Why authors don't self-publish
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In an earlier blog post, I cursorily asked why more authors don't self-publish, using today's tools to eliminate a publishing house as a middleman. In the wake of a recent tiff between Amazon.com and Macmillan, two authors whose books were temporarily removed from the online retailer as a result of the dispute have answered my question, outlining the continuing need for publishers.
Sci-fi and fantasy author John Scalzi presented his argument in the format of "a deeply slanted play in three acts" that outlines all the resources a publisher brings to the table, answering an author's questions: "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?" Relieving a writer of these responsibilities frees him to focus on the book's content, from which all else proceeds. A publisher also brings to the table the funds necessary to hire these human resources, which an author might otherwise be left to search for on Craigslist.
Author Jay Lake echoes these sentiments when he asks:
I'm a writer. How is it worth my time to self-edit, do my own layouts and production management? … All my value add come from the auctorial process, the actual writing. That's where the unique product and brand identity come from. Not flowing words into columns and managing margins.
He also points out that the Internet is not a medium in which a single voice can be heard as loudly as a publisher's can: "Given how much distribution I'd lose [by self-publishing], I'd have to make a lot more per unit sold to offset the economic hit."
Can authors self-publish? Sure. But the number of development stages a manuscript passes through is not easily reproduced by a single person. Traditional print publishers may be undergoing either an extinction or an evolution, but their resources will continue to prove a necessity to establishing a successful product and readership on large scales.