Friday, 2 December 2011


Pen Press Publishing (Indepenpress) - Reviewed (Updated - August 2012)


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Pen Press is a self-publishing service operated by Indepenpress Publishing Ltd, based in Brighton in the UK. They are a publishing solutions service who offer tailor-made options across a wide range of budgets to authors from a ‘5 Book Deal’ to a ‘Full Partnership service’. What strikes you immediately about Pen Press when you browse their web site for a few minutes is the bright colours and that breezy air of openness about their services. It must be the coastal air of Brighton or that endearing giraffe peering out from the corners of so many web pages and advertisements.

I’ve made the point a number of times that companies selling author services—whether they choose to call themselves publishers or not—need to remember; though much of their revenue comes from fees charged to authors, as opposed to the sale of books; perspective authors like to see lots of books on the company’s main web page. Pen Press do this extremely well with some very striking artwork on their book covers. What is also very noticeable is that all the order/buy buttons on their site link directly to Amazon’s UK site. It seems Pen Press does not host their own on line bookstore like many publishers, though they do take orders for books by email or snail mail.

“We realise that today the author has a wide choice of companies and routes to publication, and therefore we are pleased to compete effectively on all levels, providing superior quality and more value for money we believe than standard offers on the market - making us heads above the rest!”

Well, let us take a look at what Pen Press offer in the way of author packages. At entry level, they have their ‘5 Book Deal’ at £49.95 (or £95.95 for 10 copies). This is budget-end stuff and the author gets a basic paperback template with plain, single colour cover (red, blue, green etc.,) and pre-set fonts. There are strict submission guidelines for your word document and it is ‘dropped’ into the template you choose, ‘as is’. For an author simply wanting to see their magnum opus ‘in print’, without any world domination aspirations, without an ISBN or on line listing and availability, then this is the package for them.

“when all you need are a few books for family and friends.”

Pen Press makes no qualms about this service; they are upfront; it is simply a print service to authors who perhaps have no pretensions beyond their book being read by family and friends. It is a pity other such publishers don’t offer a basic service like this.

Pen Press also offer what they call their ‘Print on Demand’ package service. Again, their approach is straightforward; what you see is what you get. This comes in at £695 and is their key package against their competitors. This includes on line listing, a custom cover (from library photo collection), full layout, a retail price range of £7.99 to £8.99 for a paperback up to 300 pages, retail barcode and ISBN (Pen Press registered), and 50 copies of the book…50 copies! Wait…

“3 weeks after your approval to print, you will be sent 10 copies of your book. We require a further 10 for deposit and registration, 30 will be held for retail sales.”

While that is an excellent turnaround time; I’m a little disappointed with the allocation of the 50 copies. 10 copies for legal deposit; I thought it was six copies to the British Library for registration?

“We ask for 10 copies from you for legal deposits and to submit to all six National libraries in the UK.”

Lynn Ashman of Pen Press explains the process of legal deposit requirements:

"It is six copies to the libraries - one legal deposit to the British Library, and five which go to the various libraries at Oxford, Cambridge, Dublin, Scotland and Wales.  We hold 10 for this service because the Legal Deposit library has a habit of making a double request at times.   If we deposit 6, get no repeat requests and are left with 4, then the author can have them or instruct us to offer them for sale.   Often, authors ask us to send a copy out for review, or to a marketing agency - having the 4 additional copies gives us the ability to do this.  However, our agreement with the author makes it clear that all books under this service belong to the author."

Pen Press says they will hold the other 30 copies to fulfil sales orders. This is the gist and bare bones of a good idea by Pen Press in theory, holding a physical inventory, but… is it?

“Wholesale distribution via Gardners, Bertrams and Nielson Bookdata for availability throughout the UK-Your book will be available for distribution via these companies for maximum UK coverage, allowing bookshops nationwide to order.”

“At just 50% of the agreed retail price, allowing you to make a clear 50% profit on all of your own sales. Once the initial 50 copies are depleted, you can also order stock in batches of 25 for us to hold for trade sales on your behalf.”

