Authors' Allege Publisher Deception

© 2004 by Steven Zeitchik at Publishers Weekly, November 22, 2004

A little-known Maryland publisher with a large author list is provoking an outcry from some of those authors, who claim the company engages in practices both gouging and misleading.

The authors charge that Publish America presents itself as a traditional house, but acts like a vanity publisher. Nearly two dozen writers who contacted PW had a range of complaints, including that Publish America sells books to which it no longer holds the rights; offers authors only a 30% discount; doesn't pay royalties it owes; engages in slipshod editing and copyediting; sets unreasonable list prices; and makes little effort (and has had little success) in getting books into bookstores. PA has been nonresponsive to complaints, said the authors (most of whom have not been published by traditional houses) and refuses to release authors from their contracts. While Publish America doesn't charge for printing the books, it does require authors to provide a list of friends and family, and then markets to them heavily, according to the authors.

Publish America has been courting authors to sign up and has been seeking a higher profile through ads in the New York Times Book Review, in which it claims to be in the business of "bringing authors's dreams to reality"; in its marketing materials, however, PA sells itself as a "traditional publishing house."

In an interview, Publish America executive director Miranda Prather said that all of the author claims were unfounded. Prices, she said, were based "on what the market can bear." As for bookstores, she said, the company does have a substantial retail presence, but "we don't control the bookstores in the country." She declined to estimate how many of the 9,000 authors the house claims in fact have a trade presence.

As for marketing to the author, Prather said, there's "no pressure on our authors to buy their books. That would make us a vanity press." She declined to identify the company's CEO and, unlike a traditional house, said that the company does not edit for content, only for grammar and spelling. Prather estimated that 80% of authors who approached the house were turned away, and she said the house has "30 full-time editors" out of a staff of 60, and plans on bulking up total staff to 100.

She also said that the house was open to renegotiating contracts, but did not automatically terminate a deal because an author was unhappy. "Nobody has come to us with a true breach of contract. [Claims] have run the gamut of individuals complaining about the prices, the editing or the marketing."

Led by Dee Power and Rebecca Easton, the authors' group is mounting a campaign to alert the media about PA. A release with more than 100 e-mail addresses of aggrieved authors was recently sent to the press, and, after a story ran in PW NewsLine last week, PW heard from more troubled authors. The enterprise, said authors, is in many ways worse than a vanity publisher, because of how the house positions itself. "If they would just say, buy your books up front and pay X amount and we'll give you X, Y and Z, then that would be one thing," said author Kate St. Amour, who wrote a spiritual thriller called Bare Bones. "But they don't tell you those things when you sign up with them."

The authors said the goal is as much public awareness as restitution. "We hope to spare other people, perhaps thousands, the frustration and problems we've had with this deceptive company," Power said in her letter.

--Steven Zeitchik
© 2004-2005 by Steven Zeitchik and Publisher’s Weekly
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