PublishAmerica has gained an unenviable reputation in the realm of digital vanity publishers. Google their name and you'll come across an impressively long list of complaints.
What do you do when a product or service becomes notorious?
Improve the service?
Naah, there's a much easer way: change the name!
That's what PublishAmerica has done this month. They are now known as America Star Books. Anybody going to the old PublishAmerica site is now forwarded to the new America Star Books site.
What is/was the problem with PublishAmerica? Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia:
PA pays advance fees of US$1–$1000 to its authors, provides minimal editing and provides few of the services handled by trade publishing, such as retail distribution, marketing and media relations. Disgruntled authors told Publishers Weekly that PA did not pay royalties owed to them, sold books it no longer had any rights to sell, set unreasonably high list prices and lower-than-average discounts for authors to buy their own books and either neglected or failed to place books into bookstores.
In December 2005, PublishAmerica author Philip Dolan, who had spent between US$7,000 and $13,000 promoting his book only to find that no book stores were able to order copies of it, took PublishAmerica to arbitration for breach of contract. Dolan also alleged accounting irregularities; despite a clause in his contract allowing him to inspect PublishAmerica's accounts, his accountant was denied access, and Dolan received royalties for fewer copies of his book than he was able to account for having sold himself. He was awarded an unspecified amount in compensation for PublishAmerica's breach of contract, and his contract was rescinded.
Despite this, Wikipedia warns that the entry is written more like an advertisement than a neutral factual description!
Here's a "fact" on the America Star website: "FACT #1: Unique among all traditional book publishing companies, America Star Books has served 50,000 authors since 1999."
Well, that's not strictly true; PublishAmerica did that. If you go to the Store page of the America Star Books site and click on the various categories, like "Adventure" or "Horror" you find books published by PublishAmerica. If you click on "America Star" on the same page, you get...nothing. Apparently no books have yet been published under this new banner.
America Star Books seems to be targeting foreign authors, offering to translate and publish foreign-language books in English:
From South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa we now (sic) translating thousands of books by foreign authors, all scheduled to be released in 2014! Most popular languages that we're currently translating: Spanish, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Chinese.
Really? Thousands? Then isn't it strange that the six samples of translated text on the website are all in Dutch, the native language of the owner?
Still, this sounds good: America Star Books is a traditional, royalty paying publisher. The author is never obligated or expected to pull their wallet to make any purchase whatsoever. All expenses involved with acquiring new titles, formatting, custom designing, and illustrating the final manuscript into a book, translating a foreign book into English, making books fully available to all bookstores at home and abroad, and informing news media upon the release of a new book, are underwritten by America Star Books solely.
They say they pay royalties on an escalating scale that looks similar to that of mainstream publishers.
One thing to look at is the retail prices they set. For instance, on the store page at their website is a book called Altered Perceptions: A Writer's Journey Thorugh Life With Attention Deficit Disorder, or A.D.D. it is a paperback 110 pages long in a 5.5" x 8.5 format. It sells for $19.95.
There's a novel called The Absurd Aventures of Tucker Doubt, paperback, 116 pages, again $19.95.
I think authors, especially unknown ones, would have trouble getting people to pay $20 for a slim paperback.
If you have any contact with foreign authors groups, it would be kind to let them know about the connection between America Star Books and PublishAmerica so they can make up their own minds with all the facts in mind.
Will this venture be any better than PublishAmerica? I'm sure it won't be long before authors who sign with America Star Books start posting their experiences on the web, for better or worse.
Until then, all I know is a saying that always struck me as very sensible: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."
There was surprise in the publishing world when Penguin Group bought Author Solutions Inc. ASI had a long history of complaints of unfair dealing from writers--would Penguin put an end to that?
Apparently not, if the recent experience of a number of writers is anything to go by.
As usual, I'm indebted to the "Writer Beware" blog for additional information on this. They mention that there is a class action suit against ASI and Penguin for breach of contract and unjust enrichment, among other issues.
They also cite one author's nightmare experiences trying to get her illustrated book published by Balboa Press, the self-publishing division of Hay House, which outsources to Author Solutions Inc.
It was a children's book and she says the illustrations she got were dark and depressing. Among other things, an ancient woman was drawn as a bald old man. Keep in mind she paid $3400 for "intricate design."
When she complained the Balboa rep said, "the illustrator is sensitive, he's young, he draws like that."
Maybe taking into consideration this is a light children's book they could have given the assignment to an illustrator who is less sensitive and doesn't draw like that.
Also, the sales rep told her she'd be in contact with the illustrator directly; once she'd paid, the coordinator told her no, they have to be the intermediary, authors are not allowed direct contact with their illustrator.
The litany of things that were misrepresented or went wrong with this project is very long. You can read the author's first-hand account here.
Hay House itself as a good reputation as a publisher of books about healing, spirituality, and self-help, so it would be reasonable to assume that the values of Hay House and its founder, Louise Hay, would apply to any of its divisions or subsidiaries. Also that they would be transparent about their relationship with Author Solutions. However, you have to dig very deep on the Balboa site to discover that it is connected to Author Solutions.
AND THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS...
If in doubt, always do a web search about any publisher, agent, manager, or other service provider you are considering. Go past the first page of search results. Usually the truth is out there if you take the time to look for it.