|A Shameless Plug, recently|
I shall explain.
My book The Science of Middle-earth has been published in various forms since 2004. It was, at first, conventionally published. When the paperback went out of print it was picked up by ReAnimus Press, who also publish my fiction (they also publish Brian Clegg's YA-SF novel Xenostorm Rising.)
Now, ReAnimus is a small press, and cuts out the various middlepersons by concentrating on eBooks, and where it does printed books, they are created through Amazon's proprietary CreateSpace print-on-demand service.
However, for various perfectly ordinary reasons to do with the book's history, ReAnimus doesn't publish the e-Version of The Science of Middle-earth - that's done by my agent, who, like many agents, these days, I suspect, is picking up electronic rights of previously published books on behalf of their authors, and publishing them directly. In my case, my agency is doing it through the Amazon Kindle Select program.
One of the benefits of this program is that you are allowed to promote your e-book at a discount, or even as a giveaway, for a certain number of days in a year. If you click on this link, for example, you'll see that The Science of Middle-earth is now downloadable for free, until sometime tomorrow, as part of a promotion agreed between me and my agent as a blatant way to capitalise on the release in cinemas of The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies. Think of it as a loss-leader. Because I make peanuts from books, as a whole (I earn my living as a minor functionary at the Submerged Log Company), it sometimes works to give away books for a short period as a promotion, as a way of publicizing the book (it's not in shops, remember, so you won't see it there) in the hope of building up a larger, paying readership later.
So, as you see, there are all sorts of ways to publish, print and generally disseminate books. You can do it through a publisher, and have it sold in shops. If you have an agent, he or she can act as a publisher. You can sell electronic versions, or paperback copies by conventional means (printing books in advance, storing them in a warehouse, and distributing them to bookshops in a truck) or by print-on-demand (printing copies only when readers order them, and delivering them to their door.)
You can even publish yourself.
I do all of the above. My book The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution is published entirely conventionally, and is doing very nicely, thank you. You can buy it electronically, either as a download or as a print book, and you can buy it in the proverbial All Good Bookshops. At the other end of the scale I have self-published a children's book and a collection of short stories: you can buy them as downloads for Kindle or as paperbacks through the Lulu print-on-demand platform.
The point is that I am a real author, and all these are real books. However, when Brian very kindly tweeted that I was giving away The Science of Middle-earth
If you Kindle and haven’t downloaded your copy of Henry Gee’s Science of Middle Earth (free til 19th) do it now! http://t.co/bzZLeHHXf0he was taken to task in this fashion -
— Brian Clegg (@brianclegg) December 17, 2014
@brianclegg I know lets stop making paper books cut author pay down to suit close all bookshops oh no hang on! Lets just promote real booksI suspect that the tweeter felt that I was being exploited as an author, and downloads are some conspiracy to shut down bookshops. This is only a suspicion, however, as twitter is not the place for debating anything more complicated than playground-style spats.
— Mike Whiting (@MikeWhiting01) December 17, 2014
Blogs are arguably better venues, so in this post I'd like to thank Brian for having put up with this strange twitter exchange on my behalf; and to reassure Mike Whiting, for it is he, that I am not being exploited, and also that there are many more ways of publishing books than are dreamed of in his philosophy.