My Bad Experience with PublishAmerica/America Star Books

Predatory Publisher Month at Indies UnlimitedSome of you may be familiar with PublishAmerica, who some time ago changed their name to America Star Books. I did a post on the change last year and touched on my own story then, but I want to go into a bit more detail about their racket and how I extricated myself.

My run-in with them started in the 90s. I had had five books published already, two by a New York house and three by small presses, when I stumbled across their site. Their mantra at the time was, “We don’t want your money — we want your book!” Because the traditional publishers were getting more and more gunshy about taking on any but the most well-known authors, this seemed like a good way to go. These guys didn’t seem like a vanity press because they didn’t require payment. Obviously, I should have realized it was too good to be true and done more research, but I didn’t. Lesson learned.

I submitted one of several manuscripts I had and it was immediately accepted. Oh, goodie. Contracts were sent and signed. I already had an idea for the cover and I worked with a designer to reproduce that. No problem there. They worked up the galleys, sent them to me, and I went over them meticulously. They had an editing option at that time, but I declined it as I had a limited budget and I trusted my own eyes better than anyone else’s. When they asked me to sign a waiver saying I declined, I thought that was fine. Later I found out they put a disclaimer at the front of the book saying I had refused editing services, which I thought was kind of tacky, but oh well.

They also asked me to supply a list of names and addresses of friends and family so they could send announcements. That seemed harmless enough; I happily obliged. Only later did I find out that those announcements were nothing more than a blatant attempt to sell my book to every name on my list.

americastar booksThen came the sticker shock. They priced my book at $26.95, easily three times what it should have been for its page count. When I found out this was the price they were asking my friends and family to pay on those “announcements,” I was mortified. I know a few friends fell for it; I hoped most didn’t.

True to their word, the book was quickly listed on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I had wanted to promote it more, but at that price … I was extremely uncomfortable with that aspect, and there was not a darn thing I could do about it. I just never dreamed they would set a price so high.

It was then that the real core of the “marketing” campaign became clear. Every week I would get two, three, four emails saying that I could buy my own book for 30%, 40%, 50% off. Even at the discount, it was still higher than it should have been under normal conditions. Of course I bought one box of books; thank god I didn’t go all-in on that, though, and load up the garage. I was still hoping the book would sell through the normal channels, but of course at that price, it did not.

Over the next couple of years, I was busy banging out a few more manuscripts and it was during that time that I discovered CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing arm, and I was busy turning my new works into exactly the books that I envisioned without any meddling from distant publishers. I was in hog heaven and my poor little PA book wallowed. It didn’t sell (big surprise), but I was too busy to think much about it. Once I had a couple of self-published books under my belt and saw how easy and affordable that was, I turned to my back list and began to bring them up to date. I had two books I’d published through iUniverse years before. It was a simple enough matter to dash off a letter requesting to end my contract with them and get my rights back so I could self-publish those as well, and iUniverse complied without a problem. Finally I got to a point where I could revisit my PA book.

I checked the contract; the period of time I had granted them publishing rights was seven years. I was only two or three years into it. Hmmm.

I stewed about this for a while. Finally I formulated my attack. I wrote them an email saying that the book had not sold a single copy in over a year (true, according to my royalty statements), obviously due to the ridiculous price they had tagged it with, and I would never, ever buy any more copies of my book from them. Since the book was not going to make them any money, there was no reason for them to keep it under contract. I wanted out of my contract now, and I wanted my rights back.

The first email I got back explained patiently that the terms of the contract were necessary in order for them to earn back the money they had lovingly spent creating my book. They would not agree to end the contract before that time. I wrote back and explained again that the book was dead in the water; they would not make another dime on the book. Ever.

Finally it began to sink in. I got a new email saying they could end the contract early for only a $99.00 “administrative fee.” This was again touted as a way to recoup their investment, which by this time I knew to be minimal, based on what I had learned about publishing. I let it lie for a couple of months. I was really hoping they would come back with a better offer, maybe a $50 fee instead. But they didn’t. Finally I agreed. I wanted my book back and the $99.00 seemed a small enough price to pay to liberate it. I’ve talked to other authors who have said they would rather wait out the contract than cave and pay the fee, but I just wanted my book back. Waiting almost five more years on principle was more than I was willing to do.

