Scam vs. Self-Publishing

Discussions about self-publishing and vanity presses seem to be in the air today. I received this question in my email…

I’m a guy with a day job working on a business book related to my profession. 
As a business person I am comfortable with self promotion and like the cost
structure of self publishing.  I was curious about the distinction you made in a
recent post about the difference between a vanity press and a self publisher. 
What is the difference in your view?

Vanity presses and self-publishers are the same thing… companies you pay to publish your book.   There’s nothing wrong with vanity presses… as long as they aren’t trying to fool  you into thinking they are a traditional publishers.

IUniverse, for example, is a reputable vanity press that turns out a nice looking product at a reasonable price. They don’t pretend to be anything but what they are… a company that offers authors a way to self-publish their books.

I’ve had several of my out-of-print titles republished in trade paperback  editions (at no cost to me through a special Authors Guild program) and have been very happy with the results.  The books look great and I get nice little royalty checks on a regular basis… and I can double-check my sales at any time by logging into their website.

But before you get involved with a vanity press, you should have realistic expectations about the kinds of sales, distribution, promotion, and critical notice you are likely to get.

Figure close to zero.

The burden of selling the book, promoting the book, and getting any critical notice at all will be entirely up to you.  Stores are reluctant to carry self-published titles because they rarely get a discount and can’t return unsold copies.  Critics will rarely review a self-published title. Reporters are loathe to interview a self-published author unless there is an incredibly compelling angle to the story (It helps if you’re a TV star (Buddy Ebsen), a controversial politician (Richard Lugar),  a famous songwriter (Lee Hazelwood), or a key player in a sex scandal (Amy Fisher).

I can see how going to a vanity press would make sense for a non-fiction book if, for example, you want to market it yourself at speaking engagements and seminars… or use as a promotional item for your company and its services.  There is a place for self-publishing…it’s a useful service.  But it’s not a replacement for authors looking for all the things that come from having a book bought by Simon & Schuster, Penquin/Putnam, or any other "traditional" publishing house.

A New Self-Publishing Scam

A friend of mine, responding to my earlier post on vanity presses, says there’s a new con some companies are using to confuse aspiring authors into thinking they’re "reputable publishers" instead of self-publishing scams.

Many vanity publishers claim to charge no publisher’s fee to accept
the book.  Instead what they do is require the author to pay an editor, from a list the publisher supplies, to get
the manuscript into shape.  In reality, the editor is an employee of
the publisher and kicks back all the author’s money to the boss. 

It’s just another way of taking advantage of an author’s desperation to be published. Remember — publishers pay you, not the other way around. Beware of any publisher who asks you for a check.

You’d Think Anybody Who Has Read This Blog Would Know Better Than to Send Me This Shit…

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of junkmail solicitations from con artists who prey on aspiring authors.  Here are two of the latest. One is from a guy who is offering to interview me on his radio show… for a price.

ATTN: Lee G – Want to be a radio Star? I can make you a  bestseller by advertising on my radio show Call me 781/860-9548. My name is Stu Taylor. I provide a unique service for publicly traded and private companies.  I am the host of two nationally syndicated, weekly radio shows, both entitled Equity Strategies that are broadcast on Radio America Network and the Business Talk Radio Network. For a modest fee, I will serve as a host and  interview a member of your management team to achieve whichever goals matter to you. Stu Taylor will also assist your company with public relations and media relations. Your success in business is Stu Taylor’s success.

That’s because your money will be going into his pocket. Don’t you just love people who refer to themselves in the third person? Well, let me tell you, Lee Goldberg won’t be calling Stu Taylor any time soon. Lee Goldberg urges you not to, either. If your book is any good, and if have any promotional skills at all, you should be able to score some free radio interviews on your own.

The next piece of junk mail was posted here as a comment (which I deleted because my blog isn’t a bulletin board for Internet scam artists).  It came from Randy Gilbert & Peggy McColl, who run a "get rich quick" scheme for writers called the "Zero Cost Bestseller Formula" (which they are also selling as "The Bestseller Mentoring Program")

Authors & Publishers – Tired of
  fighting for bookstore distribution? Even if you’re a complete computer
  novice and have no marketing expertise, we’ll coach you to follow our
  proven formula
and . . .
We’ll Help You Make Your  Book An Bestseller  in Just 48 Hours … Guaranteed!

