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on January 17, 2009
The self-publishing industry is growing in leaps and bounds. As a book reviewer I've noticed a sharp increase in self-published, print-on-demand titles coming into the market. With major publishing houses reducing the number of contracts being signed due to recent economic difficulties, the allure of finally getting that novel in print is driving many to sign contracts to pay to have their books published. With the increase in consumer demand, new self-publishing companies are popping up all the time.

In The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, Mark Levine -- an experienced self-published author and owner/investor into various e-commerce businesses -- analyzes 45 self-publishing companies. In previous editions Levin reviewed publishing contracts, customer service and other factors to assign publishers with a numeric ranking. In the third edition he has moved to more generalized categories: Outstanding, Pretty Good, Just OK, and To Avoid. Sadly 21 of the 45 companies analyzed fall into the To Avoid category - self-publishing contracts are often author-unfriendly, revealing the clear need for this title.

After introducing readers to the benefits of choosing to print their book with a self-publishing company, Levine discloses that his companies have investments in a self-publishing firm. However, he does not compare or evaluate its services within the book, he just wants to be up-front with that fact, which is commendable. He then guides readers through the main components of having a book published, what needs to be provided, the details they should look for from a publisher, all of the major key points to be aware of. In the chapter revealing the nine traits of a good self-publishing company, Levine clearly defines his author-friendly publishing standards (ones that his affiliated press attempts to live by). Though a relatively short section of the book, this information is in and of itself highly valuable for those just dipping their toes into the publishing arena. In fact after reading this section, readers may be empowered to skip looking for a publisher all together and take on the task of forming their own publishing company.

Levine puts his law degree to work as he breaks down and explains the usual set-up, clauses, and details of a publishing contract, allowing lay people to move into this territory with an additional level of confidence. While you can't depend upon him for legal advice, his analysis of each publishing contract (provided further on in the details for each publisher) that he was able to obtain is priceless. Levine also explains the general principles of various techniques of calculating author royalties and provides a theoretical breakdown for each publisher as well. There are some editing issues present (somewhat disappointing for a notable reference title relating to self-publishing), most of which occur in the numerical notation for these royalty calculations.

Each publisher receives its own chapter which details: publisher website, format of books, genres accepted, publishing fees and packages, additional services offered, return of digital files, retail pricing, author pricing, royalties, notes on the publishing agreement, and the author friendly rating - Levine's personal analysis of the publisher. The Fine Print deals mainly with publishers offering paperback printing services. Hardbacks are mentioned (though rarely offered by publishers) and children's picture book packages are noted, though not explored thoroughly. If you've written a children's book you'll be able to benefit from the general advice and through observing Levine's author-friendly analysis skills in action, but you won't find many helpful leads on potential publishing houses here.

After reading through The Fine Print in detail, it's easy to see why Levine has angered major self-publishing houses in past editions of this work. He is out to protect authors, their rights, and their pocketbooks, making no bones about a bad deal when he sees one. A few samples are sure to whet your appetite for more of his brass-tacks approach to analysis.

If you buy this service and make your money back from it, I will let you watch me rip out each page of this book and eat it.
...
If this is true and (publisher's name removed) can prove it, I'll fly to the publisher's offices and eat my book in front of all its employees.
...
If what you read here isn't enough to convince you to stay away, then P.T. Barnum was right - there really is a sucker born every minute.

It's obvious that Levine is passionate about doing his best to ensure that authors receive a fair deal. However, it's not all bad news - eight publishers are listed in the outstanding category, and nine are listed as pretty good. Levine does give praise where it is due when exceptionally fair terms and services are provided for authors.

An overwhelming number of facts, figures and packages are listed within the dense, information-packed pages of The Fine Print. A debut author striking out on his or her own would spend hundreds of hours seeking out these publishing companies and gathering this amount of information. With such a plethora of options available it would have been difficult to prepare a Consumer Reports-style comparison chart, and as such none is provided. You'll want to pull up a spreadsheet and hammer some details in under the categories most relevant to your project.

