A couple of weeks ago The Penn Group posted a blog trashing books they call self-published. It began with the statement, “Self-publishing companies are the dumpster-divers of the book world.” Of course the bloggers incorrectly used the term self-publishing when they actually meant subsidy-publishing, but either way their allegations are cruel and unfair.
They asked rhetorically, “So, what makes a book so bad that its author has to resort to self-publication?” Then they selected four books that they said answer that question. In other words, they see these four as true dumpster-diver books that exemplify all that’s wrong with self-publishing. They even went so far as to put up cover images and titles for the books—so as, we assume, to publicly shame the authors of these books.
So who is The Penn Group, I wondered, and why are they qualified to make these judgments? I Googled them and to my surprise found this self-description on their website: “The Penn Group is the largest and most successful ghostwriting firm in the country. Our work can be seen in bookstores, libraries, and homes all around the world.” Really? They’re ghostwriters and they’re criticizing self-published writers?
Here’s some of what they say they can do for you: “If you have a truly original story or idea and wish to transform it into a novel, nonfiction book, or screenplay, then you have already taken the first step towards success. The Penn Group's ghostwriter service has a proven record of transforming ideas into published, critically acclaimed works. Our clients are celebrities, top businesspeople, and other exceptional individuals.”
So hiring someone else to write your book and then putting your name on it is better than writing and publishing it yourself?
They charge $18,000 to $26,000 to write a full-length novel for you.
This holier-than-thou group of professional writers also has a college-preparation arm that “matches applicants up with writing specialists who guide them through every facet of the essay writing process, from brainstorming to final editing,” and also will “prepare all of your applications with an eye towards communicating what the admissions committee wants to hear.” As someone who has spent most of my life in academia, let me say that this makes a mockery of the college admissions process.
So what about the four horrible books they gave as examples of books so bad that their authors had to resort to self-publication? I was able to find three of them on Amazon. Two of those were published by AuthorHouse and the other by Trafford. I was able to look inside all three using Amazon’s search-inside-the-book feature.
One of the books had no customer reviews and was in need of serious editing. But the other two, while they would appeal only to very specific audiences, looked to be reasonably well-written and edited. One was a very academic analysis of Miami Vice, written by someone with degrees in Art History and Radio and TV Arts, as well as post-graduate degrees in American Culture and Communication. That book had 14 customer reviews, with an average rating of 4.5 stars. The other book was a personal story dealing with issues of sexual identity between two gay men. It had 21 customer reviews, with an average rating of 4.5 stars.
Maybe all the ratings were written by friends of the authors, and maybe the two books aren’t very good. I can’t say because I haven’t read them. But I think I’ve seen enough to be able to say they aren’t dumpster-diver quality.
What kind of society do we live in, where it is acceptable to pay someone $20,000 to write your book for you, but it’s not acceptable to pay someone to publish a book you wrote yourself? Is everything all about image? Should all books be molded to fit the standard-issue mainstream publisher criteria?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—it’s wrong to tar all subsidy-published or self-published books with the same brush. Books should be judged by their merits, not by their publisher.