Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against PublishAmerica

EDITED 9/12/12 TO ADD: This lawsuit has been dismissed. See my followup post.

I can’t count the number of questions I’ve received over the years from unhappy PublishAmerica authors, wondering whether a class action lawsuit against PA has been/might be/ever will be filed. Frankly, I would have bet against it, given the cost, the difficulty of gathering plaintiffs, and the ambiguities of PA’s business model.

Now I get to eat my words.

On June 11, 2012, a class action summons and complaint was filed in Maryland District Court in Baltimore against PublishAmerica LLLP, by plaintiffs Darla Yoos, Edwin McCall, and Kerry Levine (Case Number 12-cv-1696). The full complaint can be viewed here. Attachments include the contracts for the three plaintiffs.

Quoting from the Introduction to the complaint–this will all sound very familiar to long-time PA observers:

Defendant PublishAmerica is a book publisher that  portrays itself as “a traditional, royalty paying publisher.” But unlike traditional publishers, which profit from the sale of books, defendant profits from its own clients, i.e., the authors who submit works for publication by defendant. Defendant lures these authors in by promising to publish their book at no cost, and it makes false and misleading representations that it will promote their books and support the authors’ efforts to sell their own books. But this is not the case.

Instead, once the authors sign the contract, which gives defendant the rights to their book for seven to ten years, defendant does nothing constructive to promote their books, but instead offers various promotion packages on a fee-for-service basis….These services, which are either misrepresented or never carried out, are not reasonably designed to promote class members’ books….

Defendant provides very poor editing services, is slow to respond to book orders, and it routinely overprices the books it publishes. This is no accident. Defendant will only lower the price of its clients’ books to a competitive rate for a $399 fee. These practices make it difficult for even the most enterprising authors to promote their own books.

Defendant is not responsive to inquiries from its clients, or worse it is dismissive or belligerent.

Like plaintiffs, thousands of other aspiring authors who signed up with PublishAmerica have become demoralized because the publishing contract appears to be little more than a pretext for selling dubious services…These authors also feel trapped because PublishAmerica owns the rights to their books for seven to ten years. This presents a Hobson’s choice for the authors: either throw good money after bad for suspect promotional services or abandon the book that was a labor of love.

The complaint is long, but worth reading in its entirety. Among other things, it alleges that PA makes money off its authors while billing itself as a traditional publisher, requires authors to pay for “usual and customary marketing that any reputable publisher would do as a matter of course,” offers “services that are not reasonably designed to promote book sales” (the complaint includes numerous examples of PA’s marketing solicitations, including the “Hey Amazon” banner I noted in my recent BEA Report, for which authors had to pay $99), removes negative comments from its website and “attacks the credibility of its detractors,” and “duped” the three plaintiffs with, among other things, “bogus services” and books “riddled with errors.”

The complaint seeks “a declarative judgment that defendant’s publishing contracts violate the Maryland Consumer Protection Act,” including the MCPA’s prohibition against deceptive trade practices. It asks the court to certify the class action, return publication rights to the three plaintiffs and other members of the class who so desire, allow plaintiffs and the class to recover damages, allow plaintiffs and the class to recover the costs of the suit, require PublishAmerica to pay restitution to the defendants and the class, and grant “further relief as may be determined to be just,” including punitive damages.

A jury trial is demanded.

Per PACER, a Notice of Appearance for the plaintiffs was filed electronically on June 12 by John B. Isbister of Tydings & Rosenberg LLP (a Baltimore law firm). The complaint also mentions Daniel S Katz of the same firm.

Interestingly, the complaint is also signed by Steve Berman and Barbara Mahoney of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, a high-profile Seattle law firm involved, among other things, with the recent ebook price-fixing litigation against Apple and several Big Six publishers. The complaint notes that a pro hac vice motion has yet to be filed for Berman and Mahoney (this is a motion by an attorney in a given jurisdiction to admit an attorney not licensed in that jurisdiction to a case), and such motions aren’t always granted–but Hagens Berman’s presence in the case confirms that this is no frivolous endeavor, and suggests that big guns will shortly be turned PublishAmerica’s way.

I’ll be following this as it develops.

