Class action against PublishAmerica; claims the business is a ripoff for would-be writers

A class action lawsuit has been filed against PublishAmerica, a notorious vanity press that has long appeared in the Writer Beware! bulletins from the Science Fiction Writers of America, which warns of bad business practices from publishers (and "publishers") who prey on naive would-be authors. From the complaint:

Defendant PublishAmerica is a book publisher that portrays itself as "a traditional, royalty paying publisher." But unlike traditional publishers, which profit from the sale of books, defendant profits from its own clients, i.e., the authors who submit works for publication by defendant. Defendant lures these authors in by promising to publish their book at no cost, and it makes false and misleading representations that it will promote their books and support the authors' efforts to sell their own books. But this is not the case.

Instead, once the authors sign the contract, which gives defendant the rights to their book for seven to ten years, defendant does nothing constructive to promote their books, but instead offers various promotion packages on a fee-for-service basis....These services, which are either misrepresented or never carried out, are not reasonably designed to promote class members' books....

Defendant provides very poor editing services, is slow to respond to book orders, and it routinely overprices the books it publishes. This is no accident. Defendant will only lower the price of its clients' books to a competitive rate for a $399 fee. These practices make it difficult for even the most enterprising authors to promote their own books.

Defendant is not responsive to inquiries from its clients, or worse it is dismissive or belligerent.

The Writer Beware! post has information on how you can join the class if you feel you've been wronged by PublishAmerica.

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against PublishAmerica (via Making Light)l


  1. There are similar companies that deal in poetry; my wife once sent them an amazingly bad poem and got all sorts of junk mail soliciting funds to facilitate her advance in the highbrow world of published poets. 

    And let’s not forget the amazing song recording companies, and the wonderful song “Blind Man’s Penis”.

  2. Being alert to this scam is one more reason that all aspiring writers should read Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Eco.

  3. Reading the Publish America forums is an interesting experience – it’s like being at a Moonies convention. Many true believers, many people who desperately wish to believe, because the alternative is that they’ve been had.

    Publish America should burn in hell – but without them we wouldn’t have _Atlanta Nights_. Tricky one.

  4. OK, so how does a “business” like this happen?  Sounds like a very specific scam with more than a little technical know-how.

    A group of evil bohemian lawyers are sitting around, brainstorming ideas for a business startup.  One of them goes “Eureka, I’ve got it!  We can prey on and screw over budding writers!”, and the buddies go “Great!”, “Love it!”, “Let’s do it!”  Then they put time, money and effort to carefully craft the trap.
    Or what?  Jeez…

  5. The so-called promotions they run all the time are done in such a way that there is no way an author can ever check up and make sure it gets done. There isn’t enough staff at PA to follow through on these promotions either. All Willem does is sit around and think up new ways to scam authors out of their me I used to work there and talk about a toxic work environment.

  6. niktemadur  asks,

    OK, so how does a “business” like this happen?  Sounds like a very specific scam with more than a little technical know-how.

    Let me try to answer that.  To the best of my knowledge it happened this way:

    Back in the late nineties Willem Meiners was running a straight-up pay-to-play POD vanity press called Erica House (named for his then-wife, Erica).

    He noticed something funny:  On average POD vanity-published authors bought (or convinced their families and friends to buy) a consistent, predictable number of their own books.  The number was 75, and it held true pretty-much across the board, from Erica House to iUniverse to Xlibris.

    So Willem partnered with an internet marketer named Larry Clopper and dropped the up-front fee while simultaneously raising the prices of the books so that the (price increase) * (75) equaled the former up-front vanity fee.  He knew that the authors, the authors’ moms, and their best friends from high school would buy a predictable number of books regardless of price even if half the pages were blank and the rest set upside-down. 

    The publisher’s name morphed from Erica House to AmERICAhouse to PublishAmerica.  They advertised themselves as a “traditional” publisher (an undefined term that allowed authors to think anything they wanted).  Their slogans were “We want your book not your money” and “We treat authors the old-fashioned way.  We pay them.” They offered a “symbolic” one-dollar advance, claimed to be highly selective, claimed to “edit line-by-line,” and sat back to count their money.

    It was a vanity press on the installment plan, with the vanity fee rolled into the  cover price of each volume.   Rather than charging the authors up front, they charged them down back. A clever scheme.

    It was, essentially, the exact-same business plan as the acknowledged vanity press The International Library of Poetry which accepted almost everyone, for free,  and made their money by selling overpriced anthologies back to the authors themselves.  Enough bought those books to allow the company to prosper.

    Lately, though, things don’t seem to have been going PublishAmerica’s way.  The plan required a never-ending stream of incoming authors to replace the old ones who had sold their 75. Earlier in the decade PublishAmerica had ambitious (if naive)  authors who thought PA was a real commercial press.  Now those same authors are using free electronic self-publication. 

    PublishAmerica turned to more and more hard-sell offers to their authors to induce them to buy more copies of their own books rather than sitting back and allowing those authors to come up with the idea on their own.  Those offers were followed by increasingly bizarre marketing schemes: e.g. If you buy a certain number of your own books we will send a copy to Tom Hanks and perhaps he’ll want to make a movie out of it.  If you send us a certain amount of money we’ll tell President Obama that you’re helping to create American jobs by publishing your book.  And so on.

    And that is where we stand today: The lawsuit claims that those marketing offers were false and misleading, and that PublishAmerica was taking money to carry out tasks that they either had no ability or no intention of ever performing.

    We will see where this shakes out.  PublishAmerica is facing some high-powered legal talent.  I doubt their in-house counsel, a gent who was apparently employed to send cease&desist letters to people calling PublishAmerica a scam, is up to the challenge.

  7. I’ve met two authors who went through PublishAmerica.  One of them wants their publishing rights back.  The other… probably should.  Haven’t talked to him in a while.

  8. I fell into the web of PublishAmerica, the dream stealer.  I signed two contracts for children”s stories, “Planet Booger & Terry and the Pirate’s Treasure.” Both contracts are for 7 years.  They published my books for 64% above market value dooming my books to failure.  I hope they go out of business and loose their shirts!

  9. PA goes through their employees like water. Miranda makes sure of that.  I know back in November they laid off about 11 people and cut the work week down to 30 hours. Not sure if they ever went back to a 40 hour work week. They have fallen on financial hard times and this class action lawsuit should be the final nail in the coffin for them. You know they did publish the books for free, but charged for absolutely everything else before and after  and at astronomically high prices.

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