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Once, when your book was "published", it was clear that you meant that it had been reviewed and accepted by a publisher and was now being distributed through book stores. Today, when you talk about publishing, you have to use such convoluted terms as "non-self-published", if you want to make clear that you are talking about books that have undergone the selection process and aren't just posted directly from Word to your website.

I have read different terms for "non-self-published" books, such as "traditionally published" (but doesn't that rather mean printed books as opposed to ebooks?) or "trade published" (but isn't self-publishing a trade as well?).

Is there a term for "non-self-published" books?


The purpose of this question is to give us a term that fellow writers will understand, so we can more easily communicate about the publishing process. The answer therefore may well be a technical term or moniker that those in the business use among themselves.

  • Why would it not just be "published"? No need to overcomplicate it. Self published indicates that you did it yourself, published indicates that it was done through an organization specializing in the trade. – Thomo May 4 '18 at 0:29
  • @Thomo Because self-published books are published as well. The term "published" encompasses both self-published and non-self-published publications. It is the umbrella term and does not differentiate. – user29032 May 4 '18 at 7:09
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I don't know whether you use different terms in the USA, but as I understand it, here in the UK, there are five different routes to publishing, briefly:

Traditional publishing, where you have gone through the agent and in-house editor submission process and signed a contract with a publishing house for an advance and royalties. The publishing house handles all routes to market from hardback to digital.

Hybrid publishing, this is a convoluted area with a variety of options, where the author wants to retain certain rights (particularly digital) but wants the assistance of a traditional publisher to handle print runs and get them into libraries, book stores, reviews and competitions not usually open to a self-published author. Many authors with a proven track record as an indie author now sign deals with traditional publishing houses for print only while retaining their digital rights.

Vanity publishing, where you pay someone to publish for you. So they handle your print and digital releases but you've fronted the costs.

Indie Publishing, this term is interchanged with self-publishing but generally independent authors do everything a publishing house would do, only they pay for it themselves. So, they'll hire an editor, cover designer, PR, and maybe even a small press for print runs (depending on the costs of each print-on-demand service). More and more authors are doing this now, even turning down traditional deals because they realise they can do everything a publishing house does without giving away 90% of their profits and 15% of that remaining 10% to an agent.

Self-publishing, where you do everything yourself, you edit, design the cover and upload your book to a print-on-demand service. But this term is interchanged with indie publishing and most people wouldn't even be aware of any distinction.

Hope this helps.

  • 1
    Great answer. I thought of mentioning vanity publishing in my question, but have the impression that it has largely disappeared now that self-publishing has become so easy. Good that your bring up indie publishing as well, which is sort of the traditional publishing approach to self-publishing. Anyway, so you say that the technical term for the "opposite" of self-publishing is traditional publishing, right? Anything to substantiate your observation? I'm not saying you are wrong, but how do you know that is actually the widest used and accepted term? Would eveyone understand what it means? – user29032 May 4 '18 at 7:13
  • Everyone in the publishing industry, that is. – user29032 May 4 '18 at 9:41
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Posting these additional answers for you as they're too long for comments. I'm also digressing a bit from the original question by trying to offer a few insights into these different routes to publishing and why authors choose them. It is no longer a case of self-published books being the trash that traditional houses discarded:

No, vanity presses haven't disappeared, there are still plenty out there, many masquerading as traditional publishers and scamming authors out of money. Writer Beware offers insights into some of these scams but not every vanity press is a scam. However, no reputable agent or publisher will ever ask you for money. http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/

You could perhaps say that self-publishing (where none of the professional processes employed by a traditional publisher have been used) is the opposite to traditional publishing. But I feel that “opposite” is too strong because it suggests the processes are situated on the furthest sides from each other, when there is overlap. Particularly if a “self-published” book has been through the same processes (professional editing, typesetting, cover design, etc) as a traditionally published book. They are often indistinguishable from each other and these routes to publishing aren't distinct enough to be opposites.

Does everyone know the term ‘traditional publishing’? No. But, if you Google it, you'll find it’s a very prolific term, used by thousands of sources including “reputable” newspapers here in the UK like The Guardian and The Independent. But in my experience, very few people understand the publishing process at all unless they’re in the business. For example, when people ask about my writing and I say, ‘I’ve just finished the first draft of the next book’, they usually say, ‘Great! When’s it getting published?’ Fish-mouthed, I wonder how to even begin answering that question.

