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The Truth About America Star Books
(formerly known as PublishAmerica)
(Quicker Download Version)
Do you have a book you want to see published? If you type "book publishers" (or, as I did, "Christian book publishers") into your search engine, one of the first entries is likely to be America Star Books (formerly known as PublishAmerica). They promise they'll publish your book for free, which sounds great. But get the facts before they get your book, or your money. Because if you dream that your book might reach the public, be stocked in book stores, and be read by lots of people who don't know you, America Star Books will crush that dream. My own story is told below, complete with links to documents that show how America Star Books truly operates, so you don't have to take my word for it. But first, let me give you a quick summary.
In my humble opinion, America Star Books is a scam, and I am embarrassed to say that I fell for it (although I was one of the lucky ones—I learned I'd been tricked before they got any of my money). They claim they are a "traditional publisher," not a "vanity publisher." (A "vanity publisher" publishes your book for a fee.) They say they want your book, not your money. These are at best half-truths. The truth is that America Star Books does want your money—just not up front.
America Star Books directs almost all of its marketing efforts toward its own authors. Their web site is designed to attract authors, not sell books. They send frequent emails to authors offering "special deals" if the author purchases copies of her book. They also have many gimmicks designed to separate a naive author from his money by preying on the author's dreams of success. (Click here to see a page from PublishAmerica's online book store, printed January 25, 2011, that lists some of the ways this company tries to squeeze money out of its authors.)
On the other hand, America Star Books does nothing to promote or market your book to the public (although they do have a lot of faux-marketing ploys to try to get your money, as I discuss below). And while they do make your book "available" on various internet sites, it won’t sell there because it will be badly overpriced and the public will never learn about it. If you sign a contract with America Star Books, your book will be condemned to oblivion for at least seven very long years. (And I've been told the new America Star Books contracts are even longer; they now have a ten-year term.)
Now here's my story, with links to documents (certain personal information has been deleted) so you can verify the truth for yourself. (For convenience, all references from this point forward are to "PublishAmerica," which is what America Star Books was called until early 2014, when the name was changed. When I dealt with the company, it called itself PublishAmerica. But America Star Books uses the same business model: they make their money primarily from sales to their own authors.)
NOTE, 2014: America Star Books' new web site uses some different language than PublishAmerica's former site--and frankly, is slightly more up front about the fees they charge for things that legitimate publishers do better amd without cost to the author (like promoting your book). But the essential message is still the same. They want you to believe that all publishers operate the way they do, by making the author do all the work, and assume all the risk, while America Star Books rakes in the author's money. But that is not how legitimate publishers operate, as I explain below. America Star Books also wants you to believe that success as an author is within your grasp if you sign with them, when the reality is that their pricing and lack of marketing will make all of your efforts futile and failure virtually inevitable.
Frequently Asked Questions (from PublishAmerica's web site): They make it all sound so wonderful. Page 1: "We want your book, not your money." Page 3: "An author's obligations are few. . . . The author has really only one obligation: to provide us with the completed final-version manuscript. We'll take it from there." But read on. The truth is in there if you read carefully. Page 2: " . . . there is no national following without a local following first, and local precedes national, always." And how does the local following occur?: " . . . it's the author who today is designated to spearhead local promotion." In other words, they want you to market your own book, and buy books from them so you can do so. The risk is all on you.
PublishAmerica email of 7/26/07: This is how it all started. "PublishAmerica has decided to give your book the chance it deserves." Sounds great, but from what I've read on the web, they accept almost everyone.
My contract with PublishAmerica: The contract is worded to give the impression that they are going to aggressively market my book. But read it carefully. They don't actually obligate themselves to do any marketing whatsoever. As you will see below, they limit their marketing efforts to you and yours. (IMPORTANT: Beware of the automatic renewal provision, which is in paragraph one of my contract, and which extends the contract unless you send PublishAmerica written notice at least three months before the contract term expires. Here is a link to my written notices and PublishAmerica's responses. I initially sent them an email, but later realized that paragraph 29 of my contract requires the notice to be sent via U.S. mail.)
