What is a Self Publishing Company?

Every once in a while I get an e-mail from somebody who has published a book with a subsidy publisher, but insists that they are a self publisher who is using a self publishing company. I don't understand why people get so angry over the distinction, and maybe it's just my definition that a self publishing company is an author-owned publishing house with its own block of ISBN numbers. The basic job description of a self-publisher is somebody who writes a book, arranges for editing and proofreading, either designs the book interior and cover or contracts for a designer to do it, contracts with a printer for printing, contracts with a distributor for distribution, markets the books (you can't really buy marketing, though you can buy help), and optionally handles direct sales to customers.

I think the problem lies with the fact that a negative connotation is attached to subsidy published books that's absent from self-published books, simply because a buyer or a reviewer has no way of distinguishing a self publisher (my definition) from any other small publisher (i.e., any other publisher they've never heard of before). Subsidy publishers tend to get very large very quickly, or not survive, since their business model is based on the fees they charge authors, rather than selling large numbers of book. This means that all of the major subsidy publishers are known to all of the professional reviewers, buyers, magazine editors, etc. There's is another tier of subsidy publishers who try to be selective about the works they publish, insist on editing and a marketing plan, but in the end, they still end up publishing books from authors who just want to get the book published, rather than authors with a genuine drive to set up their own publishing business.

The good news is that there's room for everybody under the umbrella. The very success of the big subsidy presses means that they are making somebody happy, and the quality minded subsidy presses, while not getting rich, are provided a nice intermediate service. However, authors who want to write books for a living really only have two choices: start a genuine self publishing company or work as a trade author. I started out as a trade author and switched to self publishing my own books because it works better for me. That's an individual decision, and depends on your risk tolerance as much as anything else since you can't pay yourself an advance (unless you're incorporated and have a good accountant:-)

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