Self-Published Authors Sharply Criticize Penguin's Book Country

Book Country Logo

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.

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