Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Country Fail

Okay, I gotta interrupt my blogging hiatus to warn newbie authors against a new program from Penguin that made me throw up in my mouth when I read about it.

Book Country, which debuted in April as a place for authors to post their work for critique, recently announced a program to turn manuscripts posted on their website into ebooks and paper books:

Our self-publishing process has been designed by a team of book industry professionals to make the experience as accessible, convenient, and affordable as possible.

For $549 they will format your ebook and print book, and then upload it to retailers.

Or for $299 they will let you do your own formatting, and then upload the book to retailers.


Formatting ebooks and paper books is tricky, but Rob Siders at is less costly than Book Country, and Rob does an incredible job.

After formatting, you should upload your books to Createspace, Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords on your own (takes about an hour) for FREE and you're done. You're published. That's all there is to it.

Why would you pay Penguin to upload your titles? That's the easiest part of the self-publishing process.

But wait, there's more. Penguin also keeps 30% of your royalties.

So not only do you pay them, you also keep paying them.

They don't do any editing or proofreading, as far as I know. They don't create covers. They charge you upfront, and keep charging you for every sale.

According to their site:

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.

Why would anyone but a total newbie do this? What is Book Country doing for you that entitles them to 30% royalties? Especially if/when you pay for the formatting?

I'm blogging about this to warn newbie authors NOT to use Book Country. This blog gets more traffic than Book Country does, so hopefully anyone looking for "Book Country" on search engines will find this post and learn what a Very Bad Idea it is to use Book Country's services.

Look at my sidebar. Those are people you can hire to assist you self-publishing. Carl Graves does covers. Rob Siders does ebook and print formatting. Cheryl Perez does print formatting. can help you set up your own ebook store. Diana Cox does proofreading.

These people charge a flat fee and you keep all of your rights. Which means that when you upload to and sell an ebook for $2.99, you keep $2.05, not the $1.47 Book Country gives you.

And trust me. That adds up.

I've sold 500,000 ebooks. If I'd published with Book Country, they would have taken $290,000 in royalties from me. That's just awful.

If you want to use Book Country to workshop your book and get critiques, that's great. I've heard good things about it. But I would NOT recommend paying them to format your manuscripts.

If you want to self-publish, read and learn all you can about the process. Hire smart people with references to do the heavy lifting (proofing, formatting, cover art). Then keep your rights and keep all the money.

But don't take my word for it. Arm yourself with information and figure it out for yourself.


Ruth Harris said...

Conning writers out of money is a long-standing tradition. Anyone remember the old fee reading "services"? They used to advertise in writers' magazines & even in book review sections.

Pay the money, send them your manuscript, some underpaid slavey will read it & write a one page critique/analysis. Completely meaningless.

What Joe is referring to is just another variation of a screw-the-writer hustle that's been shape-shifting for decades.

Author Scott Nicholson said...

I assume they also "generously" arrange the revenue to come to them before it is routed to you. And I am sure they pay you quarterly or twice a year to save you the "hassle" of the money directly entering your bank account each month. And no doubt they also "protect your rights" by serving as the exclusive wholesale distributor of your work.

Book Country--what a world!

Author Scott Nicholson said...

If the government is so intent on stamping out digital pirates, maybe they ought to start right here at Book Country...

Anonymous said...

absolutely correct advice here. i have published on smashwords myself and it really is easy, if someone wants a hand, hire someone for the specific job but don't give up your royalties. especially not for simple formatting.

Peter L. Winkler said...

To paraphrase the late Joseph Welch, we can all ask, "Have you no sense of decency, Penguin? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

Sadly, they've shown they don't.

Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel

Patricia JL said...

I saw an article about this on Passive Voice. This line: "Book Country also will take a fee for each sale on other online retailers, which also will take a percentage of each sale." Sounds like not only will Book Country take a cut, but the online retailer too. And does fee Book Country take from the $2.99 price include the cut of revenue sales this, "For a fee of between $99 and $549, plus a cut of any sales revenue", mentions? Or is that another cut they take?

Either way, it's ridiculous. Formatting and uploading isn't as difficult as some people think and if someone does have trouble, as Joe said, they can hire someone at a fraction of the cost and who doesn't take a portion of the profit from each sale.

Claudia Lefeve said...

Looks like a way for the Big 6 to capitalize on the success of self-pubbing that they claim is pure hype.

I invested $$ on editing, formatting, and cover art. I'm happy to say that after almost 3 months, I'll have already recouped everything I put in. Publishing on Amazon, B&N, and Apple was FREE.

Rebecca Forster said...

I traditionally published for years. Had some great success but was never sure where the money went. Recently an agent I had worked with contacted me to find out if I had heard about e-publishing? She offered to handle the uploading and cover for 15% forever. No thanks. I'm doing great on my own and loving it! Just remember - traditional or Indie - it's a lot of work. Thanks JA for the heads up!

Ron Dionne said...

I saw an article on it in The Wall Street Journal today and, planning a novel as an ebook original with an indie publisher, wondered if pairing with Penguin muscle might enhance the book's reach, and be worth their cut. But when I went to the site all I could find were works-in-progressm all being commented upon by other writers. Well-meaning, earnest, possibly useful--but not exactly a "publishing" operation. Thanks for confirming my suspicions.

