UPDATE 11/9/2017 - This week, Macmillan announced that Pronoun will be shut down January 15, 2018. Don't stress. You've got plenty of time! So please stay tuned for a blog post with solution, alternatives, and analysis. Thanks! Carla
In this post I want to talk about the evolution of Pronoun, which was bought by Macmillan last week, and why they might have bought it, why you should care, and whether or not you should consider using it.
Does the Macmillan Purchase of Pronoun Auger a Sea Change in Publishing?
Last week Macmillan purchased Pronoun, an eBook creation, distribution, and marketing service for independent authors. (See announcement.) Along with Pronoun, Macmillan purchased an innovative entourage that includes Booklr, a data analysis service for eBook sales, and Byliner, which publishes “urgent, necessary journalism for the present day” along with short fiction and serials. But I think that what Macmillan really bought was innovation, which in the generally stodgy world of traditional publishing is rare and admirable. And that innovation is data-centric.
Pronoun CEO Josh Brody stated in their press release that Macmillan was “interested in the data we gather at Pronoun and how it could impact the broader Macmillan publishing program.” He added that they have “new features coming and full commitment from Macmillan to support our growth." The release also stated that Macmillan would look to find and develop authors from the Pronoun platform.
Analytics is one of the best marketing tools on the planet. I keep advising authors to track reader interest by installing Google Analytics on their websites and using Bitly to track clicks on URLs. Vook’s “Track Any Book” page is still available on Pronoun to any author.
In past years I enjoyed geeking out with Vook co-founder Matt Cavnar (who has since moved on) at writing conferences and as a source for some of my pieces on MediaShift. I liked that he and Brody (who founded Booklr) really dug data and provided a robust book sales data dashboard that authors could use to refine their marketing strategies.
Simply put, data gives you awareness of what your audience likes to look at, so you can give them more of it. More and better data is a powerful tool.
Data is Publishing
To Brody’s statement that Pronoun has “got new features coming and full commitment from Macmillan to support our growth,” that’s Pronoun growing as book creation, author services marketplace, and distribution platform. They aim to attract more authors to the platform, and to track author sales to see which ones are popular with readers.
If Macmillan sees a Pronoun author getting great sales on Amazon, might they offer to “develop” them by offering a traditional publishing deal? Seems that way. So if you seek publication by St. Martin’s Press, Picador, Henry Holt, or any of Macmillan’s other imprints, being big on Pronoun might get their attention.
Why Isn’t Anybody Else Doing This?
Why don’t more big pub companies buy small publishing tech companies? I don’t know. Simon and Schuster, Hay House, Thomas Nelson and Readers Digest didn’t need to look for innovative new companies to power their self-publishing services. Instead, they hired it out to Author Solutions (for a while owned by Pearson Penguin Random House) who white-labels their service. Author Solutions, in case you haven’t heard by now, is considered by many to be a predatory self-publishing services company with outrageous fees and vendor lock-in. This is the same company that powers iUniverse, Trafford, Author House, Xlibris, and a host of other brand names to avoid.
Basically, when you can’t get a publishing deal with Hay House, they send you to Balboa, Simon and Schuster happily guides you to Archway, Thomas Nelson to WestBow, and Readers Digest to LifeRich, all white-labeled by Author Solutions. Unlike the publishing companies who contract their services, they make their money selling services to authors, not by selling books.
Pearson Penguin Random House sold Author Solutions in January this year, whether because of growing awareness and general dislike of the firm, a class action suit by authors (who lost), or lagging sales.
The Author Solutions non-solution really dumbed down big publishing companies looking for an easy entré into the self-publishing revolution. Together they created a wound that won’t heal very quickly. So it’s fantastic to see a new model of co-creation emerge. This marriage might even be a first step to creating a model that helps to heal the industry.
Macmillan’s purchase of Pronoun, a publishing platform that is 100% free to use, doesn’t raise any red flags for me. Does that mean you should use Pronoun to create and distribute your books? That depends.
Is the Pronoun Platform Good?
Yes. Pronoun’s platform is a good one. They offer an easy-to-use book creation and distribution service, with a marketplace that gives you access to people who can help you create a professional book.
Pronoun distributes your eBook to the major players: Amazon, Apple, B&N, Kobo, and Google Play. Authors keep 100% of what’s left after these companies take their 40+ percent. They also give you your MOBI and EPUB files to sell as you wish to other stores on your own site. (I suggest using a tool like Gumroad, Selz, or Sellfy).
While it’s true that you’ll get much wider distribution for your eBooks using Smashwords and Amazon KDP together, you’ll need to create a properly-formatted Word doc. (It’s sad that many authors do not know how to use this basic writing tool because it limits your choices. I think you should learn how.) Smashwords pays 85% of net sales and KDP pays 70%.
When you use Pronoun for book creation they give you the MOBI and the EPUB, and you can distribute them as you wish, using their service, or by uploading the files directly to online retailers.
Today’s Pronoun is digital-only and comparable to London-based Reedsy (which I wrote about last month) who, however, does not distribute your books, and StreetLib (based in Loreto, Italy) which also offers print book creation and distribution.
My bet is that professional authors and publishers will continue to use PressBooks’ WordPress-based online book creation system or Joel Friedlander’s Word or InDesign book design templates. Both of these book creation tools offer infinitely customizable design, so your book won’t look like everybody else’s. They also export files for both print and digital distribution.
Regarding resources, you can use Pronoun’s marketplace (or the ones offered by Reedsy or Bibliocrunch, for that matter) to find publishing professionals to help you with any aspect of publishing, even if you don’t use their book creation tools. They provide this at no cost to the author or the publishing pro.
Pronoun (or any of the other services I’ve mentioned here) does not lock you into their service. But please do not use their free ISBNs. This is my biggest gripe about authors looking to publish cheaply: when you use a free ISBN their service is listed as the publisher. If you want to be published by Pronoun, go ahead. But to buy your own ISBN and list yourself as the publisher, always.
What About Print?
Until (or, if) Pronoun creates a POD solution, publish direct to Amazon using CreateSpace, and IngramSpark for POD everywhere else, plus the hardback if you want one. It’s easy. You won’t get a print-ready file from Pronoun, though, which is why I like PressBooks and book design templates for Word and InDesign.
Pronoun does not charge you to use their book creation platform, nor do they charge you or publishing pros (editors, designers, marketers) to use the marketplace.
In their blog post announcing the Macmillan acquisition, they state that, “Authors who want or need more support will be able to join additional paid tiers for a revenue share—or may have the opportunity to transition to a traditional publishing contract.”
Getting a Deal?
Undoubtedly, it is still the dream of many authors to win a traditional publishing deal. If you aspire to become a Macmillan author, you’ll really be attracted to this digital publishing solution. Write a great book and market the heck out of it and, if enough people buy it, you may get a contract. That’s the dream.
From an author’s point of view, a free bookmaking tool, marketplace, and distribution system with data that informs their marketing decisions is very attractive.
The evolution of Pronoun has been fun to watch over the years. They haven’t been afraid to adapt, adopt, drop, and recreate their entire business model to meet the needs of authors and the publishing machine. Through all of this, they’ve kept an author's point of view, which makes it very easy to like them.
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