What is a publishing company?
With the world of publishing changing at an exponential rate there are a lot of people asking what is a publishing company? The question isn’t easy to answer. Really the definition of a publishing company falls into many different categories, so we’ll look at some of them. I’m going to answer the question as simply as possible. If you are new to publishing this will be helpful.
A publishing company is any company that will publish your work. Books have been the mainstay in the past. Manuals, textbooks, industry publications. Really book publishing companies have published it all, but with the advent of the world wide web, ultra-cheap publishing technology and ebooks, we can comfortably say that traditional book publishers are no longer publishing the majority of books.
A “traditional book publishers” is a term given to publishing companies over the last 20 years of so. The term traditional just means that it has always (or at least for a long time) been that way. Traditional book publishers usually have books sent to them by agents. They buy the books, and then they print the books. A traditional book publisher does not charge the author ANY MONEY. They might pay an advance, and they usually pay royalties to their authors.
How Traditional Book Publishing Works
So the traditional set up goes like this. You write a book. You send the book to agents (and sometimes directly to the publishing company). Either way, at this point they apply the age old term of “gatekeeper.” Really, this is a term used in publishing. It means they decide. They call the shots. They like or dislike your work. If they like it, you’re in and they publish it, if not you’re off to knock on another door. If they like the book they send you, or your agent a contract, edit the book their way, and send you around to promote the book. They do not charge any money at all. They do not charge for editing or publishing, or printing or for even driving you or flying your around the country. It’s all on their dime. Well they do take most of the money that is made from the sales of your book, and they pay you a percentage, a “royalty.”
For many many years (a few 100at least) traditional book publishers have ruled the day. They have been the big money makers in all of this. The big six are traditional publishers: Hachette, Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group/Macmillian, Penguin, HarperCollins, Random House, and Simon & Schuster. These guys were the biggest show in town for many years. But they are now being eclipsed by self-publishers.
Self publishing has been around for a very long time, 100s of years, but self-publishers were never able to compete with traditional publishers because of the cost of printing. Printing a book was always for 100s of years very very expensive. Self publishers in the old days were only able to make a few, maybe a few 100 copies of their books. They had to pay a lot of money up front to publish their titles, and then they had to work like crazy to sell all of them. It just wasn’t very efficient or lucrative most of the time, and self-publishing wasn’t a real viable option until just recently (within the last 10 years).
Now when I say that self-publishers are eclipsing traditional publishers I mean self-publishers collectively. There really isn’t one self-publisher out there who is making more money than all the traditional publishing houses, but we do see some self-published books show up now on the NY Times Bestsellers list. Those self-published titles are beating out other publishing titles, but on average traditional published books still do sell much better than self-published books. This is because the traditional publishers have the money to promote the titles.
Now I’m going to divide self-publishing up into 4 different types of publishing “houses.” You could split these up in different ways, really. There is not a real rule here as to how to look at all these companies, but I think these 4 cover all the bases well enough.
Self-published print on demand
Self-publishing no pay upfront
Keep in mind that self-publishing takes away the gatekeeper. YOU are the one who decides to publish your book. You put up the money, you promote the book, you do everything but print the book. You can print the book yourself now but the production is still very difficult and you have shipping cost and all that. So other than hand binding or buying your own print on demand machine, these 4 self-publishing categories are all that exists (as far as we know).
Here is where the bulk of real competition is coming into play with traditional publishing houses. Using services like Kindle Direct and Smashwords, writers are now publishing their books at the click of a button. The big deal here is outlet. Ebooks are a big deal if you own a kindle or an ipad or some other ebook reading hand-held. Ebook services not only produce your ebook they let you sell that ebook on their gigantic outlets, like Barns and Noble or the Ebook king Amazon. Selling your books on these services lets you compete with even the big six.
How Self-publishing Ebooks work
The way this works is that you write a book (poof that’s easy right) and then you put it in a format and send it to Amazon or Smashwords. They make your book available on their sites and they TAKE a percentage of your sales. Boom, your both making money off that book that only took your blood sweat and tears to write. Easy!
Ebook publishing is just coming into it’s own. We are in fact seeing the golden age of ebooks dawn, as we speak (or write). Isn’t it cool. It is usually the easiest form of publishing because there is no hard copy. This makes it easy because it is cheap and the shipping is really easy. Authors have made a lot of money selling ebooks, and there is much more to come.
