Are Readers the New Curators?

30 December, 2012

” Readers are the new curators,” declares Smashwords’ CEO Mark Coker (Publisher’s Weekly, Dec 24 issue, “Miami Advice”).

As publ102-02454_IMGishers, authors and self-proclaimed “marketing consultants” continue to debate the value of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing, it is easy to embrace the advantages of the latter, a route without encumbrance–especially if you have never been published by a traditional publisher.  In the spirit of full-disclosure, I will admit my bias, as a former editor and associate publisher of more than two decades, and now an agent who continues to place (or attempt to place) authors with traditional publishers.

If you’ve never worked in traditional publishing or experienced what it is like to have an A-team of publishing professionals shepherd your book, you cannot know first-hand what can happen when it all works as it should.  If you’ve never sat in on an editorial meeting in which seasoned and superb readers (i.e. editors) and their marketing and sales colleagues debate the merits and marketability of a book, or in a jacket meeting, where a team of the same is joined by art/design experts to craft a cover design and copy that will perfectly express an author’s work and sell it, or a production or pricing or launch or sales meeting, you can’t imagine the care and art that goes into every aspect of the development and selling of a book.  If you’ve never seen the multiple drafts of copy about a book, or read an editorial letter or seen the work of a top-notch copy-editor or production editor, you can’t possibly imagine the complexity of the craft of publishing.

I was on the inside for many years, as an editor, then editor-in-chief and associate publisher of two leading houses, and I relished every aspect and nuance of this extraordinary process.  As an agent, now responsible for matching authors and publishers and shepherding authors’ careers, I continue to have enormous respect for my colleagues on the other side, even when I disagree with them.

Having said that, I’m excited about the explosion of new options for writers, and I aim to help clients take full advantage of them, when that is the right (or sadly, only) option.  I’m working with digital publishers such as Diversion, E-Reads, and Untreedreads.com, and am impressed with the energy and vision these publishers, unfettered by the machinery of traditional publishing, bring to the table.  I’m also selectively helping authors to “self-publish” through a unique arrangement my agency has with Argo Navis/Constellation, a division of Perseus Publishing; in this scenario, an agent acts as middleman between Argo Navis and the author, advising, facilitating, advocating every step of  the way.  It helps that I’ve been a publisher, as I can bring that knowledge and those skills to bear.  I love that these new options offer talented writers whose work may get lost in a bigger house, or overlooked entirely, a chance to get their work out and to find readers–and to do it very quickly.  The nimbleness is hard to replicate in-house, and a huge advantage in a rapidly changing world.

The challenge, no matter which path one pursues, is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each route to publication.  You can build it, but no one may come.   Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe that an author needs to be a full partner in every aspect of the process and to find someone–be it an agent (yes, agents are increasingly expanding their services outside of traditional representation), a reputable marketing consultant or even publishing attorney–to guide them so that they can find an audience.  Only then can readers decide–as they always do–whether or not the work is of interest.

–Joelle Delbourgo