Monday, 06 June 2016 20:59

What do publishers do nowadays?

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I seem to have come full circle with my writing. For those of you unfamiliar with my works, which is the vast majority of the world, I am a fairly minor author. So far, my published books are mostly business and management books. I am well known in my niche, but not much beyond. To give an idea of scale - good sales for me are over 20,000 copies of a book. Bad sales are a few thousand copies.


I wrote my first book in the early years of this century without the faintest clue how to go about being published. I completed the book and then found a publisher. I was lucky and seemed to fall on my feet, finding it relatively easy to get a book contract. Ah the halcyon days. I was joining publishing as it was about to go through either a seismic change or an unstoppable decline, (depending on your viewpoint). I had almost a decade of pleasant work with publishers.

As an author, one of the first things I learnt was that professional authors, at least authors of non-fiction, usually did not get a contract having written a book. They might write a bit, but mostly they touted the concept around and when they had a contract then they wrote it. I learnt, did it this way, got contracts and now have 16 published works - several in second editions.

I have always had my own private writing going on in parallel to my published books. Stuff I am not convinced there is an audience for, which I write partially because I simply like writing and partially because I am ever optimistic I will one day produce something I am happy with.

Back to my published professional texts. The full circle part is that I am now writing my 17th book and have not sought a publisher or a contract. The reason? I am not sure what publishers do anymore.

In my early days, a publisher took care of the book, gave you valuable editorial feedback, helped you through the development process, had covers designed, got the book produced, marketed the book and made sure it was in stock in book shops. I valued all these things, and enjoyed my relationship with publishers. I know ego is a bad thing, but in truth having a publisher made you feel special.

I’m not sure what publishers do now apart from producing the book. Now this is an important task, which I do not deny. But somehow you think of a publisher as more than book production factory – and if this is all they want to be then that’s great, but it justifies a far smaller share of royalties than the current large slice they take.

Take marketing. A publisher’s first question if they show any interest in a book is normally “what are you going to do to market this book”. This is a reasonable question, and I normally respond with “I’ll work that out, but by the way – what are you going to do?” The answer is usually, “at best not much and quite probably nothing”. I suspect there is a great business helping authors market their books, as some of the best authors are not really great at marketing. But that’s not what publishers do. They seem to have hunkered down into a tenuous niche as book factories.

I am not bemoaning this. I’ve seen change in so many industries, that it would be selfish to think there was something special about publishing. But that does not mean I don’t miss the days a publisher was actually helpful in a valuable way.

Hence, I am writing my latest book without a contract, and I’ll figure out what to do with the book when I’ve written it. Whatever “it” is, it may have little to do with a publisher in the traditional sense. I know self-publishing is a well-trodden path now. I am coming late to the game. But then it was once so nice not to have to!


If I’ve missed something about modern publishers I’d love to know.

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Richard Newton

Richard Newton wears many hats. Included amongst these are his work as a consultant, author, blogger, change leader, company director, and program manager. His most well known project management book is The Project Manager: Mastering the Art of Delivery. He is also the author of the best-selling Dream It, Do It, Live It which applies project management principles to achieving personal dreams.

His articles and blogs can be followed at Information about his company can be found at His books are available at bookshops and online sellers worldwide.

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