Don’t Confuse Independent Publishing with Self-Publishing

Indie, Independent and Small Press Publishing Are So, Soooooo Different from Self-Publishing, Vanity Presses and Pay-to-Publish “Publishing”


I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a zillion times: yes, dear author-to-be (and those already published), there is a difference between self-publishing, vanity presses, pay-to-publish, a small press, and independent publishing. Don’t mix them up. Don’t get confused.

Use Wikipedia as an initial guide:

“The terms “small press”, “indie publisher”, and “independent press” are often used interchangeably, with “independent press” defined as publishers that are not part of large conglomerates or multinational corporations. Defined this way, these presses make up approximately half of the market share of the book publishing industry. Many small presses rely on specialization in genre fiction, poetry, or limited-edition books or magazines, but there are also thousands that focus on niche non-fiction markets.”

Did you read that? One-half of the market share of the book publishing industry! 

Doyou understand what it says/means? It means most authors today whose objective is to be successful create a small or independent press. They create their own “imprints”—publishing houses only on a mini scale. Authors find that books breed books, more will come. As a small, independent press, all can be published under their publishing house.

“Small presses should not be confused with “vanity presses”. Vanity or subsidy presses usually require payment by authors, or a minimum purchase of copies.

Small presses make their profits by selling books to consumers, rather than selling services to authors or selling a small number of copies to the author’s friends.”

Vanity presses and the “pay-to-publish” crowd often prey on the would-be and naive author. It’s a maze out there and it all there hype about creating books for a few hundred (to sometimes thousands of dollars) sounds ducky when the right jargon is pitched at you. Avoid. Avoid. Avoid the likes of Author House, Author Solutions, and their offspring and kin. Publishing predators.

“The majority of small presses are independent or indie publishers, this
means that they are separate from the handful of major publishing house conglomerates, such as Random House or Hachette. The term ‘indie publisher’ should not be confused with ‘self-publisher’, which is where the author publishes only their own books.

5 - Copy - Copy - Copy

The small press, indie or independent publisher IS NOT THE SAME as self-publishing … which is what vanity press is all about. There is not the commitment mentally, financially, even spiritually, that those who create the Vision for themselves as authors do who support their Passion to carry the book project through and are enveloped with the Commitment of their time, energy and money. Many who get sucked into the vanity, pay-to-publish and self-publish routes do it because

1) they don’t know better;

2) they’ve been bamboozled;

3) they don’t think/know there is another option;

4) they think that this is a way to start out with minimal moneys, not knowing that they, in turn, become a money pit for the company they sign up with. You own it all, from the ISBN to the rights to do what you want and with who you want to work with.

Do yourself and your book a favor. If you want to start small, while you learn about publishing along with what to do and what not to do, use either CreateSpace or Lightning Source as the “tool” to get your foot in the door. Both are POD-print on demand operations; both have the bells and whistles beginner authors need; both have windows to get your book into readers’ hands. When you are ready to transition to your own imprint or another option, you won’t be held hostage. Always a good thing.



2014_JBriles-1Judith Briles is known as The Book Shepherd a book publishing expert and coach. She is the Founder of Author U, a membership organization created for the serious author who wants to be seriously successful. She’s been writing about and conducting workshops on publishing since the 80s. Judith is the author of 31 books including Author YOU: Creating and Building Your Author and Book Platforms (ForeWord Indie/Fab Book of the Year), Snappy Sassy Salty: Wise Words for Authors and Writers and a speaker at publishing conferences.

Become part of her inner circle by joining the Author’s Ark and exclusive monthly webinar and coaching event. Each summer, she holds Judith Briles Unplugged, a two and 1/2 day intensive limited to a small group of authors who want to be seriously successful. In 2015, the dates are August 27-29th.  Her audio and workbook series, Creating Your Book and Author Platform is now available. Join Judith live on Thursdays at 6 p.m. EST for Author U – Your Guide to Book Publishing on the Toginet Network at Follow @AuthorU and @MyBookShepherd on Twitter and do a “Like” at AuthorU and Judith Briles – TheBookShepherd on Facebook. If you want to create a book that has no regrets, contact Judith at

If you are looking for FREE author and book coaching … call in to Judith’s Author Monday Mornings at NOON Eastern each Monday. The number is 218-632-9854; Access Code 1239874444 … have your questions ready–there’s a full hour to ask and listen.

Was this helpful? Get more FREE tips and insight:

41 Comments on Don’t Confuse Independent Publishing with Self-Publishing

  1. Judith,

    Any chance of summarizing that blog post – which is clearly packed with excellent advice as a table…

    Type of publisher / methods to get published as the rows, attributes / features as columns, your comments / advice in cells – with a summary cell at right hand end of each row with your overall advice – when the option is appropriate, not appropriate, never appropriate!

