Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A New Year's Resolution: All Books Considered

As I read and participate in discussions among independent and self-publishers, I've noticed that we spend a lot of time and energy distinguishing ourselves from each other—and not in a positive way. Some of us remind others that we are true self-publishers as opposed to those who have paid a subsidy publisher to publish our books—and we make it clear that we see ourselves in a higher category because of this. As an author who owns my own publishing company, I'll admit to having made this distinction myself. But the more I think about it, the less I like this point of view.

It starts to remind me of a disturbing play that I saw a few years ago. Written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith, the controversial play, Yellowman, depicts prejudice within the black community based on darkness of skin color. The playwright shows lighter-skinned characters feeling superior to and being treated better than darker-skinned ones. Reviews of this play point out that lighter-skinned blacks have indeed been more advantaged in our society, while at the same time being taunted from within for not being black enough. In other words, the hierarchy—which was largely promoted by whites—drove a wedge among blacks.

As authors whose publishers who don't fit the traditional model, I think it is to our disadvantage to separate ourselves out into better and worse categories based on the publishing model we've chosen. Writers make choices about their mode of publishing for a variety of reasons. Just as it is not true that all self-published authors have tried and failed to have their book published by a traditional publisher, neither is it true that all authors who choose to pay a subsidy publisher to publish a book don't care about the quality of their books. We know it's not true that all books published by mainstream commercial publishers are better than those published by small independents or self-published. We need to also acknowledge that some very good books have been published through subsidy companies.

One bit of evidence comes from a former blog, POD-DY Mouth, which was written for two years (ended March 13, 2007) by a traditionally published author. She and some of her friends had made a contest out of looking for the worst of what they called POD books but were primarily from what we call subsidy publishers (AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Lulu and others). Then to her surprise, she came upon one of those books that she loved. This led her to start her blog reviewing what she called POD books and giving awards to the best of them. Admittedly she said she had to wade through many submissions to find the few good ones. She called her awards the Needles, a reference to finding the needles among the hay. But she did find books she really liked.

Now a bit of personal evidence. My mystery novel Too Near the Edge won a 2007 IPPY silver medal for best regional fiction in the west-mountain region. The gold medal in that category was won by Stan Lynde for his novel, Summer Snow, published by iUniverse. His writing credentials include being the creator of two nationally syndicated cartoon strips. I don't know why he chose iUniverse to publish his book and I haven't read the book, but if it was judged better than mine, I have to take notice.

Why do authors go with subsidy publishers? I don't think we can assume they are mostly naïve writers so hungry for author status that they'll do anything to get published. From what I've read on discussion groups, these writers want to get their books out there to be read. They want reactions from readers, reviewers, contest judges. But they don't want to take on the business side of self-publishing.

I'm not saying that most books that come out from subsidy publishers are well-written and/or well-edited. My daughter, Laurel Osterkamp, who teaches creative writing and is a writer herself, reviews books on her blog, Bookin It My Way, and for some online review services. She's seen a bunch of subsidy-published books and tells me that as a group they are bad.

My point here is that setting up a hierarchy among ourselves is divisive. We will fare better in our struggle to compete in the marketplace if we don't fight amongst ourselves. How about in 2008 we focus on the books themselves rather than on how they were published? I think I'll resolve to read a few of those iUniverse books next year and make my own judgements.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Plea for Peace and Good Will Among Authors

Tis the season. At this winter holiday time we rejoice—whatever our beliefs—in the pleasure of fellowship of friends and family, in the simple joys of special food and music, and in the joy of giving. Perhaps in keeping with the season all authors and publishers could step back from animosity, take a look at what we share, and think about how we can work together to further common goals.

What do we share? A love for the written word, a respect for the craft of writing, and perhaps a profound awe for literature at its best. What do we all want? More people reading more books, enjoying and learning from their reading, and looking forward eagerly to new books coming out.

Is fighting amongst ourselves about who and who isn't a "real" author or writer likely to further our common goals? Is calling some authors wannabe writers who don't measure up likely to spread love of the written word?