They say it’s the same formula that’s turned folks like Robin Sharma, George McKenzie, Rick Frishman, and Andre Lara into household names. What? You’ve never heard of them? How can that be?  The gist of their scheme, which they are offering for "a $385 discount" from their usual price (whatever the hell it is), is:

In short, the formula involves  getting people with big email lists to send out an announcement asking  people to buy your book on a given day at Amazon. This method isn’t “spamming” because only “opt-in” email lists are used.   To motivate people to purchase  the book, you promise them a lot of  digitally-downloadable “bonus gifts” for  when they submitted their Amazon email receipt.  For instance, buy a $20  book and you could get $500 of more of extra bonuses – a tremendous   incentive to buy the book. Even better, because the formula uses email,  it  costs nothing to promote the book!

Their scheme is directed, of course, at self-published authors desperate for a short-cut to becoming the next John Grisham. ..and all too ready to hand their  credit cards  over to people like Randy & Peggy, whose come-on is:

Just think…for the rest of your life, people will hear the phrase “bestselling author” whenever you’re being introduced.

Randy & Peggy have several self-published books to their credit, including the  "Proactive Success – The Amazing New Science of Personal Achievement," "On Being a Dog With A Bone," "Success Bound: Breaking Free of Mediocrity" and "The Eight Proven Secrets to Smart Success." They also have a company called "Bargain Publishing Inc." Hmm.

Randy, who likes to call himself  "Dr. Proactive," also hosts  "The Inside Success Show" Internet radio program and, get this, he actually managed to score an interview with  Peggy! Wow.  On his website, he says he was "priviledged" to interview her and he offers you this fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity:

Gold  Member Mania!  Click here and learn how to become a Gold Member  so you can hear all our shows, plus
download convenient MP3’s,  plus get discounts on other products,  and  get much much more.  (All shows are now valued at over   $2,000, plus  you get two other Gold Memberships and Mega-Bonuses.)

Such a deal! But I’ve got to wonder…  how good can their advice be if their idea of a brilliant promotional move is  to post their get-rich-quick come-ons on my blog? Here’s my key to success and I’ll give it to you absolutely free (you don’t even have to be a Gold Member) — stay away from get-rich-quick schemers and Internet scammers who say they’ll make you a bestselling author.  Spend your money instead on some good creative writing courses from established authors (like my brother Tod). Work on making your writing better and learning your craft.  You become a bestselling author by writing great books — not by writing checks.

Scamming PublishAmerica

Novelist Richard Wheeler pointed me to a Los Angeles Times article about a group of science fiction writers who decided to stick it to PublishAmerica, the self-publishing scam that takes advantage of aspiring authors. Professional science fiction writers have long derided the PA scam, urging aspiring writers not to submit their work to the company.

"They are the biggest and most obnoxious author mills of them all – and one of
the most successful, I imagine," said Ann C. Crispin, chair of the Science
Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Committee on Writing Scams.

PublishAmerica responded by calling their detractors  "literary parasites" who "looted, leeched or plagiarized their way to
local stardom."  So the science fiction writers decided to strike back.

They gathered together to write the worst book ever written. Thirty writers each took a disconnected chapter, writing the worst possible prose they could, and not bothering to read the chapters that preceeded them.

To further test PublishAmerica’s standards, [they]
left Chapter 21 blank because one writer missed deadline.[They]  included another
chapter twice. And [they] took portions of two other chapters, ran them through a
software program that randomly reordered the words, then accepted all the spell
check and grammar fixes [their] software recommended.

