"Publishers provide a huge resource to authors who don't know who reads their books," said Mr. Godin in an interview. "What the Internet has done for me, and a lot of others, is enable me to know my readers." — Seth Godin, "Author to Bypass Publisher for Fans," Wall Street Journal, August 24, 2010
In a recent Wall Street Journal article Seth Godin was quoted, proclaiming his intentions to forego publication with Penguin and sell his forthcoming books directly to his follower base.
For anyone who has either published or tried to get a manuscript published, Godin’s indomitable spirit strikes a raw nerve. Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, author of this article, writes: “One of (Godin’s) many concerns about the current publishing market is that the process often takes 12 months or more to get a new title into the hands of his readers.”
Indeed, this concern pertains especially to time-sensitive material.
Another concern is the conceits of literary agents and acquisition editors.
J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, for example — an outstanding bestseller — was initially rejected by 12 publishers. Meanwhile, numerous books that are less popular are returned to warehouses by the hundreds and eventually destroyed.
This thick-headedness on the part of publishing decision-makers inspired writers before Seth Godin, like Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Rudyard Kipling, Anais Nin, Benjamin Franklin, T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Leo Tolstoi and other literary giants to publish their own works … in times when self-publishing was far more costly and difficult than it is today.
Yet another concern is an author’s ROI. Seth Godin probably would command a substantial advance from his publisher. But Godin must perceive greater earning opportunities from the self-publishing and self-marketing that he now plans.
Will other top-selling and midlist authors follow his lead? Few of them probably have Godin’s interest and expertise in marketing. So I would guess that some might, while most will prefer to remain with their publishing houses.
Perhaps the greatest loss to corporate publishing will be fresh voices — of every age group — who are weary of the wasted time and skewed, derisive opinions exacted by inept literary agents and publishers. It wouldn’t surprise me if the most talented and passionate writers wiped those obstacles from their paths and carried on in Godin’s footsteps