Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What's in a name

Let me make one thing perfectly clear.

That's easier said than done, what with the alphabet soup of publishing these days. Publishers. Printers. Vanity presses. POD (print on demand) both the technology and the industry. iUniverse. XLibris. And so on until the bovines return.

When the words "self-publishing" are tossed about without any other context, there is no way to be sure exactly what they mean.

Just a quick review, with apologies to Miss Snark and other publishing intelligentsia:

A publisher purchases a manuscript from an author (technically, what is purchased is certain rights regarding the MS); pays to have books made from that MS (including the right to decide what they look like, from cover to typography); markets the books, and then pays the author a percentage of the money the books bring in, not counting the advance and the production costs. There's way more to it than that, but those are the bare bones of the arrangement.

A printer makes books. They don't care who pays. Offset ("real") printers print books by putting ink on paper. Digital printers print books using heat to bond toner to paper. Many people seem to feel the results of the former are technically superior to the latter. Both make extensive use of computers (digital machines) in their processing.

Print on Demand, the technology, refers to making a book only after someone has said they will buy it. Digital printing is usually used, because it's the only way to make the process economically viable.

"Vanity press" is a sticky term, because it runs the gamut from the slimiest, sleaziest elements of the business to a straight up WYSIWYG business model. Because the former elements have properly given "Vanity presses" such a lousy name, they have tried to lose the term. Bottom line definition: paying someone else to publish a book. Not print. Publish. That is, giving them all the advantages of publishing while taking on all the risks oneself. The worst, like Publish America, are full of deceptive advertising promising sure success, astronomical sales, and rich returns. iUniverse and XLibris are somewhat better. If you read the fine print, it's pretty clear what you're getting yourself into. At the other end of the spectrum is LuLu; you pay, you get your books; thanks very much. No muss, no fuss, no promises. BookLocker is somewhere in between. Despite being a POD outfit, they say they only publish 5% of submissions, rejecting manuscripts for things like "spelling and grammatical errors, poor writing, and low sales potential", and "inappropriate" or hateful content. In other words, they're very selective about whose money they will take. Their main advantage is a contract with Ingram, one of the two mega-wholesalers in the country, so their books are available through bookstores (usually by special order.)

The most useful definition of a publisher I have found is this: the one who assigns the ISBN is the publisher. Not the one who pays to have the book made. Not the one who markets the book. Not the one who dreams about the book. Usually the one who makes any money there is to be made. All the outfits mentioned above use their own ISBNs, except that BookLocker will let you use your own, if you wish (and if you have one.) ISBNs are purchased. The smallest block available is 10 for $225.

For the record: Shadow Publications is a publisher, ISBN prefix and all. Shadow owns 10 ISBNs. Shadow designed the book, paid a printer in Nebraska to make the books (though there's another guy in Gaithersburg MD that I'm looking forward to working with) and is doing all the marketing his very own fluffy little self. (That includes whipping out a copy in the bank today, showing it off to the friendly neighborhood bank manager, and leaving him with a mail order form.) Because the author is the same as the publisher, this is "Self Publishing."

Now would someone please call the mother ship to come pick up the PODs. Shadow wants nothing to do with them.

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