Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Book Country And Self-Publishing: Why the Hate?

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last week, Penguin subsidiary Book Country--a digital slush pile/peer critique community with a focus on genre fiction--announced that it was adding self-publishing services.

This prompted an explosion of negative commentary, including criticism from self-published authors. But I've been following the Book Country story for some time--Book Country staff have been active in reaching out to the writing/blogging community--and a good deal of the commentary I've seen is either inaccurate, or ignores the forest for the trees.

It's a scam!

A fair number of people have been claiming that Book Country's self-publishing service is a scam or a con. How, exactly? You may not think the service is a good idea; you may not like its terms. That doesn't make it a scam. A scam is an enterprise deliberately set up to deceive, cheat, and defraud victims. Using the word so loosely and inaccurately cheapens it, and makes it less meaningful when it's used to describe a real fraud.

Book Country is targeting vulnerable writers with deceptive hype!

I wonder if some of the people who are saying this have actually looked at the self-publishing pages on Book Country's website. There's actually very little hype, and none of the implied false promises of success that you find with so many other self-publishing services.

Book Country is gouging authors by keeping 30% of their income!

The problem here is that many people are comparing apples to oranges, contrasting Book Country, which acts as a middleman, with Amazon's KDP program or Barnes and Noble's PubIt, where there is no middleman.

All middleman self-publishing services keep a percentage of authors' income. Book Country keeps more than some, and less than others. For instance, Lulu keeps 20%. CreateSpace keeps 20-60%, depending on what distribution options you pick. Author Solutions companies (iUniverse, Xlibris, etc.) keep a whopping 80%.

I'm not saying this is good or bad. I'm just saying that Book Country isn't unique.

Book Country is overpriced!

Packages from self-publishing services run the price gamut. You can pay anything from $99 to over $10,000. Book Country's packages, which range from $99 to around $600, are at the lower end of this spectrum.

I'd also point out that, unlike other self-publishing endeavors associated with major publishers, Book Country hasn't contracted its program out to Author Solutions, but is doing the work in-house.

The fees don't even include editing or marketing!

Seriously? That's a criticism? The editing and marketing services sold by self-publishing companies--whether a la carte, or included in publishing packages as a way of bumping up the price--are like liquor in restaurants: a major profit center, because they can be bought cheap and sold high. Like cocktails, they are frequently overpriced, undersized, and cause for serious buyer's remorse once consumed. I frankly think that one of Book Country's strengths is that it doesn't lard its packages with this crap, or nickel-and-dime authors by shilling it separately.

It's not self-publishing, it's vanity publishing!

This is absolutely correct. So what? Publishing through Lulu, CreateSpace, or any other middleman service that charges a fee is also vanity publishing--yet authors who use these services routinely identify themselves as self-published or (shudder) "indie," and no one challenges them. Besides, the lines between self-publishing and vanity publishing have become so blurred over the past decade or so that I'm not sure this is a meaningful distinction any longer.

Am I endorsing Book Country's self-publishing program? No. Am I suggesting that anyone run out and use it? Certainly not. And I remain concerned by the potential conflicts of interest that arise when trade publishers expand into self-publishing.

But given the realities of Book Country's program--especially compared with other trade publishers' self-pub divisions, all of which are much more directly connected to their parent companies--it seems to me that the hating is out of proportion (and I do wish that some of the commentary were more accurate). Sure, Book Country's packages look costly when you contrast them with self-publishing on the Kindle or the Nook; sure, there's no need to use a middleman service when you can DIY for free. But the truth is that not everyone wants to DIY--and there's absolutely no shame in that, as long as you do your research and choose your middleman wisely. If you want a middleman, you can do a lot worse than Book Country.

All of which, of course, is entirely separate from the question of whether or not it's a good idea for you to self-publish to begin with. 

It's interesting how human nature seems to drive us toward caste and class systems. One of the things that has really jumped out at me in the response to Book Country is how the self-publishing community seems to be organizing itself into hierarchies, drawing a line between digital self-publishers and those who use middleman services. The implication is that only the former are truly self-published, are truly entrepreneurs. Could we be moving toward a point where the stigma that has traditionally attached to vanity publishing will arise from within the self-pub community, rather than from outside?

67 comments:

Danielle said...

I think it's great that you stepped out to clear some of the negative air about Book Country. I had read several other posts and tweets saying awful things about it.

I still don't think I will use them. I'd rather publish traditionally, however.

Jennifer said...

Thank you for this non-inflammatory post. Well stated and much needed.

Daniel R. Marvello said...

Great analysis. Having run into many authors who really don't want to learn how to DIY, I believe services like Book Country have their place.

If you want to truly self-publish, you need to learn how to be a publisher. That means dealing with all aspects of publishing, from the production process to marketing your books. Many authors who think they want to self publish don't want to deal with that reality. For them, using a subsidy press or going the traditional route are better choices.

