The PublishAmerica Sting

“Vanity publishing” tends to sucker a lot of wanna-be writers who don’t know any better. A regular publisher will take on the costs of publishing and marketing your book at their own risk, and give you an advance calculated upon their estimate of probable sales. Needless to say, it’s not easy to get a book published in this way: they have to be absolutely convinced of the quality of your work and its potential in the marketplace. Vanity publishers, on the other hand, will pass on the costs of publishing to you, and only offer a royalty as a contractual token (usually $1). Certain of these will pretend to be valid and respectable publishers, claiming that their crack editorial team will carefully adjudicate your book and pass their judgement upon its quality and suitability, but then offer contracts to publish materials that would give a Vogon Captain the shudders. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America conceived of a brilliant sting to shed light upon one such vanity publishing firm and what they would actually consider publishable material. From their page Atlanta Nights – The Worst Book Ever Written:

A collection of SFWA authors (and, ahem, non-authors) concocted to write a very poorly written book. Under “direction” of James D. Macdonald, each author was given minimal information from which to write a chapter (with no idea of the chapter’s location in the book, time of year, background of the characters, what the plot was, etc.), and encouraged to write poorly. It’s a truly awful book, a serious contender for Absolute Worst Book Ever Written. The result was submitted “for review” by PublishAmerica to see if “has what this book publisher is looking for.” It did. 🙂 PublishAmerica offered a contract.

You can read the actual book (disclaimer: may cause spontaneous hemorrhage), the acceptance letter, the contract, and more. See also

A plea for expert help

Version 2.0 of the DIY Planner should be released in early to mid-March, and to that end, I’m looking for a bit of help. There are some templates I’d like to produce, but don’t know enough about the subjects to feel I can do a good job. I can use another planner system’s forms as a basis, but then I’m concerned about infringing upon their copyrights, which –in this sue-happy age– is something I really want to avoid.

  1. A few people have requested “fitness” or “exercise” templates. Not being a fitness buff (well, except for cycling and hiking), I have no idea of the best way to structure such a form. It has to be generic enough to allow for different exercises, reps, time durations, etc., but still allow for ease of use and adequate space (perhaps this one should be sideways?).
  2. Daily Finances and Expense Report. Again, I’m trying to avoid copyrighted “look and feel” issues here. Anyone have any good ideas for these, especially those that can address the limitations of other planners’ forms?
  3. Vehicle Service Record.
  4. Insurance Information.
  5. I’m also looking for reference cards and “cheat sheets”, all non-copyrighted, of course. Weights & Measures, Area Codes, Time Zones, First Aid, Windows Shortcuts, Mac OS X Shortcuts, common bash commands, and anything else that might be very useful to many users. I’m going to resist the urge to do anything too technical or niche here, with the possible exception of bash (because it’s something I –and many people I know– would probably use). I’ll probably put these cards into a separate PDF file within the package.
  6. Anything else you’d like to see?

If you’d like to help, please leave a comment or drop me an email (see my address at the bottom of the menu at the right). A few things to point out, before you do:

  • Let me contact you before you go through any degree of effort. There may be somebody already volunteering to help produce the same material.
  • You must be prepared to hand over any ideas to me, and not claim ownership of them in any form. (This is my “cover my legal ass-ets” disclaimer: I don’t want anybody coming back to me at a later date with a subpoena, alleging that their idea is what made me a millionaire. 😉 ) However, I will be duly noting any volunteers in the credits along with their web page links and/or email addresses, so everybody can recognise your contribution, you can feel good about helping other organisational geeks, and you can even get a little traffic to boot.
  • You must state that any ideas you put forth are not copyrighted by anyone, as far as you can determine within the limits of reason. The finished templates and references will go under the Creative Commons license with the rest of the package, under the same terms and conditions (see the package’s accompanying HTML file for more details). If something is public domain (say, a diagram or a particular chart), I will note it in the credits file, so this shouldn’t pose a problem.
  • If you are either artistically inclined, or are capable with an office or graphical program, please feel free to send mock-ups or layout ideas. If not, just basic text information or ideas would be fine.
  • Keep in mind that any template information, mock-ups or layout ideas you pass along to me should not ressemble or make use of any copyrighted material. I can’t stress this enough. I don’t need a mega-corp hauling my derriere to some expensive U.S. kangaroo court where they’re represented by a $1000/hour lawyer and my spokesperson has all the legal knowledge of a backwoods muskrat (i.e., “me”).

Upon the release of 2.0 in 5.5″x8.5″ form, I will be following it up almost immediately with an A5 version (which is just a bit of a resize, really). It would appear that my volunteers for producing letter-size and A4 are going to be busy till at least April, so I might put out a call for other help next month unless my schedule opens up enough to produce these versions myself within a reasonable timeframe.

I just wanted to offer a big thank-you for all the feedback so far. It’s been invaluable to the production of these templates, and I’ve learned a lot about how others work effectively. Surely, this will help my own productivity in the long run.