Monday, February 2, 2009

PublishAmerica: Vanity Publisher in Traditional Clothing

If I could give any aspiring author a single piece of advice about publishing it would be to run don’t walk from PublishAmerica (referred to as PA throughout this post). I can think of no other entity in publishing today that is a bigger problem than this organization. Now, that being said, every time I run into an author who has “published” with them I ask them to tell me a bit about their experiences, and I have found a few who while not praising, at least don’t spit their name with vile. (The majority do spit, curse, break into tears or in other ways lament on how this was the worst choice they ever made.) The ones who seem content are few and far between and I’m sorry to say that 2 years from now they probably won’t feel the same way.

Well that right there is the whole problem. I don’t have problems with companies like iUniverse, and LuLu who are POD’s making their money from authors. They are very clear what they will be doing for you and what the price will be. I see PA as a POD vanity in a traditional publishers clothing.

Again this is the crux of the problem. Because on the surface of things they don’t charge anything – and hence the trap. In fact they give you $1 for signing up with them. Cool you say…I get my book published and it doesn’t cost me a thing – that I’m afraid is where you are wrong. They just have reversed the model. Where traditional POD vanities such as iUniverse, and LuLu ask for money up front, PA gets you “on the back end”. I could make a pun here but I’ll just move on.

PA is not interested in selling books to the “population at large”. They are quite content with their business model which is sell a few hundred books to the author and his friends or relatives. It is their business model and it works for them.

When you first look at PA you may wonder how they make any money at all, but an analytical mind (such as mine) who breaks things down by the numbers, can see exactly what they are doing. Let’s first examine why I say they are not interested in selling books in general.

Selection Process
A traditional publisher MUST be extremely selective about the books they take on. They are investing huge sums of monies and taking a gamble. They will look at hundreds, or thousands of submissions for every book they actually produce. PA acts more like a vanity press when it comes to books they “agree to publish”. Virtually anyone can get a book accepted by PA. They claim they turn away 80% of submissions (and even if that were true the % would still be too high something like ½% would be more common), but the facts don’t seem to agree with this. There are dozen’s of stories of people sending purposefully bad submissions to “test” them out and they were accepted. One person took 30 pages and repeated them over and over until they had a novel length book and it was accepted. The most famous example was Atlanta Nights written by 30 people in the SFWA (Sci-Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Association) who purposefully created what was in their own words “the worst book ever”. It was submitted and accepted by PA. You can read more about this “sting” here. The bottom line is – if you send it they will publish it. A red flag right to start with.

This is the keystone in the PA scheme. They price their books are way above any reasonable market price. Here are some examples:
  • $24.95 for 134 page paperback Man of my Dreams
  • $27.95 for 250 page paperback 500 Years of UFO’s

These are not “cherry picked” – these were just grabbed at random from the PA site (go look for yourself). In fact, whenever I run across an author and look up their book and it is highly overpriced, it is almost always a PA book.

By setting their cover prices so high, PA is betting against their own books. They don't care that readers aren't going to pick up a book by a new author that costs significantly more than comparable books by authors they've heard of. PA happily sacrifices their authors' chances of selling books to the general reading public in favor of gouging a larger per-unit profit out of copies sold to their authors' friends and relations.

Distribution Channel
Most PA books are nearly impossible to buy. The chances of finding a PA on a bookstore shelf is analogous to a finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. I was actually shocked one day when I found one in the children’s area (the only PA book I ever held in my hands) it was 32 pages long and cost $19.95 and it was black and white!! I don’t think the store is selling many of those. Now part of this I’m going to actually give PA a pass on – the main reason they can’t get into bookstores is they are POD and all POD’s suffer from the same problem of non-returnable, and no warehouse stock. But added to the inflated price it is virtually impossible for a store to even consider a PA title. In fact Barnes & Noble has sent letters to PA authors to say that they will not stock PA books – period.

It should be obvious now they make it from the authors and friends of the authors – because they are not interested in selling to the population at large. Let’s take what we have learned from other posts and do some math. As you may recall from the direct selling post our publisher offers a 50% discount (pretty standard for the industry). But PA has the following author’s discounts:

  • 1-20 copies: 20% off of the retail price
  • 21+ copies: 30% off of the retail price
  • However, for your first purchase of 50 or more copies, you will receive a special one-time discount of 50 percent.

Now, PA uses places like LightningSource and CreateSpace to print their books (or at least they did when I did my research. I doubt they have invested in the capital equipment for these expensive machines). And from what we learned in a previous post the price YOU pay for these companies is (0.85 + .012 * pages). Now PA does hundreds of thousands of books, even if each one only has a few hundred printed that’s a lot of books and I’m sure they get a discounted price. But for the sake of argument let’s make them pay full street price – they still make a killing.

