Self-Publishing vs. Using a “Self-Publishing Company”

You’ve just spent a good chunk of your life writing your book-to-be. You have decided against submitting it to agents and established publishing houses (which may not be a good decision, but that’s another topic), and you’re now looking for the best way to self-publish. And let’s assume that widely dispersing your message, fame and/or fortune are among your goals.

First, let’s clear up some confusion. If you buy the ISBN from RR Bowker (or your country’s ISBN Agent), you’re self-publishing. Otherwise, you’re using a vanity press. It doesn’t matter that they call themselves a “self-publishing company,” or a “POD publisher.” It’s still the latest version of the vanity press.

Second, let’s put a stake through the heart of another common misconception: you do not need a “POD publisher” to use POD printing. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of POD printers who will happily print your correctly formatted manuscript as a book for a far lower cost.

So, one of the reasons to self-publish, instead of using a new-style vanity press is a lower printing cost. And, of course, if your book takes off, you can always switch to an offset run.

But wait, the vanity press probably tells you that you can terminate the contract at any time. So you think that if your book takes off you could still go offset? Nope. You see, most vanity presses do the design work on the text and the cover. And they own those designs. Even if they do give you the rights to the designs, they still own the ISBN. And that they can’t give you.

The first few digits in ISBNs identify the publisher of the book. You can’t transfer those numbers, and if you tried, the old publisher would still get all the orders, all the payments and all the liability for your book. And that’s a mess.

So you buy a new ISBN for the new edition — and lose all the sales momentum. The ISBN might as well be the book as far as bookstores and Amazon listings, etc. are concerned.

And here’s the real kicker: everyone from the people who select books for stocking in the bookstores, to reviewers, to librarians — that is, everyone between you and your readers — knows the major vanity press imprints. And they look elsewhere for quality. Even if you do put out a quality product through one of these imprints, that fact is unlikely to be noticed.

True self-published books can be produced in such a way that they can compete on an even basis with anything else in the store. It’s not easy, and there are no shortcuts, but it can be done. It is done with astonishing regularity.

The chances are very good that you already own books that were self-published, without having noticed it. Most well-published books from author-publishers will not advertise that fact.

Do I advise you to self-publish? It depends. It depends upon you, your book, your abilities and resources, and your goals. The publishing business can be addictive. You may love it so much that you quit your day job, and join our ranks. You may starve, but saving small publishers from that fate is why I’m here.

Most writers really aren’t best served by self-publishing. And doing it well takes everything you need to be published by a “big NY” house, and even more. It’s not a shortcut or an easy way out.

But, if you’re really good at self-promotion, and you have business management down pat, if your book is actually ready for primetime and it has a narrowly defined, easily found market, and if you have the money to invest in preparing it for publication, then, MAYBE, it might be a good option.

10 Responses to “Self-Publishing vs. Using a “Self-Publishing Company””

  1. LWS says:

    You say: “Second, let’s put a stake through the heart of another common misconception: you do not need a “POD publisher” to use POD printing. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of POD printers who will happily print your correctly formatted manuscript as a book for a far lower cost.”

    Question: Will these POD publishers, other than, say Lightning Source, ship copies for you to the customer?

  2. PublishingGuide says:

    The POD printers are not POD publishers. It’s a very, very important distinction, for those who want their book to make money, or to sell a significant number of copies.

    And yes, many of the printers will do one copy printing and then drop-ship to your customer. Others have a minimum order of, say, 25 copies, and will send them to only one or two locations.

    And also yes, even when the printer is doing fulfillment, the cost reduction is usually significant.

  3. Janet says:

    Thank you for clearing up the ISBN for me. Now I get it!

  4. Gwen Henry says:

    I had a publisher tell me that it is not self publishing if they are doing all of the work. All I was expected to do was finance the project. Is this true?

  5. If they do the work, but you pay the bills, that’s not self-publishing. To self-publish, you need to buy the ISBN from Bowker, and do or hire people to do all the functions of a publisher (editing, design, marketing, sales, distribution, accounting, etc.).

  6. Ava Green says:

    i am taking tutorial about self-publishing because it is also a good way of making money.*’.

    • That’s a common misconception.

      Self-publishing is a very high risk way of putting your money to work. And worse, the returns on investment are likely to be far, far lower than you would get in most other industries.

      In other words: you’ll work harder than you would if you went a more traditional route, and you’ll earn less.

      If you’re in it for the money, spend your effort on getting published traditionally.

  7. Graig Knerr says:

    Thanks for the info on Self-Publishing vs. Using a “Self-Publishing Company” The Profitable Publisher, it will likely be really beneficial.

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