What’s in a name?

First, a publisher and editor have a a huge impact on the creative process. Some would argue that editors have as much creative impact as a movie director has on a film. Manuscripts are not the same things as books. Authors create manuscripts, publishers and editors create books.

So says Peter Hudson of BitLitI’m a fan, albeit a brand new one, so my beef is not with Hudson. (Did I mention I’m a new fan? Love his book bundling approach.) It’s with the silo mentality that still seems to persist in publishing. The notion that an author is always an author. But that somehow we stop being publishers and editors when we leave the secure employment of mainstream traditional publishing houses.

A panel last week at SXSW (and, no, I won’t name and shame them – each individual’s passion was in publishing, but their complacent thinking archaic) seemed to summarize things most succinctly, frequently iterating the notion that book publishing is immune from disruption because the margins are just too low to make it a worthwhile target. (This said with Cheshire Cat grins.)

That panel had ‘New Media’ in its title, but the terminology employed by those speaking still used titles that didn’t fit the realities. Chief of these was ‘independent’. Sorry, but I beg to differ: if yours is a general interest publishing company that still primarily focusses on selling print books through bricks-and-mortar stores, you are not practicing ‘independent publishing’, to my mind. You’re just a small publisher. A small traditional publisher.

And that’s a good thing. We need many more of those. And we absolutely need many more high street bricks-and-mortar bookstores, called ‘indie’ or otherwise.

But let’s reserve the word ‘independent’ for those who truly are not tied to the traditional publishing models of yesteryear. And that leaves a lot of room for many versions and iterations of indie. I see Independent Publishing as a middle ground in the spectrum between mainstream Traditional Publishing and Self Publishing. The former is that Old World Order – the one we’re all familiar with. It’s a crumbing civilization of faded grandeur. It’s a world of privilege. But it still has many extremely valid raisons d’etre. And it’s a world I still think of with tenderness.

The Self Publishing extreme is one I loathe. It’s an instant-gratification, microwave-meal world in which nobody throws out their trash properly. It litters and clutters and confuses the literary landscape. If you don’t believe that your own creation is worth investing in, and is worth treating professionally, why should I invest my time and/or money in reading it? Why disrespect our values as author and reader so blithely and cruelly? Please neaten your home before inviting me in.

In that great space between these two extremes, there are so many alternative options. Ones in which the expertise of Traditional Publishing is valued and employed, using the extensive treasure trove of tools designed for Self Publishing. You can pick and mix from both. Tailor your publishing package. Get the best and most form-flattering fit. Your work is worth it, isn’t it?

So we come back to Hudson’s quote. Yes! Yes, yes! Publishers and editors ARE the great co-creators you need on your team. But whether you pay them or they pay you: that’s a separate business plan question, not a role- or creativity-definer. Yes, you definitely need them. And the good news is that you’ll find them in all kinds of surprising places.


* Disclaimer: I’m a publishing consultant. I’m one of those experts-for-hire. I still have all that knowledge and expertise that was so valued when I ran a publishing division at a mainstream traditional publishing house (now Penguin Random House SA). And I have years more knowledge gained by working outside of those systems, trying out all kinds of new tricks-of-the-trade I never would have come across in the former hallowed cubicles. Now, while the bulk of my clients are in the US, I live in a traditional wooden cabin on the banks of the Mekong River, many timezones away. We work through Skype and email. Sometimes we get to meet. In surprising places. 

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