A North American Field Guide to Publishing Options

This comes up from time to time when I’m chatting with aspiring authors, so as a public service, I present a quick-and-dirty overview of publishing options available to writers.

PUBLISHING (also known as “traditional publishing”)

  • Can be a large corporation or a small, independently owned company
  • May or may not require author to have representation through an agent
  • Covers all book production costs for the author, i.e., they do not charge the author for editing, formatting, cover art, distribution, promotion/marketing, etc.
  • Will actively facilitate getting author’s books into bookstores and libraries
  • May or may not pay an advance; author makes money through book sales, a portion of which goes to the retailer, the publisher, and the author’s agent (when applicable)
  • May or may not actively market the author’s book
  • May or may not provide support in setting up author’s website and social media presence
  • May retain certain rights to the author’s work

SELF-PUBLISHING (also known as “independent authorship”)

  • No representation by an agent necessary
  • Author covers all costs associated with the production of the book and directly pays any contractors (editor, cover artist, publicist, etc.)
  • Author is responsible for books’ distribution through online platforms and brick-and-mortar venues; self-published status may make it harder to get books into bookstores and libraries
  • No advance; author makes money through sales, a portion of which typically goes to the retailer
  • Author is responsible for all marketing, either directly or through a paid contractor
  • Author is responsible for establishing website and social media presence, either directly or through a paid contractor
  • Author retains all rights to his/her work, unless the chosen publishing platform specifies otherwise

VANITY PRESS

  • Can be a large corporation or small, independently owned business
  • Generally does not require representation by an agent
  • Sometimes presents itself as a traditional publisher when it is in fact a self-publishing platform; does so for the express purpose of enticing authors into doing business with them
  • May or may not cover costs associated with a book’s production and distribution; may require author to cover costs in full or in part
  • May or may not facilitate distribution to bookstores and libraries; may charge a fee for certain distribution services
  • Unlikely to pay advance; author makes money through book sales, a portion of which is often collected by the vanity press
  • May or may not take an active role in marketing; may charge a fee for marketing services
  • May or may not assist author in establishing website and social media presence; may charge a fee for web/social media services
  • May retain certain rights to the author’s work
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