Authors Still Want Publishers

O’Reilly author Scott Berkun has a great piece on his blog in response to a common question authors get asked: “How do you write a book?”

One part that jumped out at me was his comments on finding a publisher:

30% of the time the real thing people are asking is how do you find a publisher. As if there wasn’t a phone book or, say, an Internet-thingy where you can look this stuff up. Writers-market is literally begging to help writers find publishers. Many publishers, being positive on the whole idea of communication, put information on how to submit material on their website. And so do agents. The grand comedy of this is how few writers follow the instructions. That’s what pisses off all the editors: few writers do their homework.

Many publishers seem concerned about authors like Scott: he’s savvy enough to know that he’s going to be his own best promoter, he’s driving sales for his current books and building an audience for future books with his blog, and he’s well aware of all the self-publishing options available.

But he’s also smart enough to know (and rightly points out in the posting) that writing a book is rarely a path to riches, but rather (as illustrated by the hire me link on his top nav bar) for a lot of authors just a promotional tool to build demand for speaking and consulting (something tech authors have been doing for a long time). When viewed through that lens, finding the right publisher becomes more important, not less.

Authors like Scott have learned that they don’t work with a publisher to create and sell a book — they work with a publisher to build and promote a brand (the lightning demo on Chris Anderson’s was a big hit at the TOC Conference). Publishers who view the relationship in the same way, and provide tools and opportunities for authors to sell themselves as much as their books, will have little trouble attracting top talent.