Monday 30 March 2015

The Travesty of Vanity Publishers

By Iola Goulton

It has been suggested that I write a series of posts illustrating some of the common fiction editing issues I see, and suggesting improvements. A good idea, yes, but who is willing to put their name next to deliberately bad writing to see it torn to pieces? Or, worse, is there anyone willing see a piece of writing they thought was good attacked by the editor’s figuraitve red pen?

Never fear. Publish America are here to provide the object lesson—in more ways than one. I’ll start with the red pen next week. For now, I’m simply going to give you some background which reinforces my previous posts on the perils of vanity publishing:
As an aside, Publish America have taken the time-honoured route of improving their reputation. No, they haven’t fired their management and changed their business practices. They’ve rebranded: Publish America are now America Star Books (although searching on America Star Books Scam provides nearly the same level of entertainment as searching on Publish America Scam).

Anyway, to get to the point.

One of the oft-heard refrains of vanity publishers is that they don’t publish everything submitted to them. Terri Blackstock made an astute comment regarding this in a recent blog post:
Their claims that they only publish twenty percent of their submissions (or whatever number they offer) doesn’t disclose the fact that most people walk away when they learn that it will cost them money to publish with them
I think Terri's nailed it. However, that’s getting off topic again.

It is the considered opinion of most people who are against vanity publishing that they publish anything someone is willing to pay for. One group of Science Fiction authors decided to put this to the test.

A group of more than thirty members of the Science Fiction Writers Association (SWFA) collaborated in an effort to write the worst book ever, and get a publishing contract from Publish America. Atlanta Nights by Travis Tea (say that quickly) is the result. Each writer was given a broad chapter outline, and told to write badly. A couple of writers didn't make the deadline, so their chapters were missed out. One chapter (apparently) is repeated. One chapter is written by a computer.

Is Atlanta Nights the worst book ever? No. While Atlanta Nights is bad, I’ve read worse (naming no names, but it was published by one of the “Christian” vanity publishers featured in one of my earlier posts).

But "Travis Tea" did succeed in getting a publishing contract from Publish America …

who promptly rescinded the offer when they found the whole thing was a ploy.


Atlanta Nights also has glowing endorsements and reviews … further proof of the famous Abraham Lincoln quote:

In fairness, no one should read endorsements like these and think they're getting a good book:
"The world is full of bad books written by amateurs. But why settle for the merely regrettable? Atlanta Nights is a bad book written by experts."
— T. Nielsen Hayden
"Prepare to be amazed! ATLANTA NIGHTS shows readers a level of storytelling you rarely see in traditionally published fiction. It is an experience you'll never forget."
— Chuck "20" Rothman
and my personal favourite:
"...this... book... makes... for... wondrous... reading..."
— Derryl Murphy

Anyway, thanks to thirty or more enterprising authors (and one enterprising computer programmer—apparently one chapter was written by a piece of software), we have a Really Bad Novel to use for some show-and-tell editing posts. And no one is going to get offended. The “authors” of Atlanta Nights (to use the term broadly) permit—even encourage—others to use Atlanta Nights as a teaching aide. And so we will.

Please be warned: Atlanta Nights is not Christian fiction, and contains language which may offend some people. Actually, it contains a lot of bad words and words used badly, which should offend anyone who holds the English language dear. Sometimes it even spells those words right.

If you’d like your own electronic copy of Atlanta Nights, it’s available free at Paper copies are available from Amazon and Lulu, should you need an overpriced doorstop (royalties go to the SWFA Emergency Medical Fund).

I'll be back next week with Pain, the first instalment of my editing series.

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on FacebookTwitterPinterest  or Tsu.

I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog. I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon Reviewer Rank that floats around 2000.


  1. Looking forward to reading your series - using Atlanta Nights, sounds like it could be fun.

    The writing of that book sounds fun, I've been giggling reading your description of it, especially the chapter written by computer.

    1. I think there would be a certain freedom in writing if you know the objective is to write badly. It means all criticism is positive - either people say the writing is bad (mission accomplished!) or it's good (and how is that bad?).

  2. LOL - Looking forward to a scintillating series on that awesome book.

    1. It could only be made better (worse) by the addition of Prancercise.

  3. Is it bad that I really want to read Atlanta Nights now? ;-)
    It's a sad fact that money talks, but it doesn't always produce the best. I wonder how on earth writers will survive the coming years, if publishers are resorting to this level. Thank goodness we have the Lord to guide us.
    Looking forward to more Atlanta Nights.

    1. I think there's a level of reassurance in reading Atlanta Nights. No matter how much you worry that your writing might be bad, Travis Tea is worse.

  4. What a creative way to show up a vanity press's false claims. I love the promos - very witty - and look forward to your series on editing, Iola.

    1. You'll never read endorsements the same way again, will you?

  5. Wow, Travis Tea sounds like an author to watch out for :) I've got to admit, I'm curious about Atlanta Nights now too.

    1. There are also Travis's illustrious relatives: mother Senilla Tea, aunt Vanna Tea, and imaginary friend Insanna Tea. Although I don't think any of them are published authors ...

  6. I smiled the whole way through your post. Don't forget Uncle Nars Tea :)

    1. You're right. How could I forget dear old uncle?

    2. And doesn't he also have a cousin, Stu Pidda-Tea?
      Good family.

  7. Iola, great post! I wonder if Atlanta Nights has inspired the vanity presses to actually read their submissions before offering contracts, just in case there are copy cats looking to emulate the success of Travis Tea :) I'm looking forward to reading your editing posts.

  8. Had a shudder. Had a laugh. Thanks, Iola, and all of you for the comments. Looking forward to the next post.

  9. I warn you: it can only be read in small doses. Or skimmed. :)


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