As the DIY approach gains more and more writers and readers, traditional publishers must reinvent themselves, writes Alison Baverstock at The Guardian.
After a boom year in self-publishing the headlines are getting a little predictable. Most feature a doughty author who quickly builds demand for her work and is rewarded with a large contract from the traditional industry. But in our rush to admire, there’s a risk we overlook the wider cultural significance of what is going on. As publishers from all over the world prepare for next week’s London book fair, here are 10 changes that they ignore at their peril:
1. There is now a wider understanding of what publishing is – and that it is more difficult than it looks. The industry has long suffered the irony that effective publishing is most evident when invisible; it is only when standards are less than felicitous that we realise how well what we read is managed most of the time. Now that school cookbooks, or fundraising brochures for sports teams, can be effectively self-published, people are learning the process and what is involved. In the past, the industry has tended to recruit heavily from those in the know (the offspring of former publishers and authors being particularly well-represented); wider awareness of publishing is now promoting wider diversity.
2. Gone is our confidence that publishers and agents know exactly what everyone wants to (or should) read, and can spot all the material worth our attention. Soft porn and fantasy have emerged as particularly under-represented in the industry’s official output.
3. The copy editor, a traditionally marginalised figure, is now in strong demand. If you are well-connected through social media, can isolate what your writing has to offer and get the message noticed by a reading public, you can probably manage the marketing of your work. The one thing it’s really hard to do is self-edit. Long ago publishers outsourced copy editing, relying on the freelance labour market – and freelancers are now being actively sought by self-publishing authors too. The price for services for which there is both high demand and scarce supply tends to rise.