Hooters, where all the famous science fiction writers dine.
Until the pandemic
started, I used to be a regular customer at Hooters. Most of the Hooters Girls
in Toronto know that I write science fiction. One Friday night, as I had dinner
at table 36 (yes, I know the table numbers), my favourite Hooters Girl said to
me, "There's another science fiction writer here. Do you know him?"
I looked around
the restaurant. I didn't see anyone I recognized. Who could it be?
The Hooters Girl
left me and returned a few minutes later with the writer and a friend of his. I
had never met either gentleman. The writer introduced himself. Let's call him
Joe (Names have been changed to protect the embarrassed). Joe and his friend
were celebrating the release of Joe's first novel.
Joe asked me,
"Who is your publisher?"
"Who is your
publisher?" is a question for which I have no easy answer. My stories get
published by whoever wants to buy them from me. All my short stories and
anthologies have been published by different publishers. My two novels were
both originally published by the same company, but when it went out of
business, the novels were republished by other companies. Like many writers, I
don't sell exclusively to just one publisher or magazine. We'll take the work
when and where we can get it.
I had co-edited an
anthology, The Dragon and the Stars (with Eric Choi) recently, so I
he said. "Never heard of them. Who are they?"
I was baffled. How
could a science fiction writer not know about DAW Books? "It's a
publishing company in New York. Who published your book?"
Joe's grin was so
wide and the glint in his eyes so bright that his face was sickening to behold.
I was horrified.
PublishAmerica, also known as America Star Books, was one of the worst scam
companies exploiting new authors. There's plenty written about it online, so I
won't repeat all the gory details. In short, PublishAmerica promoted itself as
a royalty-paying publisher, not a vanity press. Technically, it did pay
royalties (advance on royalties) ranging from $1 to $1,000. However, the
contracts came with terms that ensured that money flowed from the author to the
company. For example, authors had to guarantee a certain number of sales, and
PublishAmerica urged its authors to buy their own copies or get their friends
and family to buy copies. Since PublishAmerica printed its books on demand, it
printed only enough copies to sell to the authors and their friends and family.
also had a reputation for publishing books without any editing, lying about
placing books in bookstores, and defaulting even on its $1 royalties.
The internet had
hundreds of articles and blog posts about PublishAmerica, the lawsuits against
it, and warnings to writers. How could Joe have fallen into the trap?
"PublishAmerica?" I said. "I
heard of them. Congratulations. When will the book be released?"
Joe's friend was
going to be his public relations guy. Since Joe was going to be a famous
celebrity soon, the friend wanted a piece of the action.
Joe asked me a lot
of questions. He wanted to know if I had ever been on a book tour (Answer: yes,
for a young adult anthology, and the other authors and I had to do all the work
to set it up). He wanted to know if I had ever been interviewed on TV (Answer:
yes, once, on Omni TV's Cantonese news. That did not impress him.). He wanted
to know if "my P.R. people" had set up any meetings with celebrities
for me (Answer: "What P.R. people? I do everything myself.").
He said, "DAW
seems like a small company. Maybe you should get a bigger publisher, like
I said that I was
lucky to get one book published at DAW and I would feel extremely lucky if DAW
wanted anything else from me. Joe smiled in sympathy. I guess he felt sorry for
me as I fervently defended a small, unknown publisher (sarcasm!).
Joe said that
PublishAmerica had an extensive publicity department that would get him media
interviews, put him on a national (U.S. and Canada) book tour, and give his
novel to celebrities in Hollywood, who, of course, were going to buy the movie
rights. PublishAmerica allegedly had an agency that sold movie rights for its
authors. His friend would accompany him to meet important people like Steven
Spielberg and James Cameron.
I listened silently
as Joe told me of all the wonderous things PublishAmerica would do. Joe didn't
ask me anything about the art of writing or the publishing business. He was interested
only in becoming a celebrity and meeting others of his new social strata. His
one takeaway from our conversation was that DAW does not hook up its authors
with either Steven Spielberg or James Cameron.
Joe asked for my
contact info so we could keep in touch, now that he had entered the glamorous
profession of science fiction writing. I gave him my card. I really didn't want
to talk to him again, but I was sadistically curious about how Joe's experience
with PublishAmerica would play out.
A few days later,
Joe phoned me. He had looked at my website and seen that I would be appearing
at the Ad Astra Science Fiction Convention, a literary-oriented convention in Toronto.
