When the Illiterate Rule

Garrison Keillor fears for the future of book publishing in this new age where anybody can be "published." He says, in part:

Call me a pessimist, call me Ishmael, but I think that book publishing is about to slide into the sea.[…]if you want to write, you just write and publish yourself. No need to ask permission, just open a website. And if you want to write a book, you just write it, send it to Lulu.com or BookSurge at Amazon or PubIt or ExLibris and you've got yourself an e-book. No problem. And that is the future of publishing: 18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75.

He's right. Anybody can "publish" a book now, whether they can write or not. I got some evidence of that today. Several prominent authors have been spammed by a self-published "writer," and I use that term very lightly in this case, named Irene Matthews. Here's her note:

Hello how are you? PublishAmerica will be at the book expo with many book's from new author's my book will be among them. Title Dark Island by Irene Matthews. It's a pirate adventure like no other before it with twist's and turn's and an ending that no one saw comming, enjoy.

At first I thought the email had to be a fake, but then I saw the listing for her book at PublishAmerica:

I have been writing since I was 13 years old and really enjoy writing. I write poems, love stories, horror, adventure, etc. All my life I always wanted to write a wonderful book and finally my dream has finally came true thanks to alot of wonderful people who believed in me. I knew one day that my dream would come true one day, and to never ever give up. Since I was little I always had a love for pirate movies and stories, plus I always loved vampire stories and movies, I also believe dreams do come true and mine did come true.

If anybody ever needed proof that PublishAmerica is a scam, or that there's good reason for Garrison Keillor's fears, the publication of this book is it.

17 thoughts on “When the Illiterate Rule”

  1. Her email is a riot. My God, her grammer, spelling, her sentences..it does all read like a joke. Shame it isn’t one!

  2. Well, Keillor’s an optimist.
    I mean, really, I thought book publishing came to an end when iUniverse rolled out. This isn’t any different except the prices are cheaper.

  3. I think if publishers want to keep the book biz going they had better go back to using good editors. I am, by no means, a scholar of the language in re: spelling or sentence structure (with undoubtably will show itself within this response!), but I continually find errors in books I read by major authors (not yours though…yet, Mr. G.!).

  4. When the printing press was first invented, there was a great concern because it meant that anybody could write anything and have it made available to the public. (Well, actually, not that many people knew how to write or read then, but you get the idea.) That concern has been with us ever since. Somehow, through the plethora of crud, ignorance, hatred and stupidity that has been published, we have muddled through. I suspect we will continue to.
    It is, however, very sad to see the fleecing of the gullible.

  5. Yes, Peter, I’m sure the occasional spelling error is going to bring down a 30 billion dollar business and end publishing all across the globe.
    Christ, what rock do you people crawl out from under before you show up and make these idiotic comments?

  6. I’m with Jerry House. Sturgeon’s Law has been in effect for who knows how many decades. Computers might help raise the percentage a little bit further, but tons of good stuff will always be out there. 10% of everything published is still a heckuva lot of books. We’ll just have to keep wading through to find it.
    … though that’s not to say, Lee, that the note from Ms. Matthews didn’t cause me physical pain, because it rather did. I just have one question for her, though — did her dream *really* come true?

  7. The sad thing about PA and others that follow its model is that, unlike Lulu or CreateSpace, it leads its clients to believe they’re not vanity published. That lady, and others like her, believe than a real publisher vetted their book and that it was chosen for publication on merit. These companies use that “give you a chance” hook to prey on dreams.
    Then they get the authors to buy the book (instant profit for the publisher there) to “have on hand”, and tell them if it doesn’t sell it’s the author’s own fault. Nevermind that the book is substandard quality and unedited (They even pay a fee to keep it unedited and “preserve the author’s vision”), has zero distribution and comes from a publisher that makes bookstores slam doors.
    They make them pay for everything other than storing the book in memory: cover art other than stock stuff that might be on 20 other books already, placement in ads (for which they have auctions), ridiculous schemes like mailing a copy of the book to stores who don’t order it, airports, hospitals, celebrities, authors, etc, and finally, they charge for things like advertising the book at BEA.
    No. There’s no danger to commerical publishing under that model. Readers won’t bother with a 112 page book with 8 pt. type by an unknown author that costs $19.95 in paperback when they can get a standard hardback by a familiar author for around $12 on the “new release” rack at WalMart.

  8. What is wrong with self-publishing. I do not understand why you need to be so scathing on Irene Matthews.. unless you are talking about the scam.. to me it sounded like you were insecure

  9. I’m siding a bit with Peter about hiring good editors.
    Lately I bought a book from a major publisher and a few pages into it the first malapropism surfaced. Horrors!
    I instantly threw a conniption fit and dashed off letters to that book’s editor and writer. I expect their combined apologies to arrive shortly, along with a full refund for the cost of the book.
    How dare they foist sub-standard work onto the reading public?
    As for Publish America–which offers ample proof that they cheerfully print the slush pile to sell it back to its own writers–feel sorry for that writer.
    She honestly thinks her 68-page opus was accepted by a professional publisher. She’s riding high on a wave of false validation and is in for a horrible crash in the near future.
    There are worst things than getting work rejected by a publisher, and that’s getting it accepted by Publish America.

  10. If all those e-books need editors, then job prospects are certainly looking up for those with B.A.’s and M.A.’s in English! Suddenly, if millions of e-books are published on-line, the market for editors will explode! It will be like the need for service stations that exploded when cars replaced horses! 🙂

  11. Here’s what’s wrong with self-publishing, bub: it lets the untalented rabble in. You see, writing is a hard job. Good writers avoid clichés or an over-used trope, and try to develop a style of their own, one that grips the reader’s attention and interest.
    All of this implies a lot of literary knowledge (sure, you may have read Dan Brown, but let’s be honest – his writing is bland. At least Chuck Palahniuk tries to be minimalistic and simultaneously stylish in his writing. But I digress…), experience as a reader and the honest ability to swing words around like you mean business. It’s not a manner of using flashy words, or long words- It’s about how ya use ’em.
    At any rate, most self-published writers can’t (to quote King) “write a darn”, and do exactly the opposite of a good writer.
    Want a straight example? Here’s one for ya: Gloria Tesch. Seriously, research her name and learn what good, ol’ vanity publishing did for her.
    Kafkahead out

  12. I agree that a lot of filth gets published. But I don’t see how is it different with books per se? The internet these days gives us the freedom to publish anything whatsover – music, a short film, a novel. I still fail to see how it will hinder the “good” writers

  13. This is the most publicity Mathews will ever get, then it’s Goodnight, Irene. No matter how many self-published books there are, none will be able to compete in the commercial marketplace. The key to that is still the bricks and mortar store. Get a product on a shelf and you have a chance.


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