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The role of publishers (according to a profitable publisher)

I’ve been looking at Publetariat, a site I had previously noted but hadn’t explored. April, the founder, recently contacted me about using one of my blog posts, and it reminded me to check it out.

The whole site is for people who want to self publish or start their own small publishing ventures. It’s really cool to see real support, real community, and real discussion about these issues, not vanity presses taking advantage of people’s ignorance.

But it really got me thinking about the role of publishers.

And I’ve seen one horrible issue discussed by both writers and publishers, and it really disturbs both my reader and publisher sides.

A lot of writers think that they should have to do their own promotion. Should have to, like it’s automatically part of their job. They denounce other writers who speak against it as having a sense of entitlement. “If you’re not willing to promote yourself, then you’re not worthy of being published.”


Since when is a writer’s value dependent on how well he or she can promote themselves? A writer’s value comes from what they write!

Here’s what gets me: Small presses feel justified in asking their writers to do it, which implies that somehow, writers will be able to do it better than the small presses.

Wrong-o! What is a publisher? A business that refines, packages, and sells “the talent’s” output. If they can’t market and sell, what is their job?

Remember, I am a publisher and business owner, so I put my money where my mouth is. I’ve brought in a profit every month for the last four years. If I don’t do a good job, if my numbers are down or I get complaints, it’s because I made bad business decisions. If the book I invested in doesn’t do well, it’s because I was wrong or I’m not selling it properly. But I don’t blame the book or the writer. I look in the mirror, not out the window.

A publisher’s responsibility is to sell the products they invest in. That’s how they make money.
Writers need publishers because it’s the most efficient division of labor. The talent makes the product, publishers sell the product. Optimally, it’s a partnership set up for maximum performance on both sides — an assembly line that results in both better quality and faster output, like any improvement in organizational technology.

It’s not the writers’ fault that the publishers aren’t doing their jobs.
Current publishing conditions dictate the need for self-marketing, but this automatic link between promotion and being a writer is bogus. When I talk to other marketers, fiction publishing is a joke because the industry, on a whole, is so dumb about marketing.

Skill share time.

That being said, I believe in being part of the solution, not the problem. I accept the current reality: the way things are now, writers need to self-promote to succeed. What I can do right now is share some knowledge that you can use, almost immediately.

This skill is the most important skill for a small business, taken from smart marketing techniques used by “silent millionaires” everywhere. It’s so basic, so simple, that it’s easy to underestimate, especially since so many people think they’re doing it right, but aren’t.

It is learning to build and sell to an email list.

Not anything revolutionary, but so incredibly useful. It’s what real marketers learn to do first — and it’s responsible for my being profitable on the first day I offered something for sale.

12 thoughts on “The role of publishers (according to a profitable publisher)

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kat M, Chris Wright. Chris Wright said: RT @adelejournal: The role of publishers, according to a successful publisher, + free tutorial on self-marketing: […]

  2. I *love* this blog post, and from what I’ve read so far, your eBook on marketing. WOW.

    My husband and I were forced to leave our publisher last year not only because they didn’t do any promotion, but they couldn’t keep the books in print! They were asking us to order more books from them, so they could print more!


    As for the $40K in marketing… Ethan and I spend more than that last year on our year-long book tour. In the world of marketing, $40K is peanuts.

    Something like Avatar, which you see *everywhere* is a multi-multi-million dollar marketing campaign.

    It’s an uphill battle.

  3. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by adelejournal: The role of publishers, according to a successful publisher, with free tutorial on self-marketing:

  4. Thanks, Christine. The whole blog is my opinion, of course, but it’s opinion based on real life experience. It’s very frustrating to me as a reader, knowing that I probably won’t experience the best of what authors have to give, simply because they have to split their time doing someone else’s job.

    The least I can do is make a self-marketing writer’s life a little easier. Let me know if you have any questions. I should have mentioned that I didn’t really have a beta tester for this tutorial, so it may be quite rough in spots!

  5. What a great post.

    You’ve just restored my faith that there ARE good publishers out there. My own publisher did nothing to market my book. I’ve had to get out there to TRY and get my name out on the internet in order for people to know that I even exist.

    I’ve written numerous articles and Hubpages, run two blogs, made inroads on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, all of it in an attempt to let people know that I’m here – all of it using up time that would have been better utilised in writing novels.

    I am a writer not a marketeer. I feel cheated.

  6. Hello, what an interesting post. I even designed and built my debut book’s website! And have done nearly all the marketing and promotion for it using journalistic contacts, but very much saw this as what happens when you go with a small indie. Good to see someone saying that this isn’t my job though, and it has definitely slowed down production on next novel. Here is an article I organised for myself which led to a good uplift in pre-sales, but nothing to do with my publisher:

  7. Hi Josa! Thanks for chiming in. I can say “this is not your job” with certainty because I know what my job, as a publisher, really is. It’s selling and marketing. Everything else a publisher does is just in support of marketing and selling. Exchanging goods for dollars.

    By the way, your article is very interesting, and we’re totally on the same wavelength about adult-oriented fiction. I think we need to reframe it to be either adult-oriented or mature-audience fiction to get away from the forced split of “explicit stuff” vs “everything else.” There’s too much focus on the presence of sex itself, and not how it integrates with the story. Your book sounds great, and I’d love to read it — is there an ebook version? I don’t have any shelf space!

  8. Thanks, Anthony. You show great courage in saying, “This isn’t the way I want it.” Writing excellent stuff demands all the attention you can give it. The way things are now, few people can afford excellence, and that’s got to be incredibly frustrating to any artist who cares about writing enduring fiction of any type or genre. Hopefully, my tutorial will at least help you be more efficient in your necessary self-marketing efforts.

    And thanks… I’m considering starting another, bigger, publishing company… but doing it right. More to come on that, so stay tuned.

  9. Thanks for replying. Many many older women really liked what happens in the book (reminded them of their 1950s heyday I think!) I did not set out to titillate – I think that is the difference, I set out to pinpoint young women’s experiences and how they react to them. There is very little sex in the whole book, but what is there is there for a reason. I will check with my publisher about how you can obtain an e-book, although I know it is not Kindle ready.

  10. I’m still using an internet tablet that only does PDFs, so I’m not Kindle-ready either! Thanks.

  11. […] Yes, you still have to go through an editorial process, but that editor really works for you. The editor you hire helps you make the writing into what you want it to be, not into what the publisher thinks it can sell. There is nothing wrong with this, by the way — I fully support publishers and think that they are, and will continue to be, very valuable. […]

  12. […] to go into how bad a job most publishers are doing — you can read all about that here and here, if you […]

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