Monday 27 January 2014

DO YOU AGREE, OR DISAGREE? (#03) [TOPIC: Review Blogs Turning Down Indie Books]

The other day on Facebook, author Roz Morris, wrote how a review blog turned down her novel because it was self-published. But little did they know that this self-published book was written and published by an author who has ghost written about a dozen bestselling books. Millions of readers have enjoyed her books, and as she states on her blog "that’s no exaggeration because average sales were 500,000 copies each."

She is also an extraordinary editor and book doctor.

Did the people behind this review blog even LOOK at who they were turning down? I guess not. I guess they saw "self-published" and turned up their noses.

Huh. Pretty disgusting if you ask me.

So my statement for you today is as follows:

There are still traditional publishers and professionals who continue to feel threatened by the ever-expanding and improving quality of indie books, and as a result, they are cutting their noses off to spite their faces. The indie movement is here and it's not going anywhere. There is no turning back. It's about time everyone jumped on the bandwagon and started looking at authors individually, rather than by the process in which they decide to publish their books.

Do you agree, or disagree?

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  1. I agree but the reality is that there is no way the professionals are going to stretch those boundaries. How would they find the time to differentiate between what was worth it and what was not? There are hundreds of thousands of books out there, probably millions if you add in self-published, so, by what process could they assess what in SP is worth their time?

    I agree with what you say but can't see how it is physically possible. Of course they are going to put their attention on a manageable 'meal' of the market - published.

    I suppose I would also ask the question as to why Roz Morris self-published when she had such a strong reputation as a ghost-writer and clearly solid links to publishers?

    I think it is important to not take it personally. If there were some way for the reviewers to sift out the best of self-published, given that a few do ultimately sell well, I am sure they would do it. How that could be done seems the question.

    1. Good question, Roslyn (a name close to my own!)

      I started out by ghostwriting thrillers, but meanwhile I was developing a style of my own - unusual, high-concept stories told with a literary flavour. (For instance: a character is hypnotised so that she can visit her next incarnation in the future.) When I took that novel to agents and editors, they said they liked my writing and my concepts, but that my work was too unusual. One big publisher asked if I would please make it a thriller because the market wouldn’t take a chance on someone who didn’t fit the mould. Another asked me to make it like the Time Traveller's Wife, so it would be easy to sell to their marketing department.

      If I wanted to keep my integrity, I had to self-publish. Fortunately, now I have, people seem to have liked the book the way I felt it should be writtten.
      With my second novel, a sci-fi tale with horses, I was told that no one was allowed to put those two elements together unless they were such a famous name that the book would sell anyway. Again, I was given suggestions by editors who wanted to push it in a different direction - which would have ruined it. So once again, for the sake of my integrity, I self-published.

      In a nutshell (to quote a famous set of writing books here!), the publishing industry is not interested in the new and original. When editors say they want originality, they actually only accept books that are 5% different from the books they already know do well. If you're the kind of writer who is more innovative, you're frequently told you're too different. That's happened to a lot of writers I know (not just me!). And writers with established publishing careers can find their books are rejected when they want to veer too far off the already well-trodden track.

      As for me, when I write my novels I'm searching for the truth in an idea, and the means to do it justice. In order to preserve that truth, I self-publish.

    2. Wow, Roz. That JUST happened to me with my high-concept literary speculative novel (boy in crisis accidentall kills girl, she comes back as a personification of Lake Michigan in order to help him). I had 12 top agents in the magical realism space tell me they loved my writing, it was "wonderful," "beautiful," "intriguing," "clearly talented," but that I had to make it longer, develop the relationships more, more this more that in order to sell it. Unfortunately I know my style doesn't fit that mainstream mold since I can't even stand to finish reading a book with these longer more drawn out characteristics, so I went indie with it. Less "sophisticated" reviewers are raving and actually prefer the shorter storytelling style, calling it "crisp," ... and "beautiful," "wonderful"... but I'm shut out of the traditional review process and marketing venues. I guess it's nice to know it wasn't my imagination that they were asking for innovative unique voices and then rejecting the innovative part of the work. Sort of felt like I shot myself in the foot getting that many high-profile agents to read a full ms of my work only to reject some of their suggested changes (not all suggestions were invalid, and I took the ones I could work with as wonderful free advice). Someone was just joking the other day that if she saw another agent asking for the cliched "fresh voices and unique characters" and wanting paranormal romance with a plucky YA heroine she was going to shoot herself.

