Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why the Traditional Separation Between Authors and Publishers?

The broad-brush functional differences between the right and left hemispheres of the brain have become a mainstay of pop psychology: the right brain is the seat of creativity while the left brain has a monopoly on detail work. Some people personify the two as the accountant and the artist in your head.

It's hard to say whether that simple dichotomy will stand the test of our growing understanding of neuroscience, but it is a useful way to characterize the traditional division of labor between author and publisher. It's easy to caricature the author as artist in contrast to—and sometimes in conflict with—the publisher as accountant and business manager.

As with all common notions, this analogy has a kernel of truth: authors provide the novel (in both senses of the word) content and publishers take care of all the details involved in preparing, packaging, and presenting that content in the marketplace.

Of course, the divide isn’t between creative and non-creative work. Writing involves plenty of drudgery and the best marketing is thoroughly creative. But there is an important distinction between the kinds of creativity and detail work that are most effective in the traditional roles of author and publisher. And now that many authors are expected to provide a substantial portion of the marketing effort they find they need to master an entirely different set of skills.

As challenging as it may be for an author with a traditional publishing arrangement to switch writing and marketing hats, self-publishing means that you have to wear both hats all the time. Put another way, whether you know it or not you’re signing up to bridge the traditional right brain/left brain split between authors and publishers in your own little head when you self-publish.

If you think that editing is an endless round of fiddly grammar details, wait till you're stuck trying to figure out why the formatting for your e-book is off on three devices but looks great everywhere else. Getting covers right requires attention to the art design, graphic file formats, scale and resolution for different platforms, and a host of conventions like including your ISBN as a barcode on the back cover and listing the book’s category. Then there are details like copyright statements, warranties, and metadata that all have to be both correct and correctly presented. Making sure all of these things right requires constant checking and double checking.

Setting aside whatever frustration with the old or fascination with the new that you may have, there are good reasons for the traditional division between producers and distributors in many areas of the economy. You need to understand both the reasons for and the substance of each role if you want to walk the path of the artisan publisher because you’re signing up for both jobs.

Image: Simon Howden /

1 comment:

  1. Great advice for self-publishers, Deren! I, for one, prefer the traditional process and hope the economic structure can weather the storms and stay in tact.


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