The Fine Print of Self-Publishing fifth edition

WINEPRESS

http://www.winepresspublishing.com

FORMAT OF BOOKS: Paperback or hardcover

GENRES ACCEPTED: WinePress has a description on its website indicating what it will and will not print (details at http://www.winepresspublishing.com/publishing/guide_quality). Specifically, the company will not print (a) anything that offends or denies the deity of Jesus Christ or the triune nature of God; (b) un-Biblical or “fad” theology, such as prosperity doctrine and hyped-up revivals; (c) any material that represents or promotes the confusion of Biblical gender roles or relationships, such as women in spiritual authority over men; (d) manuscripts that contain foul language or are crude, sexually explicit, or excessively violent in nature; and (e) libelous or slanderous content, or any other material that may be deemed illegal or immoral.

Considering that WinePress continued posting a press release calling me a liar after a federal court proved otherwise, I’m guessing that its standards about not printing libelous content are not too strict.

PUBLISHING FEES: Up until early October 2010, this publisher offered five main packages (other packages for color books). Complete details and a comparison of the packages are found at http://www.winepresspublishing.com/publishing/comparison. For purposes of this review, only the Starter and Advantage publishing packages are covered, since those are the only ones for which the company provides printing and distribution models on its website. Note that both of the packages described in this review require that the author purchase editing services. The cheapest package is now $1,499 (as opposed to the former White Ribbon Package, which was $999).

Starter Package: This package costs $1,499 and is almost identical to the former Pleasant Word Yellow Package (except that it’s $200 more). It includes:

  • ISBN

  • Bar code

  • Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN)

  • Ten free copies of the book

  • Standard interior formatting

  • Standard cover design with two hours of design time

  • Editing requirement: It appears that authors who choose this package are required to pay for their manuscripts to be edited for an additional fee. The company no longer lists the editing prices on its website. In the previous edition of this book, this package included the choice of a copyedit (grammar, spelling, syntax, and punctuation at $4.50 per page) or a pre-typeset read (spelling and typos at $0.50 per page). All Starter and Advantage authors must pay for proofreading in addition to copyediting after the manuscript is typeset, and the fee was $3.00 per page at the time that the previous edition of this book was published (it may have gone up since that time). If the author doesn’t know his finished page count, WinePress calculates 250 words per page. Assuming that the editing costs are the same as they were when the last edition of this book was released, this means that the author is required to pay $4.00—$7.50 per page for editing. This means that, for example, copyediting and proofreading a 200-page manuscript would add between $800 and $1,500 to the cost of this package.

  • Listing with online booksellers: Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com

  • Espresso Book Machine availability: This is a print-on-demand machine, connected to Lightning Source, from which your book could be printed in a bookstore for purchase in a matter of minutes. (On paper, this sounds great, but currently there are only a handful of locations that house an EBM—the machine costs bookstores and libraries around $75,000.)

  • Distribution through Ingram (via its Lightning Source printing service) R.R. Bowker’s Books In Print listing

  • Book return service

  • Author discount of 58 percent off of the retail price (when author purchases copies of his book)

Advantage Package: This package is closest to the company’s former Blue Ribbon Package, except it’s $700 more and you now get less. The package costs $2,999 plus editing fees and includes every service in the Starter Package, plus:

  • Premium cover design (five hours of design time)

  • Distribution through ChristianBooks.com

  • Tirty free copies of the book

  • Toll-free number customers can call to order the book

  • Author blog (for an example, see http://athenadean.authorweblog.com/)

  • Authors can purchase books at 62 percent off of the retail price

OTHER SERVICES OF INTEREST: WinePress offers a variety of marketing and publicity packages, which can be found at http://www.winepresspublishing.com/services/overview. The company doesn’t list the prices anywhere, so I can’t add much. However, take the lack of transparency about the pricing for what it’s worth. The service description pages are filled with buzzwords, but not specifics.

RETURN OF DIGITAL COVER AND INTERIOR FILES: WinePress, of course, does not provide information regarding the return of original production files. However, the contract that I was able to get in April of 2010 states that the “Publisher will maintain ownership of the specific printer-ready cover and typesetting files produced.” I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the “makeover” likely hasn’t affected contract terms.

RETAIL PRICE OF AUTHOR’S BOOK: WinePress’s retail prices are based on the page count, trim size, and cover of the book. A full discussion and examples of retail prices are available at http://www.winepresspublishing.com/publishing/guide_retail_prices. A 200­page paperback will retail for $17.99 unless it is 8.25″ x 11″ (then it will retail for $19.99). Depending on the type of book, such a retail price may be too high. If the book is a 200-page novel and priced as WinePress requires, it is priced way outside of what the market will bear. If it’s a business book or how-to book, this price might be a bit closer to where it should be.

