Writerly Wednesday – Definition of Terms

With the rising popularity of digital book readers and digital books in general, more and more authors choose a path that includes both traditional print as well as digital first publishing. However, as such things go, terms often get conflated leading to confusion in discussion so I thought I’d go over some of those –

Traditional Publishing – this is most often what people refer to “New York” publishers as. Traditional publishing houses use print books at their primary format. However, MOST publishing houses these days are also releasing new books (and a greater percentage of OOP and backlist books as well) digitally either concurrently or within a few weeks or months of the paper release.

Print – paper books – including Mass Market paperbacks, trade paperbacks and hardback books. Sometimes books are released in multiple formats – hardback first and then to mass market, or trade first and then mass market. Etc.

Digital – books released in multiple formats to be read on various e-readers, digital devices like phones and iPads, computers, etc. The file is purchased and either sent to the device wirelessly (Nook and Kindle do this) or downloaded to the computer and transferred to the reader.

Digital First Publishing – Digital first publishers are, like traditional houses above, publishers – as in they have editors, marketing, distribution, cover art departments, etc. The difference is that the books will release in digital format first and then later on go to print. Sometimes this is decided by success of the digital release, sometimes not. It will be governed by the number of words/pages so the book must be long enough to go to print on its own (roughly 50K) or be teamed up in a print combo with another short book.

Samhain is a digital first publisher for instance.

There are digital only publishers as well – they put out the books in digital format but not in print.

Self Publishing – An author puts his or her own books out for release – either via a site that will print the books on a short POD run. Some authors hire editors and cover artists.

Self publishing can be digital AND print, or only one or the other. The popularity of self publishing via Kindle and Smashwords has created a new platform for writers who choose this path.

I publish traditionally – in both print and digital, and in digital first publishing with Samhain. Carina is digital for now, but I’ll be interested to see how that works out and if they’ll be doing combo releases in the future.

There’s often a conflation (read one thing mixed with another and asserted as being the same, but are not) between digital PUBLISHING and digital FORMAT for self publishing. These things are very different and any writer considering either or should know what these terms mean before embarking on any of them. What Joe Konrath does, for instance, is SELF PUBLISHING in a DIGITAL FORMAT. He’s had a great deal of success. What I do is DIGITAL PUBLISHING so I’m working with a publisher and that format is digital first or in addition to print. This means I have a relationship with a publisher and to me, this is a very deliberate choice. I have zero desire to do any of this on my own. I LIKE it that my publishers have marketing departments. I like having an editor and a cover art department and I like their distribution.

I choose to write across formats and genres for many reasons. I like the ability to write all sorts of stories. I like working with different editors and continuing to learn my craft and this business. I like working with different publishers who have different audiences and different voices. But I make it my goal to educate myself about what is out there, what works for me and what doesn’t work for me. I don’t know everything, I learn stuff every day and thank goodness for people who are willing to share their insight (Courtney Milan and Tessa Dare recently gave me some great info on copyright – for instance). My agent is a great resource as are my editors. In the end, our community is only as strong as the people within it and how willing we are to share information (and how willing others are to listen and learn).

This isn’t meant to be a value judgment about any of the types of publishing I list above. It’s meant to break it down into parts and define a little. Because what I do is not the same as what Konrath does, though I’ve seen other authors consistently mix up digital publishing with self publishing digitally and to not get the differences is, IMO, asking for trouble because you should understand what it is you’re doing and going to do before you do it.

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