Lately, I have been thinking about what authors want out of the publishing process and how the industry is organized around those goals.
The first thing an author wants is to be published. The traditional definition of being published involved an editor acquiring the rights to a book and helping develop the best book possible. The scarcity of being picked made the act of being published something special, a privilege only offered a relative few. An ecosystem of agents, ghostwriters, copyeditors, proofreaders and designers has developed to support the curation and creation of long form publishing.
After the need to get published, the author’s other primal desire is to be read and read by many people. The abundance of new and old titles has always made creating awareness a challenge. Publishers and in many cases authors employ a cast of marketers and publicists to spread the word of a book’s release and the message it carries.
Authors want to be published and read, but nature of how those two desires can be satisfied has changed. To be read, you no longer need to be picked. As Clay Shirky says, the act of being published has been reduced to pressing a button. Authors like Amanda Hocking, John Locke and Hugh Howey proved being successful was no longer linked to being chosen.
When Frank Chimero raised $112,000 in March 2011 on Kickstarter for his book The Shape of Design, I thought, “This is the future of publishing.” Two thousand people stepped up with credit cards in hand and declared they wanted a book written by Frank Chimero. There was no editorial board guessing about how design books have done in the past. No sales manager estimating a returns rate. No publicist wondering if she had the right contacts to get the word out.
On the other hand, Frank didn’t have an editor waiting to challenge his work. He hired one. Frank also didn’t have a production designer waiting to typeset his book. He did it himself. When he prepared to ship the 2000 packages to faithful backers all over the world, he had to find someone to do that too. The six figure advance he earned meant he needed to act like a publisher and hire the capabilities he didn’t have.
The abundance created by authors being able to publish and distribute their own books still has points of scarcity: a scarcity of good ideas and a scarcity of people willing to listen. Work toward solving those two problems and you create a wider range of options to pursue publishing on your terms.