Atlanta NightsAtlanta Nights, “a hoax book” intended to be “the worst novel ever written,” survived the so-called editorial selection process at PublishAmerica.

Sci-fi author James D Macdonald merrily conspired with other pros on this “random collection of words.”

PublishAmerica, the Maryland-based target of the hoax, is a vanity press, a print-on-demand operation. Legitimate POD services exist. But PubishAmerica’s main business model, as Macdonald noted last month in a funny audio interview on IT Conversations, is to con authors into buying their own books. The day after Macdonald and friends publicly revealed their mischief, PublishAmerica withdrew the offer of publication. But via the reputable Lulu publishing service, they still managed to print their well-wrought botch and make Amazon in 2004—complete with this description:

“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’s Atlanta Nights is a book that could only have been produced by an author well-versed in believable storylines, set in conditions that exist today, with believable every-day characters. Accepted by a Traditional Publisher, it is certain to resonate with an audience. It fits their specialty like a glove. All proceeds from this book go to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Emergency Medical Fund [link added].”

The bottom line on self-publishing

Here’s the bottom line. Self-publish if your expectations are realistic—if, say, you’re a professor who wants to reproduce a public domain classic or a textbook with a super-limited audience. Yes, it makes sense to do a book that you know will be of interest only to family and friends or business associates or maybe customers. But don’t use a vanity press of the PublishAmerica variety.

A better solution would be a no-frills publishing service like Lulu—or, in the near future, an OpenReader e-book that you can format online for free using a Drupal plug-in. OSoft has an experimental service on its dotReader site, and also offers an opportunity. Neither site creates OpenReader format, but the goal in both cases is for it to be available in the future. Significantly, the dotReader offers a chance for discussions to happen within e-books via annotations—a great capability if you’re targeting people who already know you. Reminder: I’m a cofounder of the OpenReader Consortium, and dotReader is our first implementer.

Finding a real publisher

If you’ve written an e- or p-book in hopes of finding a genuine publisher, contact a group such as SFWA or Romance Writers or America to get the full lowdown. Or go for an agent belong to the Association of Authors Representatives. And even then, be wary. Also see Wikipedia‘s page on literary agents.

Related: The Naked Came the Stranger romp, as fondly recalled in Wikipedia, and a Q&A with New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus, in which he explains why the Times does not review self-published or print-on-demand books. By the way, newbies curious about the “Long Tail” can go here.

(Time stamp changed.)


  1. I just read the old The Saint story by Leslie Charteris, “Smashing Another Racket.” It’s a story about how The Saint punishes an unscrupulous publisher/printer by tricking him into printing a libelous book and then threatening to sue him unless he pays…

  2. I am, sadly, a PublishAmerica author. I make the mistake of having them do my novel as an ebook. They priced it at $24.95, which I protested. They refuse to change the price unless I pay them hundreds of dollars and give up part of my author discount on my hard copy books. Do I have an legal recourse against them? Has anyone successfully won a lawsuit against PublishAmerica? Is there any organization for publishers (like the AMA for doctors) that can censure publishing companies for unethical behavior?

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