Why I Like The Term: “Author-Publisher”

Last week I wrote a thing about 25 steps one might take to become a proper professional-grade self-published author, but in that post I expressed a little distaste for the term “self-publisher,” and somewhat inadvertently coined a new term: “author-publisher.”

I’d like to unpack that and defend it a little bit.

“Self-publishing” as a term is one I’ve never really liked.

A couple-few reasons:

First, it’s already got a stigma from the guys who printed their own books 10-20 years ago and tried to sell them at farmer’s markets or on their Geocities pages. (I had a guy at an eyeglasses place in the mall push a free copy of his Young Adult Softball Jesus subgenre book — self-published, obviously. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever tried to read. Ironically, I think if I had read it all the way through it would have burned out the eyes that needed eyeglasses.)

Second, it’s clunky in the mouth. Aesthetically, I just don’t like it.

Third, it says nothing about actually writing a book. One supposes that the “self” part makes it implicit, but given that the problem with self-publishing is (or at least was) the failing quality of the material, I feel like we should have a term that explicitly states that first you gotta write a professional-level book. More on that in a moment.

Fourth, “self” is very misleading — the best self-publishers make use of Other Smart and Instrumental Humans in the process. Cover artists and editors and copy-editors and author-wranglers and liquor store employees. Self sounds like you’re doing it all alone. DIY! Except not.

So, author-publisher.

Here’s why I diggit:

First, it sounds like RPG MULTI-CLASS. I’m a warrior-mage! A rogue-monk! A drunken-sorcerer-bard-waitress-wombat-jockey! Author-publisher sounds like you’re buying points in both of these professional classes and you can wear the weapons and sigils of each house.

Second, it’s more accurate. You are both an author and publisher. Why not emphasize both?

Third, I like hyphens.

Fourth, while author is a bit of a pretentious term, hey, fuck it, I think we could use a little pretension. Maybe it’s a word that raises our noses up a little. Maybe it sets a higher-bar to counter the idea of just click publish no really just do it who cares if you wrote the literary equivalent of a Target bag full of old poop-heavy toddler diapers fuck the gatekeepers dude just fling that up onto Amazon man and let the sweeeeeet money come rolling in.

So, there you go:


Use it. Abuse it. Discard it. Bury it in a shallow grave by the train tracks.

But I like it.

65 responses to “Why I Like The Term: “Author-Publisher””

  1. I love your way with words, plus you make me laugh. This is a great article on the changes happening at lightning speed in the publishing world. I’ve written a thing or two on the same subject, although I did finally attach a publisher to my work. Leading up to that point, I managed and produced the whole thing.

  2. What about “indie writer”? Because it leaves out the publishing aspect? We call indie filmmakers “indie”… but maybe films are a different beast.

    Would love to hear your, and everyone else’s thoughts. I’m still unsure what to call myself.

    • “Indie publisher” gets some traction, but has some earlier connotations regarding publishers not connected to larger corporate entities. Now, that being said, I also think independent publishers should recognize that words change. And, frankly, who’s more independent than a publishing company of one?

      “Indie author” is a good vibe, and I do like it — but it de-emphasizes publishing. Publishing is a business, whether it’s Just You or A Hundred Other People.

      — c.

  3. I think it is a great idea. It solves the problem of “indie author” which is hotly contended because that has long been used to designate an author who is printed through a non-big-six publisher – in other words traditionally published by a small (or not so small) independent publisher.

  4. Yes, it’s good. I think of myself as a technical writer and author. I don’t think the word author is pretentious when used in connection with books, though I would feel silly saying I was the author of a quick install guide. If you’re only publishing your own work, then you’re primarily an author, so I agree that word should come first.

  5. Love it! I’m using it. After hiring cover designers, editors, and proofreaders, not to mention using beta readers, it certainly is a team effort in publishing my books. The “self” part seemed to minimize the efforts of all involved. Author-Publisher it is!

