By Tara E. Buck
News-Post Staff

FREDERICK -- To many first-time authors, PublishAmerica is a godsend that will publish works more traditional publishers decline.

In the eyes of some who have worked with the local print-on-demand house, however, PublishAmerica misleads its many authors into believing their works will find a nationwide market.

"There's a honeymoon period when (PublishAmerica) authors are sort of happy," said Anne Crispin of Waldorf, a co-founder of "Writer Beware," an online resource dedicated to helping fledging authors slog through the publishing world. "We would have no complaint if they'd just be honest about what they were."

PublishAmerica co-owners Larry Clopper and Willem Meiners say their company is up front when it comes to its business model: publish first-time authors' works with no up-front costs to the writer.

"Our goal is to publish works of authors who had no other chance," Mr. Clopper said recently at his office within 111-113 E. Church St. "In that, we've succeeded phenomenally."

PublishAmerica touts more than 10,000 authors, according to Mr. Clopper, most of whom are happy with his company, he said. The company raked in gross revenues between $4 million and $6 million in 2004, Mr. Clopper said.

Not everyone is offered a chance to publish through PublishAmerica, he said. Those who are typically receive a $1 advance upon signing their contract, and their books are to be made available for sale within a year.

Advances are funds contracted authors receive from a publisher against the future earnings of their works. The money is repaid to the publisher within a certain amount of time.

PublishAmerica is different from more traditional publishers, which publish massive quantities of books that can be sold in, and returned by, brick and mortar bookstores. It is also different from a "vanity publisher," which charges authors up front costs to print a certain quantity of books the authors then, for the most part, sell themselves.

Somewhere in the middle lies PublishAmerica, which has books printed as orders are received. The distinguishing line is a thin one, according to Ms. Crispin. She said PublishAmerica can tell prospective authors its services are not publish-on-demand -- also known as vanity publishing -- although Mr. Clopper himself refers to PublishAmerica as "print-on-demand."

What happens after the book comes out is another story, and that's when Ms. Crispin and others raise complaints about the company.

"'It's only a $1 advance, but I'm getting my chance,'" first-time authors likely think when they are first accepted by PublishAmerica, she said. "They believe their books will be stocked on shelves in stores. ... 'Available' does not equal 'books on shelves in stores,' but writers don't realize that."

Authors will "try to get review copies sent out" to newspapers or magazines that review books but "PublishAmerica will not do that," Ms. Crispin said. Authors "go into a store expecting to find their book, or will ask the owner to order some, they're told it's a publish-on-demand firm and the books are non-returnable. That means they won't sell them."

Anjie Kendall of Frederick said she wished she had known more about publishing before signing a seven-year contract with the local company.

Her small volume of short science fiction/fantasy stories, "Tales from a Draconian Shore," was picked up by PublishAmerica late in 2003.

"I was pleased at that time," she said. "The one thing that sold me on it was that they'd be available in brick-and-mortar stores. I really wanted my friends across the country to be able to walk into that type of store and actually walk out with my book. Then you find that they won't stock (PublishAmerica) because the stores themselves consider them a publish-on-demand" company.

"They say in the contract that you do some local marketing, but I would also have to order the books for a book-signing. I don't have that kind of money," Ms. Kendall said.

"What seems to be the common theme" among those who have a problem with PublishAmerica is "they get hooked in through the Web site because it sounds great," she said. "'We'll give your book the chance it deserves,' they say. Everyone gets that letter. It's just not what happens."

She said she has been offered specials by the company for book orders and even bought 50 copies of her book at one point (108 pages, $19.95), but her last royalty statement was for $12.

"I never had grand illusions that I was going to be the next pop bestseller," Ms. Kendall said with a laugh. "But I haven't even made a little bit of money. After everything, I thought, 'What was the point?'"

'They'll never write again'

Ms. Crispin said her online group has tried to spread the word about PublishAmerica's practices to prevent authors like Ms. Kendall from becoming completely disillusioned with the publishing world.

"Some people decide, after all this is done, that they'll never write again. That's sad," Ms. Crispin said.

Online message boards at Writer Beware and Absolute Write are filled with page upon page of writers' complaints against PublishAmerica. Ms. Crispin recalled one PublishAmerica author, Dee Power of Fountain Hills, Ariz., who said she submitted a manuscript to PublishAmerica in which she deliberately repeated 30 pages of the same words. She eventually was offered a contract by the company.

