Technically, yes, but it depends who is looking at it...
Self-publishing is the act of bypassing the traditional publishing gatekeepers and publishing your book yourself using dedicated self-publishing platforms. When you self-publish your written work, you can distribute your book more freely to more people. With self-publishing, you also get more control over your book.
However, whether self-published books should count as being published is a common question in the publishing world. To answer this question in-depth, I will tackle the two separate issues regarding publication.
The Two Worlds: Legal Vs. Publishing
To determine whether self-published authors should actually count as standard published authors, despite it being in the name, we will discuss what the term 'publish' means in the legal world and how your self-published written work affects your legal rights. We will also discuss what self-published work means to traditional publishers and how it can affect your book's marketability and reach.
#1. Legal world
The term 'published' in copyright law only applies when you have availed copies of your work for distribution to the public. You will have to present a published version of your book as a specimen for your registration and declare the date of publication and country. Once you create your illustration, you get copyright that you cannot lose by publishing your work.
However, there is no agreement on whether self-publishing your work makes the work qualify as a legal publication. Many people agree that self-publishing counts as publication since it allows people in different locations to access and view your work simultaneously, which is comparable to traditional publication. When a computer displays your work on a web page or generates a downloadable copy, it technically generates copies, analogous to traditional publishing.
Likewise, each time a copy of your book is ordered via a print-on-demand service, the buyer receives an individual copy and this process is essentially limitless, hence fulfilling the publication requirements.
#2. Publishing World
Unlike with copyright law, publishers do not have a lot of concern with the technical details of what a copy of the book made public constitutes. The publishers' main aim is to get new, exclusive, and unique content for their publications. Having this unique and exclusive book makes them, the publisher, more valuable.
Therefore, when a publisher agrees to publish your book, they are doing so with the exclusive rights to it. Every publisher wants to ensure that while they print your book, no other publisher out there has a right to publish it. This is why publishers do not accept books which are self-published because there will have been copies printed and distributed to the public making the content less exclusive and valuable.
Think about it from their perspective. When a publisher markets your work and people go looking for your book, they want to ensure that every sale is a sale they benefit from. Otherwise, if the rights are not exclusively theirs, they could advertise your book and a customer could end up going elsewhere, all on their marketing budget.
But with self-publishing, since the author does not give the self-publishing platform the license to print the book commercially, some publishers do not have a problem publishing it. They assume that there are no printed copies in the marketplace, enough to compete with their published books.
Self-publishing vs. Traditional publishing
Although both traditional and self-publishing are two effective ways of publishing your work, the two have differences and similarities.
Here is a comparison of the two publishing methods:
- One of the significant differences between traditional and self-publishing is the time required to publish. Traditional publishing is a time-consuming process that involves a series of steps.
- Your manuscript will first have to be accepted by the publishing house you have obliged to publish your work (after you acquire an agent to approach them, of course). And since most publishing houses have many documents awaiting approval, it could even take months before getting a response.
- After a literary agent goes through your pitch, it is not set in stone that they will accept it but may choose to reject it.
- Once your manuscript is accepted, compiling your book together for printing may take months and sometimes years before you get your new book.
On the other hand, with self-publishing:
- You get a choice of designing the layout of your book.
- You determine the number of book copies you want to print.
- Self-publishing eliminates the hassles an author encounters in traditional publishing, and you can even get a copy of the book within a week or so.
- If you opt for self-publishing an eBook, it can be available on the digital market within a matter of days or even hours!
Another difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing is the cost involved:
- With traditional publishing, the author incurs no publication cost, the publisher bears the cost.
- All the responsibilities such as designing and printing lie on the publishing house.
On the other hand, when you self-publish your work:
- You should be ready to pay for professional services, ie. book design, proofreading & editing, formatting etc. You might find my post, Self-publishing on Amazon For Under $200: The Definitive Guide 2021 useful if this is the route you are going down. As while self-publishing seems like a lot to accomplish alone, I have laid out the steps you will need to take and your options.
- It is also your responsibility as an author to promote and market your book effectively. For this reason, learning about Social Media Marketing is paramount. Check out this list of my favourite resources to see how you can learn to do that yourself. Remember, once you learn these skills once you can rinse and repeat for each subsequent book rather than paying somebody for each campaign - in other words learning it WILL pay off!
Another aspect that differs between these two ways of publishing is the aspect of control. In traditional publishing, the editors have the right to make some changes in your book to make it more marketable, and sometimes you won’t be pleased with the changes made. While with self-publishing, the author determines the part of the book to make changes. The authors in self-publishing have absolute creative control since they can hire professional editors and designers to help edit and design the text as per their vision. That is opposed to traditional publishing, where authors have limited control over the book's creative aspects.
Although in both methods of publishing the author gain royalties, they differ. Publishers often pay authors a nice advance on their books. Whilst royalties in self-publishing are higher than in traditional publishing.
Why Is Self-Publishing Becoming So Popular And The Preferred Method Over Traditional Publishing?
- Although the costs of self-publishing have to be covered by the author, the self-publishing process can still be carried out relatively cheaply, again even on a low budget like $200.
- Most self-published authors would never have been looked at by major publishers and their book ideas would remain an idea or draft that nobody ever sees. Or worse, they are disheartened by the rejection and stop writing altogether.
- You can now achieve worldwide distribution with all of these online platforms, so the concept of self-publishing looks a lot different from how it looked before. And coupled with well-planned marketing strategies and social media marketing you can have better reach in some cases. For example, an influencer with just 100k followers having a book launch can likely achieve best-seller status with their self-published book.
- Self-publishing makes it very easy to release multiple books and rather quickly.
- You have complete creative control over your book. From cover design, to images (if publishing a children's book), to formatting.
- Being that the process is so easy, it is fast becoming a desirable side-hustle and passive income revenue stream for many.
- That book idea you have always had no longer has to sit in your head.
- There are many gaps in the market and opportunities that traditional publishers don't find value in. For example very niche genres and topics as well as bilingual books. These things are searched for and sell very well but are not something that would necessarily do well in a high street bookstore. Therefore it makes more sense to self-publish these and have them printed on demand.