The Road (Not Taken) to Publication

As a follower of our blog here at Spellbound Scribes, I’m sure you’ve noticed a lot of new Scribes grace our posts. And with new writers, comes new followers! So with that in mind, I thought I would focus today’s post on one the very basics of publishing.

Now, I’m sure many of you who follow our blog are familiar with a lot of these terms/concepts, but there are still folks (including many writers) who don’t know the difference.

Lately, I’ve noticed some confusion about the various types of book publishing, even amongst writers. Or rather, there’s a lot of misinformation about the different publishing platforms, which leads to a lot of confused writers out there. So I thought I’d take a moment to clarify a few of the finer points. Think of it as a crash course in Publishing 101. Keep in mind, this is just a general overview. There are always exceptions to the rules!

First, I’m going to break it down into two types: Traditional Publishing and Indie Publishing.

Traditional Publishing:

 Big Six

These are your major publishing houses. These publishers will only consider books solicited by agents (not the author, but there are exceptions). Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Random House, and Simon & Schuster make up the Big Six, as well as all their various imprints (e.g. Knof Doubleday, Ace Books, Tor Books, etc.)

Authors who sign with any of the Big Six will receive some sort of advance and will earn royalties from sales (after they’ve earned out their advance). These publishers will manage all aspects of the book from editing, marketing, and distribution.

Small Press

These are considered smaller publishing houses, often considered independent publishers or independent press. Many publish and market books towards a niche market (sci-fi, romance, etc). Some small presses can be/are also considered small regional presses.

Just like the Big Six, small press publishers handle editing, marketing, and distribution. Agents aren’t always required for book submissions, but many may require agented requests. Some small press publishers will offer advances, but some do not.

 Indie Publishing:

Self-publishing presses (aka Vanity Press)

These are companies that masquerade as a publishing company. In short, they will ask for money in exchange for publishing services: editing, marketing, cover art, distribution, etc. Many of these sites will charge fees ranging in the hundreds and thousands to “see your book in print.” If you stumble upon a publishing site that has a section entitled “services,” “fees,” or “pricing,” click away from the website.

They will not call themselves vanity presses, but that’s what they are in a nutshell.

Much like legitimate publishers, vanity presses will request authors to sign a contract. Authors receive royalties based on book sales. Unfortunately, many authors do not make enough in royalties to recoup what they paid in services.

Self-Publishing (aka Indie Publishing/Indie Author):

These are your “do-it-yourself” authors. Indie authors are in complete control over the books they write and publish. Many hire independent contractors (cover artists, formatters, editors), but these are one time services/fees. There are other indie authors that choose to do the work themselves (formatting, cover art, etc).

Most indie authors will use a print on demand (see below) to produce print books. Ebooks are uploaded directly by the author, allowing full control, including pricing and royalties. Royalties are given to the author directly from the retail site (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, etc).

Print On Demand (not so much a publishing type, but a service used by indie authors)

These are companies that produce print-on-demand print copies. Not to be confused with vanity presses, these companies do not charge fees for their services, rather, they take a commission from each printed book “demanded” (it costs money for ink and paper!). Some companies may offer services (editing/cover art) for a fee, but it is optional. These companies are also distributors to many of the online retailers and for a minimal fee ($25 for one company) they can also make your print book available to a wider distribution network (i.e. brick and mortar bookstores or libraries).

There are no contracts with print-on-demand companies and authors can remove a book from availability at any point without penalty.

Creatspace, Lightening Source, and Lulu are some of the more popular print-on-demand companies.

Next are the Pros and Cons of each type of publishing:

 Big Six


Bragging rights…You got signed with one of the Big Six

If they like you, they will market the crap out of your book

They handle editing, cover art, marketing, distribution, etc.

Decent advance


They own the rights to your book

You can be dropped for future projects if your first book doesn’t sell

You get a small portion of royalties (unless your Patterson or King)

You have no control over editing, cover art, marketing, etc. (unless your Patterson or King)

Small Press


You signed with a publisher

They handle editing, cover art, marketing, distribution, etc.


They own the rights to your book (easier to get your rights back than with the Big Six)

You get a small portion of royalties

Little or no control over editing, cover art, marketing, etc.

Small or no advance

Vanity Press


You get to see your book in print


You may never recoup your initial ($500-$10,000) investment

You get a small portion of royalties

Indie Publishing


You get to publish your book

You have 100% control over editing, cover art, marketing, distribution, etc.

You get higher royalties

No limits to how many books you publish within a certain timeframe


The stigma attached to self-publishing

You are in charge of editing, cover art, marketing, distribution, etc. (you’re running a small business!)

I’m sure there is a lot of I didn’t cover or neglected to add, but I hope I’ve cleared up some of the confusion. Not all writers will follow the same path, and no path is better than another (well, except maybe using a vanity press), as long as we’re on the same page.

2 thoughts on “The Road (Not Taken) to Publication

  1. I think most authors will end up doing a mix of things – a Big Six contract or two, small publishers, and self-publishing.The common denominator, though, is the luck factor. Any road through publishing is paved with hard work, but some authors happen to write the right book at the right time and sell a bazillion copies, while some really great books get read by a handful of people.

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