Friday, June 03, 2005

Publish America - Is There Value in Your PA Contract?

A PublishAmerica (PA) Fan Cries Out: (Forced to Paraphrase)

Editor’s note: This post was changed because I screwed the pooch. I did not seek permission to post this particular writer’s Yahoo Group posts and she is mad. I am big enough to admit my error. Apparently she wanted me to give credit or paraphrase. She really does not want credit; I know I would not want to be attached to a boatload of laughable advice. In the future, I'll give her credit.

So I am taking a few moments to make a change.

She said that PA guarantees your book can be ordered through a bookstore, and PA never guarantees your book will be available in the stores. True, but when you consider that PA tells its customers they send out a printed catalog, many customers probably assume there is some degree of marketing, and there is a good chance their books will be on the bookstore shelves. She said, "You have no grip on reality." Apparently not.

I also said:

The problem is, very few PA books (if any) will ever make it into the bookstores. If PA says they will not try to get your books into the stores, they are useless. I do not know about you, but I want my books in the stores.

One major issue is how PA handles returns. If they (or any publisher) do not accept returns, few booksellers will jump at the chance to stock the book. As a self-publisher, you need to call your local bookstore, ask for the buyer, and tell him or her you are a publisher and you do not accept returns. See what happens.

PA will tell you any bookstore can order your book. So what? If the work has an ISBN number, yes, any bookstore can order the work. This is a rather useless selling point and somewhat misleading. I can obtain an ISBN number for the notebook I use to record household chores and almost anyone can order it.

Writers often tell me that their books are carried or can be ordered by the major on-line sellers, but so what? Anyone can do the same thing, so what is the true value of anything that anyone can do with little or no effort?

A book by a mainstream publisher certainly stands a far better chance of making it into the stores. If you want to succeed, your book MUST be in the bookstores. Then again, perhaps you do not care either way or just being able to hand someone your published book is all you need to float your literary boat. Luck to you.

You will probably find a book published by Random at your local store long before most books published by PA. The only exceptions I can think of are the local author's books. I can always look in the "Local Authors" section and find books written by Utah writers. They are not PA books; I have yet to see a PA book in any of the stores I frequent. A few are, however, self-published.

To be completely fair, IF PA published "The Christmas Box" they might have had an actual best seller. TCB was an anomaly. Google the book and read its history.

Traditional publishers will try to get your book into the stores. Mainstream publishers are well known and they have a record of accomplishment. The book buyer knows a book published by Random House meets some basic level of quality. Chances are, PA will not bust their ass to promote a writer's work. It almost goes without saying that most stores will stock all new Random House books.

I have asked several local buyers about the catalog PA sends out. Without fail, the book buyers tell me the same thing: they toss those catalogs and they never order from them. Nothing more than junk mail.

The BS continues, adding:

Apparently, I do not know what publishers do or how they work. This clever soul apparently believes the writer is always responsible for filing for a copyright. If we are talking about traditional editors and agents, chances are they will take care of securing copyright protection on behalf of the author. Not always, but they are there to help.

With most “publishers” that are catering to gullible beginners, yes, the writer must handle copyright on their own. I recall one publisher that will do this for a hundred dollar processing fee.

Remember, I am talking about traditional publishers vs. all the rest. This would include self-publishing or vanity/subsidy. It all boils down to the contract you sign.

I said:

Quite often, the publisher will help the writer copyright his or her book. Some publishers might simply do that as a part of the publishing process and covered by the contract. I cannot speak for every publisher, however.

I can argue that you should not have said, "You are still very ignorant of the publishing business . . ." You are not exactly a font of publishing wisdom. You appear to be equally ignorant because in past posts, you have told us that traditional publishing sucks, editors steal, publishers now only pay a few hundred dollars in advance money, they demand world rights regardless of what the agent says, and self-publishing is the only profitable option available to writers. I cry for you. I am also amazed that you chose to copy and paste the PA web site promotional copy here to further your cause. (Snipped that part)

When you sell your book to Random House, you can bet Random House will help you secure a proper copyright. Your agent will certainly protect your rights.

Anger arrives:

This wonk was upset because a writer posted about her problems with a particular publisher. Bad editors or screwy terms, as I recall.

I said:

Speak for yourself please. We all need to discuss those firms that might be taking advantage of inexperienced writers, and I do not fault the poster for telling us her tale of woe. Well, up to a point, when whining becomes a tad too much to handle. Some innocent publishers might tell the writer something the writer does not understand and perceives as a rip-off. We need to know about bad editors and bad publishers. The swindles, rip-offs, and the reality of the business must be discussed.

To quote, ”so called other publishers" paid the copyright fee they must have taken it out of the money you probably paid to get published by them.”

I argued:

The fee is a minor issue and it is not worth mentioning. If it is deducted from the writer's earnings, so what? Many publishers deduct many things unless you negotiate your contract. Some publishers simply pay the fees and their legal department handles the paperwork. I take it you have never read a real publishing contract, have you?

This child pointed out that all books have some errors, and she has read best sellers with typos. In fact, she went on to say, “I know missed a few punctuation marks in my first book, but I consider it good luck to have at least one typo in my books. If it doesn't hurt John Grisham's book, it won't hurt mine.”

