Pronoun & Macmillan: a Shift to More Author-Friendly Publishing?

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… [Read More]

Pronoun & Macmillan

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.

Data is GrowthPronoun & Macmillan

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.

Data is PowerPronoun & Macmillan

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.

No Red FlagsPronoun & Macmillan

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 & Macmillan


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.

The Competition

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.

Pro Solutions

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.

Pronoun Resources

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.

Vendor Lock-In?

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.

Free? Or Freemium?Pronoun & Macmillan

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?

Pronoun & MacmillanUndoubtedly, 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.

In Conclusion

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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10 thoughts on “Pronoun & Macmillan: a Shift to More Author-Friendly Publishing?”

  1. Cliff Adelman says:

    Simon & Schuster owns at least 50% of Archway, which at least offers paperback and hardback versions in addition to electronic (Pronoun does not). The arrangement is also potentially a lot more expensive for authors, e.g. Archway offers Simon & Schuster copy editing for $4000 beyond what you have already paid (for that price I did it myself for The Russian Embassy Party). I don’t see the Macmillian/Pronoun arrangement as such a big deal!

    1. stanislav fritz says:

      I would agree with Cliff on it “not being a big deal” … perhaps for some different reasons. We run a micro press and the truth is that the Pronoun stuff is the easiest piece: ebooks. While the connection to Macmillan is interesting, it is really to benefit Macmillan, not the author. The odds of an author getting noticed and getting picked up by a major publisher are (my assessment) about the same whether you do this with their affiliate or with another. In fact, your odds might be better with going straight Amazon–remember they own a number of imprints.

      The Simon and Schuster connection with Archway, which is mentioned, is interesting more for the fact that I view this as an excellent exposure to an author to the true costs of publishing. The copy editing (and content editing) prices they list are not extreme. Then go to the advertising section. The truth is to do the full blown editing and marketing is hugely expensive (and we as a micro press cannot afford to do it–the author gets our editing and other services, but we make it clear that as a micro press, the onus for marketing is on them).

      All this said, I think that the issue still remains the noise level for indie publishers (self and very small micro publishers). The shear volume of titles per year is staggering, but the total number of books read per year remains flat. This arrangement does nothing to change that noise level and to filter out some of the chaff. Not that I can see.

    2. Carla King says:

      Hi Cliff, thanks for your note.
      I’m pretty sure that Archway, owned and operated by Author Solutions, is 100% owned by Author Solutions. Simon & Schuster (and the other publishers listed in the article) subcontract/partner with Author Solutions to “white-label” a branch of their company (Archway) as a self-publishing service. So Archway’s editors (designers, etc.) do not work for Simon & Schuster, they work for Author Solutions. All services are provided, all calls are answered, by Author Solutions employees. Their services are considered “vanity press” as they do not make money from selling books, but from authors paying them to publish.
      Pronoun is different in that they do not have a staff who will publish your book for you. They simply provide a formatting mechanism and a marketplace of editors, designers, etc.. They want to attract people to their marketplace and other services for which they will charge money, but they’re not (so far) offering vanity press publishing services.
      Lots of apples and oranges (and limes and pineapples) up in the air, here!

  2. In over thirty years of watching the publishing industry, I’ve never come across a big publisher whose self-publishing companies weren’t author predators with over-priced costs, poor service, and egregious contracts. User beware on this, too.

    Kristine Kathryn Rauch discusses the dangers of book service providers in her “Business Musings” column this week.

    1. Carla King says:

      Hi Marilynn,

      Good point. I’ve never come across a big publisher whose self-publishing services weren’t author predators, either.

      That is, until now, which is why I think it’s so cool that Macmillian bought Pronoun, which is not a vanity press, but an author toolkit (so far).

      Here’s what I advise authors – if the company does not allow you to apply your own ISBN to your book, then stay away.

      So far, Pronoun authors are able to apply their own ISBN to their free book formatting service. Many will not, simply because the temptation of a “free” ISBN is hard to resist. Uneducated authors fall into this trap a lot. I have to say, too, that authors who do not educate themselves (which is as simple as a google search, these days), fall into the Author Solutions company’s traps as well.

      That’s too bad.

      Thanks for linking to Rauch’s informative post!


  3. Thanks for this article. Slightly surprised that didn’t get a mention, because they will produce a print ready pdf as well as a mobi and an epub file, their royalty rates are good and they throw in some extra features like an integrated email shot and automated “also by” pages. I have no affiliation with them, but their website is very easy to use and they will accept Word files or an epub (but you won’t get a print ready pdf from an epub).

    1. Carla King says:

      Hi Mikey,

      Indeed, I have heard good things about Draft2Digital and I think a comparison to other ebook and print book production and distribution companies is a good topic for a future post.

      They’re super easy to use but they don’t have the breadth of distribution as a combination of Smashwords & KDP, CreateSpace & IngramSpark.

      But then again, they hit all the major players.

      Thanks for the idea!


  4. I have recently used Pronoun to publish two books.

    The Boy who Spat in Sargrenti’s Eye was first print-published in Ghana where it won an award which included the purchase of 3000 copies by the Ghana Book Trust for donation to libraries. It then won the 2016 Creative Book of the Year Award of the U.S.-based African Literature Association. Since no publisher in the West would touch it, I decided to self-publish, first at Pronoun and subsequently at CreateSpace.

    My first novel, Ama, a Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, won the 2002 Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Best First Book. Pan Macmillan published it in South Africa. For many years it was published in the U.S. by E-Reads. In 2014 E-Reads sold its list to Open Road Media, which published a copy of the E-Reads edition. However, in a fit of pique last year, they dumped the electronic version. I’ve recently published an expanded edition through Pronoun. The CreateSpace paperback is at final proof stage.

    I mention this to place on record the fact that Pronoun has given me excellent, friendly, personal, service. I cannot recommend them too highly.

    Pronoun’s advice about ISBNs is at
    What is the downside of using an ISBN provided by Pronoun?

    Manu Herbstein
    Accra, Ghana

  5. Philip says:

    It sounds similar to Draft2Digital. How do the two compare?

    1. Carla King says:

      Hi Phillip,

      Pronoun and Draft2Digital are going after the same market — ebook authors and authors who are publishing ebooks as well as print books. This is a topic for another article, or you can get my Consumer’s Guide to Self-Publishing Tools & Services on my website, but quickly, here:

      They are both really nice tools and easy for authors not familiar with formatting books to use. Pronoun came from Vook, one of whose principles (Matt Cavnar, no longer with the company) created data systems that told them how books were doing. They opened this data up to the author (any author, not just Pronoun authors), with their book tracker

      D2D distributes to similar places and, like Pronoun, is growing quickly. They also provide a PDF so you can upload it to IngramSpark or CreateSpace. But the reason most authors like them is that they have actual phone customer support 24/7… yep.

      Pronoun distributes to the Big 5 ebook retailers: Amazon, Apple, B&N, Kobo, Google Drive. D2D doesn’t get your book to Amazon or Google Drive, but adds Scribd, Inktera, and Tolino.

      Pronoun has made a deal with Amazon to allow you to make your books free in the Amazon store, so you don’t have to go with Amazon KDP Select, that 90 exclusive program I don’t like.

      D2D takes about 10% of sales. Pronoun takes nothing.

      Both give you the EPUB file to do with as you wish… to sell on your own site, if you like.

      You can use Pronoun to reach the Big 5 online retailers, and D2D to get to Scribd, Inktera, and Tolino, and get your PDF.

      Or you can use Smashwords or IngramSpark.

      I hope that helps.


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