Conversion (Subversion?) from Author to Publisher

Posted originally on TheWritersLife.org.



I joined the dark side. After years spent grumbling about editors and publishers and the tawdry unfairness of their gatekeeping, I became one. I launched a website and a Kickstarter, let Her Majesty know she should tax my meager takings, and Bob's your uncle: I'm a publisher.

Of course, I'm a writer first. It's not an easy thing, being an author. Just the writing alone is a monumental accomplishment; we know it is our joy, but it's a little like heroin, too. It fulfills us, it drives us, and sometimes it can ruin us.

Getting published is another feat altogether. Suddenly you have to peep out of your introverted writerly shell and start selling yourself (because let's face it, we put ourselves into our writing; otherwise, why do it?). You have to pretend like you know way more about this business than you do, and that you're way better at it than you think you are. And that you don't spend every day wearing a groove into your sofa in your pajamas, cat and laptop fighting for space, resisting the urge to loll the day away on social media and writing forums.

All those newsfeeds and forums lately have been filled with the great news: we can all become our own publishers (even as I write this blog post, there's an ad in the sidebar for a Kindle publishing webinar). I'm a researcher in creative writing for my day job, and for years I've taught students about the publishing industry, including the recent developments in digital publishing. I've published my own fiction (an ongoing experiment with digital fiction that regular publishers aren't doing yet), but that didn't really prepare me for the job of a publisher.

The key difference is this: as a writer, I'm a creative practitioner with a vague interest in making money (i.e., paying the bills). As a publisher, I'm a business with an interest in developing stories that other people will want to spend money on.
That switch in focus is everything.

As a writer, I have a little fun with social media and blogging. I tweet my #midnightWritingJournal, I blog about my trials and tribulations, and I'm happy to get a few 5-star ratings on the stuff I have that's out there. I have a few dozen followers, and that's cool. As a publisher, nothing is cool. First and foremost, I need people to know about me. I need writers to know I'm legit, and that they want to publish with me. I need readers to be interested in what I'm selling, and to actually buy it. I need to keep all these people informed about my projects in an era when we are constantly bombarded with information and advertisements.

In short, I have to sell, sell, sell! And that's before we start thinking about business-y things like bookkeeping, shipping, taxes, contracts, paying royalties, book design, and all the other things publishers have always done that writers usually bemoan.

I'm still at the beginning of this transition, and I still have a lot of hope and ambition (those of you with years under your belt can laugh now). I don't know if I'll succeed, but at the very least I'll get a few academic papers out of it!

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