PRICE AUTHOR PAYS FOR BOOKS: Author discounts are based on the retail price and vary from package to package. But guess what? WinePress only provides the author discount for the Starter and Advantage Packages. So, for the really expensive packages, you have no idea what type of discount is provided when you purchase copies of your own book. We know that with the Starter Package, and author can purchase copies if his own book for 58 percent off of the retail price (http://www.winepresspublishing.com/publishing/starter) For the Advantage Package, it’s 62 percent off of the retail price.

If you publish a 200-page, 6″ x 9″ paperback under the Starter Package, your prices will look like this:

$17.99 Retail price

-$10.43 Author discount (58%)

$7.56 Author price per book

-$3.90 Printing cost

$3.66 WinePress profit

This is a 94 percent markup!

What’s really egregious is the fact that the publisher gives the author the same discount for ordering one book as it does if the author orders one thousand, even though the publisher gets significant price breaks on printing as the quantities go up.

Because many of WinePress’s books are printed at Lightning Source, instead of just merely using examples from the company’s website, it’s helpful to look at the actual prices WinePress authors pay for their books. Even under the most favorable scenario to WinePress, its printing markups are even more inflated than the examples used on its website. I took a random sample of three Pleasant Word (now called WinePress) authors. Giving WinePress the benefit of the doubt (which is hard to do), I assumed that each author was eligible for the higher printing discount available (62 percent). The following examples were used in my defense during the court case and were not disputed by Pleasant Word (WinePress).

Evelyn Geisler’s book, Sweet Talks with God, has a retail price of $13.99. It has 112 pages. Assuming Geisler receives the 62 percent discount, she would pay $5.32 per copy. WinePress’s actual print cost is $2.58 per copy, resulting in Ms. Geisler paying a 106 percent printing markup.

Virginia Garberding and Cecil Murphey’s book, Please Get to Know Me, has a retail price of $13.99. It has ninety-two pages. Assuming the authors receive the highest discount possible, they would pay $5.32 per copy. With WinePress’s actual print cost at $2.78 per copy, this would result in a 133 percent printing markup, which, in my opinion, is excessive and inflated.

W. Jay Pilgrim’s book, Lost and Found: A Love Story, has a retail price of $18.99. It has 250 pages. Assuming Pilgrim receives the highest discount possible, he pays $9.12 per copy, while WinePress’s actual print cost is $4.65 per copy. In my opinion, a 96 percent printing markup is also excessive and inflated.

If these authors order more than fifty books at one time, WinePress’s printing costs decrease, but the author’s purchase price stays the same. WinePress provides the same discount percentage whether the author orders one book or one thousand. If Garberding and Murphey purchase 250 copies of their book from WinePress, the publisher’s print cost goes down by 20 percent, to $2.22 per copy, but none of this savings is passed to the authors. So, Garberding and Murphey pay a 139 percent printing markup on this larger order. The more copies of a book the author orders from the publisher, the more they pay for printing per book.

ROYALTIES PAID TO AUTHOR: For details on retail pricing, handling fees, and bookseller discounts, refer to http://www.winepresspublishing.com/publishing/guide_royalties.

WinePress claims to pay the author 100 percent of the net profit. The publisher defines net profit as the retail sale price less the bookseller’s discount, the author’s discounted price (a.k.a., actual printing cost plus markup, disguised as actual print cost), and the handling fee of $1.95 per book sold on the WinePress website. However, visit http://www.winepresspublishing.com/publishing/comparison and you’ll see that for the very expensive packages, instead of making “100 percent of net profit,” authors make between 70 and 80 percent of all “net wholesale and retail sales.” So which is it? Another head-shaker.

For the $17.99, 200-page paperback (Starter Package) sold on Amazon.com, the author earns the following:

$17.99 Retail price

-$7.56 Author price per book

$0.54 Author royalty

That’s a puny royalty, consider that WinePress is making $3.66 (the printing markup) on each sale—almost seven times what the author makes!

For the same book sold through WinePress’s online bookstore, the author makes:

$17.99 Retail price

-$7.56 Author price per book

-$1.95 Handling fee

$8.48 Author royalty

The big problem with “net profits” is that if they aren’t clearly defined, publishers like WinePress can add all sorts of markups, call them “publishing costs,” and voila—you have “net profits.” Since “net profits” is defined however WinePress wants, the statements on its website aren’t outright lies, but are certainly misleading. Take the first two bullet points at http://www.winepresspublishing.com/publishing/guide_royalties:

  • WinePress royalties are based on the book price at point of sale, minus publishing costs.

  • You receive 100 percent of the net profit on all sales of your book.

