Publishing Types

It was mentioned that not everyone who reads my blog understands all the issues surrounding the different types of publication that are available now, such as those I referred to on my post about my career path and goals.  There has also been a lot of hot debate about whether or not a writer who is in charge of their own book publication should be allowed to call his or herself “indie” (short for “independent”).  I thought I’d tackle both subjects here briefly.

Up until 2009 when e-books started becoming a viable reading option, there was a dichotomy in publishing known as “publishing” and “self-publishing”.  In those prior days, nearly everyone was published through a regular book publisher in NY. In order to be published, you first found an agent to represent you and work out a suitable contract with an editor at one of the publishing houses.  The actual publishing process with one of these publishers even now takes years. First your book is accepted, then you go through a series of revisions, line-edits, copy-edits, proofs, and so on. Often you don’t get to choose your cover artist or cover art.

Self-publishing under this system was frowned upon, mostly because self-published books were rarely professionally edited and therefore were poor in quality. Self-publishers wrote a book and published it themselves through a vanity press, so-called because vanity presses publish whatever you give them if you pay them a lot of money upfront. In those days, self-publishers basically had to hand-sell each of their books. Hardly any self-publishers made anything resembling a profit and few managed to sell to anyone but family and friends.

“Indie publishing” as a term actually meant publishing with a small press.  There wasn’t much difference between indie publishing and regular publishing except the choice of who was doing the publishing process for you, where they were located, how many titles per year they published, and how large their staff was.

Now, however, the world has changed.

To differentiate between publishing paths, a new term was coined for the path that everyone took for granted – “traditional publishing”.   At first, this term was met with hostility by the newly-called traditional publishers, but now most seem resigned to it.

The remaining two terms “indie publishing” and “self-publishing” have undergone a revolution as well.  Now small presses, the old “indie publishers”, are feeling resentful that the old “self-publishers” are stealing their title.

Here’s a suggestion on how to differentiate nowadays.

Traditional publishing: Large and small presses that do all behind-the-scenes work in publication except the actual writing.

Indie publishing: Do-it-yourself, entrepreneurial writers who hire seasoned professionals to help them edit, copy-edit, obtain cover art, and so on for their books.  Anyone who does their homework, obtains professional support, but strikes out on an alternative path to the traditional.

Self-publishing: Doing all or most tasks entirely yourself.

I should note that “indie publishing” and “self-publishing” are often used interchangeably, which might be part of the remaining stigma and problem.

Now that I’ve given you a bit of background, hop on over to Kris Rusch’s business post comparing and contrasting traditional and indie publishing.  She also explains why proponents of the two have a hard time understanding each other and getting along.

ETA: I started laughing to myself when I saw her business post this week. (I’d written and queued this post immediately after the tweet that started it all.)  She’s responding to the exact same tweet and blogpost debate as I am, draws many of the same conclusions, but has a lot more experience under her belt. Cue me amused.

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2 responses to “Publishing Types

  • Joe Vasicek

    The way I explain it is that ebooks are to publishing what mp3s were to the record industry. It’s not a 1 for 1 comparison, but it’s pretty close, and easy for people to understand. When people hear “indie,” they generally think indie bands / musicians who put out their own stuff without going through a record label, and that’s exactly what I’m doing by self-publishing.

    Also, this is completely off topic, but I’m listening to the Chakrulo right now, and it’s pretty dang freaking awesome. Do the Armenians have anything like it? Since you spent some time in the Caucasus, I figured you’d appreciate it.

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