Expensive lesson? Somewhat, certainly not the thousands that some writers pay out to vanity presses, but obviously more than I would have liked. In terms of experience, though, it was worthwhile. I learned a lot, like checking contracts over carefully, thinking hard about the length of them, and looking long at the many aspects over which I might have zero control. I’m happy to say that since that time, I have never entered into another contract. I fully expect to continue publishing my own books, setting my own prices, and doing my own promotion and marketing, all with total control and total integrity. It’s a lot more work, obviously, but it’s a lot more satisfying, as well.

Author: Melissa Bowersock

Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres. She has been both traditionally and independently published and lives in a small community in northern Arizona. Learn more about Melissa from her Amazon author page and her blog.

23 thoughts on “My Bad Experience with PublishAmerica/America Star Books”

  1. I went through the same thing, right now I am debating about buying the rights of one of my books. I have five with them. I was reluctant to do so since they always add shipping charges but you didn’t mention them. The one I want back has a ten year contract, the others have seven years. If that is all the charge, then I will buy one back a year and get rid of them and their high priced books with no sales, even their ebooks are expensive.

    1. A.G., as far as I know, there should be no shipping charges associated with getting your rights back; it’s just a letter saying as much. I’m sorry you have 5 books with them. I was lucky in that I only bit once. A 10-year contract? Yikes! I thought 7 was bad enough. Good luck. I can understand buying your rights back little by little. That’s a chunk to put out at one time.

  2. I’m a little surprised your experience with iUniverse was not worse. Maybe yours happened before they went as far to the dark side. Sure seems like PA is worse, though.

    1. Yvonne, my experience with iUniverse was benign. I think it cost me something like $300 to publish each book. The covers were *meh* but I just wanted them out there. Didn’t buy any other “services.” Yes, I think it was before they turned.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Melissa. I’ve heard that Publish America was a scam, but it was never quite clear to me how it worked, as, like you, I saw all those ads saying “you don’t pay us…” Clearly not true, but a marketing move to slowly encroach and make you pay them to get control of your book back.

    They truly are awful. A good warning about a company that says all the right things so it can lure you in and hold your book hostage until you pay them to get it back.

    1. RJ, I think that’s the thing about PA that catches people–they’re not asking for money, so how bad can it be? Very bad. Like me, many would not even think about what the retail price of the book would be, or how hard it might be to get back their rights. Let’s spread the word and keep others from falling into the trap.

  4. For anyone who has been involved with Author Solutions ( iUniverse, etc), Writer Beware has an update on the lawsuit being filed against them by three of their (Author Solution’s) former authors. This article provides a link to the law firm who will be handling the class action case, and, having clicked on the link, the page you are taken to provides a form, if you are interested, to give the law firm your bare minimum details (contact info, experience with Author solutions). I suspect they are gathering a list of names of people who would be interested in becoming part of the law suit as it progresses. Here is the link to the article:
    I decided to fill out the form. Not sure if it will come to anything, but still….

  5. I experienced this same issue with PA. I however wasn’t as lucky. The “administrative fee” they requested (continually – even after a lawyer entered into the equation) was astronomical – more than $500 to “make up their costs”. I refused, waited the seven years, and (just now) have the rights returned to my book as of 2014. I am happily busy on revisions and minor changes and will slot it for my own indie publishing in 2016.

    I should have researched their contract and business practices more thoroughly. Yes, lesson learned. Now I know to check every business practice and contract thoroughly prior to consideration. (And, in fact, I’ve only accepted one, on a short story and certainly not a full length novel, in eight years of publishing.) Power to the Indie! 🙂

    1. Wow! I guess I was luckier than I originally thought. If they had hit me with that “fee,” I probably would have waited, as well. Sorry to hear that. I don’t think the contract per se was the issue, since it only says that they have the right to set the price; doesn’t tell you what that price might be. But researching the forums online, getting the details of others’ stories–that’s the real gold here. Glad you’ve got your rights back and are soldiering on. Yes, power to the indies!