She considers typos to be “good luck.” Her output must allow her to win big in Vegas. All that good luck, and all.

I am amazed she has read every book and can say that without laughing. My argument was when you compare self-published books (not all) to traditionally published books; it is likely a higher percentage of the self-published books will have problems.

I said:

True, no book is perfect. There are probably more errors in a typical self-published book than you will see in a traditionally published book. Do not compare yourself and your books to John and his books. You are not John Grisham.

Why would you consider mistakes to be good luck? Give me a break. Leaving in a few errors is not luck; it is sloppy writing and inadequate editing. After the work, you might have a few minor errors, but they should be there not because you think it is good luck, but because you missed something. Actually, they should not be there in the first place.

By the way, a best seller is a best seller, not a "so-called best seller." A few typos in your book might not hurt you; then again, I do not know what you try to write. In my books, a typo can cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Apparently, this poster is not aware of what happens to a book once bought by a traditional publisher. Many people are involved by the time it is printed, errors are rare. No so with a PA book. Apparently, their editing is not at all competent. Google them and read a few facts from real writers that actually know what the hell they are doing. Stop parroting “bad writer dot com.”

She did say that it is the author's responsibility to write the best book possible. I agree, to a point. She said if the editor makes mistakes, authors should return the work until it is correct. Easy to say; most editors will not (probably) invest the time in an unknown writer’s work, unless it is stellar.

She also said, “You don't go crying to the public to get attention because your book sucks and no one wants to buy it.”

I said:

Part of the editor's job to make sure the book is as good as it can be. Great books become better when a skillful editor is involved. Even Stephen King relies on an editor. In fact, King often credits his editor for making his book a better book.

PA does not take a personal interest in the writer's effort. Their goal is to sign up as many writers as they can. I suppose Random House could operate using PA's business model. They could offer their writers one-dollar advances and take absolutely everything that comes over the transom. Then we would be laughing at Random House.

PA is NOT a traditional publisher by any stretch of the imagination. It is high time you learn that simple fact. I would also suggest that you refrain from saying that a list member's book "sucks." Have you read it? I did not think so.

She then suggests writers (again) should not point out the problematic editors and publishers. I cannot agree; we all need to know who the sharks are. And there are plenty.

I said:

Well, you are a PA client. It really comes as no surprise that you would defend them. Do a web search for "Publish America" and read what others have to say.

PA is certainly not without their problems and there share of detractors that frankly, often know far more about publishing than ninety nine percent of PA's clients.

She said, “No one cares about Dee and her sob story except for Dee. Oh, and the other few authors who are looking for attention.”

I said:

Stop speaking for me. We should care about these issues because they can affect our business. Hell, I can bang out a crafts or computer book and most likely, find a publisher. A few others on this list could this as well. So the writing is not the problem; the mechanics and the business end are. New writers need to be careful because new writers are often taken advantage of and screwed to the wall. Bad companies need to be outed, crushed, and killed off.

I am betting that many PA clients actually think that signing a PA contract is a real accomplishment. They need to know that their accomplishment might not mean what they think it does. Go ahead and sign with PA. Just learn the differences between them and a traditional publisher.

PA will likely accept anything sent their way and you do not get a fair advance. One buck is certainly not fair. They claim to have a competent editorial staff, but a Google search will be quite revealing. Apparently, not so good. You do not get much promotional help from PA beyond the mass mailed catalog. Many reviewers hate to review these types of books and many mainstream publishers will laugh at you, as will many professional writers and editors.

By the way, I am told that "Publisher's Weekly" does not review PA books. That can hurt the writer. Neither will many literary editors because they get so many bad books. This is not good.

The writer's efforts will not often impress anyone but the writer and his/her family, so the publishing victory is hollow. PA holds themselves out as legitimate publishers and some people bite. You get what you pay for and in accordance with the PA contract. I can't fault PA for their success except to say that in most cases, I'll bet that the writer thinks they have done something amazing.

I find their general approach somewhat misleading and I see little value overall. However, if you decide to use their services, read your contracts. I might not like PA, but I can disagree with how they promote their services to others.

In my view, their focus is money and most certainly not literary excellence. Mainstream publishers are generally more concerned with the quality of the book than PA is, as any writer that sells a book to a mainstream publisher will attest. Crap is not going to be as readily published by legitimate publishers to the extent it is published by publishers many find questionable.

You should not use PA (and similar vanity and subsidy outfits) until you think it through with great care and talk to a good literary lawyer. My personal belief is Publish America is a bad deal for most writers.

Robert Maxey - Salt Lake City, Utah


At 7:11 AM, Blogger Carolyn said...

Hi, I enjoyed your article. I have recieved several offers from PA & Bookman Publishing. Now, when I get them, I no longer bother to open the envelope.

I have never published (other than local paper, etc). After reading a few self-published books by authors I've met in on-line writing groups (Yahoo, MSN), I would not consider using a POD publisher. There are way too many errors, lack of good editing skills, paragraphs misplaced throughout (authors' fault for not knowing how to write a good story in sequencial order).

Self-publishing may be good for personal family history books, etc. Otherwise, I think it gives a writer a false sense of perception regarding their talent and skill level. Kind of like the mom who convinces her tone-deaf kid he/she will win the singing contest.

So that's my 2-cents. Thank you for your time :)


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