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Book Review: The Fine Print of Self-Publishing – The Contracts & Services of 45 Self-Publishing Companies Analyzed, Ranked & Exposed (Third Edition) by Mark Levine

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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.

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About Jennifer Bogart

  • http://www.neuro-sculpting.com T. Lavon Lawrence

    Thank you, Jennifer, for your fine review. I definitely want to get my own copy after reading your perspective.