First, let’s settle one question: If you self-publish, then yes, you are published.

There’s a lot of confusion with regard to publishing. The information to clear that confusion is readily available, but for whatever reason, a lot of people don’t bother to do their own research. I’ll break it down and make it easy.

There are three basic options available to the author wanting to be published: traditional publishing, self-publishing, and vanity or hybrid publishing. When it comes to determining a publishing option, follow the money and decide how much of the work you will do yourself.

Understand there is no need to pay for publishing.

Traditional Publishing

When one thinks of publishing, this is what comes to mind for most people. In the last several decades, the process of becoming published through traditional publishing company (e.g., Random House, Penguin) hasn’t changed beyond the transition from analog to digital. The author must follow the rules set by the publisher with regard to approaching the publisher and the package being submitted. It’s safe to say that authors pursue traditional publishing.

Many traditional publishers do not accept unsolicited submissions. This forces an author to approach literary agencies in the hope an agent will agree to represent his or her interests and sell the manuscript to a publisher. Just like publishers, authors pursue representation.

There are a lot of predatory individuals and companies claiming to be literary agencies. To determine whether the agency is legitimate, follow the money.

An agency that charges for its services is predatory. An agency that directs you to pay for publishing is exploiting you. An agency that insists you pay their editors to have your manuscript edited makes its money from editing, not from selling manuscripts to publishers. Such predatory agencies have no incentive to represent your manscript to traditional publishers.

The hard lesson for many authors to learn is that no publisher or literary agent is obligated to accept the manuscript. Because a traditional publisher pays the author, the publisher decides what to accept and whether and whether to publish it. The publisher also hires all the necessary talent required to make the work marketable.

The publisher may provide some initial marketing to launch the book, but the author should not expect sustained marketing efforts. Marketing, as a rule, is the author’s responsibility.


There are only two ways to guarantee your book will be published. One is to publish it yourself. When you publish your own work, you are the publisher and therefore responsible for everything a traditional publisher does. This includes hiring the services to make your book marketable.

Many authors unfamiliar with the publishing industry don’t realize this and believe they must do everything themselves, regardless of whether they have any skill at any of the tasks needed. Other authors know they should hire those services, but choose not to do so for reasons ranging from hubris to financial hardship. Self-publishing authors who save their money and budget for the professional services they need support the gig economy by hiring freelance writers, editors, designers, artists, and marketers. In general, those authors also produce much higher quality books than the authors who don’t hire these services.

The issue comes down to you can do it all yourself, but you probably shouldn’t.

There’s subtle difference in self-publishing and vanity/hybrid publishing. If you self-publish, you pay of the services you need to produce a quality book, but you don’t pay to publish the book. If you hire a vanity/hybrid press, then you pay for the services you need and you pay for them to publish your book.

The lack of quality control in self-publishing means the world has been flooded with substandard books. It gives self-publishing a bad reputation, even though many self-published authors produce top quality books that rival anything produced by a traditional publisher.

To make sure you hire a reputable professional, check portfolios (here’s mine) and LinkedIn profiles (here’s mine). Review work samples and speak to previous clients. Referrals are great!

Vanity or Hybrid Publishing

This third option causes enormous confusion. One might rightly call self-publishing a vanity; however, vanity publishers cloak themselves in the mantle of traditional publishing but require authors to pay to be published. Hybrid publishers also require authors to pay for the services they need and to pay to publish.

There are two basic differences between vanity publishing and hybrid publishing. A vanity press will no disclose its predatory practices: it attempts to pass itself off as a traditional publisher. A hybrid press open discloses its service as a one-stop shop for publishing: get all the services you need in one place, and the company will also publish the book.

The vanity press preys on the hopes and ambitions of authors and provides low quality service. A hybrid press encourages the author’s ambitions and provides professional quality services: they care about the products they produce.

It’s a subtle but crucial difference that may be difficult to discern. To help confused authors determine whether a company offering to publish their work for a fee is truly a hybrid press or an exploitive vanity press, Writer Beware offers a valuable service alerting authors to predatory companies. Another service that may be helpful is Editors and Preditors.

Paying to publish is not necessarily “bad.” For instance, it’s a viable option for a business executive who wants to impart the lessons of his or her expertise and establish himself or herself as an authority in the field. A professionally produced book boosts credibility and may also serve as another income stream. Someone wanting to memorialize a family history is also another common scenario when it comes to paying to produce a book in a limited quality for distribution to family members. There are many other reasons why one would choose this option.

The Upshot

There’s no one right and true way to publish your book, just as there’s no one right and true way to write your story. There are, however, best practices that have been proven to reliably produce quality products. Those best practices involve a team of professionals: the writer, at least one editor, a graphic designer, and a book designer. When it comes to publishing, the many variables involved in producing a book influence the book’s quality.

But remember …

Regardless of whether you pursue traditional publishing and all the cachet that comes from being one of the chosen few, embark upon the adventure of self-publishing, or hire a publishing company to produce your book, sales and marketing are your responsibility.


Yes, there are companies that specialize in book marketing. Just as you’ll find when searching for a publisher or hiring professional services, many book marketing services are scammers. Do your due diligence to ensure you hire a reputatable professional.

Hen House Publishing provides author assistance with the following professional services: ghostwriting, editing, proofreading, and book design.

Every word counts.

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