Ah, so it this where our 30 copies go?

“We will hold the stock you wish us to and handle trade sales on your behalf. Trade discounts start at 35%, so on a £8.99 book your return on a 35% discounted sale is £5.85 which we will collect and pass to you twice yearly.”

So, on Pen Press’ example, the author is paying £4.50 for the books they want to order and sell themselves, and when a book is sold through distribution channels, the author actually makes £1.35 (£5.85 minus the £4.50 the author has already paid for the printing of the copies the publisher is holding). That works out at a 14% profit per book. Hmmm, not quite so spectacular as it first seemed. Still, I like the idea of having a physical inventory.

Next up is what Pen Press call their ‘Partnership Publishing’ package. The price is advisory and dependent on the length and what the author provides in the way of illustrations etc and final book specification. The advisory quote is £1950. I should also point out that this is only for the specifications for a paperback book up to 80 pages, a standard 200 page book would stretch well beyond the £2000+ price if an author chooses a more ‘Complete Partnership Publishing Service available.’


“The final quote will depend on several factors, i.e. the size of the original manuscript, the amount of editing (and/or typing) required, whether it is supplied digitally or not, if there are illustrations or photographs inside the book, the print & production spec of the book and the size of first print run that the author chooses. 




To assess this, we offer a Reader’s Report service which is designed to provide authors with an independent critique of their work as well as guide us on quoting you accurately.”


The package includes a standard copy-edit, a 300 print run max, proof-reading, stock to wholesalers, a one day sales and marketing seminar, creation and distribution of a press release with covers or ARC’s, and direct sales approach to brick and mortar stores, assistance with launches, signings etc.

Full details of this package can be found on this link.

This package contains more than many other companies, but I suspect the real cost to an author for a standard book could be far more than the Pen Press example quote. Anyone considering this package should request that they be furnished with the full contract before committing. There is no doubt Pen Press offers much in this package and perspective authors would do well to speak directly with other Pen Press authors. This is very much partnership publishing, and any author should still be aware that time and considerable input is needed from the author as well to make this kind of publishing model work.

If I have a single reservation about this package, then it would be this. If you believe your book is strong enough to expend this amount of money and effort, then you should have at least previously submitted your original manuscript to a traditional publisher and had some positive feedback that you possess a moderately marketable book. If not, then consider the Pen Press ‘Print on demand’ option instead.

Some other notable things from the Pen Press site.

As part of the ‘Full Partnership’ package;

“Production, printing, sales, marketing and distribution AND WE PAY FOR REPRINTS”

Also, at the premium end of the packages authors should be aware of what rights they are contracting to Pen Press.


“TV, Film and Dramatisation Rights


Pen Press offers these associates a first-look option on materials published under our imprint for exploitation within the industry. This includes radio broadcasting, television (free and pay-for), theatre, personal appearances and motion picture.”


Pen Press does not make their contract available on line for review, and you should follow their own advice. I suspect, without having seen it, that it may be an exclusive contract regarding the Partnership package – authors should check in regard to the Print on Demand package before signing.

“If you wish to proceed, we will prepare a contract which you should read thoroughly. This is a standard industry contract, but is open to negotiation.”

Overall, Pen Press has an excellent mix of packages and authors can not go too far wrong with the ‘Print on Demand’ package, provided non-exclusive rights are on offer. The package has a strong mix of self-publishing services with more tailor-made traditional strategies of book availability and distribution. Their book retail prices are also some of the most competitive I have seen.


