Is not what it appears.
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.
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?
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.
Brilliant writing on both; check them out.