Reading The Fine Print is akin to taking a favourite uncle who's mechanically inclined car shopping with you. Levine walks with you through the services and legalese presented by these companies. If you plan on publishing with a publisher that you pay for its services, you cannot afford to skip reading The Fine Print of Self-Publishing. This is a required title in your stacks of research materials. Shell out the $12.21 at Amazon; you could potentially save thousands of dollars and a vicious, life-long loss of rights to your work that some authors have suffered from at the hands of unethical publishers.
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on March 8, 2012
Here's the thing: do you just want a book---for family and friends? Fine, buy this book and look through all the companies listed and choose the best one to meet your needs.

If you want a competitively priced book that can compete with others in the market---this book is a HUGE waste of time. He says as much at the get-go when he is trying to get you to use his publishing company. Why? Why write a whole book that is pointless to most of the people who want to self-publish? he tells you up front---use his company which is so much better. I cannot believe the number of five stars he has unless they are from days gone by when these companies were the only way to pursue getting abook published.

The problem with the companies which he will tell you at the get go is that it costs so much that your book will be priced ridiculously. So, if you want to actually sell your book in the marketplace and compete with others---this book will not help you---at all. The book just goes through all the companies out there who you can pay $1,000 to $10,000 to make you a book with cover and formatting and ISBN. But, who is going to buy a 300 page paperback for $16 when you can get one for $6.99. And don't even think about making money off these books after these companies take their slice.

And the whole distriubtion issue (will someone be able to walk into B&N and see your book) is a whole book unto itself.

As I said, this book is mostly about evaluating all the companies avaialabe that will put your book together for you and your friends. If you want to do better than that and try to make something competitively priced, you need to go to LightningSource or Createspace and learn to do the things this book does not tell you how to do. He even goes so far as to say that Lightning Source is not a self-publisher. Amazing. Google them.

What I wanted this book to do was tell me about all the things I need to know---books sizes and paper weight and page color and how to get an ISBN (easy, just Google it) registering your copyright (also easy---Google that one too and choose the .gov site---the site walks you through it and if you have any questions there's a number to call that will take you right to the copyright office. Registration costs $35. He says to make sure you find an editor and get proper formatting and get a great book cover. You know, fine, but I need help finding all of the above. And, yes, I have been scammed and paid people for editing that was worthless and the same with the book covers.

I just cannot get over the author saying at the get-go that doing it through these companies is not the way to go---the whole book is on comparing the companies. So HE says the book is pointless.

BTW, you won't be able to find this book in the bookstore because it's self-published and has that self-published feel to it---the page margins are hardly there. If this is the best he can do, do I really want his advice?

The big pitch is to make sure you contact him (or one of these companies that will make the book too expensive to purchase which he makes clear and is also obvious). He insists that you should not even try to do it on your own, wayyyy too hard. Baloney---propaganda! I know people who have done very well self-publishing and continue to do a fine job self-publishing through Createspace and Lightning Source. Very doable. They should be writing this book.
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on May 6, 2010
Following is the message I sent to Mark upon reading his book, "The FINE PRINT of Self-publishing."

"You and your staff have done a masterful job of amassing the data contained in FINE PRINT. I am impressed. Your book is not only unique, but you have provided an invaluable service to all aspiring self-publishers. I also greatly appreciate your dedication, imagination, focus, organized M.O., and fine writing style. Amazon does what you said it would do: it led me to you.

"This is the way I approached reading your book: carefully, i.e., I read everything through "Outstanding Publishing Companies" (Chap. 6). Then, I briefly perused "Some Pretty Good Self-publishing Companies" (Chap. 7). I did not consider reading "Publishers Who Are Just OK" (Chap. 8) or "Publishers to Avoid" (Chap. 9), as I aim for perfection in my endeavors. Finally, I read the Conclusion."

Mark has not only written the definitive handbook for the self-publishing neophyte, but his impact extends beyond the written word. He is accessible and sensitive to his readers. Within less than an hour, he responded with a message of appreciation--phone number included, should I desire publishing advice. Again, Bravo, Mark!
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on October 3, 2010
Nothing reinforced the accuracy and credibility of the findings in this book quite like what Mark wrote about iUniverse. Because everything he said mirrored to the letter and spirit the experience I had with this publishing company over the past five years. He is right! Where they were once outstanding, their services and customer care have become so sloppy that they really should be avoided.

