On Writing,  publishing

The New World of Publishing: What Should Indie Publishers Be Called?

We have indie publishers, self publishers, specialty-press publishers, small-press publishers, and so on and so on. Are there any differences and does anyone care?

Well, it seems some people care. Those people with far too much time on their hands, in my opinion. But alas, I have been asked questions about the differences now for some time and I figured it was about time to lay out my opinion on the subject.

So here is how I break it down….

(I will not defend this because, honestly, I have too much actual work to do. And I honestly don’t care. But for the sake of future articles, let me be clear how I see each term. Then you all can agree or disagree.)


Writers who are publishing their own work and have not started a press, don’t have a press name, and when they publish a book, it says only their author name as the publisher.

I have zero issue with authors publishing this way as long as they never hope to grow a larger business. This way is for occasional writers wanting to get something into print. Nothing wrong with it at all.

In fact, this article is self-published. So for this blog and other articles on this web site, I am a self-published author.

Indie Publishers

Indie publishers are writers or fans or whatever who have started a press name that publishes either their own work or someone else’s work. Indie publishers run their press like a business. They often don’t even have their own checking account under the business name, although most do.

Again, nothing wrong with that.

Indie presses usually have more than one author name under their press, have a press web site, and act like a business with their writing. In my columns called “Think Like a Publisher” I try to help writers set up their own presses and act like a business.

Specialty Press Publishers

These are publishers who have a focus on one special area or one author. Underwood-Miller Publishing was a specialty press mostly publishing only high-quality signed Jack Vance books.

My original publishing company, Pulphouse Publishing Inc., was a specialty press publisher focusing only on short fiction books and magazines.

Specialty press publishers tend to do very high quality, often limited books focused in their special area. They act completely like a business.

The longest running specialty press in history was Arkham House out of Wisconsin. Started in 1939 and now finally, have seemed to have shut down.

Small Press

Small Press is a term used in the larger world of publishing to define a publisher, either an indie or a specialty publisher, who has gross sales under a certain figure. That figure tends to be around 50 million dollars. Or less than ten titles per year.

Note, many “medium-sized presses” are considered part of traditional publishing. Daw Books, Baen Books, and so on in science fiction are medium-sized presses. After you get above 50 million dollars in sales per year, there is not a lot of difference between you and a traditional publisher.

My first publishing company, Pulphouse Publishing Inc., was considered the 5th largest publisher of science fiction and fantasy and horror for five straight years, yet we never got above small press. We published 252 titles in nine years, however.

Vanity Publishers

Scams. Plain and simple. Vanity presses under new disguises these days tell a writer that they will produce a writer’s book for a set amount of money and then ship the writer thousands of really ugly books for the writer to try to sell or store in their garage.

This kind of press should be avoided by writers at all costs. They have existed in publishing forever and will continue on due to the stupidity of writers with more money than brains.

Traditional or Legacy Publishers

I use the term “traditional publishers.” Some writers like calling all the big publishers “legacy” publishers as a nasty term. Not all major corporations are the same, not all are bad, not all work in the same mold. And there are a ton more than six of them.

So I like “traditional”  as a term for major publishers since this new world has given writers choices between being an indie publisher or selling to a traditional publisher. I suggest always trying to do both. Just be smart about it.


I like (and will continue to use) the term “indie publisher” or “indie writer” to talk about writers striking out on their own into the publishing world and starting their own presses. I consider it a term of respect for writers I admire.

WMG Publishing Inc. (which I am putting most of my stories through and my backlist) is a small press publisher I helped start. It now has four employees (not counting me) and a number of others helping out. It very well might grow into a medium-sized publisher over years.

I also will keep trying to sell to larger traditional publishers if the contract terms allow.

And I am helping start an indie distribution company for indie and small press publishers to distribute work to bookstores. That will be coming on line this winter.

As well as all that, I am editing for Fiction River, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of WMG Publishing Inc.

So if anyone cares if I am an indie writer, the answer is nope. I sell all my work to corporations. And I work part-time to help out a new corporation get started.

But I can tell you what I am (besides a self-published writer for this blog).

I am a writer.

I am a writer who likes getting paid for his work and getting it to readers who will enjoy it.

Past that, I couldn’t much care what anyone calls me.


Because I’m having fun, that’s why.



Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

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