Five Rules of the Subsidy Publishing Road

Guest Post by SR Staley

An earlier post noted that book publishing is changing in fundamental ways that are putting the squeeze on new authors and niche writers. Traditional publishers are abandoning the “small” book market, and, in order to be successful, authors need to wade into what has derisively been termed “subsidy publishing” or “self publishing.” While self published books have traditionally been synonymous with poor quality, the realities of the current book publishing market give many authors little alternative.

Fortunately, a few companies are emerging in the market that can produce a high quality product rivaling mainstream publishers and provide important distribution outlets. But, authors need to recognize this brave new world of publishing has pitfalls. Here are six rules of the road I’ve developed from more than twenty years of working with both mainstream publishers and subsidy publishers.

  • Put a Premium on Production Quality. Ensure the press you are working with can produce a high quality product. Go on-line and purchase recent titles in your genre. Ask yourself: Are the production qualities—cover design, interior design, binding—high enough I could enthusiastically and proudly sell to strangers and family? Do not rely on promises; look at the publisher’s track record.
  • Make Sure You Have Access to Wholesale Distributors. Make sure the press can place your book with wholesale distributors such as Ingram, Baker &Taylor or American Wholesale Book Company. Without this access, not only will your book not get into books stores, but potential readers won’t even be able to order them!
  • Professionally Edit Your Work. One of the biggest mistakes authors going through subsidy publishers make is failing to recognize that a primary service embedded in conventional publishing is a structured and effective editing process. No manuscript goes from author word processing to printed product without several rounds of professional edits in a major publishing house, and yours shouldn’t either. Don’t skimp on this step, and it’s worth paying the extra money. Your publisher should have a stable of qualified editors for you to tap. If not, they probably aren’t the right publisher for you.
  • Don’t Expect to Make Money On Your First Book. Go into the process recognizing your first (or second) book is about creating a readership base and marketing platform for furthering your writing career. The first book is an investment, not a cash cow. Research and negotiate with a subsidy publisher with the expectation you will use them for the second book. Otherwise, the temptation to treat a book as a “one off” is strong, and production quality will suffer as a result.
  • You Are, and Always Will Be, Your Best Publicist. This is the dirty little secret of established publishing houses. Established presses are best at giving authors access to a broader market, but it has always been the author that really sells the book. The same principle is true for self-published books. Good subsidy publishers recognize this and provide support for authors willing to embrace this critical aspect to publishing success.

Subsidy publishing can be an effective route to getting your manuscript into the hands of readers. In fact, in today’s market, for the vast majority of authors, it may be the only way. But, publishing your book is not the same thing as having a successful book. Make sure whatever publisher you sign with has the capabilities of making the book a success if you put the hard work in on your end.


SR Staley ( is the author of six books and comments on the business of publishing at his blog “Adaptation” ( His most recent book is the middle grade novel “A Warrior’s Soul.”


Posted on July 27, 2011, in Publicity & Writing, Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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