What is the Real Definition of Self Publishing?

The Brave New World of Publishing & Definition of Self Publishing

It drives me nuts, berserk, urks me; I can’t stand it; and now I can’t hold back. What am I talking about? The twisted, spun, and wildly generic use of the term, self publishing. Thrown around on the public forum, this wrongly used term is creating mass confusion in the Brave New World of Publishing. Someone needs to clear up the definition of self publishing and that someone is me. It’s not like we don’t have enough confusion in this transition between traditional book publishing and electronic publishing. Confusion of this “major player” term adds even more fuel to the blazing fire of self publishing ignorance. The other day I found myself answering a question, “What is the best print on demand service for a fiction book?” This is just one of the many questions asked that clearly demonstrates the confusion in the digital publishing world now. RECOMMENDED: Self Publishing Publishers

Clearing up the Definition of Self Publishing

I want to clear the air; and clear it up once and for all. Why listen to me? I have working in publishing, printing, and advertising, for decades, and self publishing for 5 years. I have been on the inside of the transition to digital publishing, day by day, step by step. I remember when the very first digital offset press came into being, and it was the first one. I remember when art files were produced using a typesetting machine using a phototypesetting system (the smell of that..phrew); now done by computer. I could go on but I won’t. So let’s get to the REAL means and definition of self publishing. First of all let’s define a few key related terms:

1. Fiction and non-fiction are books venues. Types of books are not tied to the type of publishing or printing used.

2. A publisher is a  role (whether a small, medium, large, or self) a project manager, not a printing service.

3. Self publishing (an accurate definition) refers to a business model, or business activity, not a type of equipment or type of company. Wikipedia defines self publishing as

4. Print on demand is a type of printing process or service often used in self publishing (but not limited to) and not equal to self publishing.

 Apple Juice and Orange Juice

These terms are key terms to understand if you want to learn the publishing process, and they do not mean the same thing. Think of apple juice and orange juice (fiction and non-fiction, autobiography, poetry, for example). These are types of juices poured into different types of containers; a juice glass, plastic glass, paper cup, travel mug, or a big, medium or small-sized glass. The same is true with different venues of books. The publisher will print a fiction book, or a non fiction book using different book sizes, page lengths, and shapes, four-color, black and white printing, with soft or hardback covers. The type of juice or book can be shaped into a choice of different containers or book formats.

The Publisher and the Self Publisher

The publisher is a role, a person or organization who directs the functions involved in creating and bringing a book to market. If we are talking apple and orange juice, the brand prepares raw fruit and transform raw material into juices. Then they bottle, label, and bring the various juices to market. These are brands such as Dole, or Minute Maid, Naked Juice (health food venue), or the local juice bar who fresh squeezes juice and serves to you personally. There are many types of juice brands. In publishing, for example, the Publisher could be Random House, Penguin, Thomas Nelson Publishing, or  DS Publishing. DS Publishing is my small publishing company, and is not a big or well-known brand, and equivalent to the example of the local juice bar. Both the local juice bar and Dole direct the flow of preparing raw material (fruit) and bringing the bottled or served juice to you. It is the publisher’s to direct the preparing of the creative works (raw material) into a printed book and then to bookstore market. They do the same role. The juice companies buy and prepare the fruit, and serve it to you in a container. The publisher signs the talent, brings the creative work to a  printed form, and then gets it to the hands of the readers. The self publisher is a publisher and is like the juice bar. They are both smaller and more local, but still perform the same function as the big brand. In the case of the self publisher the raw material is the works of the publisher, and in the case of the local fresh juice bar, the fruit used may be fruit grown in their organic orchard of fruit from a local field. The only real difference in function between a publisher and a self publisher is that the self publisher is also a talent scout, looking for creative works to turn into a book. The self publisher already owns the creative works; and therefore does not need to look for the raw materials to create the published books.

The Publisher’s Different Duties

Self Publishing Duties

Self Publishing Duties

The publisher, or self publisher first finds or produces the creative works. From there the following pieces in chronological order must be outsourced or done by the publisher. This varies by publisher:

1. Creative Works Contract: Obtain the creative works and initiate a contract with the author, covering copyrights and royalties, and the advance. In the case of self-publishing no legal work or contract is necessary. The self-publisher will own all the rights.

2. Content Edit. This edit will be sure the manuscript is organized, consistent, and understandable to the expecting reading audience.

3. Interior Design and Layout. A graphic artist will prepare the manuscript in the size, shape, and design according to printers specifications.

4. Copy Edit. the copy editor is will make the manuscript consistent with punctuation, headers, subheads, and spacing.

5. Proofreading. A proofreader will check for misspellings

6. Cover Design.  A graphic artist will create a cover to printers specifications

7. Select Printer. Publisher selects the printer, how many copies printed, or print on demand service, and uploads the final digital file to the printer.

8. Proof. Proof is reviewed by publisher and author, and corrections are made to the art file and resubmitted to the printer

9. ISBN  number and title assigned. Book is printed, and delivered to publisher by selected printer.

10. Publisher selects distribution sales channels for the book. This may include Kindle, Amazon, Independent and major booksellers.

These steps are highly oversimplified, but this is the basic role of the publisher or self publisher.

Print on Demand Process

Print on demand is simply a digital printing process. See this 2-minute video to get a more thorough understanding of print on demand. Print on demand companies are calling themselves self-publishing companies. They also say their services are free. Technically this is true, but not really. See our article about the Real Cost of  Self Publishing. This is a spin to attract customers. The person who writes the book and moves it through the publishing process is the self-publisher. These print on demand companies offer incredible and miraculous printing services, but they are not the “self” who writes (or even publishes) your book.

The Confusion Comes

Multitudes of new printing companies who use print on demand printing method have entered the playing field in the past 10 years. Equating print on demand technology loosely with self-publishing, they call themselves self publishing companies. However if you are publishing your own book, you are really the “self”  of the publishing company, not them; they are just the printer. You publish your book, as you are the one responsible for subcontracting and preparing the book cover, the interior,  and uploading it to the printers for publication. Sometimes these print on demand companies buy an ISBN number and assign it to your book; so in that light they consider themselves the (self) publisher. That is a technicality; because they are simply printing your book, . In reality only the author can do the self-publishing. Even Wikipedia agrees with me about the definition of self publishing as follows:

Self-publishing is the publication of any book or other media by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher. A self-published physical book is said to be privately printed. The author is responsible and in control of entire process including design (cover/interior), formats, price, distribution, marketing & PR.

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About Deborah S. Nelson