Home » Big Publishing, Self-Publishing » Penguin Launches a Self-Publishing Service

Penguin Launches a Self-Publishing Service

16 November 2011

UPDATE: Don’t miss the update at the bottom.

From The Wall Street Journal:

In a sign that major book publishers are now recognizing the potential of the digital self-publishing industry, Penguin Group (USA) on Wednesday is launching a service to help writers publish their own books.

For a fee of between $99 and $549, plus a cut of any sales revenue, Penguin’s subsidiary Book Country will offer an array of tools—ranging from professional e-book conversion to a cover creator—to help a writer make their work available through digital book outlets and print-on-demand services.

The self-publishing venture could help Penguin discover new writers while creating an additional revenue stream.

Penguin Group (USA) has invested “a substantial amount of money” in technology to launch the new service, said Chief Executive David Shanks. “If some of these books hit the best-seller lists, it could be very successful.”

. . . .

On the other hand, Penguin’s traditional publishing business doesn’t plan to refer authors it has rejected to the self-publishing operation. Molly Barton, Penguin’s global digital director, said “it wouldn’t be appropriate” to “suggest a path that involves fees” to an author whose manuscript had been rejected.

Fueled by the emergence of e-readers and the growing popularity of e-books, the number of self-published titles in the U.S. nearly tripled to 133,036 in 2010 from 51,237 in 2006, according to R.R. Bowker LLC, which tracks the publishing industry.

. . . .

Penguin is using its Book Country, a website for genre fiction, as the basis for its new service. Writers already post manuscripts on the site, which focuses on romance, fantasy, science fiction, thrillers and mysteries. Users comment on evolving manuscripts and offer advice about the publishing business.

Penguin says Book Country, which was launched in April, has attracted about 4,000 members who have posted an estimated 500 manuscripts, some finished, some not, with at least three authors finding agents to represent them.

Those writers who opt for Penguin’s self-publishing tools will have to share some of their earnings with Book Country. Authors will receive 70% of revenue for titles sold directly from Book Country that are priced at $2.99 or more, and 30% on books priced from 99 cents to $2.98. Book Country also will take a fee for each sale on other online retailers, which also will take a percentage of each sale.

“Our proposition is that this is the best place to self-publish genre fiction because that’s what we’re focused on,” Ms. Barton said. “Everything we do in self-publishing is tailored to genre fiction, including formatting and design, as well as how to describe your book, position it, and discover it.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire after a few days) Here’s a link to Book Country.

Thanks to Mercy for the tip.

In a quick pass through the Book Country website, Passive Guy found an FAQ here, but didn’t see any contract. If anyone finds an online Book Country contract, PG would love a pointer to its location.

UPDATE: PG reserved editorial opinion when he posted about Book Country, but many commenters did not. Joe Konrath commented, then wrote a blog post about the service. PG can’t improve on Joe’s commentary.

Big Publishing, Self-Publishing

24 Comments to “Penguin Launches a Self-Publishing Service”

  1. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see why these types of services would be enticing to self-publishers when we can do it for free. Formatting can be a headache, but worth it for the money saved. It seems like a good way for publishers to stay in business, but I wonder how many people shell out the money because they don’t realize they could have done it themself?

  2. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t see what the fee for sales from other retailers will be. I doubt that cut will be for a limited time either. More like the life of the copyright or somesuch.

    On the surface this looks like a grab for revenue. While I realize some authors want someone else to handle part of the indie publishing duties, such as acquiring cover art, editing, etc., and I don’t dispute their right to pursue that option, it’s not something I intend try. At least not for a continuing percentage. A flat fee, on the other hand…

  3. I’m not sure I understand Book Country. A representative gave a presentation on this at the conference I attended in S.F. She did not discuss contracts at all. She indicated this is a free service for wanna-be authors. Authors can upload manuscripts and have them critiqued. Anyone can review and/or critique the manuscripts – if they become a registered reviewer. Then those reviewers can be critiqued as to whether or not their reviews are helpful and thus be ranked according to helpful reviews.

    To be honest…her presentation was unclear and rambling and I did not get it. I didn’t hear her say a word about contracts or money for authors. The focus seemed to be on the critiquing/reviewing aspect of the service.

    • Julia – This is a brand new service announced (I think) today.