When you look at those, do you get the sense that “publishing costs” include a 94 percent printing markup? The author makes 100 percent of the profits after WinePress nearly doubles the printing price and adds a handling fee. The handling fee is acceptable. While I would never agree to a 100 percent printing markup, as long as the publisher discloses it and you can live with it, the royalty under this scenario is fine. Just keep in mind that for every book sold by an author, at least in our previous example, WinePress is making $5.61 after printing costs.

The most misleading part of the WinePress royalties page is bullet point number four, which states: “We charge a straightforward package premium instead of artificially inflating printing costs.” Talk about insulting one’s intelligence! The distinction between a “package premium” and “printing cost markup” is semantic only. It talks about not hiding printing costs, but on the very same page provides a sample of printing costs that are marked up between 75 and 93 percent. Publishers have a right to mark up printing as high as they want, but saying that you don’t artificially inflate printing costs (when you actually do) is dishonest. It’s even more insulting when you go to the company’s “Our Team” page (http://www.winepresspublishing.com/about/team) and the executive publisher states that the company doesn’t use “flashy sales gimmicks.”

On the same webpage where WinePress claims it doesn’t inflate printing costs, it provides sample calculations of printing costs for a standard 200-page paperback. The more an author pays WinePress in up-front fees, the less the printing markup. So in their example, the author purchasing the Advantage Package pays a printing cost of $6.84 per book printed, while the Starter Package author pays $7.56 per book printed. The prospective author viewing this page would not know that these printing costs are marked up 73 to 93 percent.

Prior to the demise of the Pleasant Word website, “package premium” had a link embedded in it, which stated:

This means that Pleasant Word retains a percentage of each sale.


Why do we do this?

Pleasant Word provides continued customer service on your distribution and sales. And, as part of the WinePress Group, we actively engage in advertising and marketing initiatives that promote our brand, draw customers to our bookstore, and provide “across the board” benefits to all of our authors.


The package premium helps us to help our authors sell books.

With other publishers, this is often hidden in the “printing cost” and authors receive far less benefits in return, so don’t be fooled.

This section of the website was a big focus of the court case and now, conveniently, is gone.

WinePress allows authors to give readers a 27 percent discount on books sold through its website, which may result in higher sales, but will also decrease the author’s royalty per book.

$17.99 Retail price

-$7.56 Author price per book

-$4.86 Reader’s discount

-$1.95 Handling fee

$3.62 Author royalty

Note that WinePress makes $5.61 on this sale, too. The 27 percent discount is a great feature and helps a slightly overpriced book get to a better retail price, but only for sales on the publisher’s website. The author can take the 200-page book that retails for $17.99 and sell it for as low as $13.09. But, even with that discount, the publisher is still making more than the author is for each sale.

To suggest that the author makes 100 percent of the net royalties is very misleading, because this definition includes excessive printing markups. The average author looks at that 100 percent and doesn’t do the math. You can’t inflate the “expenses” and at the same time pretend that the author is making all the money. But don’t just take my word for it. Here is what United States District Court Judge Richard Jones said about Pleasant Word/WinePress’s word games:

It [Pleasant Word, now WinePress] defines “net profit”in two inconsistent ways. First, it explains that “net profit” is the “actualsale price minus the printing cost,” but if this is the case, then Pleasant Word does not merely charge authors the actual printing cost, but an additional markup as well.

NOTABLE PROVISIONS OF THE PUBLISHING AGREEMENT: The company does not post its publishing contract on its website. WinePress no longer permits people to sign up and pay for a package directly on its site. The only way to get any real information is to indicate your interest in WinePress and provide all of your contact information (via an online “Quote Request” form). I was on a live chat with customer service rep Adam Cothes, and I asked him, “So, is it your company’s position that unless I provide you my personal information, I can’t see a contract?” His response: “Yes, that’s our position.”

Any company that won’t provide a contract for review without any requirement on your part is one that you should skip. (Should anyone want to see the entire online chat, just ask me—I had the entire chat emailed to me.)

I was able to get a copy of the Pleasant Word (now WinePress) contract as of 4/22/2010. I presume that nothing in the contract pertaining to important issues has changed, despite the makeover. Again, what follows is based on the contract as I last saw it.

“Author Right to Ownership” grants to the publisher a nonexclusive right to print and publish the work. The author can sell and distribute the book while the contract is in effect and can also terminate the contract at any time. While the author owns the book and the cover concept, the publisher owns the print-ready cover and interior files: “Author has the right to make copies of the cover (front and back) for purposes including, but not limited to, advertising and promotional material. Author will be supplied, upon request, with PDF files of the final published version of the Work (including cover) within 90 days of publication. Author requests for files after 90 days will incur a fee for archive retrieval.”

