• Brooke Warner
  • What’s What---Subsidy Publishing, “True” Self-Publishing, and Hybrid Publishing
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What’s What---Subsidy Publishing, “True” Self-Publishing, and Hybrid Publishing
Written by
Brooke Warner
August 2012
Written by
Brooke Warner
August 2012

The purpose of this post is to define the three different forms of self-publishing that are available to you as you consider where and how to publish.

Subsidy publishing means that the companies themselves (like Lulu or CreateSpace or Author Solutions companies) publish and distribute books under their own imprint. With subsidy publishing, you are generally paying for a package. You can use your ISBN, but you don’t have to. Subsidy publishing is sometimes called vanity publishing, or fee-based publishing. You own your content when you publish with subsidy publishers, but the company owns the right to distribute your book, and they then pay you a royalty on books sold.

With what many people call “true” self-publishing, you are the publisher. This form of self-publishing requires you to manage and oversee all aspects of your own book’s creation—from editing to proofreading to design, layout, and distribution. This is a good model for some authors, but for plenty others it's very overwhelming. There are a lot of moving parts to pay attention to when you're working through the production of a book, and hiring good people is key. For those of you who thrive on this stuff and know what you're doing, it can work really well; for those of you who don't, it can be fairly overwhelming. Because you distribute your own book, you have complete control over your product and you don’t get a royalty. Instead, you get a net profit on your books. Lightning Source is the number one choice for this brand of publishing, followed by working directly with a printer to do a short print-run.

Finally, there’s hybrid publishing in all of this. Hybrid publishing is where She Writes Press is situating itself. We are a hybrid because we are, in fact, a publishing company. What we’re offering is fee-based publishing, but we are also offering a partnership. With SWP, you own your content, but you publish under our imprint and our ISBN. You can have your rights reverted at any time, but we are bringing you under our umbrella when we offer you a contract.

The two most common complaints I hear about subsidy publishing are that there’s no gatekeeper (and therefore the quality of the projects is hit or miss), and there’s no true partnership between the company and the authors. Also, the royalties offered by subsidy publishing models are abysmally low; the author rarely earns much money from the sales. In the case of SWP, we function more like the true press model in this sense because we do not pay royalties. Instead, we charge a fee to manage your accounts. Also, importantly, we are interested in partnering with our authors. We are not offering tailored sales and marketing services, but we are offering marketing education by way of DIY classes (more to come on what’s in the works here!---very exciting stuff) and by way of promoting and marketing our entire list of books. When CreateSpace or Author Solutions goes to a trade show, they’re selling their services. When we go to trade shows, we’ll be there to showcase what we do, but also to promote our list. In this sense, again, we are functioning as a traditional press.

We will have a biannual catalogue that we send out to bookbuyers and retailers, and we will be constantly promoting our authors. We are excited, too, about partnering with our authors around their marketing and publicity ideas. We encourage creative dialogue, and, as I’ve said many times before, we’re book people with strong roots in traditional publishing. This matters because we’re approaching this endeavor from the author’s standpoint, and we care about the quality of your book and its reach.

Finally, with regard to vetting/gatekeeping, we feel that our submissions process is an important aspect of what we do, but it doesn’t exist to intimidate you! Don’t feel that you are being evaluated, or that receiving news that you’re on Track 3, meaning the manuscript still needs some work, is a rejection. It’s information that will help you help your manuscript to get it to its very best state. Too often in traditional publishing you simply don’t know why you’ve been rejected. Agents and editors speak in vague terms: “I don’t see this being commercial”; “Your platform needs to be stronger.” The worst is when they tell you they love it, but the voice just isn’t strong enough or relatable enough. What are you supposed to do with that feedback? Well, we’ll tell you what we think in honest terms, with a recommendation of what to do next.

All of these services and our genuine desire to help you succeed sets SWP apart from other fee-based publishing, and we look forward to seeing your submission, and continuing to answer any questions you might have.

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  • Rossandra White

    Hi Brooke, thanks so much for the nice clear answer : ) 

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    Hi @Rossandra, Book Baby is an epublishing service, so it's a completely different model. They take your files and convert them so that they can be read on an e-reader, and they offer some templated cover designs, but it's kind of like comparing apples and oranges because we are focused on quality print books, all of which get converted and will be for sale as ebooks. But they're conceptualized first as print books, basically following a pretty traditional publishing model. I admire what Book Baby is doing, but it's another model just like Smashwords that's for people who want to exclusively do ebooks. 

    Thanks for the question!

