Thursday, March 05, 2020

Giving Self-Publishing a Bad Name

If you live in or near Maryland, you'll have heard about the scandal and criminal charges surrounding Baltimore ex-mayor Catherine Pugh's self-published series, "Healthy Holly." The books are intended to teach children about health issues such as nutrition, exercise, etc. Pugh sold $500,000 worth of them to the University of Maryland Medical System while serving on its board. She has also been accused of pre-selling books that were ultimately never printed and of sometimes selling the same hypothetical copies more than once to different customers, then not fulfilling the orders. UMMS donated its share of the books to the Baltimore City school system, which has stated that it didn't use any of them in the curriculum. Most of those copies have been warehoused rather than given to children. (In addition to the publishing-related charges, Pugh has also been convicted of fraud and tax evasion.)

Here's a timeline of the major events in the developing case, with a photo of a few of the book covers:

Healthy Holly Book Scandal

The books have been described as "clumsily" and "sloppily" written and produced. They're said to "contain grammatical and spelling errors, such as a main character’s name being spelled two different ways and the word 'vegetable' appearing as 'vegetale'." It strikes me as sad that many people may get their sole impression of self-publishing from this case.

This article goes into more detail about the series and what was done with the copies:

Just How Many "Healthy Holly" Books?

Only two of the books are listed on Amazon, as far as I could see, and neither has a "look inside" feature, so I couldn't evaluate the quality of the writing. Secondhand copies are priced at absurd levels, up to five figures. The reviews of the single book that has any (HEALTHY HOLLY: EXERCISING IS FUN) discuss the author's illegal actions, not the texts of the stories themselves. They all rate it one star except for a two-sentence five-star review, which I think is pretty funny: "I bought 50 of these and finally my rooftop deck permit got approved. 10/10 would buy again."

I'm willing to believe Pugh originally wrote and published the series with good intentions. Yet apparently the temptation of leveraging her political career to promote and sell her work overwhelmed her. Note to self: "Never use official connections to pressure readers into buying books"—not that most of us are ever likely to face such a temptation on that scale.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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