    That would make the advice really actionable…


    • Judith Briles says:

      I’ll put it on my “to do” list. thanks Anthony

  2. I was nearly caught in one of these vanity publishing traps when I first started to think about publicizing my writing. Because I am one of those variations of a “starving artist” (I still have a day job and everything!!) I simply could not afford the hundreds of dollars I was being asked for to publish my book. The fact that they were even asking me to pay to publish my book smelled fishy and, as your post states, I seem to have been right about staying away from those people. Good advice all around. Thanks!

    • Judith Briles says:

      The Author U Group on linked is quite active on this topic this week. So many naive, and it is naive, authors have been sucked in, losing thousands of dollars and often their entire sense of vision and passion for their book. With the class action lawsuits against Author Solutions/Penguin being generated and publicity that the Internet creates, all I can do is stand up and cheer. Over due for so long.

  3. Pingback: Thoughts on Self-Publishing |

  4. Pingback: Do you know the difference? | Joy V. Smith

  5. Samuel Vain says:

    I might be naive but I’m not dumb. Since July I have been trying to figure out how to get the book I wrote published without falling into these traps. What annoys me is that it’s impossible to find the good places with web searching. All I keep finding are the places I know I should not work with, now. Didn’t know so much when I started. What I want to know now is where can I find the right place to take me and guide me through this so my book will have the best chance of success. Can you give me any hints there?

    • Judith Briles says:

      Samuel–so now you know the long list of publishing predators. Are you looking for someone to publish your book–as in design, layout, printing, distribution, etc… or are you looking for how to do it yourself? You don’t say.

      What the savvy author is evolving to is to learn the components, learn that publishing is a business, and that it’s not a passive activity. Writing is one part–Getting it out there, birthing and growing it something totally different. If you were able to secure a publisher to carry all the financial weight to a book, you are still expected to do the heavy lifting of book promo, marketing, selling. If a publisher doesn’t believe that you are capable or well, you become yesterday’s news.

      You are on the Author U website. There is a lot of info here–sign up for the monthly ezine, the Author Resource. Get the blog–another sign up. Join Come to the Author Extravaganza May 1-3 in Denver … where the top designers, printers, etc. will be that can address much of what you are looking for.

    • Judith Briles says:

      Samuel … #1 Is your goal to get a traditional publisher? #2 Is your goal to find a pay-to-publish company that will do it for you, but you pay for each segment to get the book out there? #3 Is your goal to find the resources to publish it yourself, paying and being in total control? What?

      #1 You need to write a full-blown proposal and seek an agent to submit/rep for you. Writer’s conferences usually have a slew of agents attending that are in search of the next author. Writers Digest magazine usually covers an article at least once a year about agents seeking new authors. Books authored by Jeff Herman and Michael Larsen are excellent for how to write a proposal. You need to understand that publishing has changed; that if a book is picked up, advances aren’t big, that a publishing company does some editing; the production of the book; will write a press release; will make it available for national distribution; but you will do the heavy work of marketing.

      #2 Companies like Dog Ear Press do a decent job in the Pay to Publish arena. So does Outskirts Press. But, and it’s a big butt–you better be clear about how you are going to sell your book. Through a traditional book store may not be your option because of the cost of the book to you to do the resale side. Amazon’s CreateSpace may be viable for you and will have a lower cost. I would recommend you do the cover design and interior design by a professional and have him or her upload it, bypassing CreateSpace templates.

      #3 Learn this business, create your own publishing house. Be in control, you will front all the costs. Join pronto, put May 1-3, 2014 on your calendar and get to Denver for the annual Author U Extravaganza–all the vetted players who can make you and your book shine will be there. Info is on the website–the full agenda will be posted today, January 31st.

      good luck, Judith

    • Judith Briles says:

      Samuel… start with … there is plenty of info with Dos and Don’ts and what to avoid. Subscribe to the ezine–The Author’s Resource–10 times a year, it’s rich with content info. Get the weekly blogs. You have to start somewhere. What’s critical is that you avoid the “bad places.”

  6. Pingback: A Hodgepodge of Useful Bits and Pieces - February 2014 - The Digital Reader

    • Judith Briles says:

      Sometimes these nuggets that are shared become the perfect seed to an idea … or something to that sounds the warning that it’s not the right fit for you. In a recent email conversation with a publicity pro, he confided that a publicity predator was lurking in our midst. My advice was to start the shout out with solid proof behind it. Remember: silence condones bad stuff. Don’t.

  7. Pingback: A Hodgepodge of Useful Bits & Pieces – February 2014 | KD DID IT Takes on Books

  8. It seems that at least once a month I come by another new promising tool for indie authors, only to discover that it’s another site put out by Author Solutions in an attempt to scam naive writers.
    You really have to look out for vultures.

