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Summary:

Many popular self-published authors are coming down hard on the self-publishing services that Penguin added to community writing site Book C…

Book Country Logo
photo: Book Country

Many popular self-published authors are coming down hard on the self-publishing services that Penguin added to community writing site Book Country earlier this week, calling the initiative overpriced, royalty-grabbing and “truly awful.”

The primary criticisms are that Book Country’s services, which range from $99 to $549, are much too expensive–“vanity press, pure and simple,” writes one commenter at The Passive Voice — and that Penguin takes a cut of 30 percent cut of royalties authors earn from third-party retailers like Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN). In other words, an author who directly uploads his or her work to Amazon receives a 70 percent royalty. An author who uses Book Country to upload his or her work to Amazon receives 70 percent of that 70 percent. An author who publishes a $2.99 e-book directly on Amazon will receive $2.05 for each sale. An author who publishes an e-book to Amazon through Book Country will receive just $1.47 for each sale.

Well-known self-published author David Gaughran, who writes the blog “Let’s Get Digital,” describes this as “out-and-out gouging.” He expanded on that to me: “Formatting and uploading are one-time jobs. There is no justification for taking an ongoing fee in the form of 30 percent of the author’s royalties. That is, quite simply, gouging.”

In a statement, Penguin says, “Like many sites, Book Country takes a percentage of each sale of a book.”

“I’ve sold 500,000 e-books,” writes Joe Konrath, an extremely successful self-published author who has a deal with Amazon Publishing for some of his books. “If I’d published with Book Country, they would have taken $290,000 in royalties from me.

Self-published authors accuse Book Country of preying on inexperienced authors who do not realize how easy it is to publish their books themselves, designing them and uploading them directly to Amazon, Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) and other etailers, or outsourcing the formatting work for much less than Book Country charges. (Uploading books to the major etailers is free.) Worse, he says, these authors may use Book Country in the belief that Penguin will discover them and give them traditional publishing contracts–which seemingly has not happened yet. (HarperCollins has signed up authors it found through its community writing site Authonomy, however.)

Penguin responds that the tools offered by Book Country “are not intended to be the least expensive in the market — the free, instant e-book sites exist and they may be the best choice for some writers. However, what you get on Book Country is not the same as what you get at these other free sites. On Book Country, you can publish high quality e-books and print books, and you don’t have to upload your books in multiple places, manage multiple ISBNs, or manage multiple accounts. In all three packages offered by Book Country, our e-books are individually hand-coded, not run through a software program with no human intervention.”

“The main reason that I am concerned that Penguin are behind this is because that will make it more significantly attractive to those newer, less experienced writers,” Gaughran told me. “A much-desired carrot is being dangled in the form of a potential publishing deal with Penguin. Their logo is all over the site. And their backing will lead to some confusion. For example, the Guardian’s article about Book Country on Wednesday presented it as a way to get published ‘by Penguin’ for only $99. That, obviously, is not the case.” Penguin says “the Penguin logo is in the footer of the Book Country site so you can easily click to get an explanation of the fact that Book Country is a subsidiary of Penguin’s with its own dedicated staff.”

Gaughran said he “can’t imagine” why anyone who has already self-published would use Book Country, but “I am afraid that less experienced writers will go for it because it is backed by Penguin. That dream of a Big 6 publishing deal is widespread, and hard to shake.”

For Penguin’s full statement, see the next page.

Penguin’s statement:

The Book Country Community is free and always will be, it’s a great resource for writers – so far, nearly 4000 people — who are using the site to workshop their fiction.

The Book Country publishing services were introduced to give genre fiction writers a new path to publication, if they want it.

The publishing tools offered by Book Country are focused on quality and convenience. They are not intended to be the least expensive in the market – the free, instant ebook sites exist and they may be the best choice for some writers.

However what you get on Book Country is not the same as what you get at these other free sites. On Book Country, you can publish high quality ebooks and print books, and you don’t have to upload your books in multiple places, manage multiple ISBNs, or manage multiple accounts.

In all three packages offered by Book Country, our ebooks are individually hand-coded, not run through a software program with no human intervention. In the two user-formatted options, we give you instructions on preparing your book file for best presentation when we turn the file over to be coded. You could do this formatting work and upload it for free elsewhere, but on Book Country we’ll produce a professional grade ebook that looks terrific.

This means you get great looking chapter openers, drop caps, and you won’t end up with bizarre spacing issues that confuse and frustrate readers, not to mention diminishing the perceived value of the writers’ work. These abnormalities happen often on the free upload sites.