KR Jacobsen said...

That's just plain outlandish. They're charging an order of magnitude more than some of the other sites I've seen, and taking more in the long run. Sadly, there's going to be people who don't do their homework and get ripped off.

Jodi Langston said...

Is it being published as a Penguin book?

Edward G. Talbot said...

For ebooks-only, formatted by the author, the fee is $99. Even at that price, what exactly is this buying me? I can go to Amazon, B&N, Apple, and soon Kobo, directly. Smashwords will distribute me for free everywhere I need except Amazon (granted, the meatgrinder is a negative there).

Trying to be objective about whether there is a time that this would make sense, I can see one scenario. If the following is true:

1.Book country allows a book to be posted for $99 and be sold only on Book Country (can't tell if this is an option)
2.Book Country doesn't take any rights for an extended period of time besides the right to sell it on Book Country
3.Book country will not change your price from the price you set.
4.You have reason to believe you will sell enough books solely on Book Country that you will make more than the $99.

#4 doesn't seem likely any time soon, so it's not worth spending much time figuring out whether the first three are true/possible.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Thanks for the heads up Joe. This sounds absolutely terrible. Shame on Penguin for becoming a vanity press.

Debra Maher said...

And there will be uninformed writers who convince themselves it's a good deal. Sad.

Steven Saus said...

Wow. I'm surprised (and saddened) at this development. I consider myself somewhat pricey for eBook conversion ($2/1000 words base price), but this is far more than I charge.

Even if I subcontract print layout, it still comes out to less than what they're asking. Oy vey.

Anonymous said...

As I said last year, many publishers are realizing there is some real money in putting SP books on line, and they don't take any chances on authors whose books never get any traction, which would be most of them. No one has ever commented on Curtis-Brown charging big bucks to "tutor" hopeful writers and "expose them" to their own agents. Now there is a story.Of course virtually none of them weill see print & a contract, but the company will have extracted their bite from them. Writer beware, there are a lot of eager mouths out there. Educate yourself now.

Hiroko said...

So...we would pay for them to do what we already do for free AND they keep a percentage?
They must think that self-publishers don't do research of the market.

Conda Douglas said...

Wow, am I the only one who sees this as a possible (greedy) move of desperation on the part of Penguin? They're getting into the vanity pub biz now? Wild days.

And I've said it before and will say it again: Writers, you are selling a product. YOU get paid, you don't pay!

Anonymous said...

Penguin is using a new motto: "A sucker is born every minute."

I bet they get a few naive writers to take advantage of. Shame on Penguin.

Adonis Marrero said...

I'm glad that Joe interrupted his blogging hiatus to let everyone know about this, especially those who don't know much about the self-publishing business.
If this is the way publishers are trying to dip their hands into the cookie jar, then there is no saving them.
I hope no one falls for this hogwash.

bettye griffin said...

What a scam. Penguin should be ashamed of themselves. With this move they have proven themselves to be no better than a common grifter...

J. R. Tomlin said...

I must admit I was unkind enough to laugh. This has been coming for a while and the only question was when would one of them try it.

Sad to say there will be a few naive authors who will fall for it so I'm sure Joe's "throw up in the mouth" reaction was more appropriate.

Sharper13x said...

Come on Joe, are you trying to tell us that a giant corporation would ever treat the public like suckers? How could they possibly get away with it? The "Free Market" (hollowed be it's name) would automatically step in, and then they'd be sorry. Penguin's name would be ruined!

Btw - has Penguin vetted these books in any way at all?

A vanity press by any other name, would smell as sweet.

Darlene Underdahl said...

You could also check with

My husband, Brian Underdahl, will turn your manuscript into an ebook and he is *very* patient with very good terms.

Silver Bowen said...

Wow. Charging a really high upfront fee and a huge chunk of royalties for a few hours work. This an insanely terrible deal for writers.

Neal Kristopher said...

Yeah, that's worth getting the word out for. Thanks, Joe. I looked into a dozen different avenues when I started the process of publishing my book and ended up hiring a company to design my (Totally awesome) cover and do my formatting, a different person for edits and while my cover editor was a friend and gave me a great rate, and I arranged a multiple cover contract with Deeply Dapper
, the Cover artist and designer, even bumping them to regular rates, I'll save hundreds of dollars releasing them myself. The only possible plus I could foresee is if the book might have some sort of higher priority listing or some nonsense. Bah!

David L. Shutter said...

Looks like a way for the Big 6 to capitalize on the success of self-pubbing that they claim is pure hype

Claudia: Exactly what I was going to say. We're sitting here wondering how the Big 6 will adapt to the growing e-market. There you have it! Sell the vanity and validation to the masses that crave it.

Is it being published as a Penguin book?

Jodi: I GUARANTEE that's what the marketing people sold the execs on. Newbs will look at the site and think: "Holy shit! All I have to do is click here and I'm e-pubbed with Penguin! Honey! Where's the debit card? We're about to get rich!"

