Ladies and gentlemen, Today I have an old friend as my guest-Jeff Mehalic, esq. As you can surmise from the title he will be discussing self publishing.

So without further ado I give you Jeff Mehalic

Lindsay, thank you very much for inviting me to guest-blog today on Murders and Mysteries. I’m very happy to be here.

My name is Jeff Mehalic, and I have a law practice in Charleston, West Virginia. I will also be opening an office in New York soon.

In addition to my litigation practice, I negotiate on behalf of writers and authors, and also represent them in disputes and litigation arising from their contracts.

I have a blog called The Write Lawyer, which may be of particular interest to your readers, and also write the West Virginia Business Litigation blog.

Before I talk about what you should pay particular attention to in a publishing contract, let me add a disclaimer here. My opinions here are general in nature and should not be interpreted as legal advice for any particular situation. Any recommendations or advice necessarily depends on the specific facts.

Today, I want to talk about some things to watch out for in self-publishing. (And let me mention an excellent article by David Carnoy entitled Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know. He doesn’t focus on legal issues, but offers practical advice borne of his own experience as a self-published author.)

Self-publishing used to be synonymous with vanity publishing, which carried a negative connotation. But while vanity publishing still exists — and is still usually a bad deal for the author– self-publishing has become an accepted means to get your book into the market, particularly since e-books have proven to be so popular.

The difference is that with vanity publishing, you pay the publisher to publish your book, which can be very expensive and may result in your ending up with a garage full of books and no means to distribute or sell them.

But with self-publishing, the upfront costs may be minimal because you, as the author and now as the publisher, are doing the work typically performed by a traditional publisher.

Thus, you may be responsible for vetting your manuscript, securing the services of a content and copy editor, getting cover art, obtaining the copyright for your work, and marketing and promoting your work. Let me talk about each of these individually.

  • Vet your manuscript. By this I mean that you — because you don’t have a legal department to do it for you — have to ensure that you haven’t infringed any copyrights and that you have obtained permission to use any material(s), such as song lyrics or other quoted material, that may be contained in your work.
  • Secure the services of a content and copy editor who will edit your manuscript as to its content but also as to the copy, and correct grammatical and typographical errors.
  • Get cover art for your book. Even though your book may not be on the shelf at your local bookstore, you still want it to have an appealing and attractive cover.
  • Obtain the copyright for your work so that your rights are protected against any infringement.
  • Market and promote your work. As with the functions I’ve described above and depending on the vendor or third party you choose to print your book, such as Lulu or Book Surge (which I mention by name only for illustration and not as an endorsement), it may have a distribution or sales network in place. But you shouldn’t count on it, and should assume that you are responsible for promoting your book and getting it sold.

Keep in mind that for all these functions, there are free-lance professionals available to help you, but you pay for their services out of your own pocket, as opposed to having a publisher incur those costs as part of its contract with you to publish your work. Thus, their costs may eat into whatever profits you would make from sales.

Self-publishing has a distinct advantage over traditional publishing in that you can guarantee that your work is published and available for sale in a short period of time. However, as I’ve described above, self-publishing requires significant additional work once you’ve finished your manuscript in order to maximize the chances of your work’s success.

Once again, my thanks to Lindsay for allowing to post, and I will be happy to answer your questions or comments.

Jeff, thank you for taking time from your busy day to answer my readers questions.

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  1. Hi Jeff and Lindsay. This was a very interesting post. Self publishing seems to be on everyone’s lips now. I think the market is changing faster than a shapeshifter and everyone is scrambling to see where it will all land.

  2. Hey, Jeff and Lindsay, great post. As both of you now, I am in the process of self-publishing one of my stories and need all the help I can get. The article you referred to , Jeff, was extremely helpful. I’ve Bookmarked it for when I am ready. I already have a great cover and I just need to find the time to work on that story.

    Jeff, I love the way you give a legal insight to something without making it sound all lawyer-ey!!

  3. Thanks, Jeff. Great post! I found it very informative and will pass it along to friends of mine who have considered self-publishing.

  4. Lindsay says:

    Thanks for coming on Murders and Mysteries today.

  5. Jeff and Lindsay! Great post. This is well timed. Given that so many people are thinking about self-publishing what are your thoughts on virtual assistants? I am curious about what one “off shores” and what one takes on personally. Thoughts?

  6. I realize that my post sounded like I was thinking of self-publishing. Not so. I have a great agent and still am hoping for the traditional path. But, there is still the huge need to self-promote. I see them as being somewhat similar. Just clarification.

  7. I self-published some non-fiction back in the old days (when it was necessary to hire a printer, store the big boxes in the basement, promote, check orders, ship to distributors, try to collect, try *again* to collect…) I’m all in favor of the new POD model where authors don’t have to invest large amounts of cash or buy 500 copies at a whack, especially if the book has a smallish audience. But that’s really about the only thing that’s changed. It’s still crucial to get the word out to people who will want the book; self-publishing has always worked best when the author already has a relationship with and a channel to the likely buyers.