UPDATE: March, 2011

Pen Press has introduced a Gold Partnership Publishing package (which includes a reading fee/editor's assessment report). This package provides the following and as an example (depending on book size, requirements etc) suggests a fee of £1950:

Royalties of an initial 45% of sales return to the author
Paperback book B format (198mm x 129mm)
Up to 80 page novella or children’s story
Standard copy-editing, typesetting and proofing services
Cover design in 4-colour (CMYK)
Jacket text (blurb)
Print and bind first run bar-coded ready for retail sale*
ISBN and all legal registrations and deposits including copies to the British Library, and national libraries of Scotland, Wales and university libraries of Cambridge, Oxford and Dublin
Stock to wholesalers including Gardners, Britain’s leading book wholesaler
Listed with and available for sale via leading booksellers ie. Amazon.co.uk, Tesco.com, Waterstones, WHSmiths.
Invitation to one-day marketing and sales seminar
Creation and distribution of press release, with either covers or review copies
Follow-up on press releases and review copies issued, as well as any local media coverage
Approaching local bookshops to stock
Approaching local venues for signing sessions
Ongoing support, sales, invoicing, accounting, royalty calculation
Reprints and storage

A further Platinum upgrade is available (+£900) and described as:

"For a top-notch, fast-track service: one-to-one meetings at every stage of editing, design, production and marketing: a personal publishing contact to answer questions at each step and keep you abreast of developments throughout the process; plus immediate US printing and publication, with availability via Barnes & Nobel, Amazon.com etc."

This 'upgrade' doesn't cut much ice with me, and considering the previous 'Gold Partnership' example is £1950 for an '80 page novella or children’s story' - hardly qualifying most submissions - authors with a typical 200+ page novel should expect to pay more than  the £1950. Pen Press qualify this by saying:

"A sharp rise is not necessarily the case.  Naturally, the fee does rise with additional page extent as editors and typesetters charge more the longer a book imanuscript is, but many of the services remain constant - cover design, ISBN, print runs, marketing support, distribution.  These days, our average Gold package fee is £2,400 and considering the author doesn't have to pay for reprints as they do on print on demand, and gets 45%/35% of the sales revenue return, then for quality submissions that have had good traditional publisher feedback, this option really can represent the best value package."  

Pen Press UK has also expanded their program of traditional contracts for established and new authors with Indepenpress, an imprint offering conventional contracts to authors where the publisher bears all costs. In addition, another new imprint is Pulp Press, described by the publisher as:

"...dedicated to providing entertainment and escapism in the form of dime novels, penny dreadfuls and spicy stories that will be accessible to everybody. Whether you're stuck in a dead-end job, fussing with your schooling or an out-of-work burlesque dancer you will not feel intimidated by the easy-going pulp fiction format of these racy numbers. I personally guarantee that you will find any given Pulp Press title to be free from intellectual snobbery and the vacuous scribblings of so-called celebrities and their degenerate ghost writers, unlike so many of today's books."

Submissions to Pulp Press should be in novella format and length (23,000 words) and authors should make themselves familiar with current Pulp Press titles. Since this article was written, Pulp Press now operate independently of Indepenpress, and the self-publishing imprint, Pink Press has also been added for Gay and Lesbian fiction.

Significantly, Indepenpress is attempting to carve out a reputation as a quality traditional publisher of quality and varied titles while still offering self-publishing services.

"In times where some mainstream publishers have abolished their advances to new authors in favour of slightly higher royalties, and others are also now offering a self-publishing option as a route to publication, we are moving in the opposite upward direction of publishing at no cost to the author. These limited contracts are essentially for the crème de la crème of submissions, or for authors who have done well with self-published titles with us, as our Indepenpress imprint comes to be recognised as an independent publisher of quality titles.
We want a fair deal for the hard working writer of original content; an author that can work with us to promote their title deserves a good return on the books that are sold. The royalty amount is negotiable on the books we traditionally publish and our current contracts go up to 45% of the return. Our accounts department produces royalty statements twice yearly for all our books.
In order to assess your manuscript for conventional publishing we will have a reading done of the whole book with a report produced, please download and print this SUBMISSION FORM and send it with an electronic copy of your manuscript. This reading service is the same as those applying for the gold package and is paid for by those customers so in order to be fair to paying customers new authors applying for conventional publishing will come at the bottom of the queue. Due to the volume of submissions we receive this can take some months and authors may prefer to use our paid for reading service for more immediate feedback."


I don't inherently have a problem with the reading fee, just as long as the publisher keeps that reading fee as an option, rather than a requirement of submission.

