iUniverse or PublishAmerica?

I received this email today:

I was just ready to send my manuscript off to them when I stumbled upon your
article.  Last time I published I used iuniverse.  Do you have any other
feedback that you would like to share with me regarding these two companies?

I replied: I think self-publishing your novel is a mistake, but if you’re going to do it,
go with iUniverse. They are honest about who they are and what they do and
they turn out a very nice looking product.

Suckered by PublishAmerica

Derek, an aspiring author, posted a comment to one of my old PublishAmerica posts, saying he’d just received a contract from them and has only just learned that they may not be a reputable publisher. He asked what he should do.  I didn’t want the discussion to get buried in the comments, so I’ve decided to make a new post out of it. Here’s what I suggested that he do:

Contact PublishAmerica and ask them to release him from his contract immediately. They have no legitimate reason to refuse you…
especially since they have done anything for you yet. If they do
refuse, please come back and share their letter with us so everybody
can see the type of people you’re dealing with.

Once you get your manuscript back, don’t look for a
short cut into publishing. Submit to reputable publishers. How do you
find them? You can start by walking into a book store and taking down
the names of publishers with books on the shelves… then do you
research. Make sure they are legit and then submit your book to them.  Here’s a hint: Do not go with any publisher that wants to charge you
any kind of fee or wants a list of your relatives to market your book

Derek replied:

It was just great to go from a kid who mispelled every other word in
high school, to sitting down one day and writing a horror novel. And
better yet, to have what I thought was a decent publisher show interest
in what I busted my ass to accomplish. Then this. You have to realize what a crappy feeling I have in my gut
right now, having an actual contract, and thinking of turning it down
to try again. It’s like hitting the lottery and returning the winning
ticket in hopes the next jackpot will be more lucrative.

He was still holding on to the illusion that PA was a reputable publisher because he wanted it so badly to be true. Here’s what I told him:

You’re deluding yourself.You haven’t won the lottery. You don’t have
an actual contract with a real publisher. It’s exactly that attitude
that has made you ripe for the picking by predators like
PublishAmerica.  You want to believe the fantasy that you’ve landed a real publishing
contract. Then go ahead, live the fantasy. Just remember that it is one.

Read more

Scam of the Month

OneimageThis month’s "Scam of the Month" is, oddly enough, the same as last month’s… that’s right, Lori Prokop’s Book Millionaire. She sent me an email and posted a comment here about what I called a  get-rich-quick infomercial scam.  All you really need to know about Lori is best summarized by the email address she used to write me:


Kind of says it all about who she is, her motives, and her so-called publishing company, doesn’t it? And what she doesn’t say, in her comment to my original post, tells you the rest:

Instead of bashing the show or myself, how
about using your talents to help? I’d be very happy to hear your comments or
ways you would like to participate.

How about instead of rants and bashing that we work together to make this a fun
experience that really helps writers?

Why would I want to help you? Why would I want to participate, or encourage others to participate, in what is an obvious "get rich quick" scam to swindle aspiring authors out of their money?  It’s a real tempting offer, Lori.  I’ll help you on your show as soon as I finish my volunteer work for the American Nazi Party.

Ofcourse, she doesn’t bother to refute any of my charges, because she can’t.  All she says is that her show isn’t an infomercial.


So if your show isn’t an infomercial, Lori, how about telling us which network has commissioned it? Or if it’s syndicated, what stations will be airing it and under what terms? As I said before, I believe we’ll be seeing your show, if it ever airs at all, as "Paid Programming" or on public access cable.

UPDATE: For more about Lori Prokop and her other book marketing schemes, check out this thread at Absolute Write. Here’s an excerpt from one message about her publishing  company:

Read more

New Definition of Vanity Press

Keith Snyder proposes a new definition of  "vanity press" that reflects the way self-publishing has evolved since the advent of print-on-demand technology:

We need to stop telling people a vanity press is a company that charges fees, and start telling them a vanity press is a
company that makes the bulk of its money from a very large number of
very small print runs that it sells mainly to people the authors know.

That’s a 21st-century vanity press.

He may be on to something here, though the definition may need a little refining to fully cover scams like PublishAmerica and their ilk.

(Thanks to Paul Guyot for the heads-up).

NY Times on Self-Publishing

At the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books today, I got into a spirited debate with a writer whose books have been published by PublishAmerica, which he thinks has been unfairly criticized by guys like me (ie authors published by real publishers). He feels that PublishAmerica is providing a worthwhile service to writers who can’t get through the door with New York publishers.

I argued that PublishAmerica is a vanity press that deceives wanna-be writers by claiming to be a traditional publisher…when it is far from it. Only later do these aspiring writers realize their book hasn’t been accepted by a "real" publisher at all… but by then it’s too late, they’ve already signed the company’s awful contract.  But the gentleman I spoke to argued that he hasn’t been taken at all, he knew what he was getting into and what mattered most to him was that it didn’t cost him a cent to get published. 

Whether PublishAmerica is a scam or not (and I think it is),  the bottom line is that their titles are dismissed by reviewers and booksellers as vanity press books — badly written, amateurish work that doesn’t meet even the most minimal professional standards.

