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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Publish America

Writer’s like myself who have failed, for various reasons, to manage to get a contract to write their book for a reputable, trade publisher are always eager to read about vanity publishing scams and their victims. Right now, there’s a flurry of talk on writers’ blogs and message boards about Publish America because the Washington Post and Associated Press have published stories about PA. I stumbled on the AP story at Michael Allen’s blog Grumpy Old Bookman.

http://www.grumpyoldbookman.blogspot.com/

PA discontent Rebecca Easton got 100 other disgruntled PA authors together to sign a petition and managed to get the attention of the mainstream press.

''We call them an author mill, a publisher that claims to be a traditional publisher and is not,'' said A.C. Crispin, chair of the watchdog group Writer Beware, a subcommittee of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.”

From earlier in the AP article:

“PublishAmerica says on its Web site that by signing with it, ''You will have the very important distinction of having your next book ACCEPTED BY A TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING COMPANY.'' Applicants are assured that manuscripts are carefully reviewed and edited, that books are available in stores and, best of all, that authors do not have to pay to be published.”

Publish America is what’s now commonly known in publishing as a POD, because they employ print on demand technology, where a book resides somewhere on a computer as a digital file and is only printed and bound, one copy at a time, when someone orders one. The reason that PA tries to sell itself as a traditional publisher, though they admit that they use POD technology, is that POD is synonymous with vanity publishing and is the literary equivalent of announcing you have plague. Bookstores won’t stock POD titles and reviewers won’t review them. Bookstores won’t stock them because they have to be paid for in advance and aren’t returnable for a refund from the publisher and also because PODs don’t offer the same dealer discount as trade publishers. Reputable publishers sell their books to bookstores on a consignment basis and offer discounts in the 40-50% range.

Bookstores and reviewers won’t touch POD books because POD publishers will accept anything for publication, no matter what PA’s Larry Clopper says. Here again, from the article:

“Dee Power, unhappy with how PublishAmerica had handled her novel, ''Overtime,'' submitted a ''new'' book that consisted of the first 50 pages of ''Overtime'' and the last 10 pages, repeated over and over. The manuscript was accepted. (Power declined to have it published). PublishAmerica also accepted a novel by Kevin Yarbrough, even though the first 30 pages were repeated six times. (Yarbrough revealed his trick on an Internet site.)”

Easton and her fellow discontents have some right to their anger. Relying on the claims PA makes that it is a “traditional publisher,” they ordered copies of their books (this where all PODs make their money) and embarked on a campaign to get some local bookstores to take a few copies and set up signings. When they were apprised of the facts, they realized their money was wasted and their dreams were dashed. The real source of their anger is that they had to learn the hard way not to take PA’s (or any other offer that sounds too good to be true) claims at face value.

My sympathy is somewhat limited, though I hate to see anyone’s heart broken, especially when they end up paying to have it done. Nevertheless, anyone who has used their computer to discover PA’s web site could do some fast research on the Internet and discover the utter futility of PODs and self-publishing, of which PA is just one example. The articles about PA and the hundreds of messages at ezboard.com only confirms what I deduced years ago from similar discussions elsewhere. There seems to be a direct relationship between writing ability and skeptical intelligence. A capable writer will also be someone who diligently researches their opportunities to be successfully, profitably published. Tyros and dreamers who run off and sign up with PA or any other POD are either credulous novices or have been rejected by every agent and trade publisher and suspect (or know) that self-publishing is a dead end, but can’t admit it, because to admit that would be to admit failure. They want to be able to hold a book with their name on the cover so badly that they simply ignore the obvious.

At

http://p197.ezboard.com/fabsolutewritefrm11.showMessageRange?
topicID=209.topic&start=681&stop=700


SimonSays sums it up perfectly:

“The bottom line is that the vast, vast, vast majority of the PA writers would never get a publishing deal at ANY traditional publisher, because to be brutally honest they are just not good enough writers. I am not critiquing the talent of any individual writer and I am certain that a small percentage of the PA writers do in fact have talent, but most do not.

PA and the other vanity publishers are the literary world equivalent of a karaoke bar. They offer people the chance to live out their publishing fantasies. To "see their name in lights" so to speak.

This is as close as most of them will ever come to getting published. No amount of marketing dollars would lead to a wider audience for their work outside of family and friends - because only family and friends are interested in really bad writing. If they get to have a professionally bound novel they can give (or sell) to their family and friends and have the opportunity to do a book signing at their local Borders is that really so horrible? It's not like PA is ripping them off for hundreds (or thousands) of dollars - like some of the agent scammers out there. Is $21.95 or however much the books sell for really such a big price to pay for the chance to live out their fantasies?

It appears from these posts that one of your main complaints is that PA builds up their hopes for publishing success. But aren't you also building up their hopes on some level? You talk about marketing, editing, book signings, royalties on net vs. royalties on list price - like these are issues that apply to these writers. What difference does it make what the royalties are on a book that no one is gonna want to read? I believe you sincerely are trying to be helpful, but you are feeding their delusions of grandeur and at the same time taking away the sense of a fulfillment and accomplishment they should be feeling for being in print by focusing on what REAL publishers do for REAL writers.”

3 Comments:

Blogger Mark said...

No Peter they're stealing the rights to "legitimate" dreams. My advice to you is to write a good book and continue to sell it to a real publisher. That's ahow the sehelves at bookstores were filled.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Peter L. Winkler said...

Thanks, Mark. Unfortunately, I don't think PA is stealing legitimate dreams, as SimonSays wrote. It would be redundant to repeat what he wrote, but he's quite correct. As for writing a good book and selling it to a real publisher, I've tried. Oh, how I've tried. I've written four book proposals: three by myself and one with a co-writer. The only proposal that sold was for a book about Lotus Notes, and it sold because it was solicited by an editor at Digital Press through my agent at the time, who only handled computer books. The editor knew what he wanted and was lookimng for an experienced writer to do the job.

My friend happened to be a Lotus Notes sysadmin, so we wrote the proposal and the editor bought it. After we received the contract, my friend decided not to do it.

5:47 PM  
Anonymous Alice M Crooker said...

I chose to go with Publishamerica. I am very pleased with my book. We have some very distinguished authors in our midst.
I think too much time is spent by folks wanting their books in bookstores.
Bookstores will soon be obsolete, so we'd better get up to speed and sell on the internet. Of course snobs will not like Publishamerica--they want to be the only folks who write a book. It isn't that difficult

9:35 PM  

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