    • Judith Briles says:

      Michelle–you are so on the spot. At least you know to look out for the vultures!

    • Judith Briles says:

      Absolutely Michelle. Author Solutions is a breeding machine that needs birth control.

  9. THANK YOU! I keep telling self-pubbed authors who claim they’re “indie” that NO, they are NOT. “Indie-pubbed” means you have a PUBLISHER behind you, albeit a non-traditional publisher. Self-pubbed is just that: self. I am both indie-pubbed and self-pubbed, I know the difference.

    While navigating indie houses now is trickier than ever, because of the proliferation of unqualified houses out there started by people who have no clue what they’re doing, if you do your research and get with an indie publisher with a proven track record, you can make a comfortable living, even better than “traditionally published” authors make. I council writers to try an indie publisher before going the self-published route, simply because what you learn is invaluable. You learn the process, you can network with other writers. I don’t self-pub very many things, just non-fic and some fiction I know isn’t my publisher’s main niche genre. But I am a very happy indie-pubbed author, and I’m SO glad I finally let go of the, “I need to be traditionally published,” dream. The truth is, my books average a couple of months from final draft to published, versus a couple of years with a traditional publisher. It’s a lot of hard work, and not a magic wand to a career, but instead of trying and failing for years to navigate traditional oceans, be open-minded to the other options out there, use common sense and a large dose of caution combined with careful research, and blending indie with self-pubbing can lead to surprisingly good results.

    • Judith Briles says:

      You are so right Tymber, it is a lot of hard word … it’s not a sprint, but a long stretch out marathon and a marathon that has multiple stages to it. My runner friends tell me that the 20th mile of the 26.2 mile marathon is the “wall”–I’ve found that there are multiple walls in publishing. Most authors hit a huge one when the book is at print and they are exhausted. Marketing–you’ve got to be kidding, they think. Yet it’s the marketing that is critical. To put the author hat aside and grasp that the birthing book is a true product that must be marketed in almost perpetuity!

      • Darryl Armstrong says:

        Ms. Briles:

        Not sure you are still in the business as this thread seems pretty old. If you are still answering emails, can you help me get started with CreateSpace as the website seems confused and I am not sure this is where I need to be.

        Darryl Armstrong

        • Judith Briles says:

          CreateSpace no longer exists. The new portal is KDP Publishing. Open an account and follow the directions. Good luck Darryl … and I suggest you get my Publishing Essentials –subscribe to it on the Home page of–I have books on publishing. AuthorYOU; How to Avoid 101 BookPublishing Blunders, Bloopers, and Boo-Boos. Get them. Join now—it will have a variety of discounts and special webinars I do for members. You can also arrange a private consult with me. And, welcome to the world of publishing. My passion. Judith

  10. Judith Briles says:

    yep, we do… best thing is to ask your webmaster to check it out on all main sites for downloading, including mobile.

  11. Just to be clear: as long as you have a publishing company’s name behind your book, whether it’s small or large, you are traditionally published. Self publishing is only when you publish only your own books, right? There are some book reviewing blogs that only accept traditionally published books to review, so I was wondering if going with an independent publisher still counts as traditional or not.

    • Judith Briles says:

      Small press and independent press/publishing companies can be considered traditional. If there are only reviewers who support the main stream publishers, so be it. Authors need to say–“I’m not self published. My books are produced by a small press that specializes in books of my genre.” that’s it.

  12. I love your clear explanations of the new publishing environment! Publishing houses help get books published, independent or indie publishers use niche marketing and specialization to publish books, and vanity publishers bring titles with sentimental value to the marketplace.

    However, I have one comment to make about money. Writers are getting smarter about how they can make money with their stories. I think that writers are thinking more about the profit margin on their sales, and reconsidering how much they pay for the production of their work that goes into the hands of their publishers.

    Dirty Little Claws, Inc., is an independent book publisher that specializes in thriller, romance, and erotic literature. It leaves all of the royalty income to authors by charging for services and the imprint at the time of contract. I think that this business model makes it easier to realize the final costs of publishing. Dirty Little Claws, Inc., is not a vanity publisher, but a low-cost publisher for writers who do most of their work.

    Thanks Judith for the place to comment!

    • Judith Briles says:

      Jasmine… so glad to have you hear and letting us all know about Dirty Little Claws–I will definitely check it out! Judith

  13. Judith—I’m new to your site. I’ve enjoyed both sides of your “Indie – Self Publishing” discussion. You offer lots of good advice, but I especially enjoy your readers’ questions. I’ve asked a lot of them myself, and am still short many answers.
    I did want to offer my endorsement of Create Space. I am retired, with more time than money. I have eleven novels on my Amazon Author’s page, all of them available in paperback and ebook versions. With Create Space I spend zero to set up a formatted computer file of each story. Once the file is up and running I pay $3-5 per copy for a quality 300 page paperback.
    Since my original intent was to have a copy of each book on my bookshelf, generating sales has not been a priority. But since my first ever review received 5 stars from the Kindle Review Service, another free Amazon service, I may be rethinking that approach.
    In the meantime, thanks for your help. I’ll be checking in from time to time.

