Editorial support and advice
5. Publicity with media outlets
6. Sales and distribution with Christian bookstores and online retailers
7. Marketing to particular people or conferences of influence to help the word spread
In today’s publishing environment, one lesson is clear. The publishers that succeed will be those who can provide not just key professional services but also the most effective training and support that authors need to promote their books.
Next Installment: Publishers in the Middle