Probably not. To see the futility of this sort of attack, we need only turn our gaze toward Iowa with its escalating political competition. Voters are tired of negativity and candidates know this. Surveys show the majority of Americans are disturbed by the level of personal attacks in political campaigns and that negative ads turn people off. Candidates have taken note of this and are focusing more on their own positives rather than on criticizing their competitors.

Do we need surveys to tell us that writers calling each other names, running down each other's work or trying to keep some colleagues out of the marketplace makes us all look bad? We should remember that most readers don't choose their books by the publisher or even know who the publisher is. Trying to exclude certain books based on who published them only raises alarms about books in general. Consumer confidence is likely to be the biggest casualty.

Instead of contracting by dividing ourselves and each other into star-bellies and non-star-bellies like the Sneetches (see my 11/15/07 post), why not expand into the joy and wonder of so many people caring enough about books that they take the time and trouble to write one? If—as Bowker reports--over 290,000 books were published in the U.S. in 2006, that's a good thing, not a threat. In fact, it's amazing in a time when we keep hearing that people no longer care about reading.

According to Wikipedia, "The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) monitors both the number and type of books published per country per year as an important index of standard of living and education, and of a country's self-awareness." So all of us authors and publishers are contributing. Not in the same way, and not at the same level. But we are all writing and putting our work out there to be read. And that's a lot of work and it takes perseverance and courage.

So let's share some good will amongst authors, applaud our collective effort to improve our craft, and enjoy the successes of our fellow authors as well as our own. Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Speak Out About Self-Publishing

Last week I read a column by Clarence Page about religious prejudice and politics in which he pointed out that the roots of ethnic and religious prejudice often go back to people's tendency to be frightened by that which they know little about. I was struck by how this assessment also fits prejudice against self-publishing. In my reading of many online discussions, as well as in my live conversations with both aspiring and traditionally-published authors, I have seen a surprising level of ignorance of what self-publishing is all about. Mostly they seem to think it involves dashing off an ill-conceived poorly-written manuscript, and then paying a company to publish it. This may describe the process for some who use subsidy publishers. But for those of us who actually self-publish, publishing is a business which we have had to learn, and at which we work hard.

Inanna Arthen said it well in her response to my Nov 30 post. She commented:
"It’s most unfortunate that so many writers are just incredibly ignorant of what is really involved in publishing a book. Printing the physical book is just one step in a long, long process. … being the publisher means you have to know about business laws in your state, accounting, ISBN numbers, copyright law, Library of Congress numbers, book design, layout and typesetting, getting cover blurbs, meeting deadlines and protocols for pre-publication reviews, setting up sales parameters from price to shipping to distribution to the Amazon detail page, designing and producing promotional materials, targeting and querying post-publication reviewers, marketing, and paying all your taxes…and that’s just for starters." 

I've learned all this stuff and more over the 20+ years I've been writing and publishing. And I've shared my knowledge with other writers when they've asked. I've also noticed that self-publishers who participate in online discussion groups are very generous in sharing what they have learned. But we don't have so many opportunities to educate the old guard about what we do. Most of them don't ask, don't want to hear. And it's hard to break through their prejudices.

Last month I was part of a group of Colorado mystery writers doing a bookstore signing, which also included talks by a couple of the writers about their writing and publishing experiences. Not surprisingly, the speakers were not self-published authors. When an audience member asked a question about self-publishing, the speaker responded by saying it's not a good idea to pay someone to publish your book. Although I was reluctant to identify myself as self-published in an environment where I felt it would reflect poorly on my novel, I couldn't let that comment go by. So I jumped in and explained briefly the self-publishing process and the difference between self-publishing and subsidy publishing (see my 9/20/07 post). A brief discussion followed, in which we all agreed that editing is an essential part of the publishing process, and that self-publishers must have their books edited.

I have no idea what impact my comments had on the people there, or whether they now think differently about self-publishing. I do know it's not an easy conversation to have. When I'm talking with traditionally-published authors who don't know I'm self-published, it's tempting to try to "pass" for one of them. That way I don't have to justify my choices or deal with them seeing me as someone who couldn't make it the way they did. But I know I need to speak up for self-publishing to try to help others understand it. So I plan to push past my fears and continue to confront the old guard with the facts.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

An Author Is Just Like a Doctor, Except ...

