Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Hoaxing PublishAmerica

You may recall that on 28 January I referred briefly to vanity presses (to use a convenient shorthand term), i.e. firms which will publish more or less anything by more or less anyone. And I mentioned that PublishAmerica is somewhat controversial because it claims to be different from the average vanity firm; it makes itself out to be a traditional mainstream publisher, with a selection process that turns down certain books. PublishAmerica demands no up-front fees from authors, and pays an advance (albeit only $1; but hey, that's a bigger advance than you get out of some).

Personally I can't get very excited about this controversy over whether PublishAmerica is a mainstream or vanity firm or something in between. It seems pretty plain to me that whether PublishAmerica is a vanity press or not, anyone who publishes a book through them is unlikely to sell many copies unless they have a lot of close friends who are prepared to go out and buy it.

However, it seems that some in the book world took serious offence at PublishAmerica's various claims, and set out to show that they ain't true. A group of writers (and some non-writers) who are members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America organisation set out to write a novel which was undeniably awful. Under the co-ordination of James D. Macdonald, each author was given minimal information from which to write a chapter (with no idea of the chapter's location in the book, time of year, background of the characters, what the plot was, et cetera), and encouraged to write poorly. You can find the whole story here.

The result of this many-handed collaboration is claimed, proudly, to be a 'truly awful book, a serious contender for Absolute Worst Book Ever Written.' The result was submitted 'for review' by PublishAmerica to see if it was 'what this book publisher is looking for.' And, er, well, PublishAmerica offered a contract.

Point proved, no doubt. PublishAmerica really will publish more or less anything by more or less anybody. But I think we knew that anyway, didn't we? OK, so PublishAmerica exaggerates a little. But doesn't every company? And at least they're not asking you to invest your life savings. On the whole, the SFWA effort seems to me to be a sledgehammer and nut thing, but everyone must exercise their own judgement on that.

Be that as it may, the point of this post is to say that I have read some of the ms of this novel, and it seems to me to be very funny -- which I believe is what some of the authors intended it to be. If you want to take a look at it yourself you can find it here in PDF form. It's free.

Suggestion: Don't left-click on the PDF link (as I did at first without much luck, because the file will then try to open in your browser, and I guess will do so if you have unlimited patience). It is better, I suspect, to right click and then save the file to your desktop. It will then download quietly in the background while you do something else. After which you can open the file in Adobe Reader, as usual.

As I say, the PDF version of the novel is free. But the SFWA have arranged for the book to be printed too. Any sales profit goes to the SFWA's emergency medical fund. (I understand they've sold about 75 copies so far.) The book version is printed and published through Lulu, which the SFWA describes as a Print On Demand company which doesn't pretend to be anything else, and which to me looks like a very interesting and go-ahead firm. The world of printing and publishing is certainly changing fast.


Suzan Abrams, email: said...

Hi Mr. Allen,
In just referring to the first two paras of this entry , there are all kinds of customised vanity presses these days and I know for one being Malaysian that many Asians who struggle to find agents/publishers in the West for a writing quality perhaps that is still wanting, settle for these makebelieve publishers - not wanting to read the fine print but rather preferring to be seduced and lured by the frills of an extensive website advert. Still, when their books are published, you'll find it hard to discover them even on the Net. There are also family based Christian ones who will draw you to their printing presses, armed with a sound promnise of complete personal attention and Christian values. I find it hard to be convinced however. I still see them as gimmicks in a Halloween disguise.

Lisa Spangenberg said...

The problem with PublishAmerica is that they are not just a vanity press, they are a scam. PublishAmerica encourages authors to believe that they will edit their books (they don't), that their books will be on the shelf in bookstores (they won't, unless authors beg and get very lucky, since PublishAmerica doesn't accept returns) and that their books can be ordered by libraries (not usually, since PublishAmerica doesn't provide LOC CIP data, like a genuine publisher).

Clearly, not only will PublishAmerica accept anything, they don't even read, never mind edit, their ms. submissions.

There's a place for both vanity publishing, and for Print on Demand, witness the excellent service from Atlanta Nights been published by PublishAmerica, it would have probably been priced at about 20.00, since PublishAmerica routinely adds about five bucks to the cover price. PublishAmerica is neither a publisher nor a quality printing service.

Anonymous said...

The real problem with the sting is that the book was the best thing James D. MacDonald ever did. The rest of his output is such hack written crap it makes this free form type of thing head and shoulders above his other work.

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I would love to be part of the Sci-Fi writers even when I know that I love real life stories because they have usually a nice moral