Sunday, February 28, 2010


I've got nothing against people who elect to publish their own books, or use print on demand technology to do so. I think it's terrific there's an affordable way for writers to see their work in book form PARTICULARLY if the work isn't something that's suitable for general trade publishing.

I mention this because I don't want you to start ranting that I'm anti-POD, or anti-self publishing when I tell you that PublishAmerica's latest endeavor to separate writers from their hard-earned money infuriates me.

It preys on people's hopes and dreams, and uses their lack of knowledge specifically and intentionally to make them buy something the company knows is unlikely to achieve the results implied. (Implied of course is key. They don't actually tell you it works, they let you believe the implication.)

Here's the text:
Your Book Published By Random House?‏
From: PublishAmerica Author Support Team (
Sent: Tue 2/23/10 11:35 AM
To: [Redacted]
Dear Author:
PublishAmerica will submit your book to Random House!

(submit means something very specific in publishing parlance. They use it incorrectly, but you don't know that. They mean SEND)

Random House, the publishing company? Yes. We’re submitting your book to the world’s most famous publisher so they get a chance to read it and see if they want your book.

(see the clever implication and connection here? If they SEND it to RandomHouse, there's a chance it will be read. The chance is miniscule; they don't mention that. This kind of talk in advertising is why "your mileage may vary" is a mandated caution in ads for cars.)

Every writer dreams about becoming a published author. Once they have reached that goal, as you have, many dream of the next step up: to become a Random House author. Random House is one of the most prestigious publishing names. Their extensive operation a few miles from our own headquarters makes them virtual neighbors.

(Any Random House facility located near PublishAmerica is a warehouse or production division. Editorial decisions are made at 1745 Broadway, New York, NY. That's nowhere close to "neighbor" for a company located in Maryland.)

We will submit not one, but up to five copies of your book to Random House’s acquisition editors, so that they can also pass the book around their imprints if they want. They may do anything they choose with the books. We will alert you immediately if Random House shows interest, and in that case we will do everything we can to ensure a smooth transition. Since PublishAmerica is not affiliated with Random House or its owner Bertelsmann, we would totally share in your pride.

(They can do anything they want to with it. They can throw it away for example. Why you would PAY to send a finished copy blindly to RandomHouse when you can send it electronically at no cost boggles the mind. Why would someone advocate doing this? Oh yes, of course...that's how PublishAmerica makes money: authors buying their own books)

Here’s how we do it:

If you want to have books on hand, order now, and we will donate up to five copies to Random House. And you receive a 50 pct discount!

Go to, find your book, click on it, then add to cart, indicate quantity, and use this coupon: Random50. Then click Recalculate and finish the transaction. Minimum volume is 10 copies.

Notice there's no verification on this. No way to monitor if PublishAmerica actually sends books to Random House. Even if they send a truck, there's no way to verify if individual books are included or not.

Even IF they do send books, and a book makes its way to an editor who finds something of interest, just exactly how do you think the editor will find the author? Maybe PublishAmerica prints contact info on the bookjackets.

By using the coupon you are authorizing us to donate the books to Random House. You may also request that we ship five FREE books to you instead.

Free means you don't pay for something. Last I checked (italicized above) you were adding books to a cart, and paying for a transaction.

Full-color and hardcovers excluded. Offer expires this weekend on Sunday night.

Thank you,
PublishAmerica Author Support Team

More than the specifics of why this is a crummy idea, though, this stinks because it uses lack of knowledge to make a sale.

That's a morally bankrupt way to earn money.

PublishAmerica is beneath contempt for this.

If you intend to self-publish, or use print on demand, I urge you to patronize another company.

Here's the blog post at Making Light
where I first saw the news.


Writing Writerly things said...

I'm so glad that when I started querying, I googled PublishAmerica. I found a topic at Absolute Write, which stopped me from submitting my manuscript to them. Unfortunately when one starts writing and has the dream to publish, one can be very naive.

I think it's great to have a post on the subject from someone that works in the industry. Hopefully more unpublished writers will see this before actually falling prey to PublishAmerica.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That's horrible...

Unknown said...

Thank you for the information! It is good to be aware of the issues that you face when trying to publish your book and what to look out for!

Levi Montgomery said...

I'm fairly certain that no one who is serious and informed about self-publishing is going to view an anti-Publish America rant as an anti-self-publishing rant, because I'm fairly certain that none of those people view Publish America as a serious option.

There may very well be people who are serious about self-publishing who do not know this yet, and everything that can be done to help educate them is a step in the right direction.

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting this. Though I hope I can be published through normal channels, PoD is always an option. If I ever decided to go that route, it will certainly not be with PublishAmerica.

Loretta Ross said...

My niece's co-worker just recently had a book done by Publish America. I don't remember the specifics but even after she pays them to publish it (pays extra, in fact, because she wanted to use her own artwork for the cover), she's only getting a small percentage of sales. It's something like 10% for the first x,000 books, then 20% up to y,ooo books, and then 40% or 50% for anything over.

