Penguin’s Book Country: A Good Deal or a Rip Off for Self-Published Authors?

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November 19, 2011

In my opinion, Penguin’s Book Country publishing program for self-published authors is an out-and-out rip-off. Before I tell you why though, let’s get a look at the landscape of self-publishing now and my personal stake in it so you understand better my opinion.

Self-Published Author of Almost 40 Ebooks

To date, I’ve written and self-published almost 40 ebooks; most of them are on Amazon. I’ve been in the self-publishing game since 2004, but only started to achieve measureable success in the last couple of years, eg, my ebook income made up more than 50% of my total income for the first time ever in 2010.

Why I Went the Self-Publishing Route Instead of Seeking a Deal with a Large Publisher

I never sought a contract from a Big 6 publisher; I worked in (trade) publishing in New York City for the better part of a decade, so knew a little about the industry. I’m also an entrepreneur at heart and as I write mostly in the non-fiction genre and had an in-built audience for my ebooks via this site, it just never occurred to me to go this route.

And my self-publishing efforts have worked out – beautifully! Want to know more? Read about my quest to publish 50 ebooks on Amazon this year.

Why Being a Self-Published Author Now is Great

penguin-book-country-selfpublishingI’m thrilled to be a writer at this time – for so many new changes are happening in publishing. And, many of them benefit writers. Amazon’s self-publishing program has proven wildly successful – and it’s free to publish there.

Many writers who either tried in vain for years to get traditional publishers (aka “The Big 6”) to take note of their work and/or others who never even started the process because they either lacked time, know-how or confidence are finding great success as self-published authors via sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords, to name  a few. Proof?

Look no further than Amanda Hocking and John Locke. Both have sold more than one million ebooks as self publishers (John Locke was the first self-published author to do so – and he did it only 5 months!). And, they’re keeping the bulk of the money for themselves.

You see, with Amazon, you earn 70% of the profits if your ebook is priced between $2.99 and $9.99. That’s just over $2 per ebook on the low end. Compare that with a big publisher where you get less than 20% (15-17.5%) — and you have to wait MONTHS to get paid. FYI, Amazon pays monthly although their payments do lag 60 days behind. So, for example, you get paid at the end of December for all sales you made in October.

Writing and Selling Ebooks Online: You Don’t Have to Sell a Lot as a Self-Publisher to Make a FT Living as a Writer

I don’t sell tens of thousands, or even thousands, of ebooks per month. But, because I self publish and own all of my rights, the few I do sell allow me to make a very comfortable living. I travel (I live and work part-time in Jamaica) and am earn my living as a full-time freelance writer and self-published author. So yeah, being self-published is beyond exciting — and profitable — now.

This brings me to why I think Penguin’s Book Country is a bad deal for self-published authors.

Book Country: Bad Deal Financially for Self-Publishers?

Note: I tried to post this comment on JA Konrath’s blog, which is where I first read about Book Country. But for some reason, it didn’t take, so in the interest of getting the word out to as many new authors as possible, I decided to write this post.

My take is, I’m willing to bet that a lot more programs like this will be coming down the pike to so-called “help” self-publishers. And sadly, I think many will fall for them because most don’t like to deal with the technical side of things (I know I don’t).

BUT, as Joe Konrath says, please, please, please don’t give up any rights/royalties. That’s like giving money away — forever. And, as Joe’s figures highlight (see comment below to see what I mean), they add up.

Would You Rather Be a FT Self-Publisher, or Give Profits to Book Country & Still Work a Job?

I’m a small-time self-publisher and if I gave away 30% of my ebook profits (on top of paying 30% or more to another distributor), it would mean the difference between staying totally self-employed as a freelance writer/self-publisher who’s able to pay her bills AND choose her own projects, or having to work on stuff I don’t enjoy (or heaven forbid, got out and get a “real” job).

And, if you happen to be the next JK Rowling (hey, it can happen!), that can mean giving away tens of millions of dollars over the years.

Ebook Profits are Not Small Change: Would You Rather Earn $2.05 or $1.47 on Every Ebook You Sell?

You see, with Book Country, they take 30% of your profits AFTER they’ve paid other distributors. So, if you sell from their site directly; no problem. But, if you sell an ebook through them on Amazon, they take 30% of what Amazon forwards to them (eg, after Amazon has taken their cut). What does this look like in hard numbers?

Directly from Book Country’s site are the following figures:

For a $2.99 eBook sale of a Book Country title on Amazon, Amazon takes $0.90 and then the author is entitled to $1.47.

