Printing ≠ Publishing or Publishing > Printing

Getting publishing’ definitions wrong can cause a complete disconnect in a conversation.

“How many books are you going to publish?”
“Maybe about 50 per year.”
“Huh? That’s all? Don’t some publishers do thousands at a time?”


“How many books are you going to print this year?”
“About a million”
“Wow, how many people do you have working there?”

When a book is manufactured, it’s called printing. When you intentionally coordinate every aspect of book content, printing, sales, marketing and distribution, it is called “publishing.”

That’s pretty much all I’ve got on the subject, but now I need to go into “college-term-paper” mode and puff up this blog post so it looks like I have more in my head than this simple concept.

I’ve been fooling people for years.

Printing is not publishing and publishing is much more than printing.

I hate to mention this (BTW, affirming you “hate to mention” something indicates kindness and sensitivity. You can say anything as long as you preceded it with those three words) but quite a few people have been fooled by self-publishing into thinking simply making a book available for purchase is actually “publishing” it. Anyone who published a book by making it available online and sold five copies in a year understands the need to be more deliberate and coordinated.

Even traditional publishers can be caught at times believing printing books is somehow publishing them.

You can pay someone to print your book. It takes a village to publish a book. (Wow, I’ve always wanted to write this last sentence. My life is now complete)

The “village” could still be one person in a self-published effort. Anyone who has self-published successfully understands it involved far more than uploading a file to an online retailer and seeing what happens. The myriad of coordinated activities preceding the upload certainly felt like it needed a village full of people to manage it.

To illustrate this point from a traditional publisher perspective, I recall a story from years ago involving a publisher who had a highly anticipated book planned. Media appearances for the author and advertisements for the book were coordinated to coincide on the date the book was first available in stores.

However, the printing company delivered books six weeks early, which was a good thing, but then a well-intentioned distribution/order processing department at the publisher took initiative and shipped all the backordered books to retailers…six weeks early.

Retailers not expecting the major title for over a month were delighted to get copies and sell it. But the author appearances and the advertising were now old news and lost all the anticipation when they occurred a month after the book was in stores. The book underperformed and no one was happy.

The publisher had become a “printer and shipper” which in the publishing world is about as negative connotation as you can get. When best practices indicated they should coordinate everything to maximize the sales, a well-intentioned group of people, not understanding the concept of “publishing,” destroyed months of work and wasted tens of thousands of dollars.

Of course, this is an extreme example, but less dramatic cases happen all the time when authors and publishers believe they are “publishing” when they are really just “printing and making it available to buy.” The former has potential to create substantial sales by focusing efforts to a common goal. The latter is built on the shallow hope something might happen sometime.

The application of this for anyone in publishing is to view the publishing of books in a holistic manner, where all parts are important and contribute to the overall.

Authors need to coordinate what they do to coincide with the release of their book. There’s a plan of intentional activity leading to something. Even for the self-published author.

Uploading a file to an online retailer or printing and shipping a book is one piece of a comprehensive process, no less important than many other activities preceding or following it. But if printing, shipping or uploading a file is the sum total of your effort, you will be disappointed in the results.


7 Responses to Printing ≠ Publishing or Publishing > Printing

  1. Richard Mabry July 5, 2016 at 5:46 am #

    Dan, this is a great come-back to those who say, “I can’t get a contract. I’ll just publish the book myself.” What they mean, of course, is that they’ll arrange for the book to be printed. The result of that in most cases is several boxes of books stacked in the garage for years to come. Thanks for pointing out the difference.

  2. Loretta Eidson July 5, 2016 at 7:22 am #

    Thank you Dan, I knew portions of the printing/publishing process, but didn’t have clarification.

  3. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. July 5, 2016 at 7:36 am #

    Dan, thanks for the college class in printing and publishing. I now see the difference and really appreciate your sharing this knowledge with folks who are newbies to the world of publishing. I’m so glad that your life is complete!

  4. Jeanne Takenaka July 5, 2016 at 7:56 am #

    Dan, I appreciate your explanation of this process. There are many steps I am still figuring out. The example you shared of the author whose books were sent out too early helped me to see the importance of timing and author and publisher working together to make for the best chance of success for author and publisher.

  5. Ann Shorey July 5, 2016 at 8:48 am #

    Thanks so much for the explanation. Hope would-be “published” authors have the opportunity to read it. There is a leap between traditionally published and “I’ll put my book up on Amazon and call myself a published author.” 🙂

  6. Norma Brumbaugh July 5, 2016 at 9:47 am #

    This makes a whole lot of sense. Thanks.

  7. Carolyn Curtis July 5, 2016 at 4:25 pm #

    Dan, another entire blog could be devoted to the value added by traditional publishers (as opposed to the self-publish business model) with their expertise in so many areas, notably “Does this book bring unique, high-quality, and marketable thinking (if non-fiction) or excellence in character development, plotline, etc. (fiction, obviously) to the marketplace?”

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