He wanted to know how I had gotten invited to Ad Astra.
them for years, and I asked if I could be a panelist," I said.
Joe said he would tell
his P.R. guy to get him into Ad Astra.
Joe had never
heard of science fiction conventions before, so he asked me about them. He
asked if there were any besides Ad Astra in Toronto. I mentioned Fan Expo,
saying it was a big media-oriented convention revolving around movie and TV
celebrities and not much literary content.
would rather go to that one," said Joe. "How do you get invited to Fan
don't know. I've never been a guest at Fan Expo. I think you contact them and
get my guy to do that," he said. "You go to Ad Astra. Fan Expo is
we're science fiction writers," I said. "We don't split up
conventions like territories as if we were the Mafia families in The
it makes sense, though, doesn't it?" he said. "We don't want to
compete against each other. You be the star at one of them, and I'll be the
star at the other."
that you put it that way, sure, have fun at Fan Expo," I said.
thanked me for telling him about Fan Expo, and we ended the call.
called me again six months later. He wanted to know how he could get his novel
republished by DAW.
going on?" I said. "You're with PublishAmerica."
awful," he said. "The novel came out."
it like?" I asked, knowing PublishAmerica's reputation for zero editing.
didn't fix any of my grammar and spelling errors! It's a mess!"
You knew you had errors and you submitted it anyway? You didn't correct your
manuscript before you submitted it?"
not my job. I'm the author. I write the novel. The editor is supposed to
correct for grammar and spelling."
Joe's tale of
misery got worse. PublishAmerica had put no copies of his novel in bookstores.
PublishAmerica's contract forced him to buy copies for himself and his friends
and family. PublishAmerica wanted him to pay money to send his book to
Hollywood celebrities. PublishAmerica did not put him on a cross-continent book
tour. PublishAmerica ran no advertising campaign for him. PublishAmerica didn't
get him on any TV or radio interviews.
your friend, the P.R. guy?" I said. "Get him to set up the TV and
quit!" Joe said. "He said he needed a job with a salary, so he quit
sucks," I said. "I guess you'll have to do it yourself."
"Can you connect
me to another publisher?" he asked.
that's for your own good," I said. "You signed a publishing contract
with PublishAmerica. PublishAmerica has the rights to publish your novel. You
can't sell those rights to anyone else unless PublishAmerica agrees to it. If
you do, you're breaking the contract, PublishAmerica will sue you, and you'll
wind up owing more money to them."
Joe went silent. I
think he finally realized that all the money would flow from him to
PublishAmerica. He had also lost control over his magnum opus. At that moment, his dream of fame and fortune
crashed and burned like the Hindenburg, a bag of gas engulfed in flames.
"See you at
Fan Expo," I said as I ended the call.
book appeared for a while on Amazon. It got one review, which said it awful.
Joe did not appear
at Ad Astra, Fan Expo, or any other science fiction convention. He never went
on a book tour or gave an interview on TV or radio. He disappeared completely
from the science fiction community, of which he was never a part.
career died before it started for several reasons. First, he was too lazy to do
the work of a writer. For example, writers should fix their own grammar and
spelling errors before submitting their stories. The less work you make for the
editors, the higher your chances of getting your story accepted, and the better
your reputation as a talented writer. He also thought he was not responsible
for promoting his novel and expected his friend and his publisher to do that.
As most of us know, all that work falls on the author.
Second, Joe was
obsessed with celebrity status, which made him vulnerable to PublishAmerica's lies
of fame and fortune.
Third, despite all
the online warnings about PublishAmerica, Joe still signed with the most
notorious scam publisher in the world. What was he thinking?
changed its name to America Star Books, also known as ASB Promotions, after one
of its founders sued the other founder. In 2017, America Star Books announced
that it would stop accepting new submissions, although the submissions page on
the PublishAmerica website (still using the old name) is still active. The rest
of the website hasn't been updated for years or goes to dead links. American
Star Books still exists as a corporation. It might still hold all the
contracts, thus holding the rights to its authors' books forever.
PublishAmerica is mostly inactive, others like it have sprung up. Be sure to
check out Writer Beware on the SFWA website ( https://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/ )
"At that moment, his dream of fame and fortune crashed and burned like the Hindenburg, a bag of gas engulfed in flames."