This is a critical guide for anyone planning to self-publish! I could not recommend it more highly.
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on November 18, 2011
Background: I am interested in writing a book about technical toys such as mobile Internet devices and smartphones. I have a lot of articles, but I have never actually written a full blown book, my only experience is as a technical editor of programming books. So I was looking into self-publishing, and submitting my ideas to big publishers.

In general I did not enjoy this book, but it did have some good information, namely legal, which is hard to find anywhere else because most people are afraid to give legal advice (or what could be considered legal advice).
I gave two stars because I think I am a little bit smarter for reading the book. There are several good tidbits about contracts, and a couple good items on how self-publishing (and POD) companies operate. The companies listed are represented pretty fairly, but that's where the pros end for me. Most of the good tips I have already read about online for free, but I don't hold that against the author, nor does it play into the rating.

Cons (and it really seems I am in the minority here looking at other reviews):

- My main problem with this book is the underlining concept of hiring a self-publishing company - to the tune of anywhere from $1000 to $5000 (in general). This sounds unwise and somewhat un-american. I think an aspiring author should really do it themselves. What I mean by this is format the document yourself, prepare it, and send it off to the printer yourself. It sounds ludicrous in this day and age to rely on a company to do this for you. The author does mention "do-it-yourselfers" a couple times in passing, but the book is not directed to them. IMO if a person really wants to write their own book, they should learn how the technical stuff works, it's not that hard. You will be a much smarter person for doing so. There are plenty of good books out there to help you along the way (see Aaron Shepard for example). And finally, you can put that money you saved towards your marketing campaign! Oh, by the way, anyone who pays $1000 (or more) for a website is strictly out of their mind. Either learn how to build your own website, or use free tools out there from WordPress to Facebook, YouTube, and so on...
The thing is, the author talks about vanity publishing for several pages in the beginning of the book, but to me spending that kind of money is vain when you could do it yourself. It's just not sound business. Now, I do agree about getting some kind of editor, if at least a copy editor/proofreader. But here's the thing, if you can't shore up your grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and so on to a certain extent, then you might want take some English classes, read some more books on the subject, or re-consider writing in general. Here's another key point: Even the professional editors make mistakes. I think that the author should be the number one editor of their own creation. That said, I know my English skills etc... are not great, nor am I re-checking this review for grammar and what have you. I am writing this review to help "do-it-yourselfers" to steer clear of this book, and to promote doing it yourself instead of paying a ton of money to someone. The cover is up for debate. It's not hard to set up the technical specs for a cover, but knowing your market, and being able to develop a cover can be challenging.

- Second issue with the book is that it is NEGATIVE, very much so in fact. The author appears to have a big chip on his shoulder, and has obviously had some bad experiences with big publishing companies. The book was quite depressing during the first couple chapters. A lot of it was opinion, not fact. And ended up being a buzzkill.

- Third - the author went wild about editing during the first few chapters, but they themselves were edited poorly. Add to that I was reading this on the Kindle, which I believe had additional typos, but that is expected with e-books and so I don't hold that against the author. You can tell which are Kindle conversion typos, and although the author (or editor) should be checking that thoroughly, it is still understandable.

- Finally - the information about the companies is ok, but a lot is outdated. I primarily was interested in using Lightning Source or CreateSpace (which is really what it comes down to if you are a do-it-yourselfer) and I already had researched CreateSpace. Some of the details about them are out of date, the same holds true for a few other companies I was already researching. But that is to be expected, information like this is better served on a website where it can be updated often.