    3. Thanks Roz, an excellent answer and good on you. I can understand that. My background is journalism and editing but I have been told more than once that my writing is excellent but my approach is well, not the current fashion and in one instance, a book I wrote, novel, but very factual in terms of situation, about India was not acceptable because it was politically incorrect - I just thought it was honest. Silly me.

      I also plan to self-publish but living in Africa (have spent most of the past 20 years in the Third World) makes it difficult so I plan to do it when I am back settled in Oz.

  2. I agree. I also think if traditional publishers thought a bit more about the literature rather than the money, they'd have less reason to feel threatened. The traditional market seems to be flooded with celebrity books - who buys books by Naomi Campbell and Katie Price anyway?

    (Oops, just outed myself as a book snob, apologies to anyone who really likes these 'authors')
    (Damn, I couldn't help the quote marks!)

    1. So true, except clearly, many people do buy books by Naomi Campbell and Katie Price, sadly.
      The problem with publishing is that it stopped being about books and writing and literature and quality about thirty years ago and the focus became money, money, more money and that mean, sales, sales and what sells regardless of quality of content or writing.
      At the same time the big publishers gobbled up most of the small ones, who did have more integrity and took a personal approach and who were prepared to take risks, and digested them all into a ghastly homogenous soup.
      There are very few publishers these days, and I would be prepared to bet no big ones, who actually care about the quality of the writing or anything which might be called literary. Not only do they expend their money on what they believe sells, they will seek situations where they believe (erroneously) that they have gauranteed income, either because the writer is young, under forty and preferably under thirty-five, and they think will live longer and churn out more books (profits) or, a first book sells so well (and age is less of a factor) that they believe they have a money-making machine in the author and so they 'buy' in advance future books.

      This ties up money and substantially limits opportunities, hence the even greater difficulty of finding a publisher or an agent at this point in history. Hence the growth and development of self-publishing.

  3. It's worth noting though, Annalisa, that some 'celebrity' books are written by the likes of Roz Morris and others, although we will never know. So some might be worth reading after all.

    1. Probably not, given the paucity of subject matter Luca.

    2. I didn't write those :)

    3. I bet you didn't Roz after reading your post above. Made me laugh though.

  4. I don't think it matters how a book is published. I've read some great self-published books. And some really lousy traditionally published ones.

    1. I agree with Alex. There are good and bad books in both, you have no way of knowing when you start a book which it's going to turn out to be.

  5. Despite the fact I post more book reviews these days than I do articles on writing I don’t actually get pestered that much by people seeking reviews and I’m fine with that because I get a steady trickle of offers—mostly, admittedly, from traditional publishers—and so I can and do take the time to check out everyone who writes asking me to consider their book. Most I reject quickly enough simply because the subject matter doesn’t interest me and that’s got nothing to do with whether they’re self-published or not. In my experience—and maybe I’ve been lucky here—the vast majority of self-published books that’ve come my way have been virtually indistinguishable from the traditionally-published books. For example I use the same printer as Alma Books. I have no doubt that there are hundreds of terrible self-published books out there, badly edited (if at all) with poorly-designed covers. Of course there are. And maybe once upon a time they accounted for the vast majority of self-published books which is where they got such a bad reputation but things are changing and people have to acknowledge the fact just as they did with indie music. It’s now a viable option and no one sniffs when they hear that someone’s put an album together in their kitchen. The attitude is more: “Well done you.”

