A Rant About Self-Publishing Rip-Offs

Okay, so I was going to mostly stay out of this debate/conversation (with the exception of a brief status update on Google+), but the more I think about it, the more it pisses me off.

I guess I should start at the beginning. Back in April (?), I signed on as a private beta tester of Penguin’s Book Country site. I had been a relatively early member of Authonomy but that site had gone downhill and I was looking for somewhere new to converse with other writers, get feedback, etc. Book Country looked like the place to be.

I posted some work, got some feedback, had some conversations in the forums, and generally found it to be a decent resource. I kind of stopped using it around mid-summer, though, because I had a lot of stuff going on.

This week, Book Country did something that has made me decide to close my account. They’ve started offering self-publishing services.

Now, I self-publish and have no interest in working with a legacy publisher. Ever. And I understand that not everyone wants to take the time to learn to format their own books. That’s fine. What I take issue with, in Book Country’s case, is their complete and utter price gouging. Their pro package, which offers ebook and print book formatting and uploading and basically nothing else that you couldn’t find with some quick Google searching, is $549. That’s FIVE HUNDRED AND FORTY-NINE DOLLARS. I’m sorry, but under what system is that not a total rip-off?

Their basic  package includes templates for you to do your own print and ebook formatting, and they’ll still take care of the uploading. That’s $299. TWO HUNDRED AND NINETY-NINE FREAKIN’ DOLLARS. For you to do your own ebook and print book formatting. Using templates that you can just as easily find online, for free.

Or, you can do their ebook only package, which costs you $99, and you still have to do your own formatting.

Now, those prices are bad enough, but here’s the kicker that, if it were coming from any other company, would have authors screaming THIS IS A SCAM!!! They take a percentage of your royalties, forever. So you’re paying them hundreds of dollars to do something you could do yourself for free, and then they’re taking a cut of your income for the life of your book.

No. Sorry, just no. That’s WRONG.

Now, there’s one other company that will format and upload your book to other book sellers, and they take a royalty. Smashwords. But here’s the difference: a) they take no up-front payment from you for conversion or uploading, and b) they only keep 15% of your royalties. 15% is a pretty reasonable fee by pretty much any estimation. And they’re completely transparent about it. They even offer you a calculator when you’re setting up your book to show what percentage the retailer gets, what they get, and what you get. Honestly, they’re a pretty decent company to work with (I’ve published four books with them).

Book Country, on the other hand, is not particularly forthcoming with their royalty split. And honestly, the royalty split kind of sucks when compared to other ebook sellers.

First of all, for books sold on Book Country’s own site, you get a 70% royalty on books priced over $2.99 (which is the same as Amazon), but only 30% if it’s priced below that (which is less than Amazon or Barnes & Noble). On the “wide network” distribution, you get the same percentage, but only on the amount the retailer actually sends through to Book Country.

So yeah, you’re a LOT better off doing things directly. Or hiring someone and paying them a flat fee to format and upload your books.

Here are a few other reasons why this Book Country “deal” is horrible for authors:

  • You get no access to your sales numbers from the retailers themselves. When I publish with Amazon’s KDP or Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! service, I can see my sales numbers pretty much in real time. You don’t get that with Book Country.
  • There doesn’t appear to be any transparency in regards to your earnings. How do you know that Book Country is paying out what it’s supposed to? How do you know that your numbers haven’t gotten confused with someone else’s? Are there any audit procedures in place if you don’t agree with the numbers Book Country is reporting to you?
  • You get paid monthly, but only once your account has reached $50 in earnings (or every 3 months if it doesn’t). KDP and PubIt! pay monthly, generally once your account has reached $10. That means Book Country is getting paid on a monthly basis (because they’re getting paid for all their authors, which have almost certainly earned over $10 in total) and earning interest on your earnings until you reach $50. Are they paying that interest on to you? No.
  • The user-formatted templates you get only work with Microsoft Word (2003 or later). I don’t know about you, but the last time I tried to lay out a book in Word, I ripped my hair out. It’s an inferior program for professional print layouts. Pay someone to do it for you with professional software like InDesign.
  • They’re not even honest in their assessment of other self-publishing services. Both KDP and PubIt! offer optional DRM on any books you publish through them, but Book Country doesn’t tell you that in their handy little chart. I wonder what other features they’re not telling you about?

Basically, Book Country’s self-publishing deal is BAD for authors. They take too much control, want too much money, and don’t give you enough transparency or value. The process fo actually self-publishing is not complicated. All the information you need to do a good job is available freely online. There is free software out there for formatting your ebooks, and free and low-cost services that will do it for you.

Instead of spending $300-$550 on a publishing package that will provide you with no real benefit, take that money and hire someone to design you a kick-ass cover. Or do some marketing with that money. Either one will offer you a LOT more return on your money than anything Book Country is offering.

Legacy publishing is grasping at straws, looking for any way they can capitalize on indie authors. They know that their position is threatened, and rather than trying to figure out why that is and fix their own internal problems, they’re looking to latch on to the revenue streams of others.

So I urge you, PLEASE, if you’re an author and are thinking about self-publishing, do your research and stay away from predatory services like Book Country.

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4 thoughts on “A Rant About Self-Publishing Rip-Offs

  1. Pingback: Self-Publishing – A Cautionary Tale « Stringing Beads

  2. Thank you for this writeup Cam. I just finished my first book for children and am looking to self publish. Perhaps I’ll check out Smashwords. The entire process is rather intimidating though – I’m not a technophile like you:)
    Be, well.

    • If you’re looking to do print books, I can recommend CreateSpace from personal experience. I’ve had good luck with them. Smashwords will get you everywhere but Amazon with ebooks, which you’ll need to do yourself (I also do Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! on my own, rather than through Smashwords).

      I’m working on putting together a toolkit for self-publishers, and hopefully I’ll find time to do that before December. That will include print and ebook templates, as well as all sorts of advice on marketing, etc. from what I’ve learned during the past 10 months of self-publishing.

  3. Great article. I would be one to check out a tool-kit if you put one out.

    Also, I publish everything through smashwords now. If I knew half of what I knew two years ago, I would have stared with smashwords instead of finding the company I’m with now.

    And I wanted to mention that I found you on the NaNoWriMo forums. I decided to click on your website because I saw that you’d sold 1,000 ebooks and I was interested to know more. :)

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