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Michelle,

I thought you (and others) might be interested in this Letter to the Editor I recently sent off (and yes, they printed it):

Monday, March 30

To the editor:

I am the author of a recent book on religion, spirituality, and American culture. Yesterday I learned that The Berkshire Eagle is unwilling to consider a review of my work because it is self-published. Needless to say, I am offended — and other artists, writers and readers ought to be offended — by this sort of archaic and superficial bias. Times have changed, technology has changed, and the marketplace has changed. A great many books are now being self-published.

Are there poor ones among them? Absolutely. But there are also gems. And the only appropriate way to determine a book's value is to read it, not to look at the publisher's name and jump to unfounded conclusions.

Earlier this month, the president of the American Society of Journalists & Authors, Russell Wild, wrote the following in a letter to the society's membership (you can read the complete letter on their Web site, www.asja.org: "(T)he publishing world has changed. It will continue to change. Today, the self-published work is no longer the avenue of desperation-for-ink that it once was. Rather, self-publishing has become a means by which some very professional writers, including a good number of ASJA members, are voluntarily choosing to market their considerable talent." (I, for one, had my first book published by a traditional publisher several years ago. They took forever, did no promotion at all, and paid a negligible royalty. This time, I chose to publish on my own).

Wild acknowledges that some self-published work "is clearly not worthy of the paper it is printed on," and the society is certainly not interested in endorsing second-rate work: neither am I, and neither should The Eagle.

But it is worth recalling that Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" had to be self-published, whereas, if any silly celebrity were to announce the intention of jotting down a trashy memoir, you can bet that traditional publishers would be lined up and salivating for the right to publish it.

In light of the ASJA position, and because it is just common sense and common courtesy, I hope The Eagle will reconsider and abandon this inequitable and unwarranted policy. In the meantime, if any readers would like to find out more about my books for themselves, you can certainly log on to Amazon or my Web site. A reviewer who did bother to read my work recently wrote, "This learned and inspirational book rescues philosophy from the mathematicians, sex from the hedonists, religion from empty sanctimony, and science from barren materialism. A must read for all of us who seek a guidebook for meaningful life in the new millennium."

ANDREW CORT
Tyringham

 

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Given the following sentence in the article, I can see why The Berkshire Eagle would refuse to review self-published work: "About 5,000 new titles are added each week." That's the number of new self-published books Lulu puts on its web site every week.

How are newspapers to decide which of the 5,000 new titles is worthy of reading and reviewing? Even if the reviewer reads one book every day, that would only be 365 books in a year, compared to the 250,000 books Lulu will put on its site.

I'm sure their policy is put into place so they can focus on the 175,000 books that are published each year.
 

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boydm said:
Given the following sentence in the article, I can see why The Berkshire Eagle would refuse to review self-published work: "About 5,000 new titles are added each week." That's the number of new self-published books Lulu puts on its web site every week.

How are newspapers to decide which of the 5,000 new titles is worthy of reading and reviewing? Even if the reviewer reads one book every day, that would only be 365 books in a year, compared to the 250,000 books Lulu will put on its site.

I'm sure their policy is put into place so they can focus on the 175,000 books that are published each year.
As more and more newspapers go down the tubes, their reviews are probably not going to make much difference in a book's success or failure.

In Andrew's case, because he is a local author, you'd think that might be a factor that would interest the newspaper editors. Obviously not.

L
 

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There's certainly something to what you're saying. With only traditionally published books, there has to be some criteria for deciding which ones a publication can review. But the criteria should be reasonable and fair, no categorically biased. This is a fairly small, local paper. I'm a local resident, living and working in their community. I was not asking them to review 5000 books a day. I would not expect a small paper in Indiana to review mine. In this case, a reporter of local life and events was interested in reviewing my book because she found it worthwhile (which is an appropriate criterion) when the 'policy' forced her to contact me and say she couldn't do so.

And what does it mean when you say "the 175,000 books that are published each year"? My book is published. There's no worthwhile reason to place it in a line behind a lot of junk that traditional publishers foist on the public.
 

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andc39 said:
And what does it mean when you say "the 175,000 books that are published each year"? My book is published. There's no worthwhile reason to place it in a line behind a lot of junk that traditional publishers foist on the public.
Very, very good point. Thanks, Andrew.

L
 

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Not all traditionally published books are good and not all self-published books are bad, but it has to be acknowledged that there is a better chance with the former of a well-edited and interesting story. I'm sorry, it's true. Traditionally published, in this case, means any publisher that has an actual approval process, pays the writer instead of is paid by the writer, and has the saints known as editors. That means that e-pubs can be traditional in those ways. That's why I understand why more priority is given at review time to books that someone other than the author deemed to be print-worthy.

