You used to see these little notices popping up in newspapers all the time. If you were an unpublished author, how bounteous the publishing world suddenly looked. All you had to do was retrieve your tear-stained sheets of poetry, the dust-gathered pages of your military memoir, or the collection of fairy stories in green ink, and pop them in the post. Within a few months, surely, that Nobel Prize for Literature would be yours.
If you were lucky, yes, you would get a book at the end of the process. It would be one you had paid for yourself, of course, which is why these publishers were known as “vanity publishers”. The book would be printed, copies sent to you and that would usually be the end of the matter. Critical reception would be muted as the publishers often didn’t send the book to reviewers — who wouldn’t review it anyway — and certainly rarely made much of an attempt to shift any copies. The publishers’ prime financial stake in the business was over the minute you paid them your cash: that was the transaction in which they were most interested.
If you were unlucky, you wouldn’t even get a book. This company, Avon Books (NOT in any way linked to Harper Collins but a UK trading name of Valeforce Associates) went into liquidation; the company, according to Companies House, was dissolved in 2002. Can’t have helped that they took money from would-be authors and never actually came up with the goods. Four authors joined forces, took them to court, and Valeforce were ordered to pay the money back.
You’ve got to wonder, though. How could a potential author have much faith in a publishing house that can’t even get the typesetting for the apostrophe correct in its own advertisement?
Another thing to wonder about: All those authors who answered these siren calls in print, what happened to them? Where did they all go?