Excerpt from Taking the Initiative–How Organizations Can Self-Publish Effectively
© Martin Wilcox
Publishing is changing, especially that part that focuses on text, usually books. Technological advances in production and distribution have altered how traditional publishing organizations approach their work. And cost-cutting has drastically affected the amount of development, editing, and even marketing that these organizations are willing to do. Much of the burden of doing these things has been shifted back onto the author.
The consequence of this is that many people and organizations with valuable knowledge have very little likelihood of being able to publish through traditional publishing organizations.
So the idea of self-publishing has recently gained much attention. But self-publishing by individuals is not something that can be widely successful. There are many reasons for this. An important one is that self-published works are frequently poorly edited. Authors only acquire a small amount of it at one level (copyediting or maybe just proofreading) or they don’t get any help at all, depending entirely on themselves. This is a serious shortcoming.
No writer, no matter how accomplished, can effectively edit him- or herself. There is a multitude of things that must be paid attention to in order to produce a clear and consistent text that is appropriate for a defined audience, and the author’s attention is taken up with important content issues. If the only editing done is self-editing, things will be missed and the audience will not be well served. There are, of course, authors who well understand the need for editing help and get a professional to work on their text, either by finding one themselves or through the self-publishing company; this is a sensible thing to do, but it can be expensive and hard to distinguish between good and bad editors, and it is not the same as, and can’t take the place of, the editing done by a publisher.
For publishing to be done optimally, editing must be a collaborative activity that involves a range of people. This will ensure that every editorial issue receives adequate attention.
The same point applies to other aspects of publishing, including design, marketing, and dissemination. In the large majority of cases, an author cannot effectively do these alone. And the largely automatic systems that self-publishing businesses provide to supplement the author’s work are limited and do not provide the quality of help that collaboration does.
In contrast, self-publishing by organizations is promising—under well-defined circumstances and with the right processes.
To begin with, self-publishing is especially appropriate for what I call knowledge organizations. These are organizations whose mission is to use what they know to improve society somehow—for instance, to help people accomplish necessary tasks or to fulfill a crucial need. This encompasses a wide range of organizations, commercial and not-for-profit, that conduct a variety of businesses, from consumer products to education. It also takes in organizations of all sizes, from one-person operations to places with thousands of members. But knowledge is central to them all.
Organizations are good candidates for self-publishing because they tend to have the resources necessary to conduct the range of collaborative activities necessary for effectively developing and disseminating useful content. The human resources can be already present internally or can be accessed through jobbers, freelances, or consultants, and financial resources can be applied to the latter. Certainly at present many organizations are managing multiple activities that have a claim on scarce resources, but publishing, as a mission-accomplishing activity, can have a high priority for these. And, furthermore, publishing can be a notably cost-effective way to achieve a mission.
To publish most effectively, an organization must have a person in the role of publisher: someone who understands the purpose of publication; marshals the available resources—technological, intellectual, financial, and more—in order to achieve it; and oversees the execution of its six stages (described below).