top of page

The difference between a publisher and a printer. (Hint: it's about the direction the check goes.)

At a writer’s conference in Montana years ago, the best advice I got regarding all of the self-publishing scams out there, and how to identify them, was this simple statement on the difference between a publisher and a printer:

If they pay you for your book, they’re a publisher. If you pay them, they’re a printer.

This is also known as Yog’s Law. There’s nothing wrong with the latter as long as you understand, going in, what you’re dealing with.

Recently, another phone call came my way, a now yearly experience from a new company each time, telling me they were interested in some old print-on-demand book of mine. Right away I was suspicious because:

  1. Cold call. Persistently.

  2. Old book that no one was interested in and was only printed for my own use.

Some of this is pure publishing scam. Some is just printers doing business. Some are printers who have had enough bad feedback that they change their names frequently.

Let me tell you a story.

Back in 2005 through 2008, I’d blogged about Airleaf Publishing.

I’d received a letter in the mail, stating they were interested in my first Blogathon Bob book, Of Rats and Men. What the letter seemed to offer sounded great, but immediately I was suspicious.

I wrote about my reaction in what became a very popular post entitled “Watch out for Airleaf Publishing" which I've excerpted below.


Then came the paragraphs that seemed hilarious to say the least.

  • Only 50 titles will be selected! Act fast or miss out! We want to include Of Rats and Men in an intensive six-month program which includes:

  • Two, fifteen-minute interviews on a nationally syndicated AM/FM radio show.

  • One television appearance.

  • Ten face-to-face meetings with television and feature film producers and directors about my book.

  • An in-person introduction of your book to the decision-makers at five regional bookstore chains including Hastings.

  • A specific, full-time telemarketer assigned to you for daily calls directly to stores to sell books and to set up book signings.

  • Representation in a half-page print ad in a national magazine.

  • A featured position on the home page of our books-to-films website

  • A featured position on the home page of our bookselling website

  • Only 500 authors have been invited for this offer!

Right. $7500 marketing plan for basically a picture book based on a Blogathon event. I'm pretty sure there was nothing special about their invitation seeing as how most of this over-priced service isn't even appropriate to my book. I don't think they've been so careful at selecting authors; their only criteria seem to be authors that are still breathing.

Would you go see a movie based on photographs of dolls and furniture? I wouldn't.


I began getting emails from people who’d regretted their decision to pay Airleaf, as well as other writers and bloggers asking if they could link or refer to my post about my experience.

What was more notable was the fellow in charge. He was aggressively lashing out at writers who were talking about it online. He wrote a blog post with this line in it:

I also understand cowardly women like Victoria Strauss, Julie Neidlinger and Lee Goldberg and their lies.

A year later, I received a long email from the new management of Airleaf, apologizing for the past behavior and how the previous fellow had handled things, and that he was no longer with the company.

Some 70 or so clients took legal action against them, according to a woman who’d contacted me about a group and website they’d created over the ordeal. There was a lot of mess.

So much drama.

It is a weird world, self-publishing/printing.

These self-publishers/printers aren’t a scam if you know what you’re going to get, but I’ve learned that a lot of writers don’t understand what’s happening. The Airleaf incident was the first such experience, and fortunately, it was so ludicrous to me, considering the silly book of mine they made the offer on, that I didn’t bite.

But I can see how tempting it might be.

Several years ago, a family approached me telling me their daughter was so excited because a publisher had contacted them and was willing to publish her children’s book for only $5K. This would be a huge hardship expense, but the deal sounded pretty good.

“They’re not a publisher, they’re a printer who will help you print your books,” I explained. “You’re paying them to print the physical book. They might give you a little weak ‘marketing’ but you just have to know going in that you’re buying a pile of books that you’ll have to sell on your own.”

Self-publishing is big, though not usually super profitable. All my books are self-published, but my goal wasn’t income, it was to get the book out of my head and stop pestering me.

But if self-publishing is your thing, know the difference between how you do it:

  1. Print-on-demand. Generally more expensive, a book is uploaded to their system, and then whenever an order comes in for it, the book is printed for that order and drop-shipped directly to the customer. You can order books in bulk still, if you want, and probably get a price break. Think Amazon self-publishing, Blurb, Lulu, etc. There’s little to no up-front cost since you’re not purchasing books or marketing services. You’re using them as a printer and drop-shipper.

  2. Print in bulk. Usually a little less expensive per unit, since the book is printed in bulk. The author generally gets boxes and boxes of books that they then sell at events, online, or take to bookstores. The printer may have some marketing options, generally listing them on their own website and social media. They may help you list them on Amazon or elsewhere. It varies, but you have to invest thousands right away and then bust your butt to sell books.

I chose print-on-demand because I didn’t want boxes of books that I had to sell. I didn’t want to spend thousands in up-front investment because my lack of sales ability would come back to bite me in the rear. So I published the book, bought some copies to sell on hand, let my readers know, and pointed them to the publisher where they could buy direct. Very little up-front cost for me.

Whatever you do, you may want to take some time to go over the Writer Beware website and their blog. They have a lot on there that may at least get you thinking cautiously about choosing how you want to publish your work.


bottom of page