Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What the heck should we call self-publishing?

I began my professional writing career with a job on a magazine in 1970. In 1976, when Doubleday published my first book, I made the transition from "writer" to "author."

Last fall, seeking more control, more speed and more money than traditional publishers provide, I formed my own publishing company, Silver Sands Books, and then started considering myself a "self-publisher."

I think the term is just fine.

HOWEVER, others who do the same thing, or sort-of the same thing, prefer "Indie publishing," "DIY publishing," "POD publishing," "Micro publishing," "Supported self-publishing" or "Alternative publishing." Those who disapprove of the concept label all of the varieties, "vanity publishing."

Some companies that I consider "author services companies," can't decide what to call themselves.

Some years ago, 1st Books president Robert McCormack said that “Alternative publishing levels the playing field and democratizes the publishing process." In the spring of 2004, 1st Books became AuthorHouse. In the fall of that year, McCormack was replaced by a new CEO, Bryan Smith. In 2007, Smith was replaced by Kevin Weiss. AuthorHouse is now part of Author Solutions, along with iUniverse, Xlibris and other former competitors.

Instead of an "alternative publishing company," AuthorHouse now calls itself a “self publishing company” on its website, but today its parent company Author Solutions issued a press release claiming to be “the world leader in indie book publishing -- the fastest-growing segment of book publishing,”

Author Solutions has issued a powerful promotional piece titled, “The Next Indie Revolution.” They try to portray indie book publishing as the artistic heir to indie movies like Easy Rider and indie music makers like REM.

Actually, indie publishing existed before movies or compact discs existed. It just wasn’t called indie publishing.

In the four-page brochure, Author Solutions introduces YET ANOTHER NAME for what it is doing, “supported self publishing,” and tries to distinguish itself from vanity publishing.

They say, “authors have two options when choosing indie book publishing,” vanity publishing and supported self-publishing.

The paper makes some not-quite-accurate criticism about vanity press, and of course extols the virtues of its own processes.

HOWEVER, it conveniently ignores a third option for self-publishers, what I call REAL self-publishing, where the author becomes the publisher.

Author Solutions says, “for many writers, indie book publishing provides significant benefits.” While that’s certainly true, you probably won’t get those benefits if you deal with Author Solutions.

They tout CONTROL, but if you use them to prepare your books you won’t have free choice of your collaborators in design, editing and printing.

They say they have an advantage in SPEED TO MARKET. But they only compare their system to the years it may take with a traditional publisher. They can get a book out in several months, or 30 days for an extra $500. A REAL self-publisher can go from manuscript submission to book selling in a week. I’ve done it. And I didn’t pay $500 extra.

Author Solutions wants you to know that indie publishing can provide INCREASED REVENUE for the author. While this is true, they compare themselves to traditional publishers, not REAL self-publishing. The company says it pays “from 5 to 20 percent on retail sales.” A REAL self publisher can retain 50% or more of the cover price of each book sold, and can buy books for less than Author Solutions charges..

Interestingly, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal called Author House a “self publisher.” But Publishers Weekly, which probably knows more about the publishing business than the Times or the Journal, called Author House a “print-on-demand subsidy publisher.”

1 comment:

  1. Fabulous post, Michael.

    I would say it would be a fine improvement if the subsidy publishers called themselves "Indie Publishers" instead of "self-publishing" companies.

    It has always struck me as very odd that one would call themselves a self published author despite the fact that they payed someone else to publish their book. They have a curious definition of "self" if you ask me.

    "Indie," on the other hand, is a much broader term in my view. If you accept that self-publishing, micropublishing, subsidy publishing, etc are all distinct "paths-to-publishing" and should each identify themselves properly, then "Indie publishing" becomes a nice blanket term that covers them all.

    An independently published book is therefore any book not published through mainstream, traditional publishing means. It is, by definition, independent.

    So, In that spirit, I don't think it would be inaccurate for AuthorsHouse (of who I am no fan) to call themselves a subsidy publisher, and an indie publisher. Any more than it would be inaccurate for you to call yourself a self-publisher and an indie publisher.

    A horse and a donkey are both mammals. But a donkey that calls himself a horse is nothing more than an ass.

    Brad Grochowski