The result is Chapter 34,
nine pages of disconnected gibberish that begins: "Bruce walked around any more.
Some people might ought to her practiced eye, at her. I am so silky and braid
shoulders. At sixty-six, men with a few feet away from their languid

They called their book  "Atlanta Nights" by Travis Tea, the nom-de-plume alone should have sent up a warning sign with the morons at PA, but apparently they not only don’t read manuscripts, they don’t read the title pages, either.  PublishAmerica accepted the book and sent the authors, through their front man, an acceptance letter.

"PublishAmerica has decided to give ‘Atlanta Nights’ the chance it deserves," it
reads. A contract followed, which the hoaxsters decided not to sign after a
lawyer advised it could lead to a fraud complaint. Instead, they confessed the
hoax on a writers website.

The next day PublishAmerica rescinded the contract, with a wink that they’d caught
on. Upon further review, it  appears that your work is not ready to be published," the e-mail reads, citing  "nonsensical text in the manuscript that were caught by our editing staff as
they previewed the text for editing time." It suggested the author of "Atlanta
Nights" try a vanity publisher. "They will certainly publish your book at a

So they did.  "Atlanta Nights" can be ordered over the print-on-demand
website, with proceeds going to the Science Fiction and Fantasy
Writers of America Medical Fund. Or you can  download it for free .

Self Publishing = Bad Idea

Book critic David Montgomery weighs in on the self-publishing debate.  His bottom line? Save your money.

The problem with self-publishing is that the resulting product will
have no credibility and no exposure — and very little chance of ever
obtaining either. Everyone will know that the only way you were able to
get your book published was to pay someone to do it, and they will
judge your work accordingly. (In that sense, I think it’s even worse
than having no book at all.)


In a comment to a previous post, someone mentioned they had a good experience self-publishing their non-fiction work.

Let me make it clear, I’m not knocking self-publishing, except for people who think it’s
going to get them into "brick and mortar" bookstores, reviewed in tne
New York Times, and onto the bestseller lists… or that it makes them "published authors." (That’s a seperate rant for another post).Mygunpbk

When my book UNSOLD
went out-of-print after ten years, I reprinted it for
free through the Authors Guild’s "Back in Print" iUniverse program (in
a cheaper, two-volume set) and have been very happy with the results. I
get a few hundred dollars in royalties every year… it doesn’t sound
like much, but it’s more than I’d get if the book remained

I also reprinted for free MY GUN HAS BULLETS, through the now-aborted Mystery Writers of America/iUniverse program, and I’m happier with the way it turned out than I was with the original, hardcover, St. Martin’s release… and I’m getting some royalties every now and then.

My experience with iUniverse has been terrific. I have no
complaints at all about the service, the quality of the books, or the
timely payment of royalties. Then again, iUniverse doesn’t pretend to
be anything it isn’t.

Another Publishing Scam…they just keep coming, don’t they?

First there was the PublishAmerica scam, now comes another vanity press masquerading as a publisher. I got this email from a reader here:

Hi All, I was just ready to submit my novel (which took about 8
years to write) to PA. Boy, glad I did some reasearch first, Whew!

Any ideas/comments about before I submit?

So I checked the site out. The company is called American Book Publishing. They proudly proclaim:

We don’t abide by today’s conventional book publishers’ wisdom. We don’t conduct
business as usual, at least not in book publishing.

They certainly don’t.  In their author submission guidelines, they say:

We provide our authors all the professional services of editors, book designers, and book publicists to ensure their success.

In other words, you ARE A CUSTOMER.

We may issue publishing contracts with offers of financial advances to authors who have been published and have already established their popularity.

Conventional publishers don’t work that way. When they say "we may issue publishing contracts with offers of financial advances," it means that their standard practice is that  they don’t. But they will kindly make an exception if they can trade on your  good name.  How thoughtful of them.

We may issue publishing contracts to professional writers who have become accomplished in their writing career and the contract may neither offer an advance or request a deposit.

A deposit??? This should be your big, fat tip-off that this is a vanity press eager to take advantage of your desperation to be published.  But just in case you missed that subtle clue, they go on to say…

We may issue publishing contracts to talented writers who have not been published before or become accomplished in their writing career, and this contract may request a one-time deposit of $780 that is returned to the author the first quarter after the book has been formally released.

