Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Oh, Publishers Weekly, Not You Too?

Warning: one use of the f-word follows because the sentence just didn't convey what I was going for without it.

When I first heard that Publishers Weekly was going to review self-published books I felt a moment of elation.  I love the Pubishers Weekly magazine even though my local Borders refuses to stock it for me--although that is a whole 'nother story.  The mag gives a snap shot of what is going on in some facets of the publishing world, and covers some of the new releases coming out.  I thought this announcement meant they would review self-published books side by side with mainstream books of similar literary (or other) merit--the one thing that would make me love their mag even more.  On the up side my feeling that I have become a miserable cynic is apparently seriously wide of the mark.  I am still some kind of hopelessly naive optimist who tends to assume the best.  I was, of course, wrong.

Like all of the other pay-for-a-ghettoised-review vendors, Publishers Weekly does not want your self-published book, and will not give you a review of the same quality they give to other books.  They will however take your money to provide a bastardised version of it.  So they are "accepting" self-published books for review to the extent that they are charging more ($149 versus nothing) to provide less (a listing you write for them in a "quarterly supplement" rather than their best selling magazine).  Oh and the listing in this supplement will not actually include a review, just a "brief description" presumably provided by the author.  Only 25 of the unspecified number of books listed in a supplement will get a review. They then have the temerity to call the less-for-more treatment "PW Select".

They write: "We briefly considered charging for reviews, but in the end preferred to maintain our right to review what we deemed worthy."  That is presumably their attempt to seize the moral high grown and try to spin the fact that they are doing the one thing worse than charging for a review.  They are charging most of the authors $149 (plus book and P&P) and then not even giving them a fucking review.  I am going to miss reading Publishers Weekly, but after this fiasco it just wouldn't be the same.  I hope self-publishers will not flock to the fleecing, but I suspect plenty of them will.


Michael N. Marcus said...

This means that PW is officially a vanity publisher.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

This just really ticked me off. I'm glad I know about it, though. Thanks for sharing. :)

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I have no words about this ... I am completely out of expletives to describe my disdain for this sort of nonsense.

Charging an author to list their book with the promise of the promotional wish and a prayer is the lowest of low when it comes to bottom feeding. I also imaging we will see a whole lot more of this as self-publishing becomes more popular. But that's big corporate for ya: any way to make a buck.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Here is the real irony of it all though: You gotta buy an ISBN to get listed in Bowker's Books in Print, and look what they charge for that.

veinglory said...

Yeah, I heard about this on the "self-publishing" yahoogroup. But when I tried to post this response there is was moderated/not approved once for using copyright material (um, I wrote it and I use the same name on the group) and once for using "vulgarity". So I am giving up on that yahoogroup. FFS.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Thanks, I suppose I won't be joining that one either. Expletives are part of the language, or as Spongebob says, or rather, Mr. Crab says, "They are sentence enhancers."

I like to enhance my sentences.

veinglory said...


Barbara Forte Abate said...

While I'd like to leave a comment, it's impossible to think of anything that doesn't start with F and end with K, and that's already been said! I too, once considered PW a respectable publication, but what a joke. They should be ashamed!

Kristine said...

I, too, have difficulty coming up with words that don't start with F and end in K, other than two words that start with M and end in Ker.

What angers me the most, and had me in a tad bit of a rage all day yesterday, was this continued and everpresent assumption that all Self Pub or Indy authors are clueless morons who've failed at going Traditional and will fall for any and every scam that trots their way if they believe it'll give them that toe in the door they've been missing out on.

My biggest struggle in going Indy was shrugging off that stigma the Traditionalists try SO very hard to stamp on your forehead. And for what purpose?

We don't go Indy and spend our spare time bashing the Traditionals. We don't boycott their writing, we don't mock their chosen path - why do they go so far out of their way to it to us?

Didn't mean to tangent there, I just lost my Zen yesterday with all of this. Less the discovery of the issue, more the reading of comments around the blogosphere.

*deep, cleansing breath*

Stupid M Fers.

Anonymous said...