Suzanne Tyrpak said...

This is a sad turn of events. Hopefully newbies will take the time to learn the ropes before getting roped into this scam.

Paul Salvette said...

Heard about this on Teleread, and it seems awfully scammy. The $549 price is an outrage, but at least they are providing some sort of service (albeit a very overpriced service of eBook formatting that is probably being farmed out offshore). As Edward Talbot mentioned, the $99 fee is even more troubling, because all they are doing is putting your book on their website when all the other players (Amazon, B&N, Smashwords) do it for free and have higher traffic.

Penguin must really think authors are complete morons.

Marie Simas said...

Joe, the target on your back just got bigger.

Victoria said...

I don't get much foot traffic on my blog but I'm going to blog about this anyway in case some hapless new writer is looking for information about self publishing and stumbles onto my blog.

What a crock! :(

Archangel said...

youre on the money JK. Just came back from evening with hope ebk writers. The naivete about how/ what/why/when/where and with whom, is just leaving them like bunnies before hawks.

I'd like to see an example of Book Country output. Ihear they are using clip art. That cant get more low.

I'll take this to the news site I write for. Thanks


Archangel said...

Paul S... prob I saw tonight, is that many h9opeful ebk authors are incredibly gullible... because they are so hopeful that someone, anyone will take them by the hand and lead them.... I sat with a 23 year old man who had it all down, he'll make it because, in part, he didnt grow up with old tech that seemed to stop time at 'desktop publishing" [remember that Methuselah?] ... compared to the 43 year old man across the aisle tonight who is still thinking in terms of fax machines, you get what I'm saying. There's something much more brain wired to old ways in older authors... and something different, faster on their feet in the 20 year olds. Just my .02 observation from three hours spent with authors of many different consciousnesses tonight.


Archangel said...

Joe, suggest you shoot this over to the National Writers Union NY, too, as they put out warning newsletters regularly with equiv of 'hall of shame' too, but mainly head's up re unfair tactics or /and rips offs.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't differ much from Vanity Publishing, except that they charge 30% royalties on top of their fee.

What do you get for that? A small Penguin trademark to 'legitimate' your work? Or not even that?

JO said...

If you follow the instructions in Catherine Ryan Howard's book SELF PRINTING you can do all the formatting etc yourself.

This is just exploitative - thanks for flagging this up.

adario strange said...

Glad you weighed in on this. I wrote about this yesterday: Why Penguin's self-pub ebook play is vulgar:

Anonymous said...

the other day a big London lit agency offered me the following epubbing deal:

1) I pay $300 up front;
2) They sign an agreement with an ebook producer, which turns my book into an ebook and uploads it to the main sites;
3) This company takes a 25% cut of net;
4) The lit agency takes a further 15% of net.

Maria Santicelli said...

Incredible ... there's a picture in my mind where birds of prey are circling over thirsty writers in a desert. *shakes head*

Thanks for the warning!

Adele Cosgrove-Bray said...

By sheer synchronicity I blogged about the same topic today, then saw your post in my feed. I hope there aren't too many people gullible enough to hand over $99 for the grand option of doing all the work themselves. Smashwords Styleguide is easy enough to follow, and is free - no hidden extra costs.

Unfortunately, there's one born every minute, and ventures like these feed off uninformed fantasies about the lovely publishing industry.

Did you notice in Book Country's FAQ they mention that they want exclusive epub rights?

Maria Santicelli said...

Btw, someone pointed me to a blog post by Kristine Rusch. She explains why publishers won't vanish, and how writers are actually helping them. Scary reading, but very informative, and it hopefully makes some of us think twice before signing a traditional publishing deal.

Sam said...

Bizarre and sad...I used to have a nostalgic love for Penguin because of their paperback classics-- hard to believe they would stoop to this.

On the bright side, the Book Country website is so cluttered and confusing it will fail to hook the technologically-challenged people vulnerable to such a scam.

Stephen Ames Berry said...

Sad to see my old publisher morphing into a grifter, preying on dreams and ignorance.

David Gaughran said...

Thanks for this timely and important post, Joe, I'll be pointing as many people as possible to it.

I seem to remember that in Penguin's last quarterly results their growth in digital was way behind the market.

This is a blatant rights-grab and pocket-picking specifically targeted at the newest and most inexperienced writers.

Shame on Penguin and all the establishment press - Publishers Weekly, GalleyCat, Wall Street Journal etc. - for giving them uncritical wall-to-wall covering. The WSJ piece was even headlined "Self-Publishers Get Help".


David Gaughran said...

A thought:

If you are paying Penguin to self-publish, does that make this vanity self-publishing?

Unknown said...

Thank you for explaining this in such detail.

CC Carlquist said...

Thanks a million. This is soooo timely!

Selena Kitt said...

Where are all the haters who say Konrath is just out for himself now? *rolling eyes*

I still continue to be stunned by the book industry's greed and hubris. I shouldn't be but I am.

And here I thought the target on your back couldn't *get* any bigger! :) I'd love to be a fly on the wall at the next Book Country meeting. Bet your ears will be burning, Joe.

James Marinero, author said...