Delusional artists are not confined to the American Idol stage.  :)

 

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I agree with you. As long as it's not a black-and-white criteria. There's a lot of junk being self-published because no good editor would deal with it for very good reason -- "not worth the paper its printed on", as Wild notes. But as he also notes, that's not the whole story. A lot of junk is printed by publishers who should know better, but are only interested in what a suggestible public is willing to waste their money on -- this has nothing to do with editorial merit. (I wonder how Shakespeare or the authors of the Bible would fare in today's carnival of marketing. "Too heavy", "too many big words", "too long".). I had an agent tell me, with wonderful honesty, that he didn't want to represent my book, "Return to Meaning", because it wasn't the sort of thing that customers buy when in line at the supermarket. "Frankly", he said, "I'm the kind of guy who prefers coke to champagne". Well, my book is champagne, so I published it myself (and a look at the reviews it has so far garnered is a good indication that some other people agree. And no, none of those folks are relatives of mine).
 

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andc39 said:
And what does it mean when you say "the 175,000 books that are published each year"? My book is published. There's no worthwhile reason to place it in a line behind a lot of junk that traditional publishers foist on the public.
Good points, Michelle.

To put it another way, published books have gone through an independent review process already. An agent, an editor, and an editorial review board have all said that this book is worthy of your time as a reader. That doesn't mean the book is good or that I will like it, but someone at least thinks I will. With self-published books, you don't have an independent authority--one without a personal stake in the author's success--saying that the book is worthwhile, so essentially the reviewer is the first independent judge of the book. If the reviewer were to open up to all self-published books, how is the reviewer to know what is worth his time to look at?

And remember, one man's junk is another man's gold. Lots of people hated The Davinci Code, but it still went on to sell 70 million copies.
 

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I think one problem is that many people -- readers, reviewers and others -- think small, independent publishers are the same thing as self-published or vanity publishers -- and they are not. Over the past year -- really, since I've gotten my Kindle -- I would say that 80% of what I have read have come from small publishers, many who only publish in ebook format (or do ebooks until sales demonstrate that the book would do well in print). I have discovered some terrific authors and try to get the word out about them because small pubs don't have the sales and marketing departments of the "big houses." Even the "big houses" don't put significant marketing dollars towards many of their authors. In fact, I have known authors who have been "discovered" by the a major publisher and found out -- to their regret -- that they were treated better and their books promoted more widely by their original, small publisher.

 

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I thought Andrew's letter was excellent, but as has already been mentioned, with so many books published only a tiny fraction can be reviewed. That's why places like Kindleboards are terrific. I'm not that interested in going to my local Chapters to buy the latest well-known writers' book. I want something new and different. POD publishing offers me a much wider reading selection than what the conglomerates and big-name reviewers think I should read. And for me, that's really important.

Debra




 

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I am one of a team of reviewers (including two other authors who are KB members) who review for PODBRAM. Our goal is to do what we can to identify deserving indie books. While we can barely make a dent in the landslide of titles, we have turned up quite a number of worthwhile books of many different types. Our reviews are unpaid. Authors and readers should beware of sites which do reviews for money. Their game is often rigged, and always suspect.

We still have a way to go to elevate deserving POD titles to full respectibility. My first book, Distant Cousin, is set in west Texas, yet the little cowtown newspaper out there (mentioned in the book--one of the main characters worked there as a reporter) refused to have anything to do with it. The reviewer for Texas Monthly, the "national magazine of Texas," has never reviewed a POD book, though I keep after their book man to reconsider. Since mine is pure fiction without any historical template to add interest, I might understand that, but Celia Hayes' trilogy about the German settlement of central Texas is completely deserving, and well received in the very area where it's set. (I have recommended the Adelsverein trilogy in another thread.) The point is, they are chumps for ignoring her books.

Still in all, I agree with andc39. I don't see the advantage of a contract with a member of the traditional literary-industrial complex. Money is their be-all, but there's more to books than that.
 

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BrassMan said:
I am one of a team of reviewers (including two other authors who are KB members) who review for PODBRAM.
What is PODRAM? I'd love a link. Sounds very interesting.
 

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Please allow me a moment to describe PODBRAM to all the Kindle fans. The acronym stands for Print On Demand Book Reviews And More and I am the founder and editor of the site. I am also the author of four books available in both POD and Kindle formats. The name PODBRAM was derived from the site's obvious goal of exposing some of the POD industry's better products, while comparing them side by side with selected traditionally published works. Books are books at PODBRAM, and they are either well-edited and proofread or we shall tell you so. Although our reviews are also posted at Amazon, acceptance for review at PODBRAM should be considered an honor. We work diligently to weed out the drivel so you don't have to do it with your time and money. Kindle availability and price are now routinely added to our reviews at PODBRAM.

