Welcome to The Publishing Pen.
This is my place to help authors along their publishing journey. I’ll share information about the many new and nuanced forms of publishing, including independent presses, hybrids, and self-publishing for those interested in paving their own way.
I am the author of the God Awful trilogy of books, starting with God Awful Loser, published in 2015, God Awful Thief, published in 2016, and the upcoming God Awful Rebel. These comedic adventures for teens and adults bring Ancient Roman gods into modern times.
As SCBWI-WI’s Indie/Self-Publishing Coordinator, I get asked (a lot), “What’s the difference between indie and self-publishing? Aren’t they interchangeable?”
The short answer is no, they are not interchangeable. The long answer is much more fluid as the publishing industry changes due to the pangs of financial and structural upheaval.
Once upon a time, indie publishing used to meant traditional publishing through a small, independent publisher, that is, not one of the Big Five houses. The small press would, like another other traditional publishers, pay an author for rights to publish their work while assuming the financial risk of publication. Today, that form of publishing, regardless of the size of the publisher, is almost universally called traditional publishing. Very few people still use the term indie publishing this way.
So what does the term indie publishing mean today? It’s now a catch-all term for the vast array of publishing options that are not traditional publishing.
Indie publishing can indeed include self-publishing, particularly for those authors who have created their own publishing houses for current and future projects. But indie publishing also encompass the wide array of options between traditional publishing and self-publishing.
An example of indie publishing is “hybrid publishing,” also called “author-assisted publishing.” Hybrid publishers often look like a traditional publishing house with a formal submission process, editorial staff, and curated lists. However, hybrid publishers do not provide the payroll. They rely on creators paying for some or all of the services involved in publishing the work in exchange for higher royalties.
SCBWI strongly advises authors to research publishers. While some hybrid publishers are well regarded, others are really predatory operations masquerading as traditional publishers. To complicate matters and add to the confusion, even some well-respected traditional publishers have created hybrid-publishing imprints through which they’ve been brokering deals for years. And recent reports indicate that literary agents are getting in on indie publishing, too. The lines blur more each day.
Self-publishing is much easier to distinguish. It is the model in which the author maintains total creative control by taking all financial risks. Self-publishers often get creative to accomplish all this. They may create a crowd-funding campaign to garner reader support and fund the production of their works (like I did for my first book). They might create their own publishing company for current and future projects (again, like I did). They may harness the power of an established publishing platform or partner with a printer to manufacture the books themselves (I chose offset printing through a manufacturer.). They might work out distribution deals (agai- oh, never mind) and schedule book tours. No matter the means to their end, self-publishers publish the work themselves and may or may not pay others with specialized skills to help them along the way so that the final product is not attached to a publisher other than themselves.
With the myriad of options out there, I can’t help but feel that we’re experiencing a golden age of publishing, one in which creators are empowered as never before to get their work out into the world and into the hands of an entertainment-loving public.
You can read more articles on indie and self-publishing in The Publishing Pen.
The question I get asked most as SCBWI-WI’s Indie/Self-Publishing Coordinator is “Is self-publishing right for me?”
I usually take a deep breath and ready myself for a long conversation because those asking are generally at the beginning of their publishing journey and are hoping for a quick overview of self-publishing. Really, though, self-publishing is a nuanced and personal decision, so let’s back up.
Ask yourself these three questions:
1) Are you done writing your story? If so, huzzah and congrats. Move on to Question 2. If not, that’s where you need to start. Finish your manuscript. Make it the best it can be. And then consider Question 2.
2) What is your goal with self-publishing? The answer to this question will oftentimes answer the question about whether self-publishing is right for you and which method is the best choice.
If you want to publish, say, a family memoir, and give out less than, say, 25 books at a family reunion, then, yes, self-publishing is right for you. A traditional publisher would clearly not want such a small and limited project.
If your goal is to have your work placed in bookstores across the country, having expended little to no energy in creating the physical book or promoting it to market, then no, self-publishing is not right for you. Although some self-published works do land a national deal eventually, there was a lot of work logged before reaching that success.
If your goal was to be traditionally published, but your manuscript hasn’t been picked up by an agent/editor/publisher, and you’ve decided you are the best person to ensure your story sees the light of day, then yes, you are a good candidate to self-publish.
These are just examples, though. Only you can decide what’s best for you.
And notice that I did not mention money (earnings). What one author considers good compensation for a year or more writing a book is peanuts in the mind of another author. And, anyway, being traditionally published doesn’t guarantee you good pay on your writing any more than being self-published does. Too many variables. So let’s consider Question 3.
3) How willing are you to learn new things? Develop new skills? Get out there to promote your work? OR how willing are you to pay someone else to do that which you can’t or aren’t willing to do?
Understand something. There’s an awful lot of self in self-publishing. And it is a long-term project. You are choosing to do the work of a traditional publisher to get your creation out into the world. You will (alone or with semi/professional help): write the manuscript, edit it, choose your publishing platform or printer, format the text and inside art, design a cover image, submit all to a printing platform, check print-runs, submit advanced copies to reviewers, finalize distribution methods for book suppliers, promote your book, and become a millionaire (Results may vary.). There is a lot to do even within this very basic list. Some publishing platforms make the process relatively easy. Other platforms require more work. Either way, to go into self-publishing with blinders on about the work involved is to be dishonest with yourself.
If, after reading these questions, you think self-publishing isn’t for you, don’t give up on your dreams. Keep writing. Keep submitting to agents and editors. Keep learning what you can about the publishing business, and keep up with news about self-publishing. The process of self-publishing gets easier every year, it seems, and more and more people are doing it. What one person can do, so can another. Your journey is your own no matter your path.
If you’ve read these questions and decided the idea of self-publishing excites you and strikes you as a fun, mind-expanding challenge, why not go for it? You can read more articles on indie and self-publishing in The Publishing Pen.
I’m proud to announce a project that I’ll be sharing here and a new title. I am now SCBWI-Wisconsin’s first Indie & Self-Publishing Coordinator. This is a new position for the Wisconsin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and I actually think it might be the first in the nation.
I’ll share information about the many new and nuanced forms of publishing, including independent presses, hybrids, and self-publishing. My goal is to provide resources, programming, and network opportunities for authors and illustrators interested in paving their own way.
You’ll see a new page on my site dedicated to this project. I hope you’ll visit The Publishing Pen for news on publishing and the writing industry.