The Fine Print of Self-Publishing

I firmly believe it’s a mistake to pay to have your book published by a vanity press and that it’s tantamount to flushing your money down a toilet. But if you are intent on doing it anyway, then you must read THE FINE PRINT OF SELF-PUBLISHING by Mark Levine first.  He analyzes the major vanity presses and their contracts, their pluses and minuses, and gives you a thorough understanding of how that business works. 

He starts by talking about how he chose the vanity press route for his first book:

"In 1994, when I finished the novel, I put it into the hands of a few big-time publishing houses. They all told me the same thing. ‘We like the writing, but in order for us to sell it, you have to rewrite this and rewrite that, then send it back to us.’ I wasn’t about to start rewriting my book so that maybe some traditional publisher would take it."

To me, that attitude pretty much sums up the problem with most of the writers who go the self-publishing route.  He goes on to say his book was awarded ‘Book of the Year’ by the publisher he paid to publish his book, making it a dubious honor at best, and the fact that he’s proud of it, and touts it in his book, made me wonder about the guy and his credibilty (he claims that President Clinton read the book and that’s certainly worth touting).  On the other hand, he recognizes that a vanity press publication is, at best, a small step towards becoming a publisher yourself or landing a traditi0nal publishing contract. 

But Levine quickly won me over with his knowledge and professionalism in his approach towards his topic.  Levine is obviously pro-vanity press, but even with that bias, he does a remarkably thorough job analyzing the companies and their practices, even singling out the worst offenders by name (Authorhouse and PublishAmerica among them) and detailing exactly what they are doing wrong, line by line, in their contracts. During the research phase of his book, he even succeeded in getting some publishers to adjust their contracts to be more author-friendly.

The book is breezily written and very informative. THE FINE PRINT OF SELF-PUBLISHING is a long overdue, much-needed book and is worth buying whether you’re contemplating self-publishing or not simply for the education Levine gives in how to read a publishing contract and understand the terms.

12 thoughts on “The Fine Print of Self-Publishing”

  1. If a publisher or agent had told me that I would have rewritten it as many times as they asked for. In fact that’s what Michael Chricton did with the Andromeda Strain. Real writers do it. Unfortunately for my latest projects they cite market reasons for not taking them on. Local History=5000 copies and so on. Nonfiction memoirs are a similar angle unless something freakish and unusal makes them timely.
    Mine, printed for free back when vanity presses were free, fall into that category but it’s just a worthless venue in the marketplace and as a career move. If I hadn’t done it for a college class on the future of publishing I wouldn’t have done it at all. My global warming novel is making the rounds and racked up only a handful of rejections thus far.

  2. Just wondering what you feel is the big problem with self-publishing, given that traditional houses are taking fewer and fewer titles each year? Are you saying that you should keep knocking on doors until a publishing house accepts or if no one accepts, just give up on publishing completely?
    Thanks for an informative review!

  3. That’s what I would recommend since one equals the other essentially. Who says publishers are taking fewer titles? Why are the book stores jammed full of new ones if that’s true?

  4. i guess my last comment got deleted, probably because i said used the word ‘idiot’.
    anyway, under SOME circumstances, going the PoD route is just fine. for example, if you’re a lecturer or an instructor of some sort, and you give seminars or do events, then going PoD is great for stuff to sell outside the door. usually, this sort of thing would be of the non-fiction variety. you’d want to get stuff printed and have a box or two or more of books shipped to you. it’s likely you’ll have problems unloading them. you might want to look into tapes and cds as well.
    now, if you insist on going PoD for your fiction or poetry, then skip places like AuthorHouse and PublishAmerica and their ilk. no way should you be paying one to ten grand to them as all they are doing is printing your book and doing nothing else. well, unless you count lying to you and making false promises.
    for people who want to go PoD for their novels, then something like is the way to go. WHY? because they don’t charge money upfront! they are not pretending to be a publisher. they make it clear that they are a printer, and that’s something the other places aren’t honest enough to do. CafePress also offers a similar book printing service to Lulu.
    that one to ten grand you were thinking of throwing away to PA and AH and the other scam printers you can use to promo your own book, because if you go PoD, that’s what you’re going to have to do anyway.
    heck, even traditionally published writers can’t really completely on their publisher to get the word out about their book. even under the best circumstances, flogging a book can be a full-time job.
    sure there are success stories of people selling their novels from the trunks of their car, as well as a PoD writer getting a 6 figure deal from a mainstream publisher, but those happenings are few and far between.
    people need to be sure to understand that there is a huge difference between being printed and being published. and sometimes listening to them speak, it’s clear that they aren’t clear, so to speak.

  5. Tari, if it’s printed it’s published, hell if it’s online it’s published.
    It’s a good idea to approach self-publishing like a business so you want to read any contracts carefully and understand them. Avoid places that try to put any kind of lien on this or other works. Consider hiring a decent book printer for a short-run on the offset. Keep your stocks low, it’s just a test run. Make sure your tome has been edited by a professional BEFORE sending it to the printer. Write a pilot script and prospect for names to send it to. Learn as you go and if you find your book could use improvement after publishing, you can always print an update. Very few people hit their stride in their first book. Keep trying.

  6. Self-publishing and going with a vanity press are two distinct things, aren’t they?
    As a young man, the great Canadian humor writer Crad Kilodney worked for Vantage Press, a well-known vanity publisher, and he read so many unwittingly funny manuscripts that the craziness of them influenced his own work. Back in the 80s, he also used to review vanity press titles for Toronto’s alt-weekly Only Paper Today in a column called Crad Kilodney’s Vanities, in which just the plot summaries alone would have me convulsed with laughter.
    Self-publishing obviously has a grand literary tradition, but vanity presses are for the ignorant and gullible. On the other hand, when a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives tried to have hearings about the abuses of vanity presses back in the 70s, they had a very hard time finding authors who would complain about being ripped off. Most were actually satisfied with their end product. All is vanity, except maybe self-publishing.
    I do miss the Vantage Press ads that used to adorn a column in the New York Times Book Review. The little squibs on each book were very funny.

  7. The Fine Print of Self-Publishing

    Mark Levine has just published the third edition of THE FINE PRINT OF SELF-PUBLISHING. I was a fan of the first edition and this one is even better. Particularly useful are the updated and expanded examinations of the various self-publishing companie…


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