I don’t know exactly why people get into things like publishing. It can’t be because they see a lot of money in it, could it? If so, they’re probably not so good at business. If they love writing and are truly business-minded they might very easily become another literary breed, an agent. I suppose one might ask the same thing of an agent as an indie publisher. Exactly how did you get here?
If you’re a publisher you probably are a writer, too. So why is there apparently a conflict? Is it because the necessary “business mind” doesn’t line up with the artistic one? Is it because you didn’t see yourself as a “pure” writer? A mystic genius or scholarly introvert who holes away by his or her very nature performing deep research and penetrating thought on some subject matter? Why is there so little identity-conflict for those who write and teach? Do so many writers go into teaching because of the allure of free summers? Is it because writing is, after all, scholarly and creative? Is it because one gets to keep reading and repeating inspirational sources and by the act of sharing, gets fed?
The initial allure might be that a publisher has a little more creative freedom than other writer-related occupations. I suppose it can but you stand to make a lot more money in a lot of other creative and fulfilling fields. For me, very much the way I loved putting together a monthley installment of Smiley Magazine when I was eight and nine, I love the creative possibilities in publishing right now. I love discovering voices and assisting in the process of birthing them. I enjoy it. I like to give. I like to receive what it stands to give back as a result of the professional time and effort.
So, why not do that with my own writing? Sometimes, when the going gets especially tough, when you feel like you’re giving and giving and they keep on asking and asking, you might explore that question deeper. I do wonder what the point is when authors can’t be bothered to sell their books. I do understand it from an author’s perspective, but as a publisher more and more I feel like when authors don’t do everything they can for their book then they basically don’t believe in it on some level. I’m starting to realize that a lot of writers don’t want to self-publish not so much because it’s not as prestigious, but because if you self-published and didn’t promote then you might look especially lame. If, however, you have some validating mechanism to accept your work for publication and also willing to enter into a world of promoting it then you’ve already won all you may want. Someone else has taken on the majority of paying for the print process, and in most cases, the design, layout and editing, even sending off to places for review.
To have something like a book exist in the world is a public act. You have a message you want to communicate, right? You are making a statement, crafting your work of art. Making the leap to your work as a product that other readers should consume should not be so hard. As I read The Giving Tree last night to my kids, I realized if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer and publisher it’s this: There are givers and there are takers. And both bear responsibility in the dysfunctional dynamic.
Takers: There’s nothing wrong with asserting yourself. You’ve got to, in fact, to be heard no matter how good you are. There’s nothing wrong with raising your hand, with asking questions, with exploring strategies and seeing opportunities. Takers don’t stop there. They don’t know how, I guess. Either that or they don’t know any better. The more you grant their requests, the more they keep on taking and quite often their gratitude seems to fade, too. The best you can say about takers is that it’s human nature. It’s human nature to keep asking if you’ve been given the first reward. Literally, it’s the foraging impulse. You keep scanning the ground in case there may be something you might miss otherwise.
Givers: They have an energy about them. They begin with generosity. They’re just regular old people like anyone else, but they have some kind of humility or empathic understanding. Maybe it’s experience that leads them. Who knows? Givers are not always the best at moving their product, though. Sometimes it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. Givers at least enter into the partnership of publishing their content in a cooperative spirit.
No one said it would be easy. We need givers everywhere, not just in publishing, though it would be great to see more humility and less entitlement. We need writers who understand that the changing relational dynamics between them and publishers is changed for the better. It really has. It’s not worse. It’s better. I can be better. Writers are now more empowered than they have just about ever been in the history of publishing. I’m really excited about it. It does mean that writers and publishers have to enter that world of promotion. It means sharing. It means work. It really does. Not in every single case but in the vast majority. The power of social media empowers everyone now, and it is no less or more a publishers or a writers. Both have to do the hard work of branding.
And, authors, really, why would you be above it? You should want to do it. We shouldn’t be able to stop you.