    In (possible) defence of the owner of the review blog I have heard that some sites are swamped with requests and it may well be that they’ve decided to take a broad brush approach. I don’t know.

  6. I think it's a mistake to view the quality issues in the indie market as a static problem. Every day that goes by the advice to have your book properly edited is followed by more indies, seems to me (an indie in touch with other indies), and more traditional folks are going hybrid and taking their high quality standards with them. The editors are just freelancing, a change that has been in the works for a decade as publishing houses eliminated layers of editing to save costs (something I also know something about as a former book and magazine editor). But it's just a differently functioning marketplace when the gatekeepers are gone, the cream rising to the top by way of reader recommendations. You're not going to find one standard of quality anymore, you're just going to find a lot of background noise with better books and authors finding popularity because of their high-quality work. Also, there are genre splits. It's not uncommon to find people who can't even write grammatically in pulpy genres like some romance categories where the mantra is publish faster publish more (nothing against romance, but it is a problem there right now), but in the space where I work (magical realism) the price of entry is sophisticated writing, proper editing, and a great cover to boot. As far as this article, I think that traditional publishing is just ill-equipped to deal with the onslaught of indie books, but that doesn't mean they're correct or superior to turn them all away, in fact they're missing out on discovering some really great books. If traditional publishing can't offer better royalties, digital publicity and contract terms to authors, they're going to see a slow slide of quality away from their publishing houses and into the indie market. It's already happening. It just hasn't sorted itself out yet. So yes, I think it's on traditional publishing for circling the wagons here and shutting out indie publishing, not on Roz for deciding that indie offers better terms to her in general than traditional publishing and discovering she's just out in the cold from traditional review processes. The fact is that when industries behave this way, they insulate themselves from innovations in the marketplace and starve their own pipelines. I'm 31 years old, and while people my age are still impressed when you have some kind of high-profile review on your book cover, they really don't care how it was published or who recommended it, and that is increasingly true of people younger than me. Younger buyers just want to know someone loved a book, and they are capable of making their own decisions about what books would interest them. The more reviewers cut off indies the more they shrink their own influence. Roz and other indies may have a lot of irritating situations to put up with in the meantime, but in the long run traditional reviewing is going to continue to shrink its influence amidst social media's dominance, and then they'd better find a way to figure out how to get their stamps on indie books or they'll be gone.

  7. What this discussion elucidates is that there is great marketing potential in the refusal, and that both reviewers and publicists are assisting in ways they might reflect upon! When I first self published in the dark ages (2006) one review in the Self publishing magazine said (she) could not understand 'Why this book has turned up as a self-published piece – I don’t understand. It is strong, it is professional and it is impossible to put down...' so even a self publishing magazine promoting sp was taking a mental 'back seat'. Times have changed in terms of producing self published work but there is a long way to go before it loses the stigma that can only come from vested interests that are increasingly self defeating as this blog shows.

  8. I understand the sentiment by not agreeing to review SP books based on the fact that there are so many of them and the SP market is still finding it's feet. I know of one reviewer who was so flooded by SP review requests that he actually had to say no to all SP reviews in the future, but, i don't know, if it were me, i'd make the decision on a case by case basis, you know?

  9. On reading this, I first thought of a (very) short presentation given long ago by a brain-injured young man at a conference of educators. He'd heard them talking about special-ed students in a way that implied they knew all about the subject. So when he took the podium he held up a plain, blue book with no title visible and just said (with difficulty), "You tell me: Is this a good book or a bad book?"

    In that instance, the book of course was a metaphor for disabled people. But this article is about the same phenomenon. As a self-published writer who has experienced it more than once, I naturally believe it's a bad thing.

    On the other hand, it grieves me to read self-published books that justify the stereotype. Some are loaded with typos. Many are stories with a wonderful premise that unfortunately is not developed well. If only the author had had some good feedback -- from a critique group if not an editor. I've written about this often, because I truly believe that sort of thing contributes to the discrimination at least as much as the nervousness of publishing elites.

