Self-Publishers: What Does It Take to Make A Publishing Company?

POSTED ON Nov 5, 2010

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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Last month on Publishing Perspectives, the useful news and discussion site, editor-in-chief Edward Nawotka asked the question, “When does a self-publisher constitute a publishing company?”

At first you might be surprised someone would ask this question. I mean, what exactly is the point? Is there a debate going on about requirements to call yourself a publishing company?

Here’s what the article says:

So many self-publishers brand themselves as companies — for a variety of reasons, often to do with marketing — but if they just publish books written by themselves, does this qualify? Personally, I believe that it takes a list comprising three authors to have the foundation of a publishing company.

I believe Mr. Nawotka was trying to be provocative for the sake of discussion. How else to explain, for example, Para Publishing? Is it a publishing company? Not for most of its life, according to Mr. Nawotka’s definition, because it only published the books of one author: Dan Poynter. Over 100 books, in fact, with sales throughout the book distribution system, for over 25 years. Seems like a publishing company, doesn’t it?

Or John T. Reed, with over 30 books and selling since the 1970s. Reed had national distribution through Publishers Group West for over 20 years, although he now sells exclusively on his website. His publishing company has been highly successful for many years. Not a publishing company?

The Indie Spirit Comes to Publishing

Publishing Perspectives, which has great topical writing of interest to anyone involved with books, is also staffed by veterans of the traditional publishing industry. The prejudice against self-publishers will die hard when it finally dies.

The plain fact is that indie authors setting up publishing companies to produce and promote their own works, or the works of a small handful of authors, are here to stay. The industry is undergoing fundamental change, and the tools of production are now in everyone’s hands.

How we use these tools is something different. But self-publishers are already through the gates and setting up shop and building their platforms and attracting a tribe of avid readers and selling books. Lots of books.

No, this toothpaste isn’t going back into the tube. Indie authors don’t really need someone telling them whether they can be considered a “publishing company” or not—it’s just an irrelevant question.

There’s no licensing authority where you get a permit to publish a book, or where you go to get permission to call yourself a publishing company. The new model is authors talking directly to readers, without the intermediary of the big corporate publisher in between.

This is a model that’s exciting to a lot of readers and to a lot of writers too. Big trade publishers, on the other hand, have always been business-to-business companies, suppliers of product to distributors and wholesalers with very little contact with the end users of their products—actual book buyers.

And that’s why indie authors continue to succeed: we are the market we are selling to. And that counts a lot more than what you call yourself, doesn’t it?

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by Edwård,

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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