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The Fine Print of Self-Publishing
Mark Levine : What to Seek in a Self-Publishing Company

What to Look for in a Self-Publishing Company

By Mark Levine

There are so many factors to take into consideration when choosing a self-publishing company, but the four most important ones are:

  1. The company's reputation;

  2. Favorable contract terms;

  3. How much the company charges authors for printing copies of their books; and

  4. How the company calculates royalties.

Today's article will show you how you can learn about a company's reputation among authors and industry watchdog groups. It also gives a brief outline of the basic terms an acceptable self-publishing contract must include (for a more complete discussion of self-publishing contracts, I encourage you to check out my book, The Fine Print of Self-Publishing).

1. Good Reputation in the Self-Publishing Community

The reason I wrote The Fine Print was because no one was taking a close look at the contracts and services of the major self-publishing companies and performing any type of critical analysis. While my book is an excellent way to separate the wheat from the chaff of self-publishing, you also need to check out what other writers are saying.

Most publishers include testimonials on their web site from "satisfied" authors — these are sugarcoated and even if they were true, I'd still dig further.

Don't ask the publisher for authors you can contact — you'll only get the happy ones. Instead, go through the web site and pick out five authors to contact. Most publishers have a page on their web site for each author with the author's contact information. E-mail the authors and ask them about their experience with the publisher and whether they're satisfied with the publisher's level of services.

Don't stop there. Put your ear to the ground. There are web sites that do the sleuthing for you and provide warnings about shady publishers.

Try these:

  • Google Groups
    This is my personal favorite. Just type in the name of the publisher, and you'll get links to each posting where someone has discussed them.

  • Writer Beware
    If a publisher is criticized here, stay away.

  • Writers Weekly Warnings
    Another credible web site for the truth about publishers.

  • Preditors & Editors
    This web site tells it like it is. The web site also has links to scores of other web sites that contain warnings about publishing scams.
2. Favorable Contract Terms

Before you sign a contract with any self-publishing company, demand a copy of the contract (most companies offer it on the website). If a publisher refuses to give you a copy, find another publisher.

When you review the contract, you need to make sure the contract contains at least the following provisions:

  • A way for you to terminate the contract within 30–60 days.

  • An agreement by the publisher to stop selling your book immediately upon your termination of the contract.

  • A clause that states that you own all the rights to your work and any derivatives of your work, such as movie rights.

  • A clause that requires the publisher, upon termination of the contract, to provide you with all computer and other files that contain the cover art, the layout of your book, and so forth. Many publishers give you the artwork for the cover, but not the cover layout. Same thing for the layout of your book. If you're paying a publisher for these services, you should be able to take the digital files of your book to any other publisher at any time.

A complete discussion of the specifics of these types of clauses can be found in The Fine Print of Self-Publishing. But, if you don't buy the book, at least read The Author's Bill of Rights. If a self-publishing company can't or won't meet the requirements set forth in the Author's Bill of Rights — look for another publisher.

The discussion on contract terms in this article is very cursory. I strongly encourage you to read the Fine Print or find other information on publishing contracts. It's advisable to have a lawyer review any contract before you sign it.

In the second part of this article, there will be a detailed discussion of how self-publishing companies calculate royalties and printing costs. Both of these are critical factors in determining how much an author will make on each book sold, the retail price of the book, and how much the author pays for individual copies of his/her book. •

© 2006 Mark Levine

Mark LevineMark Levine is the author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, which analyzes and ranks the contracts and services of 48 major self-publishing companies. More »