Friday, June 6, 2014

PUBLISHED IN AMERICA


In 2008, I finished my first book Snowberry's Veil. I considered finding an agent and publisher but decided instead to use a reputable online publisher to print the book instead.  The idea was that it would give my book some exposure, give me a printed hard copy to establish myself more as a writer, and have something tangible to show to agents when I shopped another book.
I looked around a while, with a few criteria.  First, the publisher should be established, not brand new.  Second it should cost me nothing to get the book published, not once penny for a single aspect of the process.  Not editing, not submission, not art, nothing.  And third, it should produce an actual real copy of a full book with an ISBN and so on; a professional job.
I selected PublishAmerica because it fit all these criteria and it seemed to be a pretty good site.  I searched for complaints and problems and found few - all of them related to delays or misunderstandings involving royalties.  Since I didn't expect to sell enough to see much if anything in royalties, I was willing to take a shot.
THE GOOD
PublishAmerica works fast and is easy to publish with.  They create a cover for you, for free, they do all the typesetting and binding, they buy the ISBN and register it, and they even do a little bit of publicity at first, sending information out to newspapers and such.  Copies of Snowberry's Veil showed up on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and so on, all around the world.  People could buy a copy online or from PA's website.
I felt good about having my own book, and it certainly impressed my family.  I wasn't just fooling around with writing, I had a real book with a bar code on the back, professionally bound and produced.  I was proud of my first book, and lots of friends bought one through me at the reduced price authors can get (no royalties for me at that price).
THE UGLY
However, I noticed a few concerns right away.  First, they were trying to sell Snowberry's Veil at over $20 bucks a copy.  I understand they had some expenses to cover, but nobody is going to buy a paperback book (especially of just a few hundred pages), for that kind of money, just nobody.  No copies sold over the internet, only a few did from me directly.  Not a single one.  And why would they?  I don't think it is worth that kind of money, and I wrote the thing.
Another concern was that the cover wasn't right.  As excited as I was to get the book out and happy to get the art done, I didn't quibble when they sent me the proof, but its just poorly done.  They took a picture of a forest, tinted it blue, then hand drew some lancers in shadow into the page.  It works okay, but its nonsense for the story.  I've long thought that most cover art doesn't match books and it always made me wonder why writers put up with it, and now I know: they just wanted to get published.
What I requested was an image of what I consider the most dramatic and cinematic scene in the book, where knights charge across the tops of clouds.  I requested that and got misty lancers in a forest.  A group of knights roaring across a cloud toward the reader would look pretty impressive, and if I could afford to get, say, Larry Elmore to paint that for me, I would.
I went with a simpler, more subtle picture for the new edition, focusing on a single color theme which will be used throughout the 5 other related books I have planned.
And the manuscript wasn't quite right.  There are errors in the book that were not in my manuscript.  I edited the thing 5 times myself and someone else went over it once, and while we missed some stuff, we didn't miss that much.  Its just mangled and I don't know why.  Maybe they hand retyped it, maybe they changed some stuff to fit pages better, and maybe it just came down to the changing of formats.  I've noticed that moving Word documents from one version of the program to another, or from Word to Publisher, causes some text to change and I don't know why.
In any case, what wasn't expertly edited to begin with became mangled even worse and I'm frankly embarrassed I let anyone read it but me now.  I wish I could buy all the copies back and burn them, at this point.  People seemed to like the book quite a bit despite the errors but it makes me feel amateurish and incompetent as a writer; I'm ashamed it is out there.
Now, PA doesn't edit your book for errors, at all, and they don't promise to; I knew that going in.  Editing is kind of expensive and I couldn't pay for it then (or now, for that matter).  But I didn't think the book would get worse for publishing.
And the interior annoyed me, as well.  The layout and printing were fine, its just like any other book.  The problem is I did a bit of art for the book and a map of the setting in classic fantasy style. The art should have been strategically distributed through the book (as it was in the manuscript I sent them), and the map at the beginning.  Instead, to make printing easier, they just stuck it all in the middle and refused to change when I requested it.  It was a lousy way to do it, and the art didn't reproduce well anyway.