PublishAmerica email of 8/13/07: Congratulations, you're in! The euphoria I felt at this point was tremendous. But the dream was soon to go very sour.
PublishAmerica email of 8/13/07 ("Author Questionnaire"). This was the email that began to arouse my suspicions. Note first how PublishAmerica expects the author to do almost all of the work (a recurring theme)—even writing the language for the back cover of the book (see #8). And notice #7 (at the bottom of page 2): "As a courtesy to you, PublishAmerica will be happy to create and mail an announcement letter to people who know you well enough to be interested in your success as a writer. . . ." Actually, PublishAmerica is not being magnanimous. They use this part of the Author Questionnaire to make money off of your family and friends by soliciting them to buy your overpriced book.
My email to PublishAmerica of 8/13/07: As you can see, I've now done a bit of internet research (but too late, of course), and I raise many concerns.
PublishAmerica email of 8/14/07: They insist that they are legitimate, yet their email doesn't address any of the concerns raised in my email of 8/13/07.
NOTE: Sometimes PublishAmerica gets downright rude with their authors when they raise such concerns. Here is a link to an email dated 1/13/2010, sent to me by another PublishAmerica author who dared to ask why the Better Business Bureau rated PublishAmerica so poorly. PublishAmerica accuses him of "whining" and faking his concerns, and tells him, "If you don't like it, that's too darn bad." Nice.
PublishAmerica email of 9/5/07: Have you ever heard of a publisher that offered to let you skip the proof-reading phase? PublishAmerica does!
My email of 9/27/07: I sent them a list of 37 errors in the proof of my book. Only one or two of these errors were in the manuscript that I sent them. All of the rest were the result of what PublishAmerica did with the manuscript. (NOTE: I understand that PublishAmerica now charges its authors a fee to fix these errors! Outrageous!)
PublishAmerica email of 10/18/07: " . . . all necessary corrections have been implemented."
My email of 10/18/07: Well, not quite all of them.
PublishAmerica email of 12/27/07: The book is almost ready. Note how they ask me for information about local newspapers. Why don't they have this information on file? They are in the business, after all. I got this information off the internet in about 10 minutes and sent it to them.
The press release: Except for the first and last paragraphs, the press release is what I wrote for the back cover of the book, almost word-for-word.
PublishAmerica email of 1/4/08: Who is supposed to follow up with the newspapers after they receive the press release? The author, of course.
PublishAmerica letter of 9/6/07: They really do send you $1.00. But read on and look at who is expected to do all of the work in marketing your book: you, the author. Of course, to do this you will need to buy copies of your own book. And that is where PublishAmerica makes most of its money. By the way, be sure to read the last page: "So, What's PublishAmerica doing?" Well, they send solicitations to your family and friends, and they get your book listed with various online book sellers. Don't be misled by the language about "15,000 brick and mortar stores." The key word is that your book is "available"—that is, if a person walks in and orders your book, the brick and mortar book store can order it for him. Your book will be "Print on Demand"—nothing is printed until and unless someone orders it. (PublishAmerica admits this on page one of a lawsuit they filed on February 1, 2010.) But how will anyone know about your book so they can order it? Once again, that's your problem.
PublishAmerica invoice for author's copies. They sent me two free copies of my book (but I understand they no longer do that). But look at the price—for a paperback book of less than 200 pages by an unknown author, with no photos or illustrations, the price was initially $19.95, and is now $24.95 in PublishAmerica's online bookstore. How well do you think that will sell to the general public? It won't, of course.
And here come the solicitations. The following are links to copies of the 24 emails and letters I received from PublishAmerica within a one-year period, inviting me to buy my own book: September 10, 2007, September 24, 2007, October 22, 2007, November 26, 2007, December 17, 2007, December 26, 2007 (sent with the invoice for the author's copies), January 23, 2008, February 25, 2008, April 7, 2008, May 5, 2008, May 12, 2008, May 27, 2008, June 2, 2008, June 20, 2008, June 30, 2008, July 11, 2008, July 21, 2008, July 30, 2008, August 5, 2008, August 11, 2008, August 18, 2008, August 25, 2008, September 2, 2008, September 8, 2008.
