Wednesday, December 14, 2005

PublishAmerica - Publishing Parasites

I have to admit to being readily impressed by company names. Maybe it's an age thing. You see, I was around when we had nationalised industries here in Britain, you know, British Railways, British Gas, British Steel, British Road Services, etc., etc. Those companies may have been over-staffed and under-efficient but you always knew you could trust them, and a product marked "Made in Britain" had class - in those days. Even after they became privatised the word "British" in a company name still, in my subconscious at least, gave that firm a stamp of approval. Those were the heady days when we had some traditional industries and workers could rely upon union protection to prevent their jobs being shipped out to third world countries.

When a company called PublishAmerica (http://www.publishamerica.com/index.asp) agreed to publish my small collection of short stories, I was delighted. This wasn't a 'tuppence ha'penny' outfit but an organisation that boasted "America" in its title. I've never been to America but I have made some good "virtual" friends there and know how patriotic Americans are. How could you not feel safe doing business with a firm that so proudly flew the flag of that famous super power? When I checked out PublishAmerica's website, all red, white and blue with the slogan "We treat our authors the old-fashioned way - we pay them," I felt truly blessed. A publisher of high esteem (I believed the testimonials) recognised the reader-appeal of my stories and my potential as a writer.

Further encouragement came from the "Why PublishAmerica?" page where I was told "The majority of our books that are sold retail are sold in physical brick and mortar bookstores" and "PublishAmerica can remove the stigma of paying to be published. With PublishAmerica, you will have the very important distinction of having your book ACCEPTED BY A TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING COMPANY."

Yet something about the company name puzzled me. I mean, why not "The American Publishing Company" or similar? As it stands "PublishAmerica" could be interpreted as an ambition to publish anything and everything that was ever written in that country. Amazingly, that interpretation very much sums up their objectives.

In my enthusiasm I had been studying PA's Author's Message Board, following links to previously published author's websites and reading all the reviews and book excerpts I could find (not realising that authors with anything pertinent to say are instantly barred from posting). Then I read one of their books from cover to cover. Now, my own education at an orphanage school in the Highlands of Scotland was very basic, so my grasp of English Grammar left something to be desired. Nevertheless, convinced I had stories to tell and the ability to tell them, I had joined Internet critique groups to learn how to present them. When I read my first PublishAmerica book my feelings were a blend of embarrassment, anger and disbelief. The writer had obviously worked hard to put the story together and it had the makings of an entertaining read. It reminded me so much of my own first and only attempt at writing a novel - abundant clich s, suspect word selection, contrived scenes and wooden characters existing in a plot that lacked cohesion. It was in fact a story barely at the first draft stage, complete with spelling and grammatical errors. How could an ethical, self-respecting publishing house allow this to happen, I wondered?

PublishAmerica/ScamAmerica are most definitely NOT traditional publishers whatever their slogan implies. Recently interviewed by Steven Zeitchik of Publishers Weekly, PublishAmerica executive director Miranda N. Prather admits that her company DOES NOT EDIT FOR CONTENT, only for grammar and spelling. For readers and writers everywhere this has to be the most worrying statement ever made on behalf of a publisher. But it gets worse. Simultaneously Ms Prather announced the creation of an affiliation between PublishAmerica and Online Publishing Bookstore - Tome Toaster (http://www.onlinepublishingbookstore.com). Quote "Authors that generate sales and create a track record showing that they are able to promote as well as write a book will be referred to PublishAmerica by Tome Toaster." So we have a situation where a writer's ability to self-promote supersedes everything, including the ability to pen a readable story.

I find it a frightening fact that PublishAmerica already have 10,000 published books in the marketplace (recent announcement). Since they don't edit for content it is safe to assume that the bulk of these are badly written at best. By choosing PublishAmerica, genuine AUTHORS who have worked hard at sharpening their writing and storytelling skills find their works irretrievably associated with some of the most inane rubbish ever written, for the period of their contract - SEVEN YEARS! Meanwhile READERS have the dilemma of finding a readable piece of fiction (or non-fiction) in an environment awash with literary garbage.

The scam is brilliant in its simplicity. Instead of asking for money up front, PublishAmerica solicit a list of up to 100 of the author's friends and family whom they bombard with pre-publication flyers offering discounted copies. The sting is in the book's cover price - anything from 25-50% above the going rate for a similar book - ensuring that the friends-and-family discount does not effect the publisher's profit. My own 136 page "tome" was originally priced at $19.95 then reduced to the still prohibitive cover price of $16.95 when I expressed my disgust. Print-on-demand format allows the publisher to recoup publishing costs almost immediately on just a few such sales which are followed up by a "special" bulk purchase offer, irresistible to the author who has received only two free copies for review purposes. I invested three to four hundred pounds sterling and countless frustrating hours that I could ill afford on a marketing project that was doomed to failure from the start. PublishAmerica's lack of author support, only answering phone calls for book orders and ignoring almost all email complaints, is legend, as is the nigh impossible task of finding a bookseller willing to stock PublishAmerica non-returnable titles.

PublishAmerica have a branch called PublishBritannica and I now realise how na ve I have been to believe that a company would necessarily show respect to the country whose name they cynically exploit. Maybe such business practices are par for the course in today's dog-eat-dog, winner-take-all world. I know there are "authors" prepared to buy huge quantities of their books then sell them on to sympathetic, unsuspecting acquaintances, mug gullible punters at book fairs and the like or just sell them to each other. I just enjoy writing stories, being neither a super salesman nor a confidence trickster. Is it too much to expect that a writer's work might succeed on merit rather than misrepresentation and deceit? If companies like PublishAmerica are allowed to legally flourish while exploiting new authors, deceiving the reading public and stifling writing talent, apart from GENUINE TRADITIONAL HOUSES, the book publishing industry will surely drown in a dumbed-down literary quagmire of its own making.

NOTE: Many authors who value their work and who have fallen victim to this disreputable company are campaigning to have the sole rights to their material restored. To those who threaten legal action PublishAmerica offer a release agreement containing a gagging clause. Authors who feel that they have been misled or defrauded by this company are advised to write to -

Office of the Attorney General
Consumer Protection Division-Beth Silverman
200 St. Paul Place
Baltimore, MD 21202

and

BBB of Greater Maryland
1414 Key Highway, Suite 100
Baltimore, MD 21230 -5189
WWW: www.baltimore.bbb.org
Email: info@bbbmd.org
Phone: (410)347-3992
Fax: (410)347-3936

Eddie Bruce © 29.11.2004.

About The Author

Eddie Bruce is retired and writes Scottish and English short fiction. A recovering alcoholic, his works reflect the ordinary man's eternal struggle to find a niche in life. Some of his acclaimed stories can be read at http://www.adrifterslegacy.co.uk.