Book Country by Penguin

Is not what it appears.

Once again, I have to touch back onto Gayle’s piece on this. And as it turns out, there had been a good bit of brouhaha from self-published authors about this.

And I think this will be the first time I have a quibble with the people of Writers Beware, who ask “Why the hate?” and point out that the distinction between self-publication and vanity press is so blurred that there is little difference, at the core of it.

I disagree.

The “minimum fee” from Book Country is $99 up front just for the e-book and they take 30% off the royalty. While that, in and of itself, is normal (Amazon takes the same cut off their e-sales), bear in mind that this is on top of the up front fee, and is on top of the royalties made from non-Book Country sales.

Let’s get started.

What does Book Country offer?

Check out the laundry list at this link. And those, by the by, are up front fees for the services. They give you the kit and the template, and after this point, the author is on his/her own.

What are the distribution options? All e-readers are covered, yes. The print copies, however, are curious: they’re offered, but I don’t see distribution channels apart from Amazon. Do they offer bookstores as a channel, because Book Country is Penguin-owned? I don’t see it. Do they list through B&N? I can’t tell you, although I think that the wide-distribution option includes it.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a vanity press, and contrary to the Writers Beware post (and this is by no means a dig against Writers Beware; it’s a blog with excellent resources that safeguard authors; if there’s something amiss, they know about it), it is not comparable to self-publication.

Just from experience, let me contrast the experience I’ve had with self-publication.

What most people don’t know is that I’ve considered iUniverse as a publishing option before I had decided to go with CreateSpace. The last thing that I would deny is that this too is a vanity press, but again, this was in early 2007, when I was only beginning to do the research on what publishing is like. But look at the services that are bundled in. Individually, you can get a hit-or-miss price on any of these services, and few publishers out there offer one-on-one support. iUniverse actually develops your knowledge about the industry, works out book signings, and basically takes over the legwork for you, including (for the advanced package) social media. The huge drawback of all of this is an absence of e-publication; otherwise, this would be the sort of a vanity press that people would consider. That and, of course, the costs are astronomical.

I ended up going with CreateSpace, which is an Amazon-owned company. This is not a vanity press, but this is a print-on-demand press. What does this mean? It basically means that your book is printed only when it’s bought; there are no copies sitting around in a warehouse anywhere. The thing about CreateSpace is that, for the most part, it is no cost.

“But wait!” you may say. “You need to buy proofs!”

Or you can publish without the proof, which cuts out the proofing cost altogether.

CreateSpace offers services at an additional charge, but the most important thing about that is that they are not required. You can get a professional editorial review, but if you have your own reviewer, you don’t have to get it. You can go Pro plan for expanded distribution channels, but Amazon is included by default, and if you don’t want to go Pro plan, you don’t have to. The proofing process (which I recommend, personally) is clear-cut; you’re given clear guidelines, and a cover creator, and templates if you want to do it on your own. They routinely offer free proof codes, which are a fantastic resource, and because a hard copy print is a wonderful thing for a new author to have. But, again, you can skip it. Total cost, if you’re a DIY self-pub author going through CreateSpace is…zero.

Ain’t that something.

Here’s something else: e-publication is free as well. If you go through Kindle, which is right now the industry leader, then it’s free. PubIt.com is the e-publisher for Nook. Smashwords is a distributor for e-books that makes them available to the Everything Else crowd: Kobo, Sony, Apple as well as formats friendly to the Kindle and Nook.

I respect that not all authors are do-it-yourselfers. I understand that. However, when something bills itself as self-publication that isn’t, by all definition, that’s when I get my hackles up. A common term for this is bait and switch. Moreover, it’s the simple fact that the company offering this, Penguin Publishing, has a vested interest in this sort of activity. Consider this: self-publication started up as a way for the author to cut out the middleman of agent and publishing house and do the legwork on their own. This is a publishing house basically inserting itself into the process to make the money off the author as opposed to the reader, and the tradeoff is not worthwhile. Nowhere on the site and in the publishing guidelines did I see Book Country saying that they will basically take your things and work them out for you, with the sole exception being the highest-end option, worth $549. You’re still doing the legwork on your own for the other options, for the most part. That‘s the problem here, and that’s what makes it clearly a vanity press as opposed to a legitimate self-pub.

And, not for nothing, but I offer document formatting and cover design services as part of KG Creative Enterprises. For $550, I’d not only do both of those but do a read-through of the book and toss up a formal review on the blog and give a signed one for the author to use as part of their press release. Heck, I’d help with the press release. And as part of my business, I make sure, egregiously, that it’s done the way my client likes it.

Back to topic, though. Again, what got me about the whole vanity-press-masking-as-self-publisher bit is that Penguin was banking on – and rightly, as it turned out – on writers not knowing the difference between the two. A little bit of research would tell you everything you need to know. The old law of money flows to the author had never been rescinded in the world of publishing, in any medium.