There is a lot to commend Indepenpress about. I'm unconvinced the Gold and Platinum packages are the best value at £2000 - £3000, even with editing and a 300 unit print run. Yes, unlike many author solutions services, Indepenpress has a distribution network, but the emphasis in these packages remains through online availability and 'approaching local' shops and venues. Many established small publishers and presses will tell you that is the way the publishing business is going - that the little guys, no matter how committed they are to producing quality books, are getting pushed out to the fringes and rely on a great deal of input and marketing push from their authors to make a title even a moderate success.

This is hybrid publishing - evolving and open to embracing change. Since I first reviewed Pen Press UK as a self-publishing service, the company has expanded and maintained a commitment to selling books ahead of just selling author services. This is to be commended. The author royalty rates are exceptionally good - a reflection that Indepenpress cannot survive without authors and good books - something many established and conventional publishers could learn a lot from.

UPDATE: Summer 2012

Indepenpress has launched an ebook-only package for authors. More details can be found on the Pen Press website.

"This NEW eBook-only package includes a professional cover design, typesetting into book format, conversion of files and ISBN. Enjoy all the production processes of our BRONZE package for a fraction of the price. Your book will be available on Amazon kindle stores worldwide.

This is as an add-on package for authors who can provide a print-ready book, and is also on offer to previous authors for £99. For authors whose manuscripts are not typeset, Pen Press offer the service for £299, and it works in the same way as the bonze publishing package without the print cost.
Already have a typeset book and cover files? Then let us know! We will be happy to reduce the price of this package to as little as £99 (depending on length of the book)."

During 2012, Indepenpress also began visiting writing workshops and libraries throughout the UK to offer impartial advice to authors confused about the whole area of self-publishing.

RATING: 8.3/10
 
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22 comments:

  1. diomedea exulans14 August 2009 08:49

    It would be useful to have some feedback on quality of layout, printing, paper and binding - or a link to where this could be found.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi everybody

    Does anyone have any advice re
    writersworld? I'm thinking of using their services.
    Thanks
    Ben Staid

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ben,

    This may help.

    http://forums.writersweekly.com/viewtopic.php?t=3009

    You are though posting on one of the better services in the UK.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Mick

    Thanks for the help.
    I looked at the comments on that forum and Writersworld seems dodgy to say the least.
    Am I correct in assuming when you wrote I was 'posting on one of the better services in the UK' that you were referring to Penpress and not Writersworld?

    Ben

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  5. Ben,

    I was referring to Pen Press, not Writersworld.

    You might also have a look at Angela Hoy's Booklocker.com, US based, but in the past year they have extended their services to UK authors.

    Mick.

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  6. Wonderful article, very well explained.

    Term papers

    ReplyDelete
  7. I was in discussion for around one year on and off having met the CEO of Pen Press to discuss the possibilities of publishing my non-fiction book, The Stonehenge Observatory. I would like to say from the start I found the company to be one of the most transparent but, unfortunately, the bottom line is "we don't market", which is really the problem for any first time author. I was quoted around GBP 1500 for the initial 300 books they believed necessary to launch the book, stating that I would not be charged for any additional copies in the future. However, my book was print ready requiring no work oh their part and I could get 300 copies printed for around GBP 750, so by the time the majority of these were sold Pen Press would lose nothing by printing additional copies themselves. I also refused to agree to any TV or film rights due to the subject of the book, which would make a great documentary. I suggested that of they wanted more than book rights they should become my agent instead. When I added 20 pages to the final version of the book they wanted GBP 300 more claiming it was necessary to cover additional pages! The final nail in the coffin was their attempt to get me to sign under the Indepenpress label - reserved for the best submissions. It turns out this deal requires no money from them, yet they still wanted me to pay. Conclusion: the same deal as everyone else but pitched in such a way to appear better than the rest.

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  8. Stonehenge,

    1500 for 300 books! Even print on demand should not demand that kind of cost. LSI could do a 200pp book at about £2.90 per unit, so I reckon no more than £870. In reality, 1500 units is not the kind of print run you would put through a POD run. The tipping point were printing becomes more commercially viable and cheaper per unit is just over 500 units, certainly no more than 750 units.

