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Much Ado About Nothing: Pronoun Allegedly Messed With an Authors' eBook Formatting & Inserted Links

Macmillan’s self-pub distributor Pronoun offers the best royalty rates in the business, but those rates come with strings attached. Authors have to distribute to the Kindle Store, and as one author claims to have found out the hard way, Pronoun also allegedly freely interferes with ebooks it distributes.

As you may infer from my phrasing, I have my doubts.

From Michael N Marcus’s blog:

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 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.

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.)

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!

This sounds really bad, but I have a problem with this report.

I haven’t been able to find any similar complaints, and I am fairly certain that the link spam issue and the formatting issue are both the fault of the author, not Pronoun.

I dug through Twitter, spent hours parsing Google search results, and read nine pages of posts on the KBoards forum.

I did not find any complaints about formatting or that Pronoun spammed ebooks with links. (Several posts on KBoards did confirm that Pronoun had a policy against linking to or mentioning ebook retailers.)

I even went out and bought four ebooks distributed by Pronoun (one, two, three, four, all very nicely formatted), and so far the only serious allegation I confirmed was that Pronoun identified itself as the publisher on the title page and in the metadata. (I did not find link spam.)

Also, on the copyright page it claimed to be the distributor, designer, and publisher. (Given that I have found many authors who have no problem with that misidentification, I decline to lose any sleep over it.)

All in all, folks, the evidence I have found suggests most of the problems were caused by the author, not Pronoun.

I bought several of his titles (one, two, three), all of which he had uploaded to the Kindle Store himself.

Here’s the kicker: All three ebooks contained the link spam the author had accused Pronoun of adding to his books.

I also think the ebooks are poorly formatted, but my irritation with a bogus story could be coloring my opinion.

On the other hand, we cannot discount the possibility that the author’s poorly formatted ebook broke Pronoun’s automation rather than the other way around.

I think I have spent too much time debunking this fellow, so let me end with this:

In conclusion, the major problems are either the fault of the author or have not been confirmed elsewhere, while the lesser issues aren’t all that serious.

This is less a tempest in a teapot than much ado about nothing.

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Mackay Bell April 15, 2017 um 1:08 am

Since you did a ton of research, Nate, why would any writer consider using Pronoun rather than just publishing through Amazon? (Even if they aren’t doing what they were accused of.) You mention the "best royalty rates," but surely they aren’t better than KDP.

David Kudler April 15, 2017 um 2:23 am

I’ve uploaded my own ePup files for three separate books. Pronoun didn’t add anything to any, and the formatting is what I put there. My title page. My chapter heads. My everything.

I haven’t tried using their Word conversion tool yet; perhaps that’s where some of the weirdness comes in. I’ll have to test that.

Also, none of the aggregators will allow you to link to bookstores. None of the retailers want to advertise competitors.

I’m testing Pronoun because they seem to pay a full royalty, not just on Amazon, but on the other four major English retailers as well: Apple, B&N, Kobo, and Google. Their setup and uploading are very intuitive and easy. I’m having my first problem — an file that clears epubcheck but that won’t validate on their system. I’ll see how their customer service is.

Mark Williams – The International Indie Author April 15, 2017 um 3:38 am

Actually, Mackay, they *are* better than KDP *if* you are selling sub-2.99 list price titles in North America. Pronoun will pay us 70%. Amazon only pays 35%. For authors doing a 0.99 Bookbub promotion that can be a very nice earner.

But… these rates only apply to North America sales and sadly Pronoun stings us with lousy rates on sales elsewhere to make up their losses paying out extra cash in North America.

Nate mentions we "have to list to the Kindle store," but that’s only half the story.

If we are using Pronoun to go to Amazon and then decide to change to KDP, in order to do so we must first DE-LIST from Google Play, Apple, Nook and Kobo – costing us sales and more importantly chart position and momentum. We can only re-list to Apple, Google Play , Nook and Kobo through Pronoun once our book is back live on Amazon, which could take several days as we have to wait for Pronoun’s de-list request to Amazon to be processed, then list through KDP and wait for that to be processed.

There are a lot of great features about Pronoun, but being forced to de-list my titles from Apple, Nook and Google Play just so I can move a title from Amazon-via-Pronoun to Amazon-via-KDP is not one of them.

No other aggregator dictates that we de-list titles from one store to favour another.

Mackay Bell April 15, 2017 um 2:31 pm

Thanks for the info! I get it now.

Pronoun Adds Local Pricing, "More by This Author" | The Digital Reader April 30, 2017 um 3:36 pm

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