Publishing Terms New Writers Should Know

Thinking of becoming an independently published author? If you are, there are a few things you need to know. I have found from discussions with inexperienced authors that many don’t understand certain elements of indie publishing, and that is costing them in both lost effort and money.

Let’s start with the confusion over the terms “traditional publisher,” “self- or independent-publishing,” “vanity publishers,” “self-publishing service companies,” and “hybrid publishers.”

A traditional publisher contracts with an author to publish their book. The author is paid through an advance and subsequent royalty payments. The key to remember here is that traditional publishers pay you; you do not pay them.

Self-publishing, also known as indie publishing, is when an author chooses to publish his or her book on their own. They may choose to assume responsibility for the entire production process of publishing a book, including the cost of editing, cover design, interior layout, and marketing, and publish their book in print, audio, or e-book form through companies like Amazon, IngramSpark, or Smashwords. Amazon and Smashwords do not charge you to sell your book through them; they take a percentage of your book sales to cover their costs and make a profit. IngramSpark does charge some fees, but they are not very high.

Alternately, indie authors may hire a self-publishing service company to do all the editing and design work. The service company provides the author the completed the files needed to publish through those companies mentioned above. The author keeps all royalty payments.

Self-publishing should not be confused with vanity presses. A vanity press produces your book for a fee (generally a very large fee) and provides you with a certain number of copies of your book for you to sell yourself. More often than not, you will never sale a single copy of your book this way.

Hybrid publishers are somewhere between self-publishing service companies and vanity presses, depending on the business model used by the individual companies. Some take a fee to merely guide you through the self-publishing process while others will take a fee to publish your book under their imprint, and you get to keep any royalties from book sales. In either case, make sure you understand their business model before you sign any contract.

Two more terms some new writers find confusing are beta readers and advance readers. Simply put, beta readers help improve your book before you finish writing it while advance readers help promote your book after it’s finished.

The job of a beta reader is to read your unfinished and unedited manuscript and give you advice on how to improve it. They may tell you which characters they like, what they think about the plot, even whether your book is readable or not. Beta readers can be family members, friends and colleagues, members of your book group, even strangers who volunteer to read your book. The latter are found on most of the forums on and similar sites. You should never pay for beta readers; save your money for paying a good editor which you should engage after you revise your book based on input from beta readers.

Advance readers are book reviewers. Once your book has gone through the editing and design process—but before it is published—you need to start looking for people to review your book. You do this by offering advanced reader copies or ARCs.

There are two types of reviews you want to get—professional reviews and reader reviews. Professional reviews are those written by people who review books either professionally or semi-professionally. The review these people write appear in periodicals like newspapers or magazines, or websites like Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, or Booklife.

Reader reviews are written by normal, Joe Average readers. These can be friends or family members you send an advance reader copy to. You can also offer ARCs through the forums on The idea here is to have these readers write reviews of your book to for posting on Amazon,, and other review sites once it’s published.

There are companies that will guarantee you X-number of good reviews of your book for a fee. Avoid these companies. Not only is it unethical, but Amazon is pretty good at ferreting out these fee-for-reviews and removing them.