What is Self-Publishing?

With the proliferation of inexpensive “pay-for-publication” options, this has become a confusing question. Many writers believe that “self-publication” refers to any mechanism by which the writer bears the cost of publication — including subsidy electronic and print-on-demand publications. Many vendors encourage this belief, as “self-publishing” tends to sound more respectable than “subsidy publishing.”

As a traditionalist, however, I intend to stick to long-accepted distinctions between self-publishing vs. subsidy publishing. The self-published author is responsible for a much greater range of tasks (and expenses) than a subsidy-published author — and it is these additional tasks and challenges that will be addressed in this section (though subsidy-published authors will find much of value here as well).

To offer a quick and easy definition, therefore:

“Subsidy publishing” is a form of publication in which the author pays another publisherto produce a book.”Self-publishing” is a form of publication in which the author becomes the publisher of the book.

This distinction is important. When you subsidy-publish your book, “author” and “publisher” are two distinct entities. If, for example, you publish through Xlibris, Xlibris will be listed as the publisher of your book. When you self-publish, author and publisher are the same entity. Your name, or the name you’ve chosen for your “publishing house,” will be listed as the publisher of the book.

What Are Some of the Differences Between Self-Publishing and Subsidy Publishing?

At first glance, subsidy and self-publishing may appear very similar, as both involve “paying” to have your book published, and in both cases you are responsible for marketing that book. Here, however, are some key differences:

1) Control
Self-Publishing: You have complete control over every aspect of the production of your book, including interior design, graphics, typeface, cover, trim size, etc.

Subsidy Publishing: Most subsidy publishers offer standard templates for interior design, typeface, size, cover, etc. If you wish to modify any of these elements, you will generally have to pay extra (if it is permissible at all).

2) Revenues
Self-Publishing: You receive all revenues from the sales of your books. You are also able to set your own pricing and discount terms.

Subsidy Publishing: You are paid a percentage of revenues on book sales in the form of royalties. Your royalty may also be affected by where the book is sold and/or discounts offered. (For example, many POD publishers pay lower royalties on books sold through online bookstores or other locations than on books sold directly from their own website.) You may or may not be able to set the price for your book, and may have no control over discounts offered.

3) Rights
Self-publishing: You retain all rights to your book. (Self-publication, however, will generally be considered a “use” of book publishing rights; if you seek to sell your book to a commercial publisher later, the book will be considered “previously published.”)

Subsidy Publishing: Many POD and electronic subsidy publishers make few or no demands on an author’s rights. Others demand a limited grant of rights (e.g., the right to issue the book in that particular format). Others demand a variety of rights. Print subsidy publishers often demand the same rights as commercial publishers, while providing far fewer services.

4) Ownership
Self-Publishing: You own all books you produce. You may do whatever you wish with them, at no extra cost: Sell them, give them away, use them as furniture, destroy them.

Subsidy Publishing: Regardless of what you paid to produce your books, you do not own them. If you want additional copies over and above your free “author copies” (some POD companies provide only one), you must pay extra for them. If you wish to send copies to reviewers, or give copies away, you must purchase them, generally at an author’s discount of around 40%. You do not receive any royalties on books you purchase for your own use.

5) Marketing Options
Self-publishing: You can make your own decisions about marketing, including the price of your book, discounts, giveaways, special offers, group discounts, etc. As your profit margin is higher, you can afford to invest in a variety of marketing efforts (advertising, direct mail, etc.).

Subsidy Publishing: While you are often solely responsible for “promoting” your book, you may not be able to set its price, and you may not be able to offer discounts for quantity orders. This makes it virtually impossible to market your book to groups (such as professional organizations, classes, etc., who expect a quantity discount). The profits you receive from royalties are usually not high enough to cover (or justify) the expense of direct marketing efforts.

Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com and the author of more than 300 published articles. Her books on writing include Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals (Second Edition), and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests.