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Do they really think we’re that stupid?

by Amanda s. Green

I’ve tried writing this blog several times and have deleted it each time.  Why? Because I’m having a difficult time keeping it in the “everyone can read it” area. This past week or so, legacy publishers have stepped up their campaign to show just how little they care for their readers and how little respect they have for writers, or at least for writers’ intelligence. Because I’m also stressed from trying to finish a couple of writing projects of my own, as well as do my work for Naked Reader Press, my threshold for publisher stupidity is low indeed.

Let’s start with the latest slap in the face by publishers aimed at their readers. Penguin has pulled its new e-books from Overdrive, the company that provides e-books and audio book downloads for libraries. In a letter sent to Overdrive, the waddling publisher cites “security concerns” for doing so. Of course, it also states that it is “reviewing terms for library lending of their e-books”. In the meantime, no new titles will be available. Oh, and if you have a kindle, they’ve instructed Overdrive to completely disable your ability to download ANY of their titles. Gee, why am I wondering if their contract with Amazon is about to enter the renegotiation phase?

Or maybe, as Overdrive speculates, Penguin is upset with the new Amazon Prime lending program. After all, being able to borrow ONE book a month is really going to hurt Penguin’s sales. Especially since the publisher has to opt into the program. Something Penguin has chosen not to do, as far as I know. In fact, most major publishers have chosen not to opt into the program so far.

Or maybe there have been a number of instances where security has been breached by the library lending program. But no, that doesn’t work either. In the same PW article, David Burleigh from Overdrive said he isn’t aware of any security breach. So that can’t be it.

Obviously, someone at Penguin has put on their costume from the old Batman TV series and is doing their best Burgess Meridith impression as they try to find ways to force sales to occur. What they don’t realize is that all they are doing is ticking off the reading public, people who might have bought books — hard copy and digital — based on the e-books they’d been able to check out from their local library via Overdrive. Well done, Penguin, you have now become the newest Grinch on the block.

Now, before you think all Penguin is doing is trying to play like its fellow Big Six publishers “(Macmillan and Simon & Schuster do not distribute any e-books (new or old) to libraries. Hachette Book Group does not allow new titles to be lent as e-books, and HarperCollins allows new e-books to be borrowed only 26 times before the library has to buy a new copy)”, it gets better.  They take a slap — yes, it is getting hard for authors to turn the other cheek, especially since they ran out of cheeks long ago where publishers are concerned — at authors. Enter Book Country.

When Penguin first announced its new “writers community”, I had concerns. But Book Country assured everyone it was a community for writers to hone their craft. It even promoted the fact that some editors and agents frequented its site and that there had been relationships made that were beneficial to writers. All very cool, right?

Well, imagine my reaction when Book Country announced its “self-publishing initiative”. If you are a Book Country member, you too can self-publish your book for a price, ranging from $99 to $549. What a deal (yes, sarcasm meter is currently off the scope).

From Publisher’s Weekly:

A member choosing the professionally formatted option will see a checklist to guide them through the process, a download kit with details about laying out the books interior, using sales information, cover design and marketing. As members move through the automated service they are prompted to upload their text file; pick a template for the interior (Penguin designers were used to design templates and pick a range of fonts for the service), and provide metadata for the forthcoming book. Members receive royalties based on how they price their books (authors receive 70% of books priced $2.99 and up; 30% for titles priced under $2.99). Prices can be changed every 60 days. While the service offers members a range of easy options at every step, members are also free to disregard BC’s suggestions. Members can even bypass the cover design template and upload freelance-designed cover art if they choose.

Wow, what a deal.  Oh, wait, I already said that.

Let’s look at this a little closer. Templates for the interior — already out there. No need to pay. Simple google e-book templates or go to Createspace or Lulu or other similar sites and download them for e-books and print books. Provide metadata. Wow, that’s one of the questions you fill in when you upload a title to Amazon’s KDP site or PubIt by B&N or Smashwords. Royalties? Look pretty much like what you get from KDP. Prices can be changed every 60 days? Doesn’t that mean I don’t have full pricing control over my books? What if I want to do a short term discount as a promotion? Nope, can’t do it.

Oh, wait, they say they will provide the ISBN. But wait a minute. You don’t need an isbn for an e-book on Amazon or BN. They have their own identifiers. IF you want one, you can either buy one yourself or get one for $10 through Smashwords.

If you choose the “professional” package, your manuscript is turned into an EPUB file. It is done by a person from your DOC, DOCX, RTF or TXT file. Gee, I can do that with Sigil, a free open-source program. Or, if I want to set up for print, I can do that directly from my word processing program or using such premium programs as QuarkXpress or InDesign.

For $299, you get the publishing kit: the special Book Country interior template designed to work for both print and eBook, instructions for preparing your manuscript and front matter for production, a checklist to keep you on track, cover design tips and recommendations, and ideas for marketing your book.

Again, nothing you can’t get from other sources for free. As for the marketing ideas, considering the sad state of marketing publishers are currently doing, I’m not sure I’d want to take their advice.

