It’s not just agents anymore. With today’s technology, anyone can call themselves a “publisher” or “publishing house” with nothing more than a computer in a home office.
This isn’t a bad thing. It’s essentially how I work as Alliteration Ink. It’s great for DIY and indie authors – and I think that’s a large part of why authors have started calling themselves “publishers”. They want the vestigial respect of the title (and avoiding the supposed stigma of being self-published). But the skills – and motivations – to publish your own work are not identical to those of publishing someone else’s. And worse, this whole “call yourself a publisher” thing has thrown open the door for scammers and unethical people to present themselves as something they’re not.
So I wanted to come up with some quick litmus tests to determine if someone is a real publishing house or not. Here’s the ones I’ve come up with so far:
1. The do not require payments from the author.
2. The author is paid in something more than author copies
3. Editorial oversight/control from someone separate than the author
4. They do not publish their own work as their main imprint. 1
Number four is perhaps the most problematic one here. I’m trying to draw a clear line between being a self-publishing author (again, no problem with that) and being a publisher. They’re different hats – just like being a publisher and providing publishing services are two different hats. Blurring the line between being a publisher and self-published author is problematic at best.
(I actually fail number four – I have two drabble collections that fall into this category. I’m not happy about that, and will have an announcement regarding that later this week.) [EDIT: That announcement is here, announcing Pursued By Bears as a separate imprint.]
Again, these are quick-and-dirty litmus tests, not a substitute for an in-depth evaluation. I still recommend ITW’s checklist to evaluate a publisher of any size. But if someone fails more than one of the tests above, maybe you can safely give them a pass.