You’re getting a two-fer today because these books address the same subject from different directions.
Top Self Publishing Firms: How Writers Get Published, Sell More Books, and Rise to the Top by Stacie Vander Pol is, not surprisingly, self-published through CreateSpace. (And by the way, only the subject matter and the “Published by CreateSpace” in the front matter gave it away.) This slim volume, published in 2010, rates 24 self-publishing companies. Vander Pol gives a quick overview of each, discussing such things as which publishing package offered is best, author royalties, book pricing and author purchases. She gives an overall score, and a scores for sales and distribution. She also devotes a chapter each to list top performing fiction and non-fiction books so the reader can see for herself what sells.
Vander Pol approaches the rankings like a business person, asking how much will it cost, what do I get for my money, what do they pay, and how effective have they been in the past? She acknowledges that measuring self-publishing success is difficult, but suggests that using Amazon rankings and TitleZ.com can give a pretty good picture. I knew before I read this book that non-fiction enjoys more self-publishing success, but Vander Pol gave actual statistics: “Of the self-published books selling at the top of the market, fewer than 15% are fiction.”
I liked the quick reference guide aspect of Vander Pol’s book, and returned often to her two page comparison chart when I was reading the third edition of Mark Levine’s The Fine Print of Self-Publishing: The Contracts and Services of 45 Self-Publishing Comanies — Analyzed, Ranked & Exposed.
Levine is an attorney, and takes a different, more in-depth, approach. He looks very closely at the contracts and the various clauses that can bite an unsuspecting author. He thoroughly explores how the money flows with each company with respect to trade discounts, production cost mark-ups, and royalties. In addition to that, he reports on how responsive each firm was to questions. (Levine and his editor posed as prospective clients.)
Unfortunately, the third edition came out in 2008, and a great deal can change in a short time. Read this book to learn how to analyze any self-publishing contract you may be offered, not for the specific numbers of his calculations. (His numbers for CreateSpace are no longer accurate, for example.) I also felt that in some cases his opinion (and ranking) of a company was determined more by how helpful the staff of a company was than by fairness of their production charges and the royalties they paid.
Not surprisingly, since Levine and Vander Pol judged by slightly different criteria, they didn’t always agree on which firms were best. The two books each have their strengths and are best used together.