Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Two books on self-publishing

In anticipation of a formal release of my third “Do Ask, Do Tell” book, I picked up two recent short books on self-publishing.
The larger book is “The Fine Print of Self-Publishing: Everything You Need to Know About the Costs, Contracts and Process of Self-Publishing”, Fourth Edition, by Mark Levine, published by Bascom Hill, in Minneapolis, 2011, with ISBN 978-1-935098-55-3, 274 pages, paper.
The Amazon link is here
The book classifies various self-publishing companies as to their reputations with authors.  I won’t go into repeating these here, but I can make some general observations.

Self-publishing support companies have a variety of business models.  Some of them offer an enormous range of services, charge a lot, and tend to pay low royalties.  Authors have been particularly concerned that they can’t claim the publisher galleys to take to other publishers, at least without paying a lot more.  However, some authors may need the extensive services and may have a low sales expectation, and be publishing more as a “reference”  for cultural or political impact on debate of some issue.  But some try to push sales promotion packages onto authors.
Other publishers charge less, pay higher royalties, and allow publishers ownership of galleys. But these publishing companies are more selective.  They do not accept titles that they do not expect to sell well, because these companies derive more of their profit from actually selling book copies than from just supporting authors.  They are more like traditional publishers, and the right word might be “cooperative publishing” than self-publishing.  This model may work better for fiction than political or technical writing, and may suit only authors with established public relations contacts in other fields.  Examples of these companies include BookLocker and BookPros. As of the time of publication of this book, BookLocker considered five copies sold a month the minimum acceptable transaction volume for an author. It's hard to see, at least from any reasonable math, how this setup would support a business model really based on selling books.  It would seem to appeal only to authors who could get published (maybe even with an advance) from traditional publishers, but really are motivated by short-term "profit".  It sounds improbable for most writers, even relatively established authors. The question brings up the idea of being hired as a ghostwriter or to assist with someone else's work or life narrative. 
I would seem that whether a publishing service is "selective" or "non-selective" would have a big impact on whether the service would have a good rating with authors, a point that the book glosses over -- but that cuts both ways. 
A few of them are faith-oriented, and only accept content agreeable to their religious beliefs.  These companies might appeal to authors who benefit from a publisher brand name associated with evangelical or other faith.

The early part of the book explains all the general principles of self-publishing, and gives some advice on what kinds of books do sell and others do not. 

The book explains the publishing contracts in detail.  One controversial issue is the indemnification clause, which gives the publisher the right to sue the author for legal expenses should there be a tort claim (like libel) against the publisher.  These are quite standard in the industry, and shocking to authors.  In practice, they are rarely invoked-- although I can imagine that an unscrupulous plaintiff (and attorneys) could file a frivolous SLAPP suit against a self-publishing support company on the "deep pockets" theory, forcing the author to defend the company (and this is a good reason we need a federal anti-SLAPP law).   I didn’t see any mention of media perils insurance, but I wonder if that could become an issue in the future (although it has never gotten far off the ground in the “amateur” world, as discussed in my main blog in the fall of 2008).  Most publishers allow the author to keep ownership of the work and move to other publishers, but they don’t own the actual galleys.  Most don’t appear to care if the author places content on the web, but some could see that as potentially driving down sales. 
 The smaller book is “Self-Publishing Books 101: Helping You Get Published and Noticed”, by Shelley Hitz, with imprint by the same name, 2012, ISBN 978-1475104592, 48 pages, paper.  This booklet covers the mechanics and basics (like getting an ISBN).  It pays particular attention to the self-help process provided by one particular company, Create Space.  The website for the book is here

There are folks who see self-publishing as controversial.  I don’t know if it’s true now, but Author’s Guild used to accept for members only those authors would could get advances from publishers and actually make a living from writing. Ponder why that would be.  

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