    £300 for an extra 20 pages!
    That's £15 per page. I assume what Pen Press meant was the book PDF file had already been created and this was the cost of doing a new file and forwarding it to the printers - meaning a new set-up fee.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Lynn CEO Pen Press5 May 2010 15:05

    Just seen this completely unbiased overview of Pen Press and would like to thank you, Mick Rooney. We work hard at what we do, and it's good to get independent feedback and opinion to help us continuously improve our service.
    However, as the CEO that Stonehenge Observatory is refering to, I have to step forward and say that he has his figures very wrong. The £1500 quoted was for a publication package including marketing support, distribution via Gardners, and, importantly as we pay for reprints, was for unlimited and ongoing print runs. We suggested starting with 300 copies to put into the system as we sent out press releases and review copies to gather endorsements, to then later revamp the cover to include the endorsements. No more contribution from SO required.
    We pride ourselves on our bespoke packages, competitive costs and reasonable retail prices, just as your independent review found, so wanted to put the record straight on this one!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi Lynn,

    Thanks for clarifying those points. By all means email me on any future services/news and we will endeavour to keep this review of Pen Press up to date.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This is alot of good information on Pen Press Publishing. Good job.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi Mick
    great review but I am curious about something. Pen Press say they distribute via Gardners but Gardners do not accept a book for distribution unless they see it first,

    http://www.gardners.com/gardners/include.aspx?I=/gardners/content/Publishers/A_guide_for_publishers/How_Do_I_Get_My_Books_Listed.htm&M=P5

    also on Pubweb Pen Press lists itself as the distributor for their books. When I emailed Pen Press they replied that Gardners did not have to make a decision on stocking books. I would emphasise I cannot find a single Pubweb entry that lists Gardners as Pen Press' distributor. The only explanation I can think of is that they mean Gardners distributes as a partner to say Lightning Source?

    Can you shed any light on this. I can't see how they ca promise an author distribution by Gardners when Gardners themselves don't promise that to a publisher, unless I'm missing something?
    Thanks
    Helen

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi Mick
    great review but I am curious about something. Pen Press say they distribute via Gardners but Gardners do not accept a book for distribution unless they see it first,

    http://www.gardners.com/gardners/include.aspx?I=/gardners/content/Publishers/A_guide_for_publishers/How_Do_I_Get_My_Books_Listed.htm&M=P5

    also on Pubweb Pen Press lists itself as the distributor for their books. When I emailed Pen Press they replied that Gardners did not have to make a decision on stocking books. I would emphasise I cannot find a single Pubweb entry that lists Gardners as Pen Press' distributor. The only explanation I can think of is that they mean Gardners distributes as a partner to say Lightning Source?

    Can you shed any light on this. I can't see how they ca promise an author distribution by Gardners when Gardners themselves don't promise that to a publisher, unless I'm missing something?
    Thanks
    Helen

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  15. I suspect this again is through the LSI affliate program of 'listing and distribution' with Gardners operating simply as a wholesaler.

    ReplyDelete
  16. My last comment was removed! Whatever happened to freedom of speech? You cannot have an independent and impartial review if you moderate the comments that you do not like.
    - Patrick Star

    ReplyDelete
  17. Patrick, your comment was welcome yesterday and was not deleted because of your opinion, contents or shared experience. It was deleted because it alerted me on notification to a viral threat.

    You can post the comment again as I have stepped up the comment firewall and have switched comments to non-anonymous ones.

    In regards to your actual comment yesterday, RE Pen distribution, my posted comment on AUG 8th already supports what you said. Gardners is a wholesaler, not a distributor, though many publishing providers will cite their 'distribution' through Gardners. This is often just a catalogue listing and availability through LSI as part of an affiliate programme.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Mick, thank you for your comment, it was just easier to post as anonymous yesterday and I can see that it's not an option any more.

