Penguin Launches Rip-Off Self-Publishing Service

Penguin has unveiled a self-publishing service – which will operate under the aegis of its online writing community Book Country – but questions are being asked about the huge fees they are charging, and the massive royalty cut that they are taking (on top of what retailers such as Amazon charge).

This post is from 11 November 2011. It has not been updated except to clean up broken links, but it’s important to preserve these older posts on author exploitation. Comments remain open.

This topic has already been covered by bloggers such as Joe Konrath, Katie Salidas, Linda Welch, and Passive Guy. Their posts are worth reading in full – especially the comments where you can see the widespread disapproval of this move from the self-publishing community.

However, this message needs to be repeated again and again to reach as many writers as possible to steer them away from this truly awful deal, and to counter the wall-to-wall, uncritical coverage from the likes of eBookNewser, Publishers Weekly, and the Wall Street Journal.

The most contentious parts of Penguin’s self-publishing operation are the fee structure and the royalty grab. There are lots of other things to dislike, but we’ll get to that.

Overcharging for services

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.

Again, it should be pointed out that this is more expensive than paying somebody else to do it for you. If you want to do it yourself, the software you need is free. I should also note that it costs nothing to upload your files to all the major retailers.

The cheapest package is $99. This gets you that “Publishing Kit” and the ability to use their software to format your e-book file only, which they upload to the retailers.

At the risk of repeating myself, there is no value in this package either. You are doing all the work, aside from the uploading, which is free, quick, and simple anyway.

But the poor value in these packages isn’t even the worst part as you will keep paying them every time you sell a book.

Royalty grab

Not only do writers using their service get hugely overcharged for the “services” Penguin provide, they then go on and pick their pocket at the back-end by peeling off a huge chunk of their royalties. This, of course, is on top of the retailer’s cut.

Here’s how it breaks down. For sales on the Book Country site itself, writers receive 70% royalties. This part, at least, is justifiable. Book Country are providing the retail platform, they are processing the sales, and dealing with the customers. And it’s a comparable percentage to the major retailers.

However, through Book Country, you can also sell your book on those major retailers, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. This is where the real trouble starts.

Book Country claims that writers will “earn 70% on your sales when priced at $2.99 or higher on all channels.” This is an extremely disingenuous claim, as it is not 70% of your cover price, but 70% of the money Book Country receive from retailers.

A fuller explanation is on their FAQ where the customer is left to calculate for themselves (if they notice it) the huge 30% cut that Book Country take when sales are made on those other retailers (where the overwhelming majority of a writer’s sales are likely to be).

In short, if you price your book at $2.99 and sell it on Amazon through Book Country, you will only receive 49% royalties, instead of the 70% you would have received if you uploaded it yourself.

From the Book Country FAQ:

Here is an example of the difference in earnings if selling on Book Country versus Amazon:

For a $2.99 eBook sale on Book Country, the author is entitled to $2.09.

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.

What they leave out, of course, is the $0.62 (30% of what Amazon pass on) Book Country are keeping from each $2.99+ sale on Amazon, and they take an even bigger slice from cheaper work. Not only is this deceptive, it’s out-and-out gouging.

How can Penguin/Book Country justify this royalty grab? They are already (over)charging their customers for the simple act of uploading to the retailers, and now they charge them for the same service a second time by taking 30% of their royalties.

Indeed, why would any writer sign up for this?

Penguin targets vulnerable writers

Book Country launched in April this year as an online writing community where authors can read and review each other’s work and receive advice from publishing professionals.

At BEA in July, Penguin CEO David Shanks said that he wanted to make Book Country “the most comfortable place for a new author to come.” Much like Authonomy, authors who receive the most favorable reviews rise to the top of the list, where there work will be reviewed by Penguin staff.

The carrot being dangled for new, unpublished writers is considerable – at least on paper. As David Shanks said in that same interview, “at the top of that list, we’ll start to look seriously at those people and say ‘here’s our new crop of potential bestselling authors’.”

The site has been running for over six months, but no writers have been signed by Penguin. Instead, Book Country are now offering a rip-off self-publishing program, which will allow those writers to claim they are being published by Penguin.

Think that’s too much of a stretch? Here’s the opener from yet another Book Country puff-piece – this time from the UK broadsheet, The Guardian:

Want to be published by Penguin, the historic press which is home to authors including Roald Dahl, Beatrix Potter and Kathryn Stockett? Now you can be – and for as little as $99 (£60), as Penguin’s American arm announced a move into self-publishing.

The reason that Penguin/Book Country are targeting newer writers is clear: more experienced writers, and those already self-publishing, will see this for what it is. A rip-off.

However, newer, less-experienced writers will see that Penguin logo and cough up to make their dreams come true – not realizing that they are being over-charged, and that Penguin will continue to take money off them for each book they sell (off their own sweat, because Penguin won’t be helping them).

Some are shielding Penguin from the blame, pointing out that Book Country is a separate legal entity. Let’s deal with that right away.

The head of Book Country is Molly Barton, who has been working at Penguin since 2005, and was promoted this week to the position of Global Digital Director. Book Country was set-up by Penguin, is funded by Penguin, Penguin’s logo is all over the site, and Penguin staff write blog posts for the Book Country blog. The demonstration for Book Country’s new self-publishing services was even given in Penguin’s offices.

Penguin own Book Country. End of discussion.

Self-publishing is easy

Writing a great book is hard. Finding readers and building an audience is hard. But the self-publishing process is easy. It really is.

Turning a (finished, edited) manuscript into a good-looking e-book is straight-forward. Uploading to the various sites is quick and simple (and free).