EDITED TO ADD: I’m getting lots of questions about how to participate in the lawsuit. I don’t know the answer, but I’d suggest that authors contact the law firm that’s acting for the plaintiffs:

Tydings & Rosenberg, LLC
100 East Pratt Street, 26th Floor
Baltimore MD 21202
Telephone: 410-752-9700

EDITED TO ADD: Hagens Berman now has information on its website about the PA lawsuit, with contact information for the firm:

Authors who believe they may qualify as part of the proposed class may contact Hagens Berman by calling (206) 623-7292 or by emailing the firm at You can also contact the firm online by clicking here.


  1. I As well has been taken by Publish America, they took my book in 2009 contract should had expired in 2016, they extended my contract for another 7 years with no signature, haven't paid me more than 5 dollars in royalties since the release of my book Kenny Boo Laney "THE JAIL HOUSE POET" since it was released in 2009, My book is selling around the world, I've seen it sell for 100 to 800 dollars on the internet, it also sells new as well as used, when adding up the number of copies available I have counted over 1500 in the last few days. Barnes and Noble,, ebay, craigs list, and many other siortes. I broke ties with them in 2010 due to lack of support from the company, now that the contract is expired I I tried to get my book back. They say for a fee, I ask for a history of sales and they say for a price, I can't take them down alone, My email is they have taken millions from the authors they say they represent, this is just wrong interested parties contact me.

  2. Anonymous 8/03:

    This lawsuit has been dismissed, not settled. I did a followup post on this; see the link in my post above.

  3. Anonymous 5/05:

    PublishAmerica has exclusive claim ONLY on the rights for your book. They have no claim on other writing you do (unless of course you sign another contract with them).

  4. If the class action suit was settled out of court why didn't I hear about and what was the out-come of it?

  5. Do publish America just own your book for seven years or do they own whatever the author does for the next seven years? Someone please help me with this.

  6. I signed with them two years ago before finding this. I keep low and just write other books. I plan to sell my other books to someone else and if I make enough money I will most likely buy back my rights. They told me last time I asked that to get my rights back would be well over $400 and when I told them that I had contacted my lawyer they yelled at me (and I quote) "don't talk to us ever again until you can apologize for being a liar. you did not contact a lawyer and they have not told you any such thing."

    I guess they don't like it when you stand up against them. :l

  7. PA accepted my proposal with a sample of my writing, but backed out when i asked for some time to complete it.
    i should be happy that this happened with me.
    How are they now?

  8. I am writing this because I thought you all might be interested- I am one of the plaintiffs that was involved in the complaint. Knowing that MD law has virtually NO protection for the consumer whatsoever, I was not in high hopes that this would move forward but I did hope for the best and try anyway. As it didn't go anywhere, I feel I can openly talk about this now.

    I did read my contract and understood PA had no obligation to market my book. HOWEVER, what was the last straw for me was when I waited over 2 months for a so-called Press Release, which I paid $400 up-front for. When I finally did get it (after virtually no communication whatsoever), it was VERBATIM the back cover of my book!!! Placed at the bottom and more prominent, was an advertisement for PA. I did NOT pay $400 for PA to advertise themselves!!! I paid that so they could tell people about my book. Not only that, they asked ME what newspapers I wanted it to go to. I am most sure that it never made it out of their office.

    I know people in the PR field (I could not use them due to conflict of interest). A true PR Specialist has media contacts- why would they need to ask someone what paper they wanted this to go to?? If they would have put out a product like what I received, they would have been fired.

    Another thing that bothered me was they overpriced my book in a huge way. It was $25 just for a paperback!! When I complained about the price, I was told that if I wanted it lowered, I had to pay for it (and I didn't even get to choose the price- I only had two other choices which were still outrageous).

    That's what really did it for me.
    When I saw that press release especially, I was livid and I don't hardly get angry, ever.

    Anyway, they may have gotten away with it yet again, but it will only be a matter of time. You always get what's coming to you.

    I had paid to get out of my contract (yes, you have to pay since they claim they incur "losses"- I asked them what "losses" since you will never sell any of my books at $25 and I have footed all the bills for everything else), moved on and not worried about it, and couldn't be happier with my decision.

