The difference between these two models of publishing is pretty clear:
- Traditional publishing is based on the publishing company purchasing the rights to the author’s intellectual property (the manuscript) usually paying the author an advance on future royalties and then a small percentage of sales of the book after the advanced is earned out. The publishing company takes on the responsibilities and expenses of book production, printing, and distribution. In return for taking on the financial investment, the publisher retains most of the profits and pays the author a small (usually 15% or less) royalty.
- Self-publishing is exactly what it says. The author does the publishing on their own. Self-publishing doesn’t mean the author does all the work—in fact we highly recommend employing a Professional Author Assistant to coordinate the process as part of a professional team. The author retains all rights to the work and incurs all the costs of producing the book but also retains all the profits.
There is a third option that often is the worst of both worlds and requires the author to be extremely cautious. This option involves the author paying for a company to publish their book. There are three main types of companies that offer this type of publishing:
- Publishing services companies — These companies charge the author to publish the book, usually offering a package. The hallmark of these “publishers” is that they do not exercise any sort of editorial curating. They are not financially invested in the market success of the book since they make the majority of ther profits directly from the author. They will publish any book an author is willing to pay to publish (although they may say otherwise as an effort to stroke authors’ egos.) These companies are recognized by name in the industry and don’t have positive reputations. Because they publish books even if the quality is not up to par a quality book may be judged based on the association. Many of these companies are notorious for selling packages that seem like a good deal on the surface but will then repeatedly “up-sell” for services you need but are not included in your package. They usually advise (and sometimes require) books to be priced higher than expected in the marketplace and then charge the author 50% of the retail price to purchase their own books making a profit on sale of the books to the author. Authors pay for all the services and seldom own their files so they can’t take the book and publish it themselves later without paying to have the cover and interior layout recreated. And even though they pay for all the services, the author makes only a small percentage of profit when the books sell. While there are exceptions, most of these companies are a bad deal and verge on being predatory to authors.
- Self-publishing divisions of traditional publishers — In an effort to make a profit on all those manuscripts that are submitted but not picked up, many traditional publishers have started “self-publishing divisions.” (As a side note, almost all of these companies are operated by a company called Author Solutions which has had many lawsuits. While you may think you are working with the established publisher, you are in fact working with Author Solutions.) This is a particularly insidious approach that plays on an author’s ego and desire to have the “stamp of approval” of a traditional publisher. If you are ever approached by a “bait and switch” approach (So sorry, your book doesn’t fit our current editorial needs but we would still like to work with you in our hybrid or self-publishing arm.) RUN the other way.
- Editorially curated hybrid publishing — Although the author subsidizes the cost of editing and publishing, these companies do not publish just anyone who is willing to write the check. They typically pay higher royalties than traditional publishers. Because they maintain quality standards they have access to distribution and marketing that an author can usually get on their own. A good example of this type of publisher is She Writes Press.
So how do you know if you are talking to a reputable hybrid publishing company or a predatory vanity press? First of all, do some Google searches on the publishing company name and the words “scam” or “complaints.” Even a great company can sometimes have a hater or two, but if there are lots of listings take it seriously.