For a person who aims to do it yourself:
I recommend the Aaron Shepard books, and do some research on the Internet. I also just downloaded a free book on Kindle called "Write Good or Die" (smart title right?). It has articles from various authors, some famous, some not, with a lot of good tips. That book also has a few negative articles though, I just skipped over those.
As far as tech, I have an old version of Photoshop which both Lightning Source and CreateSpace except for cover art. And I have a couple year old version of Adobe Acrobat Pro. Add to this Microsoft Word and if you have all the software you need to create print ready files. I got these versions of Photoshop and Acrobat on e-bay for a total of $300 spent. Just make sure that the version you get is supported by CreateSpace or Lightning Source.
I used these tools and self-published a test book. It was a test run just to see how it would look. A couple minor issues, but I recommend a test run of something small so you can learn the process and apply that to the bigger text, that's where I am at now. What I've been doing is talking to people in the industry. I go to trade shows and author conferences. I try to learn from the community, check authors blogs and websites. Over time I have met people who are professionals some of which have offered to help me for free on my cover and for developmental editing. Well, not really free, we are swapping information about various technical arenas, but that's what it's all about, and it sure beats paying someone X thousands of dollars.
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on March 31, 2014
Ironically, he stresses that every author needs a copy-editor as well as a content editor! This book has gone through multiple editions, so you would think that he would have gotten things under control .... Excrutiating reading because of his errors. I do trust that he knows the business angles that he discusses, but if I hadn't had professional reasons to read this book, I would never have slogged throuh it, &, as it was, I skipped the last chapter .....
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on November 30, 2010
This was a good introduction for someone new to self publishing like me. However, it was written from a very narrow perspective based on costs and not on benefits to the author. Many of the self publishing companies are attempting to be publishers for books and authors who cannot attract a major publishing house and thus the quality and effectivenss of the services beyond printing are important but not properly evaluated by the author. Also, there were too many inconsistencies in the comparison of the various companies and at times the author seemed to be biased against certain firms for reasons that were not substantative.

It also seemed strange that the author did not use a self publishing firm to publish his book. In fact, it appears that the full service publishing firm that he used owned a self-publishing company.

In summary, the book was worth purchasing but it provides only the initial step in learning about using a self-publishing firm.
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on October 9, 2008
Reading Mark Levine's book is like having a relative (that likes you) in book publishing-one who will tell you the secrets and advise you on how to do this to your advantage.

Now that I have read this book, I believe every author who is even considering self-publishing should read, actually they should devour every page. It's easy to read and answers questions you didn't even know to ask.

That is the biggest issue with self-publishing for first-time authors. Who to trust with your life's work? What questions to ask? What are the pitfalls? What is the company's real reputation (not just what it says on their web site).

Levin divides these publishers/book printers into categories and answers the same questions for each.

--Outstanding self-publishing companies
--Some pretty good self-publishing companies
--Publishers who are use OK
--Publishers to avoid (Sadly, the longest list with 21, many well-known names.)

Info given in each area above is:

--Format
--Publishing fee
--Other services
--Retail price of author's book
--Price author pays for book
--Royalties paid to author
--Publishing agreement
--Author-friendly rating

Levin believes that if you want your book published-because writing a book is a big accomplishment-do it and make your own breaks. However many first-time authors are clueless about costs, timelines and the effort required by them to get their book printed and then promote it.

After you read Levin's book you will know what to watch out for, understand the contracts and how to negotiate, and how to get value for your money.

Now who doesn't need that!

As a book editor who also reviews books, I am most disappointed when many authors who self publish do not spend the time and money to have their books professionally edited. They are not told to do it-and what they submit becomes the book, warts and all. Many a darn good story has been poorly received because it lacked even simple proofreading.

Armchair Interviews says: Save yourself money, time and aggravation by getting the facts from this superb resource.
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on September 30, 2014
This is the complete review as it appears <a href="http://ianwoodnovellum.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-fine-print-of-self-publishing-by.html">at my blog dedicated to reading, writing (no 'rithmatic!), movies, & TV</a>. Blog reviews often contain links which are not reproduced here, nor will updates or modifications to the blog review be replicated here. Graphic and children's reviews on the blog typically feature two or three images from the book's interior, which are not reproduced here.

Note that I don't really do stars. To me a book is either worth reading or it isn't. I can't rate it three-fifths worth reading! The only reason I've relented and started putting stars up there is to credit the good ones, which were being unfairly uncredited. So, all you'll ever see from me is a five-star or a one-star (since no stars isn't a rating, unfortunately).