These make it obvious who their real target customer is: the author. By the way, here's a link to an email from PublishAmerica dated June 9, 2009—sent to me by another PublishAmerica author—in which PublishAmerica actually refers to a PublishAmerica author who buys his or her own books as "customer." Just go to page 2, lines 3-4, where it says: "by purchasing customer agrees that. . . ."
I did not want to buy my own book, so in my letter of May 27, 2008 and my email of May 28, 2008 (more on these below), I asked PublishAmerica to stop sending me these solicitations. It did absolutely no good. As you can see, above, I continued to receive them until I sent them another email on September 9, 2008, asking them once again to stop sending me the email solicitations. That stopped them for 3 years, but beginning in late 2011 I started receiving them again: 11/29/11, 11/30/11, 4/11/12, 4/12/12, 4/13/12, 4/19/12. They also offered to sell me their "PublishAmerica Style Guide" for $19.95: 11/29/11 and 11/30/11. So I unsubscribed on 4/19/12. And yet, several months later, here come a new bunch of solicitations (until I again unsubscribed): 11/26/12, 11/26/12 (same offer, a few hours later), 11/27/12, 11/27/12 (same offer, a few hours later), 11/27/12 (and again), 11/28/12, 11/28/12 (same offer, a few hours later), 11/29/12, 11/29/12 (same offer, a few hours later), 11/30/12. Not done yet, they sent me an email on 8/7/13 asking for money to make my book available as an e-book.
My letter of 5/27/08: Fed up, I asked them to stop soliciting me and start marketing my book, as the contract implies they will. (This letter was sent to them via U.S. mail, and also to several PublishAmerica email addresses.)
PublishAmerica 1st email of 5/28/08: This is their response to my letter of 5/27/08. This email describes how PublishAmerica "markets" your book to the general public. They essentially do nothing. Nor is there any explanation for their high book prices. Indeed, their email seems to be based on a canned response, since it says "it would be impossible to quote a price for this work at this time"—almost five months after they had released my book at a selling price of $19.95. They did not even respond to my request that they stop sending me solicitations.
My 1st response of 5/28/08: So I renew my requests and also offer to terminate the contract.
PublishAmerica 2nd email of 5/28/08: They again ignore my requests, but offer to terminate the contract—for $300.00!
My 2nd response of 5/28/08: I declined their offer.
PublishAmerica 1st email of 5/29/08: Not surprisingly, they have not created an internet domain for my book (and never will, I'm sure).
PublishAmerica 2nd email of 5/29/08: They actually have the gumption to say that the contract will remain in effect "as per your wish." Then they accuse me of "making false statements about PublishAmerica" and say that they "expect" an apology. I will let the reader decide who is making the false statements here. But note that instead of answers to my repeated requests, they give me more propaganda. Most of its contents is totally irrelevant to what was in my email of 5/28/08. (By the way, they can't spell "hearsay," either.)
My response of 5/29/08: We appear to be at an impasse.
On 6/24/08, I sent PublishAmerica another email asking them to cancel the contract. I never even got a response.
The "Return Your Rights" Offers. On 7/13/10, PublishAmerica sent me an unsolicited offer to return my book rights for $99.00. I ignored it. Since then, PublishAmerica has sent me many more similar "offers": 1/5/11, $149.00; 1/6/11, $149.00; 7/11/11, $99.00; 12/9/11, $149.00; 3/22/12, $149.00; 11/13/12, $149.00; 11/15/12, $99.00; 11/19/12, $99.00; 12/6/12, $99.00; 3/1/13, $99.00; 3/4/13, $99.00'; 3/6/13, $99.00; 8/30/13, $99.00; 12/28-30/13, $99.00; 12/31/13, $99.00. By the way, in September 2010, another PublishAmerica author sent me a copy of a Release that PublishAmerica wanted him to sign before they would let him out of his contract. Note that it would forbid him, and his family members, from saying anything negative about PublishAmerica. He didn't sign it, and I wouldn't have signed it either.
