Pronoun Posts Manifesto on Medium

pronoun logoIt seems I may have understated the story this afternoon about Vook changing its name to Pronoun.

What I saw as a simple name change is viewed from inside Pronoun as a pivotal moment in the digital publishing industry. According to its manifesto on Medium, something has gone horribly awry in publishing, and Pronoun sees itself as the solution.

Either that or they’ve decided to start making late night infomercials:

Writing a book that has a chance of connecting with readers takes all of an author’s effort, talent, and passion. Yet the structure of the publishing industry puts a long chain of people and corporations, each with their own incentives, between you and your audience.

Traditional publishers, in the pursuit of blockbusters, take control of your publishing rights?—?then drop support for every author whose sales don’t generate a corporate level of return on investment.

Self-publishing forces you to choose between hundreds of costly services whose value is obscured by sales pitches. And once you publish, you’re on your own.

We believe authors deserve better.

Pronoun has posted a 1,174 word manifesto in which it lays out the many ills both in traditional publishing and self-publishing. I won’t quote the post at length, but as I read it for the third time I can see signs that the company is setting itself up as the solution to a problem which doesn’t exist.

For example, this is Pronoun’s skewed view of self-pub:

Thanks to recent advances in the technology for creating, distributing, and reading books, authors can now publish on their own, with complete freedom?—?but no support.

Self-publishing as it stands today means finding your way through an array of costly services with drastically different features, business interests, and incentives. Many don’t deliver what they promise. The biggest company in self-publishing, Author Solutions (which was purchased for $116mm by Pearson in 2012 and is now part of Penguin Random House), is currently being sued by its own authors for its deceptive practices.

I don’t dispute the description of Author Solution, but I fundamentally disagree with the myopic description of self-pub segment of the publishing industry.

No Support? Really?

The only way one can claim that there is no self-pub support net is if one ignores services like Bibliocrunch, which offers a concierge service (hand-holding, by any other name); publishing services marketplaces like Reedsy, and author forums like Absolute Write or the KDP Forums, or, and I kid you not, the comment section of The Passive Voice blog.

What’s more, I am not a self-published author but I’ve watched the industry for long enough to know that there are readily identifiable authors who are genuinely helpful and will connect newbie authors with a support network.

No Support?

Either we’re not looking at the same industry or Pronoun is not being completely accurate in its description, and that bothers me.

Folks, the big story about Pronoun today is that it is launching a service which is going to be completely free to authors, a service which no one has been allowed to see.

That by itself sounds too good to be true, and when we add in this manifesto I see lofty aims combined with improbable promises.

I don’t trust anyone who sets themselves up as the solution to an industry-wide problem, especially when I don’t see the problems they describe. And when you add in the fact that the solution is both completely free and completely unexplained –

I can’t speak for you but that raises red flags for me.

What do you think?

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Mackay Bell19 May, 2015

    If you’re interested in self-publishing, there is every possible type and level of support. Free, paid, low cost, high cost. Start off reading J. A. Konrath’s blog (if not Ink, Bit and Pixels) for advice and move on from there.

    I published my first novel on Amazon for nothing. Zero. Formatted it myself, made my own cover, had friends proof it and Amazon distributes it for free. So far only a handful of sales in the first month, but that’s fine for my first book. All along the way, if I ever stumbled on something, I could find free advice at every turn. Got free advice on some formatting issues from a company that normally charges for formatting, and got free advice from a great cover designer (who normally charges a bundle). I had all sort of offers of free help.

    For a little money I can buy a better cover. I could pay someone a little money and save the time of formatting my book. I could pay people to proof read it. I can pay to promote it. If I have money to spend I can pay to have everything done for me.

    You can easily self-publish at any range of budget from zero to $X,XXX depending on your willingness to figure it out yourself. The issue that trips most people up is the marketing. But even that is simply a factor of three elements: viral/time/money.

    If your book is “viral” enough (viral being a complex issue), you can market it pretty easily by simply spending a little time getting the word out. If you have money to spend, you can use it instead of time. More money, less time. If the book isn’t so “viral” you need a lot more money/time.