THE BAD
Then there was the sales.  I didn't mind so much not selling a lot of copies, I hardly expected to.  And I knew PA didn't put a lot of effort into publicity or sales.  My problem is once the book was out there, they put zero effort into sales... to anyone but me.  They sent me 2-3 emails a day for years trying to get me to buy my own book.  You can edit your book and correct errors, just buy 5 copies!  You can get this put into hardback, just buy 10 copies!  You can have your book put into this book show, just buy 10 copies!  On and on it went.
And I mean this literally, I am not exaggerating, every single email from PublishAmerica was an attempt to get me to buy my own book.  And nothing, nothing they did was to get my book bought by anyone else.  Not a single effort went out from the company to help someone else buy my book once it had been set up online.  They didn't seem to want to sell my book to anyone else.
PublishAmerica's entire business model is to get writers to buy their own books.  Period.  They don't have any other plan. And that's just a ridiculous way to run a publishing business.  I got very tired of the constant attempts in all sorts of clever ways to get me to buy my own book.  Finally about a year ago, they apparently gave up on me.  I never responded, didn't buy any more books after a few years, and none of mine were selling (thankfully, as I noted above).
What's worse is that their emails lied.  They would claim the book wasn't going to be available in hardback unless I ordered it by buying books.  Later, they offered it in hardbound online and gave me a cut rate if I bought my own books (10 at a time).  They claimed that the paperback was going out of print, then later offered me the paperbacks at a reduced rate, bulk naturally.  The paperback version never was taken off the PA website or any online bookstore.  On and on it went, with outright lies told over emails to me.  It was ridiculous, I knew I couldn't trust a thing I read from them.
Finally, they offered me the rights for my book back for 200 bucks, to "pay for expenses."  I didn't have the money and didn't care to spend that much for it.  But they did recognize it wasn't selling and I was getting so little in royalties it didn't match the minimum before I get paid (had to earn $100, by the contract, before they'd send me a check.  If it never earned that, I never got paid - and so I never got any royalties).
I waited, and a year later, they offered it to me for $99, their expenses apparently having reduced over time.  At the time I didn't have the cash, but then this year they offered it again when I did have some money.  $99 to end a contract and get the rights back seemed like a fair deal to me, so I took advantage of the deal.  And here's where the final absurdity takes place.
I let PA know I would take advantage of their offer and they referred me to a page.  The page?  Their usual order form.  I ordered the rescinding of our contract, for $99... but since it was their standard book ordering page, I had to choose shipping.  Nothing gets shipped, its just an agreement.  So I had to choose $1.99 in shipping to pay for the nonexistent product, bringing the price up to $109.  Still fairly cheap as contract negation goes but what a cheap, chiseling bunch of gougers.  I mean really, they're digging around in the gutter for a few more pennies.  That's just pathetic.
So in short, I would strongly advise everyone to avoid PublishAmerica, to never use them to publish a book, and to never consider them for a contract.  Not ever.  They have some positives, but overall, its a waste of your time and a 7 year lockdown on your book.  Just don't do it.
SOME POSITIVE
So what did I do right?  Well its a good story, and I'm not just saying this because I wrote it.  Here are some reviews:
All in all, though, Snowberry's Veil is a wonderful tale of magic, valor, bravery, innocent love, respect, and friendship. It is an excellent first novel and not only should Taylor be proud of his accomplishment, but he should give us more of these kinds of stories in the near future!  
-James Huck

If you're looking for World Spanning Epic Fantasy, this ain't it. A small tale about a few people, told simply yet eloquently...it may be a new genre, I'll call it MicroFantasy. Give it a shot. 
-Mike Garfield

Like the author mentions this book is not about world-shaping events, but something you could typically imagine happening in a day to day fantasy adventure.  This is a fast-paced read with humor and action springing from the author's detailed world setting. Careful reading rewards those who like to become immersed in an author's imagination. I can see many adventures in the future for the Ranger of this title.

Give this story a look, you'll like what you find

-Nick Young

"I really enjoyed it and I don't even like fantasy"
-Arie Jongeneel


"Very well written and engaging."
-Pastor Rob Toornstra
Newly edited, with art properly in place and a good map at the beginning, I think this will be something you would really like to read, even if you don't ordinarily care for fantasy.  Most of the most positive word of mouth and personal praise I've gotten have been from women who read it - most of them not ordinarily fantasy readers.  This isn't like your typical fantasy book.
Another thing I did right was the title.  There is literally nothing on the internet called "Snowberry's Veil" except my book.  Nothing whatsoever, and that's not easy to do.  I found a unique title, somehow, and that makes it easy to find and isolate in searching.  That's pretty handy online.  And I wasn't even very happy with the title at first.
So I've redone the book, republished it, and its available on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Smashwords, and other outlets.  You can find it all over the net, now.
Just don't look for it on PublishAmerica.

*UPDATE: PublishAmerica has changed its name to AmericaStar Books, but they're the same outfit.  There are multiple warnings up all over the internet about why not to use this service now.