The PublishAmerica scam was touched on only briefly in a New York Times piece today about the explosion in popularity of print-on-demand self-publishing. The article focused primarily on companies like iUniverse and Author House.

Self-published authors have essentially
become the bloggers of the publishing world, with approximately the same
anarchic range in quality that you find on the Web. Indeed, companies like
AuthorHouse and iUniverse say they will accept pretty much anything for
publication. ”That’s the big problem with self-publishing and the stigma
associated with it.”

Read more

Scam of the Month

It’s been a while since I’ve had a scam-of-the-month, so maybe I should call this Scam of the Quarter?

Anyway,  a whole bunch of folks have emailed me today about the insipid "Book Millionaire" scam. Seems there’s this get-rich-quick marketeer named Lori Prokop who is the host, executive producer, and co-creator (with her sister) of a new reality show called "Book Millionaire" ( she’s "extremely excited to be executive producer and co-creator" of the show.  And let me just say that I’m extremely excited to be writing this post on this blog).

Lori is, of course, the author of Awaken Your Million-Dollar Intuition, Enlightened Intelligence ,I Could Have Quit $10 million Ago,  and Jesus Teenager: How To Be The Coolest Kid Around and other books you’ve never heard of.  But who else could possibilty more qualified to host this show?  Oh yes, the show.  I was so swept up in awe with Lori and her amazing accomplishments, I almost forgot all about it. Here’s the pitch (Italicized comments are mine):

Eight people with dreams of seeing their book ideas become published and
being the next author launched to best selling and celebrity status will meet
Book Millionaire’s Publishing Committee during July 2005 to start filming
of Book Millionaire Reality TV Show.

Here’s your chance to
finally become America’s next Best Selling Author and Reality Show TV
Celebrity!  We are scouting for the next group of candidates [The next group? There hasn’t been a first group yet]  for America’s
hottest new reality show [How can it be America’s hottest reality show if it hasn’t even aired yet?]. Act now. We launch people to best selling and celebrity status. [They do? Who??] Picture
yourself featured on national television where millions of potential viewers
listen to you about your story, writings, book or book-to-be and you have the
chance to prove you have what it takes to be America’s next published Best
Selling Author and Book Millionaire.

In the first season, the Candidate Authors will be split into
multiple teams. They will compete in real-world book promotion assignments.
Prominent companies  and currently published books [Lori’s books, of course!] will also be part of the
tasks . Viewers will watch the drama unfold as the tests reveal Candidate Authors
personalities, marketing skills, creativity, result-producing talents and
abilities for working on a team with others they may or may not get along with.

Viewers will feel the excitement of intense tasks and growing
stakes as the doors to publishing success open. The Candidates’ goal is to be 
The One [Not to be confused with The Jesus Teenager] who is headed to press . Each week one Candidate Author
will hear the dreaded words, “The doors to publishing have closed.”[What refreshing originality, Lori] With the
show climaxing in the final episode when one Candidate Author will hear, “You’re
Published!” [By Best Seller Publishing, no doubt, but more on that later]

The winner of Book Millionaire will be granted the ultimate
dream — to enjoy the lifestyle of being a successfully published author. And
they will receive additional prizes to help achieve the goal of Best Selling and
Celebrity Status [You won’t actually be a bestseller or a celebrity, but you’ll get a nifty certificate redeemable for status] and becoming America’s next Book Millionaire [Though you won’t actually get a million dollars].

Book Millionaire is being aired on cable nationwide Fall

Imagine achieving the "lifestyle of a successfully published author." Let me give you a taste of what you can hope for:  I had El Pollo Loco for lunch today, picked up my daughter at school, and got a haircut. Will they get to do that? I think not. I’ve earned those perks the hard way, pal. They’ll also get additional prizes to help towards the goal  of Celebrity Status, something I bet Lori knows a lot about. I know I wake up every day and ask myself  "Gosh, what can I do today to achieve my goal of Celebrity Status? I think I’ll say something nasty about fanfic."

What Lori hopes you’ll do, of course, is go to one of her get-rich-quick seminars, get-rich-quick books, get-rich-quick tapes, hire her for qet-rich-quick consulting or  pay her to publish your book through her get-rich-quick vanity press, Best Seller Publishing. 

Look for "Book Millionaire" to show up as Paid Programming on a local cable channel near you, sometime around 2 a.m. between the infomercial for the The Meat Syringe and Ron Jeremy interviewing porn stars who use  Y-Bron, "the natural viagra."

