PublishAmerica's Mind Games
While awaiting recovery of my short story collection held hostage by PublishAmerica, I tracked the remarkable ability of this vanity book mill to not only to keep one step ahead of the law, but to treat with contempt their contracted authors and the ever-growing mass of writers' forums campaigning for an investigation into their illegal practices.
Let's ignore for a moment the indifference shown by those public bodies paid to protect their citizens, and examine how PublishAmerica's 125 new signings a day (their latest claim) fall into the evil web spun by Willem Meiners, Larry Clopper, Miranda Prather and other soulless characters who make up their anonymous and absurdly-named Author Support Team.
Should a misguided friend or spiteful enemy point a novice writer in PublishAmerica's direction, a first logical step should be to undertake a simple Google search. Such a search reveals about 614,000 results, of which probably 99.9%, other than book publication announcements, are waving bright red flags proclaiming "Vanity Press! False and misleading advertising! Stay away!" (ref: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A25187-2005Jan20 , http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=10211 , http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B0002RH4F0/104-1112844-8683166?v=glance , http://critters.critique.org/sting/ - etc., etc., etc.)
But let's assume that this person ignores the plethora of alternative links, goes directly to the PublishAmerica home page and is greeted by the words "Book Publishers" (they also use the phrase "traditional book publishers") and "Click here to submit your book." (ref: http://www.publishamerica.com/index.asp ) Alongside is the Better Business Bureau's reliability badge (I shudder to think what BBB's definition of a worse business would be). Before taking the plunge the novice writer might decide to check out some of the 156 pages of testimonials, unaware that most of the comments were made by naïve writers prior to the reality checks that came with their first couple of near-zero royalty cheques. Ah, but what do PublishAmerica authors have to say about their "publisher"?
Cue the AUTHOR MESSAGE BOARD, PublishAmerica's shop window and mainstay of their scam, where deferential die-hards spread misinformation to be culled along with newbies' unguarded remarks for use ad nauseam in PA's misleading/false advertising, form email letters and testimonials.
Most of those posting are between the state of euphoria induced by their book being given "the chance it deserves" and the horrible realisation that they have been taken for a ride by an expensive, print-anything vanity press, a learning process that can take up to two years. Much has been written about the cruel treatment vulnerable writers receive at PublishAmerica's hands including, ironically, the many whose works were written to highlight abuse. (ref: http://www.wizardessbooks.com/html/PA_stories.htm ). Campaigning victims and authors' advocates go to enormous lengths to make it clear that their condemnation is directed at PublishAmerica and not their authors, (ref: http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=524 and countless others) but I find it impossible to extend this courtesy to hard core PA cheerleaders who use the message boards to patronise ecstatic new arrivals, encouraging them to buy their own books for resale while implanting false optimism along with marketing ideas they know are doomed to failure.
Unlike Willem Meiners, I make no claims to a background in psychology, but I suggest that psychology students could do worse than study the dynamics of this fraud. The PA message board scenario is so believable and well orchestrated that while reading the pretentious messages regular visits to the Google search pages are necessary just to keep in touch with reality.
It goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of writers would like their book to be read by the general public, not just their family, friends and those within their social circle. Messages posted by writers in the "honeymoon" stage of their PA experience reflect these ambitions as they set up their websites and grapple with the virtually impossible task of persuading bookstores to shelve their mostly unedited, overpriced books. (ref: http://bb.publishamerica.com/ )
Fully-paid-up members, the great survivors, i.e. those prepared to buy quantities of their own books for resale, have long since succumbed to the PA doctrine, believing that the works of people who make little or no effort to discover whether or not they possess any writing talent should be inflicted upon the reading public along with real books. They live in a kind of dumbed-down literary parallel universe, carefully avoiding educational writing websites as they seek out guestbooks to sign and Amazon's PA book pages where they can exchange five star reviews with fellow members. It's the "published author" masquerade, made up of role-players who fit PA's scam like a glove (to quote Miranda Prather's oft-repeated phrase). It could be considered innocent fun for those who can afford it but for the harm they inflict upon those with real ambitions for their writing. So fiercely proud are they of their status that they are prepared to watch close friends being banished from the boards for showing the slightest dissent without raising a whimper of protest. This is what Willem Meiners' cult does to otherwise admirable people. It's Pleasantville patrolled by white-collar thugs.
As the truth dawns on them, Newbies will see their posts deleted and their board membership withdrawn simply for sharing their experiences of being laughed at by bookstore managers, refused book signings or simply for seeking clarification of the author-unfriendly contract and returns policy. They will be eliminated immediately to be replaced by others as ruthless PublishAmerica staff monitor the boards 24/7.
Recently the twice-yearly author royalties were distributed. Writers whose books have been out for six months or more have posted on the PA message boards expressing disbelief at their $0.00 cheques and had their comments deleted and membership withdrawn within minutes while cult stalwarts strove to preserve the status quo by reminding newbies that PA fulfilled their dreams to become "published authors." You want royalties as well? Shame on you! Meanwhile UK based authors querying their too-small-to-bank dollar cheques have been told they should learn to live with it. In the suffocating, sugarcoated atmosphere of the message boards PublishAmerica's authors are locked into a Waco type mentality where real publishing information is outlawed. Mesmerised rookies are quickly brainwashed into ignoring the fact that their books have not been edited properly, will be grossly overpriced, will never be stocked on bookstore shelves, will never receive a worthwhile review and inevitably fall victim to sub-standard returns and bookstore discount terms.
I try not to go there too often these days, for the same reason I would shy away from mass funerals. The insidious nature of the scam ensures that there will be a constant flow of short-term believers and an established presence of Neverland groupies to mislead them. Although they are a minority when you consider PA's claim to have signed 17,000 writers, in my honest opinion their crucial role in the deception should never be underestimated.
Update: Following legal action by Encyclopaedia Britannica against PublishBritannica (PA's UK operation) for bringing their name into disrepute, PublishBritannica became PublishBritannia then PublishAtlantica. Further good news is their statement that they are no longer accepting submissions from UK authors.