The Times They Are A-Changin’

In a manner of speaking, they are changing. But only a bit. Our submission guidelines (for those seeking reviews) currently state this:

BiblioBuffet’s mission is to bring into the public eye high- quality books from small andmedium-size commercial publishers including university presses, though we review from large houses as well. We accept books, both fiction and nonfiction, in all genres except business, self-help, true crime, New Age, and romance. We do not review self-published or vanity-published books, which include but are not limited to those from Publish American, Vantage Press, Xlibris, iUniverse, Dorrance, Booklocker, and Lulu.

Two reasons exist for this: (1) it helps us manage our inflow by cutting down on the number of books we receive, and (2) it filters out books that lack any kind of editorial gatekeeping, that is, they have not been selected, paid for, and edited by houses whose goal is to sell books to the public.

When I originally wrote thes guidelines, I had in mind factors that would help determine how we would define a “commercial” press, especially because we wanted to find good books from smaller publishing houses. One of those factors was distribution. To keep it simple, I will say that distribution is the means by which publishers sell their books to the book buyers and owners of brick-and-mortar stores. Online stores, on the other hand, list every book that has an ISBN, a unique identifying number. The difference is important because online shopping, whether at Amazon, Powell’s, or your local independent store’s site, is rarely good for browsing. If you know what you want or if you are looking for a nonfiction title on a specific subject (“how to sail”) it can be excellent, but if you are a fiction reader wanting to browse new titles there is almost no way to . . . easily browse. You are up against millions of books. At physical bookstores, browsing is easy; you have fewer books but you have the ability to take them off the shelf, check out their cover art, skim the blurbs and jacket copy, and read enough to determine if it is a book you want to buy. These are comparison factors that can’t really yet—even with excerpts—be gotten online.

This is where recommendations come in. These could come from various sources: friends and family members whose taste you trust; book clubs; readers’ discussion forums like Dirda’s Reading Room, Book Balloon, LibraryThing, GoodReads; or some of the numerous excellent blogs and websites devoted to books and reading, whether they are connected to bookstores, magazines, or newspapers, or are run independently, and whether they specialize or are general.

As one of these general independent websites, BiblioBuffet takes its responsibilities to its readers seriously. We have what we believe to be some of the best writers around. We give them maximum freedom to find books that interest them, and we encourage them to write honestly.

One of our guidelines for reviews and reviewers, as noted above, is that we do not review self-published or vanity-published books. But that “rule” has loosened up a bit lately because we have run across a few—a very few—independently or self-published books that go above and beyond the usual self-published level. One of those was a book called Bound for Evil: Curious Tales of Books Gone Bad, issued by Dead Letter Press, a niche publisher of fine limited edition books of new and classic fantasy and horror fiction. DLP’s books do not have the traditional channel of distribution to bookstores. Instead, they must be ordered from the publisher’s website. But . . . these books are as carefully conceived, planned, and executed as any other—and more so than most.

More are coming too. Nicki Leone is working on a column about a new book of poetry, an unusual book in several ways (“about race in the south by the former NC poet laureate, printed in a limited letter press edition, selling for $100, with covers made from old pulped confederate flags”). And Pete Croatto recently e-mailed us to ask about the possibility of reviewing a self-published book he discovered that he feels is going to be fantastic.  (We said yes.) Neither of these books is going to be available through bookstores, but they are available. And because they are excellent you, our readers, deserve to know about them.

During our e-mail discussion with Pete over the book, Nicki wrote what I feel was a to-the-point summary of our goals: 

The most important thing is that BB’s writers have the freedom to write about what moves them. I trust all our columnists to understand when a book is worth reviewing and when it isn’t, so if you have found a self-published book that covers an important or interesting topic or event, or that you think is particularly well done, or brings up an interesting issue that you want to tackle, then that seems like enough justification to me to write about it. 

Lauren’s points about BB’s original criteria are worth keeping in mind, and should be honored for their intentions, if not followed to the letter. . . . if you do decide to review a self-published book, it needs to be evaluated as if it had received all the editorial work one expects from a traditional press. If it doesn’t show that level of craft—if the text is rambling, the typesetting bad, the cover looks like someone’s first Photoshop project, then the review needs to fault the book for it.

I don’t recommend changing the official submission policy, all the while keeping in mind internally that there may be a difference between “self-published” and “vanity” and that once in a blue moon the former can be considered, if one of our writers is interested enough or passionate enough about the book.

So while our original guidelines are not changing they are incorporating flexibility so that we at BiblioBuffet can continue to bring you news of books that offer “writing worth reading” and are “reading worth writing about.”

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Times They Are A-Changin’

  1. Well reasoned. I completely agree with cracking the window but not opening it wide : )

    And that self-published books need to be held to the same standards. Absolutely.

    • It was a tough decision, Cynthia, but what turned it for us was that Pete Croatto (our sports book reviewer) found a self-published book by a journalist he loves passionately. We trust his judgment completely. But it took a bit of doing on my part to determine how and where to lay the line. It’s not cast in stone, obviously, but we want to let readers know about fabulous books. And if occasionally one happens to be self-published then we should not discriminate against it. It’s all for the readers, after all.

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