Authonomy or Be Damned

Publishing is publishing. A book is a book. A good book is a good book. A bad book is a bad book. Let’s stop trying to re-invent the terms publisher and publishing based on practical or moral grounds—it’s the latter which most troubles me. A book is a published book for me if it has an ISBN and is intended for sale to a consumer readership by the publisher or author.
  [puhb-li-sher] Show IPA
a person or company whose business is the publishing of books, periodicals, engravings, computer software, etc.
the business head of a newspaper organization or publishing house, commonly the owner or the representative of the owner.
  [puhb-li-shing] Show IPA
the activities or business of a publisher, esp. of books or periodicals: He plans to go into publishing after college.
1375–1425; late ME (ger.); see publish, -ing 1
There are a few things in life we all want—to be loved and perhaps to be happy. If you are a publisher or author—you crave authonomy. For self-published authors, it’s a little bit more attainable, and for the publisher, a tad harder in this commercial world.
In some ways, the inhabitants of this earth who tried to convey what they experienced through images, later signs which became words and the language we have today, all began with mankind carving a record upon stone in a cave for those who came after them. It was the subsequent reader/viewer of those carvings who attributed meaning, quality, value, understanding and significance to what they saw and read.
I believe there are more people writing in this world than there are people actually reading as a pastime, dedication or career. Some of our best writers were once readers—dare I say, still are. Our best readers may not become our best writers. You can teach someone to read better—you can never teach someone to write better. Anyone who runs a writers’ workshop and tells you different is selling you a commodity and dream, and nothing more—you can take the best editor in the world and give him a poorly written book, and for love or money, he will never make it a good book. You can put a cherry on a pile of shit and make it look a little better, but it’s still a pile of shit with a cherry on top of it. A good editor can take a pile of shit and make it read like less of a pile of shit, but when the reader looks for the cherry, they won’t find one. It’s called literary subterfuge—form over content. An avid and seasoned reader spots the smell a mile away.
Is a good editor a good writer?
No. Not necessarily. That’s like me saying – I can ride a bicycle – I’m gonna’ win the Tour De France!
We can learn most from our craft by reading other books and opening what we have written to objective criticism, especially from our own peers. Authonomy have run an online site for peer review with a view to the top authors getting to the desk of a HarperCollins editor. I am not here to knock Authonomy—somewhere in there is the germ of a great idea, but I have found it an incestuous and self-sustained platform for would-be authors clamouring at any cost for a peer review to reach the top of the pile and be top-dog for a week or two. All this happens without the assurance of balance or any real proof that the hundreds of adoring readers who claimed to have read your book actually gave it, and your author profile, any more than a cursory glance
From following Authonomy, and having a book listed there, the site now appears to be a foghorn for a self-publishing service, namely, CreateSpace. Eh, no, HarperCollins have not bought CreateSpace, so why are HarperCollins allowing them to advertise their services there? Before I develop this point and we look at some other interesting developments and tie-ins with Authonomy. Here are the contents of an email sent to all Authonomy registered users last week.
Are you trying to break into the world of publishing but finding it hard to get your foot in the door? You’re not alone. But with the book industry beginning to change its attitude towards DIY publishing, there are more reasons than ever to consider taking matters into your own hands. On the blog this week we’ve profiled four stars changing the book world through sheer self-determination. 1. The Determined authonomist; how a HarperCollins’ author used self publishing to build a proven readership
Debut author Steven Dunne decided to self publish his book The Reaper himself back in 2008. After successfully selling 2000 copies he put his manuscript onto
Find out why a HarperCollins editor picked up Steven’s novel and offered him a contract. 

2. The Teen Inspiration; best seller used print-on-demand to reduce early financial risk
Christopher Paolini, started work on his manuscript for a fantasy novel at just fifteen years old and now Eragon has made it into the New York Times best seller list and to the big screen in 2006. 

Find out how he did it. 

3. The Timely Author; speed to market is vital to capture the zeitgeist
Author and entrepreneur Jill Keto started work on her book, Don’t Get Caught With Your Skirt Down: A Practical Girl’s Recession Guide, back in May 2008, with the aim of giving timely tips and advice to help women through the recession.

Find out how she used CreateSpace to self-publish, getting her book on sale through just four short months later and catching the attention of a major publisher.

4. The Plucky Publisher; new DIY publishing house gives creative control to authors
In 2009, Sarah Jane Heckscher-Marquis set up her own publishing business, DIIARTS, with the belief that the author should have complete creative control over their own work.

Read more about Sarah Jane’s motivation to do-it-herself.
So whatever your talent: writer, editor or publisher, maybe it’s time to think about how you can take the reins of your own publishing career. To read the whole article, check out the authonomy blog, or check out our partner, CreateSpace, who offers tools and services to help you self-publish, build readership, and sell your book. Learn more.

