A few days ago an internal document from the publisher Hachette was “leaked” to Digital Book World and reported on a few other sources as well. In this internal memo, titled, “Self-publishing” is a misnomer”, the writer sets out to explain why a traditional publisher is essential in this ever-changing world. My my, how things have changed. To think that a publisher has to justify its existence and defend itself against self publishing is another sign that the Indie Revolution we declared back in 2009 has truly taken place. The complete text of the memo is listed below in italics with my comments inserted in bold and in parentheses. I think the value of this memo is not that it points out why traditional publishers are important, but rather it does a great job of listing what is true about publishing for any author and what every author should focus on in the “business” of publishing. Certainly a publisher can do the tasks listed in this memo, but the question is how many authors will they do it for. If the answer is very few, which I think is true, than self published authors need to take the responsiblity and get their books in the hands of readers. That is the great thing about self publishing. The consumer becomes the gatekeeper as to what is good work. The publisher no longer has that role.
Publishing requires a complex series of engagements, both behind the scenes and public facing. (I could not agree more. I think first time authors often underestimate what it takes to get a book to market. That’s why assisted self publishing companies are critical for some authors. Not all authors but some)
Digital distribution (which is what most people mean when they say self-publishing) is just one of the components of bringing a book to market and helping the public take notice of it. (Self publishing is more than digital distribution. That is just a format.)
As a full service publisher, Hachette Book Group offers a wide array of services to authors: (I agree, but a traditional publisher is not the only one who can do that.)
1. Curator: We find and nurture talent: (While I think this was true 20 years ago and is still true, the ultimate curator now is the consumer. If it is made available to the public, and self publishing makes that possible, the consumer will curate the content and let us know what they think is worth reading. The power is with the reader. I trust they will make good decisions.)
• We identify authors and books that are going to stand out in the marketplace. HBG discovers new voices, and separates the remarkable from the rest. (This is true, but the market can also do that.)
• We act as content collaborator, focused on nurturing writing talent, fostering rich relationships with our authors, providing them with expert editorial advice on their writing, and tackling a huge variety of issues on their behalf. (I think this is one of the most important things a traditional publisher can do. One of the biggest weaknesses I see in self published authors is that don’t work at their craft. Many think they can write one draft and the world will come calling. That is just not true. Good writing takes talent, but it also takes hard work. Traditional publishers know that and demand it.)
2. Venture Capitalist: We fund the author’s writing process: (Really!. How many first time authors are getting advances that they don’t plow back into their own marketing.)
• At HBG we invest in ideas. In the form of advances, we allow authors the time and resources to research and write. In addition we invest continuously in infrastructure, tools, and partnerships that make HBG a great publisher partner. (See note above. Celebrities get advances, but I suspect the number of unpublished authors getting advances is very small.)
3. Sales and Distribution Specialist: We ensure widest possible audience: (If this means investing in a print run, then that is true. However, in this day and age, print on demand and digital books greatly reduce the need for big print runs. Besides, any author who publishes with an ASI imprint can have their book in all print and digital formats and available at all on-line retailers. Bookstores are another story, but we can address that in another post.)
• We get our books to the right place, in the right numbers, and at the right time (this applies equally to print and digital editions). We work with retailers and distribution partners to ensure that every book has the opportunity to reach the widest possible readership.
• We ensure broad distribution and master supply chain complexity, in both digital and physical formats.
• We function as a new market pioneer, exploring and experimenting with new ideas in every area of our business and investing in those new ideas – even if, in some cases, a positive outcome is not guaranteed (as with apps and enhanced ebooks). (Don’t need a publisher to do this. You can find people who can do this for you or you can use an assisted self publishing company to do it for you.)
• We act as a price and promotion specialist (coordinating 250+ monthly, weekly and daily deals on ebooks at all accounts). (See earlier post on author Darcie Chan. Authors can experiment with pricing on their own. Bottomline is people will pay for a good book, but you may have to price aggressively to build demand and a following.)
4. Brand Builder and Copyright Watchdog: We build author brands and protect their intellectual property: (This is vitally important, but we have lots of examples of authors doing this for themselves. In fact, in this day and age, every author needs to cultivate their own following. Building a platform is as critical for authors today as knowing how to avoid dangling participles.)
• Publishers generate and spread excitement, always looking for new ways make our authors and their books stand out. We’re able to connect books with readers in a meaningful way.
• We offer marketing and publicity expertise, presenting a book to the marketplace in exactly the right way, and ensuring that intelligence, creativity, and business acumen inform our strategy.
• We protect authors’ intellectual property through strict anti-piracy measures and territorial controls.