Finally, for $99, you get exactly the same thing as above, with the exception of no formatted hard copy book.

As for distribution, again from Book Country, their “wide distribution” option includes: Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Diesel, Google, Kobo, Sony, and many more. Oh, just to show how generous they are, Book Country will discount their services if you choose to only distribute through their community. You still pay, just not as much.

Guys, guess what. With the exception of the Book Country community, when you have the expanded distribution channels for Smashwords, you have the same basic distribution channels as B.C. offers in their “wide distribution” option and it doesn’t cost anything.

One last word of warning here. If you are considering using Book Country — or any other “self-publishing” option like it — read the fine print when it comes to what you, the author, will make. Just because they say on the front page that you will earn 70% for titles over $2.99, there’s the fine print. Look at what it means for “channels” such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Then compare it to what you would make if you put the book or short story up on your own. Look at cover art.  Is what they are offering basic templates, so that there will be who know how many other covers from other authors looking just like yours? Or are they charging extra for cover art design? If you have to provide your own specialized cover art, are their guidelines well-defined enough to make it easy for you?

I’m sorry, do they really think writers are that crazy — or that desperate? Okay, some are. I’ll grant you that. But they aren’t offering anything you can’t find out there for free.

I’m not saying don’t go with Book Country. I know not everyone has the time or desire to format, etc., their own books. Nor am I saying not to go with a publisher — heck, I’d be cutting my own throat if I did that. I believe there is still a place for publishers, especially those that are trying to adapt to the changing times and demands of the market place and who pay their authors a reasonable — which means more than legacy publishers — royalty. All I’m saying is that you need to be aware of what is out there and not pay for services you don’t need or necessarily want.

Writers, beware and be aware.  That is your best defense.

11 Comments
  1. Yes, they think you’re that stupid. [Frown]

    November 22, 2011
    • Paul, you can see why it took several tries for me to get the post into PG territory. It always amazes me, and not in a good way, how some publishers think they can do whatever they want and no one will ever question it.

      November 22, 2011
  2. Sanford Begley #

    No Paul, this means that they think WE are that stupid, book readers as well as authors.
    Sanford

    November 22, 2011
    • Sanford, exactly. What truly amazes me about the Penguin library deal is that they are being so obvious in their heavy handed tactics against Amazon and don’t think readers will realize it. They won’t give new books to anyone but are pulling all their books from kindle users. Guess what, they’ve just cut off what is more than likely their largest audience for library e-books. More than that, they’ve just ticked off a very vocal group of readers. That is never a good thing.

      November 22, 2011
  3. As my kids say, “The Stupid! It burns!”

    Not that I’m surprised that everyone and their aunt are trying to scoop up as much of the reader’s money as possible. I’m right there too, but it’s _my_ work I’m selling. But that major publishing houses don’t realize how many books they sell after someone first encounters one of their books in the library, boggles my mind.

    And about all I can say about Book Country is that they are an order of magnitude cheaper than Publish America. Possibly two.

    November 22, 2011
    • Pam, what gets me with Penguin is that it is so very clear that they are striking out at Amazon. Why else have Overdrive remove the ability to download all books from those with kindles while leaving the ability to download older books with those who have other e-book readers? And, while we’re asking questions, what is this ‘security concern” and why hasn’t Overdrive heard anything about it?

      As for Book Country, to each his own. There are authors out there who don’t want — or can’t for whatever reason — format their own books for publication. However, the services being advertised by BC aren’t really much different from what you can do one your own for free…and you get a larger cut of the royalties by doing it that way.

      There is a place for publishers, large and small, in the changing landscape of publishing. Publishers can and do offer services you don’t get from packagers like Book Country and, yes, that’s what BC is — at least in my opinion. Publishers will offer editing, cover design, layout, distribution, etc. And they don’t charge the authors for it. Not if it is a legitimate publisher. They make their expenses back through their share of the royalties. I don’t see that with Book Country. Now, they can charge for their services and, as long as they are up front with their fees, cool. It’s up to the authors to read the fine print. BUT — and this is important — I want to make sure that all authors read the fine print, whether it is with BC, Amazon KDP, PubIt, Smashwords or a publisher. That is the best defense any of us have.

      November 22, 2011
  4. People who are desperate will cling to any illusion that removes the despair. The publishers are getting desperate. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch…

    November 22, 2011
  5. Kate Paulk #

    Now I remember Book Country… I took a look at the original site way back when it first launched, saw the ultimate intention and said “Hell no. Vanity at best, scam at worst.” I wish Penguin had proved me wrong.

    Alas, not only do they think we’re that stupid, THEY are that stupid.

    November 22, 2011
    • oh I knew how bad this would be when my editor told me about it in an email. She was very pleased with it, btw.

      November 22, 2011
  6. Stephen Simmons #

    There’s part of an old Gallagher routine that kept echoing in my head as I read this. He was talking about the idea of encountering a maitre’d at a buffet …

    November 23, 2011

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