"I have the e-mail offering me the contract," Ms. Power said.

"They claim to have editorial gatekeeping," Ms. Crispin said, "but I've never seen evidence of it. ... What they're doing is not illegal in the ways we see with some of these fly-by-night companies, but they are deliberately deceptive and they treat their authors as though they're dirt."

Back on East Church Street, Mr. Clopper said Ms. Crispin and others who have raised complaints against his company are a "vocal minority" and that most of the 10,000 or more authors contracted with PublishAmerica are happy with its services.

He and Mr. Meiners got together to start the company in 1999 because they shared a frustration in not being able to get their own books published with traditional houses years before. Mr. Meiners has been a part of the publishing world for the past 30 years, he said.

PublishAmerica books can be ordered through Barnes and Noble, which Mr. Clopper said is his company's biggest customer.

Mr. Clopper also said PublishAmerica books are marketed nationally by a marketing team that earlier this month was manned by three employees, although he hopes to increase that department to at least seven employees by year's end.

Harry Angus of Coral Springs, Fla., had his book, "Nautically Challenged," picked up by PublishAmerica in 2004 and, so far, he said he is happy with the results.

"I was having difficulty finding a publisher," Mr. Angus said, and PublishAmerica was where he turned.

He admitted it's been tough to get his book into actual stores.

"You really have to do your own promotion," Mr. Angus said. "It's been hard. So far, I've not had much success. Many (stores) don't take it because it's print-on-demand and PublishAmerica doesn't accept returns."

Still, he's not discouraged.

"This week a Barnes and Noble manager told me he'd buy a few copies and he would have a little signing for me. I can have the signed ones for sale," he said.

Eric Obmann of Mineral Wells, Texas, has been satisfied with his PublishAmerica experience, too.

He's "very, very excited," he said, to see his new book, "October 31st," being printed.

"I think anyone and everyone would be happy with the way PublishAmerica does business," Mr. Obmann said, though he's done most of his book editing on his own.

"They gave me a style guide to go through," he said. "It was sort of a crash course in English. It tells you how publishers want their manuscripts."

He is in the process of hiring a literary publicist to help him sell his book.

"PublishAmerica is of the mind that authors should be proactive in their dealings with their book," Mr. Obmann said.

Friends and family

"It's like a vanity press," said Lisa Maliga of Los Angeles. "They get you on the back end, rather than up front."

She claims PublishAmerica, while touting itself online as a "traditional" house, really makes its money from its authors, just as a typical vanity press does.

"They think libraries can order them," she said. "They think book stores will stock them. They do lead you into thinking you're published and will be in bookstores."

Authors typically submit to PublishAmerica a list of 100 names of friends and family to which the company can then market the book.

"You pay nothing up front," Ms. Maliga said. "That's how they get you. As soon as your book arrives, for two weeks you can order more at a 55 percent discount. ... They send e-mails every two or three months offering discounts."

Ms. Maliga is trying to get out of her contract with PublishAmerica, which she signed in 2003. Thus far she has been unsuccessful. She, Ms. Crispin, Ms. Kendall and others who are raising their concerns said they are simply trying to keep PublishAmerica from preying on first-time authors who likely know very little about how the publishing world really works.

Mr. Clopper, on the other hand, said PublishAmerica's business model will prove to be the future of the publishing industry.

Incidents like the acceptance of Ms. Power's phony submission are not common practice at his company, he said. PublishAmerica, in 2004, released 4,800 books, up from 750 in 2000, he said.

"Print-on-demand is actually a technology that's used by more and more publishers every day," he said. "We're pushing the envelope toward all books being printed on demand, and that's the main crux of what we're all about, not printing out warehouses full of books and taking a risk on whether they'll be sold or not.

"We state this very clearly on our Web site," he said. "No one is being misled in any way and no one's really complained to us, either. We have 11,000 very happy authors. You've heard a few complaints, but you have to divide that number by 11,000 to see how much credibility these people have."

Still, Ms. Crispin and others who are unhappy with PublishAmerica will continue to take their claims, for one, to the Maryland attorney general's office. So far they have been unsuccessful in getting an investigation launched into PublishAmerica's business practices. Read and learn at Lisa's Library of Writing. Discover the diverse writings ranging from free soap and bath & body recipes to fiction, figure skating, herbal hints, and helpful publishing advice. Explore an extensive array of links. This is the literary home of Lisa Maliga, http://www.lisamaliga.com

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