I'm not yet too concerned about a conflict of interest between Penguin's traditional channel and Book Country. Once could make the argument that Penguin is just giving authors wider choices for how to publish with them. By the time the dust settles, I believe the entire book industry is going to look much more like the subsidy model than the traditional model, much to the horror of the current establishment.

Peggy said...

I think throwing a little cold water on this controversy is a good thing. There is far too much hyperbole floating around the blogsphere.

IMO - Penguin is trading on it's name to sell some overpriced services to unsuspecting writers. Nothing illegal, or scammy about that. A little nose pinching maybe, but each to his own. Definitely not the end of the world.

Henry Baum said...

The implication is that only the former are truly self-published, are truly entrepreneurs. Could we be moving toward a point where the stigma that has traditionally attached to vanity publishing will arise from within the self-pub community, rather than from outside?

I truly hope not. Saying that someone who publishes with iUniverse is a "lesser writer" doesn't make any more sense than saying "self-published books are bad." But sometimes people at the bottom of the heap want someone else to beat up on. Thing is, self-publishers are no longer at the bottom of the heap, so there's no reason to do this.

J. R. Tomlin said...

"ok Country is overpriced!

Packages from self-publishing services run the price gamut. You can pay anything from $99 to over $10,000. Book Country's packages, which range from $99 to around $600, are at the lower end of this spectrum."

No, they are NOT at the lower end of the spectrum for what they offer. They are offering NOTHING more than ether uploading files or formatting and uploading files. Uploading the files takes about 5 minutes and for the few times it is required is at most a half hour job. You can get your files formatting for a couple of hundred bucks.

And THEN on top of it for doing nothing more than that they take a royalty.

Don't want to DIY, then hire someone. Lots of authors don't do the formatting but this is price gouging, pure and simple.

Frankly, your defense of them is what is shocking.

Suzanne Tyrpak said...

The problem comes when Book Country loads a book to sites other than its own. Quoting David Gaughran:

Here’s how it breaks down. For sales on the Book Country site itself, writers receive 70% royalties. This part, at least, is justifiable. Book Country are providing the retail platform, they are processing the sales, and dealing with the customers. And it’s a comparable percentage to the major retailers.

However, through Book Country, you can also sell your book on those major retailers, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. This is where the real trouble starts.

On pages such as this one, they claim that writers will “earn 70% on your sales when priced at $2.99 or higher on all channels.” This is an extremely disingenuous claim, as it is not 70% of your cover price, but 70% of the money Book Country receive from retailers.

Anne R. Allen said...

A nice, balanced post. But Suzanne makes a very good point in her quote from David G: their wording does look like intentional obfuscation.

Kelly McClymer said...

Part of the outrage comes from the same source as that generated when Harlequin did this last year -- traditional publishers accepting money (more money than they get from the traditional publisher/author deal) to put out unedited/unvetted work.

A publisher is meant to be a gatekeeper, that's the job. If they then decide that anyone that pays them will be able to put out a book under their imprint, they abdicate the role of gatekeeper.

Traditionally published authors get that abdication, and get mad about it, for many reasons, chief among them brand dilution.

Self published authors understand that Book Country is using a false promise (the appearance of vetting and respectability of being published by an authorized gatekeeper) to rake in money from unsuspecting aspiring writers.

I agree it isn't a scam. It's legal to take advantage of people who don't do their homework on the business aspects.

I feel sorry for anyone who pays for this service, and I hope the service is as easy to dissolve as it is to create (when people realize they've been paying caviar prices for crumbled hamburger, they should be able to choose a better option without a lot of trouble).

Anyone thinking about it: do your homework and know what it costs to put out an ebook on your own, or with the one-time-fee help of experts in conversion and cover design.

Find out, too, what it takes to make a book discoverable, and what anyone taking 30% royalties ought to be offering in that regard. That's the hard part of self-publishing.

If you truly think 30% royalties is a fair deal after you do your homework, then I wish you much success.

Jim Kukral said...

It's just bad business. I don't believe what they offer is worth the cost. So there's no "hate", it's just calling them out on a bad model.

Really though, I think that this is a good thing for the self-publishing industry. Why? Because when a big player moves in it gives respect to a movement. Penguin has just justified the self-publishing model to the rest of the world. That's good.

More here:
http://www.nopublisherneeded.com/thinking-longer-about-penguin/

M.P. McDonald said...

What I don't understand is what the author gets for the money they shell out. It's not hard to upload to KDP, Pubit or Smashwords (although, of the three, Smashwords is probably the most difficult because of the meatgrinder)

Even so, it's not worth spending hundreds of dollars for someone to do what is essentially, a ten-minute procedure of uploading a book. If you set your indent correctly (so you don't have tabs), save as filtered web page, and then convert with Calibre, you can then get your mobi and epub for both KDP and Pubit.

No way can I see giving 30% of royalties to Book Country just for distributing the book to places I can distribute already.

Katie said...