Now compare this to Amazon. If you upload your ebook yourself to Amazon (which is FREE to do), you earn you earn $2.05  on an ebook priced at $2.99. This is a big difference. Note: Amazon charges a 4 cents distribution/download/delivery fee.

And get this — Book Country takes this cut of your ebook profits forever! This is on top of the $99-$549 you pay Book Country UP FRONT for the formatting of your ebook – again, something you can do for free on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other major e-book publishing outlets.

In the PaidContent.com article, Self-Published Authors Sharply Criticize Penguin’s Book Country, JA Konrath lays out just how much this can cost you over time, saying:

I’ve sold 500,000 e-books . . . If I’d published with Book Country, they would have taken $290,000 in royalties from me.

As many commenters who weighed in JA Konrath’s blog post on his own self-publishing blog said — pay someone a flat fee to do the ebook admin stuff you don’t like to do. But, don’t EVER give away a percentage of your profits for stuff like this; that’s just crazy! That initial few hundred dollars fee (which is already a ripoff) could wind up costing you big.

But,” you may be thinking, “Amazon takes a 30% cut, what’s the big deal if Book Country does the same thing?”

The difference is the distribution channel — and we won’t even get into retaining rights (which you keep with Amazon). Book Country uses terms like “Wide network,” and “distribution outlets,” ie:

Wide Network Earnings

Books sold via wide distribution are subject to fees charged by the individual distributors. Books sold this way will earn the same percentage rate as those sold on the Book Country site, but those rates will be based on the amount actually received by Book Country minus the fees charged by the individual distributor.

Bottom line: You’ll most likely be selling most of your ebooks via Book Country on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble; these are their distribution outlets. So why give away ANOTHER 30% of your profits — FOREVER — when you can just upload your book to those outlets for free?

Penguin Publishing’s Book Country Program: Get First-Hand Insight

To learn more about not just the royalties and how it affects you as a self-publisher, but where Book Country stands on ownership of rights and other publishing issues, read through the comments of JA Konrath’s blog post on Penguin Publishing’s Book Country and the links to other blogs I’ve listed below.

There’s a wealth of information out there if you’re new to the whole self-publishing game. You can cost yourself thousands (or hundreds of thousands, or millions) of dollars if you don’t get informed. So, take the time to learn the process – from those who have “been there and done that.” The self-publishing community tends to be a very helpful one. Take advantage.

Learn Even More: A Roundup of Posts from Around the Web about Penguin’s Book Country Program for Self Publishers

How Penguin/Book Country Is Running The Con Game

Self-Published Authors Sharply Criticize Penguin’s Book Country

Penguin Launches Rip-Off Self-Publishing “Service” Targeting Inexperienced Writers

Penguin Gets Their Happy Feet! (Dont’cha just love that title)

Hope this info helps, and feel free to share your experiences and thoughts about self-publishing in general, and Book Country in particular, in the comments section below.

Yuwanda

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2 Responses to “Penguin’s Book Country: A Good Deal or a Rip Off for Self-Published Authors?”

  1. Robert says:

    All this sounds fine and dandy as long as the author does all the work. In other words, if the publisher does nothing (ie; no cover art, no conversion, no edits, no copy edit)except load the book on their Web site. If this is all they do, then 30% is a rip-off. However, if a publisher, Penguin Putnam for instance, does much of the heavy lifting, then paying them a percentage is a pretty good deal. I’m saying this because as a small publisher we do loads of work for our percentage.

    Your blog post makes it sound like publishers do nothing except rip authors off and, if that the case, then why did Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath and now John Locke stop self-publishing and run to publishers?

  2. Robert:

    I think the problem those of us with more experience in the self-publishing community have with this is the ONGOING 30% and the fact that Penguin is taking that off the top AFTER their distributors have taken their cut.

    And, Penguin doesn’t have the reach of an Amazon or Barnes & Noble, et al. Like I said, those are their “distribution channels.” Why pay, again, an ONGOING 30 % when you can upload to those sites yourself for free.

    And, this is IN ADDITION TO the upfront fees Penguin is already charging (which are steep).

    And, I disagree with your assertion that Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath and now John Locke have stopped self-publishing and run to publishers.

    Konrath specifically states on his blog in the link above: I signed with Amazon for two books, out of 36 I’ve self-published. Barry signed for one, and has self-pubbed four. We’re both still self-publishing. Besides, we’ve covered, ad nauseum, why Amazon is not a legacy publisher.”

    These authors are all still self publishing IN ADDITION TO publishing with publishing houses. Furthermore, I think you’ll find that these authors were approached by the publishing houses, NOT the other way around.

    Thanks for dropping by and weighing in.

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