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.”

What self-publishing companies don’t tell authors is that there’s
almost no chance that they’ll gets reviewed or stocked in most  "brick
and mortar" stores (Barnes and Noble stocks no more than a dozen
iUniverse titles in their stores, and only because they own a stake in
the company).

Most bookstores are reluctant to stock self-published books — as their authors
are disappointed to discover — because they carry the vanity press taint, they
aren’t returnable and they aren’t discounted as much as traditional books. In
addition, major newspapers, including The New York Times, won’t review vanity
press books.

article talks about some of the self-publishing success stories… the
success being that they were able to entice a NY publisher to bring out
a "real" edition. So what does that tell you?  Even the self-published
recognize that it’s a poor substitute until a real deal can come
along… if it ever does, which is extraordinarily rare. And even then,
it’s not the quality of the self-published book that’s going to attract
attention, but sales…

Angelle Pilkington, an editor at Puffin, was impressed that one author, Charisse
Richardson, had sold 10,000 copies of her first children’s book, ”The Real Slam
Dunk,” through her own efforts. ”It was a very nice number and added some
credibility when we got the manuscript,” she says.

implication being that the manuscript alone wouldn’t have been enough
to cut it at Puffin.  Most manuscripts editors read don’t need
"credibility"… they need to be good. Not so when judging a
self-published title. Why? Because all that matters in self-publishing
is whether or not the author’s check clears.  There is no editorial
criteria of any kind, which is why self-published books don’t get
respect or attention or "credibility."

3 thoughts on “NY Times on Self-Publishing”

  1. Of course it’s a scam. Whether this particular guy “knew what he was getting into” or not is irrelevant; PublishAmerica’s marketing is deceptive and their practices are unprofessional and unethical. (And they don’t really count as “publication” as most people in publishing use the term. They do, however, count as “previous publication.”)
    Great, a few people see through it and find a their services useful. Good for them. If I market my cat as a revolutionary floor cleaner, a few people might buy him and get good use out of him as a cat food disposal–but it doesn’t make him a floor cleaner.
    I don’t do good analogies at 3:30 AM.

  2. I laughed when I passed it and Authorhouse. They were empty. I notice that Behler wasn’t present and with a claim to have moved an two-time Pubishamerica author on to a six-figure offer and a top agent, albeit unverified, you’d think they would have been there in a booth for exposure at least. Others were that I’d never heard of.


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