I think this is a matter of semantics. Yes, I undertake the publishing stage of the book – so if you want to be really picky then no, author isn’t actually publishing their book. However, to all intents and purposes, they have chosen to publish the book and they’ve paid to do so.
I’m going to take some other ‘self-’ examples:
Self-building. The TV schedules, in the UK at least, are flooded with programmes like Grand Designs, which feature people who, rather than buy an existing house, have taken it upon themselves to do it ‘themselves’. Now unless I’m very much mistaken, this does not mean that they have designed the houses, laid the foundations and undertaken the entire programme of works on their own. Even if they’ve been involved, there are always a variety of tradespeople involved in the different aspects. Authors who pay companies like Heddon to publish on their behalf have done far more than many self-builders in their respective, admittedly different, projects. They have written the book! A fairly vital part of the publishing process.
Self-help. As a parent of two young children, over the last few years I’ve known many people who have relied on books to help them progress through pregnancies, breast-feeding, the toddler years, and onwards. Prior to this, in my twenties, I knew many people reading books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus or books about dating. Now, regardless of your opinion on how helpful these books actually are, their widely understood intention is to help people help themselves. Readers are using them as an aid to help understand their children, support them through problems, perpetuate the gender divide . . . OK, maybe I’m giving away my own opinion there. My point is that readers of these books are using something in order to help themselves, and in the same way, authors are using companies like mine to publish their work.
When I take on a new title, I provide a range of services: editing, copy-editing, proofreading, formatting and typesetting, cover design, basic marketing and the physical act of publishing. Many self-publishing authors use third parties for the majority of these services, even if they do take on the final stage of releasing the book themselves.
For a range of reasons – lack of confidence in using online tools, lack of time, or just lack of inclination to take on the more mundane side of publishing when they could be doing something more exciting (e.g. writing), some authors choose to publish through a third party. I don’t believe that they should be looked down on because of this.
Anyway, the Oxford Dictionary definition of ‘self-publish’ is: (Of a writer) publish (a piece of one’s work) independently and at one’s own expense.
Take that, pedants!
Despite all of the above, some time ago I decided to change my branding and if you check out my website you’ll see it says ‘Heddon Publishing – for independent authors’. I just prefer the term ‘independent’ – I think it lends more credibility to what we’re doing, as people can sometimes sneer at the term ‘self-publishing’. Still, there are always people who like to put others down – let’s not give them a second thought.
However, self-published, independently published – whatever: once your book is out there, that is just the beginning. Now begins another ‘self-’ process, which is going to be key to your success. Self-promotion.
I’d be interested to hear from authors and readers, and other publishers — how much of the publishing process do you think it necessary to have done oneself to be classed as ‘self-published’ — and what constitutes ‘vanity publishing’ (a term I personally hate)?
Katharine runs Heddon Publishing from a very untidy office in her home in Shropshire, UK. She is married with two children, has a degree in Philosophy, and before embarking on building a publishing empire, worked in the IT and charity sectors. She is the author of Writing the Town Read and Looking Past.
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