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The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark…

The Fine Print of Self-Publishing (edition 2011)

by Mark Levine

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Title:The Fine Print of Self-Publishing
Authors:Mark Levine
Info:Bascom Hill Publishing Group (2011), Edition: 4, Kindle Edition, 315 pages
Collections:Your library, Reviewed

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The Fine Print of Self Publishing: The Contracts & Services of 45 Self-Publishing Companies Analyzed Ranked & Exposed by Mark Levine




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Import 11_28_09 ( )
  opus57 | Apr 9, 2013 |
Where I got the book: an author-friend bought it for me at a conference. She said she learned a great deal from the author (who is, of course, also a speaker on the conference circuit because that sells books like nothing else) about what she should expect from a publishing company.

And she's right, in a sense. Some of the points covered in this book could be enlightening to a writer who's hoping to sign with a small press, for example, because even though said press is not actually charging you, Dear Writer, a monetary price for its services, you are paying the considerable price of giving up your rights to your work POSSIBLY TO THE END OF YOUR LIFE AND BEYOND. So this helpful illustration of how you, the writer, are the piece of meat in the grinder of the publishing world may serve as a cautionary tale for the wiser wannabes out there.

The title of this book should probably be "The Fine Print of Assisted Self-Publishing, because that's what we're talking about here. Let me explain the distinction.

- Self-publishing proper = you, the author, make every single decision about your book. You may contract with designers, formatters, editors and so on to ensure the quality you want, or you may do everything yourself. You buy the ISBNs, you upload the books, you keep track of sales and income. You decide how much you're going to spend on these third party contractors.

- Assisted self-publishing = you, the author, sign a contract with a "self-publishing" company and pay it a fee, for which it will perform the services stipulated in the contract. These definitely include publishing your book--often through printer/distributor Lightning Source--and usually but not always include the provision of an ISBN, cover and interior design, and some kind of marketing. The "self-publishing" company, in addition to its fee, takes a printing markup and often some other kind of chunk out of the profit from the book, and pays you, Dear Author, what's left as a "royalty".

Mark Levine sketches out this distinction very briefly, but comes down heavily in favor of assisted self-publishing. "The micromanagement," he declares, of the self-publishing process "can be daunting and impractical...Unless you have the time to self-manage the entire publishing process, you'll probably be sorry once it starts. Like most people, I have a full-time job. I could never spend the amount of time it would take me to manage the publication of each new edition of this book. There are simply too many moving parts, and all of them need to be in sync with each other."

Wow, self-publishing sounds pretty daunting, huh? Especially if you have a full time job. I flip to the back cover and see that Mark Levine's full time job is as CEO of Hillcrest Media Group in Minneapolis, MN, which "provides book publishing, ebook design, printing..." I note that the book is published by Bascom Hill Publishing Group. I google them. Oh lookie, they're a division of Hillcrest Media Group and based in Minneapolis, MN. I turn to the book's Introduction to find exactly which self-publisher Levine uses and find the name of Mill City Press, which by his own admission is owned by Hillcrest. And based at the same address as Bascom Hill. Levine says he doesn't review Mill City in his book "not only because it would be completely unfair, but because Mill City's model is unlike almost all I review here." And he goes on to give a plug, albeit an oblique one, for Mill City. Which may be an absolutely awesome assisted self-publishing company, for all I know. But you'd have to buy another book that reviews Mill City as well as the ones in this book to find out how it compares...

Are you beginning to see how you're the piece of meat, Dear Author? Or perhaps we should think of you as the juicy bone. Now you may have absolutely no writing talent at all, or you may be the next [insert famous name here]. Or you may not be a great writer, but you've produced something that tickles the reading public's interest - there's one almost every year. On the writing spectrum, there's an end where you can pretty sure the book won't sell (and even then there are so-bad-they're-good exceptions) and an end where a book has more than a 50% chance of doing great (celebrity biographies, for example); in between there's a vast sea of risk, where almost any book could, through some mysterious alchemy that no publisher has ever been able to completely understand, make the bestseller charts. These are the juicy bones that may just yield a really good meal.

So who takes the risk? This is where the whole assisted self-publishing industry gets really interesting.

In traditional publishing, the publisher bears all the costs and may even pay the writer an advance. It's a considerable risk per book, and justifies--to some extent--the transfer of rights. Publishers survive and even thrive (seriously, New York offices and expense accounts? It has to be a winning proposition somewhere) because they make enough good bets to keep going, but the risk is all theirs and not the author's.

In self-publishing proper, the risk is all the author's. Every truly self-published author runs the risk of not recouping the cost of producing the book.

