The Cult of PArsonality…

Hi, folks. Thought I’d offer some thoughts today indirectly related to the IILAA and the “cabal” accusations by pointing out — One More Time! — that cluelessness (frequently tinged with deep denial) is rampant in the world of aspiring writers. It’s there, it’s scary, and I guess not much can be done about it, because many of the people I’m talking about are doing the equivalent of covering their ears and chanting “LALALALALALA, Can’t HEAR you!”

A few days ago I saw a particularly egregious thread on the PublishAmerica message board, which I feel duty-bound to look at every once in a while. It seems one PA author was so proud of her newly minted PA book that she sent a copy to her favorite author, asking the author to read it and give her feedback and “constructive criticism” (translation: praise).

Imagine this poor benighted author’s dismay when Favorite Author not only failed to read the book, but replied that the sender hadn’t gotten really published because it was a PA book, and therefore, “self-published.” “Her response was downright mean,” wailed the PA author, who went on to explain that Favorite Author should have been flattered by her request. The PA author concluded her post by announcing that she felt “awful” and “insulted” because Favorite Author’s response implied that having a book published by PublishAmerica meant the book wasn’t up to the same standards as a book published by “mainstream” publishing.

Oh dear. Oh, dearie me. Leaving aside the fact that it’s terribly tacky to send a Favorite Author a copy of your book and request this kind of feedback/constructive criticism, the sheer clue-free nature of the PA author’s post left me shaking my head.

But wait, there’s more! It gets BETTER!

The first response our dispirited poster received said: “…keep in mind that PA is a threat to mainstream publishing…” and went on to point out that’s why the industry, and other writers, call PA self-publishing, even when “they know that’s not true.” This supportive person concluded with, “If we weren’t a threat, why would she answer you at all?”

The second response was even more to the point: “That author was probubly (sic) scared out of her skin to see someone better than she is at writing. Bet it scared the begeebers (sic) out of her. Her only defense was to fire the first shot.” There was more in the same vein, but I just don’t have the heart to continue.

These poor, poor people. They have been so suckered, and they don’t realize it…yet. Maybe they never will. They’ve formed an insular community where the truth is never revealed and the hopefulness and supportiveness of the posters is used against them. Eventually, many do wake up and whiff the java, and the more they see the truth, the madder they get, but, unfortunately, as soon as they start to post negative things, they’re kicked off the PA message boards, never to be heard again. You have to wonder what the PA authors left behind think of all the mysterious disappearances. At any given time on the PA message boards, 80% or more of the authors posting there are brand new to PA, still in the “honeymoon” phase, so maybe the rapid turnover is never noticed.

It’s plain from reading the above that it’s not a baseless charge to claim that PublishAmerica fosters a cult mentality: You read it over and over on the message boards…diatribes to the effect that: They’re all against us! We’re a threat to them! We’re a threat to the elitists! We’re going to get all the readers to read US, not them, so they’re scared of us!

Oh, please.

The problem with my post is that few people who actually need to see it will ever read it. The PA authors who embrace and stay with the cult mentality WANT to stay snookered. A dose of reality is the last thing they want handed to them with their morning coffee.

And it’s not just PA authors, though they certainly typify The Clueless of the writing world. Ignorance abounds, and that’s why scams flourish.

Remember, my friends. We can all be Writer Beware Ambassadors, spreading the word out there in the world of the aspiring writer: “Ignorance is NOT bliss.” “Knowledge IS power.” Aspiring writers…learn everything you can about the business of writing and publishing in the real world! It will pay off, trust me.

And for goodness sake, don’t touch that Kool Aid!

-Ann C. Crispin
Chair, Writer Beware


  1. I attended a writer’s conference where the session on how to get published was led by a woman who’d vanity-published her own book by starting her own press after getting rejected all over the planet. I think she had plans to publish another book by someone else. Something like that.

    It wasn’t a total waste, though. My eventual crit group could tell by my questions that I wasn’t a clue-free rookie, so they descended on me over lunch, thus beginning a fruitful relationship.

