The evolution of the author/publisher relationship

I was over at Electric Alphabet the other day and was interested in Kate Eltham’s examination of the question posed by Mark Coker in his article for The Huffington Post, do authors still need publishers?

Coker argues that an author (he uses names like Stephen King and JK Rowling) with a dedicated fanbase could get a much better return from the marketplace by self-publishing. And while there are few poets (if any) who boast fanbases with the size and sustainability of King or Rowling, this also rings true in the poetry world. But as Kate points out:

the author that can make a self-publishing project successful is the author who is an entrepreneur, a small business manager, a savvy marketer and a tireless communicator.

No easy feat…

But this is something that poets worldwide have known for sometime and many are now fulfilling all of these roles quite successfully. As Seth Godin suggests in the article Tribe Building 101, increased communication between author and reader through blogs, online forums, and in person, encourages greater transparency and will help to consolidate your fanbase.

Blogging has opened up a new world for me and the countless other poets who regularly post their words each day. It is a way of reaching out to other writers and readers. It facilitates collaboration. It helps build community. And for me, it is a way of discipling myself to write. I feel like a novice in the blogging field, but already it has opened up many new avenues for my work. Combined with regular submissions to journals (online and print), regular readings (open mic and features), organising events, attending events and in general lending support to the development of the greater poetry community, I feel I am finally laying a platform to build on. All this has been ten years in the making and it has all been worth it. I plan to release my next book independently in 2010 and am feeling confident about the process.

That is not to say I am anti-publisher. Nothing could be further from the truth… I am one half of the team that runs Small Change Press and have recently been working on the Brisbane New Voices project. Indeed, I believe publishers have an important role to play, bringing new voices to a wider public, but it has to be said that independent publishers also require their authors to be creating their own platform through blogging, reading, submitting to journals etc… Being published, so to speak, does not mean that you can sit back and watch the sales roll in. In today’s writing/reading world, the entrepreneurial skills of marketing and communication need to be embraced by all.

It is clear that the relationship between author and publisher has changed forever. Some would argue for better, others for worse. What I am most interested in is how authors and publishers can survive and thrive (together or alone) in the future. All thoughts welcome…



Filed under poetry & publishing

5 responses to “The evolution of the author/publisher relationship

  1. I am just taking a break from making my second book, Graham. I am going to publish it exactly like I did the first one. The world is changing. It won’t be long before a self-published collection of poetry wins a major prize and it won’t be long before a big publisher like Black Inc realises that it makes sense to pick up successfully self-published books. In the meantime, people like you and I can take comfort in being trailblazers, wildly avant-guard, like the poets of the seventies who began their careers self-publishing, Pam Brown, John Kinsella, Robert Adamson etc etc.

  2. It seems like the publisher can definitely be less relevant today, particularly in metropolitan areas – because there the author/promoter can be highly visible and active (building on online bases etc) and accessible through regular readings/events like launches that are centralised in the urban setting.

    I think with the regional areas the relationship can be a little different – the old tyranny of distance (even within a state) etc means that a publisher can be of more assistance with promo & distribution particularly.

  3. Hey Graham –

    Tricky question, and certainly one that is influenced by the capacity for personal networking and shameless self-promotion – as well as distance/urban/rural/remote factors.

    It’s also got to be a little bit about the energy it takes to get a publisher interested in your work, how many publishing fishies there are in the local sea, and how palatable you find schmoozing for possible publication to be.

    Publishers may need to reconsider how they relate to poets and poets how they cultivate and relate to a potential publisher. After all, we can clearly see there are many ways to skin the ‘get your work read’ cat.


  4. I had no idea when I published my book that after every one got my money I would have to sell my book myself. I feel that I have a real message and that is just what I am doing, selling my book. I wake up each morning, about two am and send out blogs about my purpose and the title of my book. “The Cross and the Psychiatrist!” Found at or you can google it. My book is about HOPE in a society that looks down on a person for getting ill. Terry Dorn

  5. Mark William Jackson

    The art – business interface is a difficult relationship, the artist cradles his / her work close to the breast while the business mind looks at ways of transforming it via mathematics into a money making venture. Nietzsche wrote that an artist in his true form should be happy with simply his bread and his art, and most artists seek publication as a means to getting their work read, I don’t think publishers understand this, or they do and don’t care. The small press industry reminds me of all the mimeograph machines printing hot stuff through the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, and blogged ‘zines are doing similar. The blogs are an excellent way of getting work out into the wider world, and can be used as a selling point to publishers to prove an established readership. And if you’re a novice in the blogging world then I am a foetus!

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