When we heard about entrepreneur Mark Levin’s book, The Fine Print of Self Publishing: The Contracts & Services of 45 Self-Publishing Companies Analyzed Ranked & Exposed, we were immediately intrigued. We don’t know a lot about self-publishing, to be honest, but we know the idea of it appeals to many of you, including our own Ray Rhamey. How does one go about having their work self-published? Are some companies more reputable than others? What, exactly, does a writer need to be aware of — and beWare of?
(Would you like a copy of Mark’s book for yourself? Read on to find out how you might be eligible.)
We’re thrilled that Mark Levine took some time out to talk to us about his book and about self-publishing in general. Enjoy!
Q: What inspired you to write The Fine Print of Self-Publishing?
ML: A fellow author published by the publisher of my first novel contacted me and asked if I could help him get out of a contract he signed with a self-publishing company. The contract was awful and gave this company the rights to the author’s book for the term of the copyright (the life of the author, plus 70 years). This author also happened to be a professor at UC-Berkley. I figured if a guy this educated was signing a contract just to get published, there were probably thousands of writers out there in the same boat. That one incident was my market research before I wrote the first edition of The Fine Print in 2004.
Q: What’s your background, what do you do now?
ML: I was a lawyer by training, but was very entrepreneurial and wanted to own a business. In 2000, I started an Internet company, Click Industries that did online business filings (corporations, copyright registrations, assumed business names, etc.). That company has grown an expanded to 35+ websites across many different fields, including book publishing. In addition to running Click, I’ve published three books (including The Fine Print).
Q: Do you think e-publishing and self publishing will increase or decrease in the future, and why?
ML: Self-publishing is only going to increase. What happened in the record business is now happening in publishing. Traditional publishers no longer have a lock on distribution channels, so authors like me can cut them out and deal directly with buyers (website sales, etc.) as well as bookstores and libraries (through distributors). Traditional publishers take fewer and fewer new authors every year. These publishers are now seeking out successful self-published authors since those authors already have proven sales and reader bases.
Q: What do you see as the benefits of self publishing and e-publishing? And is your book self published?
ML: The benefits are the author is in control. If the author is working with a self-publishing company that actually has real distribution, etc., the author has to give up some control over cover design, layout, etc. to make sure that the book presented to buyers is commercially viable. But, overall the author is in control and should the book start to sell well, the author has many options available to him or her. My book is published by a publishing company that my company is an investor in.
Q: There are obviously disadvantages as well; your book focuses on scams you might find in the world of e-publishing and self-publishing. Do you think there are more problems when you choose this route over traditional publishing? Why? And just how common are scams?
ML: There are few scams where a company takes your money and disappears and that is not what I mean in my book when I discuss scams. I mean more of the sales techniques (used mostly by the bigger self-publishing companies) to get people to spend a ton of money, a lot of it on things that won’t help an author’s book (e.g. an ad in the back of the NY Times Book Review that has a thumbnail cover and brief description of the author’s book along with those of 10-15 other authors). Also, some of these publishers mark up the printing costs so high (100% or more) that it makes it impossible for the author to make any money publishing. My book reveals all of that information on each publisher. I wouldn’t say there are any more scam artists in self-publishing as there are in traditional publishing, you just hear about it more often.
Q: What are the top five contract scams out there?
ML: Huge printing mark ups, high publisher royalties, advertising gimmicks that don’t work (e.g. printing up 500 posters of your book — what are you going to do with them?), phone sales tactics like telling authors they are losing money in royalties each day they don’t sign up, contracts that give the publisher some interest in the other rights the author owns in a book (e.g. movie rights, etc.)
Q: What kind of “services” might you be offered by a disreputable publisher?
ML: Here are a few:
1. Not providing what the contract or website says they are providing.
2. Book marketing tactics that don’t work like the ads in the back of the NY Times and email blasts to 1,000 media contacts. There aren’t 1,000 media outlets that would be interested in your book and companies that do this are just spamming the same people over and over.
3. Charging to get the production files of your book back if you decide to publish elsewhere later. Without the production files, you can’t make changes to the book that you’d have to to reprint under your own company name or with another publisher. You paid for these files, so a company that makes you pay more than $100 or so to get them back is ripping you off.
Q: You have a list, the five signs you may be falling prey to a publishing predator. What are those five signs?
ML: Everything covered above. But, the number one sign is when a company keeps hounding you for the sale, your rip-off radar should go up.
Q: What sorts of things should you look for in a good self-publishing company?
ML: Your readers should go to www.bookpublisherscompared.com and download the “Author’s Bill of Rights” for free. It’s spelled out there in detail.
Q: What sorts of myths and misconceptions abound in the world of self- and e-publishing?
ML: That self-published books aren’t good. In fact, some are fantastic. But, all self-published books get lumped together by people. So, the horribly written book, that was never edited, and where the author insists on a ridiculous cover design get compared to books that have a defined audience, are well-edited, look professional, etc. Plus, those in traditional publishing trash self-publishing. It used to be because of there institutional elitism, but now it’s because they see the future and the future is not their antiquated publishing model.
Q: How did you go about writing your book? How many publishing companies and contracts were reviewed? What were the criteria for being included?
ML: This is the third edition, but the first one in which I had a researcher contact each company just as any author would. The only difference was that I told her what questions to ask. She did the initial review of a company (much of it based on my previous review, but with updates on pricing, contract terms, new services, etc.) and then I would ask her to follow up with additional questions. I then wrote the final version on each company. We reviewed 45 companies in this edition. The only criteria is that the company be a publisher and not just a printer.
Q: Tell us about your “fake book” experiment. What was it, and what were the results?
ML: There are some self-publishing companies that claim to be very selective on what they accept. So, for those companies, we created a book of poetry written by a dog and submitted it. At least three companies that claim to take only a small percentage of submissions, accepted it.
Q: What should every author who wishes to be self- or e-published know?
ML: Every author should know these things:
1. Know the audience of your book. It is not everyone, despite what you think.
2. You must have your book edited by a professional book editor. Friends who are English majors don’t count.
3. Realize that books don’t magically sell, just because you put it out there and it’s on Amazon.
4. A book is like any other product, if you don’t invest any money to market it, don’t expect a lot of sales.
5. Understand that books take time to catch on, especially self-published ones that don’t have huge marketing budgets. If you can’t afford to perhaps never get you publishing investment returned in full from book sales, don’t publish your book. You are entering an arena as competitive as music, movies, television, etc…
6. Have realistic goals. My first goal with every book is to make back my money eventually. Then once I do that, my next goal is to make enough extra each month from sales to go out for a really expensive dinner. I don’t sit around dreaming about being on Oprah. Instead I spend my time working on getting people to buy my books.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add — some final words on e- and self-publishing?
ML: It’s great when you approach it with a good book and a good attitude.
Thanks so much, Mark, for an enlightening interview!
Readers, if you’d like a copy of Mark’s book, please leave a comment below. One lucky winner will be chosen by random and announced next week. Write on!