Anything other than the traditional author-publisher relationship that provides for payment by the publisher to the author with the publisher responsible for all costs of production and distribution is considered an alternative form of publishing by contemporary standards. However, publishing began with the publishing of religious books where no payment was made to authors. Thereafter, self-publishing became quite common and respectable. For example, Benjamin Franklin published most of his own writing. Thus, alternative publishing has a long history and you should not hesitate to consider it so long as you are aware of the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of alternative publishing.
Vanity presses publish a book on behalf of the author and in turn are compensated for their costs and services. Some vanity presses help with distribution and even advertising but often this is left to the author. Because the author incurs all the costs, the author retains all proceeds from sales.
Subsidy publishing houses are a cross between standard and vanity publishers. The author pays the subsidy publisher a portion or all of the production costs but generally not for editorial, layout, or art. The publisher is responsible for promotion and distribution. In return for her investment, the author earns a higher percentage than the standard royalty traditional publishers pay.
If you cannot secure a standard publisher for your book and it's important to you for it to appear in print, you might want to consider self-publishing. Indeed, it is possible to generate more sales and earn more money from self-publishing than from a traditional publisher, although you have to be willing to take on greater responsibilities in the editing and production of your book as well as promotion and distribution. However, if you decide to self-publish because you believe that as a “published author” you will have a better chance securing a publisher for your next book, you would be making a mistake. Self-published books are not considered a publishing credit that will impress agents or editors unless thousands of copies are sold.
It was not long ago that self-publishing meant assuming every aspect of the publishing process including hiring a printer to print the initial run (usually a minimum of 1,000 copies) and spending thousands of dollars. Today, there are a number of respectable e-publishing companies where copies can be printed on demand as well as in larger numbers and you only pay a set-up fee of several hundred dollars, a per-book print fee, and optional costs such as the preparation of press kits for publicity. Moreover, in addition to your own distribution efforts, your book can usually be purchased at the publisher's website or even at the websites of
Do not be misled by the number of sales e-publishers report. Although the figures indicating annual sales of hundreds of thousands of books may be accurate, generally the average number of books sold per title is less than fifty. In a recent year, 1 million e-published books were sold, representing 25,000 titles or an average of forty sales per book.
For writers of nonfiction, self-publishing offers a viable option, especially if your book is intended to be part of a program to promote yourself to the public and to be sold at seminars or speaking engagements. Self-publishing also has the advantage of faster publication and the potential of earning more per book sold. But there are disadvantages as well and before you make a final decision you might want to research your options further and consult one or more books and articles on the subject.