I recently published a post about the difference between vanity publishing and true self-publishing. Fundamentally, the article defines a publisher as “someone who takes the risk on a book.” Vanity Presses represent themselves as publishers and accept royalties while the author assumes all the risk. True self-publishers pay the up-front costs for design, printing, distribution, etc. but after the sales commissions are paid, they don’t have to share their profits. But several readers wrote in to suggest I’d omitted a third approach—co-publishing. This article explains what co-publishing is and what it isn’t.
Co-Publishing – What it Is NOT
At first, I mistakenly assumed that co-publishing was an arrangement where the author published under the “self-publishing” wing of a major publisher. For example Penguin Books started a Book Country imprint which has been criticized as a vanity press that preys on authors who want to be “affiliated” with the publishing leviathan. But writers don’t have to work very hard to earn pseudo “Published by Penguin” status. Penguin’s parent company, Pearson, purchased Author Solutions which is the umbrella entity under which most of the major vanity presses operate. Penguin risks the dilution of their brand—their respected role as gatekeeper—by admitting anyone who wants to publish through the side door, and authors are unlikely to sell many books by playing the phony “published by Penguin” card, anyway. If Penguin thought your book was a potential blockbuster, they’d sign you directly and send you an advance. But though Penguin’s business tactics are newsworthy, pretending to ride the coattails of a major publisher by vanity publishing through one of their holdings is NOT co-publishing.
Co-Publishing – What it IS
Publishing on any level has risk associated with it; money is spent to bring a manuscript to market with the understanding that profits may not exceed expenditures. Traditional publishers assume all the risk; they pay the writer an advance against royalties and cover all the costs of marketing. Self-publishers cover their own costs. They assume all the risks and take home a much larger share of the profit (if there is any).
But what about a third arrangement where the author and publisher share the risks? For example, a small publisher may not be in a financial position to pay advances against royalties but it may be able to provide editing, design services, and publishing expertise—valuable contributions that writers often lack the skills and experience to handle on their own. Potentially, a co-publishing arrangement is worth a piece of the prospective future pie. Continue reading →