    Live and learn! 🙂

  9. Publish America never lived up to their contract. I signed with them years ago. It clearly states that after 2,000 copies are sold they will pay us 8% of the royalties. Frankly I know damn well I have sold thousands and thousands of copies of my book. Yet in the time I was under contract, I have only received four checks. The checks never even cleared the $3.00 mark. Yup they lived up to their contract alright. Where is the rest of the money, and where is our royalties after the contract is up. I know mine is up and they are still selling, and collecting money off of my book. Meanwhile I sit here with my thumb up my ass, wondering why they are getting the money and I'm not. They will be sued, mark my words on that. I have a lot of friends in law, and it's gonna happen.

  10. Please read your contracts. PA does not state that they will promote your book. they say that it will be available with online book stores. They print and publish for free. They also tell you that they do not edit books in your contract. It also states that if you buy your own book you do not get royalites on what you buy. I do not believe that any of you have actually read your contract. Read anyy contract before you sign it. They have held up to their contract.

  11. I wanted to thank you Victoria for telling your truth and everything you know about PublishAmerica. I am currently a (trapped) PA author that spends every day of my writing career kicking myself for ever making the mistake of signing with PA.

    Following is a link to a report I composed telling my truth about PublishAmerica. If you are ever interested, please feel welcomed to skim through it. It includes an accusatory, threatening, demanding and fraudulent email from them – casts them in the hideous light they deserve to be exposed in.

    It is my hope that if enough of us tell our truths, eventually PA will shut down. They are hurting too many of us.

    Thank you again.
    Renee Evaline Isherwood

  12. if anyone wants to see the visual, verifiable, indisputable proof of publish america's true nature, go to this page on my personal site… what is on there will make you sick! i show, through text and images, undeniable proof that they are guilty of copyright infringement! and that, folks, is a felony!

    jan marie parupia/aka/amber michelle/author of MARILLA AND THE MERMAID

  13. Those !!!##$%^&^%$#@ have had my book for 4 years and have been selling it on Ebay and Amazon and it's even being sold in India, but so far I haven't seen one thin dime…Looks like this good old boy from Tennessee is going to have to go skunk huntin'…

  14. I received an email from the lawyers yesterday. The judge dismissed the case. Yay for complete injustice. :/ Had it been a frivolous case, the judge would've been all over it. Case in point: the lawsuit against Lay's potato chips. You know, the man ate just 1 and actually won a million dollars? Or the woman who wanted to sue a fast food chain because her coffee was too hot? Or a man suing because his ice cream was too cold. I kid you not. These were real cases. Not legit, mind you, but real.

  15. You people think that you were taken by PA and all the work you put into a book that now is in limbo. Well I fell big time as I submitted THREE books that will never sell through PA. Those three book represent almost five years of very hard work.
    A heck of a way to learn a lesson.
    Tom Z.sti2

  16. I too am so happy about this lawsuit! I had a book published by PA in 2009. At the time, I had several offers from other traditional publisher companies but they said they would take about 6-18 months to publish and PA said about 2-3 months. However, I contracted in Sept '08 and between all of the copy and edit issues and having to go back and remove any underlined words/sentences, remove word formats, and having to resend multiple copies of the manuscript via several unreturned USB drives because the person receiving it claimed that my formats were not compatible to their software even though I used .dox, .doc. and .pdf; needless to say that my book was published in June '09 (9 months from contract).

    They promised to contact my local news stations and paper company with a PR release of my book which never happened, despite sending the required information to PA. They had several errors on the back cover but refused to fix it unless I paid X amount of money for a specific number of copies.

    In addition, the book has too many grammatical errors to count! I do not understand why because I used MS Word 2007 with grammar and spell check at the time. In undergraduate and graduate school, most instructors would suggest to other students to ask that I proof read their papers. Yet, there are so many errors and format errors to where I have sections with numbers or asterix listed and the lists are in different formats with spacing issues all over the pages. I contact PA and at first they refused to reply back via my email requests despite several attempts. Upon calling and talking to someone, I was informed that the person who edited my book is no longer with the company. I talked with other authors with PA who experienced the same issue. It sounded like when they 'reformatted' the manuscript to include the pages, they did some type of auto grammar check that was in Canadian or an old style of English.

