Many moons ago, a certain stealth vanity publisher–let’s call it PublishAmerica–decided to take a swipe at the various watchdog groups and anti-scam activists who were telling the truth about its deceptive business practices. So it slapped up a rebuttal website designed to provide misinformation about the real publishing industry and the watchdogs, under the guise of correcting various misconceptions about the publishing process. Since the science fiction/fantasy community has been especially active in exposing PA, one entire page was devoted to denigrating writers of speculative fiction in general (“literary parasites and plagiarists”), and the watchdogs in particular, in veiled terms that were still specific enough that anyone familiar with our activities could identify me, Ann, and Dave Kuzminski of Preditors & Editors.
Now another vanity publisher has entered the rebuttal business.
Airleaf Publishing & Book Selling started out as a provider of junk-mail-style marketing services for authors. Later, it added POD-based publishing services (a polite term for vanity publishing or a long-winded one for self-publishing, depending on your bias). It has garnered criticism both for its extremely energetic spamming of potential clients, and for the equally spammish nature of most of its marketing services.
Take the Premium Bookselling Package (please), available for just $850. “Contact 5000 bookstore owners! This package has all the benefits of the Introductory Package, plus we contact 3000 more bookstore owners for a total of 5000. In addition to contacting bookstore owners, we send an AP (Associated Press) style press release about your book directly to 700 book reviewers and critics at newspapers and magazines across the country.”
Or the Editors at Traditional Publishers package, yours for $450. “Every authors [sic] dream come true! Selling a book to a royalty paying, traditional publisher is always a long shot for unknown authors. However, Airleaf Publishing has developed a unique list of Senior Editors at the biggest publishing houses, and we also know how each publisher accepts new submissions. [Yeah. Through agents.] This puts you at least two steps ahead of the thousands of authors submitting books every week.”
Or the Book Reviewers and Critics package, just $350. “Introduce your book to national book critics and reviewers! We write a customized AP style press release about your book and send it directly to 750 Book Reviewers and Critics. These are the premiere critics at the nation’s largest newspapers and magazines.”
Now, I’m not a critic at a large newspaper or magazine, but I do review books, and as a reviewer I can tell you that I know when I’m being mass-targeted–especially since much of the time, the book being pitched isn’t in my area of interest (this is just one of the problems with bulk mail-style marketing: it’s as likely to reach people who aren’t interested as people who are). While I’ll always pay attention to a personal approach, no matter who the publisher is, I routinely ignore mass solicitations. I’m not alone. Bulk mail–whether electronic, faxed, or snail–is probably the least effective of all book marketing strategies. Not coincidentally, it’s also one of the cheapest–which means that any bulk mail promotional service you’re offered is likely to be overpriced.
(For a much more detailed discussion of these issues, see the Writers’ Services page of Writer Beware.) *
At any rate, it seems that Airleaf is aware of the criticism that’s been directed at it by Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors, and others. Today I discovered its Authors Speak Out! website (thanks, Dave), which is devoted to responding to the critics.
Unlike PA’s rebuttal website, there are no personal attacks–instead, there’s a conspiracy theory. According to Airleaf CEO Brien Jones, “Airleaf Publishing and Book Selling Services has been under a constant barrage of vicious attacks for nearly four years. The attacks do not come from our clients…They come from Print on Demand Publishers and a very small number of authors they’ve duped.” Why are those mean PODs so hostile to poor little Airleaf? From Mr. Jones’s In Conclusion page: “Print on Demand Publishers don’t like Airleaf. That is because Print on Demand Publishers make money selling Author’s [sic] their own books. We sell books to bookstores. Therefore, Print on Demand publishers don’t like us.” (This doesn’t really make a lot of sense–like, why should iUniverse give a rat’s ass where other PODs sell their books?–but never mind.)
Nefariously, the POD companies don’t attack under their own names. They use shills. “All the…major [author] forums,” Mr. Jones informs us, “are owned and operated by print on demand publishers. No, they don’t say that, of course, but they all are. WRITERS WEEKLY, SFWA, and BRADY MAGAZINE are all owned and operated by Print on Demand Publishers!”
Owned by a print on demand publisher?
[Pause for hysterical laughter. Okay. Deep breath. Calm now.]
Obviously I can’t speak for WritersWeekly or Brady Magazine. But I think the Board of Directors of SFWA (a not-for-profit organization for professional writers of speculative fiction founded in 1965) might be a tad surprised to learn that SFWA is actually a “store front forum” for a POD publishing company. As for Writer Beware…all I can say is that if Ann and I are really employed by AuthorHouse, we want a raise.
Does Mr. Jones actually believe that SFWA is owned and operated by a POD company? I mean, seriously? It’s not hard to do the research, so honestly, I doubt it. I’m more inclined to suspect that his rebuttal, despite the absence of personal attacks, is really exactly like PA’s–an attempt to distract attention from his company’s problems by spreading misinformation about those who criticize it.
* To be fair, I have to acknowledge that Airleaf offers a couple of potentially (note the stress on that word) less useless services, such as a telemarketing service that directly contacts booksellers to arrange signings; and its more expensive promotional package claims to include a staff of sales reps. Nevertheless, the bulk of its marketing packages are based on spam–a technique in which it’s undeniably expert.
** Writer Beware is a volunteer organization. No one associated with it makes a cent, nor do we accept donations.
Edited to add: After I posted this, a tart missive from SFWA’s President was dispatched to Mr. Jones, resulting in the abrupt removal of the SFWA reference from Airleaf’s website. Due to the magic of Google cacheing, however, the original page is still viewable, at the link given above. The altered page looks like this.
Edited again to add: Bummer. The Google cache expired already, and the SFWA reference is no longer visible. Oh well. You trust me, don’t you?