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Put The Author At The Centre, Not The Publisher.

Put The Author At The Centre, Not The Publisher.

ALLi Advisor Jane Friedman Points up some Authorcentric Services

Let's talk terminology — a subject that's been exercising minds around ALLi Towers of late.  And for the purposes of this post, three particular terms.

* What to call authors who publish their own work?

* What to call those who publish the work of others?

* What to call those who help authors to publish?

First a definition of publishing, which is not, as some people seem to think, a matter of printing or pressing the Go button on your e-tailer's dashboard. These are just steps in a larger process.


What Is Publishing?

Publishing incorporates a range of functions and services, dependent on the book's  format and content, that fall into four headings: jacket & page design; editorial & proofing; printing & formatting; marketing & promotion.

The plethora of confusing terms we have around those who trade in the publishing arena arise from a situation where the companies charged with bringing writers' work into the world put themselves at the centre of the process.

  • So we have authors described as “self”-publishers, though we don't do it alone and what we publish (and promote) is our books, not our “self”.
  • So we have trade presses called “traditional” or “legacy” publishers by some authors, as though they are passé or extinct, which they are not.
  • So we have authors who choose to sometimes DIY and sometimes go the trade route are described as “hybrid” and accused (I use this word advisedly) by some DIY colleagues of no longer being “indie”.
  • So we have companies that exploit and mistreat authors somehow being accepted as part of the mainstream publishing industry.

It's confusing — because the thinking behind it is confused.


At ALLi, we wanted to make it simple. And we found that's just what it is, when you put the author, not the publisher, at the centre. Here's what we've come up with:

* An author who publishes his or her own work = Author-Publisher.

* An individual or company that invests in work they haven't written themselves with a view to making a profit = Trade-Publisher.

* An individual/company that provides services — jacket & page design; editorial & proofing; printing & formatting; marketing & promotion for an upfront fee = Author-Service.

Authors who see themselves as the creative director of their own books and welcome that freedom and the responsibilities that go with it, including the choice of whether to pay upfront (to a service) or as you go along (to the trade) = Independent Author. But that's another question and more on that over on the ALLi website.

These are the terms that ALLi will be using from now on, unless somebody comes up with something we agree is a better way to think about/ describe it. We will be changing the name on our guide to services from Choosing A Self-Publishing Service, for example, to Choosing an Author-Publishing Service.

Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Author: Orna Ross

Orna Ross is a bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction and inspirational poetry, and a creativity facilitator. As founder-director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, she has been named one of The Bookseller’s Top 100 people in publishing. 


This Post Has 25 Comments
  1. I like the term Author-Publisher. I think it helps to make clear what I really am. I do not not want to publish for others. It is a big enough job for myself. Now that my book is available in paperback, Kindle, Nook, eBooks, I-pads, Sony etc. I want a trade publisher to come along and take it to the next level on their dime. By the way Jane Friedman we have met in Ohio in 2009 when I was in the ninth chapter of my story. I finished it and it is out. The Writers Digest fifty page critique led my writing skills into a better dimension. Just wanted to say the cost proved valuable. You really have a knack for what you do and congratulations for a job well done.” I can tell by this blog; the job is still being well done. I firmly believe the culture, in response to Michael Scott, should always be concerned about good defeating evil, “Protecting Beauty,” by Thomas Tyme.

  2. I don’t think David James has an understand of the publishing world. His post clearly demonstrates.

    Commercial publishers (popular publishers) do not publish on basis of ‘quality’. It’s about maximum profit and ‘like’. For example: Let’s take a beautifully written S/F novel where people eat their dogs because puppymeat has proven health benefits, and puppies are cheap to breed as dogs eat anything (including other dogs). No commercial publisher will ever publish this. It makes the readers on the spreadsheet uncomfortable.

    There’s nothing sub-standard or *vain* about the story. It simply wasn’t written for the sheep.

    There is nothing redundant about the ‘trade’, part of ‘trade publisher’. The label implies the work was published primarily for profit.

    The downside of the extreme commercialisation of publishing is the dumbing down of *everything*. Commercial publishers believe the public won’t buy it if they don’t ‘get it’. (The story must be written so as to be clearly understood by a six-year-old). And don’t publish anything where good doesn’t defeat evil.

    Subsequently, any work considered ‘ground-breaking’ or ‘culturally significant’ is left to those awful ‘vanity’ writers.

  3. Thanks Dan and no, we don’t want the terminology to be the story, I agree. And it’s not about banning “self-publishing” or any other word (either here in the office or in the wider world). Neither would I see it as a campaigning issue, largely because that’s not how language works. A good example I think is words that many people objected to as politically correct when first coined, words like “disabled” instead of “handicapped”, for example. Disabled sees society as doing much of the disabling, Handicapped locates the problem within the individual. There was outcry about this being nonsense at the time, but accuracy and human empathy won the day and now most people say disabled. The same will or won’t happen with some of the suggestions here. But I also believe we shouldn’t underestimate our ability to educate others — including media and the industry — with our word choices. Author-publishers are leading the way here in making the whole industry more author-centric.

