Short interruption of my work time for a public service announcement. Penguin, a large and well-regarded publishing house, has announced that their subsidiary, Book Country, will offer publishing services.
The prices are extremely high, ranging from $99 to $549 depending on what services you ask for. Understand that those prices don’t include editing or cover art, which are the most expensive services a writer might need. But the kicker is that it’s not just a flat-rate service center for self-publishers. After publishing, Penguin will also keep a 30% royalty on your book profits (that is, everything after Amazon or B&N or whoever takes their own cut).
No actual contracts have been seen yet, so it’s not clear whether this is an in perpetuity clause, or whether there is any way you could reclaim your rights in the future. Apparently they issue the ISBN in their name, so they essentially “own” this edition of your work. I assume there is a non-compete clause to keep you from publishing your own edition later on. Without seeing a contract there is no way to tell yet what other damaging clauses might be included.
This is a terrible idea for lots of reasons and writers shouldn’t fall for it. This is not Penguin offering a traditional publishing contract. They aren’t giving you an advance, and they will not offer your book as one of their own. They expect you to pay all the upfront expenses, but they still take a cut of the profits even though they bore no risk at all in publishing your book. Publishers who offered this kind of deal in the past were called vanity publishers, and writers were justifiably warned away from them.
Publishing a book is a lot of work, and many of the tasks require skills that you as an author might not have. That’s one reason for the Services section of my Resouces for Self-Publishers page. But the folks I list take a flat fee for service, not a royalty for life. What Penguin is asking for is not in your best interests as an author, and it’s important to realize this if you haven’t published before.
More analysis of the service is online at Book Country Fail, a post by Joe Konrath, and Penguin Launches Rip-Off Self-Publishing Service by David Gaughran. There’s also a lengthy discussion thread at the Kindleboards Writer’s Cafe.