Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ghostwriters Attack Self-Published Authors

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.


  1. Amen! to your final statement.I agree, there's a lot of not so great stuff out there. Sometimes it's because the author doesn't know any better and their subsidy publisher didn't do much besides take their money. Other times, as you mentioned, the author has put it together for a particular audience and it's good enough for them. And the problem is what?My current project is aimed at helping authors understand the various publishing options. I've already made note about being prepared to deal with "publishing snobs" if an author choose anything but traditional.Comments like those of the Penn Group are awful. Do they think the only way to handle competitors it is to badmouth and degrade? Guess that means the rest of us dumpster divers are doing pretty well then huh?It never ceases to amaze me that some within the industry still need to get with the fact that it's 2008 and that publishing is no longer one size fits all.Keep up the good work.Cheryl

  2. Lynn,Excellent post! I have my own take on the Penn Group's blog posted on my blog:

  3. I guess we should look at the "Ghost Writers" themselves. Are they not good enough to write a novel and put their name on it? Or to at least have their name share the cover of a celebrity book? Why are they only relegated to helping someone else share their story?If we are the "Dumpster Diver" group because we chose to continue to publish our work, instead of waiting forever to be published by a big named publisher, then what does that say about them? Are they simply happy just to get the "check" and never be acknowledged for what they do? And why do they feel the need to criticise others? Do they think it makes them look better, or just mean and petty?My feeling is: everyone writes and publishes how they feel they need to. There are writers who will never consider self-publishing or subsidy-publishing or even a small press because it is taboo. There are those that choose to help others write their story, and that is fine too. And then there are those that feel they got their big break with a big name publisher by waiting and "doing the right thing" making them legitimate authors.Why does there have to be a right way and a wrong way to publish? And why does a community of writers, who should be supporting each other to do their best trash each other? It makes absolutely no sense to me.