Is Subsidy Publishing the Same as Self-Publishing?

self-published books, books published with author services pressIf I told you to publish your blogged book with a vanity publisher you’d probably tell me I was crazy.  Yet, many of you will consider (or may be considering) doing just that and will call it self-publishing.

About now you’re probably scratching your head and trying to figure out what the heck I’m talking about…and if I’m talking to you.

I’m not going to point my finger at you in particular or at any specific companies either, some of which you might even mistakenly call “publishing” companies. I am going to explain the difference between “real” self-publishing and getting your book printed with a subsidy, or author services, press.

A subsidy press offers a variety of services to help you publish your book, such as editing and design—thus the alternate name, author services press. Previously, these types of companies were known as vanity presses. Here’s what I had to say about subsidy presses in How to Blog a Book:

Their editing services will likely be light copy or line editing; sometimes they provide developmental editing. If you use their design services you may end up with a design not as unique as you’d like. Plus, with their template cover designs, you run the risk of other books having the exact same cover image or one that’s very similar to yours. Most will publish your book under their imprint as well. This means the subsidy press’ name will appear on the bound side, or spine, of the book because they provide the ISBN. This also means you are not the publisher of record; they are.  This is fine if:

  • you don’t plan on becoming your own publishing house and running a business as a book publisher—the true meaning of self-publishing
  • you want help and hand holding every step of the way through the self-publishing process
  • you don’t want to learn how to self-publish, you just want to get your book published
  • you don’t want to hire editors, a designer, purchase an ISBN, etc.

It’s not fine, if:

  • you plan on self-publishing more than one book
  • you want to create a publishing company
  • you want to have all your books published under your imprint—your publishing company name and have that name on the spine of the book
  • you want to learn how to do everything necessary to self-publish a book or hire people to help you
  • you don’t mind hiring and managing editors and a designer, purchasing ISBNs, etc.

If you fall into the latter category, you can contract these services on your own and then go directly to a POD printer, like Lightening Source or even Amazon’s CreateSpace, and have the book printed. (BookLocker allows you to use your own ISBN number as well.) If you do the latter, you can decide on your own publishing company name and print your book under this imprint. Then this name will be printed on the book’s spine and you become the publisher of record. Now you have truly self-published your book.

Many writers mistakenly refer to subsidy publishing as self-publishing. It’s true that when you use a subsidy press you have not traditionally published your book. If you have not engaged in a do-it-yourself process (hired all the contractors yourself), you have not really self-published in the pure sense of the term.

If you use a subsidy press, don’t make the mistake of thinking you aren’t self-publishing and actually have a publisher. This misconception comes from the fact that these companies print their name on the spine of the book (like a publisher) and claim to pay “royalties,” also like a publisher. In fact, you are simply getting paid your percentage of your book sales after they take theirs (because it’s a print on demand—POD—book). Plus, you can be sure that if you paid money to have your book published, you do not have a publisher. No traditional publisher takes money from an author to publish a book (except possibly for indexing).

It is time consuming to handle all the details involved in self-publishing, which is why so many writers opt to use subsidy presses. (You should take note that subsidy presses aren’t always cheaper nor do you  always get more bang for your buck, especially when it comes to editing and design.) If becoming an indie publisher seems too hard but you do want to self-publish in the true sense of the word, you might consider some other options:

  • an assisted self-publishing service (someone who hand-holds you through the self-publishing process, hiring or directing you to subcontractors to get the job done)
  • a done-for-your service (someone who gets the entire self-publishing job done for you with their self-contractors)

These types of services can be quite pricey. If you use a reputable one, however, you do get what you pay for—a stress free experience and a high-quality book. And it’s still real self-publishing.

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  1. says

    Great piece of advice! Educating aspiring authors about their options is quite important, as proper education can help them have a better experience. We have had quite a few clients who have come to us after being “published” by an author services company, because they were disappointed in the experience. They realized only too late in the process of working with their author services company that they hadn’t truly self-published or landed a book deal. They were in some in-between land.

    True self-publishing is an amazing way to capture your part of the American dream, if that is your desire. It allows you to run a business, decide on important elements of your project, and make an impact through your work.
    Monica Carter Tagore recently posted..Book Marketing Strategies That Work

  2. Nina says

    Thank you for your comment, Monica. Yes, too many authors have a bad “self-publishing” experience because they really haven’t self-published. And for those who don’t want to do all the work, there are options. Unfortunately, they do tend to be expensive, but they are available. And really, becoming an indie publisher is not that hard, and it’s quite inexpensive these days.

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