First off, I didn’t wade into the Penguin self-publishing controversy because I took some days off work to work on my novel and I was keeping to that. I agree that it’s a rip-off as illustrated by David Gaughran:
Book Country offer a range of options to self-publish your work, all vastly over-priced.
The premium package costs a whopping $549. To be clear: there is no editing or cover design included in this package (the two biggest expenses for self-publishers). There is also no marketing or promotion included in this package, aside from a “Publishing Kit” with “tips” and “ideas”.
All you receive in return for your $549 are your formatted e-book files and your typeset print files which they upload for you. Needless to say, there are a whole host of companies out there that will do the same job, quicker, for a lot less money.
For those with slightly less money to waste, the next package costs $299. The astounding thing about this package is that you get nothing other than the aforementioned “Publishing Kit” (with those “tips” and “ideas”), and the ability to use their software to format your own print and e-book files, which they will upload for you.
It sucks, miserably.
At the same time, I’m not a person who’s totally opposed to self-publishing services like Author Solutions. For many people, having someone else do all the formatting/publishing work is attractive – and you pay for that convenience. That ebook formatting is easy isn’t really an issue – it’s easier to do nothing except pay some money. The difference with a place like Penguin is that they have such a renowned brand name that they’re more likely to take unsuspecting writers for a ride who might think that they’re getting a ticket into traditional publishing that they might not get with another service. This is probably not true – Penguin’s just looking for a way to make money on formatting, not looking for new writers to market.
But even here, I don’t side 100% with writers, as callous as that sounds. If writers enter into an entirely bad arrangement, this is partially their fault. So yes, Penguin’s bad for offering a bad service, but writers are also to blame for not doing their homework. My first instinct when seeing the headline of the Penguin deal was – cool, self-publishing is expanding. I still haven’t lost all of that feeling.
Mick Rooney gets at this in his recent post on the subject.
There is something deeper here going on that we should not ignore. For so long the self-publishing community has fought for acceptance and recognition within the publishing industry. Just when we have eroded some of the stigmas, and proven that some self-published authors and their books can compete at the forefront of publishing, it would be a shame to start to show a divided front in self-publishing. I understand Joe Konrath’s ire because he came from a foundation within traditional publishing, did an about turn, and embraced the changes and benefits for the author as an individual business concern by self-publishing. So, I can understand him having a pop at one of the big six when they ‘cream’ it off the little guy.
Us vs. them is the wrong stance to take. By all means, call out Penguin on a bad enterprise, but there should also maybe be a bit of welcoming Penguin into the fold as well. Some writers are going to get taken for a ride by the service, but mostly it’s Penguin saying: we get it, self-publishing is taking over.
Smashwords & Agents
I’m troubled by this move.
I believe in “calling a duck a duck”. And this seems to be one of those cases where it quacks, waddles, flies, and swims like a duck – so even if it’s a little different color, it’s probably still a duck.
To be more specific – if someone takes a writer’s work; has the writer sign a contract giving them the right to produce and distribute that work; produces ebooks of that work; distributes those ebooks to retailers via uploading; collects income from the retailers for sales; and then disburses some portion of that income back to writers…
…then they’re fulfilling all of the major, critical roles of a publisher. They ARE publishing that ebook. Not the writer.
Someone who does your formatting for you and hands you back the work to upload yourself is “assisting self publishing”. Someone who takes a writer’s work, uploads it to their account, receives money from sales, and pays the author a percentage of that money is a publisher.
This change seems to me designed to continue obfuscating the fact that many agencies are now acting as publishers.
Someone just below that says:
It is to bad that Smashwords decided to sell out….agents as publishers….poor choice Mark
Sell out? Really? It’s adapting to the changing world of publishing. I understand if people are irritated with agents after countless rejections (like myself) but agents are a separate category. If this helps facilitate a new world where agents are more likely to enter into self-publishing, then good. That’s not “competition,” that’s legitimizing self-publishing for all types of writers.
As much as traditional publishing has disappointed me throughout the years, I am glad to see them adapting to the new era, even when they fail at it. People also had the same viscerally negative reaction to Publisher’s Weekly Select. Does anybody care about that anymore, or just see it as: if writers are willing to pay that money, that’s their prerogative.
There have been so many rip-offs related to self-publishing that it’s unsurprising if people are concerned about another possible rip-off, especially when they’re honing in on our territory. But self-publishing has changed. Basically, it’s winning, so there’s less cause for alarm about these new services. Some people will get sucked in and lose money, but most will read an article or two and publish for free. Others will publish with a cheaper service. It’s a much friendlier environment for self-publishers than the Publish America era, and traditional publishers are more screwed than anything because they’re losing an increasing number of marketable writers to ebook publishing.
Maybe I’m done with fighting these battles, now that self-publishing has lost its stigma, and there’s less reason to be defensive. It’s nice to have a breather. So go ahead and criticize those services for what they do wrong – but what people might see as a dangerous precedent on the part of a traditional publisher is also evidence that they’re flailing, and that self-publishing is the future.
Update: Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware has a post along these lines:
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.
About the Author: Henry Baum
I’m the author of The American Book of the Dead. The novel won Best Fiction at the DIY Book Festival and the Gold IPPY Award for Visionary Fiction. Largehearted Boy says it's "reminiscent of Philip K. Dick and Haruki Murakami, a book that boldly explores the future and defies genre." I'm also the author of North of Sunset, winner of the Hollywood Book Festival Grand Prize, and The Golden Calf - first published by Soft Skull Press, with editions in the U.K. (Rebel Inc.) and France (Hachette Littératures). Visit henrybaum.com for more information. I’m the editor of Self-Publishing Review.