Taking Famous Names in Vain

Writer BewarePosted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

PublishAmerica. As many of you are aware, this author mill is known for its efforts to persuade its authors to buy their own books, in part via a rotating series of “special offers.” If only authors will order X number of books, a copy or copies of the book will be sent FREE to celebrities (Tom Hanks, Oprah), publishers/producers (DreamWorks, Random House), bookstores (Borders), and other coveted sources of exposure (Starbucks, the New York Times Book Review). (For an ongoing discussion of these and other offers, see this thread at Absolute Write.)

A brand-new PA offer has a twist: no book purchase necessary. Just a $49 fee (or $69 for the multi-book option). And who’s the lucky celebrity? None other than world-famous author and digital pioneer J.K. Rowling.

We will bring your book to the attention of Harry Potter’s author next week while our delegation is in her hometown, and ask her to read it and to tell us and you what she thinks. Tell her what you think: in the Ordering Instructions box write your own note for JK Rowling, max. 50-100 words. We will include your note in our presentation for her!

Word of this new “offer” quickly got out, prompting a discussion at Absolute Write and its very own Twitter hashtag. Now it seems that Rowling’s management team has taken notice.

But it appears that there’s even more to the story. According to an article in this morning’s edition of The Bookseller,

The Edinburgh International Book Festival has said it has no relationship with print-on-demand publisher Publish America, after the US firm sent letters to its mailing list of authors promising their books will be presented to “the festival”…

The EIBF was first made aware of the letters being sent out on 23rd July, when one of the recipients passed it on to the organisers. The letter said: “Your book. In Scotland. Next month. Edinburgh is famous for its annual August downtown book festival where it is all about authors, writing contests, literary Nobel prize winners, and the general Scottish audience who come to see who and what is new in the English language. Big publishers are everywhere. Newspaper reporters are everywhere. The famous Guardian newspaper is a top sponsor. PublishAmerica is at the festival, promoting our best authors”.

The letter then offered its authors a choice of three options for them to buy space in a catalogue “that we will present to the festival”. It is understood PublishAmerica sent out a number of different variants of this letter, offering access to Random House and the London Review of Books, among others.

The Bookseller reports that the EIBF issued a statement in July to PublishAmerica authors denying the existence of a relationship between the EIBF and PublishAmerica, and accusing PA of “falsely portray[ing] the nature of the festival and the likelihood that the purchase and inclusion in the ‘Scotland’ catalogue will result in attention from the Festival and/or publishers” (the statement was also sent to Pen America and the Society of American Authors and Writers*).

The EIBF also served a cease and desist notice on PA,

which the publisher responded to by denying their letters implied anything would result from inclusion in their catalogues. The PA letter said: “Furthermore, none of these things imply any results from inclusion in the catalog. Thus, your characterization of PA’s advertisement is unsubstantiated; PA is simply not promising any level of attention by EIBF.”

In other words: Don’t take that tone with us.

Will there be a C&D from Rowling also? Stay tuned.


* I’m not familiar with a writers’ organization by this name. I wonder if what’s meant is the American Society of Authors and Writers (AmSAW). If so, the EIBF wasted a statement, because despite its claims to be “the number-one society of media professionals in the world,” this is not a recognized professional writers’ group.

EDITED TO ADD: Rowling has responded through a spokesman. “Rowling spokesman Mark Hutchinson said Tuesday that the claim was ‘completely false’ and promised ‘appropriate action.'”