Saturday, September 4, 2010

You're Self-published, Right?

Let me start by saying this is not a rant against self-publishing. Some very successful and well-received books have been self-published and I respect that. Like every road to publication, self-pubbing has some major hurdles to overcome. I do not think it's an easy road. Self-publishing does, however, allow for some utter crap to get released along with the good and as such has a lot of people think of it in a negative light.

Recently, it's come to my attention that even amongst other writers, there is some confusion on what different types of publication entail. Today's post is my attempt to help clear up some of the confusion.

- Traditional publication: Traditionally published books are the ones you're most likely to find in your average bookstore. Odds are these authors have acquired an agent who sold their book to a publishing house, at which point it was edited by a professional editor, received professional cover art, has a marketing team behind it in some degree, etc. For most of us, this is "the dream".

  • Large houses: These are the big guns--Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, etc. These houses have a lot of money and it's likely you would probably get the widest exposure through them. However, until you hit it big and prove yourself worth the investment, you aren't going to have a huge marketing budget.

  • Small houses: There are a ton of smaller houses. Some are associated with the big guys, but others are independent. Odds are you will get more one on one attention, but since they don't have the big bucks backing them, you won't either.

- E-publishing: E-publishing is being hailed as the wave of the future. Just as most people now buy their music online, more and more consumers are purchasing digital copies of books. There are a wide variety of e-publishers out there. Some, like Carina Press, have the backing of a well-known print publisher, some (Samhain for instance) have been around for a while and are respected in the industry, some (like Decadent) are new and hoping to enter the ranks of the former with time and quality products, and some are fly-by-night groups that will be gone as quick as they came.

  • The more established and better run houses will have professional editors just like the traditional publishers. They'll also have some sort of art department and someone who handles promotion (such as getting your book out for reviews). These houses don't take everything that comes their way, and many of them have acceptance numbers not that far different from what print publishers sign from agents. In that way, they only differ from traditional publication in that they are digital only (or digital first).

  • Some e-publishers, as mentioned aren't as well-run. An author may only have cursory editing work done, the art department may not have any artistic ability, etc. And there are those that are nothing more than Vanity Presses in disguise.

- PoD: This actually has a couple of meanings in the industry.

  • Print on Demand, is a model that a lot of e-publishers (and some traditional publishers as well) utilize for print books. Rather than printing massive amounts of stock and storing them, they print as books are ordered.

  • Publish on Demand is also known as vanity publishing. This is the sort of self-publishing that tends to turn out those books that give all the others a bad name...but it also results in some legitimately worthy offerings as well. At this stage, it all depends on the author.

- Self-publishing: This is when everything except the actual printing of the book is in the author's hands. It is up to them whether or not to hire an editor (and what kind of quality they get). The same can be said for cover art and promotion.  There are several ways to self-publish, and I don't know the ins and outs of them at all, so I'll leave that for someone who knows better than I to explain.

That's my breakdown as simply as I can put it. As I said, I don't write this to judge anyone's path, rather to illuminate those who may not know the difference between their options. Do you have opinions on what's out there? And did I miss anything important?


  1. There are so many choices for authors these days, it's nice to see it broken down like this. Thanks, Sel!

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Danielle La Paglia and Publisher Guide, Seleste deLaney. Seleste deLaney said: So that means you're self-published, right? [...]

  3. Thanks! I'm just starting the process of learning to write for something other than school. I don't know that I'll ever try to get published, but the thought appeals to me. I have so much to learn before I take that plunge. It's really great to get info from those who have already gone through that process.

  4. Great post--something we can refer people to for a long time to come when they have questions.

  5. Nice breakdown of the publishing industry and the methods of publishing available. It's all good to know and you seem very well informed. Thanks for sharing this with us. :)

  6. Hey Sel,
    To be honest I get a few people who've self published try to get me to review thier titles and more often than not, it's the bad stuff that I get.

    These day's I tend to refuse unless I know the person concerned, ie OWG members, they've got a proven track record and whilst they haven't scored the big time yet, they have got the skill necessary to make it.

    It's always good to see clear, concise explanations of what's what as it offers people so many avenues to go down, the key secret however is to find someone reputable that won't just publish anything. All in, a great post and thanks for bringing it to people's attentions.

  7. That was a useful, interesting post. Thank you.

  8. That's a good outline.

    Some reputable small presses work very hard for their writers. They don't have big budgets but do try to get their books reviewed by major publications and occasionaly that generates enough interest to push a book up the sales ladder and into national prominence.

    Larger publishers tend NOT to spread their publicity money evenly, but instead concentrate on what they hope are the sure winners, so, sometimes midlist writers get little help. Even if a writer has a large publisher, s/he may have to do tons of self-publicity.

  9. Good points, Diane. I believe one of the Hugo winners this year came from Nightshade books, so smaller presses can definitely do great things :)

  10. Sometimes people traditionally published don't seem to like self-published writers, and bash them. Sometimes self-published writers bash published writers. I guess you get asses on both sides of the fence.

    This was a fantastic blog post (imo) because there was no nastiness in it at all, and none in the comments either. Sometimes you find a post is well written, but in the comments it goes to Hell.

    There are a lot of paths, and all of them are valid. There is a lot of quality self-published stuff out there. Soon mine will be added to it, and I hope others think it is quality, too. :)


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