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PublishAmerica: Traditional Publisher?
by Tina Morgan

One of the best ways to start a flame war on a writers' message board is mention PublishAmerica.

Rather than begin a flame war, however, our Editor-in-Chief decided to review a funny, enlightening book, accepted for publication by Publish America. You can read Lee's review
here. The intention behind the review was to point out the less-than-sincere business practises behind some of the publishers out there.

The purpose of this article isn't to condemn anyone who has chosen to publish with PublishAmerica. My sole intent is to help new writers understand the differences between a "traditional" publisher and the way PublishAmerica does business. After all - the staff at Fiction Factor are dedicated to helping writers establish credible and professional writing careers.

Let's begin by taking a look at PublishAmerica's website. There's certainly a lot of hype on the PA site. Most of it declares that PublishAmerica is a "traditional publisher". In fact, their own 'catch-cry' is "We Treat Our Authors the Old-Fashioned Way - We Pay Them". This catchy slogan is emblazoned right below their corporate logo. Yep. They pay them. They offer their writers a $1 advance (that's not a typo).

First, giving an advance does not mean the publisher follows a "traditional" business model. It merely means they're paying their writers in advance of any sales. This can be a risky venture for the publisher. There's a chance the book won't sell through its advance. This happens quite often to large NY publishing houses, especially with first time novelists. However, PublisherAmerica is not assuming any risk. With only a $1 advance, they're sure to sell through their advance the moment the author purchases the first copy. How many authors aren't going to buy a copy of their own novel? Apparently more than 1,000 according to an article citing PA's CEO, Larry Clopper:  He said more than 1,000 PublishAmerica titles have not a sold a copy; PublishAmerica released those books at a loss.

There are a lot of small publishers that do not offer an advance, yet are still considered "traditional" publishers. My own publisher, Dragon Moon Press, did not pay the authors of
The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy or The Fantasy Writer's Companion an advance. But Dragon Moon Press does follow a "traditional" business model. Both books had to be approved by an editor before a contract was offered. Both books went through a laborious editing process before they were printed.

Yes, PublishAmerica pay royalties on sales. This means that for every book that sells, you receive a kind of commission called a royalty on the sale price. PA offers 8% royalty on the first 2000 copies sold. This percentage increases with the number of books sold. On their own website, they state that this is above the industry standard for royalty rates.

Simple research tells me that the industry standard is 10-15%...

Washington Post printed a great article about Publish America not so long ago. In fact, during this article, a PA spokesperson boasts annual sales between $4million and $6million. That's a lot of book sales!

What a good thing for us Lee's a numbers-person! Let's use some of Lee's mathematical skills right now, shall we?

$6 million in annual gross sales, divided by 11,000 very happy authors, divided by 8% royalty = not enough money to buy dinner for two each year! Did you catch that?

6,000,000 / 11,000 / 8% = $43.64

An average of $43.64 per year in royalties paid to each author? My goodness. Their average trade paperback sale price is approximately $19 per book.

Once again, it's a good thing Lee's a numbers person. Lee's done those same numbers in reverse, too!

$6,000,000 x 92% = $5,520,000 that doesn't have to be shared by PA with pesky authors...

Of course, any 'good' business person can tell you that the overheads and staff costs eat into those 'profits' and of course the authors are the most important part of any publishing house and the costs of marketing expenses and insurances and .... you get the idea.

POD or Vanity Publishing?
Publish America has a very nicely written FAQ page and they even have a Facts and Figures page. Let's take a look at what some of it says:

Fact #5: PublishAmerica is NOT in any way a POD, vanity press, or subsidy publisher, and has nothing in common with them

Okay then. We're not dealing with a publisher who uses Print-On-Demand technology, according to their own fact-file. I assume this must mean they print up thousands of books at a time and hope that they sell. Right?

FACT #7: The only area where the acronym POD comes in sight, is the printing stage of a book. Among printers, POD means print-on-demand, a digital technology that enables the printer to manufacture a book one at a time.

Oh Golly! Now they ARE admitting to being Print-On-Demand publishers - only two 'facts' later! I'm confused!