I believe that this is only coming out of Penguin NY. In England, Penguin claim to know nothing about it, but writers here are already up in arms.

They are so shortsighted, when they could use their position to enter strongly against big A. And what do they do? They execute the best piece of de-marketing I've seen for years!

Heather Justesen said...

This is exactly what I thought whn I saw the announcement. If I'm going to self publish and pay for everything, why would I let them keep some of the profit? It doesn't make sense--unless you're Penguin and you're going to get paid from both sides.

Anonymous said...

Book Country apparently also does not provide book indexing for nonfiction books. That's another component of getting your book finished.

Nonfiction authors should simply Google "book index service" to find a list of reputable indexers. Be sure to compare prices.

Nancy Beck said...

Or for $299 they will let you do your own formatting, and then upload the book to retailers.

WTF? Oh, gee, isn't that nice of them to do that. And THEN they get 30% off the top, too?

Yeah, right. That's a REALLY good idea. Not.

I'll probably blog about this because it's such blatant b.s. that it defies logic.

Thanks for letting us know about this latest attempt to screw writers.

Night Terrors

Anonymous said...

George Carlin: "Just think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of them are even stupider-"

This is the Big 6's idea of 'adapting to the e-book revolution' - believe it or not.

Coral said...

Well I've been reading your blog for a while so when someone posted this (the article went on to say how self-published authors might be taken seriously because Penguin is jumping in to 'help' them) I knew right away it had SCAM! written all over it. hehe

Sean McCartney said...

Never saw something so shameless. Playing off others dreams is bad enough but ripping them off is worse. I have used the people Joe recommended and they are fantastic to work with and are not that expensive.
Thanks for looking out Joe.
The visual of you throwing up in your mouth was a bit much but it made its point. :)


I.J.Parker said...

I'm a Penguin-published author and shudder reading this. It's beyond greedy, and, yes, it sounds like a scam. In the past, I've complained about the miserable 15 % they pay me for e-rights they hold. Now I have to be ashamed their logo is on my books.

I used to love Penguin . . . before they became my publisher.

Anonymous said...

Vanity. Thy name is Penguin!

Hard to believe we've come full circle with such speed.

When I started independently publishing, only 9 months ago, I was warned that I was getting involved in vanity publishing and should be seeking to get published by reputable traditonal publishers like, oh... Penguin.

I joked about how taking up a deal with a legacy publisher, for very little financial reward, solely to see your book in print, was kind of almost like vanity publishing...

And now we're here.

You couldn't make it up.

Andy Conway
Publishing 11 titles before 11.11.11 on Amazon and Smashwords : 11 down, 0 to go!
How I Published 11 Books in 9 Months...

Chip Anderson said...


Mariner Software makes a writing product called Storymill. No problem there.

But Mariner refers Storymill purchasers to a company called TREKDEN.

Trekden says it will publish your ebook for FREE. Thats their hook to lure you in. But the writer only gets 25% of the net profit and signs away electronic rights.

Writer beware!

Chip Anderson said...

I will attempt to provide the link. Not sure it will work as I am still working on my geek merit badge.

Cathy said...

Thank you thank you thank you

A.G. Claymore said...

If this idea was any more idiotic, it could run for congress.

These guys are trying to leverage their name. Newbies will try this just so they can claim they were published by Penguin when they still end up sitting on the same electronic shelf as the rest of us (for less money).

Tahir (Exoplanets & Alien Solar Systems) said...

This is so unbelievable it leaves me speechless. Perhaps they think there are enough dishonest people out there that who would pay to be able to say that they are "published by penguin," deceitfully leaving out the "self hyphen" from the sentence.

David L. Shutter said...

Where are all the haters who say Konrath is just out for himself now? *rolling eyes*

Um...uh...but...his tone sucks and he's scumbag..or something.

Yeah Selena, hearing nothing but crickets here.

Jan Hurst-Nicholson said...

I wonder if they will publish anything that's thrown their way, or if they will use some sort of quality gate-keeping.

Jon Olson said...

HA! I wonder when you'd take aim at this. It's the arrogance of Penguin that really bugs me -- like their "book professionals" have figured out this system. The system's been there all along! Thanks for calling it like it is.

jon olson
The Petoskey Stone

SBJones said...

I read The Wall Street Journal article yesterday about penguin. A few people might get taken in what seems to be an obvious bad deal.

Most of us who have published something online through Amazon or B&N have done some level of homework and realize that publishing is a business and writing is a skill/art.

The people who need to be careful are the unpublished people who are using Book Country for the critique services and then are either approached or get to the point when they are ready for a low fee of $100-$550 and BAM they are published to the world. Unknowingly with a 30% leech attached to their side.

Matt J said...

Thanks for the info, Joe, as always. Not sure you'll be able to respond to my question, but I'm curious how you feel about (or if you've heard anything about) the Scrivener program's Compile and Formatting features for Kindle (and e-pub). I am curious if they work well, or if I should still contract out my formatting and just use the program for my writing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Joe! I will definitely avoid these loons...

Aric Mitchell said...

