Finally, I had to accept both the death of my romantic vision of publishing and the gross facts of the corporate publishing reality. With my agent's help and blessing, I found the tools and mustered the will to do things differently.
Ingram, the major book distributor, owns Lightning Source, which gives authors access to distribution channels similar to those the publishing houses get, and at reasonable prices; your book can be available for print-on-demand from any bookstore, online or off. That takes care of the physical books. Ebooks, of course, are also within any author's grasp; between Smashwords and Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, you can pretty much cover the territory. This time, I chose my own physical book's format, dimensions, and I laid out the text within the appropriate template myself. A wonderful designer I know provided the marvelous cover art. The novel is mine, soup to nuts. I feel an ownership and pride that never even teased me with my traditionally published book. From an economic standpoint, if the book sells as well as my largely-ignored traditionally published novel, I will make three times the money from it. Carroll & Graf put a $24 price tag on my first book. Consumers will be able to buy this one for less than $10.
How can you not recommend this option to authors? With today's tools, the idea of waiting for approval from the minions of a multinational sounds as lazy and self-defeating as a band that won't burn CDs until they get a major label record deal. Just as musicians have to know their way around a sound board, writers need facility with the layout and design software used to create books, the ins and outs of formatting for ebooks; they need design sense enough to guarantee that their book looks good inside and out.
We used to wait passively for the pearly gates to open and then gratefully pass our manuscripts through to hallowed ground. In music and in books, those days are gone forever. And good riddance.