However, if you are not comfortable with these (minor) technical aspects, there are companies that can take care of that for you for a flat fee leaving your royalties intact.

There are zero advantages in going with Book Country and lots of disadvantages – aside from those mentioned above – including, but not limited to: restrictions on changing your price; no access to KDP, its tools, its customer support, and it’s real-time sales figures; and royalty checks which go to Book Country first, instead of you.

All of this information is taken from their own FAQs. There could well be further hidden nasties in the Terms of Service or the contracts. If anyone has a copy of either of those, Passive Guy would like to take a look at them.

We need to steer unsuspecting writers away from this deal. If you hear of any new writer considering using Book Country’s services, please point them towards this blog post (or any of the others above).

In fact, I have an offer for them. If they are seriously, genuinely considering using Penguin/Book Country to self-publish their book, I will send them a free copy of Let’s Get Digital to show them how easy it is – and how much cheaper it is – to do it themselves.

They can email me here: david (dot) gaughran (at) gmail (dot) com.

UPDATE: PaidContent have published an article on Book Country this morning. I was interviewed for the piece, and they have quotes from Joe Konrath. There is also a statement from Penguin responding to our criticisms of Book Country. They only printed a portion of what I said, so here it is in full (and I’ll be talking more about this soon):

I would be critical of this whoever was running it because it’s a terrible deal.

For starters, services like this should always be on a flat-fee basis. Formatting and uploading are one-time jobs. There is no justification for taking an ongoing fee in the form of 30% of the author’s royalties. That is, quite simply, gouging. And the fact that this is aimed at the newest, least inexperienced writers is particularly distasteful. The marketing information on the site is also a little disingenuous, as they don’t make quite clear how big a cut they are actually taking.

It could also be argued that it’s questionable to attach a self-publishing service to a writing community at all. Members of such communities should be able to assess service providers independently so that writers can get impartial advice.

The main reason that I am concerned that Penguin are behind this is because that will make it more significantly attractive to those newer, less experienced writers. A much-desired carrot is being dangled in the form of a potential publishing deal with Penguin. Their logo is all over the site. And their backing will lead to some confusion. For example, The Guardian’s article about Book Country on Wednesday presented it as a way to get published “by Penguin” for only $99. That, obviously, is not the case.

I can’t imagine why anyone who has already self-published would be attracted to this service. The reaction has been damning, and universal. That should tell you something. However, I am afraid that less experienced writers will go for it because it is backed by Penguin. That dream of a Big 6 publishing deal is widespread, and hard to shake.

As to the services themselves, there are plenty of experienced, talented professionals working as freelancers, and they cost a hell of a lot less. But the price isn’t the big issue, it’s that Book Country take a big slice of your royalties. Writers will be earning $1.47 on a $2.99 book when they should be getting $2.05. Book Country will take $0.62 on every single book you sell. And the worst bit is: you have already paid them!

Let me finish by saying that self-publishers are not concerned about this venture because Penguin is coming to play in our patch. Rather, we fear that our fellow writers will see the logo, be seduced by the possibility of a publishing contract, will pay over the odds, and will hand over a significant portion of their royalties on a continuing basis for no good reason.

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

109 Replies to “Penguin Launches Rip-Off Self-Publishing Service”

  1. David,
    Thank you so much for posting this website. It has greatly opened my eyes about the greedy publishers and real cost of publishing my book. Although, I am still at a loss as to where I can go to get it published, I would like to try and self publish as much as possible, but I don’t know where to start. Thanks in advance for advice you can offer.

  2. Thanks, Dave. I see a lot of people saying that it’s great of Penguin to acknowledge self-published authors. I can’t help but shake my head and laugh. Why on Earth would Penguin Publishing acknowledge their main competitor? Answer: to make a profit. There’s no higher interest than that here.

    While I understand that some authors are not DIY-type people, they can always pay someone else, a third-party contractor, to do the formatting and unloading for them, and I am confident that it would cost them a lot less than the $549 that Book Country is offering for a professional format job. And CreateSpace is free; their paid services are fully optional.

    1. Hi Katherine,

      I’ve read a few articles now which took the position of saying that Penguin’s launch of a vanity-esque self-publishing imprint somehow validates self-publishing.

      Do you feel validated? Do you care? I don’t. I really, really don’t care what large publishers think about self-publishing. Whether they acknowledge its viability or not has zero effect on my sales, my connection with my readers, or my bank’s acceptance of the (growing) checks I get from Amazon each month. I really couldn’t care less.


      1. Well-put. I don’t particularly care for validation from them either, and the reaction I got was, “whom, exactly, are they looking to fool with this?”

        My validation is in the form of my reviews. They are proof that I’ve written a good story. Having the “validation” of a publishing house that is effectively fleecing writers is a so-what moment if I ever had one. Pass the coffee please, my next story needs a chapter.

        Self-publishing was the best avenue for me, and what Penguin thinks doesn’t particularly ruffle my feathers in the least. My readers don’t care either.

  3. Very interesting post David and good comments guys. I’ve published with CreateSpace very happy with their service and prices.

    Question for anyone who knows. How do you get ebooks onto Penguin?, do you have to publish with them? I’m currently on B&N, Google, iBookstore, KDP, Kobo, Lulu, etc. Penguin must be a good site to get an ebook on to?