I wanted to offer a correction to what you said about CreateSpace. It does not necessarily charge the author a fee. You can opt to pay for extra services, or pay a fee for expanded distribution, but uploading and selling through Amazon/CS directly is 100% free. I've done everything myself and I haven't paid them a dime for the service. They just collect royalties.

I will say this--I appreciate posts that strive to take the middle of the road and look reasonably at controversies, so for that this post is good.

I don't think BC is a scam, and I think you're totally accurate in pointing that out. I do think it's a poor decision to use them, however. As several other posters have pointed out, there doesn't seem to be much real benefit to the authors using the service, and they are shelling out a lot of money and taking a cut in royalties when it comes to selling with Amazon, etc. Is BC going to provide some kind of marketing or exposure the authors otherwise couldn't get? I can't see how it's worth it otherwise.

But to each his own, I guess.

J. R. Tomlin said...

I am rather curious where BC was called a scam as Ms. Strauss alleges. Here are the main articles from major Indie Authors (shudder away, Ms. Strauss).

Indie Guru Joe Konrath's comments: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/11/book-country-fail.html

Dean Wesley Smith weighs in: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=5855

http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/penguin-launches-rip-off-self-publishing-service-targeting-inexperienced-writers/

Judge for yourselves whether their criticism is justified.

Necia said...

Interesting post. I'd seen that Book Country had this service and thought it was kinda cool. I really hadn't seen the negativity but it isn't surprising.

I doubt I'd personally use it, tbh. But it may serve a purpose for those without the tech know-how. **shrugs**

To each his own.

jean said...

One correction - lulu does not charge for publication. Lulu authors, of whom I'm one, are self-published by any definition and only have to pay for print versions of books - i.e. we pay lulu as a printer. I believe you can buy services but I don't.

Livia said...

I do think you're right that some of the hatred toward book country is irrational -- mostly stemming from general hatred toward the traditional publishing establishment. But that doesn't change the fact that the service is overpriced.

A few points:

1.Unlike Createspace and Lulu, they don't have an option with no upfront fee. For that reason, I wouldn't call createspace and Lulu vanity publishers, whereas I would call Book Country a vanity publisher.

2. Take a look at what they're actually offering for your money.

http://bookcountry.com/CMSContent/Templates/Marketing.aspx?pageid=120483

They charge you $99 to format the ebook *yourself* and upload it. And then they take a 30% cut. For $299, the plan is again to format the ebook and printbook *yourself*, and again they take 30% of sales on top of that. Compare that with the fact that you can hire actual freelance ebook formatters to format your ebook for less than $99 dollars, and that person won't take a 30% cut.

3. And the 30% middle man fee is more than what the competition charges.

http://www.publishyourownebooks.com/ebook-aggregators-comparison-chart/

Smashwords gives the author 60% of *list price* (not net). Lulu takes 20% of net (and note that most savvy self publishers don't think Lulu offers the best value). Bookbaby charges a $20 annual fee per book.

Livia said...

I *will* grant that they are better than Author Solutions. Though... that's not an incredibly high bar :-P

Anonymous said...

It's no more a scam than PublishAmerica. Penguin is pretty much running the same kind of business. Many people like PublishAmerica.

Victoria Strauss said...

Book Country's competition isn't Smashwords--it's Author Solutions and other "assisted" self-publishing services that provide both an electronic and a print self-pub option. That's the business model it's following--not the KDP business model, or the Smashwords business model. You can say that authors are better off using KDP or Smashwords, and that's a defensible position--but it's neither fair nor accurate to criticize Book Country simply because its business model is different from those services.

Much of the commentary on Book Country presents it as particularly heinous. I don't think it's any more heinous than any other example of this business model. My intent in this post isn't so much to "defend" Book Country as to point out that it's important to put things in context, to make appropriate comparisons, and to avoid hollering "scam" unless there's actual evidence of fraud (JR Tomlin, if you do a websearch on "Book Country" and "scam" you'll find plenty of examples--including Dean Wesley Smith).

Knave said...

Their actions are not criminal, but nor are they kindly.

The definitions of Vanity and Self/Indie (feel free to shudder) are fairly distinct to most.

One is designed to stoke your Ego, the other in theory to get you to market. If you want the ego boost of seeing your name on a book, hand them a credit card up front. If they are going to help you get to market, they should be asking where your cut can be paid to.

$99 to upload an ebook to Amazon or Smashwords? At those rates I'm sure you can find someone to tie your shoe laces in the morning for $99 too. But honestly, most people can take a moment and do just fine themselves.

As was mentioned above, there are a number of reputable places you can turn to, if you wish to out source part of the work. Editing, proofing, formatting for ebook or layout for POD. That many of them charge less than BC and don't ask to have 30% of future earnings should say enough. And by future, it may mean the life of the copyright itself. Once you've uploaded to them, the fine print suggests they can do whatever they wish with it, in any shape way or form, there after. By using their service, you've waived away any right to complain or enforce copyright against them. Ooops.

