Yep, still on Book Country

Following up to my prior post, and the post immediately following.

I got a pingback to this page in the morning. Gayle’s response is classified as shrill, and mine was interpreted as a marketing ploy. Oooo-kay.

I was also surprised to see Victoria Strauss reply to my comment on the Writers Beware post (I post as Kat), and completely unsurprised to see her totally miss the point, again and again, about CreateSpace not charging for services up front, therefore not being classified as a vanity press.

I will address her comment first.

Professional packages are offered on CreateSpace, yes, and they’re paid, but, again and with feeling: these services are optional. They are not required to utilize services, and the author, if so willing, can pay an outside contractor to do the legwork for them. I would much rather use an outside contractor and work with that person directly to get the results I want. There is no guarantee that a professional service offered by the printer would turn out a product that the author wants. A one-on-one session with an outside contractor is a much better insurance of getting the bang for your buck.

Victoria Strauss is missing another major point: publication, in and of itself, is a simple process. This is true in both avenues of publication. Traditional publishing houses take over the story once they decide to take a shot and put it into production. The author confers with the editorial department, the cover art is designed in-house, the marketing personnel devises a plan geared towards the right audience, and the author is left with a minimal workload. Not to say that editing is difficult, but when you have a team working with you, it’s a much lesser workload than doing it solo. But editing, marketing plan, and cover design is all pre-publication prep. And since the traditional publishing house is taking over the entire process, there’s nothing for the author to do to arrange printing, e-book uploads, and royalty allocations. Self-publication is easy as well: just make sure you format the files to the proper specs. Self-publishing is not designed to be difficult, and the uploads are one-time-only, for which, again, Book Country charges $549.

As far as vanity publishing goes? If Victoria Strauss wants to talk about paying to publish, then let’s point out that traditional publishing houses take a whopping 85% of  royalties in order to keep the lights on and pay the team that’s behind your book being published. All of a sudden, that 30% that Amazon takes from direct publication suddenly begins to look appealing, doesn’t it? The mid-list of every publishing house is outrageously long, because not every book is a best-seller, and if a mid-list book won’t sell well enough to make it off the mid-list, chances are the author won’t be offered another contract. Atop that, rights control. If you’re that mid-list author stuck without a second contract, guess what: you’re still locked into the contract that gives the publishing house rights for X number of years. So you can’t take that book to try and work with it yourself on the self-pub market, nor can you give it over to another publishing house.

The basic point that I (and the small legion of self-published authors who had lambasted this already) was trying to make on that post, which Victoria Strauss had ignored blithely, is that Book Country is a bad deal. Not illegal, because it isn’t illegal to charge money for services, but certainly a rip-off. What is it about a formatting job, and a couple of clicks to upload that’s worth $549 when it can be done for free elsewhere, and what else comes with it? The post that she had made should have warned writers to do their research before they settled into an option, whether or not it’s paid. And, considering that iUniverse offers an excellent bang for the buck as a vanity press, I actually recommend them. They offer actual education for the author as a businessperson, making their fee an investment. Are they still a vanity press? Yes. Just a lot better than most.

What amazed me is that Victoria Strauss continued to blatantly ignore those facts. And yes, those are facts: go through CreateSpace, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, PubIt!, Book Country, and iUniverse, and compare what they offer and how much they charge, if they do. And other authors had pointed it out to her, both at the SFWA site and at Blogger, that she’s wrong, only to have her deny this repeatedly. Look, if you know more about the trad pub option, fantastic! – but don’t ignore facts when they’re blatantly in front of you with a little bit of research and a couple of mouse clicks. That’s playing ostrich, and it does not make you look good. SFWA and Writers Beware are both excellent organizations, but this post accusing self-pubs of basically overreacting is contemptuous.

Similarly, the post that I got a pingback from calls Gayle’s reply “shrill”, and is basically saying that I’m using this to plug my services. Both are wrong. Gayle’s outrage is directed equally at Penguin, for starting this operation looking to make money off the authors rather than the readers, which flies right in the face of professional guidelines in the publishing world, and at the authors who don’t do their research. I will agree with her right there: every aspiring author should research their options egregiously before taking any action. But Penguin is basically laughing all the way to the bank, because authors don’t do their research and fall for this. In the end, they still may end up doing all the work themselves, but now they’re out some money.