    Ian Daniel

    1. Hi Ian,

      Penguin is a publisher, not a retailer. They have their own e-bookstore, but only for the titles they publish. Book Country, their subsidiary, might be what you are referring to. You can list your books there, but only if you pay for their self-publishing “services”. The cheapest option is e-book only, and to do all the work yourself, for which they charge $99. You can then opt out of Amazon and all the other stores (so you don’t give them 30% of those sales on top of what the retailers take) so you will be only listed in the Book Country store. Even then, I think it’s not worth it. Book Country will never generate significant direct sales. That $99 is far, far better spent on any number of other things.


  4. LOL. This actually may be a better deal than signing a publishing contract with the “real” Penguin! You earn a higher royalty, get about the same amount of distribution and promotion, and you have non-exclusive use of your books! Surely it’s only a matter of time before Penguin authors are clamoring to be treated as well as the Book Country folk.

  5. Being a “newbie” with a chance to be published by or with a big publisher like Penguin undeniably put stars in my eyes. Doing research about self-publishing brought me here. The raves in the WSJ and others now remind me of the late night, get rich, get noticed infomercial scams. Your information can really, honestly help the new authors who may have limited knowledge about who they can trust, where they can go and how they can protecy themselves. I’m thinking perhaps, “Occupy Penguin.”

  6. This is funny. I skimmed the article at and noticed they quoted Penguin as saying this: “In all three packages offered by Book Country, our e-books are individually hand-coded, not run through a software program with no human intervention.”

    I happen to have just finished reading vols. 1 & 2 of Kristin Lavransdatter (about to start vol. 3) as ePubs published by Penguin on Apple’s iBookstore. These books have been clearly converted to digital with OCR software, and never corrected by any human proofreader. They’re readable, sure, but they’re littered with extra spaces in the middle of words, particularly in those long Norwegian names, and there are many capitalization errors.

    If Penguin doesn’t proofread the conversion of classics by a Nobel-prize-winning author, they’re not going to proofread the results of converting text from thousands of unknowns (no matter what marketing says for the sake of damage control).

  7. Dena

    I’ve been ignoring the “you’ll never be discovered on Kindle arguments.” It’s highly unlikely you’ll sell a lot, especially starting out but I think it falls to the writer to do the quality work within their genre. It’s also a marathon, not a sprint, but the sooner you begin…

    I won’t bash anyone but have gone through about a dozen indies and, while I’ve seen good quality, I’ve seen few stories that were throughly good or great. Lots of work looks barely edited, or poorly edited. The biggest detractors I’ve seen so far..besides weak covers. Will I fair any better? Gonna find that out.

    The “Million” books on Kindle is actually about 350k for fiction. Drill down into genre and (usually) sub genre and you’re in the tens of thousands or even less. That’s less than a B&N (especially before the misc crap took half the shelf space) and a hell of a lot easier to search through.

    Keep plugging away.

  8. Hi Dave,
    I work for a large chemical/oil company, living in Texas an’ all. We have to take this online training annually, and this year they made it mandatory.

    I’ve been a little worried about writing becoming a “quick and easy” scheme to make money. Hopefully that blows over very quickly.

    Still, the good books will continue to be bought regardless.

  9. On this topic, have made the rounds this morning looking for any new info and responses and you’re blog is linked all over the place. Nicely done.

  10. Deana

    I take it you work for DOD…I had that training yearly too.

    Yeah, I still get “Nigerian Prince e-mails” occasionally, Pay-to-publish is one of the oldest scams there is and the vastness and impersonality of the web only helps them. I think that, sadly, they’re going to make a lot of money off this as E-pub is very quickly becoming, not only the hot new writing trend, but a new “quick and easy success” route for a lot of uneducated, impatient people.

    I learned about this market earlier this year and have invested a lot of time in researching all the elements of it. I’m just now shopping for cover artists and editors, but I admit I’m slow.

    As this market goes more mainstream (ie: you hear about it on CNN and not just PW and indie blogs) a lot of people will be discovering the blogs and “how-to” websites and will be looking to upload every old story on their hardrive that night. A “legitimate” publisher that offers to “nurture and develop” (when they’re actually not doing shit) will be getting a lot of credit card payments and royalties forever.

    And Mrs. Barton and the management at Penguin know this.

    Which makes them [*******] in my opinion.

    1. Dave,

      I’m just going to edit the last line of that comment, for reasons I’m sure you will understand. If you want a fuller explanation, or to talk further about it – email me.


  11. Unfortunately, doing research takes time, and unless one takes hours, and sometimes days, to find all the information that you might need to make a decision, they just go to what “looks” to be “ok” since they see the name a lot. I ask the same question on spam email. Why does it continue? Don’t people recognize the scams by now? Nope.

    My workplace put out a Mandatory training, GLOBALLY, that everyone had to take educating them on “Online/Cyber Security” and if someone didn’t take the course, their internet access was taken away. It was detailed on what NOT to do on the internet, including to watch what you click.

    Also, in a world of instant gratification and impulse buying, there’s always going to fish. And unfortunately, these companies are usually the first place you run into…unless you take the time to dig a little deeper.

    There’s a lot of sharks in that sea of information, and they’re big and visible and eat lots of fish.

  12. I had thought Torstar/Harlequin caved with their vanity publishing outfit after widespread criticism,but a quickie google search revealed they didn’t. And PublishAmerica is still fishing. As long as there is money to be made and fish to be reeled in… I guess what I don’t understand is why there are still fish to be reeled in, with all the information available online enabling would-be writers to make good choices and avoid ripoffs.

    1. Powder Girl – you’re absolutely right. But there’s still going to be those who feel that they “just can’t do it” and these business know that. These authors are not going to take the time (thus showing their desperation) to do the research, or they will stumble upon what they think is “real information” and stay hooked on that without moving around and seeing if there’s anything else.