Publishers pay you, you don’t pay them. Don’t let your desperation to be published blind you into throwing your money away on a vanity press trying to  pass itself off as something else. Open your eyes!

If you want to be self-published, at least go to a company like iUniverse that doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t.

PublishAmerica is too much fun

I just love writing about the PublishAmerica scam, especially now that the swindle’s president,Larry Clopper, has decided to start talking to reporters.  The latest news,  as reported by the Associated Press, is that one of the company’s disgruntled authors decided to test Clopper’s claim that they are a "traditional publisher" that is selective about the books they "acquire" (for the astonishing advance of $1).

Clopper said PublishAmerica is selective — only 30 percent of
submitted manuscripts make it to print. Some authors believe otherwise.

Dee Power, unhappy with how PublishAmerica had handled her novel,
"Overtime," submitted a "new" book that consisted of the first 50 pages
of "Overtime" and the last 10 pages, repeated over and over. The
manuscript was accepted. (Power declined to have it published).
PublishAmerica also accepted a novel by Kevin Yarbrough, even though
the first 30 pages were repeated six times. (Yarbrough revealed his
trick on an Internet site.)

Clopper said those "flaws" would have been discovered before
publication, but acknowledged the works had initially been accepted.
"People make mistakes," he said. "When somebody views a manuscript,
they may not read the whole thing line by line."

While I sympathize with the authors who were ripped off by PublishAmerica,  I’m stunned anybody who visited their website, and read the terms of the contract, could have fallen for their scam. It’s not like Cloppers and Co. went to much effort to hide the true nature of their enterprise, a vanity press making a laughably half-assed attempt to masquerade as a traditioanl publishing company.  But aspiring authors, naturally frustrated by their inability to sell their books, are too blinded by their desperation to read the small print… or to recognize the obvious. It makes them easy prey for swindles like PublishAmerica, WritersUniverse, and their ilk…

The PublishAmerica Scam

PublishAmerica is back in the news. The Washington Post wrote about the company, and this is author Lynn Viehl’s take on it (she says it so much better than I can):

PublishAmerica is also an "advance-paying book publisher" with a company banner motto that reads We treat our authors the old-fashioned way — we pay them.
Except that the old-fashioned way it pays authors an advance is — hold
onto your hat — a whopping total of $1. Now, I made twenty-five
thousand times that as the advance for the last book I wrote, but hey,
maybe I’m just ridiculously overpaid.

PublishAmerica states on its web site
that its titles "are available through most major bookstores." Except
for this one little thing: "Availability is not necessarily the same as
bookstore shelf display." Translation: you can’t get them in the store,
but you can order them through the store’s computer. Assuming you have
psychic power and can envision the titles, because they’re not on the
shelf. Have I got this right?

The Post managed to get Larry Clopper, president and co-founder of  PublishAmerica to speak on the record about his company’s approach to publishing. He should have kept his mouth shut.

To Larry Clopper, the
company, in relying on its authors to largely sell their own books, is
"revolutionizing" an elitist industry. It has, he says, "always
operated on the highest principles of honor and integrity."
PublishAmerica’s authors often knew "decades of failure, dozens of
rejections and life-changing disappointment," adds Clopper, who twice
failed to find publishers for his own books. "Now they hold their books
in their hands, and they are sneering down at the publishing industry
that shunned them."

It’s not the industry they’re sneering at Larry, it’s you.  The Post article goes on to discuss the pitfalls of Print-on-Demand publishing, the latest evolution of vanity press.

Because there have always been more would-be authors than mainstream
publishers are willing to sign up, writers can turn to a variety of
do-it-yourself alternatives. The major difference is that, one way or
another, those writers wind up paying, instead of being paid, to be

POD companies like iUniverse and vanity presses in general
don’t appear to generate much public rancor, however, because they make
it quite clear that the author bears the expense. Besides, such
publishers do serve a purpose. The Authors Guild, for example, has an
arrangement with iUniverse to keep its members’ out-of-print books
available. For a PTA planning to sell a cookbook, or a family elder
passing her memoirs around to the grandchildren, a vanity or POD press
makes sense.
     But it’s very unlikely to lead to a career. Once in a great while, a highly entrepreneurial author gets lucky.

