(I was recently part of a discussion on MMA--Murder Must Advertise--the terrific Yahoo Group run by best-selling author and promotion guru, Jeffrey Marks. If you read my MMA post on April 22nd about self-publishing, you can skip this; if not, plunge ahead at your own risk.)
In the third week of April, the ubiquitous (and frankly, tiresome) debate started up on MMA as to the merits of "self-publishing," which often seems to get muddled with the idea of digital publishing, even though the two are very distinct; while there is a large intersection of the sets, they're not the same thing. The usual arguments sprang up--those all "for" Indy publishing, and deriding publishers in general; and those legacy-pubbed, who like their publishers (and advances!) and want to stay that way. I honestly felt fairly irritated at the kerfluffle, and posted the following, about the realities of "publishing," self- or otherwise:
If I may weigh in on this, from the vantage point of someone who is neither author nor publisher nor IndyAuthor, but works with all of the forementioned...
In my experience, the single biggest obstacle that authors have on the road to self-publishing is themselves, period. I have exceedingly few authors who come through my metaphysical doors prepared to be publishers. Most authors get to the point where they type "The End," and think they're done, and many feel that, quite bluntly, they shouldn't have to do anything further. At most, they think that they should have to suffer through editing their work--but most never think about what is truly involved in publishing, which isn't the same thing as printing. Moreover, I've yet to meet the client that was legacy-published (advance- and royalties paid author, not subsidy author) that ever felt that their publisher had done enough for them. (This was not a criticism of the original poster on MMA, who had genuine problems with her publisher; this was simply a recitation of the sentiment expressed, by and large, by over 1,000 author-clients, a very large percentage of whom have been legacy-pubbed.) I speculate that this sensation, by the author, generally (not always) comes from a true lack of appreciation for what publishing actually takes, or how much work is involved.
At Booknook.biz, in fact, we've been working on a set of documents or tutorials with a lame working title of "So, You Want to Be a Publisher," which in very broad strokes outlines all the nine bajillion things that a publisher does that an author doesn't. It's a long list.
I am daily asked by clients for recommendations for "publicists" and other fantastical creatures to do the work of publicity for their books. I am daily asked by authors to "get their ISBN's" for them, to "pick the cover designer," to "upload their books for them," and while we're at it, can I find them an editor (who works for less than minimum wage), find a $25 cover designer, find royalty-free fonts to replace the expensive fonts they used in their ms (because finding, licensing and downloading fonts is "too hard"), and can they hire someone to send emails to bloggers to get reviews for their books? I am asked not less than 5 times a day how much an author should price his/her books at; and can I get them a list of the 50 best book bloggers for their genre, or tell them how to get a review at MBR for their ebook, while I'm at it?
THIS--all of this--is what a publisher does. Researching everything: from traditional publishing to subsidy publishing to indy publishing; buying ISBN's; assigning an imprint name; researching cover design styles, finding a cover designer, negotiating the fees for the cover, finding and licensing art for the cover, finding and licensing fonts for the cover (if the cover designer isn't doing that) and for the interior; Registering the copyright, determining HOW you will distribute your book (Aggregator or yourself, or only in eBook form?), researching the niche/genre and the pricing therefore; learning how to navigate, use and leverage Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Library Thing; writing press releases, finding review blogs for your genre, deciding whether NetGalley is worth the price, determining whether KDP select is for you, scheduling book tours, virtual and physical--and, oh yes, doing all the accounting, bookkeeping and tax documents yourself.
THIS is what a publisher does, Indy, small imprint or Random House. Far too many authors, in my experience, think of themselves as "artists," and not as BUSINESSPEOPLE. As Hobbyists, not commercial enterprises. Here's the bottom line: publishing is a *business.* If you are not prepared to be business-like about it, and run your book(s) like a small business, you are probably better off using a subsidy press and not doing much--and don't expect much (because, after all, the vast majority of "subsidy" or "partner" publishers are really just grossly over-compensated printers, and you could do the same thing at Createspace for far less money, and get better distribution). If you are prepared to put in the blood, sweat and tears--and reap the rewards--then Indy publishing is for YOU.
Now, none of this will make a bad book good--but not doing any of it will certainly help tank a good book. And the part that most miss is that, promotionally-speaking, this is the same work that legacy-pubbed midlisters have to do EVERY DAY, so the differences in the workload are really quite small.
I know--believe me--that many authors are very shy people, and CRINGE at the idea of all of this--but this is what it takes. Just ask Tim Hallinan, or LJ Sellers; or ask Jeffrey Marks, our own personal promotional hero, (t)here on MMA. Self-publishing is indeed, in our lifetimes (as it was in Ben Franklin's, and Aristotle's, for that matter) a brave new frontier--but one has to remove the artist's beret and put on that Entrepreneur's hat. If you can do that--then it's a fantastic opportunity to do well.
My last comment is this: any publisher that refuses to open his books to you needs a kick in the keister, although, having said that, I have a client that emails his aggregator FIVE TIMES A DAY asking for his sales figures, and the aggregator, rightfully, (in my opinion), fired him as a client. Assuming that we're talking reasonably-spaced requests, I'd ask an attorney or CPA friend to send them a letter and demand to see the books. (n.b.: this last sentence applies in specificity to the original poster--OP--on MMA, and isn't really relevant here, but it was part of the original post.)
Just my $.02, for what it's worth.
Next time: Who is Bowker, and why is there an ISBN Monopoly in the US--or, for that matter, in virtually every country in the world? To ISBN, or not to ISBN--That is the Question!