Does PublishAmerica really Publish America?

That PublishAmerica is a controversial company is obvious from the number of pages it brings up on a Google News search. It seems that every week somebody writes an article damning PublishAmerica to hell for ruining the dreams of writers. It's easy for a journalist to take an e-mail from a broken-hearted author and spin it into a feature story, but does the coin have two sides? The complaints range from the contract terms to distribution issues, but the bottom line always seems to be that authors feel like they were sold a bill of goods. I've heard from a number of current and past PublishAmerica authors, and their opinions were mixed, essentially depending on what they expected going in. So does PublishAmerica really publish America? As an ex-American president might have put it, that depends on what the word "publish" means.

On one side of the coin, we have pundits with little or no concept of how the trade publishing world works, writing about how PublishAmerica differs from a "real" trade publisher. They complain that PublishAmerica will publish any old garbage and then they complain that the prices of the books are too high. Reminds me of the old Borscht Belt joke where one old lady complains, "The food here is awful" and her friend responds, "Yes, and the portions are too small." They complain that PublishAmerica books aren't stocked in stores, except Amazon. Anybody in the industry can tell you that most books that get published aren't stocked in stores, and some of them have worse Amazon availability than PublishAmerica titles. They argue that the editing and cover art are inferior, and that the print on demand technology is the mark of death. PublishAmerica may actually put more money and effort into title production than some of the subsidy publishers they compete with, and people who knock print on demand technology frequently don't know what they are talking about. Print on demand is used by everybody from the top academic publishers and small publishers for frontlist books to the large trades for some backlist titles.

On the other side of the coin we have the one key factor that, in my mind, excludes PublishAmerica from the ranks of publishers who could be said to truly "publish" books. PublishAmerica has no real marketing. Selling books is what the publishing business is all about, and to sell books to the general public, you need to market them. Instead, PublishAmerica takes the fabled military planners approach of running a bunch of books up the flag pole and waiting to see if anybody salutes. For one in a thousand titles, that approach may actually work, though I suspect there's a market savvy author behind each success. I just did a quick search on Amazon, and the top 5 PublishAmerica books this morning were:

"Empowering Women to Power Network" by Ponn M. Sabra
"The Fairy Chronicles Book One" by J.H. Sweet
"To Love a Vampire" by Jody Ofen
"Zen and the Art of Public School Teaching" by John Perricone
"Up the Creek with a Paddle" by Mary Anne Boyle Bradley

Apart from doing moderately well at Amazon, I checked all of their sales at Ingram this year, and all except the vampire book (published two months ago) had sold over 100 copies. The "Fairy Chronicles" was leading the pack with 335 year-to-date sales. There are at least a hundred thousand trade published books in print that won't move that many books this year. While there are over 10,000 PublishAmerica books available through Amazon that aren't doing so well, it's important to point out that it's not impossible to score a small success as a PublishAmerica author.

My gut feeling is that the individuals who thought up PublishAmerica actually thought that they would become the heroes of the publishing industry, rather than the goats. Unfortunately, they are learning along with their authors that books very rarely (if ever) sell themselves. Since they are known for presenting themselves to potential authors as a traditional publisher (ie, non-subsidy), they are setting up those authors for a big disappointment. Marketing isn't a small part of the publishing business, it's the main part, and it's the part that PublishAmerica lacks. As to whether an author is better off choosing PublishAmerica or a subsidy press, it depends on that author's expectations. If the author just wants to see the book in print and have it available on Amazon and for special orders through bookstores, PublishAmerica is certainly the cheapest route, they may even pay a dollar advance. If the author is hoping to win the lottery and come to the notice of a major trade, they're better off paying a subsidy publisher with a reasonable contract and a reputation for helping authors generate sales, like Booklocker. Of course, if the author wants to make money outside the trades, the only way to go is true self publishing.

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