Monday, April 3, 2017

I was very impressed with ebook publisher PRONOUN—until I tried it


Pronoun is a strangely named company that formats and distributes ebooks. Its technology is very impressive and so is its price: ZERO.

The company is a few years old and now belongs to giant publisher Macmillan. It's based in Manhattan—home to many publishers.

Pronoun tells prospective customers: "Pronoun is a free publishing platform where authors can create, sell, and promote their books. Our mission: to build a new model for publishing that puts authors first. We are passionate about author success, which is why many of our tools are completely free to use by authors publishing with other services or traditionally published authors."

I previously had used eBookit for my important and/or complex ebooks, and Amazon's own KDP for less important/simpler ebooks. I like both businesses.

As I was nearing the time to produce the ebook version of my new bestseller Love For & From My 4-Legged Son, I considered using KDP to save money and eBookit to save work and achieve broad distribution, beyond Amazon. Then I heard about Pronoun. I was curious to try it (for myself and also so I could report to you in a blog post), and liked the idea of broad distribution and zero cost.

It was very simple to get registered as a new customer and within a few minutes I uploaded my cover and interior files. The user-friendly process was much simpler than the KDP system.

I was very impressed with Pronoun's technology and looked forward to seeing my digital proof, making a few adjustments and watching the money roll in.

Alas, it was not to be.

The superb Pronoun software could not compensate for some substantial shortcomings.

[below] The first deal-breaker was ironically the first page—the title page. Instead of allowing me to use my own design, that properly identifies my own Silver Sands Books as the publisher, Pronoun insisted on providing an absolutely ugh-lee page that showed Pronoun as the publisher, even though the ISBN is tied to my company. I have not had this problem with other companies that produce and distribute my ebooks.

Pronoun's all-text title page is reflowable to be readable on multiple devices, but it's simply too disgusting for me to be associated with. "4-Legged" should not be allowed to appear on two lines. My graphic image of the title prevents this problem. Sometimes text should be a picture, not text.

[below] Pronoun is a strange censor. It insists on removing links to booksellers or mentions of booksellers because "We can't accept retailer links because Apple and other stores reject books that 'promote' their competitors. Your book can contain Amazon links if you only use Pronoun to publish on Amazon, otherwise, this issue (and the 'Amazon bestseller' reference on the cover) will prevent other stores from accepting your book," according to Author Happiness Advocate Kate Murtaugh.

She's wrong. Barnes & Noble has no objection to displaying my book covers that mention Amazon.

[below] Pronoun is inconsistent. Chapter beginnings vary in style (even when apparently formatted the same way), and they don't follow my desire. I had accepted one of Pronoun's style options for the book, but the automated system inserted unwanted horizontal rules and eliminated a space below a photo caption [Chapter 3, below]. The right-hand images below show three very different ways to start a chapter. That's ridiculous. (I saw no differences in my formatting for those pages.)

[below] Pronoun misplaces images and text.

[below] Not only does Pronoun want me to remove links to booksellers, its robo-formatter eliminated a link to my own publishing company—and inserted links without asking me. Strangely, most of the links that the robot inserted for the books shown below go to Amazon—in violation of Pronoun's policy!

[below] Pronoun sometimes makes inexplicable formatting changes.

Pronoun was slow to respond.
When I was gobsmacked (one of my favorite Britishisms) by the appearance of the title page, I sent an email to Pronoun support. The company says, "Authors, we’re here to help! Please send us a message and we’ll get back to you shortly."

Despite several follow-up emails I heard nothing for three days until I resorted to public embarrassment on Pronoun's Facebook and Twitter pages. I ultimately received a nice email from Kate, apologizing for the delayed response, explaining what caused the inconsistent formatting and offering suggestions.

I might have spent a few days trying Pronoun's suggestions but the title page disaster ended our relationship before a second date.

Pronoun could be a good choice if you have a simple book, don't care about Pronoun being identified as your publisher, and are willing and able to do lots of tweaking.
I am now eagerly awaiting my proof from eBookit. Unlike Pronoun, it has talented, knowledgeable human beings who can direct the company's software to make my books look the way I want them to look.

Just as Domino's pizza delivery robots are currently accompanied by human escorts, book-formatting software needs a human touch. In five years, the situation could be very different.


  1. Thanks, Michael.

    I've linked to this in the International Indie Author Facebook Group -

    Had you gone further with your Pronoun experiment you would have found Pronoun's relationship with Amazon to be much more disturbing than just inserting links.

    Pronoun will only let us list titles on Apple, Nook, Google Play and Kobo IF the title is also listed on Amazon, even if through KDP.

    A distributor that dictates we must use Amazon in order to be available on rival retailers is clearly not playing fair, and it raises serious questions about Pronoun's relationship with the other retailers it supposedly partners with- and the value for authors.

    1. Mark, while that is disturbing, I find Amazon's long-standing policies much more disturbing. They border on criminal, and yet almost all authors seem to tolerate them.

    2. As a customer, author and publisher I have zero complaints about Amazon. I make purchases several times each week and sell books on most days.

    3. And it doesn't bother you that they dictate the royalty for your books based on price? Or that they charge extra for downloads based on the size of the book? Or that they don't let you price your book free unless you're exclusive? Or that you can't price your book lower at other retailers? Or many other things too numerous to mention?

    4. (1) Amazon's royalties are fine with me—certainly better than when I was traditionally published.
      (2) Surcharge for books with large files bother me a little, but I can raise the retail price by a buck to compensate if I want to.
      (3) I never sell books for zero dollars. My books are worth more than nothing.
      (4) I see no reason to have different prices at different booksellers. Why would any publisher do it?
      (5) My main complaint is the delay in displaying the latest versions of covers and text previews. I frequently update when books are new.

  2. Perhaps your problems stem from not having your own books formatted and allowing them to do it. I now have ten books on Pronoun and have had zero trouble. Even when a link is flagged (which is a pain) I email Kate and explain that it is a link that is device specific, and it is accepted. And Pronoun does have a spot to include yourself (or anyone else) as the publisher. There are a few issues, but the benefits outweigh them--at least to me. Them paying 70% for less than $2.99 prices, and them allowing me to put pictures in a book without Amazon charging exorbitant fees for downloading are fantastic.

  3. I'm happy you're happy.

    My book _was_ formatted. I'm not a beginner in publishing ebooks. I've done many with KDP.

    Being able to indicate the publisher's name on the copyright page is not a substitute for the amateurish title page that Pronoun provides.

    1. Mike: I'm confused. Pronoun published mine exactly as I submitted them. No difference in the title page at all.

    2. You're a lucky guy! I was told I could not supply a title page.