Matt J, I'm an absolute knucklehead, and I could figure out Scrivener's compiling functions in 5 minutes. That's how long the instructional video is on their site. It even shows you how to check your work to make sure the file is ready. It also compiles to Word, even if you don't have Word on your computer, and allows you to tweak the file and publish to Smashwords. I'd take that extra formatting money and push it towards cover-editing expenses.

David Leroy said...

Book Country is a train wreck. I was on the beta of this website. It was rolled out as a way to network, and create some kind of community to review your work, etc, etc. The website was slow. It was developed poorly. This is the first I have heard about these charages, but it completely makes sense to me. I saw it as their attempt to put themselves between Amazon and the author. Bingo. What a mess. I did get some reviews back, but Book Country is not the type of place for a historical novel. It is great for paranormal vampires.

Jessica L Buike (AuthorJess and Operation Relax) said...

Wow, what a load of cow pooey!! Thanks for sharing this info with the rest of us - I hadn't even bothered with Book Country because I'm generally too busy with other things, but if I had I would have been terribly disappointed at their fleecing of wonderful authors. It's not like any of us make any real money, unless we are Stephanie Myers or J.K. Rowling or something!!

Anonymous said...

Does no one (including Penguin) remember that Harlequin tried something like this two years ago, in partnership with AuthorHouse?

There was such a furore, including from their own authors, that they quickly back-pedalled and majorly distanced themselves from the idea, although I believe Dellarte Press still exists.

Todd Trumpet said...

I feel compelled to add another service to the list of Bewares:

"Cook Country"

"We all know how tough the restaurant business is. Well, not anymore. With Cook Country, WE take care of all the boring details of feeding people while YOU get to do what you do best - cook food.

Just send us all your recipes and a check for $500, and we'll send you a professionally designed menu. Then, whenever you sell a particular entree, we take only 30% - and no tip necessary!

Selling food is hard. You cook. We'll do the rest."

I mean, it sounds good...


Unknown said...

You should receive an award for your efforts to help new writers!

Unknown said...

Formatting an ebook isn't that hard. I paid someone $15 to have it done and he taught me one thing, it's not that hard. Smashwords isn't hard either if you follow the style guide. This is another example of how many companies out there are ready to take advantage of self published authors. So not only are we not good enough to get into a big 6 we now have to shell out money to them. I bet they are having a huge chuckle about this one, and I hope they get the backlash they deserve.

Regge Ridgway said...

On the other hand, if you are a self publishing author and want to appear to be published by Penguin, then it may be worth it. That is, if it increases sales by way of brand name affiliation. Just saying, as some people pay more for Lulu and Createspace. But I see your point too.

Unknown said...

To be honest, and it has been pointed out by another writer as well, formatting a book isn't all that difficult. The worst part about it is "nuking" it after you receive it back from your editor (this just takes out all the hidden bookmarks so when you place your bookmarks and hyperlinks, they work correctly).

Also, I found out you can save time, *not* nuke your book, download a free edition of Open Office, do all the paragraph indents yourself (the hyperlinks and bookmarks carry over from Word) and then save in MS Word 97 format. From there, you can upload to Smashwords. This is for their notorious meatgrinder process so you don't end up with wonky formatting. Uploading to Barnes & Noble and KDP (Amazon) is much easier. You can even make your *own* mobi doc and upload it to KDP.

As Joe says, just do your homework, join indie writer communities as they are a great place to find all the people you need for a professional cover, formatting (if you really don't feel like dealing with the headache), proofreading, beta readers and editors. I found my own editor through another indie writer, Jack Wallen, and she works for a small indie press company as well.

There is absolutely no reason to use this company and shame on the Wall Street Journal for using a photo of Amanda Hocking as if she has used Book Country when she never has to format or publish her books. That is false advertising and should be a red flag right there. ;-)

Rex Kusler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...


Longtime reader of your blog, first time commenting.

I find everything you say about eBooks and the future of publishing to be incredibly interesting and thought-provoking. Though I don't always agree with everything you say, I think you're doing all "newbie" writers a service by giving us (yes, I'm something of a scribbler myself) a different perspective than the "received wisdom" about the industry.

So, yes, I don't always see eye-to-eye with you on all topics. But this one...What on earth is Penguin thinking? I cannot fathom anyone going in for this deal. There is absolutely no benefit to the writer here. None. Whatsoever. The whole thing is just...confusing. An author can get this exact same service for considerably less upfront and without paying a percentage of future sales. Did Penguin really think no one would figure that out? Honestly, this is just mind-numbingly dumb.

It's a real service for you to call crap like this out so that, hopefully, no hapless writer falls for it.

Anonymous said...

I think it's kind of sweet that Book Country is thinking of us. I don't see it as a rip-off, I see it as offering 2001-style self-publishing in 2011. It's a chance to recapture our youth...

Anonymous said...

Whoa. Thank you so much, Joe, for coming out of your blogging hiatus to mention 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.

Aric Mitchell said...

Really thought this could help some of you, who are worried about how difficult it is to format. Nothing at all to worry about: Scrivener's tutorial can be found at

And nope, I don't work for 'em; I'm just a huge fan.

Claude Nougat said...

