Sunday, May 25, 2008
Author : the Role-Playing Game
How PublishAmerica fosters the illusion of publication
Last month I blogged about an author’s realization that being printed by PublishAmerica (PA) wouldn’t sell her books. This month I’m going to give a more general overview of why PublishAmerica is a bad, bad choice for anyone wanting a serious career in writing.
For those who don’t, PA is fine. If writers don’t pay PA for copies of their own books to peddle, and if they’re honest with other aspiring writers about PA, then I applaud them and wish them only the best.
Unfortunately, once people are sucked into scams, it’s human nature to hang in there and try to make the best of it (i.e. buy more copies of book 1 from PA so that book 2 will receive an acceptance letter, or spend more on promotional material). It’s also normal to justify one’s decision, which means praising PA and refusing to consider any negatives about what has to be one of the most deceptive vanity presses in the industry.
This enthusiasm leads newer writers in, and the cycle perpetuates itself. The heavily censored PublishAmerica Message Board (PAMB) is a good example of this.
Exposure for books
What’s interesting about the PAMB is how it attempts to mimic actual publication for PA authors – usually by providing imitations of whatever commercially published writers get. For instance, if you’re published by Baen Books, your books will be available on the shelves of bookstores nationwide.
If you’re printed by PA, this will not be the case. Bookstores expect a significant discount from publishers – PA does not give such a discount. Bookstores also expect to be able to return unsold copies to the publisher or to be compensated for these. PA-printed books are nonreturnable. Recently, PA attempted damage control by making some books returnable… as long as the author emails PA to request it and as long as the bookstore pays a restocking fee. Enough said.
What can PA authors do? Many of them try to get around this problem by buying their own books (which is exactly what PA wants them to do) and selling them to stores on consignment, or persuading the stores to order them, which some stores will do for local authors. Unfortunately, this doesn’t get the books on shelves nationwide, or even in other cities.
So the most popular substitute for this, on the PAMB, is having a book cover or a blurb or a link to one’s webpage on someone else’s webpage. The books are already advertised on PA’s online bookstore, but PA authors frequently host pictures of each others’ books or add links to each other’s websites. Some set up display sites for this purpose.
This is fine when it’s done to network. It’s not so good when it’s mistaken for book sales or for the publisher-driven publicity that puts books in stores and libraries.
Reviews are another area where PA needs a substitute. Reviewers like Kirkus and Publishers Weekly don’t review books printed by a vanity press. Even if they did, they require copies well in advance of the release date. PA rushes books into print so fast that sometimes the author doesn’t get copies before the release date. PA’s contract also states that PA will send out review copies “at our discretion”. I have not yet read of this discretion extending so far.
Nature abhors a vacuum, though – even on the PAMB. So to fill the gap where legitimate, honest reviewers would be (if PA was a legitimate, honest venture), there are several websites which offer free reviews but also charge for “fast track service”.
Some authors might even pay for this. PA accustoms them to a fast-food level of speed that’s unheard of in commercial publishing (and couldn’t be done in commercial publishing, where books are actually read and edited). Some sites cut to the chase and simply charge. All of them provide uncritical praise or have other ways to soothe egos – as a PA author admits,
Some bad reviews are removed at the author's request.
There are online review sites I frequent, like All About Romance, but I trust them because they’re specific about what works and what doesn’t work for a book. They also don’t remove negative reviews.
Reviews that are flattery, book covers on friends’ websites and a one-dollar advance – all these contribute (cheaply for PA, in the case of the $1 advance) to the illusion of publication. Just as gamers might have a sword or cloak to wear when they roll the d20s, PA and its message board offer writers the trappings of publication when they indulge in Author : the Role-Playing Game.
Ultimately, getting printed by PA if you’re hoping to have an actual career in writing is like trying to build a future in real estate by playing Monopoly. Sure, it’s quick and easy and cheap to buy the game, and you can have fun with your friends. But it’s not and never will be the real thing. Just like PublishAmerica.