The Saddest Stories Are Always True
I’m going to try my best to avoid getting sued here, but I want to say something about literary scams in general and Publish America in particular (not that I’m saying Publish America is a scam, as I would NEVER do that, especially not in writing!).
Writing is an odd art form in that a huge percentage of people believe they have the skills to do it on a professional level. Most people are very willing—even excited—to admit that they can’t draw or dance or sing or throw pots. But you rarely overhear someone saying that they can’t write. It’s as if being a native speaker of the English language should qualify us of all for three book deals and six figure advances. If only!
And, of course, there are hundreds of leeches looking to suck every last dollar out of hopeful would-be writers. I’ve spent many, many hours this week looking through the forums at Writer Beware and Publish America (I am a three-time, All-City, World Champion, Olympic heavyweight procrastinator) and I found some of the saddest tales you will ever read. If you’re looking for a good cry, you can see for yourself here and here.
You can read all about the problems with Publish America here. But I’ll give you the brief version, in case some of you are actually working when you should be working. PA claims to be a “traditional” publisher, rather than a vanity press, but they use print-on-demand publishing with zero distribution, they don’t proof or edit manuscripts at all, and they do less than nothing to promote authors’ books. Instead, they make most of their money by selling books in bulk to the authors themselves, who buy in order to lock in incentives (like lifetime discounts off of PA’s exorbitant prices). Bummer. The authors’ disappointment and desperation is all over the posts in their “Author’s Lounge” forum (that is, until the negative ones are deleted by PA staffers).
Here’s an example from a PA author who goes by “Lindap,” lamenting the fact that the price for his book (which is completely out of his control) has gone up again:
I have a problem here. My book “Silent Killers” was published in 2002. On the back cover it has the price of $19.95. I ordered several copies a while back. The price is still there. I can not keep ordering books as I am on a fixed income. I have sold some, but haven’t had a royalty check in years because the price is so high. Now it is $29.95. People can go to bookstores and buy books from well known authors a lot cheaper this. I realize what PA has done for us and I deeply appreciate it. But I believe my book days are now over…Their [sic] is no way I can order more books even at a discount price with shipping as high as it is…I am 69 years old and on a very limited income and can not order more books with this price… Also, these reduced prices are for credit card only. I had to use my friends [sic] card the other times I ordered because I don’t have a credit card. So that hurts also.
Yep. It hurts me, too. PA’s very belligerent response (which they’ve made public on the same forum) includes the following explanatory passage:
The misunderstanding here is that some assume that being published for absolutely free should never come at any pain for the author. That’s unrealistic. There’s always choices to make, and every choice in life comes with a price tag. Doesn’t mean that you are in any way obligated to fold or conform, not at all. At PublishAmerica, nobody pays to be published, ever. Period. But it’s like flying with a low-cost airline: you pay for extra luggage, for sodas instead of water, for better seats. But it’s still low-cost, or in our case, no-cost!
I don’t know about you guys, but I also get mad about luggage fees. More importantly, having your book published really shouldn’t be painful and it absolutely shouldn’t cost an author anything. I really wish there was a way to communicate this to people who don’t know any better. I would be like a scam-fighting superhero, diving in front of unsuspecting townspeople in my deception-proof vest. But the reality is, all these people would need to do is google “Publish America.” I mean, really, try it and look at those results. It’s red flags in every direction.
I guess we just have to bear in mind that knowledge is power and all that. Spread the word, especially those of you who teach, and make sure that if someone is getting taken for ride, it’s not on your watch.