If you opt for the $549 package, we will do all of the formatting and the coding for you, for BOTH eBook and Print files.

As for the sales transactions after a book has been published, like many sites, Book Country takes a percentage of each sale of a book.

When we distribute your book out to other sites, the third party sites also take a percentage. This is not unusual. This is how many new publishing operations function. In contrast to traditional publishing houses, Book Country offers the author a much higher percentage since Book Country is not incurring editorial, marketing or publicity costs.

Book Country is incurring costs to code the professional ePub file, set-up the print file for printing, distribute the book files and the metadata out to all retailers, account for incoming sales in multiple channels, and pay out to authors on a monthly basis. Not to mention the cost of maintaining the Book Country site and all of the tools, like the Genre Map, that are meant to help authors actually find paying readers, very valuable benefits.

Book Country can make your book available everywhere that ebooks are sold.

We distribute more widely with a single upload than any other self-publishing side today.

Unlike other sites, we are non-exclusive. We do not restrict writers to only sell within our site in order to be eligible for a certain percentage of each sale.

We do not charge writers a per-megabyte download fee when someone buys their book. (Read the fine print on some of these other sites!)

We do not set a maximum price for your ebook.

We do not charge a monthly listing fee to keep your book available for sale. It is like consignment, we take a percentage to cover our costs only when you succeed in making a sale.

The Penguin logo is in the footer of the Book Country site so you can easily click to get an explanation of the fact that Book Country is a subsidiary of Penguin’s with its own dedicated staff. I’ve attached an image of a Book Country book so you can see the Book Country logo on the spine.

  1. If Penguin were truly adding value to the self-publishing proposition,
    how come every single self-publisher I have spoken is firmly against it? I
    can’t find one self-publisher to say anything positive about this. The response
    has been universal, and damning.

     

    You know why? Because this is a rip-off. My last book took me three
    hours to format (and I hand code the HTML, it’s not rocket science – I learned
    how to do it from scratch in a day or two). But, if I wanted to pay someone, I
    could have got the best guy in the business to do it for $200. Uploading is
    quick and easy. And I don’t want anyone else to do that for me because I want
    those royalty checks coming to me, not somebody else. You know what happens
    when they go to someone else? They take a cut. And in Book Country’s case
    that’s an eye-watering 30% (which is AFTER the retailer’s cut).

     

    I also want to upload my own files because I will have control of my
    account, meaning that I can change my price whenever I like. You can’t do that
    on Book Country. They only let you change the price on Amazon every 60 days.
    Their lame excuse? Because it will mess with their royalty systems and they
    won’t know how much to pay you. That doesn’t sound like they have a very good
    system for tracking royalties, and the Big 6 hardly have a great history in
    that regard.

     

    Formatting and uploading are one-time jobs. There is no justification
    for taking an ongoing fee in the form of 30% of the author’s royalties.

     

    This is Penguin’s mealy-mouthed defense: “As for the sales
    transactions after a book has been published, like many sites, Book Country
    takes a percentage of each sale of a book.”

     

    What they fail to mention (which is consistent with their disingenuous
    marketing) is that they take a cut IN ADDITION to those other sites. Amazon
    take their 30%, hand the rest to Book Country, who then take ANOTHER 30%. And
    for what? For uploading your book? That is, quite simply, a rip-off. There is
    no reason to take an ongoing fee for uploading a writer’s book.

     

    Self-publishing is viable (and potentially lucrative) precisely because
    the digital revolution has allowed writers to cut out the
    middlemen and still reach readers around the world. No longer are we forced to hand over huge percentages of our
    royalties to agents and publishers. What we have here is the abhorrent
    spectacle of one of those middlemen – Penguin – inserting themselves in the
    self-publishing process for no other reason than to pick the pockets of unsuspecting
    writers.

     

    To any writer considering using Book Country to self-publish, my message
    is simple. Don’t. Walk away. Keep your money. There are thousands of writers
    already self-publishing who don’t need to use rip-off services like this. We
    are all willing to help you take your first steps.

     

    And we won’t take any of your royalties.

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  2. I’ve been working on the Web for 16-years as an Internet marketer. One thing I can tell you for sure about creating successful business models is that you need to design your product with the best interests of the customer in mind… not yourself.

    This deal by Penguin is clearly a case of a company wanting to get over on their customers. That is the wrong way to build a long-term business. Your value must exceed the cost, otherwise, in the long run you’ll be left with the majority of your customer base feeling resentful for having been taken advantage of earlier. Then what? That’s when the pitchforks come out on social media.

