Friday, July 17, 2009

The latest from PublishAmerica

I enjoy reading about vanity presses, but there’s little to be said about many of these since they’re honest about what they are. They also tend to adopt a single method of being paid by authors (e.g. up front, through book sales, etc) and stick to that more or less faithfully.

In contrast, PublishAmerica frequently attempts new tricks and tactics. Most of these are fascinating from a psychological perspective, and I have to give PA credit for sheer inventiveness; there is nothing that this author mill seems unwilling to try when it comes to getting money out of the unfortunate writers who sign up with them.

PA’s business model revolves around selling books to writers, which they do by sending weekly emails offering discounts on bulk purchases of these overpriced books. The shipping and handling for the first book is $4.99, with $2.99 for each additional book. As a PA author puts it,

But it's $4 book shipping. The shipping is a killer.

And it by no means stops there. First there was the auction for advertising space in the backs of other books.

Then there was the sale of framed royalty checks.

Then PA offered hardcover and large-print versions of books. Naturally, many authors were delighted at this news and eager to order copies, especially since hardcovers were the same price as paperbacks. Their joy didn’t last for long, though.

Well I tried ordering a few hardcovers of my book today and was told that I couldn't order any unless it was 9 or more!I think this is a big mistake because,I know everybody would buy at least one of each of their books!

It’s not as cost-effective to PA to sell one or two books at a time. That’s also why there were (and probably still are) problems with ordering hardcover books directly from PA.

On another note, has anyone noticed we can't get to the hardcovers on the PA site? I could yesterday, then when i tried today, it seemed to have disappeared. I'm hoping the site is just "under maintenance"

Let’s not get into what the shipping and handling costs for hardcovers might be. PA claimed that the prices of hardcovers will go up this week, though whether this is true or a ploy to make writers rush to purchase copies isn't clear. Authors do get regular emails offering them a small number of free hardcover books if they order paperbacks in bulk – s & h not included, of course. But then came the most recent twist.

Did anyone get the PA message about changing to a 1-900 to order books? Have any ideas of the $ $ $ that is going to cost? I have never used such a number- very disappointed.

PA’s response was that they would now have a help desk with a 1-900 number, so authors will have to pay to speak to a real person. However, authors can still order books for free.

Future book purchases can be made online, at no phone cost at all, using a special code that will be made available to all authors.

Why won’t this special code be made available to bookstores and readers? Because PA doesn’t want to sell to bookstores and readers, only to authors, and will use any opportunity, no matter how small, to force authors to buy books.

I am in the middle of working on trying to get someone to buy out my contract. The only problem is, I have to retype my book because I lost my original and PA won't send me a new electronic file. They will if I purchase more than 8 copies and then buy the e-book. I don't want an e-book.

I think of this as the vanity press version of the Death of a Thousand Cuts. In and of itself, each individual email or tactic might not result in mondo profits, but put them together and multiply them by the number of writers on whom PA preys, and it amounts to a lot. And since writers don’t even get the two free copies that they used to – PA has discontinued this practice – they nearly always end up buying copies of their own books just to see the product of their labor.

By now there are numerous warnings about PA. Writers still sign up, though – partly because they may not be aware of these problems and partly because the idea of seeing their work in print so easily and at no (initial) cost to them is too strong to resist. But that worm is on the end of a very sharp hook. And PA will keep coming up with ways to bleed whatever is caught on the end of that hook.


Kami said...

PublishAmerica is so beyond vile words often fail me. They don't just take an author's money--they take away hope and pride too. Sadly, until everyone becomes aware of how they operate, they will continue to do good business.


Marian Perera said...

Hey Kami,

I've recently discussed PublishAmerica with one of its veterans/loyalists (her second contract from PA was rescinded after she mentioned some of the contract's terms on a discussion board).

One of her defenses of PA was that it printed books which would never have had a chance otherwise. In other words, it gave people a sense of accomplishment. Therefore, to destroy their dreams by telling them the truth about PA was wrong.

I asked a few questions - such as whether it's more hurtful to know the truth at the start or much later, after you've spent money and time on what turns out to be a lie and an illusion. No reply.

As well as PA itself, people like this veteran contribute to keeping the honeymooners ignorant or afraid until it's too late for them, until they're so tired and disillusioned that they're not likely to keep honing their skills and finding a real publisher. It's sad.

Kami said...

I hadn't thought about the damage the loyalists do. Yikes.

Another response to PA giving printed books a chance they otherwise might not have is to point out that these books have a lot better chance with other publishers that are less expensive *and* more reliable.

It's so important to do your own research when you go into self-publishing. For example, it's good to know that you can get your own ISBN, and where to get it and how much it'll cost.

You have to know how to develop a good cover. A lot of POD services, for example, give the author some control over their cover and rightfully so--they don't appear to have folks on staff who know the difference between great cover art and something that looks like a screen shot off a video game.

And you'll have to know about advertising, and how to promote your own book. That seems to go without saying, but sadly folks who go with PA don't seem to understand that the things they pay for they can do themselves much more cheaply and effectively.

Marian Perera said...

Here's a comment I saw today on the PAMB, made from a veteran to a honeymooner:

"Welcome to the PA express. You're in for a fantastic ride. You're an author now, just like Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Michael Criegton and so many others."

Just like Stephen King! Other than the fact that his books are reasonably priced, are available in stores, have professional reviews and have been thoroughly edited. And the fact that he's a household name. And gets paid a whole lot more than $1 as an advance.

But other than that, you and Steve-O are on an equal footing, yes indeedy.

IMO, this is why so many PA veterans and loyalists do not suggest self-publishing or Lulu or other alternatives to PA. With these alternatives, you can't indulge in Author: the Role-Playing Game. You can't pretend you were accepted by a "traditional publisher" and are just like Tom Clancy now.

PA sells them an illusion. It's a pricey illusion, and IMO not worth it in the long run or the short, but that's what keeps 'em coming. Because it sure as sunrise isn't PA's service or product or royalties... just PA's illusion.

Anonymous said...

When I was a pre-teen I entered some poetry contest. Wouldn't ya know- I ended up one of the winners. My poem was selected to appear in their hard cover book. Yeah! Then I read on. To receive this book that my wonderful poem was in, I had to send them forty dollars. Yes. I needed to *buy* it.

Immediately, I realized my poem probably wasn't so wonderful after all, and there must be hundreds of other winners with "wonderful poems". No way was I giving anyone forty dollars to see my poem in print. I was incensed at their nerve.

Now, if I could see that was a scam at that young age, why do adults keep fooling themselves over PA?

Marian Perera said...

I think it's because they don't see the transaction as them paying PA for a printed copy of their own work.

They think of it as obtaining books from PA to sell to readers, therefore there's a smokescreen to cover up the vanity aspect. And there are plenty of other writers on that board who will tell them:

1. Readers prefer to buy books directly from the writer, rather than from stores

2. Always carry copies of your book with you so you can show these to potential customers

3. You can make more of a profit from selling books yourself than from royalties

Couple that with PA's weekly emails giving them special discounts and offers, and buying their own books seems normal (and indeed, necessary).