  4. This is a fascinating subject because it brings out into the open many of the assumptions that were previously unspoken. And that’s precisely why it’s so important to have these conversations – otherwise two people can happily go around using the same word for completely different things and never know it until one day they have a catastrophic and very public falling out because of their assumptions over the other’s meaning (it’s also why i hate to admit it but my supervisor was right to get me spending the first year of my doctorate pinning down the definitions of all the words in my title).
    I think nomenclature serves primarily the purpose Matthew outkines – it enables a certain group of people to know exactly what they are saying when they talk to each other so that conversation can then proceed more smoothly. The problem here isn’t what terms should or shouldn’t be used – the problem is in defining which group we are talking to. If we are just coming up with a way to talk to each other, then absolutely fine (Matthew’s Netcast example is a good one here) – we can decide exactly what we want to say for each thing – and I think the choices in the piece are excellent and will avoid confusion when we’re talking to each other. On the other hand, if we’re talking to the media, or to other authors, or to the industry we have to use terminology that they will readily understand in order to capitalise on the tiny chink of eyeball time they give us for our initial contact – and having to pass out a glossary with press releases might not be the way to go. If, however, we are campaigning for a universal terminology on these lines, then the terminology becomes the story and is less problematic (though do we really want the terminology to be the story?) Sorry, that’s questions not answers!

  5. I do rather like the terms ‘author publisher’ and ‘trade publisher.’ But I have some reservations: first, the use of the terms depends on the context. Who is going to go around calling themselves ‘a trade publisher.’? Other promoters may do, reviewers may do, but surely not the author? The author is simply that – the author. Similarly with ‘trade publisher.’ The word ‘trade’ is surely redundant. You are either a publisher or not. However, we could well dispense with the term ‘self-publisher.’ It has a patronising connotation – as if the author couldn’t make it in the ‘real’ publishing world and has to resort to DIY. But whatever Alli thinks about re-naming or re-branding, people will do what they like. I suspect 99% of publishing anyway comes under the Vanity label.

  6. Well, I’m not entirely in agreement, primarily because people don’t stay in the same spot over time. I’ll use myself as an example.

    I am an Author. I am also a Publisher. (I’m an old entrepreneur, so I wear the business title of publisher proudly). Sometimes I act as an Author, and sometimes as a Publisher. I’m about to divide my one website into two and revise them to reflect these two different roles.

    As an Author, I have a “craft” sensibility, so I’m happy to format, create covers, record audio, and all those other aspects of production that make for a finished, marketable work. I have a mailing list of fans. I study up on aspects of writing craft, construction, and productivity. I maintain a presence for readers.

    As a Publisher, I have a marketing and distribution sensibility, so I’m happy to present professional catalogs (soon), sell sheets, request reviews, present ARCs, and maintain delivery channels. I study up on distribution and marketing. I maintain a presence for trade buyers. I am a formal business (LLC).

    At the moment, I’m the only Author that my Publisher publishes. But that’s a happenstance of where I am in my growth. I could easily see expanding to add other Authors, and nothing else would change, just like any other small press.

    At the moment, my Publisher is the only publisher my Author uses. But that’s a happenstance of my career growth. I could easily see selling short stories to magazines or selling a book to a publisher if the terms were right.

    I’m not an “Author-Publisher”, I have two businesses: Author and Publisher. Large enough authors often build and own a publishing business, and I’m more in that model (if very small now). A not unusual way for an Author to become a businessman is by also becoming a Publisher.

    I see Authors that stop at the early-Indie stage of distribution, limiting themselves to online-only, or online-plus-basic-POD as Authors who are dabbling in enough publishing to get their work “out there” without really being Publishers. My distinction is that Publishers are committed to learning how the trade really works, well enough to utilize the distribution channels seriously.

    Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that early-Indie stage: that’s what I think of as “self-publishing”. But that’s not what I am, any more. I am committed to becoming a “real” Publisher, even if very limited in content at the moment. I like building businesses, so I find that part interesting to do. And, of course, I’m committed to becoming a better Author, too. (4 books heading for 40).

    Most of the information on the web for “indie publishing” is for “self-publishing” as I describe it above. Getting information to become a serious Publisher is actually much more difficult to come by. I’ve spent the last 3 months coming up to speed on the next level of professionalism I need to do that properly, hence my recent interest in topics such as ISBNs, Industry Expectations, Metadata, Distribution, Audio. As an industry outsider, it’s not easy to penetrate the assumed common knowledge here. Some of the indie “leading edge” folks are knowledgeable in this area, but not very many, ,and they’re mostly author-centric, not publishing-centric.