Thanks Joe for drawing attention to this new variant of "screw-the-writer hustle" as Ruth Harris so aptly put it!

The thing to focus on for any aspiring writer is whether you pay a fee for the service rendered or a percentage. As you so often say, and rightly say: Beware of percentages, they last forever! Just tweeted about it!

David L. Shutter said...

Why would any self-respecting writer pay that much money for self-publishing services, plus extra royalties on top of that?!!?

Because as revolting as this is, from the scammer's point of view, it's also brilliant!

What are the arguments that aspiring newbs still clinging to the traditional dream are gobbling up?

-ALL indie books have shitty quality.

-ALL Indie books suck.

-ONLY writers with print history are selling well.

-EVERYONE else gets hopelessly lost in the million Kindle books (exponentially more print books, but everyone keeps forgetting that)

And now here comes Penguin..ready to put their stamp on your forehead, and apparently, they're offering nothing else.

Sadly, they'll probably make a mint off this.

Stephen Knight said...

Wow, we all knew traditional publishing would eventually respond to the tidal shift in publishing...but I hadn't realized they would become another Publish America.

Mike Dennis said...

Good post, as always, Joe. But I'd go easy on the touting of Carl Graves if I were you. I tried contacting him four or five times several months ago about doing a cover and he never responded. I've read where he has done this to numerous other authors as well.

I'm sure his excuse is, "I'm very busy! With Joe Konrath promoting me, I get a lot of inquiries." Of course, you know as well as I do this is no excuse at all. Either you're equipped to handle the business or you're not.

And Carl Graves is apparently not.

David Gaughran said...

I blogged about this today as well. I think it's important to spread the message of how much of a rip-off this is as far and wide as possible.

I'm posting the link below to help with the Google juice. My post and Joe's post are already near the top of the first page on Google for search results like "Book Country", and links like this (back-and-forth) help with that.

Stephen Knight said...

I did the same:

Jim Kukral said...

I've got an idea for Penguin and other legacy publishers who don't get it. Here's what you do.

Stop thinking about how much money you can make, and instead start thinking about how much money you can make for your customers.

What a concept! Pretty much every super-successful business follows that model.

Nancy Beck said...

Wow, we all knew traditional publishing would eventually respond to the tidal shift in publishing...but I hadn't realized they would become another Publish America.

@Steven Knight - Hadn't thought of that, but now that I see it in make a very good point.

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

What a complete and utter rip-off!! God, don't do it. Anyone. Please.

Matt J said...

Aric, thanks for your comments about Scrivener formatting. I'm buying the program today! And the biggest problem I have with Book Country is, to quote Chris Matthews, they tried to play us all for fools! As if we're all stupid, doe-eyed English majors!

Darla Bruno said...

Oh no! Not another Publish America! Had to do triage on countless Publish America victims already! Eek.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the package include everything about how to legitimately market your ebook too, though? I mean, it's one thing to self-publish somewhere for free and have your mom buy it off amazon, but it's another to be successful. The price is insane and they have a lot of development left to do, but it seems different from all those sites... just playing devil's advocate I suppose.

David L. Shutter said...

Stephen Knight

I did as well..for all 3 of my followers, lol. linked to here and D. Gaughrans post, excellent overview there I didn't try to imitate.

Almost got sick reviewing the subject matter. Expect to see rip-off scams of any kind in a business people dream's the insult to the intelligence that has me livid.

Mother f*@{ers.

Stephen Knight said...


Shoot, I forgot all about adding the drunken Irishman's link, thanks for reminding me! Certainly took no prisoners with the title, I'll tell you.

Author Scott Nicholson said...

Don't forget Harlequin and Curtis-Brown also launched vanity arms, and Publisher's Weekly sells vanity review space. And apparently the major press is happy to vanity-publish the press releases of vanity presses and pass them off as legitimate news. The price of legitimacy is getting ever higher.

David Gaughran said...

Penguin have released a statement in response to criticisms of Book Country which has been printed in an article this morning by PaidContent.

Needless to say, they sidestep the major issues.

The reporter asked me a few questions, and Joe too, I think. We are both quoted.

They only used a small part of what I said, so here was my response in full to the reporter:

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 said...

Oh, and I believe comments on their statement are welcome, if anyone wants to pitch in :)

David L. Shutter said...

the Penguin logo is in the footer of the Book Country site so you can easily click to get an explanation of the fact that Book Country is a subsidiary of Penguin’s with its own dedicated staff.”

I love this one...what the hell kind of explanation to the original criticism was that??

We plaster the site with one of the most famous publishing logos in you can see that it's NOT actually US.

How about a "who are we" tab...or maybe an FAQ instead if you want to distance yourself, allegedly, form the company that clearly runs the operation to farm new talent?

Which is great! If it wasn't for taking royalties forever for doing what equates to holding your hat while you vomit one time.

Really..because we're not real writers we're supposed to be that stupid!?

Oh but don't foget the best..they manage your sales and payments.

Gee..thanks..I think.

David L. Shutter said...

Some more tidbits: from the original PW release of the service.

