Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 30, 2011

Four Key Self-Publishing Categories

Jane Friedman is the former publisher and editorial director of Writer’s Digest, she is an industry authority on commercial, literary, and emerging forms of publishing.   Currently, Jane serves as a visiting professor of e-media at the University of Cincinnati, and is a contributing editor to Writer’s Digest.

Since 2008, she’s offered advice for writers at her award-winning blog, There Are No Rules. She is the author of the Beginning Writer’s Answer Book and is working on a new book for writers, forthcoming in 2012.

Here is what Jane has to say on this topic:

It’s becoming more difficult to explain the options available not just because there ARE more options, but because there are subtle shades of differences between the options that aren’t immediately clear or apparent—even to people inside the industry.

With this post, I hope to establish some categories to help us talk about the different options now available.

First, let me emphasize: There is no one-size-fits-all self-publishing option. It all depends on your goals, your skill level, and the audience you’re trying to reach.

I would classify most self-publishing options into these 4 categories:

  1. Print-on-Demand (POD) “Full Service”
  2. Print-on-Demand (POD) “Free Service”
  3. E-Book Single Channel
  4. E-Book Multiple Channel

1. Print-on-Demand (POD) “Full Service”
This is the self-publishing option that became very popular in the early 2000s, because it made self-publishing more affordable than ever. Print-on-demand technology allowed for books to be printed one at a time, only after an order was placed, avoiding the necessity for authors to pay for a traditional print run that would most likely sit in a warehouse somewhere, unsold.

There were many players in this arena at first, but consolidation took hold, and AuthorHouse bought up the key players but retained their branding, including iUniverse, Xlibris, and Trafford.

AuthorHouse is now seeking partnerships with traditional publishers to form branded self-publishing imprints that they service. This has happened so far with Thomas Nelson’s West Bow, Harlequin’s Horizons, Hay House, Writer’s Digest’s Abbott Press, and also, just recently, Berrett-Koehler.

Key characteristics of this option

  • Highest priced option for self-publishing since you’re paying for “full service” publishing, which usually includes solid customer service. For better service (e.g., content editing or copyediting), you have to pay for a higher priced package. It can cost thousands of dollars, or hundreds, depending on the package you choose.
  • You have to do nothing, aside from hand over your Microsoft Word document and write a check.
  • You have very little control over pricing. (The common complaint is that you can’t price to reasonably compete against a traditionally published paperback.)
  • You are responsible for all marketing, though of course you can pay for a marketing package that may or may not be helpful in selling books.
  • You usually receive the lowest royalty of all options covered here, but it’s still a higher royalty than what a traditional publisher would pay.

2. Print-on-Demand “Free Service”
There are some print-on-demand services that will charge you very little (and who often advertise “free” versions of the service) as long as you do all the work.

Like full service companies, they do offer “package deals” that help you with cover design, interior design, etc. But you can avoid these services and pay a very low fee if you do the work yourself.

Key characteristics of this option

  • Similar to above—but you buy only the services you need, either by the package or a la carte; you can save money if you don’t need the “full service” POD option. Again, it can cost thousands of dollars, or hundreds, depending on the package you choose.
  • You usually receive a lower royalty than other options covered here (with exception of “full service”), but it’s still a higher royalty than what a traditional publisher would pay.

Here is an overview of these first two options and the companies affiliated with each. Please note: This is NOT an exhaustive list; it’s merely to help you understand where I would place some of the major players.

I’ve listed Lightning Source in its own corner, because it is not a self-publishing service, but can be effectively used by self-publishing authors. Lightning Source is used by traditional publishers to produce POD books.

If you have the skill and ability to act like a publishing professional—that is, act as a BUSINESS—this can be the cheapest option and highest royalty option for producing a print-on-demand book, and you would avoid any connection or branding with a known self-publishing service company.

3. E-Book Single Channel  –  To Read the Rest Click This Link

Just remember, do your homework and don’t jump into anything until you do.  The first thing you write is not something you want to put out for the public.  First impressions are important.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Starting to sound tempting . . .


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