  10. The 'case-by-case basis' - Sarah, this is all we ask. There is enough evidence around now to convince even sceptics that self-publishing can be done professionally.
    Some detractors argue that because the author is in control, there won't be anyone to stop them if the book isn't any good. So a nicely typeset book with good artwork might in fact hide an dreadful manuscript. That's a fair point. But I'd say this:
    1 If the author has a track record, they won't usually want to risk their reputation on work that isn't ready.
    2 If the book is that bad, it will quickly become apparent as the reviewer reads it and they can, you know, put it down.

  11. It's really not that difficult to quickly assess a book's quality, whether the book is traditionally published or self-published. All one has to do is read a few sample pages, and look at overall reviews, how the book is being received.

    Because the overall marketplace is changing. There are many writers, myself included who chose to self-publish and never attempted to go the traditional route. Self-publishing was my first choice. Hard for many to imagine a few years ago….I was dead set against it then too, but things have changed dramatically and unless you are one of the very few who land a seven figure deal, the numbers are more in our favor for self-publishing. At least initially. I love the idea of down the road possibly being a hybrid author, but as a new author, I don't have the platform or leverage to land the kind of traditional deal that would make sense. I'm not even referring to dollars as much as I am things like non-compete clauses and length of deal terms…..things that new authors don't have much luck negotiating. It's a very exciting time to self-publish.

  12. I agree... that we should all look at authors individually. Back when the only real option was traditionally published, I don't recall ever choosing a book based on the publishing house (where has that notion come from?) but on the author, or in the case of an unknown, on the blurb or a recommendation.

    Fast forward to the current day, I can buy an e-imprint for a quarter to a half the cost of a traditionally published hard-copy, I can find that e-version in the privacy of my own home or on my smart-phone while having coffee with someone who recommends it (this has happened enough times to me now, to me and to friends, that I wonder is it a serious advertising niche that hasn't been exploited!), I still buy traditionally published books in bricks and mortar book stores, at the same rate I used to. But now I can have exposure to a much wider variety of authors and their thoughts.

    So much for 'the gatekeeper'. I couldn't get my own novel traditionally published (it isn't magical realism, it is a crime novel with a literary bent; it doesn't sit squarely in either genre but is a story that I thought worth telling) so I eventually independently published. It hasn't exactly blazed a trail up the charts, but it is out there and not in a shoebox at the back of the cupboard.

    Imagine sitting down to a meal. Is your serving better than your companion's? Put a blindfold on, and now tell me. Authors are the same - each is unique, and should be treated as such.

  13. As a self-published author, of course I think blogs should accept our books, but if they want to limit themselves to traditionally published authors, so be it. Their loss. Indie books have the freedom to stretch genre conventions, as Roz Morris commented above.

    I thought I'd found the perfect review blog because its theme followed my favorite television show, Friday Night Lights. Kind of a spin off one of the characters reviewing the books. I read their guidelines and they didn't accept self-published books. :/ I still subscribed for awhile, but after about six months, I stopped reading and unsubscribed to their blog.. The books they chose to review weren't my cup of tea anyway. Wouldn't have been a good fit.

    There are just so many good self-published books out there now, the chances of finding a good one is excellent, especially if they take a quick peek at the description and a few pages of the book.

    I'm just thankful that I haven't really needed book bloggers. My books have all been reviewed on BigAl's BooksandPals--which is well respected and takes indie books. And a couple of other blogs, but I haven't approached anyone but BigAl in a couple of years. Actual readers have made up the difference.

  14. I agree that dismissing a book primarily because it is self-published is ridiculous - but then, so are some of the responses here. Why does everyone get on the "bash the traditional publishers" bandwagon as soon as anything remotely negative is aimed at self-publishing?

    This is one of the main reasons that self-published authors (in general) are still having a hard time gaining traction as a viable alternative - no one seems to admit that there is a MASSIVE pile of dross out there that has been SP. Someone here wrote there are "some" bad books out there...poor covers, badly edited, poor story-telling (and more) are the norm, not the exception. I have read so many terrible SP books that I can say that with some degree of certainty.

