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Penguin Group Builds Its Own Vanity Self-Publisher

The pressure is on publishers to demonstrate that they actually serve a useful purpose these days. Some writers make more money with e-book self-publishing than the traditional print route, which is bad news for an industry in which sales are stagnant at best and giant corporations aren't as necessary as they once were.

But not to worry, some managers are hard at work to harvest people's dreams and make a few bucks. Just look at Penguin Group, which has crossed manuscript slush pile discouragement with online tools to create publishing's newest wonder: the social-network vanity publisher.

The new service is called Book Country, in which people can "[r]ead, explore, and review original genre fiction with an active community of writers, readers, and experts." As Julie Bosman reported in the New York Times:

In its initial phase Book Country will allow writers to post their own work -- whether it's an opening chapter or a full manuscript -- and receive critiques from other users, who can comment on points like character development, pacing and dialogue. Later this summer the site will generate revenue by allowing users to self-publish their books for a fee by ordering printed copies.
The books will be marked as published by Book Country, not Penguin. (Disclosure: I've written multiple books for Penguin imprints.) The company hopes that the site can attract writers, agents, and publishers who will somehow find each other and bring new works to market.

But whom are we fooling? This is an attempt to make money off the venerable slush pile because, after all, editors don't really have time to go through all those manuscripts, most of which will be disappointments. Book Country focuses on genre fiction because that's the interest of most would-be authors, so it has the chance of attracting a larger number of writers. This is a business venture, not some literary charity:

Later this year, Book Country will offer a convenient and affordable way to self-publish eBooks and print books. With a variety of services available, we want you to be able to put your book on the map. As Book Country grows, we will continue to offer additional features and services we think you will appreciate.
Yes, they want to put your book on the map -- for a price. And the traditional name for this business is vanity publishing. Companies play on the hopes of those who want to be writers. Such a business makes its money providing services that will likely lead to nowhere. Because, if Penguin thought that someone would make significant sales, it would offer a regular publishing contract. Clearly some manager read Ecclesiastes and decided to apply it: Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

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