I rated this book WORTHY!

I had some really mixed feelings about this book. In the end I decided to rate it positively, because it does what it promises in that it offers, in general, what appears to my amateur eye to be solid advice about self-publishing. Overall I believe it's of benefit to anyone who wants to get some inside information about the publishing business. Frankly, one of the tipping factors for me was the reference to Sarah Kolb-Williams in the acknowledgments. I happen to respect Sarah, and I reviewed her book on editing positively back in May so this gave the book some street cred for me!

The book goes into extensive detail about all aspects of the publishing industry, and there are multiple appendices and URLs to allow for follow-up for yourself if you wish. There is a really useful grade card on self-publishing companies towards the back of the book where someone actually contacted two-dozen of those businesses with valid questions about self-publishing. The companies were rated on how (or even if!) they responded. There are some 'A's and some 'F's in there, so this book is worth it just for that information!

Here's the list of contents:

The Basics of Self-Publishing
Self-Publishing Essentials
From Manuscript to Publication
The Profile of a great Self-publishing Company
The Fine Print of Publishing Contracts
E-Book Publishing
Marketing Your Book
Apples to Apples Comparison of major Self-publishing Companies
(Appendices A through I)

That doesn't mean I didn't have some issues with the book, however, some of which were mild or matters of opinion, and others more serious. One section where the information seemed incomplete was in purchasing an ISBN for your book. I have dealt only with Create Space so far, and they offer a multi-tier approach. You can get their ISBN for free, which obviously costs nothing but limits your right to use the ISBN, or you can buy one for only $10, which you own. The caveat here is that Create Space will not make available some of their services if you buy your own ISBN! Strange but true, I know, but those of us who are not best-selling authors (which is pretty much all of us!) are very much at the whim of the tides and currents, aren't we?

In a newly revised section on ebook publishing, the author says that he "...can't imagine a scenario where it would be beneficial to not publish an ebook version of you book." I have seen, however, some really poor ebook versions of novels and books. Typically these have been ARC (Advance Review Copy) books, but in this day and age of electronic publishing, and spell-checkers, I can't imagine even an ARC looking as bad as some I've seen. Plus there is another issue. My Kindle shows only grey-scale, not color, and the screen is very small. It's great for reading your usual chapter book, which is what I typically read, but it would be useless for a coffee-table book!

If your book has color images of significant size, then it's not going to look good on my Kindle. Even smaller images with little contrast will look muddy. Indeed, a lot of ARCs I've seen are simply not available for review on the Kindle at all. The only way to read them is to download them and use Adobe Digital Editions on my computer, which tends to render them very well, but which isn't available for Linux, only for Mac and Windows, sad to say. Plus, as the author himself makes clear, ebooks are not yet in the majority in terms of sales. Obviously this will change, but the print book isn't dead yet, and I personally suspect that its death, if it ever comes, will be a long, drawn-out, lingering process!

When I published my own book, Poem y Granite (which has only simple, grey-scale images), I was so disappointed in the ebook version that I ended-up stripping-out all the images, and reformatting it as text-only for the e-version. I was not about to let it get published like it was initially. It looks great like that in print (IMO!), but it was horrible in the ebook version. Poem y Granite was designed from the off as a print-book and it didn't translate well at all, so yes, Virginia, there are scenarios where the ebook version isn't going to work - at least not as is!

There's another issue touching on this which makes me feel rather hypocritical to mention because I really don't care for book covers in general. I don't 'review the cover' as many reviewers do since the author has little to do with the book's cover (unless they self-publish!). In this case it's worth a mention because the author himself mentions book covers (not in any detail, but often), and the disconnect between the author's comments about the need for a professional-looking cover, and this book with the cover it has, struck me as amusing to say the least. In addition, on my Adobe Digital Editions reader, the bottom edge of the cover was cut off (see my cover image above). Yes, this is an ARC, so there can be unresolved problems at that stage, but this seemed to me to be one which could have been avoided.