In response to last week's post, Burl Barer, who on his own website proclaims himself to be a "brilliant author," commented:
"Self-published makes you an author in the same way that buying a stethoscope makes you a doctor. You don't fool anyone, not even yourself." 

Just how brilliant is Burl's analogy? And are we fooling ourselves?

The question seems to be, what makes someone an author and how does this compare to what makes someone a doctor. To begin, we need to define both author and doctor. I did some research on widely accepted definitions of these terms.

  • Author: "A writer of a book or article; a person who originates a plan or idea." (Oxford English Dictionary, 2005) "The original writer of a literary work; one who practices writing as a profession; an originator or creator." (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd Ed. 1992) Hmmm. No mention of who publishes the book or article the author has written—or in fact, whether it has even been published.

  • Doctor: "A person who is qualified to practice medicine." (Oxford English Dictionary 2005) "A person, especially a physician, dentist, or veterinarian, trained in the healing arts and licensed to practice." (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, (3rd Ed. 1992)

Key differences here are that a doctor needs to have qualifications and a license, while an author must create an original work and—if we want to use the strictest definition—practice writing as a profession. Perhaps it's the idea of practicing writing as a profession that Burl and others of the old guard believe differentiates self-published authors from "real" authors. So lets' look at definitions of profession and professional and see if we can apply them similarly to authors and doctors.

  • Profession: "A paid occupation, especially one involving training and a formal qualification." (Oxford English Dictionary 2005) "An occupation requiring considerable training and specialized study." (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, (3rd Ed. 1992)

  • Professional:"Engaged in an activity as a paid occupation rather than as an amateur; worthy of or appropriate to a professional person; competent." (Oxford English Dictionary 2005) " Engaging in a given activity as a source of livelihood or as a career; performed by persons receiving pay; having or showing great skill; expert." (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, (3rd Ed. 1992)

The specialized training and qualification thing certainly fits doctors. Do I want my doctor to be highly qualified? Absolutely. And I'm glad the government takes care of this for me by requiring physicians to be licensed. No way do I want some amateur surgeon taking out my appendix.

But we clearly don't hold writers to the kind of standards we require of doctors. It's hard to make a case that all authors published by traditional publishers have considerable training and formal qualifications. While some have studied creative writing or journalism, many have had no formal training as writers. And unlike academics and scientists whose articles must pass through peer review before being published in professional journals, nonfiction book authors can write and traditionally publish work that would never survive scientific review. As an example, take a look at some of the diet books out there.

It's easy to come up with lists of badly written fiction and poorly researched nonfiction books that have been published by mainstream publishers, many of which have done very well in the marketplace. And it's equally easy to generate lists of well-written fiction and bona fide informative nonfiction books that are self-published.

So where does that leave us? Unless we're prepared to set up licensing boards to make sure authors meet certain standards, we can't be comparing authors to doctors when we discuss who is entitled to the title. That's the problem with analogies, Burl. They don't prove anything.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Let's Melt That MWA Publisher Blacklist Snowball

Here in Colorado we are familiar with the way an object rolling down a snowy hill increases its size and speed as is gathers more snow, eventually engulfing everything in its path. Now as news of the spread of the MWA publisher blacklist builds, I'm picturing a huge snowball headed right at small and self-publishers. And I'm thinking it's time to get out our blowtorches before it scoops us up in its wake.

Evidence of this snowball effect comes from the minutes of the 2007 Bouchercon, the oldest and largest annual convention of mystery fans, mystery authors, mystery publishers, mystery book dealers, mystery book stores and mystery publishing agents. According to the minutes from this fall's Boucercon held in Anchorage, Alaska, a member of the standing committee pointed out that "the top writers were no longer attending Bouchercons and this was primarily due to the proliferation of self-published authors."