So yes, it has earned them some ire. This has caused several people to publicly call Shenanigans, especially amonst those who encourage self publishing.

Livia said...

Victoria -- you're right that Smashwords doesn't have a print option. But as far as I can tell, Book Country's $99 ebook only option does not include a print book.

Stephanie Abbott said...

"One of the things that has really jumped out at me in the response to Book Country is how the self-publishing community seems to be organizing itself into hierarchies, drawing a line between digital self-publishers and those who use middleman services..."

This is because WB isn't doing its job, to warn newbie writers about bad deals and foolish endeavors. So we're trying to warn one another. And I think it's great that although as self-published authors we're technically competitors, we're still willing to help the new folks.

Lexi said...

What you haven't mentioned about Penguin's miserable offer is that anyone who signs up for it not only pays over the odds for formatting and easy-peasy loading to Amazon, but will forfeit access to KDP reports and sales graphs. Knowledge is power; that information is invaluable.

I guess most of us indies have been approached by traditionally published friends asking how many books they are likely to be selling given their Kindle chart ranking, the only information they have access to.

Victoria Strauss said...

I reiterate: not everyone wants to DIY. Not everyone finds it easy to upload to KDP. Not everyone finds it palatable to contract out the work in true self-publishing style. There is no shame in this. Different strokes for different folks.

My observation: Beneath much of the criticism of Book Country runs an undercurrent of implication that writers who don't choose to DIY are lazy, foolish, or uninformed. I find that fascinating.

Victoria Strauss said...

This is because WB isn't doing its job, to warn newbie writers about bad deals and foolish endeavors.

Wow. Just because I haven't stuck a pitchfork into Book Country? Have you actually read this blog or looked at the WB website lately?

Christine DeMaio-Rice said...

My observation: Beneath much of the criticism of Book Country runs an undercurrent of implication that writers who don't choose to DIY are lazy, foolish, or uninformed. I find that fascinating.

We are endeavoring to do with Self-pubbing what WB endeavored to do with trade pubbing. Warn new people away from rip-offs.

You don't have to like it. But to question our motives is unfair and unfounded. You don't know the self-pubbing community well enough to say that. If you did, you wouldn't make absurd statements like that.

When you started WB, who questioned your motives? Who made generalizations about you? I am sure that the great service you were doing (and continue to do) came under fire from someone.

Just please be aware that your (again, great) service is in trade publishing. It is apparent from this post that you simply do not know enough about self-pubbing or the community surrounding it to make sweeping statements. (the other commenters have covered ill-conceived comparisons and factual errors)

I am sure that my answer will "fascinate" you. But you might do well to observe content as well as context.

Thank you.

Victoria Strauss said...

Fair enough, Christine (though if you really think that Writer Beware concentrates only on trade publishing, I encourage you to have a look at our website, and also at some of the posts on this blog).

If you feel that services like Book Country are a ripoff, what do you think of authors who investigate their options and actually choose to use those services? Do you feel they've all been ripped off?

Christine DeMaio-Rice said...

Hi Victoria,

Different strokes. I do warn people away, because of the double dip between the up front fees PLUS the percentage of sales, and back it up with access to similar services.

But if someone chooses that, they are still part of my community. Honestly, once someone is in the boat with me, how they got there isn't relevant.

How I would have done it differently is simply my opinion and I shouldn't treat them with scorn any more than trade published authors shouldn't treat me/us with scorn.

And I was referring to WB's storied history with trade publishing. Though I admit to not having looked at your website since I decided not to query my second novel. I would refer you to kindleboards and some Facebook groups for self published writers where there is so much support that DIY is a misnomer.

Thanks

X

Victoria Strauss said...

Christine--I'm using DIY not so much to suggest that writers are on their own, but to distinguish KDP and similar programs from services where there's a middleman involved. I know there's tons of support and resources within the self-pub community.

Christine DeMaio-Rice said...

I knew what you meant :)

I was being a little literary. In general, if you look, DIY really isn't DIY. We aren't islands.

X

Frances Grimble said...

Since the authors who buy into this program are required to do all their own editing, marketing, and formatting, they ARE doing DIY. OK, maybe they are paying freelancers, but that still gives them most of the tasks and costs of self-publishing.

On the other hand, Book Country is assigning the ISBNs. Anyone not using their own ISBN is not a self-publisher, by definition. ISBNs are assigned by publisher, and Book Country is the publisher in this case.

These guys are certainly a vanity press. Most of what they seem to be offering authors is the ability to upload a file, which Amazon will let authors do for free as far as I know.

Livia said...