    Upon asking for PA to fix the pages (and mind you, I have a 512 nonfiction book on profiling offenders), I was informed that they would for a fee – if I purchased something like 10 books but the problem is that it was only for those 10 books. I would need to pay for thousands of books to likely get them all fixed.

    Since then, I have had over 500 articles published with raving reviews and yet this book seems to hold me back at times. They are print on demand, so they should be able to do a permanent update.

    In addition, my royalties have been nonexistent. According to PA there has been zero purchases by bookstores, Amazon, BN, etc. The odd thing is that I have people who contact me and rave about the book. I, too, have purchased books from Amazon and BN over the years. This year alone, I have probably purchased about 20 books and yet, according to PA, there has been ZERO books purchased. I would imagine that are keeping 100% of any profits.

    Lastly, when I contracted, I was advised that my book would be available in Barnes and Noble bookstores. After my book was released, is when I learned the truth about their false claims about not being a vanity or print on demand book publisher and of their lies about being a traditional publisher. According to BN my book at the time, and still is, only available at because it is a print on demand book.

    They are horrible. I thought that this would have been one of the happiest times of my life. Well, at least it opened a few doors anyway.

  17. I have been with publish America for two year five mounts and have not in the whole time of of being with them have I received a royalty check all my friends went out and bought my book and came to me to have it signed I even have one in the Florida library… I have tried calling them and contacting them to see why they have not sent me any information on what my book is doing… and to me it seems that they are refusing to even acknowledge me as one of there clients… when I signed with them I told them that I was unable to do book signings or even leave my home due to the fact that I cannot breath if I do… I am getting better at going out of the house for short times but they told me that they would take care of it and not to worry they have people that stand in for people like myself… the woman that spoke to me n the phone the day they said they would sign me (Robin) convinced me that Publish America would take care of everything… so like all the others I believed what she told me and took a chance with them and not I feel as if I have been raped… so yes I have contacted the Lawyers that the others have and I hope that all those that have trusted people such as Publish America get what is due them…

  18. Even if the judge ruled that I, as a victim of these jerks, only get to have the contract voided immediately, that would be just fine with me. I don't want PA's money, I want to be free of the stench that hangs over me because I am affiliated with these liars.

  19. I had the misfortune to allow them to publish a short story. They over priced the story, did no editing and no publicizing. Although the book sold many copies I only received token royalties on the first sales. After this they simply said there were no sales. I would have to prove they had sales in order to receive any further royalties.

    I just want my full rights back on my book The Great Time Hawk In The Sky so I can include it with other short stories that I have written.
    Words H.

  20. When will writer beware expose the defrauding of the John Steinbeck family by their own attorney– as AC Crispin has been directing Writer Beware's victims to that very attorney in the past?

  21. At least, Anonymous (BB) is consistent with their fly-by posts here.

    Watching the Publish America case with interest. I note a second set of attorneys are preparing to bring a case against PA also.

    Looking forward to the day when some of these other people get dragged into court too.

  22. Anonymous–we've been completely open about the two lawsuits directed against us by individuals who were angry about the fully documented warnings we provide. Both suits have been dismissed due to the plaintiffs' failure to respond to interrogatories and/or cooperate with the deposition process. For one of the suits, we won our motion to have it declared frivolous; the plaintiff was ordered to reimburse our legal and court fees.

    As for SFWA's attorney, I have a feeling you don't know who that is, but if you'll name the person you're talking about, I can give you a better answer.

  23. Should SFWA, Ann Crispin, Victoria Strauss, Absolute Write, MacAlister Stone, Jenna Glatzer and Jim Macdonald also point out to potential members and customers that they have been the subject of a lawsuit–we wouldn't want SFWA to operate a double standard here. Should the SFWA attorney be telling everybody that he was suspended from practicing law because of cheating Steinbeck's family member?

  24. Steven–although the level of courtesy and veracity are similar, I can confirm that Anonymous is not The Write Agenda. She hails from a somewhat more northerly and/or easterly location. She reveals herself by her ongoing obsession with Miss Snark.

  25. Really? Even though your above statement contradicts itself? Prove it then: tell us who you are, and tell us who The Write Agenda is. That should remove any confusion over the matter. Unless you are too cowardly to put your real name to these trollish comments.