In assisted self-publishing, the risk is also all the author's. The self-publishing company must charge a high enough fee to cover costs, or they wouldn't be in business. If the book doesn't sell, they probably just about break even; if it sells (and an author who's paid out money to publish a book generally markets like crazy to make sure it DOES sell) they make a profit. That's just my guess, of course, but somehow I imagine assisted self-publishing companies are not in it as a pro bono exercise.

Back to this book, in which Mark Levine reviews a number of assisted self-published companies that, he asserts, are NOT vanity publishers because "the author is publishing a book in a strategic, well-thought-out, and well-informed way," in other words she's marketing her book. Huh? I've read that section (starting on page 2) several times and I still can't see a difference between the companies reviewed in Levine's book and vanity publishers. In both cases the author pays a fee and receives publication services of varying extent and quality in return.

That aside, Levine IS REVIEWING HIS COMPETITORS. He does it pretty well; by the time you've plowed through his list of outstanding, pretty good, just okay, to-avoid and Worst of the Worst (a chapter that covers just one company which at one point was involved in a lawsuit against Levine - think about it), you'll have a fairly comprehensive idea of what to look out for IF you decide to hand over money for someone else to do your work for you. And plenty of writers do; they're scared they're not smart enough to figure out how to self-publish, they're too lazy to do the work of learning how to self-publish, or they figure that any publishing company that's not them is somehow more prestigious because they can legitimately talk about "my publisher."

All I could think about while I was reading this book was "why in the name of Virginia Woolf" (a self-publisher) "would anybody, after reading this, want to go the assisted route?" The fees! Oh ye gods, the fees! Anything from a few hundred to tens of thousands of $$$ to do something you could project-manage yourself and earn way, way more in royalties. IT ISN'T THAT HARD. Every day more and more writers are successfully self-published all by their widdle selves, without "help" from any kind of company whatsoever. There are endless internet resources to help you.


Oops, sorry, this is a review, isn't it?

Anyway, look. If you're really convinced that you, Dear Juicy Bone Writer, are unfit and incapable of handling the self-publishing process by yourself, this book could be of value. At least you can look up the company whose website you're on and see if it compares well to, say, Mill City, which Mark Levine has been very careful not to review but to which he has carefully drawn your attention. And I think it's great, GREAT, that someone is comparing and rating these companies. Although I would prefer that it not be a competitor. ( )
  JaneSteen | Nov 21, 2012 |
Inside, the 4th Edition of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, you’ll find:

* The 8 “must-have” qualities of a good self-publishing company.
* How much the top self-publishing companies mark up printing. Many mark up printing between 100%-300%.
* The actual royalty amounts paid by self-publishing companies and how they are calculated.
* The legalese of self-publishing company contracts dissected and explained.
* Detailed analysis of the contracts and services of 25 top self-publishing companies.

Read more at http://www.bookpublisherscompared.com/ ( )
  LangdonStreet | Mar 30, 2011 |
As self-publishing, or Print-on-Demand (POD) publishing is becoming more popular, an important question for authors concerns the contract they are about to sign. Are they getting a good deal from the publisher, or are they (figuratively) signing their life away?

The book explores a number of things that the author must consider before signing a contract. Are the publishing fees fairly priced? Does it have a good reputation in the writing community? Does it offer decent royalties without fuzzy math? Can the author easily terminate the contract? Does the contract include the ability to obtain an ISBN or a UPC Bar Code? Never accept a contract whose terms extend for the length of the copyright (the life of the author plus 70 years). What happens to your book if the publisher declares bankruptcy?

Much of the book is taken up with an analysis of the contracts from 48 different self-publishers. The Outstanding publishers include Booklocker, Bookpros, Cold Tree Press, Infinity Publishing and Outskirts Press. The Pretty Good companies include Booksurge Publishing, Echelon Press and Third Millennium Publishing. The Okay publishers include Indy Publish, Llumina Press, Plane Tree Publishing and Publish to Go. The Bad publishers (to be avoided at all costs) include AuthorHouse, Holy Fire Publishing, PageFree Publishing and PublishAmerica. Any author thinking of signing with a "Bad" publisher needs to seriously reconsider if being a writer is really a good idea.

There is a more recent third edition available (this is the first edition). Regardless of the edition, this book needs to be on every budding author’s bookshelf. It is full of information on what to consider, and what to avoid, before signing a book contract. ( )
  plappen | Apr 20, 2010 |
The self-publishing industry is growing in leaps and bounds. As a book reviewer I’ve noticed a sharp increase in self-published, print-on-demand titles coming into the market. With major publishing houses reducing the number of contracts being signed due to recent economic difficulties, the allure of finally getting that novel in print is driving many to sign contracts to pay to have their books published. With the increase in consumer demand, new self-publishing companies are popping up all the time.

