Last week, Penguin announced that its online writing community, Book Country, is now offering self-publishing services to writers. Penguin is the first Big Six publisher to make a grab for a share of the self-publishing market, and according to Publishers Weekly, Book Country offers writers “what looks to be one of the most convenient and reasonably priced self-publishing ventures in a self-publishing market that continues to have explosive growth.”
So far, the announcement has received a mixed-to-negative response from the writing community. Some self-published authors decry Book Country as an attempt by Big Publishing to cash in on self-published writers’ hard work without offering nearly enough value in return. Although Publishers Weekly called the production quality of Book Country titles on display at a recent demonstration “impressive,” industry bloggers point out that authors can obtain equally good results from hiring freelancers or doing the work themselves, often at a much lower cost.
Currently, Book Country offers a range of publishing packages ranging from $99 to $549. At the lower end of the price spectrum, Book Country will upload your ebook to online retailers such as Amazon (which, bloggers point out, you can do on your own for free). At the upper end of the spectrum, Book Country will take care of formatting for both ebook and print, guide you through cover design, provide marketing tips, and do the uploading.
The kicker for many authors is that Book Country takes a 30% royalty cut on top of the flat fee—which can translate to big bucks over the long term.
In a post called “Book Country Fail,” outspoken self-publisher J.A. Konrath wrote: “Why would anyone but a total newbie do this? What is Book Country doing for you that entitles them to 30% royalties? Especially if/when you pay for the formatting?”
For their part, Penguin claims that books published through Book Country will be more “discoverable” to readers. The online community at Book Country has approximately 4,000 members—or, as a promotional video for the self-publishing service calls it, a “built-in readership to jump-start your sales.”
From what I can gather, the enhanced “discoverability” touted by Book Country seems to refer to making your book more discoverable on the Book Country website itself—not necessarily in the wider world. Book Country offers an author profile page (on Book Country) and a free 5,000-word of preview of your book (to visitors of Book Country). This is all well and good if you’re looking to sell to fellow Book Country members, but in terms of reaching a broader audience, I find it hard to see how this particular kind of “discoverability” will be helpful to authors.
Penguin CEO David Shanks has claimed that Penguin “could” offer successful Book Country authors traditional publishing deals—but then again, Penguin (or any other publisher) “could” offer anyone a publishing deal, regardless of how or where they’ve self-published.
Every author has different needs, goals, and abilities, and a self-publishing package that sounds like a rip-off to one author may be a godsend to another. At the end of the day, it’s up to indie authors to discern for themselves when a for-pay service like Book Country is worth their hard-earned money, and when doing the grunt work alone is worth their hard-earned time.
As more and more players compete for a slice of the indie publishing pie, it’s more important than ever to research the options and take careful stock of your own abilities and limitations. Penguin may be the first of the big publishers to offer a self-publishing package, but it almost certainly won’t be the last. As competition increases, let’s hope the value proposition for indie authors does too.