Self-publishing print on demand
Ok, so if you want your book to be made up of more than electrons and you really want a physical copy you can go with a service like Lulu. Lulu was going great up until ebooks became a big thing. It was one of the only real competitors to traditional publishing. Although it never reached any kind of tipping point. Lulu uses print on demand technology. This means if you order a book, they PRINT IT and ship it to you. The book doesn’t exist until they have their money in hand. This is the cool technology that started to make, for the first time in 100s of years, self-publishing a real viable option for authors (before ebooks came along).
Again, the gatekeeper is gone here, but you have to pay UP FRONT. All authors, who have little money in the first place because they spend all their time writing, hate the words “money up front.” Money up front means you don’t eat or pay the gas bill, you publish a book. Makes me shiver just typing it.
How POD Works
The way this works is that you write a book quick and easy like before (right?) and you send it off to Lulu. You put it in the right format first. You pay Lulu a small fee up front to list your book with companies and an ISBN and some other services, and then you wait. Lulu waits too. Nothing happens then for awhile while you are waiting….then boom someone you know buys a book. Lulu springs into action, prints the book, ships the book, and keeps a bunch of the money from the book sale. They then send you a percentage. But your book is real, in the world, you can touch it and even sleep with it under your pillow if you have a good chiropractor (depending on the size of the book).
Vanity publishers have been around for a long time. They have probably been around since Gutenberg upgraded his printing press. When he upgraded to a newer model a buddy of his said “Hey what are you going to do with all that equipment you invented in 1400? I’ll buy it from you cheap.” Boom the vanity publisher was born. In the 1960s and 1970s vanity publishers came on the scene. They would let you pay a LARGE fee upfront to publish a bunch of books. They usually have pricing packages. They would give you a discount for the more you bought, and they usually had a minimum. So if you bought the minimum 1500 copies it would cost say $8 per copy. If you bought 5000 copies they would only charge you $6. Either way it works out to be $9000 minimum or $30,000 with the discount. Ouch, right? I always got the feeling that vanity publishers were used mostly by really wealthy guys who wanted to publish their families history and send it to public libraries.
How Vanity Publishers Work
Either way, the way this works is you write a book, quick and easy again, wink wink, and then you contact a vanity publisher. Some of these guys do exist still. Then you would say order 1500 copies, pay the money, and book the books would show up at your house (for an additional shipping fee). This process is not very efficient, and many Vanity publishers have recently gone the way of the dinosaurs.
Print on demand no fee
I’m going with the term POD no fee instead of free here only for the large commitment this type of publisher is going to ask you to put up in order to publish your book for free. There are not many of these companies around, but there is one large one, I won’t say the name. The company is a print on demand company. They print your book when someone orders it. They do not charge you up front (which is great right), but where they don’t charge you, they make up for agreements. First they are going to ask for the rights to your book. This means that you agree to give them a percentage of the sales for X (7) years. It means much more than that, but it really only matters in the fact that you have to split money with these guys. They will also set the price of your book. So when you see other books selling like crazy at $5.99 you will be stuck with whatever price tag they stick on it (usually 14.95-19.99). This will kill your chances of selling many books.
How No Fee POD Work
This is how these guys work. You give them your book. You sign over rights. They set the price. It does not cost you to publish the book. It is no fee, but they will control the price setting, and they will own the rights of the book for so many years. Every book you sell they give you a percentage. Give up your rights and your control defeats the purpose of self-publishing. They are letting you use their POD machine for rights to your book and by sticking it to your readers. If you can’t be competitive, what’s the point?
To Sum up…
So, the answer to the question what is publishing is pretty simple (kind of). A publishing company is any company that can create multiple copies of a product of written word. The options of publishing a book are much more complex. We’ve covered all the bases. Now go do more research, don’t take my word for it. Go out there and find all the options you can. Find out what is best for you, for your book, for your effort. This is just a brief overview, find out what fits your needs. In the end, I may have poked fun at the idea of the ease of writing a book, but it is not easy. It is not easy to do. It takes hard work, discipline, dedication, and heart. Now put as much time and effort into finding a publisher, and you’ll be just fine.