The difference between “self publishing” and a “self publishing company”

I would like to address a point of contention and misunderstanding facing the author-supported self-publishing industry today, and that is the chasm between “self-publishing” and “self-publishing companies” or what some call “vanity” publishing.  Authors who have traditionally published books or independently published their own books by doing all the work themselves often denounce “self-publishing companies” as either “vanity” publishers if they’re being nice, or “scams” if they’re feeling particularly hostile.   Neither term is accurate; although I can appreciate their point of view–they’ve worked hard to accomplish something that self-publishing companies make relatively easy, so you can’t blame them for being mad.   

Ultimately, much of the confusion comes down to semantics, and a misunderstanding of what differentiates “self-publishing” from a “self-publishing company.”  I imagine “self-publishing companies” may use the term “self-publishing” in their marketing efforts, not to anger independent self-publishers, but rather to SET THE EXPECTATIONS of their own authors.   

By labeling services as “self-publishing” there is an attempt to make it clear to the authors who use such services that their success rests largely on their own shoulders, just as it does for authors who independently self-publish. The difference is that with self-publishing companies, instead of incurring the time and effort of establishing a DBA or LLC or C-Corp or S-Corp or sole-proprietorship with the state, reviewing cover designers, seeking interior formatters, getting bids from printers, acquiring ISBNs, dealing with Ingram, dealing with fulfillment, dealing with returns, dealing with accounts receivables, dealing with taxes, etc., etc., etc., the author is incurring a service charge and having all those details taken care of for them. It’s not right for everyone, but it is right for a lot of people.

There are a growing number of companies in the “self publishing” industry.  And why not? As the traditional publishing industry continues to struggle, the self-publishing industry is growing at a steady pace and is earning more respectability daily.  The internet has made it possible for anyone to sell a book globally (on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble) and has also improved the book marketing reach of authors who leverage popular sites like YouTube and twitter. 

Very soon, traditional and bestselling authors with established names (Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, etc.) will realize they no longer need traditional publishers and will turn to “self publishing companies” for a greater stake of the profits.

“Self-publishing companies” are service companies who provide valuable (and convenient) services to writers for a fee. This is no different from any other service industry.  For example, I can either choose to do my own taxes, or I can pay H&R Block to do them for me.  I can either build my own house, or I can buy one that has been built by professionals, so I’m confident it won’t fall apart.  I can either milk my own cow, or I can go to 7-11 and buy a gallon of milk that is ready to drink.  Are people surprised that 7-11 charges money for milk? Do they get upset that 7-11 charges more money for a gallon of milk than King Soopers does?  Rational people realize that convenience costs money and that industry know-how costs money.   To suggest that a company cannot help you self-publish is like saying H&R Block cannot help you do your personal taxes. 

Do I really want to spend my valuable time doing taxes, building a house or milking a cow–all of which first requires me to LEARN how to properly do all those things?  Or would I rather calculate my own hourly rate and determine that it is more cost-effective to pay an expert to do it for me so I can spend my time doing things that are more important to me–like going to work and spending time with my family?   Self-publishing companies don’t do anything that someone who is very motivated cannot do themselves with a lot of industry knowledge, effort, resources, time, and money.   But much like doing taxes, building a house, and yes, even milking a cow, what seems easy at first is actually more complicated than you might expect — I would imagine. Personally, I don’t do my own taxes, build my own homes, OR milk cows for my own milk.  Like most people, I pay professionals to do all those things for me.

For those authors out there who have already invested their time and energy on the steep learning curve that is “self-publishing,” naturally they don’t see the benefit of using a “self-publishing company.”   But most people have better things to do, or at least, their interests lie elsewhere — most people just want to be published authors, not publishers.   

You know what they say about the lawyer who represents himself, or the doctor who has herself as a patient, right?  The same could be said for most authors. Sure, there are exceptions, but the services of “self publishing companies” are intended for the majority of writers, entrepreneurs and professionals out there who would find value in having a published book, but also value their time enough to let the professionals do it for them. And there’s nothing wrong with that.  What is wrong is wanting desperately to be published and not doing anything about it — out of fear of failure or fear of someone else telling you that you made “a wrong choice.”  The only truly wrong choice is not doing anything.  As Wayne Gretzky says, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”