  2. As one of the first science fiction writers to spark my imagination, I’m elated that you’ve chosen to share your knowledge with those of us still trying to climb the publishing ladder. I’ve thought about self-publishing, but have come to realize that it’s basically narcissism.
    Thanks again!

  3. All the PA authors that I’ve met are so mindlessly indoctrinated that you can’t get through to them that they are not legitametely published.

    I’d be interested in putting the buttons on all our CFBA sites when you get them Dave!

  4. All the more reason for us to post information everywhere possible. In fact, the graphics I envision won’t have P&E’s name on them. They’ll simply have information meant to educate new writers so that everyone can use them without feeling they’re advertising some other site.

  5. I ran across a very old (88 years) writing organization for my state that looked interesting. Until I started digging into their Web site. According to the Web site, they had a lot of published authors members, but when I explored further, I discovered that nearly all of the authors had self-pubbed through PA. Worse still, the PA authors were giving seminars for the organization on how to get published! Needless to say, I wasn’t getting good vibes from this, so I didn’t join.

  6. I recently atended a writer’s conference where I tried to sign up for as many ‘intermediate’ sessions as I could. One such class had a prolonged Q&A and I was stunned by some of the questions. I suppose I’ve been seriously looking into publication for many years now so some things (like “What is the Chicago Manual of Style?”) seem so basic I can’t believe people don’t know them. It’s these people, at the most beginning stages of writing, that can easily be swept up in the PA cult. If only people knew how to use Google a little better…

    (Word verification: yjttiixe. Wasn’t that Chewbacca’s home town?)

  7. Forgot to add the rest of the HTML coding to the location of the Warnings page since it’s on the P&E site and not on this site.

  8. 11/9/06 – Important notice to all graphic artists! P&E needs some graphic buttons and will give you a free month of having your banner on a P&E page for a month along with a link to your site. What we need are buttons that express warnings about how to recognize literary scams. Each button should have only one warning sign on it so you can earn multiple pages or multiple months by creating multiple buttons. The graphic buttons must be given to P&E with no strings attached so that they can be freely distributed to web sites dealing with writing, art, editing, and so forth for display. You may place your business name in small letters on the graphic button provided it does not take precedence over the button’s message. More than one business can take advantage of this offer. All submitted buttons will be judged by P&E’s editor for suitability.

    Artists interested in this offer can find some warnings at our Warnings page upon which they can draw their ideas. Provided the intent of the message is correct and clear, those may be edited as needed in order to fit. Artists are also encouraged to offer their own warnings and may include warnings that apply to artists, composers, or other strongly related writing areas though suitability is again up to the P&E editor’s judgment.

    This offer will last at the descretion of P&E’s editor. In other words, we may keep this going only a month or longer as we see a need. Be creative. Be colorful. We want writers, artists, publishers, and others to want one of your buttons on their sites. Just remember to be accurate.

    Send your submissions to P&E at along with the graphic banner for your company for P&E to use if one of your graphic buttons is chosen along with a statement that the buttons are to be considered the property of P&E. Yes, you may request a specific P&E page for your banner to appear subject to availability.

    Ann and Victoria, hope you don’t mind me using your site as the springboard tonight for this.

  9. Though I wish there was something that could be done to help those who’ve already been victimized, there’s not.

    However, WE can drive the scams out of business by warning every writer from here on out with the most extensive and intensive campaign ever. All it takes is a single fact about PA’s or some other scam’s wrongful actions on your personal web pages. We can encourage publishers, agents, and editing services to join in posting truthful information about what constitutes a scam even though many of them will not want to name any names. Still, they could point out that legitimate agents work on commission and not on up front fees. The trick is to make it impossible for the new writers to miss the warnings because the scams will then have to turn to something else to make money and that’s a win for writers. What’s more, a warning on a personal web page doesn’t cost anything extra.

    In fact, I’ll try to get hold of some artists with a request to create some GIF buttons that can be posted freely even if I have to offer them some free advertising on P&E’s pages.