  6. I currently use the term indie-author (already discussed in earlier comments), but I do like author-publisher as a more professional term. I guess the real question is whether or not a name change would also help a change in attitude towards authors who publish their own work?

    Thanks for an amusing and thought provoking post.

  7. I love it!

    I’m not a big fan at all of the term “self-publisher.” Most don’t even know I pubbed my own book, so I’ve turned mostly to using Indie. But Author-publisher is a really nice term that makes it all sound so much more professional and less stigma-y.

  8. I’d wrinkle my nose and hand-wave with a dismissive “semantics”, if it weren’t for the fact that we are authors and words are important.

    I like your term. Anything that makes it easier to acknowledge the huge number of people who helped me publish is good ’nuff for me.

  9. I like “Self-Publishing” because “Self-Publishing Supervillain” is far more alliterative than “Author-Publishing Supervillain.” If you’re not interested in supervillainy however “Author-Publisher” has a nice, respectable, formal air to it.

    Besides, when I tell people I self-publish it’s kind of enjoyable to see That Look — the one where people are obviously kind of afraid that I’m going to drop trow and whizz on their kneecaps right there, but they’re trying to be polite and pretend they aren’t bracing for it.

  10. I’ve been using self-published since indie is really a misnomer and because I don’t feel it should be seen as a stigma. I use partner publishing for working with publishers instead of the new “traditional publishers” because A) self-publishing has always been as traditional as licensed publishing and B) I think the Evil Empire vs. the rebel myths in the self-publishing field are silly. Author-publisher certainly works to refer to the people. However, it might be less workable as author publishing instead of self-publishing — can the term be used for all the functions that “self” has been put to? But it’s not bad. It is more letters, but maybe it will make people happy. I’m not sure that it indicates that people are helping the author publish though.

  11. The idea that “self” is misleading… I chewed on that for a while and I think I disagree. When Tor publishes a book, Tor is the publisher, regardless of who they contracted for the cover, or if they did the editing in house or they farmed it out to a contractor. It’s the same. I pay artists for my covers, but they are not co-publishers: I’m paying them money in exchange for their services. In that respect the publishing is not collaborative. I’m paying someone for something. That someone is amazingly talented and their work increases the value of mine, but I am still solely responsible for putting it all together and publishing.

    “Self” is entirely accurate there.

  12. Chuck, baby!
    I am being forward with the salutation, but I mean it as a true “term of endearment”.

    You are checking off the boxes from

    #1 stigma through
    #2 in-the-mouth clunkiness tplus
    #3 missing the point in the writing or authorship of it all. I demur a little on the
    #4 self as I did determine every detail of my author-published book from font to cover and all the commas, periods and other riveting detail inside. (I did hire a professional designer- someone I’ve known forever and work collaboratively on the look and I did hire a copy editor.)

    Authorship is ownership. We authored and published.

    Salut and merci.


  13. I enjoy reading your ramblings.
    They entertain.

    This one in particular is quite apt. Author-Publisher is a title that succinctly calls attention to the fact that you are both an author and a publisher in your own right.

    For me, at least, Self-Publisher has always sounded too closely associated with Self-Help.

  14. As I’ve received unlimited help, advice and support from many, many folk, I would be very happy to call myself an author-publisher. Not least because it recognises that I can’t do this writing thing entirely on my own…

  15. Love this term! Many an identity crisis has been started by the “Indie author” “self-published” and “crazy cat lady with a book she wrote in the bath” labels. Author-publisher could help the authors themselves to really take on all the responsibility that being your own book publishing and marketing business really entails. Thanks for the term Chuck!

  16. The “dual” names are fun but what’s wrong with publisher or author. If you’re independent or not, is that not what you do?

  17. As an old rpg’er, I love the multi class reference :). So, if I’m an Author- Publisher, does my publisher part get a name of its own? You know, something like Tweeting Birds Publishing or something?

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