I dropped it this morning when I read this announcement by Publishers Weekly, the premier trade magazine for the publishing industry.
Yes, I know—believe me, I know—that magazines, even trade ones, are hurting for income. I also know that self-publishing and vanity-publishing are making inroads into what was once a tightly closed market. And I cannot say I am opposed to it. Electronic reading devices are slowly, but certainly, finding their way and their fans, and in my view that can only be a good thing. If anything, including format, encourages reading of books it is good.
Here’s what they are going to do: Introduce a quarterly supplement that announces the self-published titles that have been submitted to them within a certain period of time. The authors are going to be charged $149 as a “processing fee.” In return, their listing will include basic information such as author, title, price, ISBN (the unique identifier of each book). In return, PW promises that the “entire PW editorial staff will participate in a review of the titles being considered for review.” They will also include paid ads from companies offering services to self-published authors. What especially appalls me though, are two things. First, in addition to PW editorial staff who—call me cynical—are likely being dragged kicking and screaming into this PW says they will “invite agent friends and distributors” to be part of the process, “to have a look.” You can see their lawyers have been all over this because they add the caveat “no promises,” just “opportunity.”
Opportunity, my ass.
We briefly considered charging for reviews, but in the end preferred to maintain our right to review what we deemed worthy. The processing fee that guarantees a listing and the chance to be reviewed accomplishes what we want: to inform the trade of what is happening in self-publishing and to present a PW selection of what has the most merit.
First, PW is not doing any selecting at all. It is running ads from anyone who sends in a book and $149. True, they are choosing from those books those for which they will provide a review but that leads me to my second point: what if fewer than twenty-five of the books that come in have merit? Do they hold their noses and pick the least worst and review those? Will they force their reviewers to say nice things to balance out any criticism? (One review publication I applied to early on—and then turned down after learning of their rules—actually required this.) How can what they receive be indicative of any self-publishing trends in the industry? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say it is more indicative of what those who can afford the fee are writing? And my final point: who is going to read this supplement? Who will benefit by it?
Not the reading public who will almost never see these books in bookstores. Not trade or university publishers or literary agents who have enough publishable books coming to them that have not lost their literary virginity (AKA first rights). Not the authors who will be out $149 for an ad that very few people will see and even fewer care about. What about those lucky twenty-five? Good for them, but I suspect not so good for their books. Unfortunately, PW is not the first publication to take money from authors that the regular publication disdains. Another trade magazine, Kirkus, did it with their Kirkus Discoveries (KD) program for what they termed “independently published authors.” Their charges were a breathtaking $425 or, for express service, $575. For that you get an “experienced reviewer” who specializes not only in certain fields but has been “segmented” into genre specialties. To their credit, they clearly state that KD is “a caveat emptor service that gives honest, impartial evaluations of the titles we receive.”
Points for honesty.
KD reviews do not end up in Kirkus—they are online only, and the professionals who subscribe to Kirkus don’t see them unless they look specifically for them. Most don’t.
The problem I have with KD and now PW’s supplement is that they are marketing these programs to authors who are seeking publicity to get their books in front of readers and/or trade publishers who will buy rights to publish the books themselves. Many are frantic, even desperate, for good reviews, and their emotional vulnerability can lead them into situations where they can be taken advantage of.
To me, this move by PW is no different from sleazy online sites that run reviews and charge for “expedited” service. The only difference is in the name. PW and Kirkus are known names in the industry; sleaze sites—oh, how I would love to name some of them—are not. But regardless of their name value websites and publications that charge money are not looking out for their readers; they are looking at their bottom line. They are taking money from self-published or vanity-published authors, most of whom have not written “publishable” books but who are desperate for publicity. This makes me gag, PW. You know why? Because once you sell your reputation you can’t take it back.