So while you’re paying for these things to be created, you don’t actually own any of them. If you decide to publish elsewhere at a later time, you will need to pay someone to recreate the interior and the cover.

“Copyright, ISBN/Library of Congress” states that the publisher will procure an ISBN, register the copyright in your name, and obtain an LCCN. These add-on services are a nice perk, because the services alone are worth around $100.

“Publisher Standards” outlines offensive materials that the publisher will not publish (see the genre section of this review). If an author submits offensive material, the publisher will allow the author to modify the material. If the author refuses to change the objectionable material, the agreement will effectively be cancelled, and the publishing fees will be refunded, with the exception of all fees and costs incurred up to that point and an administrative charge equal to 10 percent of the original payment.

The “Publication and Distribution” section makes it clear that the distribution is purely print-on-demand. This section also states that there is an annual maintenance fee to keep the files active, but the actual fee isn’t spelled out in the contract.

The “Dispute Resolution” section is very interesting. If there is a dispute between you and the publisher, you must first attempt to resolve it using their “standard dispute resolution procedure” (which the contract states is online, but I couldn’t find it). Ten, if that doesn’t work, you can submit the claim to arbitration—but any action you take must comply with the company’s “No Gossip” policy (http://www.winepresspublishing.com/about/no_gossip). While the “No Gossip” page doesn’t expressly state the author’s limitations, it alludes to them: “Terefore, our No Gossip policy guards the interactions, struggles, and joys between authors, printers, and WinePress staff.”

Assuming that the contract has not substantially changed, it is a breach of contract for you to discuss your dispute “in any public forum and/or Internet service prior to the completion” of any dispute process. So if you have issues with the company, you are prevented from posting them online prior to resolution. If you don’t comply, you could be sued by the publisher. Further, the dispute resolution clause requires you to physically attend any arbitration matter in King County, Washington.

AUTHOR-FRIENDLY RATING: Publishers who cloak their services around religion should be held to a higher standard, because many authors rely on such affiliations when deciding to trust a publisher— that fact alone may deter authors from questioning a publisher’s fees. On http://www.winepresspublishing.com/about/team Executive Publisher Timothy Williams says, “Above all else, the purpose of WinePress is to glorify God. You’ll find this reflected in everything we do, and that is what really makes us different.” He also says, “Scripture tells us that truth without action is dead, and at WinePress, we firmly believe that actions speak louder than words.” I couldn’t agree more. Actions do speak louder than words.

The words of this company say that they don’t “artificially inflate” printing costs. The reality: they do. I’m not sure how marking up printing nearly 100 percent (or more) glorifies God, but I’m just a mortal.

I believe it’s a compromise of Christian values (and just about every other moral value I can think of ) when a publisher leads authors to believe that its printing costs are 100 percent higher than they actually are. The “author’s discounted price” can easily lead an author to believe that somehow this is the actual printing cost, or close to it.

The author royalties on third-party sales, such as those on Amazon .com, are horrible. In the example discussed in this review, the author makes $0.53 per sale, while WinePress makes $3.66 through the extra padding it adds to the printing costs. The royalties for sales on the WinePress website are better, but only in comparison to the royalties paid on third-party sales. Here is what Judge Jones had to say about the above paragraph (it’s the same as it was in the last edition of this book):

Pleasant Word does not challenge Mr. Levine’s numbers, it challenges his use of the term “extra padding. “This is baffling. It is undisputed that Pleasant Word adds $3.66 to actual printing costs (for a 200-page book) to arrive at its “premium package.”

On top of outrageous printing markups and tiny royalties, potential authors can only see a contract if they provide the company personal contact information. And, if you become an author with this company and have a dispute, you have to agree to not discuss the nature of the dispute online during the dispute process, under the guise of a “No Gossip” policy. Is it only me, or do you find this as ridiculous as it sounds?

It is undisputed that everything I said about Pleasant Word’s pricing and markups in the last edition of my book was true. They knew it was true. In fact, they provided the numbers on their website. Telling the truth is a principle tenet of Christianity. So, how does one glorify God by suing someone who has told the truth? If you become an author and have a dispute with them, then have the gall to talk about it online, you could very well end up getting sued as well. Do you see a pattern here? Getting sued by this company cost me over $20,000. What could it cost you? Sometimes telling the truth and making people aware has a price. I was willing to take that risk. You should not put yourself in that peril.

When a publisher chooses to make religion a central focus of its service and writes copy that suggests that, due to strong Christian principles, authors “know they can trust us,” the publisher has a duty to be over-the-top honest. Being less than forthright about the real printing costs—while quoting Scripture—instantly makes WinePress a publisher to avoid. Enough said. There are great Christian publishers. Find one.