      Unfortunately, that’s what makes these businesses stay…well, in business. They KNOW that there’s still going to be that group that just don’t want to do all of that work on their own, and that they’re not going to spend the months trying to find out all possible avenues. And these businesses are going to “help” them out.

      These businesses are going to continue to thrive because of this reason, and they’re going to have other author help to do so. People are going to pay for this “help” and be grateful because they just couldn’t do it all without that “help”. They’re going to pass that information along to others of how great the service is and how they were so happy to have found this service.

      Bottom line…it won’t stop because the first pagers in search engines are all helpful services” for those who “can’t” do it for themselves.

      …unless a company more popular beats them to it.

  13. Useful to know…as a newbie author I’ve shied away from self-publishing after so many ‘vanity publishing’ horror stories…it seems the beast is still alive and kicking in the guide of a penguin!!!

  14. Go to, the best self-publishing site on the internet. You will see that Penguin tried to pattern themselves after this site, though, charging much more fees for much less service and functionality. At FastPencil, you can go through the entire process for free. Shame on Penguin.

  15. Deana

    I agree completely that some of the logistics can be daunting. I’m 100% a mere “pointer and clicker” on a computer, the few “tricks” I can do and common bugs I can fix were learned through painful trial and error and from using a computer at work for years, I’m in no way a smart “computer guy”, I can’t even html links into my posts, sad. So I could very easily fit into that technically challenged category when my upload time comes.

    Thats said, as a former film school grad who asprired to be an independent, who had grandiose plans centered around scripts I wrote complete with budgets and equipment lists, I can say that any independent venture is going to require a lot ingenuity and entrepeneurship from you.

    There is no ONE webpage that’s going to plainly show you everything. It doesn’t work that way. If you seriously want to do it then it falls to you to do the searching for the information.

    Good news: between Dave’s “Let’s get Digital” (read it 3x now, bloody brilliant!) his site here, and the many links he has, specifically to folks like Joe Konrath and D.W.Smith, you can learn about 99% of what you need to know. These guys are the experts right now, all their info is free online. They’re huge resources. All this stuff was foreign to me this past March and I’m getting ready to go, a lot slower than many others actually.

    All the best, just promise us you won’t give Penguin your money for the easiest part of the process.

    1. Thanks for replying, Dave.

      I wasn’t speaking for myself :), I’m way too advanced on tech software. I, at first, agreed that if one wants to take on this adventure, then one has to put in the learning process. But I keep hearing: “I wish I had an ounce of your talent.” And all I took from that is that they’re Just Not Going To Do It, but they want to publish. These are the people who need another option.

      We could just say that they just have to do it anyway if they want to self-publish, but they’re not going to. So, they wind up at these places….because they’re just not going to learn it all on their own. Some decide to continue the trade route and …wait. Then, they don’t have to put up any money, at all, and won’t have to worry about “all that technical stuff.”

      Mikayla answered with a site below, but I didn’t see where you could get the files and upload to the sites yourself….

  16. I think what could counter these types of businesses is an actual list of where those who are interested in self-publishing can go to pay for reasonable services at reasonable prices.

    What I’ve seen around the internet of self-publishers (the ones who have answered the “How Bad Do I Want It?” Really Bad!…referring to Tonya Kappes’s article), is that they are quite willing to jump that learning curve. However, there are quite a few people who…frankly…JUST CAN’T. They can’t jump into software and learn the DYI steps. And they WANT that extra help. If there were more sites giving a list of services for those who want that extra help that have decent prices, then that would counter these types of businesses.

    It’s really not that “easy” for most people to self-publish. It’s quite intimidating trying to learn formatting (pdf, zip, html, MSWord, zip???). It’s just not “easy” for them, so they look for help–and they’re willing to pay for it in exchange for time and mental stress.

    When someone types “I need help to self-publish” into a search engine…the answer isn’t always that readily.

    1. I agree with what you’re saying. But self-publishing, even when someone does the formatting, uploading and distribution, is in the end, still a business. You must take the time to learn so you don’t end up getting eaten by the sharks looking for easy prey.

  17. What Penguin is doing is absolutely terrible. Ìt is probably the worst vanity publishing scheme I have read about so far. Wow. And it has been viewed as such a reputable company. Then they use Book Country, no less. It can`t even hold a candle next to Amazon.

    I feel so bad for writers who have signed up for this! This move by Penguin is beyond ridiculous.

    1. Sara,

      I’ve already been contacted by one writer who was going to use the service, and who has taken me up on my offer of a free copy of “Let’s Get Digital” instead. So, that’s one at least. I’m sure there are lots, lots more who are thinking twice about this whole thing after all the critical blog posts and tweets.


  18. You know what’s really laughable about all of this? Take a visit to the bookcountry website, you know, the one authors are supposed to sell their books from to make the maximum amount of profit…


    I didn’t see a single cover on the website. It’s all half-colored box placeholders with text for a title! WHO THE HELL is buying books from this website? This is the least buyer-friendly website I have ever seen! I’d be surprised if a writer sold a single book through that website to anyone outside of friends and family. I wouldn’t put content on there for free, let alone pay them for their “services.”

    With services like that, I’m suddenly not so mad at the dealership who wanted to charge me $1,200 for $8 parts (true story).

  19. For more than half a century (probably a lot longer) the trad publishers stuck their nose up at self publishers as ‘vanity”. Now that the indie author movement has street cred and massive growth, the trad’s are jumping on the bandwagon, and not in a good way. It’s sad but in some ways to be expected.

    The big difference in today’s world is that there is a global online community of authors who can share their experiences, spread the good word, and warn of the perils (like this one.)