  10. Ann,
    I promise not to touch the Kool-Aid! I went over to check out the PA boards, and it is frightening about the number of clueless people over there. Ten years ago(yes, I said 10) when I decided to write seriously, I ran across some warnings if I’m not mistaken from you and Victoria, and I have been listening ever since. Some people are clueless because they want to be.
    To unpublished writers (me included),
    When a writer does not give up and becomes better at his or her craft, he/she will get published. I have several agents reading my work. One top notch agent asked me to change a couple things and we can discuss my future. It’s a long and arduous road, but if you give up, you won’t get published people. It takes hard work, there are no easy outs. PA is an easy out! Avoid it!

  11. In another (non-writing) online community, an acquaintance posted that his book was going to be published! He’d just signed the contract and it would be out in four months!


    I asked him the name of the publisher. You bet: Publish America.

    I debated for a few minutes whether to clue him in. And then I realized…what’s the point? A five-minute Google search would speak volumes. He’s either willfully ignorant and never did a bit of research, or he’d already quaffed the Kool-Aid and would just accuse me of being bitter and jealous.

    I let it go. Meanwhile, to the uninformed, he looks like the success, while I — having achieved an agent but still hoping for a legitimate publisher — look like the failure.

    C’est la vie.

  12. It’s sad to get people sucked in – at the moment PA has a book by Agathe von Trapp which the world will never see. (Judging by the current interest in the Sound of Music musical, with the tie-in BBC reality show, I’d have said that would have been a commercial proposition had it been submitted in time. If it’s decent, I’d have bought it.)

    And then there’s a Pulitzer Price Winner! Doesn’t _that_ make you want to take your mss and submit it to them immediately? (On closer reading, William Coughlin won it in 1990 as a newspaper editor.) Which shows that _anyone_ can raise to competence in one field and remain clueless.

    I’m always wary, however. Yes, it’s easy to fall into company with scammers, but it’s not so easy to be taken completely hook, line and sinker if you have a brain and are not afraid to use it. There are resources – both written and on the internet – that explain how the publishing process works; and you should always be wary of anyone who stands to make money of a product or service you provide *and* who tries to charge you a fee, because the implication is that they’ll be quite happy to live off fees and leave you sitting on your goods. That should be common knowledge & common sense. If someone offers to sell your car for you *but only* if you pay him an upfront fee, would you do it? If someone told you that theirs was the One True Way to buy cosmetics or stationary or anything and that if you wanted to work for them you’d have to pay for your training and do all the work but get only a small percentage (as opposed to starting out as an independent retailer where you have the same overheads _but_ get to keep all the profit), would you fall for it? People do, but I feel that in most cases it needs more than simple innocence of the process to fall for them.

  13. As grotesquely fascinating as this phenomenon is, it’s all very dog-bites-man. We live in a culture where The Catcher in the Rye teaches every high schooler that you can become rich and famous by writing a whiny, angsty, roman á clef coming of age story; where movies like Dead Poets’ Society promote a mystified view of a creative process that is based solely on inspiration and the rejection of all rational, structured education. I go to a college that offers over 30 writing workshops–none of which mention even the most basic nuances of the publication process–every semester and no more than 7 classes (and almost always more like 5) that deal with the publishing industry (space in which is so limited that many Writing, Literature, and Publishing majors never take them, and most only get to take 1 or 2). How else would we expect young writers to help themselves uphold the ridiculously unrealistic expectations that our education system pounds into them?

    It’s a sad situation and needs to be fixed. But with all due respect, Dave, getting the word out to writers’ groups and writing websites is too little, too late for 99% of the people who are going to be on the receiving end. They’re already invested. The place to nip this problem in the bud is much earlier on than that.

  14. PA has some pretty persuasive propaganda. On their website’s banner, it says, “We treat authors the old-fashioned way – we pay them.”

    That’s pretty tempting to a guy whose written six books but has had nothing published. It makes the ‘elitist’ publishing industry look pretty cruel.

    Good thing I’ve been reading your blog or I might’ve tried stuffing my hard-earned cash into the USB port at their website.

    (I am barbj’s one writer who “has decided to go the slow, tedious but ultimately rewarding route of real writing/real publishing”)

  15. What I find really sad about this whole thing is that there is nothing wrong with self-publishing – except when it tries to pretend that it is the same as being published by an established house.

