Tuesday, July 14, 2009

If you need more convincing to become your own publisher, read what a lawyer has to say about the companies that want your business

Mark Levine is both a lawyer and a writer. His The Fine Print of Self-Publishing (now in its third edition) analyzes, ranks and criticizes the contracts and service of 45 vanity publishers.

The information is detailed and useful and apparently accurate, but the very title (and also its subtitle and words on many interior pages) can hurt prospective authors.

Mark unjustifiably kisses the asses of businesses like Lulu, Infinity, Outskirts and Xlibris by calling them “Self-Publishing Companies.”

That term is a misnomer.

By definition, self-publishing can’t be done for you by another company.

If you are not the publisher of your book, you are not self-publishing.

In his apparent eagerness to come up with a title that has an important phrase in it, Mark has become an unwitting ally of the enemies of real self-publishers.

In the one paragraph where he deals with real independent self-publishing, Mark sounds like a shill for the vanity presses (he is a part owner of one), using the same scare tactics that companies like Outskirts Press use to scare potential self-publishers to pay for their services.

Mark frets about the decision “to take on every step of the publishing process,” including finding a cover designer and printer, obtaining an ISBN and getting a book copyrighted.

Actually, none of that is a big deal. Many people have done it. I’ve done it. You can probably do it. And if you become a real self-publisher you’ll probably have a better book and make more money.

I have a few criticisms of the book’s design.

The header on each verso (left) page shows the author’s name. Each recto (right) header shows the book title. If I was on page 143 and had a sudden urge to learn the title or author of the book I've been reading, I could instantly flip to either the front or rear cover to find out. It would be more useful if one of the headers showed the chapter name and number. That would be a big help in finding a particular section after consulting the table of contents.

There is no easy way to find the report on a particular company. Mark does not provide readers with an alphabetical index in the back (which would only take up one page and there are four blank pages back there), and the table of contents shows the companies arranged alphabetically, but only within chapters. Until you determine that Mark rates Holy Fire Publishing as a publisher to avoid, or Wasteland Press as just OK, you won’t be able to find their pages.

And finally, this book is a perfect example of a subject where printed pages can’t compete with the Internet. At this time, the publishing business is fluid, or even chaotic. Prices and contracts and special deals and even company ownership change constantly. Some of the publishers Mark listed seem insignificant, but Wheatmark, apparently a player, was left out.

This book, like any book including my books, merely provides a look at the way things were on the day the author stopped writing. The results of Mark's studies must be regarded as probably accurate samples, but for the latest contract terms and charges you’ll have to do some of your own research.

If you read the book and do proper research, I hope you’ll realize that none of the companies listed are self-publishing companies, and that you may be better off becoming a REAL self-publisher. 

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