Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Self-Publishing 101

We’re going to be exploring self- and independent publishing this month on the Children’s Book Hub, so I thought I would kick off the discussion with an overview on the various forms of publishing, especially self-publishing. In subsequent posts I’ll get more specific as to the pros and cons of each:

Traditional Commercial Publishing: A commercial publisher purchases the right to publish a book, and pays the author a percentage (typically 10%) of net sales (aka “royalty rate.”). Most also pay the author an advance against those anticipated royalties. The traditional commercial publishing house handles every aspect of editing, publication, distribution, and marketing at no cost to the author. Books are owned by the publisher and remain in the publisher’s possession until sold. The process of acquiring books for publishing at these houses is highly selective.

Self-Publishing: There are several forms of self-publishing, and for our purposes, we’ll distinguish between “self” publishing and “independent” publishing, as the two are quite different in a number of ways (not the least being the stigma that is often applied to self-publishing – but I’ll talk about that more in subsequent posts).  With self-publishing, the devil is in the details – so it’s very important to understand the differences between the various forms:

  • Vanity Publishing/Vanity Presses: A vanity publisher prints and binds a book at the author’s sole expense.  Sometimes the author maintains ownership of the rights as well as the books themselves, and retains all proceeds from sales. Sometimes the publisher claims various rights, owns the ISBN and pays the author a royalty. Adjunct services (editing, marketing, distribution) are usually minimal, or of dubious value. The fact that there is little, if any, screening or assessment process necessary for books to be published via these presses is one reason why there is often such a stigma in the industry against them (down to the fact that many bookstores and libraries will not carry vanity press publications.) Vanity presses derive their profits from the authors of the books they publish.
  • Subsidy Publishing: A subsidy publisher takes payment from an author to print and bind a book, but also contributes a portion of cost and/or provides adjunct services. Subsidy publishers are theoretically more selective. They also claim at least some rights, though the rights may be non-exclusive. Completed books and ISBN’s are the property of the publisher, and remain in the publisher’s possession until sold.  Authors receive a royalty.  True subsidy publishing today is mostly limited to specialized markets such as poetry or academic.
  • Pod (Print On Demand): Print-on-Demand, (also called POD, Short Run Printing or Print Quantity Needed/PQN) is a digital printing process which can print as few or as many books as needed — one at a time. Vanity and subsidy houses sometimes use POD printing, so these are ‘POD Publishers’. But POD in itself is printing, not publishing. Publishing is the broader process that includes printing as well as editing, typesetting, design, production, publicity, marketing, and distribution.
  • Independent Publishing: Also called small press or independent press, independent (or “indie”) publishing is a term used to describe small publishing organizations with annual sales below a certain level. This may be determined by a dollar figure (i.e. less than $50 million, after returns and discounts) or it may be determined by the number of titles published per year (usually fewer than 10).  Independent publishers are not part of large conglomerates or multinational corporations, and perhaps surprisingly, make up approximately half of the market share of the book publishing industry.  Many small presses rely on specialization in specific genres and niche markets. An increasingly popular form of self-publishing relies the independent publishing model. The author forms his or her own LLC, or small publishing company, and bears the entire cost of publication, as well as handling all marketing, distribution, storage, etc. Rather than paying for a pre-set package of services from one source, the author sub-contracts those services (such as copy-editing, layout design, cover design, indexing etc.) him or herself. All rights, the ISBN, and completed books are owned by the author (or author’s LLC), as well as all proceeds from sales.  This can be a more expensive and labor-intensive proposition at the front end, but allows the author to maintain more control, as well as all rights and sales proceeds on the back end. Independently self-published books endure less stigma within the industry, as it is assumed that the cost and labor involved in the process has necessitated the author going to some lengths to ensure quality.


9 Responses to “Self-Publishing 101”
  1. Beth says:

    This is going to be a very interesting interview on the Hub, and a very interesting series of posts on your blog, Emma.

    I can still recall the look of disgust on the face of one of the librarians I used to work with, when a faculty member would request that we order a title from a vanity press. I still have a stack of poetry booklets combining wildflower photography and poems, from an aunt’s and uncle’s venture into self-publishing (that aunt now uses — one has to have a real commitment to marketing and sales to make a go of self-publishing, it seems to me.

    I’m feeling rather silly asking this, but could you define LLC? It’s not an acronym I’ve come across before. Perhaps it is an American term?

  2. Joanna says:

    I needed this! Even Indie publishing I was a little hazy about the details and subsidy publishing I was completely ignorant about.

    Thanks, Emma.

  3. Emma says:

    Beth –
    LLC stands for Limited Liability Company. It is a US form of business partnership, or corporation, that offers its partners/members certain protection of their own personal assets against any of the company’s liabilities. I don’t believe Canada has an exact equivalent – but it’s similar to a corporation.

  4. What about packagers?

  5. Beth says:

    Thanks, Emma!

  6. Emma says:

    This post was intended to provide an overview of the forms of publishing. Packaging is a service to the publishing industry, but is generally different from publishing. Packaging can involve anything from brokering sales of manuscripts to other media such as film or television as well as publishing, or by providing access to various forms of publishing support, such as editing or layout design. Tanya, I believe your company offers packaging services – perhaps you could elaborate here on the nature of packaging from your company’s perspective?

  7. Diane says:

    Subsidy and Vanity Publishing I had no idea about before now. So thanks Emma. (most business are LLC here in NZ also)

  8. Tina Cho says:

    My question is…so when people make their own e-book, that would be considered self-publishing, correct? Depending on the specifications, it would fall into one of those categories, right?
    Thanks, Emma!

  9. Emma says:

    Yes, Tina – Self publishing is a broad umbrella encompassing many forms of publishing, but it includes ebooks. In its most basic form, self-publishing means paying for your own book to be published, whatever the format, versus having a commercial/traditional publisher finance it for you and pay you an advance against royalties.

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