"Beneath much of the criticism of Book Country runs an undercurrent of implication that writers who don't choose to DIY are lazy, foolish, or uninformed."
I don't think it's a matter of DIY versus not DIY. People criticizing book country are saying that if you use their programs, you are still going to be doing DIY, you're now just paying a lot of money to do it. As Francis mentioned, even if you pay for their most expensive package, all you're getting is still just formatting. You're still doing your own editing, cover art, cover copy, and marketing. So I really do think that it's not a snobbery thing here, but that writers really are trying to warn others away from what they perceive to be a bad value. Although, granted, there is a lot more vitriol over this than other similar operations because of the general ill will in some corners of the indie community towards big publishing.

Jim Kukral said...

"My observation: Beneath much of the criticism of Book Country runs an undercurrent of implication that writers who don't choose to DIY are lazy, foolish, or uninformed. I find that fascinating. "

I've got two options for you for dinner. One is a crap sandwich, and the other is a grilled chicken. You want to eat the crap sandwich? That's fine, but we both know it's the bad choice.

So yeah, I think eating crap is foolish. It's fascinating to me that anyone would want to eat crap.

Anonymous said...

It's fascinating to me that anyone would try to garnish it.

Frances Grimble said...

Livia,

There is nothing wrong with someone offering what large publishers call a packaging service when they use it. That is, the packaging service does all the editing and production. Heck, I used to be an editor and indexer for what was essentially a packaging service for Silicon Valley business and technical publications. The company handed over their raw material to us. Several employees and freelancers worked it over, and sent it back as a professionally polished, printed manual, report, or whatever. I've even been interviewed as a writer for a company that packaged technical books (their pay was appallingly low, BTW). They just produced books and sold them to publishers.

So I don't see anything wrong with a self-publisher hiring a packaging service for his or her books. to avoid learning to do editing and production tasks at a professional level, or coordinating several freelancers.

I don't even see much wrong with a self-publisher throwing a book on the market without any professional-level editing, production, or marketing. I mean, I don't think the book will sell well but that is the publisher's problem.

What I do see as a problem, is self-publishers paying vanity presses for what the publishers think is essentially a packaging service where they can sit back and let the vanity press "take care of" all kinds of tasks, only for those tasks to be done very badly. If they're going to throw a heap of unedited, undesigned, unmarketed prose out there, they shouldn't be paying a vanity press for the privilege. And yes, Book Country is a vanity press.

I also don't think it is snobbish to make a market distinction between self-published books that are well edited, well produced, and well marketed, and those that are not. I produce professional books and I don't see why my reputation should be tainted by that of books I didn't publish.

Livia said...

Frances,

I agree with your points. Although I'm not quite sure why you addressed them specifically to me? I think we're on a similar wavelength.

Lexi said...

Quote: Not everyone finds it easy to upload to KDP.

Goodness - have you looked at the two pages you fill in to load a book to KDP? I'd be seriously worried about anyone who found them a challenge.

G said...

I believe that Smashwords does have a print option, in that I bought a shtort story collection that was created and printed through Smashwords.

docstar said...

Lexi said...

Goodness - have you looked at the two pages you fill in to load a book to KDP? I'd be seriously worried about anyone who found them a challenge.

This sort of comment shows that 'superiority' thing. Just because one person can handle it (or even many) doesn't mean someone who can't is stupid.

Irene Watson, Reader Views said...

Victoria, you said "Could we be moving toward a point where the stigma that has traditionally attached to vanity publishing will arise from within the self-pub community, rather than from outside?"

I believe we are there already. I can venture to say that if any of us went into a local brick and mortar store and asked the potential book buyers (Joe/Jane Public) browsing around to define "subsidy" or "vanity" press very few, if any, know what it is.

docstar said...

Irene - That brings up an interesting question. Right now this whole self-pub/subsidy/commercial wrangle is pretty much contained within the writing community. One wonders, as more self-publishers enter the market, if (or when) Joe/Jane Public will start to notice, and where that may lead. But that's another discussion.

Mark Coker said...

@G At Smashwords, we only produce and distribute ebooks. However, we do make it easy for our authors and publishers to hyperlink to where customers can purchase their print books. Happy Thanksgiving all!

J. R. Tomlin said...

Victoria, if that *shudder* wasn't intended as a slap in the face rather than an objection to the term, you would have phrased it differently. You know it. I know it. And that has a lot to do with things that have been said here.

No, I have NOT seen you being fair to the indie author community. You are perfectly happy, as far as I can see, to have authors ripped off by a company like Book Country. Why?

Sure, there have been individuals who posted on forums who used the term "scam". Rather obviously I was not talking about comments. I will give you DWS who is known for his hyperbole, but I don't know of another major blogger who used the term, David Gaughran, Lee Goldberg, Joe Konrath, for example.

You were guilty, in my opinion, of hyperbole as egregious as DWS's in your defence, yes, defence, of BC.

"Rip-off" has been commonly used and I think it is a pretty darn good description.

If I can't figure out the upload page (and maybe there is someone out there who can't) I suspect I can pay someone ten bucks to do it for me and they won't claim my printing rights, take the money before I see it, keep me from using the KDP tools AND charge me a lifetime of royalties. 52Novels amongst others will do the formatting for about 20% of what BC charges up front.