    The writers that seem to get upset about self-publishing are either the ones who don’t do their homework and get ripped off paying for services that don’t really provide any value (or charge too much for the value they do provide) or who expect their book to sell by itself. Very few novels are viral enough to sell on their own. They need a push from time or money. And some books are going to be very hard sells even with a lot of money and time spent on marketing them.

    But getting self-published? That’s pretty easy if you’re willing to put in the hours.

    I’m not sure what Pronoun is planning to offer, but it’s a bad sign when they reference “publishing analyst Mike Shatzkin” as “aptly” pointing out anything about self-publishing. He predicted self-publishing would self-implode five years ago. He’s been pretty much wrong about everything in regard to indy ebooks for years.

    1. Nate Hoffelder19 May, 2015

      Is Shatzkin really cited in relation to self-pub? I thought he was mentioned in terms of the entire publishing industry.

  2. David Gaughran21 May, 2015

    I’m uber skeptical, not least because I remember the launch of Vook – with it’s headline-grabbing claim:

    “Get 100% of your royalties – Sell your eBook through Vook and have access to royalties not available anywhere else.”

    Sound familiar? Anyway, when you dug around the Vook site, you could eventually discover that this wasn’t quite true. It was 100% of net (is there a bigger weasel word in publishing?). Authors actually only received 43.2% of list price for sales on Amazon, 50% of list for sales on B&N etc. Very far from 100%. And, indeed, very far from the 70% you would get at Amazon by going direct or, for example, the ~60% you would get from using a third party like Smashwords to reach the B&N store.

    These percentages were down to the fact that Vook had a wholesale agreement with Amazon – which had some advantages in that there were no delivery fees, so great if you had a massive file size. But for the average self-publisher, it was a bad deal and their presentation of it was incredibly misleading.

    In fairness to Vook, they did enter into a dialogue with me (and others, I’m sure) about this and (eventually) changed both the terms on offer, and the misleading language surrounding same.

    But, given that history, and the inability to actually check this out properly, I would urge some caution on that 100% claim.

    1. Nate Hoffelder21 May, 2015

      I don’t think Vook distributed 3rd-party ebooks in 2009 (I thought they just made their own), but even if they did the ebooks weren’t going to the Kindle Store. The Kindle platform didn’t get support for Vook’s type of enhanced ebooks until the summer of 2010, when Kindle A/V was announced.

      But thanks for pointing out their less than accurate claims in the past; I’ll look into it when Pronoun goes public.

      1. David Gaughran21 May, 2015

        My bad – this was in 2012, when I first started checking them out properly.

        I think there was some kind of site re-launch back then, or they re-jigged their offer and/or started making a big push to get indies on-board, rather than the more niche affair they were in the past strictly focusing on enhanced e-books.

        Whatever it was, it was definitely 2012. I just checked the email exchange. I should have been clearer!

        1. Nate Hoffelder21 May, 2015

          That was after their second pivot (see my other post).

          1. David Gaughran21 May, 2015

            Yes that dovetails perfectly.

            I should note – before I say the foregoing – that I don’t think there’s anything shady about Pronoun (or was shady about Vook), but that 100% royalties claim has me very suspicious.

            I’ve seen many companies claim it, and none actually paying it. This is a very misleading claim – one often made by disreputable providers like Author Solution’s BookTango – and not really a great start on building trust with authors when you are launching a new platform/distributor/service aimed at authors.

            If they are actually paying 100% of list/sale price, then wonderful. Amazing even. But I’ll believe it when I see it.

  3. Anthony21 May, 2015

    They mention the long line of people in traditional publishing, but do not mention the long line of other peoples works (good, bad, plain ugly) in self publishing.

    What authors need is a self publishing service that offers better discovery, community and just some good old promotion of good content.

  4. […] everything about the Pronoun (formerly Vook) pronouncement is being met with healthy skepticism in the blogland of self publishing. Mainly, this is because Pronoun hasn’t […]


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