  6. I think that, under the circumstances, you handled PA quite well, Melissa. I’ve heard a few just less than horror stories about them, not unlike the one from AG.

    Thanks for sharing, Melissa.

  7. I signed with PA in 2004. It was also before they had added packages. Their “editing” left much to be desired, too. They actually changed a paragraph to say something so different from what I had originally written that it would leave a wrong impression on the reader. I told them to change it back.

    I was “fortunate” to get my contract back before they added the fee. But I had to e-mail them back and forth many times, and I received some pretty nasty e-mails from them. One spurious thing about it was that the letter I received telling me my contract had been cancelled was that it was not signed – by anyone. So how legal that is, I’m not sure. And they continue to leave my book on Amazon. It sold a very few copies through PA. I did sell a few dozen myself, so probably got back most of my cost of buying 2 lots of books. I did receive a couple of dollars in royalties. Once I received a royalty check for $0.00. Yes, it was a real check. At the time there were people trying to get enough evidence to bring them down, and they recommended that we actually take the check to the bank and “cash” it because that would cost them for each check on top of whatever it cost to create it and to mail it.

    My book had 64 pages and their price was $17.00. Exorbitant! I complained and let them know that I was aware that their cost of printing was much below that. They accused me of knowing nothing about publishing costs. Twice I bought a box of 50 books and the shipping cost they charged me was a few hundred dollars. So they not only make money on the books themselves, but on the shipping, too.

    I have now changed the title of the book and added to it so it is almost double in length. I will also create a new cover. I don’t want anyone to be able to trace me back to PA on the book. They can probably find me by my name, but not the title of the book. I plan to publish it on CreateSpace.

    It is an experience no one should have to undergo, but a valuable one nonetheless. I have spread the bad tidings wherever I can so hopefully it will prevent even a few people from getting caught in their trap.

    1. Diane, sounds like they really put you through the wringer. So sorry to hear this. Obviously they are not the least interested in repeat business! One thing I might note–when I got my rights back and published my book through CreateSpace, PA’s version was still on Amazon as well. I wrote them about it, asked them to remove it, and they said they would keep it up as long as they had books in inventory. Can’t fault them on that, but at the high price, they probably will never sell.

  8. I don’t know which is worse, Melissa — Author Solutions’ business model, where you’re charged thousands of dollars up front, or America Star’s, where you get whacked on the back end of the deal.

    Glad you got your book back at last. 🙂

    1. It’s all a crapshoot, Lynne, since they’re all underhanded, devious and greedy. One thing I will say–we tend to learn quickly when we’re treated this way, so the good news is that we seldom fall for this a second time.

  9. I was directed to Publish America through a worthless agent who steered me from Ballantine books. In the 90’s. Didn’t do enough research. Back then, l found more to read about PA than the other and with his pushing….long story short, found out the agent published his own books with them.
    In the beginning, PA had a lifetime contract, dropped it to 7 and through a series of emails I got my contract returned with no money passing through. Maybe they recouped there money from the couple of book signings, idk.
    Lucky, with that part I guess.

    1. Ey, that is pretty bad to be directed to these scammers by an agent. Says a lot about the agent. So sorry you had to go through that. And a lifetime contract? Gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it. Glad you found your way out of the mess and continued on. You’re ahead of the game for not having to pay any fees. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Back in my naive days I believed contracts were there to protect both parties. 🙁 I’m so glad you managed to cut free without even more misery. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Thank you for sharing. Well done. It’s all a learning. I had some hard lessons too that I will be sharing this month also.

    Glad you were smart enough to go on your own. How were you to know? They are sly beasts and nasty.

    It seems they are now calling themselves America Star Books. They should be ashamed of themselves but with them, there is no shame. None at all.

    I was involved in a class action lawsuit but I was told it crummbled. A waste of time talking to lawyers. I was just happy to remove myself from them. When I did, that dark cloud that is Publish America lifted.

    You write beautiful books Melissa.

    1. Thank you so much, Brenda. Obviously a lot of us have walked the same path; good thing we’ve all come out stronger, smarter, better for it. I believe the name change was just to distance themselves from the bad press, but they certainly did not clean up their act. Looking forward to reading your post. And thanks again!

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