PUBLISH AMERICA — AN INSIDE VIEW

Publish America has had more than its share of bad press and is often termed a Vanity Press. Recently, however, I heard from a very pleased PA author who has never paid a cent to have his books published, although he has probably spent more money on ink cartridges to print his ms., and on gasoline to make it to his book signings, than he has made in royalties He does acknowledge that his sales are in the hundreds, not in the thousands or tens of thousands, that they pay 8% on the first 1000 books, and at his current sales rate, it may take him three years to sell 1000 books, but he is happy, who am I to rain on his literary parade? 

Here is what he had to say:

I submitted my first book and it took a year for it to go through the
process. The editor made numerous changes in grammar errors that my
program did not acknowledge. Do they use a program that is better than
Word, I don’t know. When I submitted my second book (after it had been
edited my someone with a degree in English locally), I tried to use the
express option to get it out quicker. But it didn’t happen because the
editor found too many grammar errors, so it was held up from quick
release.

My books are listed on online bookstores such as Amazon,
Barnes and Noble, etc. As for being on the shelves of bookstores, yes
they are. Every book signing that I have done, the store has ordered the
books for me to sign. If you go into any Hastings that I have done a
book signing at, you will find my books on the shelf. If they sell out
(which does happen) they will order more, even if I’m not coming back
to their store any time soon. The only exception are the stores like
Barnes & Noble. These big stores do not carry a lot of unknown
authors works because they couldn’t possibly have enough shelf space.
But you can walk in and they will order the book.

Price
of the book is a sore subject. Yes the books are priced what I feel a
little bit over what most people would pay  Have I lost customers because of what they feel is too
much to pay for an unknown author’s work? I would say probably yes. But
have I gained readers from those that have read the book and told their
friends about, probably yes. Only 75 copies? The first year 105 copies
sold,  only because I did few book signings. The second year, I
increased my booksignings and the bookstores had sold 150 by June.
These numbers do not reflect those books that I took to private
book signings and such, which were another 200. If you sit around on
your ass, yes you probably would sell 75 or less.

My book is in
libraries. I have not had anyone tell me that they were not coded
right, or that PA was considered a vanity press. (On this I will
comment: One of the reasons that I selected PA to publish my work was
because I did not pay them a single cent to have the book published.
I
had numerous vanity presses try to have me print with them, but I
refused to go that route and still do.
I have signed 3 contracts with PA. Yes they hold the publishing rights
for your book for 7 years.

I suggested that this author, quite a charming and dedicated fellow, consider making efforts to move his series to a publisher with a less "checkered" reputation.  His response was, not surprisingly, similar to the responses of almost every writer who has banged their literary head against the traditional  publishing wall:

Yes some day I would like to be published by one of those big companies
in New York. But reality is that you cannot even talk to them if you
are a writer. The "big" publishers will only take works that are
submitted through agents. So you say "get an agent", I respond "have
you ever tried to get an agent?"

"I have sent out hundreds of query
letters to agencies asking them for representation. In response, none
of them have said that my work isn’t great, but its either: Not for
them, They have too many clients at this time, They don’t represent
action/adventure, They don’t represent romantic works, They don’t
represent scifi, They don’t represent mystery, They don’t represent
horror, They don’t represent new authors, They only take established
authors, They only take authors referred to them by their published
authors, They only look at works at conferences and the list goes on
and on. Of course they wish me lots of luck, but the fact is that they
do not take chances, which they feel that I am."

"PA doesn’t
publisize their authors: What book company does. I think the last TV
commercial I saw for a book was L Ron Hubbard’s Dyantics. Most of the
time you don’t know that a book exist until it is made into a movie,
then you find that the book is a whole lot better than the movie was.
d.
PA doesn’t pay royalties: They only pay a one dollar advance to the
author. Then they pay 8% for the first 1000, then % goes up with more
sales.
It all comes down to this. I’m not paying anyone to publish
my books. As long as my books are selling, I’m happy. The more I get
out there and tell others about my books, the more sales happen."

What can I say?  My mass market paperbacks sell 50-100,000 copies per year. That doesn’t make me rich, nor exceptionally famous. My least selling book is also my highest priced book — $35.95 per copy — but I wrote it back in 1993 and I still earn almost $1,000 a year in royalties from it for doing nothing except cashing the checks.  The fellow who is published by PA didn’t pay to publish his book. He gets paid royalties. That makes him an author in my book, even if his publisher is a bit "iffy."  Hell, I’ve been there. I was paid $25,000 by NPI for the rights to MAN OVERBOARD when, it turns out, they were a vanity publisher for everyone except me! I was the only one being paid, everyone else paid THEM. When MAN OVERBOARD was under consideration for the Edgar, and actually nominated for an Anthony Award, I had to show proof that the book was NOT self-published due to the reputation of the publisher.  Once I established that I didn’t pay a cent for it to be published, and that I was indeed paid an advance (a damn nice one, too), MAN OVERBOARD was accepted as a "valid entry" despite NPI being well known as a vanity press.  So, perhaps the moral of the story is, in part "You can’t tell a book by its publisher/printer"

His frustration in getting an agent to rep his work, or a "New York Publisher" to consider his material is something, thankfully, that I have not encountered.  I’ve been damn lucky, if luck has anything to do with it.  Although, even agents I’ve worked with in the past have passed on representing various projects — either because they are "overbooked," or they simply (and often wisely) don’t see the project as economically viable or timely.

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