    • Judith Briles says:

      Gil-CreateSpace and IngramSpark would be the only choices that I would consider for a low-cost window to publishing today. If you are starting to get recognition, excellent reviews, why wouldn’t you want to start some marketing efforts? $5 a copy is hefty for a 300 page book–you can afford it with direct sales… channels that take a piece of the sale price will quickly erode your efforts. Have fun (always) and good luck. Keep writing Gil. Judith

      • Julie—Your response planted the question I’ll bet many of your “indie” readers have—“why wouldn’t you want to start some marketing efforts?” You know that audience better than most folks. What kind of options (low cost and low maintenance) are available to someone with a book or two to promote, but no agent or other connections?
        BTW, a $4 cost to the author includes postage when I order 3 or 4 at a time.

        • Judith Briles says:

          Gil… authors must understand … the only thing that is going to move/truly promote a book is the sweat of the author and his/her own money and brains. Agents won’t/don’t. Social media is the town hall. Find where your crowd is, your potential buyers. Communicate with them. Create posts of value and benefit. Follow influential leaders and top sellers in your genre. Comment on their blogs. Make blogs around their blogs and link to them… when you agree and disagree. If your book is NF, consider starting a LinkedIn group if appropriate. The Author U group on LI has grown from 60 in 3 years to over 8100. Get Carolyn Howard Johnson’s book on Frugal Book Marketing. John Kremer is a great resource, follow his blog. That’s a start.

  14. Into which group do you put Blurb? It is like CreateSpace, but more automated in the formatting.

    • Judith Briles says:

      Donna … I don’t understand your questions.

  15. Thanks for all of the great insight and advice Judith! Is it possible to self-publish and then seek an independent publisher to pick up those books that you self published? In other words, in not knowing much about small/independent publishers an author decides to self publish through Smashwords, Createspace, etc. but then finds they need help reaching their audience. Will an independent publish pick up a previously self published book and, ultimately, be more helpful in reaching that audience?

    • Judith Briles says:

      Sure it is Dianna. In fact, many books that have been self-published/indie published have been sought by major publishers. Create a plan to find your targeted reader, build your market and your sales. And, if a call comes, you can decide.

  16. Thanks so much for clearing this issue up for me. I’ve done a few books of my own through CreateSpace, even made the bestseller lists twice on Amazon, but have not known what to call my publishing company – Indie? Self? Your article really cleared that up for me. Thanks.

    • Judith Briles says:

      wonderful Debbie … if you aren’t on the Publishing with the Book Shepherd on Facebook, come join us. Here is the link:

  17. Arinola says:

    Hi,thanks for clarifying,I published a book with Author house and it was all full of error.I was wondering why a big firm should put their reputation at stake and then I stumbled on your site.Author house collected a very huge amount from me for production and then after production they asked for more which made me pause What can you suggest,book is on Amazon through Author house and I haven’t made a dime.What can I do at this point .

    • Judith Briles says:

      Arinola …. my response is longer that what goes here … I don’t know how much time has elapsed. I don’t know what moneys you’ve paid them. I don’t know if all “services” you paid for were received. The on e thing I do know is that I would terminate … but not sure how to advise you because of where you are.

  18. I would like to know how to handle some of the prejudices I’m finding from independent bookstores who seem to prefer indie books and snub self-publishers, much like I felt you did in this article. I wrote a children’s book that I wanted my 91 year old grandmother to see while she’s still around (my grandfather is a primary character in the story), and I couldn’t wait months or years to hear back from publishers – big or small. How should I go about *politely* defending my reason for self-publishing?

    • Judith Briles says:

      Angela, assuming your book was professionally designed and that you created a name that is not your own for the publishing company (please tell me you did)… here’s what I would not say–it’s self-published. What I would say is that “I’m pleased to be published by a small independent publisher who works with children’s author. Then talk about the value of your book to readers.

  19. Alberta says:

    Hi Judith,

    Thanks so much for such an insightful article. Would you advise publishing on BOTH CreateSpace and Lightning Source or just one of the two? Thanks

    • Judith Briles says:

      Alberta—. CreateSpace doesn’t exist anymore. All Amazon connected publishing is Done via KDP for both print and print on demand.

      Lightning Source is part of Ingram. If you’re objective is to have your books available for libraries and bookstores, use Lightning Source and or Ingram The reputation is better with bookstores and Ingram.

      Of course, you can use both

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please prove you're human: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.