Scifi hoax and print on demand
January 27, 2005 3:12 PM   Subscribe

PublishAmerica is having a rough month. After being sued by 150 authors who felt they were deceived by the company, and taking a beating a couple of days ago at the hands of the Washington Post, PublishAmerica has become the object of an elaborate hoax perpetrated by a group of science fiction writers, a novel called Atlanta Nights, by one Travis Tea. [more inside]
posted by mathowie (23 comments total)
The funniest bit is that the company, which regularly describes itself as a "traditional publisher," tried to backpeddle once it got wind of the prank. So now the 'editors' at PublishAmerica have respectfully "declined" to publish Atlanta Nights, which has happily found a new home on Lulu. Sales are as brisk as the prose is questionable.

[from a review by Teresa Nielsen Hayden]:

The world is full of bad books written by amateurs. But why settle for the merely regrettable? Atlanta Nights is a bad book written by experts.

"Travis Tea," bless his nonexistent little heart, is the umbrella pseudonym of a group of professional authors and editors, mostly drawn from the SF and fantasy field, who each wrote a chapter or two in order to produce a book that superficially resembles a plausible novel, but gets worse the longer you look at it. The finished work was launched in the direction of Frederick, Maryland, where it successfully completed its mission of eliciting an offer of publication from a "traditional publisher."

(thanks to Stephen for submitting this to me)
posted by mathowie at 3:14 PM on January 27, 2005

Well that's my xmas gifts sorted for next year.
posted by seanyboy at 3:28 PM on January 27, 2005

At least they offer a guide to self-promotion on the home page. For $16.95.

I know it's cruel to take advantage of people, but when you try and circumvent the "hard" way of doing things, you kind of get what you deserve.

That's why I went and got my GED.
posted by jsavimbi at 3:33 PM on January 27, 2005

Vertebrae! Get yer vertebrae here!
posted by Kwantsar at 3:39 PM on January 27, 2005

From the author(s): "Plot, characterization, graceful prose ... none of them are to be found in ATLANTA NIGHTS. Grammar and spelling take a drubbing."

posted by salutor at 3:46 PM on January 27, 2005

“Request denied,” Dr. Nance said curtly. “I will not have one of those braided spies who work for the hospital trustees killing my patient! I’ll go sees he now,” he stormed, and stormed out of the room.

Margaret leaned against the wall and wept a sorrowing floodlike of tears.


Yvonne drank too much and did not eat right at all and Penelope was starting to get worried about her friend's
habits in eating and drinking. Her cheeks were almost as red as her hair already, like red Delicious apples under green leaves which were her eyes and the dark pupils were like little curled up caterpillars in the middle.
Oh, so very deliciously horrible.
posted by contessa at 3:51 PM on January 27, 2005

And the whole text (rtf pdf) is available on-line. See Jim MacDonald's comments (he was one of the perps.)
Note that their [the book's characters'] initials spell out:

posted by Zed_Lopez at 3:53 PM on January 27, 2005

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.

They're definitely scumbags if they're not paying royalties and selling rights to books they don't own.

Outside of that, publishing companies are essentially glorified PR companies. Unless they stipulate somewhere in their contract that they will promote the book to some degree, I don't know if there's much arguing against their vanity press status.

Printing books can be done by thousands of small presses, but only a few companies like Random House are considered presses because of their connections to distributors and therefore major bookstores.
posted by destro at 4:10 PM on January 27, 2005

Awesome sting! Atlanta Nights will have a cult following for years, no doubt.
posted by letitrain at 4:12 PM on January 27, 2005

More than a few small publishers of quality material do spend their own money - and risk losing it - on the books they publish, while failing to offer much, if anything, in the way of an advance. The same is true of many, if not most, university presses. And you don't hear anyone calling these vanity presses.
posted by raysmj at 4:39 PM on January 27, 2005

I think the problem with publish america is that they claim to be a real publisher but they're more of a small-time print on demand service. There's nothing wrong with POD and lots of outfits doing it, but it seems like PA cloaks everything they do with claims that they're just like a huge publishing house. I can kind of understand the class action suit against them after poking around their website.
posted by mathowie at 4:54 PM on January 27, 2005

"He’d killed a man before one time, with his bare hands, and he could do it again, if he put something in his bare hands like a knife or a gun or something that he could kill somebody with."