  20. Excellent write-up David. I looked into this mess yesterday when Will Entrekin posted about it, but I couldn’t find must information on what you got for your money. I figured it was a bad deal; I just didn’t realize how bad.

  21. Hi David. I fell across your blog while doing some research into self publishing. I’ve grabbed a copy of the PDF and can’t thank you enough. I’ve always thought we all have at least one novel in us no matter what genre we lean toward. You’re right about writing the book being the hard part and it makes me angry that the predatory practices of publishers have gone digital. It serves them right to be left with nothing when writers, even known writers, self publish. The same goes for the book retailers who have been taking vast profits for too long, but they have been the first to suffer under the digital revolution and I find myself feeling slightly sorry for them. To mind mind, platforms are the biggest problem. What we need is a central repository into which our work can reside off which the rapacious platforms can feed. Formatting should be a thing of the past. Ah well, we can all hope….

      1. Will do. Actually since reading your post I’ve read a few other bit of research as well. It seems there are as many opinions as there are complex questions regarding publishing. Funnily enough I only see possibility. It seem unlikely there isn’t another Jo Rowling out there somewhere. Perhaps like the music and video industry the future is here now, and we are a part of it. If Justin Beaver with zero talent can youtube himself into a frenzy, writers ought to be able to garner a small following of like minded individuals using actual ability!

  22. David,

    Can’t thank you enough for all you do here. I’ve recently entered the eBook world, so this post is very timely. I’ll share it with everyone I can.


  23. I’m sure it’s full of radical, ground-breaking tips…

    Funny as hell Dave, took your advice and posted about it my Blog….for all 3 of my followers.

  24. This is truly a shameless move on Penguin’s part. Here’s what I posted in the comments section of Joe Konrath’s blog, where I first read about this:

    As shocking as this is, it probably shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. After reading your blog, I looked up who owns Penguin. The Penguin Group is owned by Pearson PLC, a global company with headquarters in London, which is part of both the London Stock Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange. This is all about the money, another big corporation run amok.

    Why would any self-respecting writer pay that much money for self-publishing services, plus extra royalties on top of that?!!? In order to sign up for such a truly horrible deal, a writer would either have to be such a complete newbie to the publishing world, they have absolutely no clue how easy it is to self-publish their own books, set their own prices and decide their own royalties on Amazon and other sites, or they would have to be clinging to some mistaken notion that they need to be published by a Big Six publisher in order to sell significant numbers of books. Also, weren’t the big publishers carrying on a while back that lowering the prices of eBooks on Amazon would dilute the psychological value of eBooks in readers’ minds…but now, for money in their own pockets, Penguin is suddenly OK with flooding the market with self-published eBooks?!!? This whole thing seriously stinks.

    Like you and Joe, I’ve also been totally dismayed by the unquestioning praise for Penguin’s Book Country self-publishing venture dished out by the likes of the Wall Street Journal. However, the Wall Street Journal is currently published by Dow Jones & Company which is a division of News Corporation. Huge corporations almost always support the predatory practices of other huge corporations. Unfortunately, many people still think they’re living in the recent past when big publishing houses were primarily interested in publishing the best books, even those that only achieved mid-list sales. That’s no longer the case. Today, the main goal of the big publishing houses and media companies is to make huge sums of money and continue to experience rising stock market prices, whether or not they’re publishing the best books or the most honest piece of journalism. Interestingly enough, this year, three of four National Book Award winners were published by independent publishing houses!

  25. My question is Penguin is a Traditional Publisher, and that means that your book might
    make it to the store bookshelves, i. e WaL-Mart. B & N, and others?.

  26. Thanks for the post. Every member of the self-publishing enclaves I’ve been drifting through over the past couple of days has been screaming their heads off over this, as well they should. Hopefully word will spread quickly and largely enough to prevent too many people from throwing their money at a scam.

  27. I’m an aged writer (just turned 60), have proclaimed self as a Luddite from the get-go, and yet have managed to have three titles (the latest of which maintained its position in the top 100 of Kindle within its category four times in a month, including once for a week) e-published by the simple expedient of reading widely on the web. But most importantly by asking questions of other indies and having them kindly give of their time and advice. And it WAS easy and I’m reaping all the myriad rewards because of it.
    Great explanation and timely warnings David, thank you and linking it as we speak!

  28. Kudos for the call to arms, David. I saw the announcement in PW Daily and simply dismissed it as a bad idea, but you’re right; we all need to do our part to spread the word on what a horrible deal this is for new authors (or any author). If this had come along back in March when my first title was out for editing, I might have fallen for it. I had no idea of how simple it really is to publish on Smashwords and KDP, and the idea that someone at Penguin might notice my story and offer me a life of low paid indentured servitude would have seemed attractive.

    Does anyone else suspect that their expensive hints might bear a resemblance to Mark Coker’s free style guide?

    1. I’m sure it’s full of radical, ground-breaking tips like have a great cover, write an enticing blurb, price competitively, grab them with the sample, and include links to the rest of your books in the back. It probably says that blogging is a good idea, Twitter can be useful, and talking to readers is always good, but that the best promotion is to write another book.

      Although, it would be funny if it was the Big 6 playbook: price as high as you can get away with, even if it reduces your overall revenue; delay the e-book release until the paperback is ready; and, whatever you do, don’t release more than one book a year.

      1. I put up a warning on my blog and linked to this post as well as JK and DWS. In the spirit of our mutually supportive community, we should all do what we can to make sure our newest members stay away from vans marked ‘Free Candy”.