PW is quoting Molly Barton, director of business development at Penguin and president of Book Country:

Although Barton said that Book Country will eventually offer writers self-publishing services (e-books and print-on-demand) for a fee, she said the soft launch of the public beta site will focus initially on building the community they knew from DAY 1 that they were going to roll out the "pay-to-publish" service.

Barton, an editor for more than seven years before moving to Penguin business development, said Book Country is an effort to discover and nurture writers of sometimes hard to categorize genre fiction

Sooo...the people who are now finding success in Indies and are contributing to e-pub outselling paper, after years of rejection for work that never fit popular marketing molds, or blended genre's that were often poorly marketed, presented and left to fester or be dropped out of print altogether...are now the same kind of writers they're trying to capitalize on.

Now that others have done the hard work, made the personal expenditures and done the trailblazing to make the indie market the new "hot trend" every writer and reader is hearing about.

To paraphrase Joe:!

David Gaughran said...

So the writing community was a stalking horse for the self-publishing operation? Nice.

Now, imagine that a popular writer's community launched a self-publishing service - someone like Backspace, Absolute Write, or Critique Circle. There would be a firestorm, and for good reason. Writing communities are supposed to provide impartial advice on service providers - if the community starts providing those services (or even recommending them) there can be a conflict.

In this case, however, we have a Big 6 publisher who creates a writing community THEN attaches a rip-off self-publishing service to it, aimed squarely at newer, less experienced writers.

Nice work, Penguin.

David L. Shutter said...



Full press release here:

But here's some more that caught my attention:

Barton said that when she was an editor she often encountered writing she liked, but didn’t think she could sell. She said that Book Country will offer writers a chance to “prove us wrong when they get rejected. They can show us there’s an audience for their work.”

“When I was an editor I had a hard time saying no to authors whose work maybe didn’t quite fit on my list,” Barton said. “When I switched over to the digital publishing side, I wanted to find a way to harness the Internet in a better way to support writers.” Barton said Book Country is also targeting the contemporary phenomenon of “category blending,” and highlights genres like paranormal romance, that have become enormously popular categories

Sounds great! Very nice intentions...but look at what the end result is?

Patricia JL said...

"In all three packages offered by Book Country, our ebooks are individually hand-coded, not run through a software program with no human intervention."

Is it just me or does that sound like a crack at Smashword's meatgrinder?

David Gaughran said...

An excellent, thorough filetting of Penguin’s disingenuous statement.

David L. Shutter said...

Just checked JW Manus's post out...ouch, he was very blunt.

Been perusing, randomly clicking people's blog links on their side panels.

Virtually EVERYONE has a scathing post on this. Name a bloging writer...I mean everyone. I don't think we can shoot any more holes in this lame, non-flying bird.

Way to get the message traffic started Joe. Interesting to sit back and see what happens now.

Stephen Knight said...

Oh well, this is what happen when you go public with your con. More power to them, I hope Book Country and Penguin enjoy being ballistics magnets.

And David got a namecheck in the PC piece, advertising! I now take back everything nice I've said about him. :D

Gladys said...

Thanks so much for posting this - I have self published through createspace, kindle direct and smashwords because they were free and some other indie author friends had told me about them! Thank goodness I didn't see this site first.

David L. Shutter said...

Very interesting, and pretty uniform, responses to this issue.

If you have a min: Google Penguin Book Country.

My God, what a train wreck. Gonna be a tough Monday morning for some folks at Penguin tomorrow.

XFunc_CaRteR said...

Writers are losers when it comes to business. They focus on what they lose, not what they gain.

Here's something they teach in Business 101. When you make a company, you have to split it up. Losers think, "Wow I'm giving up a slice of the pie." Successful business people, on the other hand, realize that even though they are giving up a piece of the pie, the pie itself gets larger.

Put it another way, it may be worth giving up 30% of a product to get a manifold increase in sales.

Owning 100% of something which earns nothing is owning 100% of nothing.

Owning 70% of something which is on an established sales portal, and thus may earn far more money could be a better deal.

I don't know the details of Book Country, but it's stupid to dismiss deals out of hand because one has to give up a share of the pie.

Anonymous said...

what makes writers so gullable?

David Gaughran said...


These are the facts.

Amazon is the biggest bookseller in the world. They are on the way to controlling 50% of the overall US book market in 2012. They already control 60-70& of the US e-book market. They have millions and millions of customers in the US and across the world, several multiples bigger than their nearest competitor (of which there are many). If you upload direct to Amazon, you will keep 70% of your royalties.

If you upload to Amazon through Book Country, you will only keep 49% of your royalties (plus get charged a hefty upfront fee for the privilege). You will also get the advantage of their own direct sales channel. However, if anybody thinks that Book Country will be responsible for significant direct sales, they don't have a clue what they are talking about. Book Country's writing community has only 4,000 members despite the fact that it was founded almost seven months ago, is backed by the largest trade publisher in the world, and has received a huge amount of media coverage. Direct sales through their site will be miniscule.

No-one is dismissing anything "out of hand". We are aware of the details. This is a rip-off.

Sarah J. MacManus said...

Look, I'm a publisher, and even I can see this is a complete scam.