    Meanwhile, pulling this thread back on-topic: is PA legally obliged to point out to potential "customers" that it is currently the subject of a lawsuit? Surely it's a fine line to walk to tout for new business while having at defend those same business practices in court?

  26. Miss Snark is not a delusional fantasy. She is really Ann Crispin and Victoria Strauss!! And I have proof in their own words. PS. I do not like burning books, especially stinky ones that pollute the air when they burn, like those written by Victoria Strauss, and I am definitely NOT the Write Agenda.

  27. Anonymous, here's the facts. Fact: you are The Write Agenda. Fact: you have called for public book-burnings. Fact: I have challenged you to explain that stance and how it can possibly relate to your clarion call to "extinguish the flames of controversy". Fact: you are too cowardly to do so, and you deliberately misunderstood my restated challenge above.

    I'm not the delusional one here. And I will keep asking this question, y'know.

  28. Anonymous, fair warning: I'm going to delete any further posts in this vein. Feel free to insult me on this blog, but I draw the line at insulting others.

    (BTW, you might want to check your facts.)

  29. Who said anything about burning books? Doesn't Dave owe Vic a quarter million bucks? The judge awarded the damages for defamation, not book burning. Where do you guys come up with such delusional fantasies???

  30. Hey, look! Bookburners! You haven't defended your indefensible stance yet, you know. Would you like to come over and do so? Or is the "Write" Agenda now defunct?

  31. Maybe they can use the quarter million dollars that Dave Kuzminski owes them for his defamation damages ordered by the Virgina Federal court to pay the Publish America legal fees?

  32. I too am an extremely dissatisfied PA "author". I may have been duped, but I don't feel duped. I feel misled. I compared and studied everything I could read about PA as carefully, even cynically, as I could. Then I read the contract critically before signing. They clearly promised to market my book ("marketing is what we do best") in every manner available to "traditional publishers", including making my work available in e-book format. It soon became clear that PA would not undertake any normal marketing strategy unless I first "authorized" them to do so by buying a min number of my own book. In desperation I finally ordered a few books to get PA to do at least something to sell my book, including paying PA to convert my work to e-book format. After paying but seeing no results I had to hound them with emails and attached receipts as proof and finally threaten to take legal action before my work at long last became available in e-book format. I gave up on them as acting in any way on my behalf without "authorization" through paying for the services that my contract promised. I opted out of PA's steady barrage of services for pay emails, and began planning a class-action suit. These three fine folks have beaten me to the punch, but I will join them with every piece of evidence in my archive…

  33. …or "Anonymous" directly below, as my signed-in post showed up and my Anon one didn't?

    Guess it got et up. IT basically went like this:

    * The full complaint is like the 10-minute version of reading the complete PA-subforum at Absolute Write's Bewares & Background Checks.

    * How did they think they'd get away with namechecking so many entities capable of saying, "Nope, never heard of 'em, don't like 'em claiming association with us neither"

    * Can't wait for the outcome. All propz to them what got this ball rolling.

  34. (Sorry, "anonymous" directly above was me. I had javascript disabled, so it didn't try to log me into Google like it ought.)

  35. Wow.

    The full complaint reads like a "greatest hits" summary of the PA corner of Absolute Write's "Bewares" boards.

    I knew about the J.K. Rowling thing and a few of the others like it, but had no idea they'd made so MANY claims implying business relationships with so MANY entities perfectly capable of giving them the lie. It boggles me how PA thought they'd be able to get away with that.

    I can't wait to hear how this complaint is received by the courts. It's about time. The plaintiffs have my admiration and full support.

  36. Thanks so much for keeping up to date on this story. I wish the authors involved in the lawsuit the best of luck.

  37. PublishAmerica reminds me of those BS "modelling schools" that promise naive girls stardom, when they are as far from being a legit modeling agency as humanly possible. Unfortunately, when a girl is desperate for fame, she will ignore that nagging voice that says that no one ever made it to the cover of Vogue via a one-room operation in a Kentucky strip mall.

    Those who prey on people's ambitions, dreams, and passions, are the absolute lowest of the low, and should be thoroughly slapped.