  29. Thank you for a clear analysis and write-up of this issue. Looks like Penguin is testing the waters to see what they can get away with, using Book Country as a focus group to see what sells. I hope everyone who reads this blogs, tweets, and forwards it on. Let’s go viral!

  30. Authonomy is wholly owned by Harper Collins, so Book Country is wholly owned by Penguin. Those of us who went through Auth would never willingly choose to involve ourselves with another site offering the same deal; unmoderated forum boards, and insane backbiting competition for the dubious Editor’s Desk delight. By anyone’s standards the Penguin offer makes no financial sense at all. There are many much better offers out there. Penguin/Book Country too little, too late and far too greedy.

    1. I have no problem with the critting side of it. That kind of thing is not for me, but I know people that got something out of places like Authonomy. Personally, I would rather use one of the many, fine, established critiquing sites out there, but I have no problem with it.

      The self-publishing side is where the issues lie (and attaching a self-publishing operation – of any description – to a critting site is, at the very least, in poor taste). Aside from the overblown fees, the royalties are what get me. There is zero justification for taking that large bite out of the writer’s royalties. I guess old habits die hard 🙂

      1. I have colossal issues with the crit side of it. I had a lot of conversations with Authonomy staff who are lovely, and somewhat bemused by the incredible behaviour of a lot of Authonomites. For my own nerves’ sake, I got out of Auth.

        Penguin are seeking to play catch up and make a fast buck. Trouble is, they are eighteen months/two years behind. Lulu, Lightning Source are not the companies they were back in 08/09, they’ve come on in leaps and bounds, their books are 100% better quality than they were. They are now serious competition.

  31. If anyone would seriously consider this, they need to question what they are doing as a self-published author. There is way too much information on the Internet these days to fall for something like this. Take time to educate yourself before you publish 🙂

  32. Dave

    J. Konrath’s page comes up first on Google when you search for County Fair, with or without Penguin in the search. That’s good at least. Putting up a post of my own and everyone else should. I plan to link to yours, very thorough overview of this heap of scum.

    Sadly, they’re probably going to make a killing off this bullshit scam. Stomach churning, but nothing new at all.

    Christine sez: This is going to go down in publishing history as the stupidest move a trad publisher made to get on the self-pubbing train

    I’d love to agree with you but horribly decreasing paper sales and the mass exodus of talent to indie channels hasn’t made any Big 6’s near bankrupt or completely desperate…yet.

    I think this is just the first of many, many pathetic attempts to cash in on the new gold rush by the very people that have sneered, discounted and looked down on it.

    The little twist of irony is somewhat humurous however.

    1. The one bright spot is the people who end up using it will never even know they were ripped off. Heck, they may even be happy and fulfilled.

      The dark spot is this rip-off will keep Penguin in business for an extra year…

  33. Dude… Open Office has an add-on that’s a freaking “CONVERT MY DOCUMENT TO AN EBOOK” button. Like… you click it. There are tutorials all over the web. And even if you just can’t suck that up there are formatters all over the web, too, who will work a whole lot cheaper.

    Create Space, anyone? Smashwords? A part of me thinks anyone dumb enough to fall for this deserves to lose the money.

    But suckers being born every minute aside… shame on you, Penguin!

    1. I think there are better ways to format your e-book than that, but the approach you describe is certainly preferable to paying all that money THEN handing over 30% of your royalties to an unnecessary middleman.

  34. Unfortunately, with every new, growing industry, like we have now with self-publishing, there will be people preying on the new people who want to get in on the action. This has been going on for years already really. How many sites/products/services do you see with “I’ll make you a best-selling author” do you see? Plenty. And the truth is becoming a best-seller isn’t easy, unless you hide behind the “getting you to #1 on your Amazon category”. Anyone can pretty much do that with a good, strong launch day. Disingenuous to say the least, those best-selling people.

    I think these new type of hybrid publishing firms/deals are actually good, as long as they really work and can help the author. It’s pretty obvious the one you mentioned above is pretty lame. Tip: If you want to have success, quit trying to rip off your customers. In the end, it won’t work. You’ll make a ton of money up front, but later realize your customers hate you and resent you.

    Once again, they’re thinking like a traditional publisher. Instead, they need to be thinking like an author. Amazon is doing that. Why can’t they get it?

    Jim Kukral

    1. Sorry, Jim – this was caught in my spam filter.

      And you are right. It seems they looked at self-publishing and thought “how can we make many out of this” rather than “how can we add value for self-publishers.” It’s quite telling that not one self-publisher (to my knowledge) has anything positive to say about it.

  35. David,
    Thanks for posting about Book Country. I read Joe Konrath and Passive Guy’s posts earlier in the week, but you’ve provided a great summation of what’s going on. I’ve also linked your post on my own blog to reach as many writers as possible. I think what gets me the most is the WSJ’s title, “Self-Publishers Get Help.” Aaaahhh!!!! (Bang head against desk in frustration) because self-pubbers have already been helping each other out in addition to getting help from Amazon and other retailers directly. The article makes it sound like Penguin is doing us a favor (Riiiggggghhhttt). Keep up the good work 🙂

  36. This is going to go down in publishing history as the stupidest move a trad publisher made to get on the self-pubbing train.

    Mark my words, David. This epic idiocy is bad business for penguin.

    1. I think so too. Self-publishers (like me) will call it a rip-off. Penguin authors probably won’t be too happy with things like that Guardian article (which is invariably how some of the authors published through this program will view it too, i.e. they’ve been published by Penguin). I think it’s damaging to their brand in all sorts of ways. How can they claim to be the guardians of our literary heritage on one hand, and profit from a self-publishing service on the other?

