In the publishing business, it used to be that there were basically two kinds of publishers: “regular” publishers and “vanity” publishers. Today, there are many different kinds of publishers that still basically fall under those two categories, but the problem is that the lines between them are increasingly blurred. So to keep things simple, we’ll still divide things into two groups and we’ll define them this way:
Traditional Publisher: Pays you an advance and royalties. A traditional publisher takes your manuscript and publishes it for you. The company pays all the expenses of publishing your book, including creating a cover, editing, designing the interior, etc., and in return pays you a percentage of the sales (royalties).
The advance you receive is an advance on those royalties. In other words, the traditional publishing company calculates how many books they think your book will sell in the first year after it hits the shelves and pays you that in advance. When your book actually hits the bookstore shelves, it must “earn back” that amount. You won’t receive a royalty check until your book earns back that advance. Then you’ll receive royalties on the additional sales.
It is my understanding that few books actually earn out their advance, so don’t be spending those future royalty checks before you receive them.
Self-publishing: Is sometimes called independent publishing, subsidy publishing, or POD (print-on-demand) publishing. Some people still sometimes call it vanity publishing.
In self-publishing or independent-publishing, YOU pay all the expenses of publishing your book (which can be a hefty amount, so please, please, please know what you’re doing before you go there).
In subsidy publishing, YOU pay part of the expenses of publishing your book and the company pays part. How much each party pays varies with each company.
For my purposes in this blog, I’m grouping all the publishers into only two groups:
Traditional Publishers: pay you advance and/or royalties and all the expenses of publishing your book and do not ask for one penny towards publishing your book.
Self- or Independent-Publishers: if you pay ANY of the expenses to publish your book—that means if you have any out-of-pocket expenses—then this is not a traditional publisher and has moved into the category of a self-publishing company.