Advantage: Point

In tennis, there is a term called “advantage.” This happens when the two players have reached a kind of point stalemate called “deuce,” which requires that one of them win two consecutive points in order to win the game. The player who wins the next point after deuce is said to have the advantage. If that player wins the next point the game is hers. If not, the score returns to deuce. This will repeat itself until one player is able to score two points in a row and take the game.

In publishing, the line between vanity houses and trade houses has until quite recently been firmly anchored. In my opinion, as far as books are concerned, it’s still firm. Most self-published and vanity-published titles are godawful things. The rule of thumb is that somewhere around 95% of all manuscripts submitted to trade publishers are un-publishable. (Unsolicited manuscripts are the stuff of which nightmares are made as anyone who has ever worked with them knows painfully well.) Of that remaining five percent, most of those are rejected for various reasons, leaving a mere one percent or so of all manuscripts in the “pubishable” arena.

But with the technological advances in printing those formerly un-publishable manuscripts are now being printed. I’ve mentioned before that nearly three times the number of “non-traditional” books as “traditional” books are being issued but regardless of their classification they are all looking for publicity. That often includes book reviews.

BiblioBuffet is accustomed to receiving press releases, both print and electronic, e-mail requests, and books for our consideration. Some come from authors, but most are from publicists or publishing houses. It doesn’t matter to us. But what does matter is who publishes the book. Even before we opened our virtual doors, we had set a policy in place that precluded consideration of self-published and vanity-published books. In my previous work as books editor for a local newspaper I dealt with vanity-published books as well as with the slush pile in my earlier work as executive assistant for a local publisher. When the concept for BiblioBuffet started to metamorphose into a real site our submission page, one of the first written, was firmly grounded in those experiences. There are far too many excellent books produced by viable commercial and university presses that we’d never be able to get to so why add to that with books that were unlikely to be worthy of anyone’s reading? The answer was obvious. We excluded them from the get-go. It simply wasn’t worth our time to plow through what were sure to be haystacks of books seeking those very few golden needles.

So when I received a large box filled with books recently from Vantage Press I was astounded. Vantage Press is an old-time vanity house, having been around since long before technology made vanity publishing easy and inexpensive. To their credit, they have never been less than honest about their pay-to-play model, and their products are good-looking and durable. But given our policy, I had to politely e-mail the publicist and let her know that due to the nature of their model and our policies that we could not, unfortunately, consider any of their books for review. I wish her luck in her marketing efforts, and I sincerely meant it. And I assumed that was the end of that.

To my surprise she wrote back a couple of days later. Normally this is not a good thing since it is the point at which, in the past, the answer to me reflects an unhappy person with an urge to snark. But not in this case. She was kind and thoughtful, and had obviously read our policies and understood the reasons for them. And then she went on to point out that this old-time vanity house would, in spring 2011, be opening a new “traditional” branch called Vantage Point, one that intended to be a commercial publisher with all the bells and whistles (editorial gatekeepers, author advances, royalties, bookstore distribution, publicity and marketing) of any other commercial press, and that would compete in the public marketplace. They would offer eight books in their first season, she said, and would BiblioBuffet be willing to consider them for review.

The answer is yes. Yes, we will because it matters not that part of their enterprise is a vanity house. (A number of commercial publishers now offer vanity arms, and the two are kept, so to speak, at arm’s length.) It only matters that Vantage Point is going to have a regular trade division staffed with people from the commercial world.

Frankly, no one is more surprised than I. It will certainly be interesting to see how this works out. And who knows . . .  maybe we’ll find some darn fine books.

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