While attending a recent event, I realised there is some misconception about the types of publishing available for writers. I reread my post on The Four Types of Book Publishing and decided it was time to revise the information. In this ever-changing world of publishing, things like this will happen.
Although there may only be a thin line separating some of these types, and at times, one might overlap with another, the core of each type has its own tone and/or structure.
I also feel it’s time for self-published authors (indies, independent publishers) to define themselves in the true spirit of being independent. Being independent and self-creating means not paying someone else to take control of your project. It means doing it yourself.
Perhaps the distinction will dispel the myth of what self-publishing truly is, and perhaps it will save unsuspecting authors from falling into the pitfalls of many who have paid thousands of dollars to ‘self-publish’ and who have had horrible experiences, and some who spent the money and didn’t even receive their published books.
A traditionally published author is one who submitted their manuscript to a publishing company and was accepted.
- Author pays no money to get their book published.
- Everything from the editing and design of the book is organized, completed and paid for by the publisher.
- The publisher pays to have the books printed and marketed.
- The publisher handles sales and calculates royalties. They pay the author for the right to publish their book.
- The publisher does all the necessary paperwork to get the book registered with Library and Archives Canada. They take care of the ISBN and the CIP.
- Publishers may offer an advance to the writer before any sales are made.
- Authors can wait two or three years before their book is actually published.
- Authors—new authors particularly—have to build a platform, market their book and set up launch dates and readings. They may have to pay for this out of their own pockets.
- Authors have limited input into the publishing process.
- Authors often sign away rights to publishers to limit their future use of their property.
- If an author wants to republish their book, they cannot simply create a replica of the published book. Many aspects of the book are owned by the publishing company.
- Royalties earned by an author depends on sales. Authors get 10% or less of the profit. Royalties are paid three or four times a year, depending on the publisher.
- The publisher chooses the title of the book and the cover, not the author.
- Some traditional publishers are asking for ‘guaranteed sales’ and requesting the author to pay for X-amount of books before they agree to publish. This sounds similar to Joint Publishing.
Joint Publishing is an agreement between a writer and a company—usually a publishing company—to publish a book. This is not to be confused with self-publishing. Writers who joint-publish often do not own many aspects of their published book even if they paid to have the work completed (unless clearly stated in the contract).
- The joint-publisher’s name goes on the book; this makes it look more ‘official’ and it gives it credibility, making it look less self-published.
- A joint-publishing company—if they do what they say they’ll do—will take care of most of the grunt work for you and guide you on the right path to publish your book.
- The company may provide some marketing on their website.
- Authors retain copyright of their words (unless the contract states otherwise), and the author can immediately publish their books in other formats or through other venues.
- Although authors retain copyright of their words, they may not know until they break away from the joint-publishing company or attempt to re-publish the book themselves that they don’t own the exterior and interior designs. They will have to pay for the services a second time.
- If the company does not do what it states it will do, the author may end up paying thousands of dollars and still have no published book.
- This is essentially hiring a middle man who controls certain aspects and rights to your book. It’s usually more expensive than other methods to publish a book.
Subsidiary Publishers (or Package Publishers)
This is closely related to joint-publishers and vanity presses, but slightly different in tone. These companies are in business to make money off writers, and that’s all. They don’t care if you sell books. All they want is to sell you packages that begin around $1,000 and go up from there.
- If the company does what it says it will do, it will provide the services and guidance necessary to publish a book.
- Authors can choose from several packages, doing as little or as much as they want and hiring the company to do the rest.
- Many authors are unhappy with the services provided with these companies. Customer service is poor or nonexistent once the customer—the author—has paid for the package.
- These companies tend to up-sell to unsuspecting authors, and they often bombard their customers with phone calls and emails to encourage them to buy more.
- Many complaints found on the Internet regarding these companies state the quality of editing and design is poor.
- These companies add things to their packages that are free to authors anyway, such as ISBN in Canada and Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’.
- Authors pay more money than anticipated for just a few books. For example, with iUniverse’s cheapest package of $1,000, you get three ‘free’ softcover books. That’s $333.33 a book. Far from free. And you have to pay for shipping and handling of those books. The highest package costs $4,399 (20 ‘free’ softcover books: $219.95 a book, plus shipping and handling.)
- Many authors have learned the hard way (having fallen victim to these companies) and the easy way (learned from other author’s mistakes and reporting on those mistakes) about these companies. One person who reports on these companies is David Gaughran. Read his post Author Solutions and Friends: The Inside Story to learn more. There’s others on his blog, too, if you want to learn more about this.
They call themselves self-publishers, independent publishers and indies. Self-publishing is just that: doing it yourself or contracting out a particular job (such as illustrating, editing) to eventually own the final product. There is no middle man involved.
- The author has complete control over their book.
- A book can be written one week and published the next. There is no wait time.
- The author reaps all the royalties
- The author owns the finished product and retains copyright on the work.
- The author chooses who they want to work on their books by hiring them by contract.
- The author sets the budget for their projects and saves money on things they can do themselves.
- The author must learn how to bring all the tools together to get the book published. They ask individuals for help, but they are the driving force behind getting a book published.
- Marketing and distribution is up to the author.
- Some book stores won’t accept books by self-published authors, but this is slowly changing.
- Authors have to finance the entire publishing project themselves.
When I think of vanity publishing I think of the episode of The Waltons where John-Boy falsely believed his manuscript had been accepted by a traditional publishing company. He had no say in how the book was published, but he wasn’t worried; he thought he was going to be a published author. Then several boxes of books arrived at the corner store that also served as the post office. When John-Boy opened up one of the boxes he found an invoice stating the amount of money he had to pay for the books. Obviously he was very disappointed at being fooled.
This is vanity publishing. The writer pays to have a book published/printed with little to no input.
- All aspects of the publishing end it performed by the publisher.
- The author doesn’t have to do anything, just pay the bill and walk away with books.
- If the company does what it says it will do, the author will have a quality book to sell or give to family and friends.
- The author learns very little about the publishing end of things.
- The author will retain the copyright to their words, but not how they are displayed in the book, including exterior and interior design and cover images.
- This is an expensive venture.
For writers who want to publish only one book, this is the perfect option. Why bother to learn anything about the publishing industry if all a writer wants to do is get fifty or a hundred copies of the only book they’ll ever write to share with family and friends?
The bottom line is this: You are NOT self-publishing if you are buying packages and hiring a company to publish your book. You are ONLY self-publishing if you are the publisher, contracting out work (such as editing, formatting, cover design) and doing all the organizing yourself. This may be a hard line to draw, but I believe this is a necessary line that must be drawn to separate those who truly self-publish from those who slap down money for someone else to do the work.
It’s true that some unsuspecting authors have fallen victim to these other forms of publishing (other forms as in Joint Publishing, Vanity Publishing and Subsidiary Publishers). When they realise their mistake, they look for other options. Perhaps by drawing these lines, it will save authors new to publishing from losing their money.
NOTE: I have highlighted the following phrase in a few places: if the company does what it says it will do. I did this because that’s the deciding factor that will make the author happy or unhappy with the experience. Sadly, I’ve heard and read many stories where the company received payment but did not provide a finished book or the book was poor quality.
Revised: Five Types of Book Publishers