So what else didn't I like? Well, while I appreciate someone in a book like this who doesn't sugar-coat advice, there's a difference between straight-talking and outright insulting the reader, and in my opinion this author crossed the line in Chapter two. Evidently, in his opinion, I'm a fool for designing my own book interior and cover, and so is everyone else who does this. While I do take his point about the need for professionalism, I thought this was unnecessary to say the least. It carries the unwarranted underlying assumptions that everyone who would like to self-publish is a). Really stupid and incompetent, and b). So well-off that they can afford to spend several thousand dollars on what might well be, at the bottom line and despite the best intentions, a purely vanity pursuit.

Well, guess what, you can't generically label everyone like that. I want to publish books, but if I have a couple of thousand dollars, it goes on buying food and clothes for my kids, and on making house and car payments! It doesn't go on satisfying a potentially self-obsessed or maybe arrogant compulsion to underwrite publishing my work, and I'd be willing to bet that I'm far from the only person in this category. It's just not nice to insult people who, while perhaps not acting in the most professional manner conceivable, at least have their priorities straight about how to expend their limited budget.

While I felt that was bad, it wasn't anywhere bear as bad as the section where the author gives an example of a book cover which he experienced and has the gall to say, "No straight man would be caught reading a book with that cover". I don't know what culture he comes from, but I found that comment to be condescending at best, and verging on homophobic at worst. Do not tell me what kind of a 'man' I am, or what kind of book I should be reading judged by its cover.

I've seen far too many professionally published books and novels with atrocious covers and which were really poorly written and/or badly edited, so this is far from a hard and fast rule, because when all is said and done at the end of the day, the bottom line with professional publishing is the bottom line: Big Publishing(tm) wants to make money, and all-too-often is not-too-particular about the quality of their product. Self publishers, while perhaps naïve and certainly experience-challenged, are (and admittedly with some exceptions) highly motivated to try and do the best they can within their personal means. I do not see any fruit in packing all of them in with the precious few who truly are basket cases.

I know that a lot of readers, particularly it seems amongst the young-adult crowd, do coo like doves over book covers, The authors themselves sadly enable this habit by having 'dramatic' cover reveals on their website, like it's some Earth-shattering event, but to me a cover isn't anything more than the call of a Siren, trying to lure you in!

Yes, some are beautiful, some are trashy, but to me they're unimportant and all-too-often misleading. I'd rather have a really good novel in a lousy cover than a beautiful cover with nothing inside that's worth reading. What's important to me, and what my blog is about, is the writing, because in the end it's all that matters. I think it's our job as authors to seduce them with the writing, not try to mesmerize them with a cheap bauble of the cover which typically has no more intrinsic value than costume jewelry (as publishers themselves demonstrate by changing covers so frequently on the same book!).

OTOH, marketing is everything, and Big Publishing(tm) does have that market cornered, so my advice to you would be to do the best job you can with cover and interior design, write the best book you can, and spend any cash you honestly do have to spare on the marketing. People will forgive you far more readily for giving them a slightly sloppy book cover and interior, but that offers a really good story than ever they will for giving them all sparkles and glitter with a lousy story inside! So there's your idea for a next-big-thing website: start one with nothing but books from self-publishers. No buying and selling, no glitter covers, just a blurb and a sample to give the self-published a shot at a market!

So how to rate this book? Well, for the sake of this review, I decided that I'm going to ignore the parts I found objectionable since they were few and minor (in terms of the amount of text they ate up), and which were outweighed in a practical sense, by the wealth of information, tips, links, and advice this book offers. So I'm going to rate this positively and have faith and hope that there will be some judicious re-writing before the sixth edition comes out!
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on August 2, 2015
This book is extraordinarily helpful. It is a very truthful, unvarnished look at the self-publishing industry, its limitations, and its potential for an author who is committed to producing a book the correct way. Reading it, I often felt discouraged about my prospects, but that is simply the reality that an indie writer faces. It is better to confront that reality before spending any money.

This book does include a lot of charts, and if you are someone who likes to look at and understand charts, I would suggest that you purchase the print version of this book. The Kindle version does not make them easy to look at.

If you think you want to self-publish your book, read The Fine Print of Self-Publishing first.
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