If You Are Going To Self-Publish
When I teach at a writer conference I often meet people who have self-published their book. Some of these people will meet with me and see if as an agent, I can take their book to a traditional publisher. It is possible but rare for authors to make this move. Other authors self-publish then write me as though they are a "published" author. And they are to a degree but if you've been in the business for any time at all you can easily see through it. In the last few days, a writer pitched a novel saying they were a published author. I checked the name of the publisher and instantly recognized it as the self-publisher, Publish America. If you want to learn a lot about this particular publisher and their reputation in the marketplace, simply go to Google and type in the words "Publish America" and in a few entries you can see a great deal of public opinion about this company.
If you have a market for your book or you speak often and need to sell something in the back of the room or any number of other good reasons, self-publishing is an option. I'll be the first to tell you that I've read a great deal of poorly produced self-published books as an editor or literary agent. There are also some success stories about self-published books. My books have been with traditional, easily-recognized publishers. Many writers will ask me about self-publishing and because I don't know all of the details about different companies, it is difficult to know where to refer them.
When someone has decided to self-publish, they often do not take the time or energy to research the reputation of a publisher or the distinctions between the various self-publishers. Here's a resource which you should consider because it provides a wealth of information and removes some of the "guess work." For the unskilled author, it is hard to sort through the self-publishing company ads and determine which one is right for them and their budget. I recommend you get a copy of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, third edition, The Contracts & Services of 45 Self-Publishing Companies--Analyzed, Ranked & Exposed by Mark Levine.
In the second chapter, Levine gives the reasons to read this book: "If you decided to buy a television or a car, you might read Consumer Reports to find the best price and highest quality. Spending hard-earned money to publish your book should be approached with the same care. But, unlike buying a car, your book is an extension of you. If you choose any publisher ranked "Outstanding" or "Pretty Good" in this book, you won’t get stuck with a Lemon. This book is all about helping authors find and choose a publisher that offers a superior product at a fair price."Also you should know that Mark Levine has started his own self-publishing company which is not included in the 45 companies called Mill City Press.
"Here are a few reasons why you need to read this book: • To know what you need to look and watch out for when choosing a self-publishing company • To understand what these self-publishing contracts really say and how to negotiate better terms with a publisher • To get the most value for your money by not overpaying for services or book printing and by getting the highest royalties" (p. 8)
What's fascinating about this book is Levine's editor took the same size book specifications to each of the companies, got their contracts, then studied and compared them. As Levine writes, "This time around, my editor contacted each publishing company discussed in this book as a prospective author--just like any of you would. The difference between you and her is that I armed her with the tough questions to ask, regarding justifications for 50%–200% printing markups, excessive publisher royalties, and more." (my bold on the percentage of markup)
Also Levine, a lawyer, provides a detailed explanation of a publishing contract and the different elements which an author should be concerned with and what to watch in the different clauses.
This book is eye-opening and educational for any author considering self-publishing. Why is it important? I want to include another key quotation from Levine's book, "The reason I keep putting out new editions of this book is because, now that I speak to writers' groups and at writers' conferences all over the country, I always meet people who got scammed--really scammed. In May 2007, I met a nice man who had been conned out of $35,000 to publish his book. His $35,000 got him 3,000 hardcover copies of his book that he couldn't sell, a lot of debt, and a series of lies from an unscrupulous publisher. I can promise you that, if you follow the advice in this book, you won't get ripped off by any self-publishing company and that you may, in fact, negotiate a better deal. If you don't follow the advice here you may find yourself out a lot of money and involved with an unethical publisher." (p. 9)
In the early part of the book, Levine cautions that every self-published author should have their book professionally edited. It's one of the main failures in many of the self-publishing books that come across my desk. These books are often filled with simple errors which any beginning professional editor would have caught and fixed. If you wonder which companies are covered in this book, follow this link. I was surprised with some of the companies that fell into the "companies to avoid." To show the depth of Levine's analysis, one of the companies, Bookpros in the outstanding category is online. This book doesn't cover every possible self-publishing company but many of them are included.
I applaud Levine for his careful analysis and research then serving the broader writing community with The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, Third Edition.