I’ve worked as an editor for a number of publishing companies (books and magazines) and interacted with them as a writer as well, having published books with companies big and small. It’s always struck me as curious that, in the magazine business, many “editors” do little editing at all. Some do management, some write. It always struck me as strange that in a business that uses words as its stock in trade, they were used rather haphazardly. Ah well.
In the current publishing environment (another curious term, seeing as I think it diminishes the actual value of the word and doesn’t describe the situation entirely accurately) we often hear of indie (or independent publishing) without as much discussion of what it might be independent of, beyond the major players. It might comes as a bit of a shock to newer writers, but traditional publishing isn’t about the machinations of the mergered remnants of the once vibrant book-publishing world called the Big X (plug in your own number. I hate to be too dated). Traditional publishing simply refers to a process, and one that has many variations. Most publishers, even self publishers, adhere to it in some form. Traditional publishing is nothing more or less than taking a manuscript that was written on spec or to order, editing it, creating a cover, choosing formats (not just ebook or paper, but the optimum size as well) and finding a way to go to market, to market. So when I hear talk of independent publishing or of authors keeping their independence, I always cock my ear to hear what it is they are independent of.
Publishing should (a dangerously normative word) include all those things. When it doesn’t include them all (except for the marketing bit), it isn’t tradition that is threatened, but the quality of the end product. So the author is not free of editors, or cover designers. If the author becomes the editor or cover designer, and does it correctly then, while wearing those hats, they do the same thing. It doesn’t matter that it is the same person, beyond the acknowledgement that most people should not edit their own work. Not because they aren’t inordinately talented or have the grammatical sensitivities of a giraffe, but because they will find it difficult to be objective. The point being that these necessary tasks have to get done. We are not independent of them just because we hire a freelancer any more than we expect better quality editing from someone who is “in house.” Being on staff is a circumstance, not a recommendation.
As the large, corporate publishers disappear into a miasma of complex accounting games, finger-pointing and searches for new revenue streams, they might become irrelevant, but the rest of us are no more or less independent than we were before they decided that brilliant quarterly reports beat good literature hands down. I suppose we, the small presses, the individuals who publish their books are, at least, independent of stock holder pressure and that is a good thing.