The one thing I do know is that self-publishing has a stigma that’s difficult to shake and unfair on indie authors who have gone through the same processes that a traditional publisher goes through. Which is perhaps why the term indie author was coined, to try to distinguish themselves from writers who had dumped an un-edited book on Amazon with a cover they had designed themselves on Photoshop.

The thing is that traditional publishing used to be the only route to market (unless you were rich enough to pay a small press) and here in the UK, when the NBA was still in place, publishers set the price of books and retailers had to adhere to those prices. It enabled publishers to subsidise the printing of less commercially viable but portentous books. When the NBA was abolished, the retailer was then able to set the price of books, and fat cats could afford to discount heavily. Independent book stores were no longer able to compete against the likes of big book sellers, supermarkets and Amazon and went out of business. You can read about the Net Book Agreement on Wiki - it’s very interesting.

Now, traditional publishers are being squeezed by retailers into selling their books at heavily-discounted rates. The fat cats refuse to stock at all if the publisher doesn't submit. Publishers push these massive discounts back on the author. So, if you buy a book for £5.99 from your local supermarket and the publisher sold it to them for £2.99, the author only gets 29p per copy. At that rate it’s almost impossible to earn back an advance and most authors never see any royalties. A friend of mine who’d won a prestigious literary award, sent me her royalty statement a few weeks ago and for six months of sales, her figures were in the negative. That’s because the returns of just a few hardbacks completely overshadowed respectable digital sales.

Because traditional publishers are being squeezed, they no longer have the marketing budget they once had. So, many traditionally published books hit the shops with little or no marketing and die a death on some dusty back shelf. If a traditionally published author wants to achieve success, they need to market the book themselves. However, they quickly realise that the services they are getting from a traditional publisher (editing, typesetting, cover design etc.) are being outsourced to independents they could have hired themselves. The one thing they really needed, the marketing efforts of a big publisher, isn’t done. Meanwhile, the publisher takes 90% of their profits and the agent takes 15% of their 10%.

So, authors, faced with signing contracts that bind them into selling their book (that perhaps took years to write) for a third of the price of a Batman Candy Stick, are looking for alternatives to traditional publishing. If they have to do their own marketing anyway, why not hire these independent editors, type-setters and cover designers and keep 70% of their profits through a print on demand service?

Many in-house editors who used to work in big publishing houses are now going independent and you can hire some very prestigious editors to work on your novel.

The Society of Authors, with Philip Pullman as president, is fighting for fairer traditional deals here in the UK, and this is a very interesting read: http://www.societyofauthors.org/News/Blogs/James-Mayhew/November-2016/James-Mayhew-Fair-Trade-for-Authors

As I said, I have digressed! I can only speak for the UK market, what is happening here in publishing, and why authors are choosing alternative routes to market instead of traditional publishing.

  • “If they have to do their own marketing anyway, why not hire these independent editors, type-setters and cover designers and keep 70% of their profits through a print on demand service?” — Don't traditional publishing houses also sort of act as insurance? From my understanding, if your book doesn't sell, they have the cost of editing, typesetting and cover design, while if you buy those services yourself, you are sitting on the cost. Is that understanding wrong? Of course you still may think that the insurance is too expensive, but it has at least to be considered in the equation. – celtschk May 4 '18 at 9:41
  • Thank you for these comments, GGx. I have edited my answer to make my aim more clear. Again, not saying that your answer isn't the correct one. I'd just like to understand better. – user29032 May 4 '18 at 9:42
  • Not at all. They're just my observations and I'm not precious over my answers, that's what the votes are for. – GGx May 4 '18 at 9:55
  • Sort of insurance... well, risk is the issue and you’re absolutely right. Choosing between traditional and indie publishing is not an easy decision to make. With traditional, the publisher takes the risk of fronting those costs and potentially not making a profit (though not likely, they wouldn’t offer you a deal if they didn’t think they were going to make ANY money). And yes, it absolutely has to be considered in the equation, you're right. But, think about this: – GGx May 4 '18 at 10:01
  • If you get multiple publishers fighting over your book and it goes into a bidding war, you may get £100,000 for a two-book deal (50,000 per book). That’s if you're really, really lucky and you've written the next Gone Girl. With an advance like that the publisher will probably go for a super-release, where they put all their marketing efforts behind your book and you’ll end up on the front tables and in the windows of book stores, maybe even on the side of a bus! But, publishers do one to two super-releases per year. What are the chances of your book being one of them? – GGx May 4 '18 at 10:57

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