What is the difference between independent publishing and self-publishing?
Publishing a book with an independent, or “indie,” publisher is not the same thing as self-publishing. Independent presses and university presses are traditional publishers, while self-publishing companies are not traditional publishers.
There are six big traditional book publishers operating in the United States: Bertelsmann AG (which includes Random House and many other imprints), Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group (which includes Little Brown and Company and other imprints), HarperCollins, Penguin Group, and MacMillan U.S. (which includes Henry Holt and other imprints). An independent book publisher is any traditional book publisher that exists outside the umbrella of these giants. University presses exist as a subset of independent publishing: they are funded by universities and run by university staff and often students.
Both independent and university presses follow the traditional publishing model, choosing manuscripts to publish from general submissions. While most big publishers only read manuscripts sent to them by literary agents, many independent and university presses will consider manuscript submissions sent directly by writers.
In contrast, self-publishing has emerged as a way for writers to offer their work to the public without being approved by the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. There are companies that exist for the sole purpose of helping writers self-publish their books. These companies usually offer editing, design, and marketing packages for varying fees. (See also “Should I look for a traditional publisher . . . ?”)
If a company is paying you to publish your book and providing editing, design, and marketing, then you are working with a traditional publisher.