For the books listed above the cost that PA has to pay out is

  • $2.46 for Man of my Dreams
  • $3.85 for 500 Years of UFO’s

Now most authors are going to take advantage of that one time 50% discount so let’s say they buy the minimum – 50 copies they would each pay

  • $623.75 for Man of my Dreams (net PA profit $500.75)
  • $698.75 for 500 Years of UFO’s (net PA profit $506.25)

Now it get’s worse because 50 books disappear fast. So the author wants another 50 so they exercise their 30% discount

  • $873.75 for Man of my Dreams (net profit $750.75)
  • $978.25 for 500 Years of UFO’s (net profit $785.75)

Now the author has spent over $1250 for 100 books and the more they buy the worse it gets for them. Even with the discount they are way overpriced so the author makes little to no profit on each sale (I know some PA authors who sell their books at a $5.00 loss just to get them in people’s hands!!)

Now I did cheat a bit because not all that is profit – PA has to pay to “edit” the book and lay it out but read some forums and you’ll realize that their editing process is maybe a spell check. I’m sure they have minimum wage layout people and so they invest as little as possible in the “layout costs” of the book.

If it sounds like I’m carrying a vendetta with PA, well I freely admit that I am. Not because of any harm they did me or my husband. I did my research early and missed that landmine but I’ve talked to so many ruined by them I want to avoid others from the same mistake. And it’s not just me here are some other groups that warn against PublishAmeria:

The Internet is a flame with horror stories from authors such as

I know if you read this after signing on the dotted line it looks bleak – and I’m sorry to say it is. My best advice, and you really are not going to like to hear this. Forget you ever wrote that book. Don’t buy any copies yourself, don’t promote it. Forget it every existed. Go on and write a new book and publish by one of the other mechanism we talked about before…..and wait. Your contract with PA will run out after 7 years. Then you get your book back. Then you can publish and start from scratch. Do not continue to “try and make it work” you are just digging yourself in a deeper hole – there is no win-win in their financial model – you are going to bleed money for every book of yours you sell.

Believe it or not – the answer is yes!! If you have a story you wrote “for yourself” and you just want the pleasure of holding it in your hand and seeing it on your shelf. Then I say go ahead – send it to them. But….and here is the tough part. Buy 1 copy and 1 copy only (say from Amazon or something). Then you can show it to anyone who asks and take it out and page through it and smell it – and heck – you might get a sale or two every blue moon (I’d be curious if this is ever the case). But you must be strong and not “promote” and try to sell it – least you fall into the trap. In this “one book scenario” PA actually looses money. I don’t think many have the willpower to do it but I would love to form an army of people all doing this and lets see how long their model holds up. It may be that before long they have a “xx book minimum” in their contracts.

If even one writer reads this post and avoids PA I’ll be happy. For those that found out too late, I am truly sorry. Don’t beat yourself up. It is nearly impossible to see the flaw in the offer they give you and when you deal with rejection after rejection you might embrace them with open arms. Don’t give into the temptation. Be strong. There are better ways. Trust me you don’t want to go there.


Unknown said...

Oh wow, what a bunch of creeps. Someone I know went with them and now I know why she never really went anywhere with her writing career. Thanks for the heads up, though I am happy with Lulu for now.

Anonymous said...

I have pulished two books with PA and I would like to point out that I was always aware of what they were. They never once hid the fact that if I wanted my books sold anywhere other than on the internet I'd have to do it myself.
They are not the way to go if you are hoping to make money but most new authors are not going to make much regardless of the publisher they choose.
I decided to use PA because there weren't many traditional publishers beating a path to my door at the time and I was primarily wanting to get my name out there and get an idea of what publishing was all about.
PA was perfect for this reason. It cost me nothing and I learned a lot. Would I recommend them for someone who has already published and is hoping to build on that? No I don't. Am I using them again? Only for the last book in the series that I began there. I won't continue my career there. I agree with Robin and many others when they point out that it is a deadend.
I did however achieve what I set out to do. My name is on two published books that are very good. I will publish them elsewhere when I can and I was able to learn about how to market myself and that has helped in my approach to traditional publishers for other work.

Robin Sullivan said...

My biggest objection is that PA is TOO EXPENSIVE - the price is not up front but they do get you on "the back end". Your 74 page novel is listed at $16.95 with your 20% discount you get them for $13.56 - the same book done through createspace is $2.15. Yes there is a $39 setup fee but you only have to buy 4 books and you have more than made up that price.

Anonymous said...

I also have two books published with PA.My first book only paid $6.78 in March-09 and Sept.-09 of $44.17 in royalties and my second book will not pay royalties again until March-10.How can a company with their reputation keep ripping off the Authors and get away with it.Any company in their right mind would not accept a second book, unless they were making profit off the first book.Is there a lawyer out there who could help me? They are Preditors who scam the public.

Robin Sullivan said...

The way they make their money is by authors buying their own books at the small discount and reselling them. People who publish through them but don't buy them will be a "losing" propopsition for PA but most authors buy 50 - 100 books and that makes them a pretty penny.