Ask Daphne! Am I being bamboozled?

October 17th, 2008 • Kate

A pair of “free” shoes (with purchase, subject to conditions, please don’t read the fine print) for MK, who writes:

I have been in touch with a publisher, Publish America, and they are interested in publishing my novel. However, I have serious concerns about whether I’m being treated properly. I’m hoping that you can give me a little advice.
They have offered a $1 advance and 8% royalties for the first 2000 copies, the percentage increasing in steps with the number of copies sold.
They say that this is standard, as they incur all the risk, but don’t all publishers incur risk? Why is the advance so crappy? A fellow author just sold his first novel with a significant advance, and receives 75% of all copies sold. Granted, that seems high to me considering the publisher incurred all the risk for a first time author, but I’m trying to get a grip on what to expect. These are two VERY different ends of the spectrum, and I smell a rat.
Can you shed some light on this for me?

I’m more than happy to shed some light on this, MK, and to all writers out there. If Publish America comes knocking on your door — run away! Run far away! Run like a little girl!
Writer Beware, which is one of my highly recommended Writer Resources, gives Publish America two big thumbs down, for a number of good reasons. Read it yourself, but to sum up, Publish America is a vanity press attempting to disguise itself as a traditional publisher. Authors have lodged numerous complaints against them (source). To put it bluntly, yeah, you might get a finished book out of them, and you might make a few bucks, but then again, it may look like a cheap edition someone printed off on a computer and stapled together, and you might never be able to find it in a bookstore. Is that what you want?
To get to your more general question, yes, all publishers incur risk, but almost everything single traditional house offers an advance against royalties that is calculated according to the number of copies they hope and expect to sell, taking into account market conditions, supply costs, and numerous other factors. An advance, as much as anything else, is a type of guarantee to the author that the publisher wants to produce a quality book, and hopes to do well enough with it to earn back the money they’ve spent. If you look at it that way, why then Publish America doesn’t seem to think your book is worth anything, and if that’s the case, why are they publishing it?
M.K., some of the best advice I can give to you, and to all writers out there, is to know the market. Research it. Read up on publishers who want to publish your book, agents who want to represent you, and anyone you want involved with your work. Double-check references, and seek out multiple sources of information. Don’t take anything as gospel unless you can independently validate it for yourself. Be wise — this is your career after all. Don’t screw it up by letting a charlatan walk in and make a mess of things.

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3 Responses to “Ask Daphne! Am I being bamboozled?”

  1. Marian Says:

    PublishAmerica is fine for anyone who
    1. does not want a career in writing
    2. does not want to sell books to anyone other than family and friends
    3. does not want much other than $1 and two printed, bound copies of their work, with typos added by "editors"
    I wrote an article on PA <a>here. It covers the company's history and practices, the quality of books and what authors can expect. It's also backed up by quotes from the PublishAmerica Message Board, from authors both happy and disillusioned.
    And since I completed the article, PA has raised the prices of books by about $5 and held an auction to sell ad space in the backs of books to its authors. I can't imagine what's going to happen to its authors next.

  2. Marian Says:

    Hmm, that link didn't show up. Here it is again:
    http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.ph

  3. Marva Says:

    I'm so glad you asked this question before signing up with PA. They're notorious scamsters.
    I know PA authors and they are sadder, but wiser.
    On the other hand, I'd say that self-publishing is not a stigma (look! my palms aren't bleeding!), but you have to go in well-armed with information. It's not hard to format your own files and even create a passable cover. Use Lulu or CreateSpace. Cheaper and a reasonably good product. Yes, you'll have to sell most of your books.
    BUT, exhaust all avenues for getting an agent or "real" publisher first. If you still want to do it yourself, then more power to you.
    Research research research. You're doing that by asking Daphne. Good for you!
    P.S. Before you diss me for self pubbing, you tell me where 33000 words of short stories can be sold? I'm tired of telling my reasons why I self-pubbed one book, but I've got damned good ones.