Tag Archives: mwa

Publishing Definitions

There has been a lot discussion during the last week about the new Harlequin Horizons venture. For more on this venture and the response to it, you can click below on these links for comments:

In many of the above discussions, there has oftentimes been a use of the terms e-publishing, self-publishing and vanity/subsidy publishing interchangeably, but there are vast differences between those three types of publishing. In light of this, it seems as good a time as any on this Tuesday Tip blog to distinguish between e-publishing, self-publishing and vanity/subsidy publishing.


    With e-publishing there is no monetary outlay of funds by the author. The e-publisher will do editing, create the cover and arrange for distribution of the book through their various channels. The author does not typically get an advance as is done with traditional print publishing, but will receive a royalty based on sales, usually in the neighborhood 25%-35% of either the cover or net price. The e-publishing model shares the reward between the author and the publisher, but the risk is borne by the publisher.

    Oftentimes e-publishing will allow for books that don’t fit a niche to find a home and it has proved financially sound and rewarding for some publishers and houses.


    With self-publishing, the author will pay for the printing of the book and any related design services (such as the artwork on the cover). The author will own the ISBN, copyright and be responsible for marketing, distribution and sales. The author usually keeps 100% of the sales made, so all risk and reward is with the author. Self-publishing is a riskier move. Many bookstores will not stock self-published books. While there have been some success stories (such as The Shack and The Celestine Prophecy), for every one of those success stories, I suspect there are thousands of tales about books sitting in garages or the trunks of cars. According Bowker, although more ISBNS were handed out for self-published books than for traditionally published books in 2008, the average self-published book sells less than 100 copies.

Vanity/Subsidy Publishing

    With vanity/subsidy, the author pays for “publication” of the book as contrasted to the printing and design of the book. For the fee, the vanity/subsidy publisher will provide X number of copies of the book as well as suggest marketing, editing and other services in order to achieve “publication” and make sales. In addition, the publisher may also retain a portion of the sales for offering the book through their distribution channels. For example, you may pay $600 for the basic vanity publishing package, but you may also need to pony up 50% of the either the cover or net price of each sale to the publisher. Therefore, you will only receive 50% of the cover/net price as a royalty. Please remember that the net price could be substantially less than the cover price, drastically reducing your “royalty.” For example, Amazon takes approximately 35% of the cover price as its share for listing the book, so as an author, you would only receive 50% of the 65% left from the cover price. In the vanity/subsidy publishing model, 100% of the risk is borne by the author but not 100% of the reward.

So what is an aspiring author to do? There is a difference between being published and being in print that is being blurred by today’s print on demand technology and the advent of the Internet. For starters, remember the first rule: Money should flow from the publisher to the author. Then, remember the second rule: If anyone asks you to outlay money to publish your book, seriously reconsider that “publication.” There is a reason why AAR and other organizations have a code of ethics that prohibits literary agencies from charging fees to aspiring writers. As a writer, you should consider applying that rule to any publishers that you are about to consider.