An Award for the Gullible

It’s award time again in the literary world… and I’m not talking about the Hugo, The Edgar, The National Book Award, or the Pulitizer. I am talking, of course, about  the 13th Annual Writers Digest International Self-Published Book Awards

  ONE GRAND PRIZE WINNER will be awarded $3,000
  cash and promotion in Writer’s Digest and
  Publishers Weekly,
and marketing advice from self-publishing guru Dan Poynter with six
hours of book shepherding from Poynter Book Shepherd Ellen Reid. Plus,
the editors of Writer’s
will endorse and submit 10 copies of the
  Grand Prize-Winning book to major review houses
  such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, and an excerpt will be published in Writer’s Digest. In addition, Book Marketing Works, LLC will provide a one-year membership in Publishers Marketing Association, a customized Book Market Map Directory, guaranteed distribution to bookstores and libraries through Baker & Taylor, and a guaranteed review in Midwest Book Review.

  will receive $500 cash and promotion in Writer’s
. In addition, Book Marketing Works, LLC will provide a guaranteed review in Midwest Book Review.  Plus,
all Grand Prize and First Place winners will receive book-jacket seals
to promote the award-winning status of their book, promotion on the Writer’s Digest Web site at writersdigest.com, a copy of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 4th Edition by Tom and Marilyn Ross, and a Notable Award Certificate.

  will receive promotion in Writer’s Digest, $50 worth of Writer’s Digest Books and a Notable Award Certificate.

The awards  honor the best self-published books in a number of categories…not for the year, oh no, that would be too limiting,  but of  "the last few years" (2003-2005, to be exact), which is one of the things that makes this such a prestigious, sought-after kudo.  I mean, who wouldn’t want the honor of being dubbed "The Writer’s Digest International Best Self-Published Inspirational Novel of the Last Couple of Years Or So?" And what other award gives you stickers you can put on your book yourself? Wow!

And, to honor the fact that self-published authors have paid through the nose already just to be published, Writers Digest is charging a mere $100 entry fee for the chance to win this great, great honor. I mean, the writers paid to be published, it’s only right they should pay for the opportunity to be honored, too.

It’s astonishing that some people think aspiring writers are so gullible and desperate for publication and acclaim that they’ll ring up more and more debt on their credit cards to get even the illusion of it.

Of course, they’re right.

Virtual Bookworm

I got this email today:

I am considering publishing with Virtual Bookworm. I saw them listed on your list. Anymore you can tell me  about  them.

They are a print-on-demand publisher, also known as a "vanity press." They will not get your books distributed to stores. They will not promote your book. And you will have difficulty getting the book reviewed or taken seriously by anyone (not to mention selling any copies). You may have even more problems than that… just a simple "Google" search on them turns up nothing but complaints and warnings, like this one:

Writer Beware has received a number of complaints about Virtual Bookworm. Most involve unpaid royalties, or royalty statements that don’t reflect the actual  number of books sold. Some authors are looking into legal action.

I found all that out in about 8.5 seconds. Have you done any research at all yourself? If so, you wouldn’t be asking me about them.  If you are intent on paying to have your book published, try  iUniverse.

Don’t Pay Them, They Pay You

Prolific author Lynn Viehl (well, that’s one of her pen-names, anyway) remembers the temptation, back when she was an aspiring author (or is it authors in her case?),  to sign with one of those agents who tried to steer her into a book doctor scam.  the book doctor said her manuscript needed work… and it would cost $1300 to fix it up. She almost wrote the check…but thought better of it, despite his dire warnings that she was making a grave mistake. A few years later, the "agent" and the "book doctor" got nailed by the law for defrauding 3600 people with their phony literary agency and publishing house.  As she says, "aspiring writers, make it your mantra:  you don’t pay them, they pay you."

Writer Beware

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have a terrific website called Writer Beware... and on it they have a detailed article on Vanity Publishers, as well as the pros and cons of doing business with them. The article includes these useful definitions:

Commercial publishers, subsidy publishers, vanity presses,
self-publishing–what’s the difference?

  • A commercial publisher purchases the right to publish, and pays the
    author a royalty on sales (most also pay an advance on royalties). Commercial
    publishers are highly selective, publishing only a tiny percentage of
    manuscripts submitted to them, and handle every aspect of editing, publication,
    distribution, and marketing. There are no costs to the author.
  • A vanity publisher (a.k.a. a book producer or book manufacturer)
    prints and binds a book at the author’s sole expense. Costs include the
    publisher’s profit and overhead, so vanity publishing is usually a good deal
    more expensive than self-publishing. The completed books are the property of the
    author, and the author retains all proceeds from sales. Vanity publishers do not
    screen for quality–they publish anyone who can pay–and provide no editing,
    marketing, warehousing, or promotional services. 
  • A subsidy publisher also takes payment from the author to print and
    bind a book, but claims to contribute a portion of the cost, as well as adjunct
    services such as editing, distribution, warehousing, and some degree of
    marketing. Theoretically, subsidy publishers are selective. The completed books
    are the property of the publisher, and remain in the publisher’s possession
    until sold. Income to the writer comes in the form of a royalty.
  • Self-publishing, like vanity publishing, requires the author to
    undertake the entire cost of publication him/herself, and to handle all
    marketing, distribution, storage, etc. However, because the author can put every
    aspect of the process out to bid, rather than accepting a pre-set package of
    services, self-publishing can be more cost-effective than vanity or subsidy
    publishing, and can result in a much higher-quality product. And unlike subsidy
    publishing, the completed books are the writer’s property, and the writer keeps
    100% of sales proceeds.