Book Country is a rip-off. What do I call someone who looks at the terms and then decides to go with a rip-off?

I'm afraid I call them a sucker. That doesn't make them a bad person. I've been a sucker once or twice in my life. Most of us have.

Frances Grimble said...

Re the "indie" publishing community: In my experience of about 20 years, the community is extremely supportive and noncompetitive. Both new and experienced publishers are helped very actively on forums and elsewhere.

But more experienced publishers do get frustrated with those who use vanity press services. There are only so many times anyone can hear similar tales of woe without being tempted to say the victim should have known better.

Experienced self-publishers also get frustrated with new self-publishers who want, somehow, to get all the services of a traditional publisher--and a traditional publisher from the days when traditional publishers did more for authors--without having a traditional publisher. They want to just sit back and write, and let everything else be magically taken care of. These are the writers who are typically deceived by vanity presses.

A self-publisher is running a business and should be fully aware of alternatives and their costs. New self-publishers NEED to do lots of hard work in addition to writing, and/or spend a significant amount of money. Telling them so is realism, not snobbery. Otherwise, a while later everyone gets to hear yet another tale of woe.

G said...

Mark Coker: Thank you for the clarification. Didn't realize that you didn't have a print option, even though I did buy a book that was published using your services via Amazon.

CC MacKenzie said...

This is such an interesting post Victoria, I tend to lurk, but had to comment. And you are not the only significant voice in the business who has given her backing to this endevour by Penguin - to be honest that worries me and I'll tell you why. I'm a newbie and I trust you and a couple of other commentors implicitly. But your stand on this has me scratching my head. Why would you want to see the naive and uninformed ripped off?

I totally agree wth Kelly, Suzanne, JR & Jim.

A new self publisher needs to do their homework and be aware of all the options available to them. Which is why JAKonrath etc have entered the fray and voiced their concerns.

Let us try to rise above the rhetoric and stick to the nitty gritty.


If a new self pub author does not want to attempt to do it all themselves there are plenty of people with a proven track record, i.e technology experts, editors, book cover designers who will do it for them for a set fee JA Konrath and others have listed who they use and how much they charge
- they never take a percentage of the rights.

And this is the key point for me - the rights! A fee is perfectly fine if the writer is willing to pay. But never, ever sign away your rights for no reason. This is where the Penguin business model falls down for me and it leaves a very bad taste in the mouths of people who've been self-pubbing for years and ploughing the field for the rest of us.

The business model is not illegal - I agree - but morally it absolutely stinks and this is why.

Penguin is one of the biggest names in the business - their reputation is stellar. In my opinion they've shot themselves in the foot here in an attempt to make a quick buck out of the naive. I can just see the many many newbies with stars in their eyes saying 'I've been published by Penguin'and being thrilled to bits. Of course, if they're super successful and see how much money they've paid Penguin for the privilege, they might not be too happy about it then.

I also see what you're saying, Victoria, but for once I simply do not agree with you. If anything when I saw the headline I anticipated you saying - Don't Do It!

However, I have to say I am totally shocked that you and a couple of others that I totally respect are backing Penguin's endeavour. For the first time, I do not agree with you.

Doug Brunell said...

Wonderfully written piece. It's the reason I keep returning to here.

Victoria Strauss said...

CC--pointing out that Book Country is no worse than the host of other services of its type is not the same as backing it. I'm not backing it. I'm also not condemning it--at least, any more than I would condemn any other middleman self-publishing service.

If you want to know what I think of middleman self-publishing services--including Book Country--and why I think that authors who are considering using them need to take a serious reality check before they sign up, please see the Self-Publishing page of the Writer Beware website.

I would also encourage anyone who thinks they have not signed away rights when they use Amazon's KDP program to read the KDP publishing agreement again.

Will Entrekin said...

What I find fascinating? Comparing the above post to this one: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2009/05/victoria-strauss-vanity-is-new-indie.html

I used to follow Writer Beware and much of its community. I think I found it via Making Light, and Jim MacDonald, years ago, and generally found it valuable. It might have been the first place I encountered the term "vanity press" and learned to avoid such things. Yog's law and all that. Money flows to the writer, and if that's not the case in a publishing endeavor, writer beware.

So it's an interesting shift. Having that previous perspective so ingrained, it's almost like this post is implying "It's okay for publishers to offer vanity services but not for writers to use them." Because, let's face it, authors who use them are generally met with disdain. It's pretty clear by posts at the SFWA that organization never thought highly of vanity presses or their authors. And from their site:

"If you’re looking to establish a career as a writer, however, or if you actually want people you don’t know to buy and read your book, vanity/subsidy publishing is probably not a good idea."