In The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, Mark Levine — an experienced self-published author and owner/investor into various e-commerce businesses — analyzes 45 self-publishing companies. In previous editions Levin reviewed publishing contracts, customer service and other factors to assign publishers with a numeric ranking. In the third edition he has moved to more generalized categories: Outstanding, Pretty Good, Just OK, and To Avoid. Sadly 21 of the 45 companies analyzed fall into the To Avoid category – self-publishing contracts are often author-unfriendly, revealing the clear need for this title.

After introducing readers to the benefits of choosing to print their book with a self-publishing company, Levine discloses that his companies have investments in a self-publishing firm. However, he does not compare or evaluate its services within the book, he just wants to be up-front with that fact, which is commendable. He then guides readers through the main components of having a book published, what needs to be provided, the details they should look for from a publisher, all of the major key points to be aware of. In the chapter revealing the nine traits of a good self-publishing company, Levine clearly defines his author-friendly publishing standards (ones that his affiliated press attempts to live by). Though a relatively short section of the book, this information is in and of itself highly valuable for those just dipping their toes into the publishing arena. In fact after reading this section, readers may be empowered to skip looking for a publisher all together and take on the task of forming their own publishing company.

Levine puts his law degree to work as he breaks down and explains the usual set-up, clauses, and details of a publishing contract, allowing lay people to move into this territory with an additional level of confidence. While you can’t depend upon him for legal advice, his analysis of each publishing contract (provided further on in the details for each publisher) that he was able to obtain is priceless. Levine also explains the general principles of various techniques of calculating author royalties and provides a theoretical breakdown for each publisher as well. There are some editing issues present (somewhat disappointing for a notable reference title relating to self-publishing), most of which occur in the numerical notation for these royalty calculations.

Each publisher receives its own chapter which details: publisher website, format of books, genres accepted, publishing fees and packages, additional services offered, return of digital files, retail pricing, author pricing, royalties, notes on the publishing agreement, and the author friendly rating – Levine’s personal analysis of the publisher. The Fine Print deals mainly with publishers offering paperback printing services. Hardbacks are mentioned (though rarely offered by publishers) and children’s picture book packages are noted, though not explored thoroughly. If you’ve written a children’s book you’ll be able to benefit from the general advice and through observing Levine’s author-friendly analysis skills in action, but you won’t find many helpful leads on potential publishing houses here.

After reading through The Fine Print in detail, it’s easy to see why Levine has angered major self-publishing houses in past editions of this work. He is out to protect authors, their rights, and their pocketbooks, making no bones about a bad deal when he sees one. A few samples are sure to whet your appetite for more of his brass-tacks approach to analysis.

If you buy this service and make your money back from it, I will let you watch me rip out each page of this book and eat it.

If this is true and (publisher’s name removed) can prove it, I’ll fly to the publisher’s offices and eat my book in front of all its employees.

If what you read here isn’t enough to convince you to stay away, then P.T. Barnum was right – there really is a sucker born every minute.

It’s obvious that Levine is passionate about doing his best to ensure that authors receive a fair deal. However, it’s not all bad news – eight publishers are listed in the outstanding category, and nine are listed as pretty good. Levine does give praise where it is due when exceptionally fair terms and services are provided for authors.

An overwhelming number of facts, figures and packages are listed within the dense, information-packed pages of The Fine Print. A debut author striking out on his or her own would spend hundreds of hours seeking out these publishing companies and gathering this amount of information. With such a plethora of options available it would have been difficult to prepare a Consumer Reports-style comparison chart, and as such none is provided. You’ll want to pull up a spreadsheet and hammer some details in under the categories most relevant to your project.

Reading The Fine Print is akin to taking a favourite uncle who’s mechanically inclined car shopping with you. Levine walks with you through the services and legalese presented by these companies. If you plan on publishing with a publisher that you pay for its services, you cannot afford to skip reading The Fine Print of Self-Publishing. This is a required title in your stacks of research materials. Shell out the $12.21 at Amazon; you could potentially save thousands of dollars and a vicious, life-long loss of rights to your work that some authors have suffered from at the hands of unethical publishers.

Reviewed at http://quiverfullfamily.com ( )
  jenniferbogart | Jan 17, 2009 |
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"Offers a comprehensive guide to the self-publishing world and is a must-read for any author considering self-publishing his book." - publishers description

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