PODBRAM was founded in July 2006 and now we have nine team members, all of whom are POD authors themselves. Dr. Al Past and Dianne Salerni are two team members who are also participants here at the Kindle Boards. Dr. Past has already written a very comprehensive article about the Kindle for PODBRAM, and I have been doing research for an upcoming article to be released soon. Al has really gotten me personally interested in the Kindle and its likely very bright future for self-published authors. According to my research so far, only about 5-10% of all the thousands of POD books are currently available on the Kindle, but surely that figure will soon begin to grow. Unfortunately, we shall still need sites such as PODBRAM to help us as readers avoid the many duds that have been published while the proofreaders were out to lunch.

I have a keen interest in learning more about the formatting necessary to make a book appear as the author has intended in the Kindle format. For an HTML-challenged author like me, this presents quite an obstacle. My own books, in particular, are complex in nature, so the formatting of simple paragraphs of text still leaves many questions unanswered for me. I would guess that there are a lot more self-published authors out there who would also like to learn more about the conversion process. This at least partially explains my personal interest and the need for my research.

Other PODBRAM reviewers who have released their books in the Kindle format are: Celia Hayes, Lloyd Lofthouse, Juliet Waldron, and Jack Dixon. I encourage all Kindle Board members to come pay us a visit anytime, and be sure to at least look up our books on the Kindle pages at Amazon. Thank you. Floyd M. Orr, Editor-in-Chief-Curmudgeon at PODBRAM.
 

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I've done some posts on my site about self publishing (for anyone who may be interested, here's a link to that thread), and all of it pretty well lines up with what's been said by the various folks here.

I'm sympathetic to reviewers who don't want to look at self-published (SP) books, because the vast majority of them - tragically - are terrible for one or more reasons, starting with basic proofreading and editing, and moving on from there. So many authors don't understand that writing the story - be it fiction or non - is just the start. You can have a great story, but the book as a product is still garbage if it doesn't look professional. That's what readers (particularly reviewers) expect, and part of presenting them with a quality product says that the writer cares enough about his or her work to polish it.

As Al and I discussed off-line sometime earlier, that's a tough process and takes a lot of time, and most SP authors don't want to deal with it. But the downstream impact is that reviewers don't want to deal with it, either, and those of us who do spend the time and energy to try and refine our work to reach mainstream standards have to somehow work beyond that.

Kilgore and Al at PODBRAM are certainly doing SP authors and readers a great service by pointing out some of the good (and great) books coming out. And, of course, KindleBoards itself has been an awesome venue for a lot of authors!! There are also lots of bloggers and other sites out there that can help out with their own reviews and so on.

While all that certainly helps, the real trick, I think, is to reach the mainstream reviewers and critics, the people who have thousands and tens of thousands of readers/followers. But how do we take good/great SP book and shove it through the "no self-published" barriers that these people have built up around them, when - as was mentioned here - even many local papers and magazines won't even look at something produced by an SP author who lives in their town?

One of the things I was thinking of was to have some sort of review panel or some such for SP authors to submit to, sort of like an Underwriters Laboratory for SP books, that would give some sort of quality seal (for lack of better term) to those that meet "mainstream standards" (we'll pretend for now that there wouldn't be a lot of squabbling over what the standards were - LOL!). Then if we could just get a single "big" reviewer on board to consider books bearing that seal, we might be able to reach a tipping point for those authors who have the talent and professionalism to write not only great stories, but produce great products. Yes, there would still be tons of competition in the numbers game, simply because there are so many books coming out every year, but that would help level the playing field a bit.

There are lots of issues with that sort of thing, and for all I know it's already been tried a bazillion times. But I just feel like we ought to be able to do something that'll get at least some of the really good SP authors and books out in the light of mass public readership alongside the mainstream stuff. And it's not necessarily just for the author's benefit (although come on, let's be honest: there aren't many of us who write who wouldn't mind having enough income from it to support ourselves!), but for the readers: a lot of the gems you can find in the SP world wouldn't be considered by a lot of the major houses because it's not the flavor du jour...
 

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Kreelanwarrior, I did not realize until a moment ago that you were the author of In Her Name. I think our mutual friend Al may have been referring to me when he mentioned in his review a person who liked his movies tightly edited, but he bought his books by the pound! I have bookmarked your website so I can read more when I get time. Yes, Leslie, I had already made a note of Joshua's book. I plan to get to that issue eventually. My problem is that I always spread myself too thinly. I run two other blogs, in addition to PODBRAM, and sometimes I try to squeeze in a life outside my computer, too!
 
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