Sorting Through the Book Publishing Maze

I received an email from a puppy-mill Internet publisher this morning trying to interest me in publishing with them.

Granted, puppy-mill publisher isn’t an official book publishing industry term, but it’s my term for those publishers who publish just about anything sent into them.

They like to sell the dream of being published (rather than the business it really is), and they start out with low prices that include

  • someone who will talk with you about your project (aka one-on-one author support or representative)
  • a discount on books you purchase from them
  • a book cover (I wonder if you know most covers from puppy-mill publishers are template and the design remains the property of the publisher)
  • an ISBN (which every book needs if you intend to sell it commerically somewhere other than your own website or trunk of your car)
  • world-wide book distribution (isn’t that called a website?)
  • interior formatting (again, typically done in template and the design belongs to the publisher, not the author)
  • digital printing (I agree digital printing is much improved, but it’s still done on a photocopier on steriods and most quality books are still printed using offset printing)
  • author sets retail price
  • publishing house pays  you “royalties” on books you pay to print (which seems odd–if you own the copyright on the book and pay to produce it, why is the publishing house keeping some of your money and expecting you to be happy to get what’s left after their cut and they call that a royalty?)

Of course, you’ll note they’ll have to upsell you if you want editing, proofreading, LCCN (Library of Congress Control Number)–just a few things you might like to have if you’re putting your name on a book and you want that book to be professionally published.


According to the Independent Book Publisher’s Association, to be self-published, you must own the publishing company. If you do not own the publishing company, you are not self-published. Yet, the puppy-mill publishers continue to use the term, perhaps hoping potential authors will feel they won’t have to dig deeply into the offering–they already know what it is.

Unfortunately, most authors don’t.

Vanity Press

Everyone knows that a vanity press should be avoided with every fiber of one’s being. But what’s the definition of a vanity press? A vanity press is one that publishes anything sent to them–no discernment (and, in most cases, no improvement either). If you’re willing to pay, you’re published!

Subsidy Press

Subsidy presses typically make all orders come through them, so they get a piece of the action on every order. They hold your inventory and pay you “royalties” on books you’ve already paid to produce.

Subsidy presses became synonymous with vanity presses a few years ago, so now almost  every one calls themselves “self-publishers.”

Equity Publisher

We at Expert Publishing struggled with how to label our publishing house.

We don’t publish everything (we publish business, self-help, and inspiration).

We are proud of the books we publish (our name is on the book too, after all), and we use professional designers who do original (not template) designs. We use book editors. We proofread. We do both offset printing and digital printing.

We don’t pay royalties because we believe that when our authors pay for publication, they automatically own their inventory and should keep the money when they sell books. That’s a lot better than royalties.

Since we didn’t fit self-publishing, vanity publishing, or subsidy publishing, we needed a new term. We selected the term equity publishing because we don’t charge extra to include books we publish in our “world-wide distribution catalog,” which you would call a website. We don’t charge extra to show books we publish at book trade shows. We even help authors set up their own accounts and don’t charge extra for that. Equity publisher seems to sum it all up.

You have so many book publishing options available to you that you really need to do your homework and select the best option for you. Of course, being published is a dream for many, but don’t let it become a nightmare.

Wherever you are in the book publishing process, I hope you’ll find this post helpful in sorting through the book publishing maze.

Happy writing.


3 Responses to “Sorting Through the Book Publishing Maze”

  1. 1 Patricia Fry February 16, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    We, here at SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network), spent some weeks, recently, batting around terms that better described “self-publishing” companies. I “grew up” like you did, Sharron, writing for publication and publishing books in the days of traditional publishers, vanity presses and true self-publishing. In fact, I established my publishing company in 1983, before it was fashionable.

    The term we came up with for these companies (who like to refer to themselves as “self-publishing” companies) is “pay-to-publish” companies. But I really like “puppy-mill publishers.” Thanks for the visual.

    Patricia Fry, Executive Director

    • 2 expertbookpublishing February 16, 2010 at 12:40 pm

      I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. The book publishing industry began changing when the big royalty publishers started gobbling each other up and reducing opportunities for authors.

      Add the changes technology provided, and all sorts of new options opened up for authors.

      It’s my hope authors do their homework. I’m not sure why puppy mill publishers think an author would want to be one of hundreds published every month by them, but that was the marketing position laid out in the email I got.

      Agan, thanks for your comment.

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