If this isn’t an endorsement for DIY self-publishing, specifically CreateSpace, I don’t know what is. There is good and bad here in this email communication. I think what Sarah Jane Heckscher-Marquis is doing at DIIARTS is wonderful and her philosophy and approach reminds me of publishing in Paris and the European continent during the 1930’s and 1940’s—very post modernist, well worth a visit to her site. It is also encouraging to read of authors who have found great success with DIY publishing services. On the bad side, Authonomy have engaged in what we also see and dislike in some author solutions services—that is—selling the dream by using so-called self-publishing success stories which are entirely inaccurate. Christopher Paolini is a case in point. He is not an accurate example of self-publishing. His parents ran a successful publishing house and lent a great deal of financial and marketing clout to his book Eragon
More pertinently, my understanding of Authonomy was of a community showcase site for aspiring authors to access peer reviews and a platform to catch the eye of publishers and agents, but specifically editors at HarperCollins. It was not intended to become an online captured audience for author solutions services to crash the party. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with CreateSpace or any other author solutions service advertising and selling their services to authors. After all, that is the bread and butter of POD, Self Publishing & Independent Publishing. But I don’t believe it is why authors registered with Authonomy, and I don’t believe the majority of authors are getting anything from Authonomy they could not get with any writers’ forum or workshop.
I spoke at the start of this article about the need for us all, authors as well as publishers, to see the terms publishing and publisher by their true definitions, without complicating, sanctifying or prostituting the terms with our own ethical codes. I think we are long passed the time when authors and publishers cannot take some basic responsibilities, and understand that what they individually do and wish to protect as authors and publishers is entirely different.
Publishers are businesses. They exist to protect their business and create profit. It is their responsibility to ensure the book industry prospers, develops, and sustains quality products and practices of business. Sometimes in business, you need to challenge the confines and models you work within. Risk always walks hand in hand with change—innovation walks alone.
Authors of themselves are not businesses. The craft of writing is an art and only has the potential to become a book product for the consuming reader if the author so chooses. There are too many authors in this world who think they should be able to tell their publisher how to run their business. The fundamental rule for authors should be to take responsibility for their book. Get that right first before trying to take responsibility for your publisher. Authors have entered into a unique position in the modern age of publishing where they can be both author and publisher through self-publishing, but they must not forget to acknowledge that they are publisher only to themselves and not the industry as a whole. That preserve and argument is one for author solutions services to fight.
Last year we saw Harlequin and Thomas Nelson form business partnerships with Author Solutions Inc to run self-publishing imprints for them. I’m not going to rehash what we have already widely discussed here, but I do think we should consider more recent developments, and perhaps in light of Authonomy and the presence of CreateSpace, now pretty much accept that HarperCollins are indirectly involved in the paid-publishing arena. By my count, we are starting to build up a small but illustrious list of so-called traditional publishers with direct or indirect links to paid-publishing services. I will describe this recent form of publishing route as paid-publishing, as distinct from author solutions services, simply because perspective authors enter it with a view to being traditionally published but somehow end up with a referral to a paid-publishing service. Ultimately, the end service is one we are all very well familiar with—be it Author Solutions, CreateSpace or whoever.
I have been involved in a discussion over on over the past week or so about similar issues, but in particular, Harlequin and Thomas Nelson’s ventures into self-publishing imprints, and the wider ethics about a traditional publisher engaging in such business activities. I’m not going to draw that specific debate over here, though I would invite anyone with an interest to read and participate in what has been one of the most interesting threads on so far this year. What I will say is I have no real problem with publishers choosing to partner with an affiliate companies to offer self-publishing services to their submitting authors. You might even suggest I am applying a different set of standards by my criticism of Authonomy. I don’t see it that way, simply because Authonomy are not delivering what they set out to do, at least in the eyes of many authors who registered with them. In the time Authonomy has being going, I am only aware of two or three authors who have gained contracts with HarperCollins, and they were the authors HarperCollins widely trumpeted and launched Authonomy with. I’ll stand corrected if there are subsequent contracts there with the ink still drying and published books about to see the light of the day. On the other hand, time will also tell if Harlequin and Thomas Nelson are true to their word and are really monitoring the output of their own slush piles fed into their self-publishing services, ready at the drop of a hat to offer a contract to the author who proves their editors wrong and makes a real self-publishing go of it.
These ventures are all financially driven. Let’s make no mistake about that. And this week’s news that Zondervan and Baker Publishing Group have set up a Christian platform to refer their rejected authors across to on Authonomy doesn’t change a thing. See the news feature we carried on this earlier today, here.
I made a prediction last year, and reiterated it over the Christmas holidays, that this form of paid-publishing through referrals would steadily grow. I also said at the start of 2009, something really big would happen regarding Amazon. This week, it did. It was so subtle, even I almost missed it, but it was very significant. Amazon, through AmazonEncore, is now a true publisher. We can kick and scream and wish it wasn’t so, but they are. They are publishing four original books in spring this year. They also own one of the most popular DIY publishing services—CreateSpace. That makes them a publisher offering self-publishing services, and by my reckoning, they join Harlequin and Thomas Nelson. For the moment, we can leave HarperCollins, Zondervan and Baker Publishing Group out of the equation, simply because there is no evidence any of them is profiting as an affiliate or supporter of a self-publishing service.
What lies at the heart of all this is the ability for authors to be incredibly savvy about the publishing world, in a way that may almost seem unfair, and perhaps it is, but the reality is every author has a responsibility to themselves and their book to find the right path and best platform for it. Along the way, you will meet many prepared to praise your work, criticise your work, passionate in both respects with equal abandon. This is a vastly changing industry I sometimes struggle to keep up with. Only the author knows what is best for their book—so don’t pass that decision to an unscrupulous author solutions service, do your research and homework, and equally important, don’t enter the mainstream publishing industry unless you understand how publishing really works.

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