She's a no-name debut author with no marketing experience doing her own publicity on something bookstores won't carry. She's never going to earn back her investment. She'll never get out of the 10% bracket.

I wonder where she'll go from here?

Deep River said...

RubbishAmerica fails to inform their authors that RandomHouse no longer accepts unsolicited manuscripts.

Unknown said...

I once met someone who'd gone through the self-pub circuit...the book wasn't for general consumption, so they'd done what was best for them. I don't think you rant--about anything other than the truth: Publish America would love to take every hard-working writer's money and run. It's that simple--and I think you made an eloquent point.

Furious D said...

How exactly does Random House feel about being used by PublishAmerica this way?

PA is promising to basically alienate a publisher against your work, by sending them unsolicited submissions that they won't even read, with the implication that it might somehow get published.

Of course, from my own experience dealing with publishers, it could literally be years before they even notice this.

Brittany said...

That's terrible. I hope the writers using PublishAmerica are smart enough to avoid it.

JS said...

PublishAmerica isn't self-publishing, is the thing.

When you self-publish, you retain the rights, and you get 100% of the profits after sales. You also have control over things like editing, layout, and cover art. If your printer screws up and prints pages 200-300 before pages 1-199, you can raise Hail Columbia with them and get them to fix it. If the covers of your book crack and curl, you can raise Hail Columbia with them and get them to fix it.

When you publish with PublishAmerica, they have the rights, and they take a large percentage of the profits after sales. You're paying them to do a crappy job with editing, layout, and cover art. If anything goes wrong with the physical books you receive, you will be whistling into the wind to get them to fix it.

Self-publishing makes sense in a lot of situations. PublishAmerica almost never makes sense for anyone.

Jude said...

What a scam...

Way to give authors the heads up :)

Josin L. McQuein said...

They've run other "offers" like this with "Wal Mart, Target, Oprah, Tom Hanks, Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer, Barnes and Noble, local hospital, local airport, generic military personnel overseas, etc. subbed in fr Random House.

Aside from the idiocy of it - seriously, how well do you think unsolicited boxes delivered to an airport are going to go over - they never bother to mention that the venues they choose have very specific guidelines in place for submissions of material.

Most don't take submissions like that, and if they did, they wouldn't need 5 copies. Actors and producers have people to filter this stuff before they ever see it - and they won't see it. Oprah's book club is kaput. You can't send packages to generic military personnel over seas; you have to have a specific person and destination.

The ONE person who's been able to confirm that B&N got her books only knows because the manager called and told her to pick them up because they would not be shelving them... she threw a fit.

I can only hope the offer to donate money to the Haitian charities (in return for purchase, of course) was legit.

Spy Scribbler said...

I get asked about this almost every time someone finds out I'm a writer. I usually send them to Lulu, which doesn't ask for up-front money. Oddly, just yesterday I talked to someone who wanted their grandmother's memoir put in a book before she died. I almost sent her to Publish America, because she wants a proofreader and a cover done, too. Glad I didn't.

Anyone know of a relatively cheap Lulu-like place that will do the cover and proofreading for a reasonable fee?

Emily Cross said...

Thank you for posting this!!

Ebony McKenna. said...

This is an excellent post. Thank you.

I feel badly for all the writers who take this at face value. I doubt Random House had any advance warning that PublishAmerica would be doing this to them.

@Deep River - the problem is, even if most writers know RH is not accepting unsolicited mss, this latest endeavor is preying on those who understand the least about publishing. But you make a valid point because it means this entire scheme is doomed to fail.

*declaration, one of my publishers is Random House New Zealand.

Anonymous said...

Ach, this isn't the half of it. They also continue to sell books that they no longer have the rights to.

Unknown said...

Thank you so so so so much for mentioning this. I follow the PA boards on AW (Please, if anyone is thinking of using them go there first!), and it's just heartbreaking to watch these things play out. This one was particularly disgusting (though not as bad as the one offering to donate money to earthquake victims...hell, even the sending books to soldiers as Christmas presents was worse in some ways because it would have been literally impossible for them to have done it, not that they mentioned this in the ad.)

Levi Montgomery said...


(And anyone else who is looking for the same thing): There is a very strong forum of committed independent authors at the CreateSpace forums, and more can be found under any nearby bush or rock. Most of us know someone who will do covers or editing for a small "Grandma's memoir" type of project for free or next to it. And we won't try to retain any rights.


Margaret Yang said...

Oh, ick.

David Edgerley Gates said...


_*rachel*_ said...

Two words: Atlanta Nights.

Two more words: Travis Tea.

I don't get how it'd ever be legitimate for one "publishing company" to submit your stuff to another.

Kate Halleron said...

Oh, I do hope RH decides to sue. Someone needs to take these scumbags *down*.

Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...


I know several authors who have used POD, and I did so with a regional ghost book (SE Kansas is not a mecca for regional publishers, so I had no choice), but I shopped and shopped for a POD publisher that charged me fairly and didn't through a bunch of hoopla into the deal.

PublishAmerica was already off the list before I'd even started. Now I'm even more glad I stayed clear of them.

