PublishAmerica’s Shady History

Gabe Habash -- August 19th, 2011

Yesterday’s news that “publisher” PublishAmerica responded to J.K. Rowling’s cease-and-desist letter with a cease-and-desist letter of their own is just the latest in the company’s not-so-illustrious history. You can view the letter here, which is most notable because their legal representation utilizes triple exclamation points.

A brief summary: PublishAmerica promised authors that for $49, it would show their books to J.K. Rowling. If the Rowling price tag is too high for you, for $29, PublishAmerica will give your book to President Obama.

We thought we’d shed some light on PublishAmerica, if only because some of what’s happened with them is so unbelievable that it’s a wonder they still exist.

According to its website (which has an aesthetic that’s very appropriate for the company), PublishAmerica’s founders had a dream back in 1999: in a difficult publishing marketplace, they could serve as many authors as possible that otherwise would have little chance at getting their books published the traditional way. And if you’re wondering how many “as many authors as possible” entails, those numbers are 11,000 authors under contract and about 4,800 titles released per year.

The best story of PublishAmerica’s history involves the hoax title Atlanta Nights that was submitted by a team of writers under the pen name Travis Tea. They were upset with the company’s comments, found on the company’s Web site, about the sci-fi genre including, among other things:

As a rule of thumb, the quality bar for sci-fi and fantasy is a lot lower than for all other fiction. Therefore, beware of published authors who are self-crowned writing experts. When they tell you what to do and not to do in getting your book published, always first ask them what genre they write. If it’s sci-fi or fantasy, run. They have no clue about what it is to write real-life stories, and how to find them a home. Unless you are a sci-fi or fantasy author yourself.

The writers, who were suspicious of PublishAmerica’s claims that they reject 80% of the manuscripts they receive, decided to submit a masterpiece of literary garbage–a book that had a missing chapter, two chapters that were identical, copy rife with spelling and grammar mistakes, and a nonsensical story that reads like this:

“Bruce walked around any more. Some people might ought to her practiced eye, at her. I am so silky and braid shoulders. At sixty-six, men with a few feet away from their languid gazes.”

The book was accepted for publication. This is the acceptance letter (from Meg Phillips, Acquisitions Editor):

As this is an important piece of email regarding your book, please read it completely from start to finish. I am happy to inform you that PublishAmerica has decided to give “Atlanta Nights” the chance it deserves….Welcome to PublishAmerica, and congratulations on what promises to be an exciting time ahead.

A month later, the authors revealed the hoax and PublishAmerica pulled their offer. The new letter:

We must withdraw our offer to publish “Atlanta Nights”. Upon further review it appears that your work is not ready to be published. There are portions of nonsensical text in the manuscript that were caught by our editing staff as they previewed the text for editing time assessment pending your acceptance of our offer.

On the positive side, maybe you want to consider contracting the book with a vanity publisher such as iUniverse or Author House. They will certainly publish your book at a fee.

PublishAmerica has been involved with quite a few lawsuits in its history; a few of them can be found here, here and here.

It should be noted that some authors have apparently spoken up in defense of PublishAmerica. Unfortunately, those endorsements are buried under articles that put words like “scam” and “beware” alongside the company’s name.

So, the message bears repeating: if you’re looking to publish your book, exercise caution when considering which press or publisher to use.

13 thoughts on “PublishAmerica’s Shady History

  1. Renee Evaline Isherwood

    Dear Mr. Habash – I wanted to thank you for telling your truth and everything you know about PublishAmerica. I am currently a (trapped) PA author that spends every day of my writing career kicking myself for ever making the mistake of signing with PA.

    I hope you don’t mind me posting a link to a report I composed telling my truth about PublishAmerica. If you are ever interested, please feel welcomed to skim through it.

    It is my hope that if enough of us tell our truths, eventually PA will shut down. They are hurting too many of us; they are a horrible opportunistic disease.
    Thank you again
    Renee Evaline Isherwood

  2. Pamela

    So once sucked in, how do we get out? I submitted a manuscript 5 years ago and was accepted. Five months after I signed with PA I had received a letter from a major publishing house about my manuscript. I had to turn them down because I had already signed with PA.

    I have been asking for my book rights to be returned for 5 years now and nothing has come of it. They are also wonderful at reminding me that my contract states that I have to give them first chance at my next book.

    How do I get away from them?

  3. Brian T.

    I was conned by PA as well, under another one of their imprints America House. Fortunately for me, it was brought to my attention at an early stage, that I was dealing with a very incompetent and scamming publisher. It was my authors copy of the book that made it very clear. The ‘book’ was a continuous long sentence, no spaces between written words. I still have said copies. I knew then that I needed to do whatever I could to get my rights back. Finally after some pushing and pulling they relented and the contract was nullified. Of course this was during a few of the aforementioned law-suits in 2000-2001 or there abouts. It is hard to believe that after all these years, PA is still allowed to operate as a publisher. Or for that matter continue to sell work by ‘released from contract’ authors, who do not and have not received ‘royalties’ for their work, since being released from PA’s clutches. I have reason to believe there are many.