Charging You to "Promote" Your Book: PublishAmerica would like you to believe that they are a legitimate commercial publisher. Slogans like "We treat our authors the old-fashioned way—we pay them" and "We want your book, not your money" encourage this perception. But legitimate commercial publishers promote and market their books at their own expense, because they make money by selling books to the public. For PublishAmerica, promoting your book to the public is just another way for them to get their hands on your money—and in view of PublishAmerica's reputation, I seriously doubt that their promotional efforts benefit anyone except the PublishAmerica staff members, who get some nice trips to book festivals. Here are some examples of their dubious promotional efforts and what they cost (you can click on the date to read the actual PublishAmerica email; some of the following documents are in color on the companion "Truth About PublishAmerica" page):
10/21/11 - $49.00 to "present" my book to booksellers like Barnes and Noble
11/29/11 - $39.00 to send my book to the U.S. Consul General
11/29/11 - $39.00 to show my book to foreign literary agents
11/29/11 - $39.00 to send my book to Random House in Mexico (2nd notice on 11/30/11)
11/29/11 - $39.00 to send my book to a Hollywood screenwriter
4/5/12 - $89.00 to put my book on a banner they display at their "author conventions"—which also cost money, by the way
4/11/12 - $99.00 to put my book on a banner directed at Amazon.com (the banner says, "Hey Amazon! Look at these books"—seriously); $149.00 to put my book in their traveling "bookstore"; $25.00 to promote my book in Greece; and $79.00 to have an "agent" present my book to other publishers and agents at a book show in New York (2nd notice on 4/12/12)
4/11/12 - $29.00 to put my book on display at one of their author conventions (2nd notice on 4/12/12)
4/12/12 - $49.00 to put my book in their "Summer Selection Catalog"
4/14/12 - $19.00 to tell Amazon about my book at the London Book Fair
4/17/12 - $29.00 to present my book at the Beijing Book Fair
4/17/12 - $29.00 to present my book to bookstores in the South
4/18/12 - $29.00 to present my book to an Italian literary agent
4/18/12 - $19.00 to present my book at the L.A. Times book festival
Here are a few more from 2013: 6/19/13, 6/26/13, 6/28/13, and 7/3/13.
Royalties: The contract with PublishAmerica mentions royalties, but if you dream that this is going to be a big money-maker for you, your dreams will again be dashed. PublishAmerica released my book in January 2008, and since then they have managed to sell three copies, for two of which I received a royalty check in the amount of $2.78. Why so few? Well, I won't buy the book myself or let PublishAmerica take advantage of my friends and family, and PublishAmerica does no meaningful marketing or promotion. Here are links to PublishAmerica's Royalties Statements for my book (curious that they say I sold no books for the period ending January 31, 2009, the same period for which they sent me the royalty check):
January 31, 2008 July 31, 2008 January 31, 2009 July 31, 2009 January 31, 2010 July 31, 2010
January 31, 2011 July 31, 2011 January 31, 2012 July 31, 2012 January 31, 2013 July 31, 2013 January 31, 2014
By the way, here's another PublishAmerica marketing gimmick: for about $20.00 plus shipping & handling, they offered to send a framed version of the author's royalty check (see PublishAmerica's email of January 21, 2009).
If you think the authorities will bail you out of your contract with PublishAmerica, think again. Then read the next two paragraphs.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB). On May 29, 2008, I filed a complaint with the BBB of Greater Maryland. On June 3rd, PublishAmerica's attorney, Victor Cretella, sent a response, denying all, refusing to cancel the contract, and accusing me of defaming PublishAmerica. As usual, I will let the reader decide for herself where the truth lies. Click here to read the complaint, PublishAmerica's response, and my rebuttal of June 5th. As an attorney, Mr. Cretella should know (1) truth is a complete defense to a claim of defamation, and (2) breach of contract and fraud are completely separate legal actions, so the lack of an allegation of breach of contract (for now) does not prove an absence of fraud. PublishAmerica once again asserted their innocence on June 17th—but notice that they don't deny my assertion that they do nothing to promote their books to the public. They merely respond that the contract doesn't require them to do so. I replied on June 21st. Ultimately, the BBB closed the case on June 25th. Here is what the Greater Maryland BBB now says about PublishAmerica:
Maryland Attorney General. On March 30, 2009, I wrote the Maryland Attorney General's Office. The link to my letter (without the enclosures) is here. Unfortunately, the Maryland Attorney General does not view this as a "consumer" problem, but as a dispute between two businesses, so they do not want to get involved. Click here to read their letter of April 15, 2009.