Far as me – look, I’m a graphic designer. I do, in fact, work on document templating from time to time. Yes, I can do e-book formatting for authors, but that is not my primary avenue of design; that would be printouts. What I said before isn’t a personal plug, it’s a comparison of services between myself and Book Country. Self-publication always leaves the onus on the author to do the legwork, and Book Country has not been clear about what services it includes for the $549. For all I know, all they’ll do is format, upload, and initiate distribution. My contracts bullet-point what I offer, and I have learned enough on the self-pub circuit to feel confident passing it along.

It seems like this entire thing had twanged on some taut nerves and pressed some buttons.

Fantastic.

Seriously, it’s awesome. Feathers need to be ruffled, because sometimes, that’s the only way that works insofar as getting a point across.

The point here is that the options of self-pub need to be researched, and they need to have some transparency, which is sorely lacking in Book Country’s case. Book Country is vague in regard of services offered, with the only thing being clear that unless you’re going to fork over $549, you’re on your own. iUniverse is very clear for what it offers. Kindle Direct and CreateSpace are pretty clear. Smashwords too. Why can’t Book Country be that clear before the money exchanges hands? Inquiring minds want to know.

Not that I’m speaking for self-published authors everywhere, but I am a little tired of the idea that self-publishing is somehow “less than” traditional publishing. Really. This sentiment is in every sentence of the Writers Beware post, and I’ve encountered more than one person, as every other self-pub author undoubtedly did too, that would flat-out refuse to read self-published authors’ books, under the BS guise that if they didn’t go through the traditional publishing avenue, then they can’t possibly be anywhere near as good as the trad-pub. They fail to consider that the trad-pub books have every bit as many flaws as self-pubs, and there has been a lot of crap released by publishing houses as well. They also fail to consider that most self-published authors – note that I’m using most, not all – have attempted, egregiously, to get representation before. It didn’t happen. And I don’t mean send one query letter, get rejected, and get done. No. I mean kept-at-it-for-years-and-nothing-came-of-it sort of didn’t happen. Also, most – again, most, not all - self-pub authors have researched their self-publishing options, saw the benefits of it, and decided to chance it on their own. The method of publication has no reflection on the merit of the work, especially now that there is a very viable e-book market.

Speaking of crap stories being published, let me bring up something that I read on the forums of AbsoluteWrite. I peruse them from time to time, and I stumbled across the PublishAmerica subforum. There have been thousands of authors taken for a ride by PA, which is a known vanity press with a massive ethics problem posing as a legit royalty-paying publisher. A small group, some years ago, banded together to write a “book” that they purposely crafted as poor writing, to see if PublishAmerica would offer them a contract. This book would not have been offered a contract by anyone…except that PA did. Why? Because PA has a long history of extracting money from authors, with the authors seeing very little for their efforts, and having their copyright held hostage, to boot, as well as any royalties that may have come of it.

So really, don’t give me that line about how self-published authors are somehow less talented, less skilled, and worse than trad-pub. My recent reading experience, which has been comprised of mostly NaNoWriMo authors who have self-pubbed, flies directly in the face of that. You cannot, for instance, read Rachel Cotterill’s The Chronicles of Charanthe series and tell me it’s bad fiction. It’s fantasy, self-published fantasy, and it blows most traditionally published fantasy out of the water. Same for Kevin O. McLaughlin’s By Darkness Revealed; it is excellent fiction, and I didn’t hear about it from a publishing house; I heard of it from McLaughlin on a writers’ forum. And those are just some examples.

Oh, and before anyone says to let it go and let bygones be bygones – sorry, I have no intention of it. Self-publishers are struggling to be taken seriously, and the reasons for it are illogical at best. They don’t spend the countless hours poring over every syllable only to get shot down as “less than” for little reason other than their method of publication. Last time I checked, masochism isn’t the intention behind self-publication. If lambasting a bad option – Book Country, in this case – gets some writers to do some research, then I know I’m doing my job.

K.G.

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