More and more people are publishing books, and their options for doing so are expanding.

Many of the people who call to ask about ghostwriting and publishing are not familiar with the terms we use, so I’ve defined them here.

  • Traditional publishing – What most people think of when imaging themselves as authors: A New York publishing house purchases their book, gives them an advance payment, handles the editing and other aspects of book production, gets the books into the bookstores, and launches a marketing campaign to spur sales.
  • Self-publishing – The author acts as her own publisher, responsible for the editing, book design, printing, distribution, marketing, and all other aspects of book publishing. The author may literally do it all, may hire individual people or companies to handle various items, or may enlist the services of a self-publishing company to handle most of the chores.
  • DIY self-publishing – Do-it-yourself self-publishing, in which the author hires an editor and proofreader, hires and works with a cover designer and interior designer, pays for the printing, and either handles all the publicity or hires someone to do it for her. The author shoulders all the responsibilities, makes all the decisions, and pays all the bills.
  • Assisted self-publishing – Hiring a firm to handle the self-publishing chores for you. There are many such firms, and they offer a variety of packages and a la carte services.
  • Hybrid publishing – A mixture of traditional and self-publishing. This is an evolving category that lacks a strict definition. You can think of a hybrid publisher as one who asks you to shoulder much or all of the costs, but is very selective in what it publishes. Since they don’t publish any old author, hybrid publishers may do a better job with distribution and marketing. Some hybrid publishers work on a crowdfunding model, insisting that you develop a following and get a certain number of pre-orders before they will publish your book.
  • Vanity publishing – An old term used for self-publishing. It was used in a negative way, implying the books were so uninteresting or poorly written that their authors had to pay to have them published—and no one wanted to read them anyway—so it was all an exercise in vanity. That was undoubtedly true with many vanity press books, but then again, many famous writers used the vanity press. For example, books by Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, Zane Grey, Upton Sinclair, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rudyard Kipling, and other famous names were vanity press productions.
  • Subsidy publishing – An alternate term for vanity publishing.
  • Print-on-demand (POD) – A combination of printing technology and business process that has dramatically lowered the price of printing books a few at a time, or even one at a time. Books no longer have to be printed in lots of thousands at a time to be profitable. Instead, POD costs are low enough that books can be printed a few at a time and still sell and produce a profit for the publisher and/or author.