August 7, 2012

The New Publishing Paradigm, Part Two: What Value Do Publishers Add?

Text "What Value Do Publishers Add?" with the numbers 1 + 1 = 3

Last time, we discussed how our decision about which method we go with for publishing should focus more on our readers’ online versus offline buying habits than on their preference for ebook versus print formats. And we bemoaned the fact that those numbers are hard to come by.

But let’s say we have a vague idea about our readership and their buying habits. What do we do with that information? If our readers are mostly online buyers, is that a clear sign we should self-publish?

Not necessarily. We each have to make the choices that are right for us. Self-publishing is not a good fit for everyone. We don’t all have the entrepreneurial spirit needed to run ourselves as a business.

Also, just like any start-up business, self-publishing requires money—editing, covers, marketing, etc. We don’t all have the ability to invest in ourselves, so traditional publishing’s ability cover the upfront costs can be a determining factor too. Some of us might start traditional to get income flowing to us and then transition to self-publishing. Some might make the decision on a story-by-story basis. Some of us don’t want anything to do with self-publishing no matter what the numbers say.

The New Options Help Traditionally Published Authors Too

However, we can recognize that our power as authors increases as our readership becomes more online based. Whether we want to self-publish or not, that route remains a viable option. Publishers—Big 6 or small—now have to work to keep us. They must provide value in exchange for taking their cut.

I spoke with Bob Mayer about this “must add value” concept during the regional conference I attended back in April. As he recently wrote at Digital Book World:

“The product is the story.  Not the book, not the eBook, not the audio book.  The Story.

The consumer is the reader.  Not the bookstores, the platform, the distributor, the sales force.  The Reader.

Authors produce story.  Readers consume story.  If anyone is in the path between Author and Reader they must add value to that connection.”

The New Publishing Paradigm: The Power Has Shifted

During her Keynote Address at the RWA 2012 National Conference, Stephanie Laurens shared several slides in her presentation that show how the shift from offline buying to online buying makes this “adding value” concept very clear. In offline publishing, we (currently) need help getting our books into the hands of readers:

Click through to view larger image

You’ll notice authors are a distant third in importance to the publisher. That’s because just as publishers are gatekeepers to authors, distributors and retailers are gatekeepers to publishers due to limited physical shelf space and the possibility of returns. Publishers have changed book titles to make their retailers happy. Without happy retailers, their books won’t make it into stores.

Contrast that linear string of necessary players with the online publishing options:

Click through to view larger image

As Stephanie said in her speech:

“[I]nstead of there being only one way, there are now four – Author to Reader, Author to Publisher to Reader, Author to Retailer to Reader, and Author to Publisher to Retailer to Reader. … [O]nly Author and Reader are essential… Publishers and Retailers, no matter who they are, can never be or make themselves essential.

…[T]o secure a place in our online industry, publishers need to make themselves commercially desirable…to whom? Their customers. But in the online world, who are a publisher’s customers? Who will pay for what a publisher offers – editing, production, distribution and management of sales channels, publicity and promotion? Authors.

…Successful online-era publishers are flexible, responsive, author-oriented providers of publishing services, cost-effectively value-adding to authors’ releases. They are acutely focused on what authors want and provide those services for a competitive fee.”

Publishers placing authors first. Quite different from publishers considering authors a distant third in their priority list, isn’t it? *smile*

Is this wishful thinking? Yes and no. Yes, because most publishers have yet to grasp this change in power. No, because whether publishers realize the facts or not, this is the truth.

Mark Coker of Smashwords reiterated this point in his presentation to the Published Author Network at the RWA conference (that he was kind enough to share on his blog):

All Those Between Authors and Readers Must Add Value

As authors, we have control over our options as never before. Publishers now need us to provide content more than we need them to get our books into the hands of readers. That leaves us in the power position. Especially because I believe the future will offer us opportunities to get our books into bookstores regardless of our publishing method.

