4 Pathways to Publishing: DIY, Assisted, Pro-Team, and Subsidy Options

POSTED ON Mar 9, 2015

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

Home > Blog > Self-Publishing > 4 Pathways to Publishing: DIY, Assisted, Pro-Team, and Subsidy Options

I was honored to be asked to speak today at a half-day workshop run by Redwood Writers, a branch of the California Writers Club.

The topic was Pathways to Publication, and here’s how the workshop was described:

“Authors who decide to publish their own books face a dizzying array of choices. In today’s digital publishing environment, it can be difficult to determine which is the best path for you and your book. Come learn the main pathways authors are using today to get their books into print and digital formats. We’ll walk through many of the decisions self-publishers need to make to publish efficiently and avoid the frustration and “analysis paralysis” that stops too many in their tracks.”

As part of this presentation, I realized attendees could use some guidelines on how to deal with all the actors they may run into once they begin looking for help from professionals or “self-publishing companies” (bit of an oxymoron, yes?).

I think it’s good to review these approaches once in a while. There are many new operators in this field with new business ideas and it can be hard to tell one from another.

When you search for help to get your book published, you’ll run into 4 distinct options for how to proceed. Although they are certainly not all “self-publishing,” each is used by lots of authors.

Here they are with my “show notes” of important points to make during the presentation.

DIY self-publishing

Where the author sets out to publish her own books, and to do all the work on her own. Many authors with limited budgets walk this path, with more or less success. It can be time consuming and frustrating, but along the way you’ll probably learn a lot. Some key points:

  • You get total control, but you have to do everything yourself. This is only good for “hobbyists,” or if you really have no budget at all.
  • You will have to accept that your book will be unedited (or self-edited) and designed as an amateur product.
  • DIY works best for books that are direct to digital since print is much more challenging to produce.
  • You may miss efficiencies or economies that professionals know how to use in either editing or design and production.

Pro-team publishing

I coined this term a few years ago to give a name to the practice of self-publishing authors hiring book publishing professionals to complete many of the tasks handled by the staff of a publishing company. While these authors may take on some of the publishing chores themselves, they have a budget that will allow for professional help and the ability to negotiate with and hire freelancers:

  • You’ll contract with professionals for editing, design and marketing.
  • It’s collaborative—you need to control costs closely to stay in budget.
  • This is a more expensive option, but necessary if you think you have a book that will sell in bookstores nationally.
  • The only way to get a professional-level book because professionals will produce it.
  • Your team might include developmental and copyeditors, book and cover designers, illustrators, proofreaders, indexers, publicity, social media, and marketing folk.

Subsidy publishing

This is where you turn your manuscript—and a large sum of money—over to a “pay to play” publisher and they do everything. What most authors new to the self-publishing scene don’t realize is that these companies are in business to sell books and services to authors. Period. It’s not self-publishing, since the subsidy company will be the publisher.

Don’t use this option if you want to sell your books, or if you hope to go on to publish more. The only possible reason to use a subsidy publisher is if you have no desire to get involved in any way with the preparation and publication of the book, and if you plan to only buy copies of the book for your own use. Otherwise, forget it.

The problems with subsidy:

  • You lose control of the project’s timeline
  • You cannot control the price of your book and many subsidy-published books have their retail price set unnaturally high, hurting any chance of sales but maximizing the profits from sales to authors.
  • Contractors used for “package” deals may have no connection to the rest of the project or be of unknown expertise
  • There is still a stigma attached to subsidy-published books
  • You will be dealing with a company whose sole source of income is selling services to authors, not from selling books to buyers
  • Even though you pay for all the services, you will likely be unable to get reproduction files at all, or if available they may be very expensive.
  • The quality of purchased services may be very low for the price you are paying
  • You will end up paying a very high price for books you purchase direct
  • Example: 180-page softcover priced at $22.95
    Author price is $11.50, subsidy pub takes $6 profit from each sale to author(!)
  • Beware of overly emotional appeals, these firms are masters at tweaking your heartstrings for their own benefit

Assisted self-publishing

There are alot of experiments going on bringing new models of the publishing process into play, and many fall into this category. Mainly, I take assisted self-publishing to mean an author buying a “package” of services from a vendor to help them set up their own publishing company and bring their books to market.

I would also include book shepherds in this category, since they provide assistance all along the publishing path:

  • A book shepherd can oversee your book project, bring in pros that you need, orient your marketing, and help educate you about the process
  • There are many companies and individuals offering author services for a fee, but they don’t become your publisher, they help you set up your own publishing enterprise
  • Some say that for true self-publishing you need to “own” your own ISBNs and be shown as the “publisher of record” for your books
  • Costs more than DIY, less than Subsidy
  • Unlike Pro-Team, you may not have direct contact with the people working on your book
  • Since these services are often sold through “packages” with varying levels of support, don’t be tempted to buy more than you actually need.

The presentation went well, and I expect it brought some clarity to people wondering how to enter this process.

What path have you traveled to get your books published? Have I left something out? Let me know in the comments, because I’ll be talking about this for some time to come.

Photo by ereine

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

Liked this post? Share it with friends!

More Helpful Articles