A scam by any other name…

You’ve seen the ads, haven’t you? On the internet, in magazines and newspapers, sometimes even in publishers’ catalogues? The ones that promise to publish your novel for FREE (this word is important) and are peppered with testimonials from authors, all of whom are brimful of joy and talking about a revolution.

A revolution that takes the pain out of becoming a published author. That will allow YOU to circumvent the rocky road of agents and publishing houses. A revolution that offers support in place of rejection, with hands-on guidance from professionals to edit your manuscript, provision of a professional layout and cover art. Heck, they’ll even pay YOU a dollar once your manuscript is accepted, to seal the deal. Your book will be available wherever books are sold. All this from a “traditional publisher” that almost seems to exist purely to make your dream of being a published author™ come true, and quickly at that.

Sounds amazing, right?

Maybe just a little bit too amazing?

Even in 2014, when you can self-publish with very little effort (through any number of companies: Lulu, CreateSpace, direct to the Kindle Store) that level of support looks tempting. You need to do a bit of work to self-publish, formatting, layout, cover design – all of which can be very intimidating to someone who just wants to hold a copy of a book with their name on the cover. And that’s before you even think about marketing or promotion. Before all of those new self-publishing options became available it was even more tempting.

For some, it was irresistible.

Here’s where the fairytale gets darker.

Behind many of those advertisements, behind the trumpeting of a revolutionary approach to publishing, was a company called Publish America.

Long story short: Publish America turned out not to be a dream factory.

In fact, Publish America became notorious for signing up authors and then selling them “packages” (editorial work, cover art, formatting) to help “improve” their books. The editorial work, far from catching any errors, often introduced new ones into the text. The professional cover art was generally a stock photo with a garish font overlaid on it. The formatting was slipshod, with chapters beginning at the foot of a page instead of at the top of the next one. Random white pages, often multiples, were inserted at random through books to pad them to a preferred page count. Font size could also be drastically reduced, to the point where it was unreadable, for the same reason.

Publish America’s books were Print on Demand, sold at an inflated price that discouraged readers from taking a chance on them ($25 for a paperback?), and with a no-returns policy that meant bookstores were unwilling to stock them. You couldn’t walk into a bookstore and find your Publish America book on the shelf, but you COULD go to the counter and special-order a copy of it. At least, you could for a while until Ingram (the largest and most reputable book distributor in the USA) stopped dealing with them altogether.

Authors who complained on the Publish America message-boards found themselves quickly banned, and some of them received threats of legal action. Accusations of slander and fraud were levelled at hapless authors who tried to warn others away from signing a contract with them.

These are just some examples, there are many horror stories to be found if you ask google about Publish America.

I’d recommend reading the Writer’s Beware alert on the SFWA site, the breakdown on Publish America from Preditors&Editors (the addendum is an interesting read too). You can also hop over to AbsoluteWrite and browse their dedicated Publish America message board. If you have a couple of hours to spare you might like to read through the Never-ending Publish America Thread(s) there, which contain many tales of woe directly from Publish America authors. If you’re pressed for time you can just read their original condensed warning post.

If you read through all of that, you are now sorely in need of a unicorn chaser.

Remember those claims that Publish America was a traditional publishing house, and would only publish worthy manuscripts? What if you set the quality bar as low as you possibly could, on purpose, and you still got an offer from them? Wouldn’t that be something? In 2005, a group of Sci-fi and Fantasy writers and some other willing pranksters got together to test the theory that Publish America would publish anything at all. Over a holiday weekend, they bashed out the worst manuscript they could come up with, an utter travesty. They called it Atlanta Nights and submitted it, under the author name Travis Tea (lol), to Publish America. Travis Tea got his book deal. This, then is your unicorn chaser. Read more about Atlanta Nights here, and check out Travis Tea’s website (not produced by Publish America). As soon as the writers made their jolly jape public, Publish America retracted their offer. Atlanta Nights lives on, and is still available for purchase through Amazon and B&N.

Well, that was embarrassing…for Publish America, as were the class action suits and the adverse attention they were attracting online. That negative attention increased over the years to the point where a google search served up a lot of bad news about Publish America before anything remotely positive.

Sounds like it was about time for them to give up.

Nope. Giving up is what the mark does, once you’ve pumped them dry.

Instead, they’ve changed their name, to America Star books, and re-launched. They’ve even expanded into offering “translation services” (read: google translate, probably) and are reportedly actively soliciting business in Germany and the Netherlands.

Same scam, different name, new markets.

Don’t believe the hype.

 

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