      It also puts the arch-defenders of trade publishing in an uncomfortable position. They are very quiet on this move (yet claim that they steer writers away from self-publishing for their own sake!).

  37. If they let people publish on Book Country, for a 70% royalty, while skipping the purchase of their ridiculously overpriced services in favor of DIY, and allowing authors to opt OUT of having their books distributed to other sites for the extra cut…I’d be willing to look at what kind of traffic and storefront they can bring to the table. Can never have too many distributors (who aren’t also trying to screw the writers over).

    In other words, Book Country/Penguin, see what you can do about being a real ebook distributor–without the unnecessary services and extra cut–and it might not be dead in six months.

    1. Okay…having looked at the site (and come away very unimpressed)…if I want to put my ebook-only titles with them, I would need to provide them with all the formatted files and pay them the discounted fee of $74 per title. Ummm, no.

      1. Yes, on the face of it (going by their FAQ, I don’t know if anyone has seen the full ToS or contract), you can opt out of having your books distributed to Amazon and the other retailers, and will get a discount on their “services”. However, I don’t think you can just provide them with your formatted files, I think you have to use their tools to generate them.

        Besides, I think all this is moot, as the writers this is aimed at probably won’t do any of that, and will just spring for the packages and not opt out of the wider distribution. The general information on the site is quite disingenuous, and many won’t realise how big a bite they are taking out of the Amazon sales.

  38. If anyone gets mad at me for constantly bashing legacy publishers, they need to read the coverage Book Country received by the media. The story and hook aren’t that Penguin is starting a self-pub business, it’s that they’re making money off of naive newbies. But no one reported that. And is it any wonder why?

    When media becomes the tool of big business, truth gets buried. But it is nice to see that only 500 manuscripts have been uploaded to Book Country since April. Hopefully those folks will do a little research and see what a terrible deal it is–though looking at BC’s comments pages, naivete abounds.

    One of the saddest parts of this is Penguin’s obvious disregard (which borders on disdain) for newbie writers. They could have actually launched a program that helped discover new talent to partner with, so both the writer and Penguin could make money. Instead, they’re making money off the writer.

    1. Hey Joe,

      Exactly. The media coverage has been completely glowing, and exclusively uncritical. The middlemen are trying to insert themselves in a process which is thriving because of the absence of middlemen – the same middlemen who scoffed at self-publishing, who perpetuate myths about it, and bash it’s proponents.


      1. This is, I think, the main disgraceful point of what Penguin’s doing… When I first read about this, over at Konrath’s blog, all I could think of was: middleman realises imminent death, and is trying to stay ‘middleman’ by becoming what is in fact morphing into the real middleman now (places like Smashwords instead of traditional publishing houses)…

        Look, you know, I see nothing wrong with ppl being creative in business and entering new areas which are becoming reinvented and more powerful as days go by… but the way they’re doing this, esp in terms of the charges for services easily less expensive elsewhere, is what is so shameful to me… That, and yes, the favourable spin so easily put on it by mainstream channels…

        Hmmmm, I’m not sure if BookCountry allow writers participating to ‘remove’ certain retailers from the wide distribution channel, though… retailers such as Amazon and B&N for eg, where we can upload our books ourselves for the most part…? Have to check up on that…

  39. Great post, David. As I said on Konrath’s blog, it’s misleading of the Wall Street Journal to use that photo of Amanda Hocking as if she used Book Country’s services when she didn’t. Under her photo, it says she sold over a million copies of her ebooks, as if she is a typical case of what would happen if you *did* use Book Country. Such a shame but authors have to do their homework; no one is going to look out for your interests more than you so why trust anyone with something you worked so hard on? Compared to selling, the self-pubbing part is quite easy — it’s producing a quality product you should be worried about, and getting it properly edited, the formatting can be done by plenty of peeps hawking their services! 😉

  40. Here’s who I think this is aimed in part at: older newbie writers. When we say newbie, we mean anyone who’s just starting out, but LOTS of those people are 60+. How many of them grew up with a computer? That would be zero. How many are as computer savvy as they need to be in this indie publishing world? And I don’t think that’s their fault for ‘not doing their research’ when a giant corporation is very deliberately setting out to screw them over. Very often, newbie writers don’t even know the right questions to ask. I even had a foray with PublishAmerica when I first started out, and was saved by chance and stumbling onto a blog that told the truth.

    1. I think you are probably right. On top of that, I think people might be attracted to this who simply think they don’t have the time to deal with all the nitty-gritty. Even if that is the case, there are lots and lots of reputable companies out there who will provide the same services for WAY less, and they won’t touch your royalties.

      It’s all about the royalties. If you had published your books through Penguin, they would have taken THOUSANDS off you – for no good reason.

  41. Thanks for the info. Something that people need to hear about. Fortunately I am of the mind the I am self published because I wanted to avoid giving someone else a cut of MY money!

  42. Why indignation at a failure to research? Writers research all the time, but the market, the publishing world may not be a subject of absorbing interest. Indie publishers on the whole are generous minded and supportive…those of us who have just been saved from the rip off merchants have not yet learned to swim. Authonomy was puffed in much the same way and we lived to tell the tale, a lot wiser about how people got to the ‘Editor’s desk’!

    1. I know I was pretty clueless when I started out. Publishing is a very confusing business – there are lots of counter-intuitive aspects to it, not helped by unrealistic expectations derived from media depictions of writers and the business.

    2. I have to disagree because of the way The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, and other mainstream publications are puffing this. It would be very easy for a new author to take the word of these “trusted” publications that this is a good deal. I consider the first paragraph of that article in The Guardian an outright lie.