FACT #11: We assign an editor who goes through the text line by line. Let's put this in perspective. We don't touch style issues, we don't edit the author's voice, tone, or delivery. We edit for spelling, mechanics, grammar, typos, and trust us, that's a vital and time consuming job. Together, our editing staff makes more than 35,000 (!) corrections, each day, to the books they work on that day.

um... I guess I don't have the room to begin with this 'fact' - but Lee's already done it. You can see her take on PA's 'editing' here:

Professional Editing
All traditional publishing houses require the manuscripts they accept to go through a submissions and acceptance procedure. PublishAmerica claims to do the same thing. However, a group of professionally published science fiction writers decided to put this assertion to the test. This story was covered by Scott Martelle, a Los Angeles Times Staff Writer. 

When I visited PublishAmerica's website, I took a look at their FAQ page. There were several things that bothered me about what was written there. http://www.publishamerica.com/facts/index.htm

    Unique among all traditional book publishing companies, PublishAmerica counts more than 11,000 happy authors. Each day, an average 7 of them ask us to also accept their next work, 38 second-book authors per week, more than 145 per month.

Let's stop and think about those numbers for a moment. How can PublishAmerica promote their writers if they're producing that many novels? 11,000? Check the cost of running a two or three line ad in a major magazine. Most large circulation magazines are going to charge $200-300 or more for a very small ad. Times that by 11,000 and you're looking at $2,200,000.00. Somehow I don't see PublishAmerica's budget going that far. But then, they don't claim to market your book, so I can't find fault there, right? Wrong. While they don't claim to market your book, they do claim to edit your book. If they're accepting over 145 novels per month just how many editors do they employ?

According to this article: PublishAmerica has 35 full-time editors and published 4,800 books last year, which means that each editor worked on more than 100 books. Editors typically spend just two days on a book, Clopper said, primarily checking for grammar and spelling.

As an editor myself, I can tell you that even if a book is well written, it takes a lot of time to do a through editing and proofreading. Earlier this week I finished editing Not Your Father's Horsemen by Valerie Griswold-Ford (due out this summer). Val is a very talented and skilled writer. She didn't need a lot of editorial assistance and the number of typos in her book was minimal, but it still took far more than two days to go over all 330 pages of her novel.

If the text of Atlanta Nights is any indication, PublishAmerica needs to employ either more or better editors.

However, a quote from another website reads differently: We publish approximately 1,100 new titles per year. Of those titles, about 800 are first time authors.

So which number is right? 145 novels per month equals 1740 novels per year, not 1,100 new titles per year.

Author Mill
On the
Science Fiction Writer's Association website (SFWA), their Author Beware section tells us the following:

"author mill"--a company that publishes a very large number of authors in the expectation of selling a hundred books or so from each (as opposed to publishing a limited number of authors in hopes of selling thousands of books from each, as commercial publishers do). Author mills don't require authors to make any financial expenditures at all, hidden or otherwise. However, they do rely on their authors as their major source of income (through books purchased by the author for re-sale, or sold to "pocket" markets the author him/herself is responsible for identifying), and so can be defined as vanity publishers, despite the lack of upfront or other charges. Also, author mills tend to share a business model with vanity publishers: no editorial screening of submissions, no meaningful pre-publication editing, no meaningful post-publication marketing or distribution.

I personally find this description quite apt, considering our current topic....

I also found this quote particularly interesting: Consequently, our books can be found at numerous online vendor sites, and through each and every brick and mortar bookstore from coast to coast.

Next time you're shopping at your local (or national chain) bookstore, ask if they have any PublishAmerica books in stock.

Below are some links to read more about PublishAmerica and what the publishing world thinks of their business practices.




Lots of links to articles and information about PublishAmerica, scroll through their alphabetical listing until you get to PublishAmerica

A quick search on Google turned up more negative links than positive for PublishAmerica. NOT the kind of publicity you want for the company you're trusting to produce your novel.

If all else fails and you're still tempted to look into publishing with this "publisher" - then I strongly suggest you read the following:
Publish America - Yes or No?
Preditors & Editors (Scroll down to Publish America)
Washington Post

Copyright 2005 Tina Morgan. All Rights Reserved.

(additional information and research courtesy of Lee Masterson)


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