Class Action Lawsuits Against PublishAmerica. In June 2012, a law firm filed a class action lawsuit against PublishAmerica. A copy of their complaint is linked here. And here is PublishAmerica's response. Note the following admission on page 2 of PublishAmerica's Memorandum in Support: "PA does not include marketing to the public at large as part of its definition of traditional publisher." That's because they don't do any marketing to the public, except of course the faux marketing that you have to pay for (as discussed above). Regretably, the court dismissed the lawsuit on September 4, 2012. In about January 2013 a new lawsuit was filed by a different law firm (click here to see a copy of the complaint).
The foregoing is what I can tell you from my own experience. As you can see, PublishAmerica will strongly encourage you to self-promote your book, and to buy copies of your book for that purpose (since that is how PublishAmerica makes money). I never experienced the frustrations of authors who actually tried to follow that advice. If you want to read the accounts of authors who did, try entering "PublishAmerica scam" into your search engine and see what you find.
The experiences of authors victimized by PublishAmerica abound on the internet. Here are some of the stories you will likely find there: (1) book stores won't stock PublishAmerica books because PublishAmerica's discount and return policies make it unprofitable to do so; (2) if you want to have a book signing or other book promotion, you will have to buy copies of your book in advance (from PublishAmerica, of course), because the book stores won't; (3) at best, if you work diligently to promote your book, you may succeed in selling a few score of books, but don't expect to become rich or famous; and (4) some authors claim that PublishAmerica cheated them out of their full royalties on the books that were actually sold to other people via the internet, by not accurately accounting for the number of copies sold. (In about July 2010, PublishAmerica offered to essentially republish books under the name "Independence Books," without any reference to "PublishAmerica" or "POD," provided the author would buy a certain number of books from PublishAmerica. Could it be that their reputation is proving detrimental to book sales?)
If you want to see how real commercial book publishers promote your book, follow these links to Barnes & Noble's instructions for authors, and note the importance of the publisher's role:
"How to be Considered for an Author Event":
"Getting Your Book In Barnes & Noble":
Here's a sample from "How to be Considered for an Author Event": "National touring authors are typically organized and supported by publishers through our home office. Most store events, however, are arranged through our stores in coordination with publishers." (Emphasis added.) PublishAmerica doesn't do any of that.
By the way, you might find this link interesting regarding the rude way in which PublishAmerica treats its authors, and the apparent contempt with which PublishAmerica regards those authors—especially those who express any dissatisfaction. The link below will take you to page 390 of AbsoluteWrite.com's "New Never-Ending-PublishAmerica-Thread." Go to entry #9748 (January 7, 2009, 3:11 a.m., by "merrihiatt," that begins, "I apologize in advance for the length of this post . . . ") and read PublishAmerica's responses to her letter:
And one more thing—be very skeptical of what you read on the PublishAmerica web site. The "testimonials" and the postings on the PublishAmerica Message Board will say wonderful things about PublishAmerica, but on other web sites PublishAmerica authors say that's because PublishAmerica doesn't permit negative postings. My own experience is similar (see below). And PublishAmerica's "Facts and Figures" page is full of lies, distortions, and half-truths, as I discuss below.
My Attempted Testimonial. I submitted a testimonial to PublishAmerica on 5/30/08 that read as follows: "If you allow PublishAmerica to publish your book, you should understand that you are going to have to promote and market your book yourself. PublishAmerica does not promote your book to the general public. They are content to sell your book to you and your family and friends." When you submit a testimonial, PublishAmerica's web site says, "Please allow 5 business days for this information to appear." Although my "testimonial" is politely worded and entirely accurate, it has not been posted. Compare the testimonials pages on 5/31/08 with those on 6/8/08. Some testimonials have been added, but mine is not one of them. More than two weeks later, on 6/14/08, mine is still not there. (NOTE: PublishAmerica reorganized its testimonials after these pages were printed. Here is a link to pages 59-62 of the Testimonials, printed on June 13, 2009, covering the time period of May 22, 2008 through June 10, 2008. No surprise here—my testimonial is not there.)