      I think this has a lot to do with the general indignation and the feeling that the inaccurate reporting MUST be countered.

  43. I see this as an admission on Trad Publishing’s part about the mass exodus of writers toward self-publishing. I recognize their history of excellence, but their influence is fading and now, well … it’s like an abusive spouse saying, “Come back, baby. I’ll let you have the remote control when there’s no sports on TV. I’ll even be nice to your mom sometimes.” Too late for me. I’m outta there.

  44. Another fantastic post, Dave. 2 typos in the first section “with reading in full” shd be “worth…”

    And “There are [other] lots of other things to dislike…”

    Keep the posts coming.

  45. If people are going to take the time to write a novel and have it edited then should also take the time to look at all of the options for the publishing field. I don’t believe they are targeting inexperienced writers.

    I don’t think it is wrong that Penguin is charging all of these prices. Will I use their program? Nope. I’m not sure why everything has to be free. Penguin wants to make money and this is one of their ways of doing it. Is it going to work? I don’t think so, but you never know.

    Some authors have already called Penguin ‘evil’ because of this program. That is a bit much.

    What about those poor writers who don’t know any better? Shame on people for not doing their research.

    1. Hey Geoff,

      I don’t think it’s “evil”, I think it’s a “rip off”. This post is not aimed at experienced writers/self-publishers. They will be able to see through this straight away (as you have). This post is aimed at newer writers who may think this is a good deal. I’ve outlined all the ways in which it isn’t.

      It’s also a counter-balance to the glowing press that Book Country has received. The Wall Street Journal titled their article “Self-Publishers Get Some Help.” The Publisher’s Weekly puff-piece called it “economically priced”. It is very far from that.

      My hope is that if a writer considering using their service does a little searching on Google that they will come across this blog post or Joe Konrath’s blog post, and hear the other side of the story. Because both our blogs have good SEO, our two posts now appear on the first page of Google search results for “Book Country”. Which is great.


    2. You know it’s a funny thing. I have no desire to publish with Penguin or any of the other ‘big 6’ publishers. With most of them, unless you’re a power house author you’re a piece of fluffy nothing (I had other adjectives but I thought I should play nice). But there are a lot of writers out there that really pin their hopes on the prestige behind a trad publishing house. And that’s where this type of hype is being marketed the strongest, to those dreamers. It’s so sad to see these estabished houses using their ‘dream machine’ to prey on the hopes of the biggest dreamers. I understand your comment about doing your research, but that’s not going to stop a person with stars in their eyes. I can only hope blogs like this and all the others will help tarnish the fools gold gilding this money grabbing ploy.

      1. “Evil” works for me. Why shouldn’t a rip-off, misrepresented and falsely publicized by corrupt or ignorant partners in the square press, and the exploitation of the most vulnerable, be called “evil”? Corruption deep in the heart of a corporation is going to take advantage of a lot of people. Why soft-sell it? Evil.

    3. How about cynical? Jaded? Hard-hearted? Conniving?

      I got curious about who would actually fall for Book Country’s scam, and why. So I did some poking around and I think I figured it out. Those 4000 writers Book Country boasts about as part of their community? P/BC is encumbering the rights to their books and making them unpublishable by traditional publishers. After using Book Country, the writers have little choice except to self-publish. And well, since Book Country is right there, being so helpful… Read my reasoning here

      And I would love anyone to adequately explain that Penguin didn’t know full well what they doing when they started Book Country. Either they were so incredibly stupid they have no idea what the Warranties clause means in a publishing contract; or they figured anyone who used Book Country was so inept a writer they never stood a chance of getting a publishing contract anyway; or this “self-publishing” venture is exactly what they intended all along.

      So stupid might describe them maybe, but I don’t think so. I’m going with evil.

  46. This is a timely warning, Dave. Penguin seem to be acting little better than the old vanity publishers with this venture. Didn’t Lincoln say something about fooling some of the people. I have another thought: a fool and his money are soon parted.

    1. It does have a “vanity” ring to it, doesn’t it?

      The big problem is that the writers who this is aimed at are the newest, most inexperienced writers who will probably trust anything with the Penguin logo on it. Especially when they aren’t so up-front about the huge chunk of royalties they keep from your Amazon and Barnes & Noble sales.

      1. “most inexperienced writers who will probably trust anything with the Penguin logo on it.”

        I don’t feel sorry for these people. If you are not going to take the time to do research your options then they should deserve to pay $549.

      2. Well, that’s a separate argument. But at least now, for those writers who go and do their research, this post and Joe’s post are right there near the top of the search results. Which can only be a good thing.

      3. There ain’t no “little” to it. This is traditional publishing putting Publish America to shame. Right up there with Publisher’s Weekly selling reviews to indies, this is “legitimacy” selling its soul in the most revealing way possible.

      4. @grittyjefferies’ comment – that’s why there needs to be articles like this, so that it is easy for young writers to find this information. Often you don’t know what you are looking for till you find it, and something like Penguin publishing is hard to see past.

    2. Penguin seem to be acting little better than the old vanity publishers with this venture.

      Publish America, anyone? 😉 Or maybe that should be :-(. I actually “stole” that idea from Stephen Knight in the comments on Konrath’s blog, and I think it’s very apt.

      Every writer with a blog and a conscience should post about this scam (I have).

      Dave – Konrath’s post is about the 10th one down on Bing (have it at work, ugh), but it’s great, because it’s the first headline that has the word “fail” in it. 🙂 We can only hope that newbs read that one before, or in addition to, all the glowing hype.

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