Some additional links on the Atlanta Nights sting:
Jim Macdonald gives the authoritative version of the project and its origins in a series of posts at Absolute Write.
A historical footnote: The hatching of the plot at AW in December 2003.
Crooked Timber picked up the story.
SF writer Derryl Murphy, who contributed a chapter, has written a series of posts about the project: My Worst Sale Ever, Updates on the Bad Book, PA and Da Nile River, and, very usefully, a list of known authors and their chapters.
A suspiciously similar cast of characters can be found in the book’s back-cover blurbs.
And here’s a chart of the book’s sales to date at Lulu.com.
Sorry about the inaccessibility of the chart at Lulu.com. Jim Macdonald used this laptop while we were both at Vericon, and he must have used his password to log in to the site.Tenebris has been following the story. So has John Scalzi:
Here’s a quick rule of thumb: Don’t annoy science fiction writers. These are people who destroy entire planets before lunch. Think of what they’ll do to you.MacAllister Stone let me know about a fine rant by Megan Lindholm/Robin Hobb, about PublishAmerica taking advantage of naive writers:
Damage is done to a writer when he is told that his book is ready for press and will succeed when in reality it’s riddled with errors and inconsistencies. When a new writer is told that to receive a dollar advance for the book is normal, and asked to submit a list of friends and relatives who might buy the book, then we are treading on very thin ice between vanity press and scam. The Print On Demand copies of books that PA creates are expensive, most reviewers refuse to even look at them, most libraries won’t take them, and worst of all, most book stores do not carry them. Some book stores will order PA, but most refuse because if the books don’t sell, they can’t return them to PA. If you have a genuinely good book and you take it this route, you have most likely given it the kiss of death. … I hate that the victims are young or new writers, who really don’t know how the business works. I hate it when anyone is deceived on the basis of inexperience. It is not what PA does so much as all the assertions that it is ‘better’ than going through the old mill of the standard publishing. An “us against them” attitude is cultivated on their message boards, in which established writers and publishers are portrayed as deliberately trying to hold new writers down and out. This is so unfair to the many editors I know who are absolutely ecstatic when they discover a new talent and a great new book.Digital Medievalist, a.k.a. Lisa Spangenberg, has written a couple of essays. One is about Atlanta Nights:
These writers engaged in public cacosyntheton, synchisis, acyrlogia, alleotheta, amphibologia, anacoluthon, and every vile cliché, transparent plot device, and literary offense ever to have thrived in the slush pile.She liked it! The other essay, longer and more serious, is about PublishAmerica’s editorial practices:
I first heard about PublishAmerica while having dinner with a friend in late 2001 or early 2002. He told us he’d sold a novel; he was published as a scholar, but this was his first time as a novelist. We could see his excitement as he told us the publisher was “very Internet savvy,” and had said that they’d see his book got into traditional bookstores and well as being available on the ‘net. I’d never heard of the publisher, which was unusual given how much time I’d spent at libraries and book stores, and attending numerous ALA and ABA conventions, but I didn’t worry about it then.That’s a restrained telling, and true throughout. By report, PublishAmerica advertises editorial positions in their local Pennysaver. Their text production cycle is to conventional publishing’s production practices as those mockup cardboard computers you see in office furniture stores are to the real thing.
Several months later we received a disturbingly amateur letter from PublishAmerica inviting us to buy a copy of our friend’s novel. I knew then they weren’t a legitimate publisher; the language on the order form and cover letter made it very clear that PublishAmerica was a printer, and I suspected, a poor one, judging by the odd syntax and blurred type on the letter and order form. Even the price of the book was odd. The order form price was $21.95, a hardcover price for a slender trade paperback.
Skip forward to Con José, the 2002 World Science Fiction convention. A fannish acquaintance showed me a table where her book was on sale by consignment. It was a thinnish trade paperback, for just under $20.00. The cover was a bit odd looking; it was obviously stock footage, but the bleed was wrong and the colors weren’t quite right. When I looked at the text my heart sank. There were lots of very basic errors, things like confusion between its and it’s, confusion between possessives and plurals, “would of” instead of “would have,” lines of text repeated at the bottom of one page and again at the top of the next, outright spelling errors … The typography was so awful that it was difficult to read the text. Lines were frequently dropped, resulting in short pages, and the text had so many rivers it was hard to read an entire page. The publisher made no effort to kern; none at all. There were reversed and unmatched quotation marks, broken ellipses … it was bad.
But worse than the amateur typesetting, proofreading and design, was the fact that the book desperately needed an editor, a real editor, someone who would have spotted the continuity problems, like the character whose name was spelled differently at different points, and the time and date problems. It was pretty clear that someone had performed crude formatting and made a token effort to proof read, probably relying on spell check, but mostly dealing with formatting issues. It also appeared that the formatter was someone who liked commas, I mean really liked commas, and thought every sentence needed one, or three. My acquaintance said that yes, there were commas introduced spontaneously, and some other errors, but PublishAmerica explained that the printer had introduced them and they would be corrected if the book sold well enough.The errors I spotted were not introduced in the digital printing process, since digital printing relies on a digital file provided by a publisher. The book had not been professionally edited, copy edited, or proofed. It looked to me like the book was a straight dump from Microsoft Word to .pdf. I’ve subsequently learned from other PublishAmerica authors that my fannish acquaintance was lucky; others have had even more serious errors introduced into the ms. These are not the actions of a professional publisher, with genuine editorial expertise.
Here’s her own list of pertinent links.
One of the many unlovable characteristics of PA is that any of their authors who stop drinking the Kool Aid are subjected to crushing verbal abuse. This is a relatively short, mild example of a letter from PublishAmerica.
A local Maryland paper, the Frederick News-Post, has done its own story about PA: PublishAmerica: A friendly biz, or an author’s nightmare? Among other things, it discusses PublishAmerica’s misrepresentations about its brick-and-mortar distribution, which is nonexistent.Ann Crispin is quoted on the sheer discouragement that hits most PA authors after they’re published and the realities of the situation sink in:
Ms. Crispin said her online group has tried to spread the word about PublishAmerica’s practices to prevent authors like Ms. Kendall from becoming completely disillusioned with the publishing world.As with all the other newspaper stories, ditto the letter referenced at the previous link, you also get to see Larry Clopper, co-owner of PublishAmerica, explaining that with the exception of a few chronic malcontents, all their authors are deliriously happy.
“Some people decide, after all this is done, that they’ll never write again. That’s sad,” Ms. Crispin said.
Online message boards at Writer Beware and Absolute Write are filled with page upon page of writers’ complaints against PublishAmerica. Ms. Crispin recalled one PublishAmerica author, Dee Power of Fountain Hills, Ariz., who said she submitted a manuscript to PublishAmerica in which she deliberately repeated 30 pages of the same words. She eventually was offered a contract by the company.
“I have the e-mail offering me the contract,” Ms. Power said.“They claim to have editorial gatekeeping,” Ms. Crispin said, “but I’ve never seen evidence of it. … What they’re doing is not illegal in the ways we see with some of these fly-by-night companies, but they are deliberately deceptive and they treat their authors as though they’re dirt.”