This is a somewhat old story, but I just heard about it today, and I just had to share it right away!
Once upon a time, there was an evil vanity press called ‘PublishAmerica.’ In fact, they’re still around, and recently launched a new deceptive marketing campaign implying that they can pitch your book idea to JK Rowling, and it was a discussion thread about that I was reading on the SD message board which mentioned Atlanta Nights.
So, Atlanta would con naive and hard-working authors out of their money, and pretend that they were a traditional publisher with really high standards. (Of course, those of us who aren’t so naive know that with traditional publishers, the money goes the other way.) And they also said some really nasty things about how science fiction and fantasy writers know nothing about how to get published, or even how to write well – which was apparently payback because sci-fi and fantasy authors were leading the way in warning the naive masses about the PublishAmerica scam routine.
So, an author named James MacDonald came up with an idea for a stunt to do an expose on just how crappy a book PublishAmerica would take and gush about how it was the best thing ever. He recruited a bunch of writer friends to each write a chapter of a semi-coherent plot outline. Friends, the number of absolutely bone-headed ‘mistakes’ they deliberately crammed into this manuscript is something kinda wondrous to behold:
- Two different authors took the same point on the outline and wrote different, non-consecutive chapters based on it.
- A very early chapter is copied, word for word, into a much later chapter position.
- Two completely different chapters have the same number, next to each other.
- One chapter number is skipped over entirely.
- A random text generation program guest-writes a chapter, with some of the other chapters fed into it as a sample, so that it will tend to use the same words in some of the same orders.
And that’s just the big picture stuff – they crammed in as many character continuity problems, spelling and grammar mistakes, inconsistent manuscript formatting conventions, and acronyms spelling out calumnies against PublishingAmerica as they could. Near the end, somebody used the ‘it was all a dream’ ending – and then the book meanders on for a few extra chapters.
So – once this piece of processed, refined, and purified literary crap called Atlanta Nights was finished, the manuscript was provided to a willing patsy who had no reputation in the publishing business, who submitted it to PublishAmerica – and of course, they took the bait. The James D McDonald crew consulted with a lawyer, decided not to actually take the contract and escalate the hoax to that level, and instead exposed what they’d been up to the whole time. PublishAmerica’s response was to withdraw the acceptance, saying that a second review revealed that Atlanta Nights did not meet their high standards.
The book was later self-published through Lulu, and all proceeds go towards the SFWA medical fund.
“The world is full of bad books written by amateurs. But why settle for the merely regrettable? Atlanta Nights is a bad book written by experts.” – review by Teresa Nielsen Hayden.
Of course, if you don’t want to support the medical fund with a print copy, you can take a look at the awfulness here.
And remember, if somebody says that they like your book so much they want to publish it, as in traditional publishing. As James D Macdonald said, “money should flow towards the author,” which is a rule of thumb that I’d absorbed though I didn’t know that he came up with it.
This isn’t to say that you can’t pay a vanity press to print your books if you want to, but you should be aware that it’s a very different business transaction. If you’re paying a vanity press for your books, then they don’t believe in them, they’re not going to market them for you, or sell them for you. You’re just a customer with a print job for them. Think about what your next move is going to be with those copies of your book once you have them – and do a little research to make sure you can trust the vanity press to even deliver on the printing once they’ve got your money.
(Disclaimer: My total personal experience with self-publishing is getting three free proofs bound by CreateSpace.)