Monday 21 November 2011

Book Country: Something to Be Avoided Like A Particularly Virulent Plague

It’s no secret that there are big changes going on within the publishing industry. More and more writers are choosing to release their own material, attract their own audiences and promote their own books without the help of a publishing house. It’s too early, in my opinion, to start saying that traditional publishing is dead. Most people still buy their books in hardcopy after all. But the fact that traditional or legacy publishers are starting to develop money-making models from the surge in self-publishing tells us they’re rattled.

The fact that they’re rattled may be more down to the fact that we’re facing a double-dip economic crisis (I really hate that phrase – since when is it the done thing to refer to serious economic situations in the style of bad guacamole etiquette?) rather than the fact that self-publishing and digital editions are the only viable way to publish. Mass book burnings will not be taking place around the world while agents and editors are flung onto the streets by rioters, anxiously clutching their copies of The Writer & Artists Yearbook. I may be self-publishing, but I don’t see it as the only way in the future. I may be wrong though.

Book Country is Penguin’s new entry into the self-publishing sphere. It’s a website with a community section where you can have peer critiquing and take part in workshops. So far, so uncontroversial. The part that s getting people exercised is the price that Penguin are charging for their services to self-publishing authors.
Their premium package – which costs an eye watering $549 – includes no editing or cover design help. What you get for your large chunk of cash is your book formatted for digital and print editions, which they then upload for you. That’s it. If you wanted your book formatted there are independent suppliers of services such as Catherine Ryan Howard who will do this for you for significantly less money. Or you could buy her ebook Self-Printed and follow her comprehensive instructions for less than the price of two cups of coffee.

Not to be too harsh, Book Country does offer a cheaper option for those of us who have less money to throw into a large hole of pointlessness. For the meagre price of $299 they will let you use their software to format your ebook and print edition yourself which they will then upload for you. With both packages you get tips and general advice on promotion. This may be helpful in theory, but in practice you can probably get all the advice you need by following writers such as Elizabeth SpannCraig who tweets and blogs with helpful links to blogs offering writing, publishing and promoting tips.

If you’re prepared to format your own book yourself it will cost you nothing but time and a bit of frustration. This will get you distribution on most of the top online retailers such as Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble. Even the $99 dollar option from Book Country still requires you to format your book yourself, and that’s where most of the work is.

But that’s not the end of it. They also take 30% of your royalty cut on a $2.99 book. If you publish directly with Amazon KDP you are entitled to $2.05 from every book sale at that price point. If, on the other hand you go through Book Country the same book sold on Amazon will earn you $1.47. Most service providers to independent writers, such as cover artists and freelance editors, charge an up front fee OR a percentage of royalties. Penguin’s Book Country does both
The worst thing is, this venture will make money. As David Gaughran says on his blog: At BEA in July, Penguin CEO David Shanks said that he wanted to make Book Country “the most comfortable place for a new author to come.” Much like Authonomy, authors who receive the most favorable reviews rise to the top of the list, where there work will be reviewed by Penguin staff.

The carrot being dangled for new, unpublished writers is considerable – at least on paper. As David Shanks said in that same interview, “at the top of that list, we’ll start to look seriously at those people and say ‘here’s our new crop of potential bestselling authors’.” The site has been running for over six months, but no writers have been signed by Penguin. Instead, Book Country are now offering a rip-off self-publishing program, which will allow those writers to claim they are being published by Penguin. (Emphasis is mine.)

The fact is, there are a number of people out there who want to be published so badly, they’ll do anything to achieve it. You just need to look at the amount of money that phoney publishers and agents have made over the past few years to see that. This model preys on people who want to be published, haven’t done their research, and don’t realise that they’re being ripped off. Plus, the more money you spend publishing your novel, the more copies you have to sell to break even.
Book Country should be avoided like a particularly virulent plague.

What do you guys think? Am I being too harsh?


  1. I wouldn't do it. I really think that createspace is a much better option, but that's just me.

  2. It's sad when reputable publishers start doing things like this. It taints the whole brand somehow.

  3. OMG! I can comment on your blog now!! I'm so happy. As for Book Country, the name sounds a whole lot like Mattress World, or some other equally irreputable venture!

  4. There are so many reasons I won't self-publish - this is one of them. Wow. I don't think it's harsh. I thought it was a well-crafted expose