22 November 2003

Can You Say "Conflict of Interest"?
See? I knew you could. Apparently, however, the proprietors of Publish America cannot.

   PA is a vanity press. The test for whether an operation is a vanity test is two-part: (1) Who has legal title to the books as they come out of the bindery? If it's the author, it's self-publishing; if it's the publisher, it's not. (2) If the publisher has title to the books as they leave the bindery, what is the guaranteed flow of non-manuscript capital at the instant the first book comes out of the bindery? If it is toward the author, we're talking about commercial publishing; if, instead, it is toward the publisher, it is vanity publishing. Publish America fits in this last category; despite the nominal $1 "advance" that means that although the form of the money flow appears to be "toward the author," the other demands for inclusion of material other than the manuscript itself by PA strongly reverse the substance of that capital flow. For example, unlike a commercial publisher, PA requires authors to file (and pay for) their own copyright registration. $1 advance – $30 copyright registration fee = –$29.

   However, PA is not interested in having potential customers realize this. It is offended by those who criticize its business practices, such as deception, unfair contracts (even by industry standards), etc. For example, PA owns the most natural website address for one of its major critics—Preditors and Editors ("P&E"); the domain registration is as follows:

Record expires on 29-Oct-2005.
Record created on 29-Oct-2000.
Database last updated on 22-Nov-2003 10:56:08 EST.

PA cites P&E as one of its main critics. This alone should be enough to call PA's new website at AuthorsMarket.net (note: this is not linked so as to avoid robot problems) into question, particularly since PA discloses its ownership of that site only deep, deep into the site itself. What I found most amusing, however, were the following statements on various pages at AuthorsMarket:

   A second caveat is that science-fiction and fantasy writers have it easier. It's unfair, but such is life. As a rule of thumb, the quality bar for sci-fi and fantasy is a lot lower than for all other fiction. Therefore, beware of published authors who are self-crowned writing experts. When they tell you what to do and not to do in getting your book published, always first ask them what genre they write. If it's sci-fi or fantasy, run. They have no clue about what it is to write real-life stories, and how to find them a home. Unless you are a sci-fi or fantasy author yourself.

Statistically, this is easily disprovable. The "bar" is by far the lowest in "self-help" books. As far as the "quality" of what is in the commercial publishing category, there is such a high proportion of dreck in all publishing categories that one cannot make that kind of judgment—particularly after removing media fiction works for hire from the equation, since the quality of the latter is largely beyond the author's control.

   Let's look a little closer at those self-anointed "experts", the ones who call themselves author advocates, or watchdogs. You won't find too many of them, but they are usually loud. Their writing is typically characterized by the use of an overkill of adjectives, and by references to you being a victim of something. Their own book genre is almost always Science-Fiction or Fantasy. (Mine aren't.)
That's why some of them are actually published writers. SciFi and Fantasy are among the easier genres, requiring no believable storylines, and no believable every-day characters. (Obviously hasn't read much; and the same can be said for romance, for spy thrillers, for…) ….

   There are a few serious experts in authorland, there's no doubt about that. Christian author advocate Sally Stuart is one of them. Dan Poynter of Para Publishing is another. And there's John Kremer, a guy who more than anyone else knows the portals and pitfalls of being successful in writing. Then there's the National Writers Union, an AFL-CIO affiliate that knows what they're talking about. All these folks are unassuming, unpretending, and unbiased. When in doubt what to do or who to trust, check out their web sites.
   Who not to trust? Every one who effectively attempts to keep you from being published. And here we get into a real interesting point of shifting definitions. Poynter, Kremer, and (to a lesser extent) Stuart are all advocates of self-publishing—something that PA explicitly decries elsewhere on AuthorsMarket.net. This is nothing more than a "stupid lawyer trick."

   If everything that PA said was true, then none of us who try to keep writers from being ripped off would teach writers' workshops, recommend talented writers to commercial publishers, etc. We would all restrict our writing to "cookie-cutter" generic stuff, because that's where our talent lies. For counterexamples, try this (look in the table of contents), this (look at the second author), and this (forthcoming February 2004).

   Methinks the ethically challenged businessman doth protest too much. Particularly that bit about being strident in defense of one's viewpoint without any credibility to back it up; especially when anyone who criticizes PA for its practice is locked off of PA's bulletin board system, even authors published by PA.

   Go ahead, PA. Sue me for libel. I can back up everything I have said with documentation; and by placing your own reputation in issue, you will open your reputation and practices to extensive discovery, as part of what you must prove is that something I have said damages your reputation. I'd love to give your lawyers some… education… in Fed. R. Civ. P. 11.