    (In fact, in passing, it would be great if ALLi brought in the occasional small press speaker, for those of us interested in this area. I can tell from the limited participation on the Facebook blog for some of the topics I raise that not everyone would care, but many of us would probably find that helpful. And some who aren’t interested yet may become so later in their careers.)

    I don’t need a single-purpose term to cover what I’m doing, particularly, but I’m sure I’m not alone in my approach and there will be more like me. To the extent that there are only so many hours in the day, I suppose I am more Author than Publisher (I’m not at this time actively seeking other authors to publish — my priority is writing), but I am serious about the Publisher component, and I know from building other companies that once I’m satisfied with my “small press for one” model, it will only be matter of time before I seek more content than my own to add to it.

    Anyone else fall into this category?
    – See more at: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/authors-at-centre-not-publisher/comment-page-1/#comment-137293

    1. Thanks so much Karen. As I was saying to Matthew above, the aim is not to tell people what they should call themselves, which will as you say vary widely, depending on where on the publishing spectrum one finds oneself at different stage. For us, it’s about ALLi using terms that are accurate and author-centred. Great idea to get a small, indie press for an event. Now on the future-events list. Thanks for explaining your own situation so comprehensively, so interesting to see how the roles mutate over time.

    2. “Anyone else fall into this category?”

      You bet, Karen. I mostly publish myself, but I also have a handful of titles on the market written by others. The caveat is that (so far) everything I publish pertains to one of my properties–my storyworlds.

      That’s central to my mission: create long lasting, versatile personal creative franchises that exploit (in the positive sense of the word) my IP in a variety of media.

      This is why I refer to myself as “author and creator.” Creating is my business. Writing a tool of my business; some of the products of my business are books. My twesume says, “I turn ideas into money.”

      You have the right idea: treat this like a start up, like an entrepreneurial venture.

  7. I must present what looks to be the minority opposing view!

    First, while I appreciate the effort and I understand the motivation, I question the chances of success when it comes to actually convincing others to use these terms.

    People naturally use terms that guarantee they’ll be understood by the people they’re addressing. If we start to use arbitrary terms for things 99% of the industry call something else, we’ll spend unnecessary time explaining ourselves (at best) or we’ll seem persnickety (at worst.)

    Here’s an example from another creative vertical:

    A while back, the popular Internet and radio personality Leo Laporte branded his podcasts as “netcasts,” and argued that other podcasters should do the same. His view was that “net” is less confusing / restrictive that “pod.”

    Maybe he was right. But the rest of the podcasting community (listeners and creators alike) had already been calling the medium “podcasting” for years. The idea flew like a lead balloon.

    Today, I can think of one small niche of people who still call podcasts “netcasts” — Leo Laporte and the people that work for him.

    Besides, there’s already a term that describes what you’re calling the “author-publisher,” and that’s “authorpreneur.”

    “Authorpreneur” is established in the Urban Dictionary, there are lots of domains using it, and at least one print magazine in existence.

    In the right context, I refer to myself as an authorpreneur. People understand what I’m saying right away, and there’s no pesky hyphen.

    As for “An individual or company that invests in work they haven’t written themselves with a view to making a profit,” there’s already a word for that: “publisher.” There’s no need to try and muddy the waters.

    When it comes to an individual/company that provides services — jacket & page design; editorial & proofing; printing & formatting; marketing & promotion for an upfront fee… again, that industry already has a well defined term: “author services.”

    If you really want to keep things simple, use the terms already in use and already widely accepted in the publishing industry. Otherwise you risk confusing authors and, worse for your organization, you risk presenting ALLi as contrary, exclusionary, and out of touch with the publishing industry as a whole.

    Finally, you’re missing a category of folks who:

    – publish their own works
    – publish the works of others
    – have works that are published by others
    – “make their own sausage” — handle their own layout, design, cover art, marketing, web site creation, and so on
    – provide author services for others

    That describes me, and many of my colleagues. I use the labels “Creator” and “Creative Services Provider.”

    In closing: my vote is: don’t try to reinvent the wheel.

    1. Thanks Matthew. Creative Services provider does indeed describe the many things you do. My own experience of words is that if they’re useful, they stick, and that authorpreneur is actually a very good example of that. But some “Author Publishers” don’t self-define in that way, and I know many who loathe the word, as they implies a business focus they don’t align with. I certainly wouldn’t want ALLI to have any of those awful qualities you mentioned — we were going more for considered and accurate lol — but I do think “self-publisher” lacks a certain something for most and “indie” to my mind is not an accurate description either. All indies are author-publishers but not all author-publishers are indie. (See! If I use it often enough, it might catch on! :)) Seriously, though, I do think the debate is worth having, not so much for trying to impose a word on anybody but in order to think about our self-definitions, and where they came from, and whether they really reflect what we think/are. Thanks so much for the thoughtful contribution.

