Penguin Adds Self-Publishing To Writing Community Site Book Country

Aspiring writers come to Book Country, Penguin Group USA’s online genre fiction community, to post and workshop their romance, science fiction/fantasy, thriller and mystery manuscripts in progress. Now Book Country is adding a self-publishing option, with packages ranging from $99 to $549. While companies like HarperCollins have launched their own writing communities, Penguin is the first “big six” publisher to add self-publishing tools to its offerings.

Penguin launched Book Country in April. The site is overseen by Penguin global digital director Molly Barton and has about 4,000 members who have published 561 books. A “small number” of Book Country members have found agents, Penguin says. The rest can now choose “a new kind of self-publishing that offers a more professional product and provides guidance that isn’t currently available from other players,” Penguin CEO David Shanks said in a statement.

Book Country provides users with three self-publishing packages: $99 for a user-formatted e-book; $299 for a user-formatted print and e-book; and $549 for a professionally formatted print and e-book. Those who select the $549 option can choose from six styles created by Penguin’s in-house designers. Each style corresponds to a certain book genre: “The Sensation” for sci-fi/fantasy titles, for example, or “The Riddler” for mysteries and thrillers. Users can make up to 15 free formatting changes before the book is published.

Users can also choose from a variety of options for distributing their book. “Wide distribution” means that the book is sold on Book Country as well as across e-bookstore like Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN), Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS), Google (NSDQ: GOOG), Kobo and others. “Basic distribution” is on Book Country only, and users get a discount for selecting that option. Books can also be kept private if users just want to sell them to a select group of people.

There are certain pricing rules: E-books have to be at least $0.99, for example, and print books have to be priced equal to or above the manufacturing cost (Book Country provides guidance once it knows how long the print book will be). An e-book can’t be priced higher than its print equivalent. DRM is available for titles above $2.99; titles below $2.99 are DRM-free.

For books sold on Book Country, users earn a 70 percent royalty if the book is priced above $2.99, and a 30 percent royalty if the book is priced between $0.99 and $2.95. The royalty rate is the same on third-party sites, but there, since third-party sites also charge fees, a user receives the 70 percent royalty minus the third-party fee. For example, an e-book published by Book Country and sold on Amazon for $2.99 gets 70 percent royalty from Amazon: $2.09. The Book Country user then gets 70 percent of the $2.09: $1.47. Users are paid via PayPal every 30 days with a minimum payment of $50. If a user doesn’t reach $50 within three months, he or she gets paid and the cycle restarts.

Shanks told the WSJ that Penguin has invested “a substantial amount of money” in Book Country’s technology, and that while the company may offer some of Book Country’s most successful self-published authors traditional publishing contracts, it won’t refer authors it rejects to Book Country: That “wouldn’t be appropriate,” Barton said.

HarperCollins’ online writing community, Authonomy, recently launched its own digital imprint, which “hand picks” the best works on the site and publishes them as original e-books. But this appears to be the first time a traditional publisher has launched a separate self-publishing operation. It is a smart strategy: While Penguin is unlikely to pick up almost any of the authors publishing on Book Country and offer them traditional contracts (Authonomy has done so a few times), it is keeping these authors close and engaged with its brand and is turning them into an additional revenue stream. And if it is in search of new genre fiction authors, it knows where to look first.