Indie authors, take note:
Back in September, I reported of an unsolicited query I received from a representative of America Star Books (ASB), offering me a spot in their “Hot Indie Authors” brochure. This brochure was to be distributed at the Miami Book Fair, held the weekend of 20 Nov 2015. My response was essentially “Sure, go ahead; show me what you can do.”
Then I waited.
My intention, for reasons that are obvious to some, was never to enter into any agreement with ASB. I just wanted to see what (if any) result would come from being included in their brochure (if indeed that actually occurred). I also wanted to see what sort of communication I’d receive from ASB, and how much.
The results of this experiment both met and exceeded my expectations.
But not in a good way.
If you don’t already know, America Star Books is the rebranded entity formerly known as Publish America. ASB has been the target of several lawsuits, including a class action filed on behalf of the writers ASB “represents.” More on that later; first, the results.
ASB exceeded my expectations with respect to their communications. I expected a weekly email offering some service or a pitch to sign up with them on a contractual basis. What I got was far more.
I received the initial contact from ASB on 02 September 2015, and I requested they knock it off on 25 November. The duration of my experiment was 85 days, in which time I received 79 emails from five different representatives using fifteen different email addresses (multiple email addresses helps them get past spam filters).
Each email was an offer for some great “service,” usually with a deep discount. The emails offered various ways in which ASB would promote my book, such as:
- Ads and promos at book fairs (like what I’d reportedly get at the Miami Book Fair)
- Presentations to major publishers, agents, distributors, and libraries
- Spots on radio and in newspapers
- Meetings with purchasers in Hollywood, representing entities like Disney, Dr. Phil, and Ellen Degeneres
- Promotional copy like bios, cover art, contests, etc.
These services ranged in price from $19 for an ad at the Frankfurt book fair to $499 for a six-lecture series provided (by email) on becoming a “thought leader.” Nearly all offers came with a discount code, which reduced the price from 50–87%, for a real cost of $9–199. But even with such deep discounts, if I had availed myself of every service they offered, I would have spent $2500 in 85 days.
Here’s the kicker: Every single email came with a caveat. Following the hyped-up copy that described the offer was a paragraph similar to this:
DISCLAIMER: America Star Books has no affiliation with [the entity they’re talking about], or any of their sponsors or affiliates, and makes no claim to preferential access to or other special treatment from those organizations. America Star Books does not guarantee, represent or imply that you will achieve any result or success by participating in this promotion.
Nuthin’ for sumthin’.
In contrast, ASB thoroughly met my expectations with regards to the results from the Miami Book Fair. My book sales are flat enough that I can discern a blip on the radar. In the week-plus since the Miami Book Fair, changes in e-book and hardcopy sales have remained totally consistent with past performance. I expected nothing, and that’s precisely what I got.
This is nothing short of predation. Luring naïve and trusting independent authors with hyped-up ad copy promising (without actually promising) insider treatment for their books is exactly the type of activity that has created such a negative reputation for ASB and Publish America. They play on the dreams and hopes of the unsuspecting. Hell, even I, as jaded and gimlet-eyed as I am about publishing, found my heart beating faster at the “opportunities” they presented. I actually found myself saying, “Hey, it’s only $19. I wonder if it would…”
No. It wouldn’t.
ASB depicts itself as a major player in the publishing industry, on close and amicable terms with major players such as HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Scholastic, and Penguin, when in fact, by all reports I’ve read, they are a pariah of publishing, shunned by all like a sleazy, streetcorner hustler offering writers a shot to “find the lady” in a game of three-card monte.
How do they get away with this? By keeping to the windy side of the law.
Remember that class action lawsuit I mentioned? Well, it was dismissed. The reason? There is a grey area between consumer protection and business-to-business agreements that ASB exploits.
The lawsuit was filed as a case of fraud perpetrated by ASB against the authors with whom they contracted, all under the auspices of consumer protection. Unfortunately, the judge’s finding (with which I cannot totally disagree) was that the authors who contracted with ASB aren’t consumers buying goods and services; they are individual businesses entering into partnerships with ASB, and therefore not covered under consumer protection law. Therefore, all non-performance on the part of ASB, all failure to respond to cancellation requests, and all automatic renewal of contracts (as specified in their contracts), and the outrageous fee structure they impose to modify terms, update cover copy, and cancel contracts is a matter for corporate, not consumer law. While it is clear from the evidence that ASB is only out to extract money from authors and provide them with nothing of real value, it’s legal.
So, writerly friends, be wary. Be wary, be cautious, be skeptical, and remember the first rule of writing:
Money flows toward the author.