  • Rossandra White

    Would the difference between Bookbaby and SheWrites be that you set up POD and warehouse and set up distribution for any books that have been printed?

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Lorna, in my post I'm talking about "true self-publishing," not traditional publishing, which falls outside of self-publishing completely, as you know. In my opinion, and the opinion of most, there are only two true self-publishing models: Lightning Source and/or getting a bid from a printer who will do a print run for you. In these cases, you are the publisher of your work bc you own the imprint (LSI requires you to set one up) and you own your ISBNs. 

    I'm sure there are people out there who will say that She Writes Press is a subsidy model, but I argue we are not because of our submissions and vetting process. With subsidy publishing, you are paying for a service. While that is true here, we are operating as a traditional publisher would except that the books will be author-subsidized. We are weighing in on content, cover design, and also promoting our list, which is something no other subsidy press does. This is most of the reason I feel we are a hybrid. We are partnering with our authors and we are hand-holding where necessary and making sure that the quality stands up against the "traditional" competition.

    iUniverse and Author House are just two imprints of the same company (Author Solutions), which also owns Balboa Press and Westbow Press. We were actually approached by them. they were interested in taking over She Writes Press. But at the end of the day they have a very spotty reputation among authors. I think the worst thing about them is their lack of transparency. Most people don't realize all these various imprints (I think there are about ten or so) are all part of Author Solutions. they were just purchased by Penguin, so we'll see how that all turns out. I'm sure you did well with them because you're very savvy and you knew exactly what you wanted. I think the average first-time author tends to purchase from them more than what they actually need.

    I'm happy to see you here, dear friend. We've known each other how long---30 years?? :)

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Deb, the submissions fee gets you an assessment and our suggestions for next steps. We put you on a track---basically (1) you're ready to publish; (2) we recommend a copyedit; (3) we recommend you work with a coach to iron out a few things and take your manuscript to the next level. You are not obligated to publish with us once you get the assessment back, but it's only a submissions fee. It doesn't cover anything else.

  • Lorna Collins


    I have heard it described a bit differently. There is self-publishing which is truly vanity publishing. Lulu, Createspace, Smashwords are a few of those. Generally they don't offer many, if any any services, and the quality of the material may vary. Some of their publications are of questionable value, and may contain blatant errors. However, some people have done well with them.

    Subsidy publishing, as I understand it, is what She Writes Press is doing. (iUniverse and Author House are two more). They charge for a menu of options including various levels of editing, marketing, etc. They provide the ISBNs, custom covers, and distribution. The cost to the author is actually less than the actual cost of the services. As the author, you share royalties and retain ownership of the material. (The author may copyright the material if desired. The company does not.)

    With 'true' or 'traditional' publishing, the author may or may not need an agent and may or may not receive an advance. The publishing company has a contract with the author to publish their work for a stated period of time, during which the company 'owns' exclusive rights to it. The company does all the distribution and marketing. They have final approval on covers and dictate format, etc. They provide the ISBNs and distribution. However, the author generally receives smaller royalties with traditional publishers than with self-publishers and subsidy publishers.

    We are published with iUniverse as well as two independent traditional publishers. Our reasons for using iUniverse had to do with expediency and the amount of control we wanted over the final product. Since I am an editor (content and line), and we had a crack proofreader, we felt we could manage that on our own.

    We are very happy with the two indie publishers who publish our other books.

    I believe that She Writes Press offers yet another alternative. Knowing you, I would expect the quality to be very high.

  • Deb

    Are there upfront costs here besides the $25 submission fee?

  • Not sure I see the difference between hybrid and subsidy publishing, however for any author looking to publish who does not want to handle 'it all', I would certainly look into choosing this press while it's new!

    Off the starting block I went with iUniverse. They were brand new; charged $159 to do what they now charge over a $1000 to do. The price jump happened within two years too. Don't regret it, and certainly would jump on something like this if I were just starting out.

  • Michael N. Marcus

    >>Subsidy publishing means that the companies themselves (like Lulu or CreateSpace or Author Solutions companies) publish and distribute books under their own imprint.<<

    Not necessarily. Lulu and CreateSpace are 'split-personality' self-publishing companies. They can provide complete publishing packages like the Author Solutions brands, or just printing and distribution like Lightning Source.


    Outskirts Press (a terrible company for many reasons) allows an author to use her own imprint.


    There are many paths to publcation, and more appear every month.




  • Thanks so much for this information and especially the two publishers (Lightening Source and She Writes Press).