The Author as Publisher: The New Functions of You

GCS-logo-round-grad-orangePublishing, as we know it, is over. Publishing is “a solution to yesterday’s problem.”

Clay Shirky says that publishing is a button. The publisher in me bristles at the idea, but he may be right. You can fight this concept, or you can embrace it. If every writer can now publish his/her work using the New Tools, and connect directly with an interested, engaged audience, then haven’t things changed?

It’s time to be realistic. This is bad for publishers, but potentially very good for you.

You are an author. You are a content creator. The 21st century will be good to you, if you know how to make use of the tools it has to offer. The publishing industry has changed. Are you a Big Name Author? Good. Then Big Publishing is still your friend (sort of).

What about those of you who are not a Big Name Author? Big Publishing is not your friend, and you should stop seeking its approval.

Publishing still has a place in the world. There’s a lot of work that goes into creating, developing, and delivering good content—and then getting it in the right hands. I’ve learned the craft of publishing over a long career, so I know the value of this very well.

But a publisher is not likely to pick you. The odds are against you. As a publisher, I selected about 1 out of 50 proposals, on average, to take to the next level. Then, about 3 out of 5 survived the development process—pretty good odds by industry standards. Not great odds for you, though.

These economics force publishers to get very conservative. They’re more likely to lean on their Big Name Authors than to take a chance on someone new. Are you Someone New? If so, you need to think differently.

The good news is that you, Someone New, are more empowered than you ever have been before. You don’t need a publisher. You need a strategy.

The traditional functions of a publisher:

  1. Acquire talent.
  2. Fund the development.
  3. Produce and deliver.
  4. Market and sell.
  5. Supply and support.

Most of these things, you no longer need. You can do them all yourself. Really. In the New World, it looks more like this:

Create / Develop / Refine / Deliver / Connect.

These are the New Functions of You. You can be your own publisher now:

  • Create. You don’t need to acquire talent. You are your own talent. Focus your energy on creating good content that connects. None of this is possible otherwise.
  • Develop. You love what you do. Others might too. You don’t need money to get started. You can be profitable from Day 1 if this is what fuels your passion.
  • Refine. For this, you might still rely on some outside help. The process doesn’t need to be over-engineered, though.
  • Deliver. You are your own supplier now. Infinite shelf space means direct connection with your audience, for better or worse.

This sounds like a lot to manage, and can feel overwhelming. The good news is that you don’t have to do it all at once. You can go at your own pace. You are in control. With small steps, a little focus, and some persistence—you can do it.

NEXT: Your Content Strategy: Applying the 5 W’s

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I have to give credit for “a solution to yesterday’s problem” to Jani Patokallio and his insightful article in O’Reilly’s TOC (2/26/13) about how ePub doesn’t represent “the best interests of authors or readers.” I think this concept can be applied more broadly to the industry itself.

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Michael Boezi

Michael Boezi

Michael Boezi is an Independent Advisor and Content Strategist, specializing in helping authors and publishers make the Shift to Digital. He is a longtime publishing veteran who has helped hundreds of authors realize their ideas, from concept to completion, over a variety of roles. Michael was Vice President of Content and Community at Flat World Knowledge, where he was responsible for all aspects of content acquisition and development, and built a catalog of 100+ peer-reviewed, openly licensed college textbooks across various subjects. He writes a blog about current issues and trends in the EdTech industry, which you can find at, along with a full portfolio and more detail on consulting services for content creators, content owners, entrepreneurs, and investors. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+.