      1. Respectfully, Orna, if you’re committed adopting the terms you’ve devised in all ALLi materials, as you wrote above, you are, effectively, trying to impose those words on others.

        My membership in ALLi potentially represents a perceived endorsement of ALLi and the organization’s positions. I can’t get behind this one, though!

        If the majority of the members of ALLi truly have a problem with the accepted industry terms for these various things, and really feel that their careers would be better if everyone adopted the terms you suggest, so be it.

        Looking at the industry as a whole, though, this feels like a solution in search of a problem, and a potentially brand-diluting and divisive solution, at that.

        I support actions that integrate independent creators with their industry as a whole. Independent authors, self-publishers, and author services providers are as much a part of the publishing industry as any of the big six.

        Of course, if it’s clear that the majority of ALLi members feel that we need new terms, then perhaps the adoption of same serves the ALLi mission to champion the interests of independent authors… or at least independent authors who are members! 🙂

        I fear it does the opposite, though.

        1. To be clear, we are not going to impose these terms on anyone. People must define themselves in their own way — ALLi is a broad church, with members who disagree on most things, and what’s most important to us is diversity and inclusion. Language too is important, though, and self-publisher is a relatively new term and certainly seems to many of our membership — and beyond — to be an unsatisfactory description of what we do, on the grounds of accuracy as outlined in the post. The widespread adoption of “indie-author” instead arises from that, I think, but independent and indie are not synonymous terms, the former being an approach to how you do business but the latter, in other creative industries, pointing to content: work of an experimental or niche nature. I agree with you completely about integration not just into our own industry but into the wider network of creative industries. That integration will work best if it is on our own terms, I believe, rather than occupying a position allocated to us. Hence: the new terminology and the discussion. Thank you for your interesting input, Matthew. We’ll keep thinking and talking.

  8. the new terminologies makes much more of a defined and refined sectionning of the indie author word of publishing. i suggest you could now link related services/service providers to help solidify these new categorising of terminologies, etc. Thanks
    Shawn Myrie

  9. Great Article Orna and right on.the money. I have been a DIY Author-Publisher starting in 1995 when it was real work, and not highly considered. It was a huge learning curve. I am still a DIY author publisher, wouldn’t have it any other way. Today, with the burgeoning E-markets I think it’s the best way to go for independent authors. We have the whole world’s readers out there at a click of the keys. Let;s go and give themthe best entertainment they seek.

    Stay well… Warren.

  10. While I don’t have any difficulty with trying to shift over to the author-publisher designation instead of indie author or self-published, my initial reaction to trade publisher was that this was going to be confusing because so many of the print versions put out by author-publishers such as myself are in the trade paperback format. (versus mass paperback or hardback).

    I also don’t think that a reader would understand trade publisher versus author publisher, if anything it suggests that one is commercial (engaged in selling) and the other isn’t–which isn’t what we would want them to think at all!

    That is why I feel more comfortable with the traditional publisher designation for any entity that invests in publishing other authors for profit (whether the founder of the company was an author or not). It doesn’t have a particularly negative connotation (unlike legacy), and since small presses (which is what the companies started by new authors who are publishing other authors are) have been around a long time as part of this traditional publishing industry it would encompass them.

    It might be that some of the new author started companies are doing things “differently” right now, but the truth is–some small presses that have been around for decades are also doing things differently, as are some of the larger presses, and to suggest that simply because the company was started by an author distinguishes it from a traditional small press (which very well may have been started by an author decades ago) isn’t a useful designation for the long haul.

    An author could then say they are an author-publisher who also publishes with a Traditional publisher (although I think that hybrid is a perfectly useful term to describe this kind of author.)

    M. Louisa Locke

    1. Thanks Mary Louisa. I totally agree that small and micro presses do different and interesting things and always have. I think I’d see the “trade” word encompassing those presses run by authors, if they were also publishing others (they’re then no longer an author-publisher only but have begun to also trading in the writing of others). I have a personal aversion to hybrid, but maybe that’s just me. Thanks for the thoughtful (as always) contribution — and I guess the terms will only take hold if they are thought by the community to be useful.

  11. Author-publisher… but of course! Why did no one think of that before?

    I hope the term will catch on, but I still see the uninformed referring to what we do as “vanity publishing” – something I’ve never really understood since vanity publishing almost by definition doesn’t make money for the author. What we do is *all* about making money for the author.

    But what I like about the new terms is they’re self-explanatory. Thanks to ALLi for giving us more good tools to work with.

  12. Yes and thank you! I’ve been hoping someone would come up with better ways of describing what a lot of people are doing. This is the closest yet. Especially because it focuses on the author.

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