Friday, December 15, 2006

The Fine Print of Self-Publishing - Book Review

The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine examines and discusses the most common contracts and services that authors must understand before signing any agreement with a publisher. Based on the author’s experience during the nine years that he worked as a corporate, entertainment and intellectual property attorney, Mark breaks down common contracts into a language the rest of us can understand.

According to the author, the trend in the publishing world is that authors “are increasingly pursuing self-publishing as a viable alternative to traditional publishing”. What to look for when seeking a self-publishing company for your book, knowing when publishers are charging more money for less service and what high priced books could actually mean are all discussed in this writer’s reference book.

The first few pages get right into the nitty-gritty with royalty negotiations, editing services, copyrights, attaining ISBN numbers and UPC codes, wholesalers and contract clauses. Later he teaches readers to recognize and understand common contract terms, warranties, general provisions and miscellaneous sections of a contract.

This book consists solely of the author’s personal opinion and advice on the top forty-eight self-publishing companies. He rates each of these companies according to how author-friendly their contracts are, the amount of customer support that is offered to authors and whether the company accepts book returns from bookstores.

Chapter 6 lists examples of outstanding self-publishing companies and explains why they are rated so high. Most of the fourteen companies in this category shared excellent commitment to both their products and services.

Chapter 7 lists “Pretty Good Self-publishing Companies”, meaning the eight publishers listed here show at least one flaw, but are still worthy of consideration.

Chapter 8 lists about fifteen publishers who are “just okay”, meaning they are considered to be less than average, but are not the worst publishers an author could choose.

Chapter 9 lists “Publishers to Avoid”. While the author’s intent is not to ruin businesses, he warns authors to reconsider using the eleven publishers he lists in this chapter. Here he lists companies who pad their portion of the books by charging higher prices for either retailers or authors, and others with similarly poor policies.

I do have to say I disagree with at least one aspect that Mark considers to be negative. Mark feels that if a company has a PO Box address rather than a physical one, it should be totally avoided. While I am aware that this can be a sign of a risky situation, many areas – including our own – do not have mail delivery and if you want mail, you must get a PO Box. In fact, our business has a PO Box. That is not our fault – it is just the options available to us. In fact it is quite common. So in this regard, I have to disagree with Mark’s criteria.

Another point he made regarding contract clauses regarding visual mediums (Television or Movie), I personally feel can fall in a somewhat grey area. Some publishers charge extra for negotiation and handling legalities and so forth, and Mark feels this extra charge is unnecessary.

We were not aware of this potential downfall, but then the three books we have written are not destined for this medium - and as such, this area of the contract doesn’t really apply to our book’s genres. However authors of fiction and perhaps other genres that may appeal to visual mediums will certainly want to pay particular attention to this clause.

Mark Levine has written several scholarly pieces and two other self-published books – I Will Faithfully Execute and Saturn Return, prior to this more recent release. Holding dual majors in political science and journalism, he has also earned a law degree from the Georgetown University. His latest book, The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, was released in September of 2006.

These 218 pages are packed with valuable information for authors, and I will certainly keep my copy of the book on our writer’s reference shelf.

Author: Mark Levine

Publisher: Bridgeway Books

ISBN: 1-933538-56-3

~ Book Reviewer: Lillian Brummet, Co-author of Trash talk - a guide for anyone concerned about their impact on the environment - & author of: Towards Understanding - a collection of poetry. (

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