Now Penguin is no better than Publish America.

You either pay for services (editing, packaging, formatting) or you pay royalties - NOT BOTH.

I am so over the big 6, I can't even begin to describe it...

David L. Shutter said...


Since you're not aware of the details of this operation (or how indie pub is being done by many) I'll give you an analogy as it seems your speaking from a business background.

Your business plan. A fundemental step in you starting a new operation. Not easy or quick, but relative to everything else involved in your startup (your operating logistics, budgeting and your market research and analysis) typing the plan itself is an exceedingly minor task.

Lots of services, software and samples you can get to help. Not everyone's an expert on it starting out.

I do the same thing...but I'm chargine 2-3x more than virtually anything else out there.

But wait, there's more...I get a 30%cut of your whole business, forever, for only doing said minor admin task and absolutely nothing else.

I'm clearly targeting individuals starting out with zero or little practical what does that make me? Honestly?

Stephen Knight said...

It's a toss-up between savvy businessman and dirty rotten scoundrel. Some people might feel conflicted at having to make a choice like that. Thankfully, Penguin is not hobbled by this failing.

R.M. Prioleau said...

I really hope that newbie writers won't fall into this obvious trap. This needs to be posted on Writer's Beware. I really liked Book Country for the critiques and community involvement. Now, after seeing/learning about this, however, it sort of leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. This is an obvious scam and writers need to stay well away.

Btw, I'm an author and I do all of my formatting for my books. It's ridiculous easy, the process to format an ebook to kindle can be done in about 1-2 hours. Certainly not worth shelling out half a grand for someone else to do in about the same time. And who knows? They might be using a program to automate the process of converting manuscripts, which I wouldn't be surprised if that's what they're doing.

Sherry Roberts said...

I've been providing book production services for more than 20 years. And I know more than anything one of my services is handholding: talking to writers, explaining the process, offering advice.

Do you really think Book Country/Penguin will be a partner in your venture, be a consultant, and even a mentor? If so, I have a bridge to sell you.

Smart writers find trusted professionals and establish long-term relationships. Honest book production professionals provide work for hire. They get paid for their time and talent, and the author keeps all the profits from selling the book.

Jim Kukral said...

I've been thinking a lot about this, and I've come to the conclusion that the Book Country fail is good for self-publishing. Here's why.

H.L. Baker said...

Well, would ya look at the stones on these guys!
As a total newbie myself, I can honestly say I would never go for something like this.
Luckily, after reading this blog for a month, I know better than to get duped by something that reeks as bad as this.
Thanks for the info, Joe!

Anonymous said...

Here ia the CEO of penguin talking about Book Country Fast forward to minute 5:35

Katherine said...

I'm honestly astounded. Really? Almost $300 for self-formatting? Please. Those same $300 get me several boxloads of promo copies from CreateSpace, which, if I may point out, charges nothing up front, has a how-to for everything, and if there is any charge, it's for a proof copy, which is optional.

That's right, you can have a trad-pub print book for free.

Penguin really has some nerve. Self-publication had been designed to exclude the middle man, but here's the middle man stomping back over. Book Country is nothing more or less than a vanity press.

Cyn Bagley said...

Thanks for the info. I want to stay away from the con-artists in this business.

MK Maran said...

Hi Joe,

I am new visitor to your site. Its really very helpful post. I learn many thing about the self publishing.

Actually its make me to give a try to publish some useful information.

I like your post and blog. I have two web directories, I have included your site on my directories.

I will come back :)

Thank your for sharing.


Anonymous said...

Someone should buy and set up a warning site.

Hypno-NLP said...

" Learning Never Ends", After working for the world's biggest dot-com
company and having 5 ebooks on leading websites, I learnt from Book Country that Only I get an error when I upload ebooks even after formatting 5 times and trying for 2 days, even when their own system says that my format is error free. And, when I write to them, they say that " Oh we can upload it from here but we don't face any problems"...It's fun when you don't mention in your profile that you worked for world biggest dot-com company..Anyways. Time to focus on other upcoming publications. The authors rule the content and not the publishers ! So what exactly is FREE SELF PUBLISHING ? Cheers Bye.

Hypno-NLP said...

Whenever I tried uploading on Book Country it always says, error saving project. And when you write to them they say " We can upload it from here". It is fun sometimes, not to mention in the profile that you managed sales and marketing for leading dot-com in the world. It is funny to see how you can upload 5 books on Amazon or anywhere and not on book country, I scratched my head on the meaning for free self-publishing.

Anonymous said...

Book Country lures would-be authors with the possibility 0f Penguin noticing their book and offering them a book deal. From what I can tell, no one has gotten a traditional book deal - books have been published as e-books. (Not that there's anything wrong with that. Thank you, Jerry Seinfeld.) But I think a lot of people are dreaming of book deals with hardcover books and book tours and all the rest. Dream on. They have a literary fiction section, but a huge portion of the books workshopped on the site, and that seem to receive the most attention, are fantasy fiction. Fine, if you like that genre. But the whole site seems oriented toward that genre.

Anonymous said...

Can someone please recommend a good illustrator?