    Although it may be correct that Pen press affiliate with Gardners through LSI, which although is a good and scalable business model, it is certainly not how they advertise this to their customers. I think that authors should be aware that when Pen press say that they will pay for unlimited reprints, which sounds fantastic on the face of it, this may be done using LSI print on demand. I would therefore ask would be authors to consider the benefits and value added by Pen press as opposed to going directly with LSI.

    Two people I know recently published with Pen press, who said they would utilise Gardners 'sales force' to promote their book as part of their marketing plan. I'm pretty sure that Gardners don't have a sales force, but could be proved wrong. There was also ambiguity as to what their marketing plan offers and I think that any new customer should clarify this directly before signing any contract. Speakings of contracts, it really does confuse me why an author who wishes to be self published would sign a contract with any company. I think that they offer a good service for Bronze and Silver packages (like you said in the article), but anything with a contract, you really have to start asking what are you paying (more) for? In one case, the 300 books alluded to never materialised and it was probably just part of the sales pitch.

    I am looking for a similar solution to Pen press for my own book (editing and printing), so if anyone can point me in the right direction that would be appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thanks again, Patrick.

    Yes, just to emphasise on my last point on Gardners. Gardners is a UK book wholesaler, like Bertrams, and it warehouses books for publishers. The difference between a wholesaler and a dedicated distributor is critical and anyone looking at self-publishing and reading any of the TIPM reviews here need to know the difference. This is a point I have made much labour of on a number of articles and posts over the years

    In short, without going into detail:

    A wholesaler operates like a warehouse, offering publishers and distributors an order system, inventory database and stock of books. A wholesaler reacts to orders placed through publishers and distributors from the booktrade. Booksellers can order direct from wholesalers but the book buyer has to know the book exists first!

    A distributor works on behalf of one or more publishers using a team of sales reps to proactively promote and sell-in books to buyers at bookstores. This sometimes means sales reps visiting store buyers with new stock in an effort to gain shelfspace, include a publisher's titles in seasonal campaigns etc.

    Now, just to confuse things a little - some distributors are large and also act as wholesalers for smaller publishers and small presses. Ingram Books is a perfect example of a Distribution Wholesaler. However, the majority of Ingram titles are taken and listed on 'wholesale' terms.

    In addition, some large publishing houses undertake their own in-house distribution and feed orders to a wholesaler. This trend is dying away and many are now outsourcing physical direct selling externally. Digital publishing has provided some of the larger publishers the opportunity to revert back to in-house distribution, but this takes a great deal on investment.

    There are I believe a couple of ocassions on the PEn website where the term 'distribution through Gardners' is used. This could be construed as a little misleading. You can use Gardners as part of your distribution network, but Gardners can't literally distribute for you because it is a wholesaler and the only direct marketing Gardners staff do - that I am aware of - is through liasing with publishing clients using their wholesale services. Senior book buyers liaise with publishers on new titles - not wholesalers. 95% of the time when a book buyer contacts a wholesaler - it's to shout about where their order is, or to obtain a returns request ref to return a consignment of books. It certainly not about finding out about what the next 'hot' title or release is going to be!

    Where Pen are ahead of some publishing service providers is ensuring that they get a small amount of stock held with a wholesaler for future orders. It works a little like the Amazon Advantage programme and solves the long delivery waits for many POD titles.

    In regards to why some self-publishers don't just go straight to LSI? I suppose much is down to the perceived hassle of opening a commercial account with LSI, having to supply a completed book file to LSI's specs, needing to still find someone to do the promotion and marketing, direct hard sell to bookstore owners and buyers etc. Ultimately, LSI is just a global printer with access to Ingram's wholesale network.

    If you go with a publishing provider of some kind - there is always going to be concessions somewhere, whether profits through royalty or discounts, access to the raw files on termination, conceding subsequent rights (film, ebook, dramatic etc), control of design and editorial detail...

    The truth is - writers want to write, and are wary of taking on so much with true self-publishing. I suppose that is the reason we have good, bad and ugly publishing providers.

    ReplyDelete
  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  21. Previous comment removed by request from poster. 13/11/12

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