OK, I've just gotta pontificate. I only hope my soapbox will hold me up.
Fact-Small business is LOW OVERHEAD business. For low start-up cost production it is extremely efficient.
Fact-Corporate Structure is HIGH OVERHEAD business. You want an efficient business model to produce an automobile? You need investors, heavy machinery, engineering staff, lawyers and the whole nine yards. This requires a corporate model to manage and co-ordinate the overhead as well as the production. You want to format, print and bind books the way it was done in the 1960s? Go corporate. Compete with other corporations. Small start-ups can’t compete effectively because they lack the combination of expertise and capitol.

The usual big-fish-eat-little-fish process eliminates the vulnerable corporations until a few big fish control the market. They can let their quality slide, dictate to their suppliers, and generally run things the way they believe they should be run. Then the profit margin slides a little. The first thing Joe Capitalist does (typically) is look at reducing costs. He has to keep his stock value and premiums up or his board will dump his like a McDonald’s receipt. This is the first and worst sign of failure in a corporate organization. Sales (and income) drop, so executives start cutting costs instead of spending cash fixing the root problem, usually falling sales. In the publishing world the warning was editorial staff cuts, combined with outsourcing the QC and selection process to agents. There was also a strong trend toward publishing “sure things” as much as possible. Let someone else take chances. We’ll publish Hollywood memoirs, political exposés and so on. Once an author has a track record, we can always buy him up (Sound familiar?).

Then along comes a new small business model, taking full advantage of modern methods and not dependent on economy of scale. It advertises on the internet. It distributes on the internet. It can make only what it has existing orders to sell. It allows independents to take chances on titles that aren’t surefire best sellers. Oh, crap!! The new models have no overhead worth mentioning and worse, they need a six figure Harvard grad CEO, like a rowboat needs a ninety foot mainmast.

Of course the established publishing industry is going to attack the competing model. They’d get the government to establish a whole new bureau to control it (For the public good, of course) with standards and testing criteria if they could. They’ve got an inordinate amount of money and prestige tied up in a dinosaur farm that needs a minimum of five thousand copies per title sold to keep itself fed, which is maybe fifteen thousand dollars to the author, who is the raw material supplier to the industry, regardless of business model. The author can also write a book a year, print a couple of thousand copies for (I’m guessing here) six bucks each, and have his own finish product, which he will then either wind up feeding into his wood stove to keep warm or sell to put eight or ten bucks a copy in his pocket. Those who succeed write a sequel. Those who don’t get to keep their day job.
I figure the “major publishers” have about ten years before the roof caves in. POD, inexpensive private publishing (Yes I’m talking Vanity Press), internet advertising and ordering, electronic formats, these all have one thing in common. They are Darwinian Selection Capitalism in the most brutal sense. There’s no corporate structure to prop them up, no possibility of shuffling the loss off to another department, or getting the marginally competent promoted before the chickens comes home to roost. That means that, absent government interference, the survivors will dominate the market.

Chuck S.

Unknown said...

Here is my review of PW Select:

I just used PW Select for their December issue, and I would definitely not recommend it. The majority of authors who submit to PW Select pay $149 for either no review or a negative review. I submitted a book that won a legitimate award, was nominated for another award, was field nominated by reviewers for four ALA awards, received many positive reviews from other review publications, and is still undiscovered by most readers. PW Select did not review it, but most of the books they did review received negative reviews. They are not following their mission to "find the undiscovered gems out there" (http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/diy/faq/index.html). If they were, why wouldn't they review a book that had the indications of being an undiscovered gem? It seems like they’re instead finding the books they don't think are gems and having a good time tearing them apart.

I want to spread the word and warn other self-published authors. After wasting my money on PW Select, I feel like I've been had. If PW Select were a legitimate publication, it would do what its mission statement says. Maybe that's logistically impossible with all the self-published books out there, but that's what it would take to have a review publication that's actually worth something: book submissions at no charge and then the reviewers doing the work of finding the ones they like and pointing them out to their readers, as opposed to ignoring award-winning books and focusing mostly on the books they do not like. By relying on fee-based submissions, they get to do less work and make more money. The result is a supplement that does not appear to uncover the hidden gems and is probably only read by ad reps who use it as a directory of self-publishers who might want to buy more overpriced and worthless ads.