The minutes go on to say that the time has come for the committee to "develop quality control, criteria to determine who is a legitimate author and who is not." They then say, "This would be the only way to regain lost fans and authors. There must be an accepted list of publishers, not necessarily the same list MWA uses but one that ensures that self-published and vanity press authors would not be placed on panels and these criteria should be made public." The committee went on to appoint a subcommittee to develop criteria to present at the 2008 Bouchercon.

Maybe they won't decide to use the MWA list, but it's a pretty safe bet that they'll use some similar criteria to determine "who is a legitimate author and who is not." In other words, they will assign legitimate author status based on the author's publisher rather than on the author's writing.

That's how the snowball grows. But what hope do we have of stopping the proliferation of the approved-publisher list? Aren't those of us who aren't on the list just a tiny minority railing against the establishment? Aren't the majority of mystery authors' books published by publishers who are on the MWA list?

Get ready for a big surprise. In fact only about one-third of mysteries and thrillers listed in the Amazon 2006 database, which is the most comprehensive publicly available source of data, have publishers who are on the MWA list. How do I know this? A mystery-writer colleague, Linda-Tuck Jenkins (who also writes as Mary Clay) is an unhappy MWA member who has been vigorously protesting the approved publisher list. She took the time to search the entire Amazon mystery and thriller list, doing a company by company search for all 93 companies on the MWA Publisher list as well as the major print-on-demand firms that the old guard complain about.Here's what she found:

  • 8,383 mysteries & thrillers were published in 2006. Only 2,575— or 31% of the total—were published by one of the 93 companies on the MWA list.

  • Another 18% were published by one of the four large print-on-demand publishers most often criticized by the old guard—iUniverse, Publish America, Lulu, and Authorhouse. While the old guard complain that these subsidy publishers have flooded the market with inferior work these statistics show it’s hardly a flood.

  • The remaining 51% of the books were published by small or self-publishers who do not qualify (or did not apply) for the MWA List. Their sins could be as simple as not paying authors an advance, yet paying larger royalties; not being in business for at least two years; having family members work in the business; or using print-on-demand technology to produce their books.


Wow! So we non-list-published authors are the majority! Clearly we don't have to sit meekly back while the old guard declares us to be non-legitimate authors based on who published our books. I think it's time for everyone to slow down, take another look at the criteria, and develop some author standards that don't exclude two-thirds of the mystery books published in a year.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Self-Publisher Gives Thanks

Today is Thanksgiving so it seems only fitting to take a rest from reciting wrongs and make a list of what I am thankful for as a writer and publisher. The book business has come a long way since my first book was published in 1984, and I appreciate so much that is out there now to make our job easier.

  • Digital printing. What a great use of technology! No more storing 10,000 books in our attic like we did in the 1980s. And it allows us to save paper by printing only the number of books we need.

  • Lightning Source (LSI). I upload my pdf files and my books are available on Amazon and other online stores right away. Readers can order them easily and I don't have to mess with packing and shipping books. No more sticky tape, bubble wrap or trips to the post office!

  • Adobe Creative Suite. (I have CS2) Gives me the tools to do professional layout, covers, bookmarks, postcards—whatever. I've gotten many compliments on the cover of my novel—even though the experts say, "never do your own cover."

  • Amazon and other online stores. Puts self-publishers on an almost level playing field with the big guys. (Disclosure: I'm a stockholder.)

  • The Yahoo Self-Publishing Group. (Sponsored by SPAN. List moderators: John Culleton, Marion Gropen, and JC Simonds) I've gotten tips on everything from margins to marketing on this well-run, fact-filled group.

  • On-line reviewers. These unpaid readers write and post reviews because they love books and want to let other readers know about books they might enjoy. My special thanks to Reader Views, TCM Reviews, Armchair Interviews, BookPleasures, and Mainly Mysteries for reviewing Too Near The Edge.












Okay, it's time to go cook a turkey now and spend some good time with family. Best wishes to you all for a relaxing Thanksgiving break. And next week we'll get back to putting the pressure on the old guard to give all authors equal opportunity in the writing and publishing community.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Which Publishers Have Stars?