    When it comes right down to it, this is what happened:

    ONE book was turned down by ONE reviewer. That's all - it would be like one song being turned away by one radio station. Big deal - just move on to the next one (for there are plenty of reviewers out there) and relax. No need to blame the traditional publishing houses or whatever other evil, anti-SP demons you think exists.

    It's just not that bad...

    1. I don't think any of the responses are ridiculous, to be honest. They are merely individual opinions to what seems to be a very sensitive topic. Back before self-publishing became a "thing," reviewers would decide what they would like to review based on what the book was about, and whether they felt like reading it. I don't see why it has to be any different now.

      I also don't think anyone is bashing traditional publishers here. We are just talking about how we feel based on how we are treated sometimes.

      Re this: "no one seems to admit that there is a MASSIVE pile of dross out there." I think it's fair to say that this is true regardless of publishing process. :-)

      And this isn't about ONE review, or ONE reviewer. It happens all the time, and I am using this instance as an example to spark discussion. This post isn't about Roz. It's about the bigger picture.

    2. Well said Jess and a good discussion on the big picture.

  15. I think the reviewer who turned you down just because you self-published is a stink-pot. All she has to do is read the first page – if it doesn't live up to her high reviewer standards, she doesn't have to read on. Sounds like she's being lazy, is all.

    Interesting to note that, before the days of the internet and self-publishing, the only book reviewers that mattered were working for respected newspapers and magazines. Without this brave new wired world, the lazy-stink-pot-traditional-book-reviewer wouldn't even have a platform.

  16. Naturally I agree - I think it is ridiculous to just flatly refuse to even consider a book without doing research on the author first!


    [Well, I don't really but - Sheesh! - someone had to say it. Might as well be me.]

    AlliAllo, I just stopped by to wish you a Happy New Year... 2015.

    I'm getting an early start on the next one since I missed the last one.

    I hope yer doin' well 'n' stuffs.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  18. I'm on the fence here. As an Indie it would be great to get reviews - but I also understand that most good reviewers, the ones you want to read and comment on your book, are inundated with requests. And... come on, admit it, there are a lot of Indie books out there that are of poor poor quality.

    Roz is different, but how can reviewers know that? OK, yes, they should - but even the suggestion of reading the first page means they might have to spend 5 minutes 20 times a day to find one good book.

    Wouldn't it be great if there was some hybrid system for Indies - I don't want a publisher, I've deliberately chosen to go the Indie route even though I once had four traditional novels in print - but perhaps Indies could pay something to have their books read and approved by a third party and give them a stamp saying "Good Indie".

    Maybe then reviewers would feel more sanguine about choosing from such a list?

    1. David, I find it really interesting that you suggested, "but perhaps Indies could pay something to have their books read and approved by a third party and give them a stamp saying "Good Indie"."

      I submitted my latest novel, Bitter Like Orange Peel, to such a service (I won't mention which as I don't want to bad-mouth anyone in public), and despite it ticking all their boxes, they wouldn't give it their seal of approval because the ending wasn't "satisfying." Which was totally the POINT of my ending. I won't go into detail as to why, but the fact remains, my book is a GOOD BOOK, but got rejected by a service that is supposed to support "indie" because it didn't fit a mold. Isn't that why books get rejected by trad publishers? Because they don't fit the current mold that sells?

      So yeah. Good idea. If they do, in fact, support what Indie is all about: BREAKING THE MOLD.

  19. I experienced this when I was searching for reviewers. Or reviewers who had too many books lined up so they wouldn't take on more. In my opening message I'd mentioned how the book had been agented, and how it had been professionally edited. Still no dice. I just moved on! Now the reviews are up from regular readers and I'm ok with that. I do wish they'd be more open to indie books. That may change, since indie authors are becoming their own gatekeepers, in that they're creating professional products.


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