When Self-Publishing Undermines Traditional Publishing

Publishers really are that petty.

It means they’re frightened.

Case in point, this piece of news from The New York Times: “Kiana Davenport, the Hawaiian writer whose publisher canceled her forthcoming novel after accusing her of dallying with Amazon, has a new publisher: Amazon.”

The blog post describes how the author was dropped by Riverhead because, after Riverhead had rejected a volume of stories she decided to self-publish these stories with Amazon. Riverhead then cancelled her novel, which it had signed to publish. And which Amazon will now publish, under a new title, The Spy Lover.

Although this can be taken as just another inside-baseball skirmish among writers and publishers, it does show, for anyone who’s writing a book and creating a platform to build an audience, that the publishing industry is more fraught with peril than before. If you choose to go with a traditional publisher, that is.

Traditional publishers consider Amazon – which sells the bulk of their product – to be a retailing outlet and at the same time an enemy, because it offers writers direct access to readers, through its digital publishing platform.

How dare a company bypass publishers? How dare there be competition?

These things happen, because apparently publishers are trying to protect their brand. But publishers really don’t have a brand. Readers don’t care who publishes a book. All they care about is the book, the content. No one thinks, “Oh, I wonder what Riverhead has coming out in the fall, since it’s always so good at being a curator of the finest writing in the country.” If you believe that, then there’s a bridge somewhere someone can sell you.

No, people think in terms of author: “I wonder what so-and-so will come up with in her next book.”

It’s up to the author to protect the author’s brand (and to build it). When an author signs with a big publisher, then the author will have to play by that publisher’s rules – and if that involves not self-publishing anything, that’s something to take into consideration before signing.

What’s most important is what you as an author write, and the message you’re sending. Complications arise after that – when you take the book public through self-publishing or traditional publishing. Although self-publishing has never been easier, publishing itself has rarely been so uncertain.

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2 Responses to “When Self-Publishing Undermines Traditional Publishing”

  1. Anonymous March 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    Great insights. There are many upsides and downsides to both traditional publishing and self-publishing. Gotta consider your long-term goals for your book, your business, and your message when deciding which publishing route to take. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Kiana Davenport March 13, 2012 at 1:32 am #

    Bob, you have excellent insight into the publishing circus!  I speak as one of its recent victims.
    But in the end the gods were good.  Please see my latest blog posting about the Publishing Wars and Writers ( written from the frontlines.)


    I really enjoy your observations and insights!  Thanks and Alohas from Hawaii.
    Kiana Davenport

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