Publishers. Authors can't live with them and can't live without them.
Now, rather than simply complaining about the iniquities of the publishing industry, disgruntled writers are rushing to self-publish. They have lately arrogated to themselves the name "indie" publishers which correctly belongs to legitimate publishers like Poisoned Pen Press, which are not merely subsidiaries of the huge corporate conglomerates that control most of the entertainment industry.
Mary and I don't often talk about our publisher Poisoned Pen Press (PPP as we refer to them). I know that when I read a book I don't care who put it out. However, if it weren't for the efforts of the good folks in Scottsdale, Arizona, I wouldn't be talking to you right now since you probably would never have seen the mystery novels Mary and I write.
I think the idea that self-publishing is a good answer for so many authors is wrong. We hear about wild successes like Amanda Hocking and E. L. James but how many runaway self-published bestsellers are there from authors who are not young and Internet savvy? Building a social media presence seems more important than writing ability. The former certainly not our forte.
One of the most important things PPP does for us is alert readers and booksellers to our work, by sending out review copies for example. Next, the press makes sure those who might be interested can get hold of the books. A complicated task. PPP books are distributed by Ingram Publisher Services, and are available through wholesalers including Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Brodart. Different wholesalers can reach different markets. Baker & Taylor, for example, is responsible for our books being in hundreds of libraries.
A publisher takes care of all the details, from buying that ISBN number you see on all commercially released books, to formatting our novels for Kindle, Nook and all the other electronic flavors I can't even keep track of. PPP has the books printed, and digitized, and even recorded. They appear in hardcover, trade paperback, large print, numerous e-versions and, for the last few, in audio.
PPP also edits our work rather than sending us out into public with dirt on our chins. Even after Mary and I assiduously rewrote and copy-edited the newest novel our editor, Annette, found a number of, shall we say, infelicities. You simply cannot edit your own words. They are too familiar.
Then there are the covers...PPP's production guy, Pete, discussed what we wanted, suggested an artist, whose work we loved, then sketched out a design based mostly on the title, a big trend today, but one I wasn't aware of until he pointed it out. Sure, we could have done our own cover. And as cover designers...well, we're good writers.
If you're with a publisher, professionals do everything but the writing for you. If you self-publish you either have to pay professionals or do things which are outside your expertise -- and probably do them poorly.
There's a lot more PPP does, for instance publicizing its books in various ways, such as attending trade shows and offering writers advice and support on promotional efforts. No doubt there are plenty of services I've forgotten or don't even know about.
Sure, there are novels and circumstances where self-publishing is appropriate but despite what you might read on the Internet lately, with rare exceptions, publishers -- including real independent publishers -- remain as important to writers as ever.