Friday, August 10, 2007

Victoria Strauss -- American Author Contest

Make way, Gather.com and your "people's choice" style novel contests--here comes the American Author Contest. Claims the contest's website: "In the spirit of "American Idol™" a contest has been designed for authors to submit online up to 2,500 words of their book and let the public and their peers decide whose book is the best, by popular opinion!"

There are four segments to the contest: nonfiction, fiction, children's fiction and nonfiction, and religious fiction and nonfiction. Submission and judging schedules are provided on the website (according to the FAQ page, contestants can vote for their own entries, and should encourage all their friends to vote for them too). The winner of each segment will receive "a beautiful engraved plaque" and the opportunity to have their submission read by an (unnamed) movie company. The Grand Prize Winner will receive a $1,000 advance, plus "a full traditional publishing contract with bookstore placement!"

Let's suppress for a moment the feeling of unease that creeps over us whenever we see the phrase "traditional publishing" (there's no such thing). Let's ignore the red flag that unfurls at the mention of bookstore placement (for a commercial publisher, bookstore placement should go without saying). Let's set aside any concerns about logistics, such as the contest's plans for dealing with vote fraud and the question of how it's possible to judge the "best" book on the basis of a randomly selected 2,500 word excerpt. Let's look at what's really important: who's sponsoring the contest?

Warning bells begin to toll when we note the name of one of the "presenters:" Airleaf Publishing and Book Selling, a vanity publisher that also provides spam-based author "marketing" services (I've blogged about Airleaf a time or two). I don't think I need to elaborate on why this is a problem. Any bets on who will be offering the "traditional" publishing contract?

Also a "presenter:" CineMagic Entertainment, which according to a press release on Airleaf's website has formed a partnership with Airleaf to "develop one or more feature film projects in 2006 and 2007." Unfortunately, since the the links on CineMagic's website go nowhere, this can't be verified. In fact, apart from the website, the Airleaf press release is the only reference to CineMagic (not to be confused with Cinemagic Entertainment of Pompton Plains, New Jersey, a home theater installer) that can be found online. Could the apparently track recordless CineMagic be the unnamed movie production company that will read winners' submissions?

Or maybe the reading will be done by the third "presenter," Lite Stone Entertainment of California. Lite Stone's website links do work, and when you click "Films" you get a nice list of "Lite Stone films currently in production and pre-production." But there's something odd about the list...something very odd indeed...every single title is also the title of a book in Airleaf's Books to Film program ("The Next Great Adventure From Airleaf Publishing!") Apart from this and a YouTube trailer for a book-to-film called "Jessie's Girl," no trace of Lite Stone or its movies can be found.

(I note with amusement the premise of "Jessie's Girl," as given on YouTube: "The illegitimate daughters of the legendary James Gang seek revenge." The author of the book must have listened to Rick Springfield one too many times, because the name of that famous James brother isn't spelled with an "i.")

The fourth and final "presenter" is Mack Bookstore. Its website link leads us to a Coming Soon page, from which we learn that Mack Bookstore is located in Harrison, Ohio. Here's what we find on Airleaf's Author Services page: "All bookselling packages include listing your book on airleaf.com, bookatron.com, and in our catalog. We will also sell your book in our retail stores in Martinsville, Indiana & Harrison, Ohio..." (my bold). Gee. Looks like Mack Bookstore is actually Airleaf Bookstore.

So let's sum up. The American Author Contest is sponsored by: Airleaf. An Airleaf bookstore. A movie company whose only sign of existence, beyond an empty website, is an Airleaf press release. Another movie company whose only properties are Airleaf titles, and which does not appear to have ever actually produced a film.

Kinda puts those prizes in perspective, doesn't it?

For a thousand bucks and a plaque, this one ain't worth it.

11 comments:

Red Pooka said...

Hey,

There are a lot of good small presses that can't promise bookstore placement - or at least not good bookstore placement. Front-of-store placement costs money. Meaning the publisher usually has to pay for it.

Some wonderful little places, like Small Beer Press, Tupelo, Coffee House Press can't afford this. Nor can most university presses.

That said, this does look like a scam.

Best,
Red Pooka

Diana Peterfreund said...

For a more worthwhile American-Idol type writing contest, Romantic Times Magazine and Dorchester Publishing has been sponsoring the American Title for several years now, complete with voting rounds, snarky judges, and a publishing contract for the winner (and occasionally the runners-up as well).

Anonymous said...

I think they mean placement in bookstoresa, which I would also doubt.

C.E. Petit said...

Does the following domain registration for americanauthorcontest.com really surprise anyone?

Registrant:
Airleaf LLC

35 Industrial Drive
Suite 104
Martinsville, Indiana 46151
United States

Registered through: GoDaddy.com, Inc. (http://www.godaddy.com)
Domain Name: AMERICANAUTHORCONTEST.COM
Created on: 11-May-07
Expires on: 11-May-08
Last Updated on: 13-Jun-07

To give you an idea of just how clueless this is, they didn't even bother to use GoDaddy's reprehensible DomainsByProxy service to hide their identity!

Victoria Strauss said...

There are a lot of good small presses that can't promise bookstore placement - or at least not good bookstore placement.

Yes, I know, and I have tremendous respect for innovative small publishers like Small Beer Press (which, even if they don't have a lot of store placement, have considerable presence and respect within their market niche).

The point I was trying to make was that if a reputable publisher does have regular bookstore presence, it won't make a special point of claiming it, since that's a basic part of the business model. And if it doesn't have bookstore presence, it won't lie and say it does.

freddie said...

Oh crap. I know people in Martinsville. Not to stereotype (I'm a Hoosier myself), but most people in the tiny town of Martinsville are farm people. I hope Airleaf is no one I know!

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

Harrison, Ohio is a tiny rural farm town that I doubt even HAS a bookstore. (I grew up not far from there, and trust me, nobody in the publishing biz is going out of their way to make a stopover in Harrison, Ohio).

Why is it that these scams all seem to be based on the same crummy model, just wearing different clothes? I'm reminded of Dorothy Deering, who operated her scam empire from a tiny town in Kentucky.

Anonymous said...

Intrigued, I checked out the website and read some of the fiction entries. Uh... the sponsors need a screening procedure like the real Idol. Some of the entries were... uh... not quite ready for publication.

But don't let me be the judge, I'm not published. Maybe I'm wrong.

Go read some of the entries and see what you think.

Anonymous said...

Just for info, Mack Bookstore is a small bookstore in Harrison, Ohio. We have been here for seven years and we are not owned by Airleaf, although we do carry some of their titles. Whoever said they grew up not far from here, obviously, has not been here in awhile. Please check facts before posting.

Mack Bookstore
Harrison, Ohio

The Belle in Blue said...

Hey, they stole my idea! I blogged about it back in February. http://joycescarbrough.blogspot.com/2007/02/american-author.html

And I like my format much better. Especially the part about Michael Bublé!

Airleaf Victims Fightback said...

My name is Bonnie Kaye. I am leading a group of authors to stop the predatory publishing practice of Airleaf Publishing. Please see our website at www.AirleafVictims.com if you would like to join this effort. We are making great progress in bringing criminal charges against the criminals.
Bonnie Kaye, M.Ed.
www.AirleafVictims.com