Now, kindly also explain to me why Book Country is taking an additional 30% off the royalty made through Amazon, and other distribution channels. Amazon already takes its cut. So Book Country takes 30% on top of that? What the hell, since when? And what, precisely, is that for, since the bulk of Book Country’s services are still self-formatted and uploaded, on top of the exorbitant fees?

Nice.

There is one interesting, kind of vaguely positive thing about it:  one of the biggest players in traditional publishing had acknowledged, publicly, that self-publication is a viable avenue for aspiring authors. It’s something that self-published authors had known for a while. However, the truly disgusting bit about it is that it’s a show of contempt for the self-published author trying to make it. Penguin hadn’t kept up with its audience, and once it became clear that self-pubs have something going, Penguin moved to try and make money off the authors as opposed to the readers. Last time I checked, that’s not the way it works.

Truth is, self-publication is as lucrative as its marketing. To repeat a known truth: publishing houses have a marketing team on hand. A self-pub author is on his/her own, plus anyone he or she may hire. And now that self-publishing is gathering steam and becoming both a lucrative and a working proposition for prospective authors, the traditional publishing houses are looking for a new way to get revenue that they are otherwise losing to those who are making a lucrative cut off Amazon.

Also, the whole changing prices only once every 60 days on Amazon? No offense, but that’s bull. Amazon only takes 3-4 days to publish the new price. What’s with the 60-day holdup? I can think of no good excuse to delay a royalty that long, excepting perhaps that it didn’t meet the minimum threshold for repayment.

Again I say: vanity press. It is deeply different from self-publication. Self-publication is either free or at no cost, and the author has full control over royalty distributions. And, if marketed tirelessly, it can and will be a profitable endeavor. Penguin is effectively making money on the possibility that a writer wouldn’t research the market and methodic of self-publication before going for it. And the truth is, some writers want to see their name in print so much that they don’t research the market. And that’s where the trouble begins.

Aspiring authors reading this blog: steer clear of Book Country. It is NOT what it appears to be. Do your market research and ask other self-pubs about other options.

K.G.

ETA:

Post by David Gaughran on this topic

Post by best-selling self-published author J.A. Konrath on the same.

Brilliant writing on both; check them out.

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7 thoughts on “Book Country by Penguin

  1. Great info for aspiring writers,especially just those just starting out.

    It’d be awful to put 105% of your energy and focus into the creative agony of literary production and find, in the end, that you’ve been had by a cynical ‘publisher’ because you did not from the beginning put at least 5% of your focus into looking down the road to the most viable and economically efficient avenue to seeing yourself in print.

    For a big player in the publishing world to use this shell subsidiary is indeed cynical and takes advantage of those who do not heed your point that, however much you may love to write, you’ve got to have the business aspect in mind each step of the way unless you just don’t want or need the money.

    Thanks again!

    • The thing is, and especially now that the publishing houses are moving into the self-pub field, research is absolutely crucial. Basically, this is a very reputable publisher putting up a vanity press storefront, and while the younger set of authors will be able to tell one from the other with a bit of digging and a lot of reading, the older writers – 50+ – who have not grown up knowing the ins and outs of the industry or have not grown up with a computer are ripe targets. And the fact that this venture is up is also saying that, likely, someone had bought into it.

      Since authors are now able to shop around for their options, it’s definitely a situation of caveat emptor.

  2. You, as always, are right on target. I hadn’t seen the WB post until you linked to it, and I find it very condescending. They claim CreateSpace and Lulu charge money up front when they flat out do not (by which I mean non-optional money), and the whole tone of the article cheeses me off. A writer trying to go trad gets a big woes-is-she, but self-pubs in an understandable snit get bad info. Not cool.

    Also, there’s the fact they don’t see the distinction between a vanity press and self-pub and claim the line has gotten very blurred. No, it hasn’t. Do they charge you a non-negotible fee? Congrats. You got scammed.

    • I would have imagined that, of all people, Writers Beware would be able to make the distinction between a self-publisher and a vanity press. That makes me bristle a bit, and I did leave a comment to the effect of what I’ve written above. And truth is, I always liked WB, even after I went self; their scam radar is excellent.

      The thing is, while the info is out there, so many people remain misinformed, and they would definitely think that just because it’s Penguin, they would get a good deal. Uh, no. I would still like to know what distribution channels are offered at Book Country that warrants the fee. If they go through bookstores – well, so does iUniverse, but iUniverse’s included services are crystal-clear on their site. And which bookstore chains? B&N? Books-a-Million? Small bookstores? The lack of transparency of service on BC is surprising.

      If someone wants a good vanity press (yes, such a thing exists), iUniverse is about as good as it gets. In addition to putting the book into hardcover and paperback, they effectively take over the work for you, and work to develop your knowledge of writing as a business. I don’t see Book Country doing that.

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