    In a previous life I assisted with publishing two special-interest books (non-fiction) that were never going to have big enough sales to be of interest to a publisher, but were worthwile books. We (the special interest group) published them, we did a deal with a distributor, we got them into appropriate bookstores, we put them on our own mail-order list and we (eventually) sold them all. (FYI, We printed them in the traditional way, but if we were doing it now, we might have chosen POD.)

    Nothing wrong with any of that. We produced it professionally, got professional cover art done and came out with a book that stood up to the other books around it on the shelf and did not disgrace us. There is no reason why the same thing cannot be true of fiction. But it takes a professional approach and an understanding that, by doing it yourself, you are undertaking to do all the legwork that normally a publisher does for you – editing, distribution, promotion, etc – and to bear all the up-front costs. It is not an easy way out.

    It follows that, if there is nothing wrong with self-publishing, there is nothing wrong with providing a self-publishing service. It only becomes morally bankrupt (on the provider’s part) when you prey on the ignorance and desperation of the clueless in order to get customers for your business – and in the process give a bad name to the legit self-published books.

    I can’t help feeling that there should be a law against the kind of misrepresentation in which they indulge. (HOw do they sleep at night?) But since there doesn’t seem to be, I guess, as Dave said, we just need to keep getting the word out.

    More power to you, VS and ACC and all the others for blowing the whistle. Keep blowing!

    cheers, Imelda

  16. How long has PA been in business? If it is such a Brand! New! Idea! and a threat to commercial publishing wouldn’t something have happened by now to validate that view? How many books has PA published? Shouldn’t there be at least one bestseller in the bunch? Shouldn’t at least one have won an award from a prestigious contest?

    Even if one were to believe that commercial publishers are jealous of PA and set to keep PA authors down one would have to go on to include the distributors and wholesalers, and the bookbuyers for bookstores in the conspiracy. That’s a whole lot of people to have in on the cabal. Hope you all have enough folding chairs for the meetings.

  17. One of the best ways to break that cult is to get the word out to every possible writing group, to get it posted on as many sites as possible, and to give only the truth. In fact, we ought to start a campaign asking every writer to post a single fact about PA’s behavior on their personal websites and ask other writers to join them in spreading the word.

  18. That’s astounding. And yet … not really. One sees that or some variation thereof so many times, one becomes inured to it. The ignorance is truly chilling, though. Sometimes I wonder if they’re starting the Kool-Aid even before they sign the contract these days.

  19. Here’s my touchstone for “cultlike”: Is the attitude toward people who question the group’s Unquestionable Precepts not just that those people have a different and incompatible opinion, but that they’re defective human beings?

  20. This is pathetic, both sad and irritating. One assumes a Favorite Author is published and has sold enough to become a F.A., yet F.A. is so jealous of, and threatened by, an unknown author as to attempt to discourage belief in a sterling company such as P.A. with its outstanding record of abysmal sales. Is brain-removal a requirement to sign with P.A.?

    You’re kinder than I, Ann. I can understand the conceit regarding one’s brain-child since I’m far from immune from it myself, but the irrationality of the reaction is jaw-dropping. “I’m not rich with sales because mainstream publishing fears P.A.” It could not, of course, have anything to do with with my writing or my house; it must be THEM, those people out to get us.

    Odds are there are some good or could-be-good writers in the P.A. cult, but how will they ever know? A line from an old song is floating through my head: Paranoia will destry ya…

    Keep up the excellent work, both of you. You must occasionally feel the impulse to stand and scream at the screen, “Get a clue! Wake up!” while shaking it violently, but instead you make your points reasonably and well. If even one writer has decided to go the slow, tedious but ultimately rewarding route of real writing/real publishing, ya done good.

    Word verification is tkjcvqm. I sometimes try to make something of the verif, but I surrender.

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NOVEMBER 6, 2006

Home from WFC…

NOVEMBER 11, 2006

What’s In a (Correct) Name? A Small, Well-Mannered Rant