A ‘red-letter’ day … two posts, primarily because I couldn’t resist…
A continuing argument within the world of self publishing is creating a definition of what exactly self publishing means… I received an email newsletter today that used the Wikipedia definition. The newsletter made the statement, “Wikipedia defines self publishing as ” the publishing of books and other media by the authors of those works, rather than by established, third-party publishers”. We agree. Self publishing does not mean that you sign a contract with a subsidy publisher, vanity press or any other type of publishing “service”.”
I’ve always expressed wonder at the furor over who-did-what-to-which-part-of-the-process in our industry… Why does it matter whether or not an author hires out each individual part of the publishing process to different resources or if they hire a company to manage all aspects of the publishing process? Perhaps a little-known secret of the traditional publishing world is that most ‘publishers’ don’t actually perform many functions of the publishing process themselves. Prentice-Hall, Harper Collins, McGraw-Hill, John Wiley, Random House and pretty much every other publisher hire publishing services to acquire, design, edit and produce their books. This isn’t a problem for the publishers – it’s simply smart business. Focus on your strengths (for publishers it is typically marketing and selling books) and outsource the other functions to experts. Most often, the process is most efficient when multiple tasks are accomplished by one single resource – hence the prevalence of publishing services companies (also called ‘book packagers’, ‘production services’, ‘prepress houses’ etc) in the traditional world of publishing. It doesn’t make the publisher any less of a publisher – it just makes them smarter business people, and often creates better product.
The newsletter went on to say that “Quality of product is a huge advantage of true self publishing. Experienced book buyers can spot a publishing service book a mile away. They have a “cookie cutter” look, barely acceptable design and inferior quality of editing. Media personnel immediately dismiss such books and volume buyers will not even open the cover. Those professionals place their reputations on the line when selling books, so they look for superior quality and good perceived value (great quality for a good price).”
In many ways I agree with the statement – at least that quality of a self published book is required for any level of success, and that a cookie cutter look, poor design or inferior editing will get a product immediately dismissed. However, poor quality is not synonymous with ‘publishing service’ product – it has been (and in many cases still is…) synonymous with self published books. Every author should insist on fantastic quality – from the edit to the design to the printing – no matter WHO produces the book. And, these days, that quality should be expected from anyone who works on your book – as a matter of fact, if you actually take some time to look at books produced by many of the large ‘self publishing’ companies you will in fact find that their quality rivals that of many traditionally published works. It is often easier to get high quality by using a service – but you have to ask for and pay for those services.
I’ve used this example before – the one about building a house – you can (and some folks do) hire and manage the entire process of building their home… most of us hire a ‘general contractor’ that we expect has the expertise and relationships required to build a quality home. The same goes for your publishing services company – they are your ‘general contrator’ for the book publishing process… make sure they know what they are doing before you spend your money!