One end of the publishing continuum is print and the other digital. Originally far apart, they now overlap. Dominating the print end, traditional publishers select authors based upon various criteria (not necessarily literary).
Their employees or services edit manuscripts (developmental, line, copy, and proof), design layouts, fonts and covers, assign ISBNs, promote, print and distribute books. Today they also produce electronic books, albeit nervously, inconsistently and expensively.
At the digital end is electronic publishing. Once the upstart, the ebook market is growing, and far more than recognised by most industry surveys. That's because they rely upon ISBN numbers for sales data, but 33% of all ebooks sold in the US each year have no ISBN, says AuthorEarnings.com, which means the true electronic book market is much larger than most estimates.
Vanity and self publishing used to get lumped in together to describe work whose writers paid to get into print rather than face the hurly-burly of the marketplace, but today self-publishing has moved to a more general term for the whole non-traditional sphere. Indie (Independent) is a term for writers who've deliberately chosen to produce their ebooks for the marketplace themselves, often with the aid of freelance specialists, but of course some will work happily with print publishers if offered the opportunity.
Jane Friedman's chart on old and new publishing paths is a great summary of the continuum between traditional and independent publishing.
Some writers submit their work to the formatting arms of the retail outlets (see Pathways), but that's a complex process, so others go to websites that handle the distribution to the retailers. Distributors can be more-or-less DIY, or offer a range of packaged services from minimal to complete.
Editing, design, formatting, promoting, distributing: as each step is handled by someone other than the writer, does the mantle of publisher pass from the writer to the distributor/retailer?
No. What has always defined traditional publishers is their creative control over the process. Apart from turning in a manuscript and re-editing as required, traditional authors are given little or no control over their books, especially its title, cover and design, which may sometimes work as the publisher hopes and sometimes miss the mark entirely. But the great joy of epubbing is having complete control over all creative aspects of an ebook.
Another equally important issue is simply getting your hard-won words out to the world. Some estimates have it that less than 5% of writers will ever see their work published through the traditional pathways, which means that without self-publishing many works that might offer pleasure or wisdom or solace or education will never reach an audience.
So in the digital realm at least, the publisher is whoever has creative control over the process of epubbing. Read on to find out how and why it should be you.
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