Publishers Weekly is a venue for book reviews, and for books published primarily by traditional publishers. Yet, when they found a way to capitalize on the self-publishing craze, I can’t help but think the poison at the end of their pen in the predominantly negative reviews has more to do with self-preservation than any real interest in fostering a relationship with the self-publishing industry.
Publishers Weekly added a supplement to its regular magazine called PW Select: A quarterly guide to what’s new in self-publishing. For $149, authors can submit their books and they will be listed in the guide. Here’s what the PW website says:
Each period, a minimum of 25 of the books listed will be selected by PW's review staff, based on merit, and assigned for a full review. These reviews will also appear in the supplement. There is no charge for reviews, and all reviews, positive or negative, will be published.
This quarter, the supplement touts, they received a record 221 submissions, “and the most (52) that merited a review in our editors' estimations.” Remember that word, “merited.”
Ninety-nine of these submissions were for novels. Twenty-five of the fiction titles “merited” a review. Of these, guess how many were positive. Four. Two reviews were not completely scathing. The rest had their novels eviscerated.
I came close to self-publishing my second novel, Down at the Golden Coin, before I was picked up by Eckhartz Press. I’d even had a review copy made, called a “galley” in the industry, for an event I headlined last September. In late November, or December, I sent a copy of the galley to PW Select as a part of this program, and then basically forgot about it (because shortly thereafter, I had a publisher!) When I got my promised copies of PW Select in the mail last week, I was distraught that Down at the Golden Coin hadn’t merited a review. Distraught. I mean, this is my second published novel. Kirkus Reviews loved it. PW liked my first novel. I knew it was subjective, but I was having a hard time accepting it. I threw the magazine aside and went on with life.
Yesterday, I picked the magazine back up. To read about the books PW Select deemed more worthy than mine. And this is when I couldn’t believe my eyes and decided to count my blessings. A sampling:
“The plot is scanty, the prose stilted, and the characters flat and interchangeable.”
“Suffers from overly labored prose.”
“At time (sic), [author’s name deleted] writes efficiently and with humor, but the book’s engaging moments are obscured by its long-winded failings.”
“One-dimensional, full of stilted dialogue…”
“'I can’t take much more of this,’ one character moans, but she has no choice.”
What every author wants from a review of this type is that one line they can quote. I would’ve been happy with something like, “Down at the Golden Coin is a fast and witty read that could have been so much better without Strickland’s ham-fisted dialogue.” Because of course I would quote only the first part of the sentence! But reading the PW reviews in the supplement, every one of them is suspiciously crafted so as to not string together a single sentence like the above. There’s basically no way to get a useable blurb from any of the reviews, even when they do say very positive things. It reeks of sneaky, if you ask me.
I know there’s a lot of bad writing out there (I’m not defending it!) and that self-publishing was, and a lot of the times still is, a venue for vanity. But it’s becoming more and more mainstream, the way to go, and I find it hard to believe that of the nearly one hundred novels submitted, PW couldn’t have found a few more things to like. You can practically sense the glee emanating from the reviewers as they rip apart these books.
The idea that follows is not mine and if I could find or remember its source I would give it to you: (In fact, if you know the source—please tell us!)
When a reviewer reviews a painting, he doesn’t paint his review. When a reviewer reviews a song, he doesn’t sing it. A stage play or movie? The review is not acted out. All reviews are written. And when these writers review other writers, believe me, they want to show off their facility with the craft, and perhaps what they believe is their superiority.
So, Publishers Weekly, it’s obvious what you’re up to. So entrenched and in bed with the traditional dinosaur publishing age and fearful of all that challenges it, you refuse to find much to like in the self-publishing world. That’s okay. Enjoy yourselves. It’s becoming more and more clear that the publishing world is changing. And before too long, this author thinks, you won’t need any more poison for the end of your pens.
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