Damn you, Matt...I can't stop reading.

I agree that the problem is with PA presenting themselves as a publishing & distributing house, when in fact they're more like kinko's with a fancy binding service which demands royalties.
posted by cosmonik at 5:17 PM on January 27, 2005

Publish America doesn't do anything anyone couldn't do with CafePress's book service -- and CafePress doesn't charge anything at all up front. I personally use CafePress from time to time when I want something bound up in print form, so I can see what it looks and feels like before being formally published. If you just want to have the "book experience" with something you've written, it's not a bad way to go.

What Publish America does -- and why it's so attractive to would-be writers -- is offer the trappings of legitimacy. The letter of acceptance and the contract (however restrictive) are validating to people who want to be published; they replicate the process of being professionally published, which goes a long way to alleviate the fact that PA is essentially a vanity press.

I think this is what's fundamentally bad about the PA business model, which is that it works to the extent that it plays with Author's emotional states, rather than working to the extent that publishing the book makes solid economic sense. PA can eke out a marginal profit by getting all these authors to flog their book to family members and friends, but the toll is that eventually PA authors realize they've been taken, and that they're still on the wrong side of the "published author" fence.
posted by jscalzi at 5:34 PM on January 27, 2005

Funny! Ironically, having produced something that was intentionally too bad to publish, it is now getting distributed because people want to read it.

Re. POD/vanity press vs. 'real publishing.' I guess PublishAmerica's pseudo peer-review process appeals to exactly the sort of people who buy fake degrees. (Look! I have Ph.D.! Look! My dissertation was published! etc.).
posted by carter at 5:37 PM on January 27, 2005

On second thoughts, replace 'appeals to' with 'caters to.'
posted by carter at 5:40 PM on January 27, 2005

Stealing dreams? By the time you've been rejected by the real publishers and need to resort to an outfit like PublishAmerica, your dream is already long gone -- you just don't know it.
posted by QuietDesperation at 6:29 PM on January 27, 2005

Well, the PA authors seem happy enough, but I don't know, anyone with hair like that has to be blind to something...
posted by stray at 6:41 PM on January 27, 2005

By the time you've been rejected by the real publishers and need to resort to an outfit like PublishAmerica, your dream is already long gone -- you just don't know it.

Yes--but there are some poor, clueless people out there who aren't aware that PublishAmerica is unlike selective publishing companies, but who have nevertheless written a good book. So they gormlessly submit their novels to PA before trying the traditional publishers, and end up in 7-year contracts they can't get out of.

I hope that "Atlanta Nights" will do something to change that, even though it has been well known for a long time that PA's a vanity outfit.
posted by Jeanne at 6:56 PM on January 27, 2005

The really sad thing is that as awful as "Atlanta Nights" is, it's still not as bad as some of the honest-to-God PublishAmerica sample chapters I've seen.
posted by Insomniac at 7:22 PM on January 27, 2005

I think you're all being rather harsh. Most PublishAmerica authors are getting 5 star Amazon reviews!
posted by missbossy at 11:41 PM on January 27, 2005

Bahahaha! I love it. Those rascally science fiction authors! They're something else again!
posted by sciurus at 4:03 AM on January 28, 2005

I live 5 minutes from PublishAmerica and have a friend who works for them. Once or twice I even applied, when I was new to town. I got a pompous vibe from some Brit standing outside the door when I dropped off my resume. Maybe it's about time I paid another visit.

*cracks knuckles*
posted by mic stand at 6:46 AM on January 28, 2005

For much more on the story (including other participants' comments) see Teresa Nielsen Hayden's blog: 1 and 2.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:31 AM on January 31, 2005

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