When An Indi Publisher Isn't

I received an email earlier this week from an author who is published with a house that has been getting a lot of bad press lately.

Publisher's Weekly has been writing a lot about Publish America for the last few weeks. (Here's an abbreviated story that summarizes PW's claims.) Message rings, blogs, boards and writers from all over the web are converging en masse on this publishing company.
Here's a couple:
Predators and Editors (these guys have been watching Publish America for quite some time)
Absolute Write
Making Light
Point counterpoint:
Publish America, Yes or No?

Truth be told, PA's website does feel "me thinks thou dost protest too much". On a factsheet of 12, they spend half of it talking about how they're not a vanity or POD press. In addition, they mention they only edit for grammar and mechanics, not content. This seems to have the same business model of a vanity press--one where the authors are prickly about anyone touching the editorial direction of their work.

Also, they seem to capitalize on a culture of fear and loyalty-- fear that the authors will never be published, and, once they accept a book, reminding the authors how lucky they are to be published. But, it seems the authors can sense this and want more.

A Google search will lead you to a lot of criticism, including the Maryland (where PA is based) Attorney General's current investigation. Authors are even considering a class action lawsuit. Allegedly, Publish America attempts to silence its detractors, including Predators and Editors.

My three concerns:

1. The allegation that Publish America capitalizes on people's hopes and fears and dupes them into signing bad contracts (not to say than major publishing companies don't do this--I know many first time authors who have gotten themselves into quite a pickle).

2. The allegations that they don't edit or proofread. I can forgive bad plots and rudimentary writing. What I cannot forgive is sloppiness. A good editor is necessary for every book. A publishing house that does not edit and allows tangents to go unchecked is unacceptable and irresponsible.

3. Larger publishing houses, major bookstores and a big percentage of the media blacklists PA authors (and most self-published authors, as well) due to the low quality of the books.

This leads me back to the author who wrote me. I worry about him. The book seems promising and I would like to review it, in spite of the allegations surrounding the publishing company. But, I am concerned. The controversy around Publish America has caused part of me to doubt whether books from this company will be run-away ego trips, contributing to the further blacklisting of PA authors. The other part of me genuinely wants this author to be the exception rather than the rule with a fantastic book that the major players won't cover because of the imprint he chose, defeating the blacklisting. A third part is worried that because I'm writing this, PA won't return my calls even if I do request a review copy. A fourth part, and probably the part I'm leaning to the most (I know, I know, a lot of parts) , suggests I request the review copy and put it on my ever expanding list of to-reads, judging the book simply by what's in between its covers. I'm going to try and do that.

How about you? Would you read a self-published book? A book from a dubious publisher? A book from an imprint you hate? Let me know.

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