    I don’t care how they spin it, it is just not worth it. The value is just not there for the cut they take. That’s the issue. It’s not that they’re coming to play in the self-publishing world. We welcome change from legacy. We’re sitting around waiting for them to play in this sandbox fairly.

    I’ve published 5 books on my own and honestly, I just upload a Word doc and spend about 2 minutes formatting it. It’s completely fine and looks great. Even if Penguin spent 6 hours formatting my book it wouldn’t be worth 30% commission forever.

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  3. What Penguin are offering combines the worst aspects of traditional publishing – lost of control, small royalties – while not doing anything the writer couldn’t either learn how to do himself, or subcontract for a one-off fee. 
    It may seem scary to take control of your own publishing; it’s a steep learning curve, but all the information you need is out there on the internet, and if readers like your books, the rewards can be considerable. 

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  4. Again, David hits the nail on the head in one single strike. Everything he says is true. I too learned to hand format my books (although it took me a little longer than a couple of days, I did figure it out) but to pay someone else over $500 to do it? Crazy!

    This is definitely buyer beware.

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  5. I am shocked!  (I probably shouldn’t be, but I am.)  Do they keep the rights to the book too?  That’s not self-publishing, that’s flat-out vanity press. 

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  6. This is a money grab, pure and simple.

    Their flat fees are not entirely outside of reality. While ebook conversion will usually cost only $50-150, if you opt to not do it yourself, print book design will often cost $200-500. So the $549 package is a little higher than you can get elsewhere for flat fees, but not insanely so.

    But when they collect 30% of the income from sales as well? Ridiculous. They’re offering NOTHING worth that. That’s absolutely ludicrous – honestly, I find it insulting that they even made an offer like that. It’s an indication of what they really think of the writers using Book Country. Penguin is showing disdain for writers in this offering.

    How stupid do they think we are?

    For $300-400 in flat fees, you can get the same conversions and print setup done by a pro. For an hour of work, you can then upload them to all the retailers. After which, you collect all the income, vs losing 30% of that income to some third party. Under no circumstances is “uploading the work for you” EVER worth 30% of your income.

    It’s a money grab. Penguin saw a lucrative opportunity to bilk newer or uninformed writers of their money, and went for it.

    http://kevinomclaughlin.com/2011/11/17/dear-penguin-and-book-country-how-stupid-do-you-think-writers-are/

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  7. An excellent, thorough filetting of Penguin’s statement: http://jwmanus.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/how-penguinbook-country-is-running-the-con-game/#comment-860

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  8. This is a fascinating turn in the publishing industry. Big publishing has now acknowledged, publicly, that the money isn’t in big publishing anymore, it’s in self-publishing. I knew that years ago, but finally, Penguin – the largest trade book publisher in the world – has to admit it.

    I’m fascinated by the reactions to this move though I think it’s only fair to Penguin to point out that this is the same model offered by no less than 20 other “self-publishing companies” like Lulu, Author House, Exlibris, and Outskirts Press, just to name a few. And actually their offering is well in line with these companies in terms of cost and royalties.

    Me personally, I’d never use any of these companies. It’s down right silly to pay someone to do something for you (badly) when you can do it really well all by yourself and cut out all the middlemen.

    I’m actually looking forward to watching this story unfold. It’s the most desparate act I’ve seen since Black Wednesday and if anything, it validates the business decision I made years ago to bring my own brand of indie literature directly to readers.

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  9. As a self-published author of close to 40 ebooks — and who’s been self-publishing since 2004 — I can second almost everything said here to date.
     
    Look at is this way if you’re on the fence about it, would you pay someone $5,000, $10,000, $290,000 (see JA Konrath’s blog post on Big Country) to format your ebook?
     
    Well, that’s what it can amount to over the long term. Ebook profits are FOREVER. Don’t give someone thousands of yoru hard-earned dollars 10 years from now for something they did that you can pay less than a couple of hundred bucks for now.
     
    Don’t do it! It’s a bad, bad deal for self publishers.
     
    And yeah, like others here, I blogged about this on my site. Click my name for the link.

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  10. Contempt for the people who create the content that makes them money is not a new attitude for major publishers, and Penguin has taken it to new depths with what I can only see as a scheme to part inexperience writers from their money. 

    New writers, if you want to know the present state of the publishing industry, let David Gaughran (above) and the other publishing-savvy professionals you’ll find through his site offer you some up-to-date advice. And while you’re learning what publishing’s like right now, and how you might best find your place in it, stay away from Book Country or any other site making similar offers.

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