  8. Great post. I’m fascinated with the whole idea of selp-publishing, especially for authors who get their rights back and want to keep their books out there. Or maybe have a story that never sold that they’d love to put out. Thanks for the tips, they help a lot.

  9. PK Hrezo says:

    Thanks, Jeff. That was really helpful.

  10. Jeff Mehalic says:


    You’re right, self-publishing is extremely popular. New and established authors are realizing that it’s much faster to go that route than through a traditional publisher, although there’s a trade-off with the amount of additional work (by the author) that self-publishing requires. My guess is that self-publishing will continue to be very popular if for no other reason than traditional publishers don’t and won’t have the ability — or interest — to accommodate all the authors who have discovered the “freedom” of self-publishing.

    Thanks for your comment.

  11. Jeff Mehalic says:


    Thanks for your kind words. I am very interested in your experience with self-publishing, particularly since you have the benefit of having a three-book deal with a traditional publisher and therefore can compare and contrast (as they ask on essay tests) the two approaches.

    I’m glad you like the Carnoy article. For anyone even considering self-publishing, he provides a lot of information.

    Thanks again.

  12. Jeff Mehalic says:

    T. H.,

    Thanks very much. It struck me as I wrote the post that self-publishing is one of those ventures that may sound easier to do than it really is, at least for an author’s first book. But self-publishing has proven to be so popular that I think some unpublished authors may underestimate — if they even give it much consideration — the steepness of the learning curve.

    Take care.

  13. Jeff Mehalic says:


    Thank you very much for having me. You have a great blog!

  14. Lindsay says:

    Now it’s my turn to ask a question-
    Someone self-pubs a series then with another series goes with a traditional publisher but the characters in both series cross over from one series to another. Does the traditional publisher get the character rights to the self-pub characters? and can the author use the characters in the traditional publisher series in the self-pub series?

  15. Jeff Mehalic says:


    Thanks for your comments. Self-publishing has created a need — or perhaps a niche — for virtual assistants in a way that traditional publishing may not have. Your question is particularly timely as I see that one of the stories featured on the cover of the March 2011 issue of Romance Writers Report (the monthly publication of the RWA) is “Is It Time to Hire a Virtual Assistant?”

    Honestly, I don’t know much about virtual assistants, except that the concept sounds great and they are also gaining in popularity among lawyers, particularly those who, like myself, practice by themselves or aren’t tied to one location. Having someone in a virtual location who can perform most, if not all, of the same functions as the person who sits in an office down the hall helps to simplify one’s professional life.

    The RWR article, which was written by a virtual assistant, discusses what one does or can “off shore” (that is very apt!) and what one still handles. If you decide to go with a virtual assistant, let me know how it works for you.

    Thanks again.

  16. Jeff Mehalic says:


    You’re exactly right, and I think that’s why some previously unpublished authors may be disappointed in their sales once they self-publish. An author still has to promote his or her book (and him or herself) and if the author doesn’t have a platform (yet) to do that, one has to be developed.

    I can see why self-publishing appeals to established authors like yourself who have been successful with traditional publishers, but, for various reasons, want to go with self-publishing. It’s easier, to say nothing of more rewarding, to be able to promote your self-published titles when you’re already known. And I agree that the print-on-demand model is particularly well-suited to authors whose resources may be limited or who just don’t know how popular a book may be. You can always have more copies printed.

    By the way, your post made me think of Seth Godin’s decision last year to abandon traditional publishing, which he described in this blog post:
    Granted, he had published several books with traditional publishers, and has considerable name recognition and popularity, but his decision is still worth thinking about.

    Thanks for your comment.

  17. Jeff Mehalic says:


    Thanks for your kind words. I agree that self-publishing offers an excellent opportunity for authors who want to continue to make their books available and receive more compensation than they would from a traditional publisher.

    And for a story that a traditional publisher passed on, self-publishing not only gets the story published, but it does so in a way that bypasses the traditional publisher — which may account for traditional publishers’ fear (and dislike) of self-publishing.

    Thanks again.

  18. Jeff Mehalic says:


    Thanks for your interest.

    Take care.

  19. Jeff Mehalic says:


    Whether the author can use the characters from the published series in the self-published series depends on the traditional publisher’s contract. If the author conveyed the rights to characters, names, worlds, etc. to the traditional publisher, then the author can’t use those characters even in a different(self-published) series. Further, even if the rights haven’t been conveyed, a contract may have a non-compete provision whereby the author agrees not to use characters in a title or series that competes against the series the traditional publisher has published, which would also prohibit the author from using the characters in a different series.

    The author should convey as few rights as possible to the traditional publisher so that s/he retains as many as possible — for situations precisely like this.

    Thanks again for having me here.

  20. Great interview, Jeff and Lindsay. Thanks for providing a forum. I’m not thinking about self-publishing at the moment — too much on my plate as it is — but I see it gaining more and more acceptance these days. It’s not just vanity publishing anymore. I know some fairly well-known published authors, whose rights have reverted, who are thinking of putting their old books out there again…via the self-publishing route. Timely topic.

  21. Excellent job! I will be catching the wave soon!

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