Sucker Country

With the launch of Book Country, Penguin is the latest major publisher to open a "self-publishing" division aimed at taking advantage of the desperation and naivete of aspiring authors and charging them outrageous amounts of money for useless publishing "services."

Joe Konrath,  David Gaughran, and many others have done a terrific job of outing Book Country for the enormous rip-off that it is.  Here's how Joe sums up their "service:" 

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 is less costly than Book Country, and Rob does an incredible job.

After formatting, you should upload your books to Createspace,KindleNook, 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. 

It's a con job aimed at people too naive to know how badly they are getting screwed…usng the same playbook as scammers like Authorhouse (the vanity press that Harlequin and Thomas & Nelson partnered with for their "self-publishing services")

The one smart thing Penguin has done is make it very clear that this "service" has nothing to do with their esteemed publishing division, thus avoiding the big landmine that Harlequin stepped on when they initially announced their own division aimed at gouging aspiring authors.

If you click on the Penguin logo at the bottom of the Book Country site, you get a disclaimer, which reads in part:

Book Country, LLC is a subsidiary of Penguin Group, a Pearson company. Though owned by Penguin Group (USA), Book Country is a separate entity, both legally and practically with full-time Book Country staff members. 

In other words, they've erected a Chinese wall between their reputable, classy publishing imprint and this sleazy, vanity press-style cash-grab from aspiring writers.  

They are being careful not to potentially tarnish their brand, provoke the ire of their established authors (who don't want their work associated with a vanity press), or face possible delisting by the major, professional organizations for writers.  

But that doesn't make Book Country any less of a rip-off. Shame on Penguin.

13 thoughts on “Sucker Country”

  1. I can see why Penquin’s existing stable of authors would want to jealously guard their exalted 25% commissions against a crowd of wannabes eager to move on up from 49% – wait a minute…
    Is this book country thing just another comedy bit from Onion news?

  2. I think the verdict is in on Book Country–a total scam. Charging $549 to format an eBook/print book is a complete outrage, and they don’t even edit. You’re the fifth author I’ve seen warn people against this, and thank you for the words of caution.

  3. Hi Lee,
    Thanks for the mention and for helping to spread the word about Penguin’s vanity-esque self-publishing imprint.
    I don’t buy the “Book Country is a separate legal entity” defense either. It was founded by Penguin. It is wholly funded by Penguin. It is staffed by Penguin staff. The demonstration for the media of Book Country’s website took place in Penuin’s offices. The head of Book Country is still employed by Penguin, and was just last week promoted to Global Digital Director (from the position of Vice President, Digital Publishing, Business Development & Strategy). In addition, in that interview with Penguin CEO David Shanks that I linked to in my post, he described Book Country as Penguin’s “farm team”.
    Finally, with the irony seemingly lost on Penguin themselves, the statement issued defending Book Country and underlining that it was a separate legal entity came from… you guessed it, Penguin.

  4. From what I’ve gathered from some authors, they have no desire to spend their time formatting, editing, or anything along those lines. Trying to convince them how ultimately easy it is is something I quit doing a while back.
    Even today, there are people who expect a computer to “just work” and have no patience to learn how to help the computer do the work. I spent an incredibly frustrating week initially, but once it’s learned it’s incredibly simple and easy to properly format your work for eBooks. There are far too many people who don’t want to do anything more than basic email, Web, and documents.
    Plus, let’s face it, there are a lot of people who are NOT going to read the whole thing, who are NOT going to read the fine print, but you can bet they’ll say, “Well, Penguin is publishing my book in (whatever month).” As far as they concerned, that’s that.

  5. Penguin Putnam already tried to scam writers back in 2002.
    So last year Conover enrolled in a new writing course offered by InsideSessions, a joint venture between Penguin Putnam and Universal Music Group. Advertised as an “Internet-based learning program that teaches you everything you need to know to transform your passion for writing into a published work,” the distance-learning course features video clips of authors such as Kurt Vonnegut, Amy Tan and Alice Hoffman dishing advice about writing and publishing.
    But what really drew Conover to the class wasn’t the course. It was the lure of getting his work read by a real Penguin Putnam editor. As part of “WritingSessions Plus,” for a $119.90 fee, a 7,500-word excerpt of one of his manuscripts would be read and critiqued by an editor at one of the publisher’s 27 imprints.
    About 400 manuscripts have received critiques so far, but as of this month, InsideSessions has hired outside editors to read and respond to the manuscripts, “under Penguins’ supervision,” according to Lori Weintraub, president of InsideSessions. Now, the course’s Web site promises only that “a professional editor” will read and respond to the manuscripts. InsideSessions won’t reveal the identity of these editors beyond asserting that they have many years of experience in publishing.
    Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel

  6. I examined their site at length, thinking perhaps the company would supply professional packaging and cover design for that price, but no; you get canned “help” in designing your own covers.
    They list numerous genres and subgenres, but not westerns, which indicates the parlous state of the dying genre. Not even a pay-up-front self-publishing operation wants to deal with them.

  7. Heck, there is a list of people who will format your book for Smashwords on Mark’s List (Smashwords founder) who will format your book, some as low as $20. I’d do it for that unless it had footnotes or images. It’s that easy. No need at all to pay anyone upwards of $100 to format your book for I do hear that it’s a bit more difficult to format for Amazon and Nook. I haven’t tried those personally, so I cannot comment on those.

  8. Beginning writers, full of dreams and hopes and unfortunately not often well informed, make the very easiest targets — as Penguin no doubt knows.
    I understand, from a corporate viewpoint, wanting to rake in some of the huge cash being made right now on something relatively easy: writer with good book bypasses agents and editors and publishers and goes straight to the readers, sometimes making large amounts of money.
    But Penguin doesn’t need the big names to make lots of money on this. If they have enough writers selling just a few books –even if only to friends and family — they will have an incredible cash flow.
    For my money, though, literary agencies publishing their writers is far worse because they are parading as advocates for the writer while closing their eyes to the many conflicts of interests involved.

  9. Beginning writers are such vulnerable targets. They are so filled with dreams, and often have so little information. They are very easy prey. Scams have come a long way from the 1990s, when “agents” required large amounts of money for editing before “submitting” books to publishers, but as long as there is a very vulnerable group of people (hopeful writers) there will be people to prey on them. I think literary agents “publishing” their writers is worse because it exploits what should be a trust relationship. Penguin doesn’t actually owe beginning writers anything.

  10. They’re charging $549 for something Smashwords gives you a free tutorial for? Formatting for Amazon is literally a mouse click (save as mobi format) if you have the formatting right in the first place. I might hand it over to someone else for $20 but I’d rather use the money for getting a decent cover.


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