How to Pick a Self-Publishing Company

by Sophfronia Scott

It happens all the time. An aspiring author will send me an email asking "What do you think of this self-publishing company?" or "What have you heard about that one?" I will respond if I do know the company in question, but there's no way I can have had experience with all self-publishing companies. Of course there's no replacing you doing your own research on the company, but what questions should you ask?

Fortunately, Mark Levine did all the research for us. He's the author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, in which he presents the results of his research on the top 39 self-publishing companies. I had the opportunity to hear Mr. Levine speak at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop last year. What follows are his tips on what makes a good self-publishing company. By the way, I highly recommend you order the latest version of Mr. Levine's book. In this update he includes an analysis of the actual profits made by each self-publishing company in printing markups and royalties. You can order it by going to

A Good Reputation Among Writers

Of course, the best way to do this is by speaking to other authors who have published with the company. You can find these authors on the company's website, but you should also do a search for the company on and try to contact authors who are NOT mentioned on the company website. After all, a disgruntled author would not be featured as a glowing testimonial! You can also check out the company's reputation by consulting the Better Business Bureau and self-publishing sites such as "Preditors & Editors" at

Fair Publishing Fees

Mr. Levine says the following: "Fees [for self-publishing] can range from $299 to $30,000. It's impossible to get a custom designed cover and professional layout plus the other basics you need for less than $1,000. If you can't afford to pay at least that, wait until you can." I agree. Unfortunately in self-publishing, the phrase "you get what you pay for" is highly accurate. Furthermore, you should acquire samples of the company's past work to ensure their product is up to your standards.

Low Printing Markups

Of course, you should expect some markup in what the self-publishing company pays for printing the book, but the markup should be within reason. "A 15%-20% markup is acceptable," Mr. Levine noted in his presentation. "Inflated printing mark ups result in an artificially high retail price being set which can hurt sales."

Generous Royalties Without Any Fuzzy Math

Royalties should be at least 30% of the retail price of the book less actual print costs. You can consult Mr. Levine's book for sample calculations on this, but the idea is that your royalty set up should not have the publisher "double-dipping" and making money on both ends of each book you sell.

Favorable Contract Terms

Before you sign any publishing contract, Mr. Levine says, you need to make sure the contract contains: 1.) a way for you to terminate the contract within 30-90 days without any penalty, 2.) a clause that states that you own all the rights to your work and any derivatives of your work, and...

A Fair Policy Regarding the Return of Original Production Files

This means your contract contains a clause that requires the publisher, upon termination of the contract, to provide you with all original production files that contain the cover art, formatted version of your book, and any other material you paid to have created. Mr. Levine notes, "You want these files so you can publish the book on your own or with another company and not have the entire book formatted again. You can just swap out the copyright page, bar code, old publisher's ISBN and such." This is only right. After all, you've already paid for this work, it should be yours.

One Last Note

The best way for you to choose the right company is to start by knowing exactly what you want out of the publishing process. Write it all out if necessary and use it as a checklist when researching self-publishing companies. You can have all the facts and figures in the world, but no one can give you what you want if you don't know what you want. Good luck, and good publishing!

© 2009 Sophfronia Scott

Sophfronia Scott is Executive Editor of the Done For You Writing & Publishing Company. Learn what a difference being a published author can make for your business. Get your FREE audio CD, "How to Succeed in Business By Becoming a Bestselling Author" and your FREE online writing and book publishing tips at

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