Whenever I go to conferences or writer’s boards, there are usually many terms being tossed about that are confusing because I’m not sure they’re using the correct terms. For instance, when I listen to an author talk about self publishing, I think I know what they mean until they start talking about how their publisher charged them for extra edits. Then I realize it isn’t self publishing they’re talking about, but vanity, or subsidy publishing. And don’t even get me started on Print on Demand – is it a business plan or printing technology?
The same can be said for those who use the term Traditional Publishing. Ach! Read my lips: There is no such term. A Print on Demand company made it up in order to insinuate that mainstream publishing is broken, and their way of doing things is the bestest thing since the invention of the Twinkie. Beagle, bring me my vapors.
Clarity is paramount in this business. It’s what allows authors to make educated career decisions for their books. So for the sake of clarity, I thought I’d put up the most commonly confused terms so you have a complete understanding of their meaning. It could save you from making unwise decisions or confusing those you’re talking to.
Digital printing: Also mistakenly called Print on Demand, creating confusion between the technology and the publishing business model. Digital printing is cost effective at low print runs of one to nine hundred units. All publishers use this process. Trade publishers use digital printing for their ARCs [Advanced Reader Copies] and backlist titles. THIS IS NOT A PUBLISHING BUSINESS MODEL.
Print on Demand/POD: THIS IS THE PUBLISHING MODEL. Publisher pays for all up front production fees. They utilize the digital printing technology because it’s cost effective at lower runs. Nearly all of them rely on authors to do the lion’s share of promotion and marketing because they don’t have any. They have no distribution. Their books are not commonly on store shelves. They probably have a return policy for cases of author events and such, but selling to stores on too grand a scale is risky because they can’t afford returns. This business model is meant to only print what is physically ordered [and paid for]. They make most of their money by authors buying their own books. This definition refers to PODs who take any and all genres.
Now, there is another side to POD, and that has to do with the niche genres. These folks are normally in the same boat in terms of lack of distribution and lower print runs. However, they may very well be so focused on one particular niche that they have established contacts with the niche bookstores and can sell directly to them. In these cases, their money doesn’t come from their authors buying their own books, but from actual sales. There is a huge difference with these types of PODs, so make sure you understand what your book [and the POD] is – niche or mainstream.
Distribution: This does not mean Ingram and Baker & Taylor. Those folks are warehouse distributors – meaning that when a bookstore needs books for their shelves or an author event, they call Ingram or B&T to fulfill that order rather than calling the publisher.
Distribution in publishing terms means that the publisher either has their own sales teams to pitch their catalog to the genre buyers and libraries [like the big conglomerates], or they get with an independent distributor who employs their own sales teams to perform those same services. These are companies like IPG, Ingram Publishing Services, Consortium, Perseus, Midpoint, etc. They also fulfill orders when they come in, so the publisher can concentrate on what they do best.
The reason I make this important distinction is because PODs are very adept at insisting they have “distribution,” when what they really mean is that their titles are listed with Ingram and B&T’s database. They have no one out there pitching their titles. This causes MUCH confusion [and abject sadness] for new authors who don’t understand the terms and think they’re getting something they aren’t.
Vanity/Subsidy: Pay to play publishing. Depending on the type of publisher, the author may incur all the fees or be “subsidized;” the publisher assumes some financial risk as well (but not much). Many call this “self publishing,” but that is wrong because the author doesn’t control any aspect of production. Nor do they have much say in how things will be done – including their retail price, which can be slightly higher.
They also use the digital printing process for their short runs. Publishers like AuthorHouse, iUniverse charge a package fee (very large) for their “basic” publishing option. They also have all kinds of a la carte charges that are geared to separate authors from their money even faster. Extra goodies like extra editing, book return policy [which is a complete waste since bookstores still won't order these books], extra special hoo ha cover design [which is also a crock because they use the same graphics over and over again].
Now, there is another side to vanity, and those are the folks who are strictly printers. Lulu is a good example of this. Their fees are up front, they don’t do bait and switch. They are there to simply print your book. You can also have them purchase an ISBN if you intend on trying to get your book into the stores. I’ve had a couple friends use them and were very pleased with the results. I’ll just add that if you have a coffee table type book, they are lacking on the quality. But they do get the job done.
Trade publishing: also called independent trade/commercial publishing. They are like the conglomerates only they have fewer decimal points. They perform exactly as the large conglomerates do. They have distribution, experienced editing teams and cover designers, print ARCs to send to reviewers, print up cataloges, get their books on store shelves, have standard return policies. They make their money from selling to the stores and libraries.
Self publishing: The author is the publisher. He assumes every aspect of book production; he buys the ISBN, is responsible for all marketing and distribution, editing, cover design, interior design, and layout. It is his name [or his company's name] that goes on the copyright page. The sky is the limit for these folks provided they have the time and capital to pour into their book.
They can get independent distributor’s sales teams pitching their books to the genre buyers [provided they meet their requirements and have a solid promotion plan], can get trade magazine reviews, and shelf space provided their promo plan is very good. There have been a number of extremely successful books that were done by those who self pubbed.
On a personal note, I respect the heck out of these folks. Drawbacks to this venture is the lack of publishing knowledge. This route is not for the weak of heart or thin intestinal wall lining. This is a full time job.
So there it is, folks. So now when you’re talking to fellow authors, you’ll be able to make sure that what they hear is what you really meant. And YOU will be able to know exactly what you’re getting into when seeking a publisher.