HarperCollins now offers prospective authors AUTHONOMY. This is more than a self-publishing venture. It’s a cash cow based on wannabe authors’ vanity; not on selling books.

They get writers to register at their exclusive site and gain feedback from other writers in a community of commentators and critics. Posting their writing on this corporate site is also a breeding ground for new ideas beyond agents’ reach that can be product-tested online before the publisher spends a nickel on an author. If there is a writer who goes viral, it’s on their playing field.

HarperCollins is not the only big commercial trade publishing house playing this new game with a variety of new rides and arcade games. I particularly like HarperCollins’ name for this new revenue stream: Authonomy, one letter away from autonomy and implies a system of knowledge about authors. Several mainstream publishers have discovered the market demand for self-publishing is insatiable. The real test in readers’ minds will be a publishing house’s value when its trade in vanity exceeds their literary assets. Brand dilution.

There are new small and independent presses popping up all over based on guided self-publishing services at the author’s expense. Just because an author’s manuscript isn’t accepted by a publisher doesn’t mean it is suitable for self-publishing. The book was rejected by one or more editors and publishers for reasons that matter if you plan to foot the bill for your own book. That’s why most of the self-publishing houses make even more money for their ala carte book development services. Editing, copyediting, formatting, artwork, cover design, indexing, layout, photo editing and marketing services command billable hours beyond the initial online book package. Many of these small presses lack the distribution, sales, marketing, publicity and promotions teams to make your book a financial success. An author needs to think like a publisher if they plan to self-publish. Publishers don’t go to print if the product won’t sell enough to cover the cost of its production.

If you are a writer looking to publish, my first piece of free advice is to start by identifying your customers. Who are your readers? Know your target audience. Whether you self-publish, or let Simon & Shuster and your agent handle that, you don’t start writing until you know to whom you are addressing your words.

Once you know your audience, find out their media consumption behavioral patterns and figure out how they would find your book. To convince a publisher you have a book worth printing, you need a marketing plan that starts with knowing how to pull your readers to your new book.