The term "independent"--and especially "indie"--seems to be a hot button one lately, and the one most likely to make corporate publishers and those associated with them shudder. I think, just as "independent filmmaker" or "independent movie" have come to mean those creators and flicks made outside the "Hollywood System," "indie" (and "independent writer" and "independent publishing") in the case of publishing has come to mean those creators outside the "corporate publishing/bookselling system."

It's fascinating that a vanity services operation now gets a "So what?" from you, but "indie" makes you shudder.

Ben White said...

Victoria, you mentioned that by using KDP authors are signing away rights. Could you be more specific?

Christine DeMaio-Rice said...

Which rights, exactly?
I had my lawyer look at the agreement and we came up with nothing significant. Did you find something we missed?

Eager to hear....

X

Bridget McKenna said...

"I would also encourage anyone who thinks they have not signed away rights when they use Amazon's KDP program to read the KDP publishing agreement again."

I've been over the KDP Agreement pretty carefully--especially, but not limited to, Section 5.5, Grant of Rights, and can't seem to find what you're warning us about in the statement above, Victoria. If there's a real threat to authors from the Amazon agreement, that might indeed make a worthwhile blog post. Speaking only for myself, I'm not seeing it in the terms themselves.

Anonymous said...

This is the point where people start parsing their words to pretend they didn't say what they said.

Victoria Strauss said...

Will--

The blog post of mine you reference explains in detail why I so dislike the term "indie," where it's used to refer to self-publishing. It's confusing--since "independent publisher" has a long-established meaning as "a press that's not owned by a corporate parent"--it's often inaccurate--since many writers who refer to themselves as "indie" have encumbered their rights and are using someone else's ISBN (especially if they've used a service like Book Country)--and it has been co-opted in what I consider an incredibly misleading way by what I regard as one of the most problematic of the middleman self-publishing services (the Author Solutions companies). The balance of my post is a discussion of some of the ways in which Author Solutions is using "indie publisher" to mislead potential clients.

I'm not a fan of middleman self-publishing services (as I think is made clear in my discussion of these services on the Self-Publishing page of Writer Beware)--though I do feel they can be appropriate in some circumstances, depending on authors' needs and goals. My point is simply that, in the realm of middleman self-publishing services, Book Country is no worse than some and better than others (which of course is an entirely separate question from whether or not authors should use it) and that the incredibly angry response it has generated seems overstated, and suggests to me that something else is going on. I'm not alone in feeling this way. Both Henry Baum and Mick Rooney have made similar points.

My "so what" wasn't intended to indicate approval of vanity publishing-style services (or vanity publishers), but to emphasize what I say a couple of sentences on: that the lines between vanity publishing and self-publishing have become so blurred that the distinction may not be meaningful any longer. The blog post I wrote during the Harlequin Horizon/DellArte Press controversy provides more detail on my feelings about this.

Victoria Strauss said...

Ben, Christine, and Bridget--

Per Clause 5.5 of Amazon's KDP Terms and Conditions,

You grant to each Amazon party, throughout the term of this Agreement, a nonexclusive, irrevocable, right and license to distribute Digital Books, directly and through third-party distributors, in all digital formats by all digital distribution means available.

This right and license includes, "without limitation," the right to reproduce and store the books; to display, transmit, and sell the books; to allow customers to store the books on their own devices; to display and distribute authors' "trademarks and logos," as well as portions of the books, in connection with marketing; to use and adapt authors' metadata. All of these are associated with allowing Amazon to display and sell books, and allowing customers to download and lend them.

You aren't granting these rights just to Amazon, either--you are granting them to Amazon's affiliates and to the affiliates of Amazon's affiliates.

In addition, you agree that we may permit our affiliates and independent contractors, and our affiliates' independent contractors, to exercise the rights that you grant to us in this Agreement. "Amazon Properties" means any web site, application or online point of presence, on any platform, that is owned or operated by or under license by Amazon or co-branded with Amazon, and any web site, application, device or online point of presence through which any Amazon Properties or products available for sale on them are syndicated, offered, merchandised, advertised or described.

Obviously, this grant of rights is not comparable to the exclusive, long-term grant of rights you'd give to a publisher, large or small. It's non-exclusive, and you can terminate it any time you like.

However, it does encumber your rights for as long as you're in the KDP program--and termination works both ways: Amazon can "suspend your Program account at any time with or without notice to you, for any reason in our discretion." (Clause 3) Together with the warranties and indemnities you must agree to in Clause 5.8, and Amazon's rather vague content guidelines, this gives Amazon considerable control over your intellectual property, especially in regard to how your books are disseminated and sold. Here's one example of this. Here's another.

Christine DeMaio-Rice said...

Yes.

We decided that, for me, this was well in the realm of acceptable, and did not infringe on my copyright, nor did it transfer any tangible rights outside the right of dissemination - which is basically what you give a distributor anyway.

As I also could terminate the agreement at any time, Amazon's ability to do so was not unfair.

OK - I don't want to derail the thread.

I do wonder what the actual rights agreement, and termination clause looks like for Book Country. Not the TOS, the contract.

