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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Country vs. Smashwords

Book Country, an online writing community and self-publishing one-stop shop, recently announced it has lowered its prices to self-pubbed authors, which effectively puts it head-to-head against Smashwords.

If you recall, much of the self-pubbed community rallied against Book Country when they first announced the self-publishing arm of the site, mostly because the prices to create an ebook were outrageous, and the royalty rates were not favorable to the author.

Originally, Book Country charged anywhere from $99 and up to self publish an e-book.  On top of that, they took 30% of the royalties, which meant if you had a book distributed through, say, Amazon for $2.99, Amazon would take their cut (about $0.90) and Book Country would shave off another 30% ($0.62), leaving the author with about $1.47.  It wasn't a scam, but it wasn't in any author's best interest, either.

But that's all in the past as Book Country's model has changed, allowing authors to publish and distribute an e-book for free through all the usual suspects, and to sweeten the deal, authors keep 85% of the net, which is the same as what Smashwords offers.

For the heck of it, I gave Book Country a try.  As I was already familiar with Smashwords "meat grinder" approach to creating an e-book, I was curious how it compared to Book Country's more "Do It Yourself" approach.

For starters, I attempted to upload an already-published ePub file, just to see what  Book Country's online editor thought of it.  Bzzzt!  Wrong answer.  It rejected the file with a cryptic message.  Something like Thanks for playing, please try again.  I couldn't find any help on the actual error, though for $59.00 I could've hired someone at Book Country to deal with the issue for me.  Guess it depends on what your aggravation-to-$$$ ratio is, but the price seems reasonable enough to me.

Next, I tried uploading a Word doc of my manuscript.  I had no problems with the upload, but I received something like 385 errors in the document.  Fortunately, the online editor showed me where all the errors were and even categorized them into groups, which was convenient,  but I was a little annoyed with its lack of help from there.  If the editor can find the errors, it should be able to correct them, in my opinion.  But then again, there's always that handy link next to the editor where you can pay to have someone else fix the problem for you.  This isn't a knock at Book Country, but more or less a request that they build a bigger knowledge base for common formatting issues, and possibly add a little "fix all" or even a "find & replace" button, so you don't have to perform the same fix a hundred times.  A way around this is to make all the changes in Word or whatever program you use and re-upload the file, but, hey, they went to the trouble of building an online editor, so why not make it do most of the grunt work, right?

Smashwords isn't any better when it comes to fixing formatting issues.  In fact, Book Country might even have an advantage here, because you can actually see where the errors are, but since Smashwords has been widely used for a while now, it's a lot easier to find issues on the web, and there's a nice detailed instruction manual you can read to figure out most of the problems yourself.  At Book Country, I get the feeling they're purposely being vague to get you to buy services.  Then again, I feel that way about anything that doesn't work easily the first time.

Since I didn't have the hours to correct all the issues, and I wasn't ready to throw in the towel and pay for a service to do it for me, I didn't get to the distribution part, but according to the site you can sell your e-books through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Google, Kobo, Scribd, and Sony.  (By comparison, Smashwords distributes to B&N, iTunes, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, Baker & Taylor, and Page Foundry.)  I didn't see it spelled out anywhere on Book Country's site, but I imagine you can pick and choose which sites you want to distribute to, as with Smashwords.  If that's the case, what I'd suggest is to upload to the sites that you sell the most books, and use Book Country for wider distribution.  So, for example, if you get most of your sales through Barnes & Noble and Amazon, then upload to Pubit (B&N) and KDP (Amazon) yourself.  That way you keep the bulk of the royalties.  Then, use Book Country to distribute to the other sites, so you get the benefit of the widest distribution possible.

Another feature worth mentioning is what Book Country calls BookStubs.  These are gift cards with your book cover on one side and a code on the other side to unlock one free copy of your e-book from the Book Country store.  It's a nice piece of promotion to hand out as prizes or at conferences, but the cost is a bit high.  $49.00 gets you ten BookStubs, while $69.00 gets you twenty.  For half that price and ten times the quantity, you can offer free download codes from Smashwords and make your own cards or bookmarks, but again, if you don't want to do it yourself, Book Country's got a service for that.

All in all, I'd say Book Country stepped up their game, and if you're looking for an alternative to Smashwords, you should definitely take at look at Book Country.  Because of its newness, Book Country still has some bugs to iron out, but as authors migrate over, I'm sure there will be more how-to articles to make the process easier and less expensive for everyone.  Also worth mentioning, Book Country is owned by Pearson (Penguin's parent company) though the two companies are not linked in any meaningful way that benefits the author.  It would've been nice to be able to put the little penguin logo on my books, but, yeah, that ain't happening.  Oh, well.

Happy writing, everyone.      

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