  38. To answer you Charles Harvey all the things you mention are really very new and people in the past did not have all those self publishing options. And if you want to find a REAL publisher for any book you either need an agent or you need to research reputable digital first publishers. Anyone who has done research online of what "publishers" to be wary of should know about Publish America. But some people still do not think to research where they send their manuscripts to and may have responded to ads by Publish America claiming they are wanting books. Publish America tricks people by pretending they are a real publisher who has liked and accepted your book. But people should know that no reputable publisher has paid advertisements claiming to be looking for books.
    Reputable epublishers may put out calls for submission but those will be placed on message boards and websites they won't be actual ads. If you see an advertisement from a "publisher" looking for books it is a scam.

  39. All I can say is, about damn time. I'll be watching this with popcorn, er, interest. Thanks for sharing and always being on top of things.

  40. Nick, as I understand the complaint it isn't that PublishAmerica crushes hopes and dreams (a lousy thing to do, but not illegal), but that they that use false, misleading, and deceitful advertising to sell worthless services (which is illegal).

  41. They should be liable for millions of dollars for all of the writers they have ripped off. I used to tell people who were going to use them not to do it, but the lure of publication for many is too strong. I can't believe the amount of money some people pay places like this to get published.

  42. Nick, this isn't a criminal case requiring a "crime." It's a civil case about a breach of contract. Two very different things.

  43. Great to see people fighting back. New to this industry, I'm shocked at what is happening, and wonder how long it's been going on. Bravo!

  44. I understand that aspiring authors are disappointed and I am sympathetic. But my take is this is a frivilious law suit since the PA contract is clear. PA's business model makes no claims to promote the books, the most expensive part of the deal. I fail to see where the crime is and I suspect the courts will as well. I tried to contact PA unsucsesfully myself for 6 months on a simple problem and was ingnored; that makes them shits operating a shitting business but if that were illegal 1/2 of Wall Street would be in jail. Sueing for damages when no money changed hands and when the only loss the plantiffs can charge is lost expectations seems a stretch.

  45. they did a crappy job on my book. Did not print it the way I wanted. Hope they get wants coming to then and we writers get our books back.

  46. @Charles – it has to be noted that PublishAmerica has been doing this longer than SmashWords and the others have been active. A friend of mine – NOT ME – wrote a novel for PA back in 1999 or 2000. Everything the lawsuit notes today was done to him then.

  47. This is so exciting. I've known people over the years that so wanted to get published even though I warned them, they went with PublishAmerica anyway.

  48. Off with their heads. Seriously. So, so sick of that place taking advantage of people. That criminal complaint is pure gold.

    Even if they go down, I'm sure someone will rise to replace them. For now, I just hope the people who were duped get some of their money back.

  49. It's about time. Thanks for the good news. There's nothing wrong with a vanity press–people have used them for years for family histories, memoirs, recipes, poetry collections, and other small-run, personal publications for people who don't feel confident designing a book themselves. But a real vanity press doesn't take your rights.

    A vanity press that pretends to be a traditional publisher–and keeps your rights for 7 years–that's a scam. I'm glad somebody's finally blowing the whistle.

  50. @ Charles, because a commercial press does things for a writer that are expensive or inaccessible for the self publisher.
    By claiming to be a commercial press, writers are fooled into believing that they have passed a bar of quality, and will be provided with these services. They prey on people who think they're getting a real publisher, not primarily those interested in self publishing.

  51. I am ecstatic about this news. I will certainly be contacting the law firm handling this. I put my blood, sweat and tears, into my hard work and trusted this "Fake publisher" only to receive no promotion (or royalties) whatsoever!!!!

  52. Why are people even using a service like this? how hard is it to create and upload a word doc to a site like amazon, smashwords, Barnes&noble and others? How hard is it to create a rudimentary cover?
    It's true that promoting is the hard work. But that's not impossible with the advent of facebook, blogs, twitter and other social media.

  53. And now this is another hit against the vanity presses that rely on scamming authors. Hopefully, the ending to this story will be happy.

  54. Thanks for the letting us know! *crosses fingers* I'd love to see PA and their predatory practices finally get what's coming to them.

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