An author in my writer's group recommended that I submit my book to PublishBritannica (PB), saying he had heard good reports about this publisher. Actually, PublishBritannica is only a trading name for PublishAmerica (PA), one of the worst scams in the publishing industry.
I found the PB website, which said, The company is headquartered in Milton Keynes, midway between Birmingham and London. (According to my contract, PB has its residence in Milton Keynes. But I later discovered that it has no office at all in the UK, and is not even listed with Companies House. The ISBN numbers on its books are US numbers. Royalty cheques are paid in US dollars. All business is carried out by PB's parent, PublishAmerica.)
I was ever so thrilled to read, on the PB website, "For too long, 'establishment' publishers have ignored the potential and the quality of many writers who, therefore, never got an opportunity to share their work with an audience The company is opposed to charging any author fees, ever. Its founders decided that a well-written book is worth publication if the author can convince them that there are at least the seeds of a market out there, and that the author's talent holds a promise for the future.
I took this to mean that, albeit better inclined towards unpublished authors than the average publisher, PB was selective in accepting books for publication. (I have since discovered that PublishAmerica will publish virtually any book submitted. A few authors proved this point by submitting Atlanta Nights, a purposely illegible book, for publication and it was accepted! In fact, having a book published by PA/PB ends up being a stain on one's credibility as an author.)
I had been warned against publishers who require payment or those who want the copyright of a book, and PB did neither. According to the PB website, PublishBritannica publishes books in the best tradition of old-fashioned quality publishing.
So I submitted my manuscript and, to my great joy, I soon received an email saying, I am happy to inform you that PublishBritannica has decided to give [your book] the chance it deserves. I signed my contract in March 2004.
I expected to meet my editor in Milton Keynes, and even calculated how long it would take to drive there. So I was a bit surprised when the editing turned out to be a very impersonal affair, involving a couple of emails and a few grammatical corrections (some were actually mistakes which I had to re-correct).
Yet I was so ecstatic when I received my first two author copies in September 2004! I ran from the post office straight to my local bookshop, asking if I could arrange a book signing. The manager took one look at the cover (he didn't even open it) and said: "Sorry, we don't stock this kind of book." Wow, was that a cold shower! (I later discovered that PublishAmerica follows the publish-on-demand, or POD technique, also used by vanity publishers. Bookshops refuse to stock PA/PB titles because they are PODs.)
Together with the two author copies, I also received a letter from PA offering a one-off 50% discount (valid for two weeks) on purchases of 50 or more copies. I bought 100 books, spending over US$1,000.
PA also asked me for a list of friends and relatives. I thought they would receive a nice book release card from my publisher. Instead, PA sent everybody an embarrassingly sloppy advertisement. But it was even more embarrassing when I discovered that the retail price of my book was about three times higher than the average market price for similar books.
At first, I thought PB would send a copy of my book to the major bookstores in the UK, since its website says, All books are available through most major bookstores all over the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe as well as in the United States and Canada. Then I learnt from the PB authors' forum that I would need to visit bookshops and talk them into stocking my book.
So I started traipsing through London bookshops. And that's when the penny finally dropped In brief, bookshops refused to stock PublishBritannica titles because they are PODs, because they are grossly overpriced and because they are sold under a non-returns policy.
I expected to have to do some promotional work, such as interviews, book signings, etc. I did not expect that I would have to run around visiting bookshops, begging them to stock my book, only to be told that it's an amateurish vanity-published edition.
So I gave up on any kind of promotion. My book sold 27 copies, according to the royalties which I received in March 2005. I can account for all of those sales from friends and relatives who bought it.
I asked the publisher to terminate my contract, since there would be no further sales. I received a reply offering a new, non-exclusive contract, with more red herrings than the original contract. When I declined this offer, I received an email saying, We will not terminate your contract altogether. Your only two options are exclusivity and non-exclusivity. I have since exchanged a few more emails. The answer is always the same, You already had our final word on this issue. Sadly, I have also completed a sequel to that first book, which is also dead now
As I understand it, commercial publishers will normally cancel a contract if there are too few sales, while vanity publishers (which cost from $300 up-front, but retail titles at far lower prices than PA) will cancel a contract at something like 30 days' notice.
So, if you're an aspiring author, consider this: however enticing PA/PB may seem because it doesn't charge up-front fees, remember that you are tying your book down for seven years even if it doesn't sell a single copy and no other publisher does that.
If you were really desperate, after enough rejection letters, you would be far better off paying an honest vanity publisher at least there is no deception, no false hopes; it actually ends up costing less in the long run, and there is a better chance of selling your book since the retail price is at least 30% lower than PA's. Furthermore, if you did want to re-edit it, or give it to another publisher, you wouldn't have your hands tied for 7 years.