Bridget McKenna said...

What Christine said.

Now contrast a contract from a subsidiary of Penguin Group, from the days ebooks were little more than a gleam in Fritz Leiber's eye:

"The exclusive right...to print, publish and sell the Work and to license the Work, in whole or part, for publication...to license the Work, in whole or part, for...book clubs and in magazine condensation, newspaper syndications, serializations...anthologies, picture books, photonovels, premium direct mail, coupon advertising..."

And of course the now-famous "...exclusive right...to display the work in any manner designed to be read...by any means, method, device or process now known or later developed...including without limitation..." followed by everything the legal department could envisage eighteen years ago.

The publisher is still holding on to these rights. Not exercising them, mind, just holding them.

I'll take a mutually-terminable agreement over that any day.

Victoria Strauss said...

Agreed, Bridget--there's a huge difference between the restrictive and exclusive grant a traditional publisher demands, and the non-exclusive grant demanded by Amazon. Amazon does demand a grant, though, and there are implications to that. Some writers seem to feel that they haven't encumbered their rights at all when they use the KDP program.

What's important, as always, is for writers to read the agreement, understand what they're committing to, and make informed choices that suit their goals.

Anonymous said...

When are you going to report that Charles Petit, your attorney and the AW moderator 'Jaws", scammed the estate of John Steinbeck's family. ??? Arent you leaving out one of the biggest scam artists in American Literature??? Writer Beware, you are hypocrites!!! And we are on to you in the major publishing houses, including Harper Collins--your career is over.

Christine Leov Lealand said...

Victoria says:- My observation: Beneath much of the criticism of Book Country runs an undercurrent of implication that writers who don't choose to DIY are lazy, foolish, or uninformed. I find that fascinating.

No, Victoria, they will be poor, like most authors have always been. Because the 'publisher' will be controlling everything about 'their' self published book. Including the contract, the time of the contract, the sales information available to the 'self published author' and on it goes... we don't know what the contract says yet but I bet it is in Penguin's favour.
Smart move by Penguin executives to make lots of dosh. 4000 authors logged into Book Country - if all bought the top package for one book alone that will make them over $2 million US. Then the ongoing 30% royalties. Wish I had the gall to do this - profit aforethought by Penguin. Guaranteed profit into the future.
Poverty planned for the authors who choose them.
Traditional publishing at it's best and best of all for Penguin they don't even need to have anyone read the books! = Fewer employees.
I recommend buying shares in Pearson, their parent company.

Madison Johns said...

If you can afford $600 by all means go ahead, but I hope you know you'll be lucky if ever make that money back. You could instead take that money and invest in an editor, but again, you might not make the money back. I'm not negative, I'm a realist. Weigh your publishing options before making a decision.

LilySea said...

I think the self-publishing world is generally so defensive that it needs to invent the hierarchies you mention at the end of your post to carve out some space it can call "legitimate" in the face of a tradition of being considered something other than legitimate by the book world at large.

I agree with everything you've said about Book Country's self-publishing offerings (good, bad and tepid) and would add that the WIP-workshopping on the site (which is all free and entirely in the control of the writers posting their work) is a lovely "service" to writers as well as a smart marketing move by Penguin.

Anyone with good sense can understand where the lines are between Book Country's helpful contribution to the world of hopeful writers and making a profit for itself. With this information, you can decide what you want to do.

I'd add that traditional publishers--which I for one, still greatly respect--need to find creative ways to stay in the black. If this helps them make enough money to be able to afford to take a few more publishing risks in the traditional wing of their business, so be it.

I have been a member of the Book Country site since April and I really enjoy the community. I have no plans at all to self-publish, either.

Anonymous said...

Why Self-Publish?
When choosing a publisher for your book, sit back and think! What important factors will influence your decision? The whole idea of self-publishing is: as the author, you maintain control over the book production.
There are many reasons for self-publishing your book, and they usually relate to your head, your heart or your wallet.
In order to make your self-publishing venture a success, you need to be very clear about why you are doing it, and what will be required. Your reasons will influence every decision you make, both large and small. Self publish with total success!
Jules
www.loveofbooks.com.au

Emily Veinglory: said...

It is possible to use both Createspace and Lulu without paying a fee. That is what makes then not necessarily vanity unless you by an upgrade.

Thinkhappy said...

Victoria, do you know if the KDP Select program prohibits selling the digital format from an affiliate link on a website?

Victoria Strauss said...

Thinkhappy--KDP Select requires exclusivity, which means that the ebook can be distributed and sold only on the Kindle. As long as the affiliate link led to Amazon, I shouldn't think there would be a problem.

Matthew said...

Please note, many brick-and-mortar bookstores won't list your book if you don't have at least a 40% to 55% trade discount, however don't assume they will carry copies of your book in their stores even if you do set it that high. Most self published authors don't even bother with brick-and-mortar bookstore sales and just concentrate on building good online sales.

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