Publishers have to prove to us that they can provide value to our publishing efforts above and beyond what we can attain on our own. Publishers need to add enough value to our product to justify their cut.

I hope publishers can make this adjustment. I have stories I still think will be a good fit for traditional publishing, and others I think will be a good fit for a small publisher. I don’t want to see publishers go away.

Successful publishers will focus on things that are important to authors, like:

  • making books better (editing),
  • recognizing that publishing Snooki-type books hurts their brand in the eyes of authors (their credibility/our desire for validation),
  • increasing availability to markets (bookstores, libraries, foreign rights, audio books, etc.),
  • improving accountability and payment flow (transparency and frequency of royalties and payments)
  • and offering promotional opportunities (access to reviewers, book tours, publicity, etc.).

And they will have to recognize that authors will “pay” (royalty rates) only a limited amount for those services. Their inefficiencies are not our problem. We can decide how much their services are worth to us and judge if the offered royalty rates are fair.

Fair. Respect. Partners. We’ve tossed these words around a lot in the industry lately, but many of us haven’t quite believed in them.

It’s easy to continue thinking in the status quo of agents and editors being the gods of the relationship. But it’s time for us to accept that we are the driver in the publishing industry. Without us, there would be no stories. So just as our protagonists must drive their stories, we must accept the opportunity—and responsibility—of driving our story to publishing success.

As Mark alluded to in his presentation and as Stephanie said outright in hers, “Only Author and Reader are essential.” Go forth and be proud of that fact. *smile*

How do you see the shift to online purchasing changing the game? Have you changed your mind about how to approach your publishing options because of this information? Which publishers do you think have grasped this shift in power? What’s important to you when considering how publishers can add value? What things would make the partnership feel fair to you?

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Julia Tomiak

Jami, Thank you for sharing this interesting perspective. I’m new to this business, but I can see that I must keep myself informed. I love the diagrams (thanks to you and Stephanie for sharing); they really help me see what I should focus on, and all of the possibilities out there. Thanks again!

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

I was so upset I couldn’t make nationals, but visiting your blog makes me feel like I was there. THANK YOU, THANK you for sharing your wisdom and also for linking Mark Coker of Smashwords, THE FUTURE OF PUBLISHING. I read all 85 pages of his presentation just now and got so much out of it.
I still don’t know exactly which way I’m leaning, but with bloggers like you, I’m getting more informed by the day.
Thank you!
Have a great day!!!


My first couple of efforts are on the short side (around 60,000 words) and while I’ve queried a few agents in an effort to go the traditional pub route, more and more I’m thinking I’ll submit directly to the publisher. Many small publishers will allow this, and they seem to be more connected to the readers AND the authors (at least according to my Twitter feed-Entangled and Samhain both pop up pretty often). But the big 6? I think it’ll take them longer to get on board. Regan Walker shared an a blog post with my local RWA chapter about her decision to epub, and in it, she pointed to the greater control she had over the final product. That’s huge for me. I’ve got one project that’s my baby-my very first MS EVER. If I decide to have it published, I want as much control as I can get without self-pubbing. Going with a smaller publisher seems like the best option. And I’m going to disagree slightly on your second point about publishers not producing Snooki-books. A friend of mine pointed out how many of her co-workers are reading Fifty Shades of Grey. These women don’t read. At all. So she asked them, hey, if you like dark, tortured heroes, you might like this book. She’s loaned out her copies of both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights because she asked that question. If more people took this approach to the books that make you want to cringe that they…  — Read More »

Julie Glover

Fascinating and informative. I especially liked the diagrams. They show exactly how the paradigm has changed. Thanks, Jami.

Renee Schuls-Jacobson


This is the stuff that scares me! I need to find a great agent who will talk very slowly and help me understand the business side of writing. For now, I’m just trying to deliver my product. 😉


That line about the “Snooki-type books” got me. So true! The publishers think they are going for the sure thing when in reality, they look like sell-outs, not just to their reading public, but to those of us who are actually working to hone their writing skills. At least 50 Shades of Gray was written by a “real” person. (Meanwhile, Snooki said that she’s only read a couple of books in her entire life–and I don’t doubt that for a second.) I’m still on the fence about self-e-publishing, still hoping to land an agent and go the traditional route, but I may change my mind at some point after reading this great post.