A few POD books have sold well enough to lead to a deal with a mainstream publisher. But if your  book comes out through PublishAmerica, that’s not going to happen to you. You sign over your publishing rights for seven years. So if Random House comes knocking,  PublishAmerica negotiates your deal  and keeps
half the proceeds.  Not a bad trade off for your $1 advance, is it?  Larry Clopper says that his detractors represent a "miniscule faction" of the authors published by his company.

But the fact remains that his authors
can’t join the Authors Guild. Having heard complaints about
PublishAmerica for years, the guild doesn’t recognize its titles as
membership criteria. "There’s a long history of vanity presses and
others taking advantage of the hopes of would-be authors," says
executive director Aiken. "This might fall in that noble tradition."
True, too, many major book review sections (including Book World) won’t
review POD books. "Some of our proudest moments come when authors are
not allowed into certain exclusive clubs," Clopper retorts.

Those who petitioned the Maryland
attorney general seeking "an investigation into this massive scam" had
a different understanding, however. They weren’t interested in sneering
at the exclusive club; they thought that, at last, they were being
invited into it.

Now that the mainstream press — like Publishers Weekly and The Washington Post — are picking up on the PublishAmerica scam, maybe people will finally stop falling for Cloppers clumsy con.



Another Scam that Preys on the Self-Published

I’ve been getting this come-on in my emailbox for days now:

Why join Some of the best movies have been based on
books – Cold Mountain, The Godfather, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Midnight in the
Garden of Good and Evil, Prince of Tides, Forrest Gump, L.A. Confidential.

Your book could be next! Wouldn’t you like to have your book or screenplay made
into a movie? publishes 2 catalogs per year which are
distributed to over 2500 film producers, directors, studios, and film agents
nationwide.  Get your full-page color ad in our catalog containing book
summary, book review, book photo, book ordering information, author bio, author
contact information, and representation information.

Email us today at to get your listing in our Catalog.

It’s a fascinating bit of bullshit.  They list a bunch of books that have been turned into movies, the subtle implication being that this catalog had something to do with it.

It didn’t.

None of those books became movies because of this catalog. In fact, the folks at bookstofilm don’t list a single book that has sold to TV or film because of the catalog.

Gee, I wonder why…. could it be, because there aren’t any? Studio & Production Company execs find out about books the old-fashioned way…they read bestseller lists, they read reviews, they talk to agents, they read book industry trade publications, they attend the BEA, they talk to publishers, and they walk into bookstores.

If you visit the bookstofilm website, they make a big deal out of saying they are based in Wilmington, NC…

…fondly known as "Hollywood
East" and home of Screen Gems Studios. Screen Gems is the largest full service
motion picture facility in the United States east of California.  Wilmington has
been the heart of the North Carolina film industry for over two decades. A few
local projects have been Domestic Disturbance, Year of the Dragon, The
Hudsucker Proxy, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtles, Billy Bathgate, Day of the Jackal, One Tree Hill, Matlock
and Dawson’s Creek .

They say that as if mere proximity to the Screen Gems soundstages, or just breathing that Wilmington air, gives them legitimacy and insider access to Hollywood.  They list no other qualifications or credits…what a shock.

Only a fool would read this material and think that they are paying for anything besides an ad in a piece of junkmail that’s going to end up in garbage cans throughout L.A…. assuming the catalog is actually sent out to anybody besides the suckers who take out ads.

Pity the poor, self-published author who falls for this transparent scam.

Rose at reports that bookstofilm  is being run by John Weaver, the same guy behind,  a program that purports to get "book store orders" from brick-and-mortar store for self-published authors (I talked about here a few weeks ago).  Do you see a trend here? I bet it’s only a matter of weeks before Weaver launches a service to get self-published authors publicity in 100s of publications and thousand  of TV and Radio broadcasts.