Niki M said...

Thanks for posting this. I used to publish my first book because I was sure it was not for mass consumption, and lulu has a good reputation. I've talked with many first time writers about the publishing process, and I'm sure some of them are naive enough to buy into something like this. I'm going to link back to your blog because this is very good information.

Loretta Ross said...

Shakespeare, I love true ghost stories and SE Kansas isn't that far from me. Is your book still available anywhere?

JS said...

In addition to the CreateSpace forums, as Levi recommends, there are also forums at Lulu where people offer copyediting/layout/production services. And the boards at are another place to look for help of that kind.

There are hardworking, talented people out there who have the skills and experience to help people self-publish their work and end up with a quality product they're proud of. And then there are people looking to rip off the untutored.

Unknown said...

They're gonna spam Random House? Say huh?

Terri Coop said...

Yay Janet for helping spread the news on the latest PA scam!

I'm one of the PA message board watchers on AW and I think Jim's Making Light post rocks!

Self-Publishing is perfect for what it is perfect for - niche projects that wouldn't be right for a regular publisher. I am working on a project right now that I will do through CreateSpace. It is directed at a very narrow genre and intended for marketing to members of our fan club.

CreateSpace demands some upfront work for layout, they print what you send them, no assistance. However, their per-copy price is the lowest around.

Long live the independents and death to PublishAmerica.

BTW - PA is now embroiled in a lawsuit with Lightning Source. Stay tuned for the outcome of this smackdown!

Anonymous said...

I did a rant on my blog last month about their ridiculous celebrity promotions.

What set me off what their claim they would donate a dollar per book ordered to the Red Cross for Haitian relief.

I crunched numbers, working out that for every 144 bucks to the Red Cross, PA could make over 3400.00 in profit.

Exploiting that horror to squeeze more cash from their writers is beyond sickening.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Some people (some even agents) say that agents are in the "dream crushing" business. I disagree with this, but last night I met someone whose dreams had actually been crushed ... by a company similar to PublishAmerica. This woman wanted to have her inspirational tale of overcoming adversity (a memoir) read by church groups and friends and neighbors. The company took her $10k (her life savings) and left her with a too-expensive hardcover the church groups couldn't afford, riddled with typos. She's back to starting over, on her own, and despairing.

Very sad.

Christine Tripp said...

As Josin has already mentioned, the RH "submission" is only the latest of so many ridiculous come on's these creeps have issued in emails to their "authors". Buy 20 of your books this week and we will send 5 to (incert celeb name, presidents name, television networks name and now publishers name here)
What amazes me about this latest offer of theirs, as they insist they are a REAL publisher... why would one publisher send your(their) book to ANOTHER publisher?

When you look in on the PA authors forum and read what is getting posted (and anyone can access their forum and read but not post) it's truly sad. They are really brainwashed by PA into believing ALL authors buy their own books, load them into the trunk of their cars and offer book signings at every B&N in their State. They are always so shocked to find they are turned away. After spending thousands of dollars in getting these very badly printed, they ask each other when to expect the first royalty cheques, when will be get rich?
Since the manuscripts are NEVER edited, they tell each other that spelling errors are normal in publishing and that, for a fee, you can send the corrections in to the "publisher" for the next batch of books.
It's a crime (but not technically) and glad to see someone with some clout reporting on their underhanded dealings with the naive and the misinformed.
Good for you Janet!!!

V.R. Leavitt said...

Wow...Just wow...

Unknown said...

I'm a Random House author; out of curiosity I e-mailed this to my editor. He (electronically) rolled his eyes. If these arrive at all, they'll go onto a slush pile, which means they MIGHT be read by some 23 year old assistant in her down time. Or else they might be tossed into the recycling bin. You'd have better luck submitting your own un-agented work. This sounds like an outrageous scam, and good for you, Janet, for drawing attention to it. Incidentally, I suspect their are scads of agents out there who will work with authors to hone/prune/perfect a book outline & pitch letter and even when a title is so specialist as to be ideal for POD, then it makes more sense to hire a good editor and take another POD route that isn't going to exploit you. This sounds like a recipe for frustration and false hopes. There are lots of ways to distribute POD books, and I've known one or two authors who have managed to get books into stores or generated enough buzz and readers to land agents and non-POD contracts on the strength of that. Concentrate on building buzz, not succumbing to name-brand envy...

Christine Tripp said...

Their most recent "deal" is buy 20 of your books, we will send a copy (up to 5, guess that depends on if you buy up to 100?) to Random Houses "Bertelsmann" in Germany.
The scum bags never give tire of creating new and innovative ways to pick the pockets of their victims... uh, I mean, their Authors.
Random House SHOULD take action against PA. If not to save countless numbers of naive from being raped of thousands of dollars each, then to at least make clear RH is not affiliated nor do they support Publish America. As it stands, it could appear that RH is open to the submissions from PA.

Mad Scientist Matt said...

One other elephant in the room - if Random House actually wanted the book, would you still be stuck with a seven year contract anyway, and be sent abusive letters if you asked to be released from it?