Two of my previous books about publishing, Become a Real Self-Publisher and Stupid, Sloppy, Sleazy, made a distinction between books published by “real” or “independent” self-publishers, and books published by author services companies. Those businesses often call themselves "self-publishing companies," and are less charitably known as vanity publishers.
Those two books urge writers to avoid those companies, but they acknowledge that “real” self-publishing is not right for every author and that there may be legitimate reasons to use those companies.
I will not cease my support for “real” self-publishing, but I started re-thinking my position as the self-anointed/appointed Guardian of Language as I prepared to write what became my new book, How to Get the Most out of a Self-Publishing Company (which should be available around 8/15/10).
For the last two years, I've expended a lot of effort and a lot of words combating (or combatting) the term "self-publishing company." I frequently attacked the companies that used the label, pointing out that THE TERM MADE ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE, because no person or company can self-publish someone else.
While I still believe that, I recognize that, for better or for worse, the meanings and implications of words do change—and I can't stop the changes.
- "Radio Shack" stores aren’t shacks and they sell much more than radios.
- “Don we now our gay apparel” gets a different reaction now than when the words were written years ago.
- At one time, a "girl" could be a boy.
- "Bad" can be good.
- Fifty years ago, no one would want a mouse near his notebook.
Aaron Shepard, a widely recognized authority on self-publishing and a big help to me when I got started, criticized my "Real Self-Publisher" title for being "tendentious" (i.e., espousing a particular point of view). That's OK. The title, the book and my life are tendentious. Apparently Aaron thought that my position on the use of the "self-publishing" term was too restrictive. (BTW, Aaron's new POD for Profit is extremely good, and belongs on the bookshelf of every self-pubber who hopes to make money.)
Brent Sampson, the boss of Outskirts Press, made an effort six months ago to distinguish "self-publishing" from "self-publishing companies." Brent wrote, "Self-publishing companies are service companies who provide valuable (and convenient) services to writers for a fee. This is no different from any other service industry. For example, I can either choose to do my own taxes, or I can pay H&R Block to do them for me." That's true. However, Brent also came up with some preposterous bullshit about self-publishing companies using that term to warn—rather than to attract—potential customers.
Brent is not alone in his interpretation of "self-publishing." His competitors and their customers, and media ranging from The Wall Street Journal to Writer' Digest, agree. Much of the world has accepted "self-publishing company" for what used to be called a "vanity publisher" or a "vanity press," so there's not much point in my continuing to bang my head against an unyielding concrete wall.
THEREFORE, I will no longer debate the semantics and illogic of the term "self-publishing company"—but I will continue to let you know which of them lie, produce crappy books, overcharge their customers or do a bad job promoting books.
MAYBE, there's really not a hell of a lot of difference between a writer who hires separate designers and editors and publicists, and a writer who gets them all in a convenient package from one source.