  4. Bob Stockton

    Well of course the vanity presses make their money selling to wide eyed authors. Traditional houses won’t even look at the incredible amount of unsolicited manuscripts that are written each year by unpublished authors. Publishing is a Catch-22 world and we live in it as best we can. I have no illusions as to where my efforts may lead but as long as I’m breaking even and have an opportunity to move forward the whole sordid process is worth a shot.
    P.S. the marketing folks at the publisher of my second book don’t even bother to call me to announce their latest scheme to make me rich and famous.

  5. Beth Miller

    If only those in business would realize that having ethics and concern for others does not mean profits cannot be the priority. Selling books isn’t easy no matter how good the title is. Publishing legitimate in demand titles and using good marketing strategies is the only way I know to be successful in this business, not preying on would be authors by feeding their egos with falsehoods. Ironically, vanity presses with a set of recognized standards and practices could become part of the industry if it weren’t for the obstacles created by those in the trade who are so insecure they fear the inclusion of new un-privilaged talent. A legitimate vanity press would run the present set of despicable vultures out of business.

  6. Charlotte Boyett-Compo

    After having been a part of two class action suits against subsidy publishers with whom I was stupid to get involved, I learned a hard-earned lesson about vanity/subsidy publishers. Thankfully I was able to parlay the loss of thousands of dollars into a viable career but others have not been so lucky.

    As the founder of IWOFA (Infinite Worlds of Fantasy Authors), I caution our members NOT to get sucked in by PublishAmerica and their ilk. Unfortunately in their headlong rush to get published, many writers ignore the warnings and the warning signs and plunk down money they can ill afford in order to see their name in print. Companies like PA knew that would be the case going in. As P.T. Barnum said: There’s a sucker born every minute.

    I have had dealings with Dave Kuzminski from a time when he spoke out against one of the thieving publishers with whom I was entangled. I admire Dave for speaking out and I am a firm believer in paying it forward. If I can save one writer from being taken in by unscrupulous book publishing scam artists, I will.

  7. Florrie Binford Kichler

    Getting a book into print is easy–it’s what comes after it that’s hard, and choosing the right business partner is critical. To all authors who aspire to publish, please, please do your due diligence BEFORE you plunk down hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for services that either don’t exist or promise unrealistic outcomes. Education is the enemy of fraud and I encourage all those who are interested in publishing their own book to learn as much about the publishing industry as possible before the first dime changes hands.

    Florrie Binford Kichler, President
    IBPA, Independent Book Publishers Association

  8. Chris

    I know a lot of people bash PublishAmerica, and for good reason, but you have to realize that – like all vanity press – it does serve a purpose. If your goal is to see your book in print, they’re no better or worse than any of the others. I have a writer friend who published 3 books through PublishAmerica and was pleased with the process. Though I tried to dissuade her after the first one because she made no money on a book that got solid reviews, and I thought she had some “legit” options, she just wanted her book in print.

    To test this process, I submitted a manuscript for a children’s book aimed at the middle-school range and received an offer. The royalties are fantastic – higher than most – but the issue is the price point. For what would have been about a 100-page book, targeting 8-to-12 year-olds, they wanted to charge $15-18! When I told them I wasn’t interested, I got a response along the lines of “well, good luck finding someone else who will offer you what we will!”

    The bottom line: They make their money selling to the authors themselves. If it costs them, say, $2,000 to print your book, and they can get the author to buy 200 copies to sell him or herself, they’ve made a profit. There’s no downside to it for them.

    Of course, that in a nutshell is the definition of a vanity press, isn’t it?

  9. Celine

    Ah, Atlanta Nights, that braided, silky legend. Long may it live, and long may the lessons it teaches echo from ear to ear. Sometimes there are worse things than a rejection slip.

    Let’s all remember Yog’s law folks. Let’s never ever forget Yog’s law.

  10. Amanda

    PublishAmerica demonstrates with that response how unprofessional they are. Instead of responding politely and removing the offer, they litter this response with insults, threats and challenge Ms. Rowling to do something about it. It ends with what looks like an extortion attempt.

    Furthermore, PublishAmerica has included the names of people that have absolutely nothing to do with their gripe with JK Rowling. The Lawsuit against Dave Kuzminski had nothing to do with PublishAmerica. That was a lawsuit involving Vic Cretella (the “attorney” who wrote this response). Vic hired his own attorney to represent him in that action.

    As for Reverend Darkness and Phil Dolan, just because you may file a lawsuit does not mean your allegations or your lawsuit has merit. The parties have not filed a response and have not had their day in court. To make a statement such as this to such a vast audience is defamation and character assassination, not to mention malicious harassment. It is astounding that an attorney would do such a thing. It appears that Mr. Cretella is emotionally involved (too emotionally involved) and cannot separate himself from his client. By bringing up in this public statement his personal lawsuit involving Mr.. Kuzminski, Mr. Vic Cretella has made himself a witness.

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