Publishing can be Cruel; America Star Books Makes it Crueler

Anyone who has ever struggled to find a literary agent or a publisher has invariably come across a company called Publish America (PA). If you click the link, you’ll see the company has renamed itself America Star Books. Writer Beware, which is part of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association, pointed this out earlier this year.

I won’t get into Publish America’s sordid history. Writer Beware and numerous other watchdog websites cover the bases. Just google “Publish America” and “Scam” and prepare for your blood to boil. Essentially, they pass themselves off as traditional publishers, dupe starry-eyed authors into signing with them, only to find out their promised books are poorly edited, not available in brick-and-mortar stores (despite carefully worded claims to the contrary), and absurdly overpriced (e.g., $25 for a 130-page softcover book). The company then bombards the author to buy copies of the book to sell to family and friends. That’s how PA makes money: readers don’t find the books and buy them, the authors are brow-beaten into purchasing them and then beg local stores to carry them (which seldom happens). It’s a travesty that numerous people have fallen for this–despite PA’s countless schemes that can be discovered by a Google search.

My day job recently required me to research the publishing industry, in general, and I was happy to do it given my interest in the business. In so doing, I came across something that PA pulled a few years ago that prompted me to say out loud “That’s predatory.” Here it is:

Screen grab of deceit; it’s no longer on PA’s website.

For those of you who can’t read it, here’s what it says under product description, courtesy of the LA Times:

“We will bring your book to the attention of Harry Potter’s author next week while our delegation is in her hometown, and ask her to read it and to tell us and you what she thinks. Tell her what you think: in the Ordering Instructions box write your own note for JK Rowling, max. 50-100 words. We will include your note in our presentation for her!”

Fortunately PA was called out on this fraud and JK Rowling’s people got involved, claiming the promotion was bogus, and the ad got yanked. (I hope nobody paid for this service; I’m guessing someone probably did.)

PA pulled variations of this scheme using other celebrities: Stephen King, Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, among others. PA’s attorney’s response to JK Rowling’s cease and desist order further exposes these hucksters. The justification was Rowling lives in Scotland, we’re gonna be in Scotland, and since we’re here, let’s just show up unannounced and knock on JK’s door and show her 100 different books written by people who don’t know any better and who actually think JK will jot a few notes in the margins. Oh, and if JK’s not home, we’ll drive by her estate and lob a box of books over the gate with a letter attached: Check these out, please!

I literally sat at my computer at work with my jaw dangling open. How could a company do this to its own authors? Easy: people are gullible.

Most clear-minded people would look at that ad, think, “Wait, they’re actually going to get JK Rowling to read a few sentences of my book, render judgment and offer suggestions? That’s bullshit.”

Sadly, there’s always going to be a segment of the population that believes this type of garbage, and there will never be a shortage of charlatans peddling it. Certainly there are people who are satisfied with PA’s services. God bless ’em. I hope they are.

PA was sued two years ago, and like almost all legal wrangling, it could be years more until there’s some resolution. (Update: apparently this suit was dismissed.) It’s likely why PA changed its name. Speaking of names, it’s always nice to put a face to them. So, thanks to YouTube and PA posting their own propaganda, here are a few of the folks who are taking advantage of people who sincerely hope they’re on the verge of achieving their dreams.

I was once stung by a publisher that wasn’t on the up and up with me, so I’m naturally wary of publishing houses, in general. Once bitten, twice shy. While I can’t relate to the exact circumstances in which wronged PA authors find themselves, I know what it’s like to see a dream temporarily dashed. I hope these folks find a way to get back their rights, and keep trying to get published in a way that satisfies them.

I don’t know the following individual, but his story is one of many, and I genuinely feel terrible for him. But this is what PA does to people:

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One comment

  1. I have an issue with America Star Books. I paid them $79.00 (amin. fee) to release me from their contract (which I paid).They, in return, said this: “You own the unformatted text only, and you can do as you choose with that alone. America Star Books continues to own the ISBN number, the cover design, and the layout design of the text.
    Any use of any of these items would be a serious and very clear case of infringement. Therefore, you can use the same design only if we transfer the rights to you, or to your new publishing company.”

    (Are they serious!? My images are on their cover design. And the ‘layout design of the text’ is my design, which was presented on my manuscript when I submitted it.)

    America Star Books wants me to pay for the cover design would cost $500, and/or the text layout would cost $250.
    (Basically they’re holding my book for ransom).

    Again, ABS says at the end of their email; “you own the unformatted text only, and you can do as you choose with that alone.”

    But I own the copyrights to my text and images, which are on file at the Library of Congress and have been since 1990 (maybe even longer). My main questions; is this legal? They they claim rights to something I already own? Who can I contact for more help?

    Even giving them Exclusive rights was only granted during the term of the contract, which they have released me from. (my calls and emails to them go unanswered)
    Ronald Kennedy

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