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Back To Literature, Past
A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Chides NBC for Incomplete Research on Publishing

      An Open Letter to WNBC’s Asa Aarons:

    Your article may have served the purpose of warning some authors of bumpy trails ahead and that you used Jenna Glatzer as a resource was very smart for she is a professional and has the interest of authors at heart. Trouble is,WNBC picked on the wrong company to diss or maybe even the wrong entity.

    Publish America is a traditional publisher (Using a Print on Demand Press does not make them fly-by-night any more than using that kind of a press makes big-name publisher into shysters.) Books should not be judged by their covers and publishers should not be judged by the kind of press they use. PA is a traditional publisher because authors pay nothing to the company for pubbing their work. In fact, authors are given advances just like the big traditional publishers--albeit smaller ones. Further, even traditional publishers do little or nothing to promote so, in some ways, they, too "take advantage" of poor authors who go into a contract with expectations that will never be met.

    Further, both PA and traditional publishers OWN the manuscript, once the contract is signed--something many who prefer subsidy or self publishing consider anathema but if a business finances something, they expect something in return. In the case of both PA and traditional publishing houses, it is the rights or ownership of the manuscript they have purchased. If authors want to retain those rights, they shouldn't "sell" them to PA or any other traditional publisher for that matter. That’s what an “advance” is. Money taken in exchange for a product--in this case a manuscript. A business expects to make money; even some charitable organizations in the US pocket more money than they care to admit.

     Authors often complain that PA sells their books back to the authors. So do traditional publishers. PA gives much higher discounts to authors when they buy in bulk than is often reported--as high as 55%. Layered discounting is a time-honored practice in a capitalistic society such as ours--businesses can and do give better prices to those who market so well that they can buy in greater quantities (witness the practices of the companies who sell to Penny's and Wal-Mart).

     But Glatzer is absolutely right (pun intended for she is the editor of Both kinds of publishers "take advantage" of authors. They couldn't do it, however, if authors didn't enter into these contracts without doing their homework. Whether signing a contract for a car or a publisher, buyer beware. We must know:

a. What we want and,
b. What we're buying.

     It also helps to know only a little about economics starting with, "there is no free lunch."

     So much has been written about Publish America by authors distraught over their choices that these reports have become urban legend. It seems that a news agency as trusted as NBC would check their facts before singling out a business that may not be as ill-conceived as it is ill-understood.

Back to the readers of this column:

     If you are an author looking to be published, buy some books. You’ll want others to buy yours once you’re published and you will find you are in a better position to make a decision you can live with if you know something of the publishing world before you take the plunge.

Here are some suggestions for learning more:

  • The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Marilyn and Tom Ross
  • The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t by Carolyn Howard-Johnson (Yes, that’s my book--the winner of USA Book News’ “Best Professional Book 2004”)
  • Go to a reputable writers’ conference like San Diego State University’s Writers’ Conference or UCLA’s Writers’ Studio. I can vouch for these because I have participated in both.
  • Take classes, online or bricks and mortar, at equally reputable colleges or universities.
  • Don’t believe what you read on the web until you’ve done your own in-depth research.

Tips and Tidbits

Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.

Writers' Tidbit: The demand for my the Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What your Publisher Won't has been so great I started a free newsletter called “Sharing with Writers” that will continue to feed tips and resources on book promotion and writing to authors long after they’ve read Frugal. Send an e-mail to with “subscribe” in the subject line

Readers' Tip: Newsweek called Leora G. Krygier’s new novel “poignant.” When She Sleeps (published by Toby Press) is a story about sisters who dream each other’s dreams. It is about love, language and the human condition. Oh, by the way, Krygier’s first book, First the Raven, was published by Publish America and is an example that this publisher has found some very fine literary authors indeed.

2005 Past Columns

Carolyn Chides NBC for Incomplete Research on Publishing
A Simple Good-bye to Robert Creeley

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