From Academic Kids

Self-publishing is the publishing of books or other media by those who have written them.


Business aspects: author, publisher, and printer

  1. Author
  2. Publisher
  3. Printer
  4. Distributor
  5. Bookstore

In this traditional model, the publisher maintains a degree of editorial control over the content, and ordinarily makes choices about the design of the book—the layout of the text, the appearance of the cover, the bookbinding, the quality of the paper, and so on. Then, the publisher pays a printer for the initial press run, usually at least several thousand copies. The books are warehoused, again at the publisher's expense, and made available to distributors who in turn sell them to retailers. The publisher may promote the books through a catalog, distribution of free advance copies to reviewers, and other means.

The self-publishing model involves fewer entities. Perhaps most often, there are two—the author, and the printer. The author pays for the initial press run, which is often small, and stores the books, perhaps in a home or studio. In many cases the author sells the book directly to readers and other end customers, or may perhaps sell it to or offer it on consignment through retail stores.

Less often, the author prints the books themself, usually using a xerographic process or a computer printer. In some cases, books are printed on demand with no inventory kept.

The distinctive features of self-publishing are:

  • The author is also the publisher.
  • The author finances the publication out of his/her own pocket.
  • The author assumes responsibility for marketing.

Printing and production quality

Many self-published books utilize printing and binding techniques chosen for their suitability for short press runs. They may be printed with a xerographic process rather than offset printing. In many cases the lavish full-color cover used in mass-market publishing is not present. Bindings suitable for short press runs, like staples, comb bindings, or wire-obindings are often used rather than the perfect binding or signature binding typical for larger press runs.

Because professional-quality typesetting suites, such as LaTeX, are available as free software, the typesetting of a self-published book may be as good as a traditionally published work. However, these tools require some technical skill, and most self-published works are presented using a Word processor, giving less appealing results.

Authors using the lower-cost, short-run techniques are often focused on content rather than appearance. They may wish to avoid a polished appearance for reasons that have little to do with cost.

Because bookstores believe that cover appearance and content is important for successful sales, self-publishing authors that plan to distribute their books through mainstream distributors and bookstores often strive to achieve an overall appearance similar to that of the major publishing houses. This in turn mandates a larger initial press run, because of the set-up costs involved for offset press work.

Sales literature, political brochures, catalogs, church publications

There are many promotional materials, usually distributed without charge, in order to sell or persuade. Such materials include:

  • sales brochures and other marketing collateral for individual products
  • catalogs and price lists used to solicit a mail order purchase
  • annual reports, prospecti, and other literature used to communicate with a corporation's investors
  • flyers, posters, and pamphlets used to advance a political campaign
  • invitations, programs, and like material used to organize an event
  • books, magazines, and pamphlets distributed by religious organizations.

These are usually considered to fall outside the definition of self-publishing, because publication implies an intent to sell the book or other media.

Motives for self-publishing

Most often, authors choose to self-publish because their work is not of interest to a commercial publisher. Publishers must be confident of sales of several thousand copies to take on a book. An otherwise meritous book may not have this potential for any number of reasons:

  • popular topic but of interest only in a small area
  • addresses an obscure topic in which few people are interested
  • content is controversial enough that publishers do not wish to be associated with it

Occasionally an author may choose to self-publish for reasons of control. When working with a publisher, an author gives up a degree of editorial control, and has little input into the design of the book, its distribution, and its marketing.

Vanity publishing

Vanity publishing is a pejorative term used to describe the output of some small presses. It refers to the process by which a "publisher" is paid by the author to produce the book, the distinctive characteristic being that the author has little control and virtually no chance of regaining what she or he has paid to the vanity press -- the latter being a venture which makes its profits out of the author, not the reader. In his guide for would-be self-publishers, How to Publish Yourself, author Peter Finch unequivocally states that such presses are "To be avoided at all costs".


Many works now considered classic were originally self published, including the original writings of William Blake and William Morris. The fact remains that self-published works that find large audiences are rare exceptions, and are usually the result of both excellent writing and tireless promotional work by their writers.


There has also been a tradition of political self-publishing, particularly of ideas that the mainstream might consider 'fringe' or 'radical', such as anarchism, early socialist manifestos and so on. One recent example is the work of photographer Michael A. Rosen, which typically features sexual content that makes even open-minded publishers blanch; some of his books have been self-published as a result.

Fanzines are also examples of self publication, and have been particularly popular amongst science fiction and punk music audiences.

Another kind of self-publishing is web publishing. Sites can "publish" submitted works from authors for a low or almost nonexistent cost in an attempt to help them gain recognition by large publishing houses.


Most book stores do not stock self-published or vanity-published books. Particularly that is due to a belief that the standard of product may not be physically up to standard, nor do they have effective access to the marketing and distribution channels available to mainstream publishers. Most directly, however, it is due to lack of guaranteed supply of books if demand increases and problems over the calculation of profit margins. Many shops get all their books from a handful of major suppliers (e.g., Bertrams and Gardners in the United Kingdom, Eason and CMD (Columbia Mercier Distribution) is Ireland, etc.) or from major publishers. Self-publishers are seen as offering too unstable a supply, too unreliable a source, and too untrustworthy a quality to warrant carrying their material. Instead such minority interest works will tend to find a market within their own niches, being advertised in relevant magazines, sold in specialist outlets or by mail order, etc.

Self-publishers have themselves, on occasion, founded their own publishing operations. An example of this is AK Press [1] (, which began in the early 1980s in Scotland as a means for one person to produce anarchist pamphlets and fanzines, but is now a large internationally based publisher of radical books, CDs and literature, putting out work by well known figures such as Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Guy Debord, Murray Bookchin, Penny Rimbaud, Gee Vaucher, Jello Biafra and many others. The Internet opens up a world of possibilities that did not exist for many, of course, in the days of Blake, Morris, Walt Whitman, or any of a number of 18th- and 19th-century writers and poets. Unknown, underground writers can build personal webstores devoted to the sale and distribution of their short stories, chapbooks, and poetry, and reviewing and promoting the work of fellow underground artists and scribes. While enjoying a "rogue" status in the publishing community, such ventures may not be as profitable or enjoy as wide a distribution as commercial publishing ventures. However, their work can reach an audience literally as fast as e-mail, they can set their own prices, and they don't have to share any of the income they do take in with agents and publishers.

See also


External link

  • Information, rules, and entry form ( for the Writer's Digest-sponsored annual contest to recognize and promote the self-publisher and P.O.D. scribe

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