Mark Levine's rollerblades smooched the Lake Calhoun blacktop when an idea touched him on the shoulder. He would start a self-publishing business that wouldn't command upfront royalties from authors.
Until that point, writers looking to create books without the backing of traditional publishing houses would not only have to pony up the cash to get their works printed. They'd have to pay the publisher a cut for every copy sold.
Levine's idea, which sired Mill City Press in 2006, would go on to change an industry.
Taking no royalties "made a lot of sense because if you're paying a lot of money upfront to publish a book, if you're taking all the risk, then you should get all the reward," says Levine, who authored the bible of the nascent industry, The Fine Print of Self-Publishing.
Writers agreed. They flocked to Mill City with its headquarters in the North Loop. Levine's company sprouted new divisions, providing editing, distribution, and marketing. To date, Mill City has shepherded almost 11,500 books from draft to reality.
"What we've strived to provide self-published authors is the type of publishing talent like you'd receive if you were published by a big publishing house or even like a smaller independent press," says the 49-year-old Levine. "Like I've said many times: A good book is a good book. It's irrelevant who published it."
Those goods books include The Confessions of Congressman X. It ranked second on Amazon's best-seller list earlier this summer.
The no-royalties hook pioneered by Levine has become the industry norm.
A decade and change removed his rollerblading moment, Levine has decided it's time to part ways with his baby, selling to Salem Media, owner of a variety of Christian radio stations as well as Regnery Publishing, America's biggest publisher of conservative books. Among its authors: Ann Coulter and Newt Gingrich.
"We talked about this on and off over the years and it never really went anywhere. This time it did.… I can't speak for Salem, but I believe they want to expand in the general market. And, in terms of the self-publishing general market, we're probably as good as a company as you could acquire for that."
Levine's last day at Mill City is August 31.