PublishAmerica Message Board. I also applied for access to the PublishAmerica Message Board, and received a nice email from PublishAmerica on June 21, 2008, promising a follow-up email as soon as the Board Administrator had "activated" my account. But no follow-up email ever came. PublishAmerica apparently doesn't want dissatisfied customers like me posting to their Board. That's why you won't read any negative comments there. On other web sites, PublishAmerica authors claim to have been banned from the Board for posting, or attempting to post, comments which were not flattering to PublishAmerica.
PublishAmerica "Facts and Figures" Page. On June 2, 2009, I printed the "Facts and Figures" page from PublishAmerica's web site. Here is a link to it. A few of its statements are so outrageous they simply must be addressed. For example, Fact #2 says "we have to be picky" regarding what PublishAmerica publishes. The Atlanta Nights sting proves otherwise—PublishAmerica offered to publish a book that was intentionally bad. To learn more, try Googling "Atlanta Nights, by Travis Tea," and see what you find.
Facts #3 and #4 talk about PublishAmerica authors appearing in numerous newspaper interviews, on radio and TV, in magazines, book signings, and bookstore/library events. Even if true (which I doubt), what PublishAmerica doesn't tell you is that PublishAmerica had nothing to do with any of that—which they admit in their email to me of 5/28/08, where they state: "PublishAmerica does not set up interviews, readings, and/or signings, etc." Thus, their claim in Fact #4 that "PublishAmerica contacts dozens of bookstores each day to set up book signings for our authors" appears to be a bald-faced lie.
Fact #5 claims PublishAmerica is "NOT in any way a POD, vanity press, or subsidy publisher, and has nothing in common with them." Actually, PublishAmerica has much in common with them. Like a vanity press, PublishAmerica's target customer is the author, not the public, and the author is expected to market and sell his or her own book. And like a Print-on-Demand (POD) press, PublishAmerica prints books only when one is actually ordered (and thus, PublishAmerica books are not stocked on bookstore shelves, unless the author buys the books from PublishAmerica, supplies them to the bookstore, and then somehow convinces the bookstore to put them on the shelves). If you doubt this, click on this link and read for yourself from PublishAmerica's complaint in a lawsuit the company filed on February 1, 2010: (1) from page 1, #1 - "PA prints copies of its books as they are ordered. . . ."; (2) from page 2, #5 - PublishAmerica and its printer "entered into a 'Print on Demand Agreement' . . . ." (And if you are curious, here's a link to the printer's Answer and Counterclaim.)
Fact #6 says, "We don't want their [PublishAmerica authors'] money. We want their book." Another bald-faced lie. As you can see from the many emails PublishAmerica sent me, the author is PublishAmerica's target customer. Without their authors' money, PublishAmerica would be out of business. Indeed, here is a link to a recent PublishAmerica email (sent to me by another PublishAmerica author) in which PublishAmerica actually refers to authors who buy their own books as "customer" (probably a Freudian slip).
Finally, Fact #12 implies that PublishAmerica's 7-year contract is a good deal in the publishing world—except that it's not. I have learned from other web sites that a 7-year contract is much longer than the industry standard. And in any event, a legitimate book publisher will give the author the rights back when a book no longer sells, which often occurs within 1-2 years. As I have shown, PublishAmerica has repeatedly refused to cancel my contract, even though my book is obviously not selling. I believe PublishAmerica refuses to cancel these 7-year contracts because it gives them leverage to try to force the author to buy and self-market his own book. After all, if the author doesn't do it, no one will. By the way, PublishAmerica's 7-year contract automatically renews for another 7 years unless the author specifically opts out! (I have already opted out—see here.)
May God bless,
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