Travis Tea Speaks!

by Jimmy Akin

in About Writing

Guestblogger Travis Tea (alias Mary Catelli) writes:

Once upon a time there were — and there still are — some writers who helped new writers against scam tricks in the publishing industry.

You can read about them: at Writer Beware or at Preditors & Editors

The writers involved were SF and fantasy writers, and one publisher that was warned against was PublishAmerica, which described itself as a traditional publisher but had such untraditional practices as a one-dollar advance, and requiring you register your own copyright (leaving you $29 in the hole, because it costs $30.)

Apparently it hurt.  Or so we deduce from the comments here:

"As a rule of thumb, the quality bar for sci-fi and fantasy is a lot lower than for all other fiction."  So they warn to run away away from SF or fantasy writers, who are obviously without a clue.

And indeed, this particular screed seemed to point quite clearly:

Some SF and fantasy writers were discussing this posting online.  During the course of which, someone proposed that we should try to get published by PublishAmerica.

James Macdonald took this and ran with it.  He drew up an outline, asked for volunteers, and send out the chapter descriptions.  Indeed, one he sent out twice, to two different writers. 

I asked for, and got, one of them.  And so I sat down to channel my inner clueless newbie.  I went on for two paragraphs on describing the setting, neglecting any research, and ignoring what I already knew, down to forgetting that polo is played on polo ponies.  And I expanded those paragraphs for a page each — carefully ensuring the opening sentences of the first paragraph contradicted its last sentence.  And then I told, in a flat-footed style, the story he laid out for me.  I made up for the opening by chopping parts up into itsy-bitsy paragraphs, one sentence, or one word.  I introduced one character by cutting and pasting the description from the two paragraphs I had been sent.  I larded their conversations with said-bookisms — far-fetched substitutes for the word "said."  When it was coming in under the length he asked for, I reached for those handy chocolate, fattening parts of speech:  adverbs and adjectives.  Whenever my fingers slipped, I trusted the Microsoft spell checker, which hates all writers and tries to make you look like an idiot; if it could correctly work out the word, I twisted the misspelling until it suggested something else.  Most work of all, in one paragraph I switched tenses every sentence.  That I had gotten used to doing on autopilot.

And then I sent it off.

Meanwhile, other writers were also channeling their inner newbies.  James MacDonald collected them all, put them in the order received, left one chapter out when the writer was unable to make it, fed several into a text generator to produce another chapter. . . . my little efforts at inconsistency are but the smallest part.  People change race.  They die in one chapter and return in the next without a comment.  They wake up and it was all a dream — AND THE STORY GOES ON.

Online, the chatter went on, but when MacDonald said he would tell us the title it would go in under, I posted "NO!"  It was a private location, but never post anything to a private discussion that you don’t want to see on the front page of a New York Times — and once I posted it, the chorus arose.

The rest of the operation was carried out as Top Secret. 

Therefore the next I heard was of our happy acceptance.  They had, of course, had the contract vetted by a lawyer and though it would have been fun to carry the hoax all the way — have it published — the lawyer didn’t think it wise.  So the news was announced:

From here you can see the acceptance letter and the contract:

Alas, a month after PublishAmerica accepted it, the day after the news was publicized, they read it.  "Upon further review it appears that your work is not ready to be published."

Fortunately, we were able to find a new publisher:, where we were not fed the same line as at PublishAmerica.

Also, you can download the electronic version for free from the "sting" link.

The story as told by James MacDonald:

The website in question has a great deal more information.  Read the blurbs:

And then compare to the list of known authors:

If you liked this post, you should join Jimmy's Secret Information Club to get more great info!

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Tom August 29, 2005 at 9:37 am

I can second your choice of (and no, I’m not affiliated with them in any way). An apologetics project I’m a contributor to ( uses them and we’ve found it perfectly suited to our needs. IMO they produce a very profession product. As to the content, well that’s up to us (writers).

Tammy August 29, 2005 at 4:33 pm

I’ve heard this story several times and it still makes me laugh :)

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