      • She’s interviewed somewhere today – Molly Barton. I’ll be honest. I didn’t get what she was talking about. She did not discuss professionally packaging books that self-pubbers can then earn money from. Her lecture focused on unpublished authors uploading unpubbed manuscripts to Book Country with no guarantee of a contract or a release – but more for critique and criticism by readers. So therefore it seemed to me the site was geared more toward getting readers over there, dangling the carrot of ‘free reads’ – at least I think they will be free – with the additional carrot of getting to review those reads based upon a Goodreads model.
        The presentation was so confusing I can’t repeat what she said in any coherent fashion. Sorry.

    • It sounds like Authonomy.com all over again.

      Instead of Harper Collins UK, it’s Penguin USA.

    • Book Country is just a writer critique community — which is what is free. (Like Zoetrope.) You are correct that they hold out the carrot of maybe being “discovered” there. For Penguin, it’s a way of outsourcing the slush pile.

      This book publishing thing is a brand new feature, just announced.

  4. Pay Penguin to upload my book to Amazon and control my revenue? No, thanks.

  5. I’m still not clear on what they’re offering that differentiates them from the existing options. According to this price list, http://bookcountry.com/CMSContent/Templates/Marketing.aspx?pageid=120483 it looks like they charge 99 dollars to format the book yourself using their software. Maybe they have an amazing ebook formatting software, but you can hire actual people to format your ebook for less than that.

  6. “Self-Publishers Get Help.” The article title alone makes my blood boil a little. Indie writers are already “helping” themselves through Amazon, Smaswords, etc. Don’t need Penguin’s “help” at the moment.

  7. From my understanding of the article (which may well be flawed), it appears that pubbing through Book Country is roughly equivalent to pubbing through CreateSpace and similar companies, with a range of a la carte options for those who don’t want to learn how to do formatting and covers and the like.

    The self-pubbers who are already doing their own formatting and covers and marketing and all will not be likely to use Book Country – but I’d argue Book Country isn’t aimed at those people anyway.

    As was discussed recently, 95% of authors will never self-publish, for various reasons. Services like Book Country cater to authors who don’t want to learn the publishing business side, but who can’t get a trad pub contract. And Book Country wraps it all up in one pretty little package with “Penguin” embossed on the bow. The lottery-odds hope that their book will catch the bigger company’s attention could well be enough to steer people toward them.

    Personally, I think it’s a smart move on Penguin’s part. They seem to consistently be a few steps ahead of the rest of the trad pub crowd when it comes to digital. Aren’t they the ones who are going to be pubbing backlist books at $6.99 in January? (I can’t find the article ATM.)

  8. One of the big debates has been whether to pay a flat fee or a percentage for one-time services like covers and conversions. So along comes Penguin, wanting both?! Sounds like an insanely bad deal for writers.

  9. Ack. Awful.

    Charging to format for ebook and print is fine. But they control the rights and also get 30% even after you pay them $599?

    You can get print and ebook formatting better than Book Country can do for less than that, from Rob Siders at 52novels.com, and then you keep 70%, not 70% of 70%, which is actually 49% of list. And, as Scott said, Penguin controls the revenue?

    Ugh. Awful. I may break my hiatus to rant about this…

  10. What Penguin is offering is…. vanity press. Pure and simple.

  11. My first, gut reaction to this was “ew, why would I pay somebody to do that for me?”

    • Why? Because people don’t know better, that’s why. The problem is, later on, when people realize they got shafted, they’ll come with the pitchforks on social media and otherwise. But I guess Penguin will have “gotten theirs” by that point.

  12. When I wrote a post on my blog about trads becoming the new vanity publishers, I was being my usual smart-a$$ self. But now they’re really doing it?! Yeesh!

  13. Shame on Penguin. This is a horrible deal for writers, and it’s specifically targeted at new and inexperienced writers – those who need the most protection from these kinds of rip-offs. And, of course, uncritical coverage from GalleyCat, Publisher’s Weekly, and the WSJ.

    Glad Joe posted about it. We need to warn as many writers as possible away from dodgy deals like this ESPECIALLY because it comes from a large publisher whom the uninformed will trust blindly.

  14. PG, out of curiosity I went looking through BC’s site for any warnings that posting work on their critique site constitutes publication. I found it in their terms of service. I just don’t think most writers understand the implications of what that means in light of a warranties clause in a publishing contract. I posted about it on my site.


    It’s all legalese. David Gaughran and I have been discussing it this morning. Neither of us are attorneys, so I may be off base. I don’t think I am. I copied the contract clauses in question if you want to look at them.

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