I love that slide show! The figures and graphs are definitely very encouraging. I dearly hope that the trends will continue and more people will start respecting self publishing and ebooks!

Thanks for the post about Smashwords too. I never knew you could publish for free! And I like their point about saving valuable time (from all the traditional publishing preparation) to actually WRITE and edit our stories, and in improving our skills. This is especially important to those of us who realistically don’t have much time to write query letters, etc, because we have day jobs or school.

Also, you’re right. The Authors and the Readers are the crucial people; not the publishers or retailers. The story and the characters are what matter most of all.

Gina Fava

Hi Jami,
I agree with your thinking. However, I don’t think publishers will ever stop excreting Snooki-type books, as long as there is a market, and sadly, as long as people read them (much to our chagrin.)
This is a great analysis of an industry in flux. Let’s hope they take notice of your suggestions 🙂

Susan Sipal

Thanks so much, Jami, for your wonderful analysis as well as posting the link to Mark Coker’s presentation. It’s so hard to stay abreast of everything going on in publishing, but you always do such a good job of covering the important stuff fairly. Thanks!

Jenny Hansen

I’m late to the party but I love this post! I read Stephanie’s entire keynote speech after someone mentioned it (and I saw her get panned on SmartBitches). I get their point that her publishers were sitting right there, but I really found her brave and admirable for doing this talk. It was a talk that authors needed to hear.

Haven’t seen Mark’s presentation so I’m off to see that now. Thanks again!!


[…] Anyone made me smile. A list of Chapter One Analyses by Moody Writing. Jami Gold’s post The New Writing Paradigm, Part 2: What Value Do Publishers Add is a great read. Click here for Part […]


[…] if you only have time to visit one place, I recommend Jami Gold‘s post The New Writing Paradigm, Part 2: What Value Do Publishers Add. Part 1 is also a great […]

Pauline Baird Jones

Have you been reading The Business Rusch? Perhaps your next blog on this topic should be on agents. When I finished my first book, back in the early 90’s, I went looking for an agent, so I wouldn’t have to do the business part of this stuff. I found a very nice agent. Who had the misfortune to work for a thief. Yeah, I was lucky I didn’t sell anything, because I wouldn’t have gotten any of my money. What I did lose was time, because I let that agent manage the submissions. Let’s just say, that in hind sight, I would have submitted a bit differently. Fast forward to my next adventure with an agent. Did a better job second time around and got a great agent. We ended up parting ways, for a variety of reasons, most having to do with me and what I wanted. LOL! But again, I learned some important lessons. I know more about me, about what I write than anyone else. I’d gotten “uppity” ideas while managing my own writing business. I’d learned about contracts and rights and fair percentages and prompt payment. About royalty statements that made sense. I had this “unreasonable” desire to get paid more often. And the most egregious “sin,” was a desire to write the books I wanted to write. What was good for my agent was for me to focus on building an audience in a single genre and building that. What was best for me was…  — Read More »


[…] to know what they could do for me over and above what I could do for myself by self-publishing. I want a publisher who will add value. That’s my […]


[…] us to negotiate contracts differently. Many publishers won’t want to change their contracts, but some might understand the need to adapt to industry changes. (Considering how many big publishers don’t do anything to support backlist titles, maybe they […]


[…] The New Publishing Paradigm, Part Two: What Value Do Publishers Add? by Jami Gold […]


[…] get contract offers, but they were from publishers with a smaller platform than I had, so the value they could add was limited. The contracts also demanded every right in the universe, plus some (movies! […]


[…] the answer to any of those questions is “no,” we can ask ourselves what value the publisher adds to justify their royalty cut. We might be better off rejecting a contract than getting involved with an unprofessional […]

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