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Patchett: 'Authors must work with trade'

Orange Prize-winner Ann Patchett has warned that authors who decide to shun traditional publishing deals and instead use self-publishing channels to “cut out the middle man” are turning their back on vital publishing services they really need.

Patchett, who has been published in the UK by Bloomsbury and HarperCollins, has penned an essay, The Bookshop Strikes Back, about her experiences of setting up her Nashville bookshop Parnassus Books, which is being sold exclusively through independent bookshops as part of Independent Booksellers Week (29th June-6th July).

Patchett told The Bookseller that authors should become more involved in the industry and take greater responsibility as part of a wider ecosystem, just as book-buyers should think twice about purchasing through the cheapest channel, like Amazon, if it means they might lose their local bookshop. She also said authors who shunned traditional publishing deals in favour of self-publishing, thinking they would be able to earn more money, should think carefully about the step.

“If you had asked me two years ago, I would not have thought it was my responsibility. But I do think authors need to get involved with all sort of aspects of publishing and health of the publishing industry,” she said. “This is not every man working for themselves, we need to think and work as a business. Authors have been protected for a long time, we are very well cared for, but we need to think about our other partners, from bookshops to publishing and self-publishing.”

Regarding self-publishing, she added: “There are people who want to put books on Amazon because they cannot get publishing deals and that is understandable. But there are some authors who could get published in the mainstream but because they are trying to make more money, they think the best way is to self publish. They are cutting out the middle man whose services they really need, such as the editor and the publicist.”

Kerry Wilkinson, who was snapped up in a traditional publishing deal by Pan Macmillan after first self-publishing on Amazon’s KDP platform, agreed that if authors forego a traditional publisher, they also forego the associated benefits. But, he said: “Self-publishing is as much a lottery as traditional publishing. Each has benefits, each has pitfalls. I think the vast majority of people who self-publish do so because they don’t see any alternative way into publishing. Even if you find yourself an agent and get a publisher on board—which is hard enough—there’s still no guarantee of success.”

Kate Pool, deputy chief executive of the Society of Authors, said both the question of authors becoming more involved in the publishing industry and the services traditional publishers provide were complex issues.

And she counselled against authors sidelining their writing. “Being a sought-after novelist also requires time and skill—and I for one hope that her bookselling activities do not detract from Ann’s ability to continue writing.”

But Jonny Geller, m.d. of literary agency Curtis Brown, said: “I’ve been trying to champion the idea of authors being central for a long time. Lots of publishers are moving towards that, but it has to be more than just helping out with social media, it has to be more central. Authors are getting better at it, and the success of some self-published authors has shown it can be done.”