There’s No Such Thing As A Self-Published Author

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

These days, it’s eminently possible for authors to publish and distribute books they’ve written themselves. Conversion and merchandising technologies are accessible enough for almost anyone to use without significant training. The costs are no longer a barrier for many. We often call writers in this category “self-published authors” but I’d like to respectfully challenge that term. There is no “self” in “self-publishing.” Creating a digital book today is rarely done by one person all alone. Self-publishing is, in fact, a team effort.

Most authors who produce and sell their own works do not work by themselves. They manage a team of professionals who each contribute unique sets of expertise to a produce the final creative product and get the word out to the public.

Though most writers can train themselves to convert their written work and learn the ins-and-outs of book marketing, there are numerous additional activities that writers cannot—and should not do themselves when creating a digital book.

Authors Are Team Managers

Authors are managers—they do not work by themselves. That’s why I’m against the label “self-published author.” The term implies that a person can successfully publish a book all alone, and that’s simply not true.

The more we use the term “self-published” the more we perpetuate the myth that one person can do it all by themselves. Too many writers dive into publishing their own books with the inaccurate assumption that it’s a one-person job. They are often badly informed about the actual amount of time, effort and managerial skill that goes into the process.

Every book that is created and distributed to the public needs professional editors, professional book production specialists, and professional marketing experts. Every successful title is the product of many hands. Here’s a partial list of some of the team members author may hire and manage in the process of getting their books ready for public distribution:

Editing

  • Conceptual Editor
  • Line Editor / Proofreader

Book Production

  • Interior Formatting Designer (Layout Design)
  • Cover Designer
  • Illustrator / Graphic Artist (if needed for graphs and/or illustrations)
  • Conversion Professional (to convert your word processed document into bug-free ebooks, paperback and print books)
  • Audiobook Professionals: Voice-over talent, audio producer or production company

Marketing And Sales

  • Digital Advertising Specialist
  • Blog Tour Organizer
  • Metadata Specialist / Advisor
  • Publicist
  • Photographer (for author headshot)
  • Social Media Specialist /Advisor
  • Accountant

The list above does not include all of the additional work authors needs to do themselves, or solicit voluntarily from their network. This work includes managing all of the sales of all book formats in all venues (which often have different reporting methods); requesting reviews; approaching bookstores, schools and libraries for readings and sales; creating and enacting marketing strategies; engaging in social media; and more.  Oh yeah, and writing the next book.

What’s the best term for this enormous role?

Self-publishing used to be called vanity publishing, a derogatory term that implies that the authors are publishing their books out of their own egotism. Describing a publication as a “vanity” project also implies that the authors themselves might the only ones who would want to read the book. These days, that term simply is not accurate.  Even best selling authors are producing and merchandising some of their books without the sponsorship of a publishing house. For example, mystery writer Stephen King, Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling (on Pottermore.com) and even Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood have all produced some of their own works.

There’s no vanity in those writers’ decision to publish outside a traditional publishing company. They chose to manage the publication of their work for many reasons, including the chance to make more money and reach more people; the chance to expand their creative boundaries; and the opportunity to be in more control of their brand.

So I’m glad that today the term “vanity publishing” seems outdated and is rarely used. But if neither “vanity publishing” nor “self-published author” are appropriate terms, what should we call authors who take control of the production and sale of their own work?

I like the term “independent publisher.” Many people use that term for individuals who have used digital technology to publish their own books. However, that’s already an established label for the wide community of publishing companies that aren’t included in the Big Six—not individual author publishers. The Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) does a great job of rallying these professionals. Since we already have a large and healthy industry of independent publishers—which are small businesses with employees dedicated to publishing other peoples’ work (as opposed to individual authors producing their own work), I respectfully accede the term “independent publisher” to them.

The IBPA supports authors as well as independent publishes, and they have thought about this terminology themselves. For their author-members, they use the term Author Publisher. Their website defines Author Publisher as someone who is “exclusively involved in publishing [their] own work (a self-published author or an author working with a hybrid publisher).”

If anyone knows what to call self-published authors, Amazon probably does. I have seen them use the term “single-author publishers.” This label is pretty accurate: a single author who is also a publisher. And, in case you’re wondering, Amazon calculates that titles from this category make up about 12% of their book sales.

I like the terms “author publisher” and “single-author publisher.” But do those terms adequately acknowledge the team-management aspects of the job? Producing books and leading promotional campaigns tasks are as complex and time-consuming as any small business’ production and sales-and-marketing programs. The fact is, an author publisher is, in actuality a small business. Any term that implies less than that runs the risk of leading newbies to underestimate the enormity of the task.

I fear that the business management portion of the job seems to go unacknowledged in that in the terms author publisher and single-author publisher. Still, those terms are better than the current default term, self-published author.  If anyone has a suggestion for a more accurate label please let us know!

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Expert Publishing Blog, Industry News
Beth Bacon

About Beth Bacon

Beth Bacon has an MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She helps organizations large and small define their brands and has a special expertise in helping authors market their books. Beth has won the The Candlewick Award for Picture Book Writing, the Marion Dane Bauer Award for Middle Grade Writing, and is a PSAMA PULSE Award Finalist for marketing.