The approved-publisher list that Mystery Writers of America (MWA) puts out reminds me of the Dr. Seuss story about the Star-Belly Sneetches. If you recall, down in Sneetchland—or wherever they lived—some Sneetches had stars on their bellies and some didn't. The Star-Belly Sneetches thought they were so much better than the Plain-Belly ones that they ignored them, didn't invite them to their events and generally would have nothing to do with them.

Hmmm…sort of reminds you of some traditionally-published authors not inviting us self-published or independently-published authors to have author status at their conferences, doesn't it? Or of how some of those traditionally-published authors call our work rubbish that's not worth the time to consider.

But back to the Sneetches. One day a guy named McBean showed up in Sneetchland with a machine that, for a small fee, would add stars to the bellies of the Plain-Bellies. Thrilled, they lined up, went though and popped out with stars. With great excitement they proclaimed that they were exactly like the Star-Bellies and no one could tell them apart. No surprise that the Star-Bellies were very upset. They knew they were still the best and the others were the worst, but they didn't know how to tell who was who anymore.

Hmmm…maybe that's what some traditionally-published authors are worried about. Self-publishers and small independent presses have gotten so good that it's hard to tell our books from theirs. Good grief! Someone might mistake one of our books for one of theirs, start reading it and actually like it before realizing that it should be considered inferior because its publisher isn't on the approved-publisher list.

But the Sneetches' story goes on. Once more, the clever McBean had a solution for them. For a slightly higher fee each, he put the original Star-Bellies through the machine and removed their stars so they once again looked different from the others and could proclaim that they were the best. Well, then the Sneetches with stars had to go through the machine again and get theirs removed. And then the others got their stars put back on—and on and on until no one could tell at all who was a Star-Belly and who was a Plain-Belly.Wow! What if there was no MWA list of approved publishers? How would conferences like Left Coast Crime and Mayhem in the Midlands figure out which authors should be granted author status? Would they have to open their panels to applications from all authors? Would they have to accept all mystery books into their dealer rooms?That's what the Sneetches did. They finally decided that stars didn't matter at all and that no kind of Sneetch is inherently better than the others. Will the Mystery Writers of America and conference organizers wise up the way the Sneetches did? We can only hope.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

If We Publish Great Books, Will They Buy Them?

Publishing and marketing consultant Shel Horowitz made an interesting comment on my October 25 blog post—the one where I talked about conferences discriminating against self publishing. He said:
"The very best way to overcome the stigma about self-publishing is to blow people out of the water with the quality of your book. That means a great story (fiction)/useful and practical information (nonfiction), professional editing and proofreading, professional interior and cover design...and a track record in the marketplace. Produce books that win awards and testimonials and great reviews!" 

This message is one I've heard over and over from the old guard. They essentially say, "Quite whining about discrimination. Just focus on making your books the very best they can be and you'll do fine." If only that were true! It's such a lovely, idealistic way of looking at publishing. But it's not the way it actually works.

Selling books is much more complicated than just building a better mousetrap and waiting for people to beat a path to your door. And Shel Horowitz knows this. He even says on his website: " …an author or publisher releasing a book today has to work four times as hard to get noticed as authors and publishers did just sixteen years ago." He also says, "The book industry is rigged against ordinary folks, and 90 percent of books never sell more than 1000 copies." He knows self publishers and small publishers need help. That's why he writes how-to books about marketing and offers consulting to help book publishers market their books—which, by the way, I hear he's very good at.

In reality, when it comes to self publishing, the type of book probably affects sales more than the editing, layout and cover design. Nonfiction books fare much better than fiction. If you are an expert in an area and you write a useful how-to book passing on your knowledge, readers don't care all that much how the book looks. I can testify to that from personal experience selling our stress-management book, Stress? Find Your Balance, which looks great in its current 4th edition incarnation, but started out looking embarrassingly amateurish. Nevertheless we sold over 50,000 copies of that book before its current edition. Why? Because it contains useful information and we could sell it in bulk at a large discount to wellness centers and such.

But if you write a novel, it's a very different game. It can be a well-written, professionally designed, award-winning book, but few people will know about it if you can't get it reviewed by newspapers, displayed at conferences, and discussed by other media outlets. Again I draw on personal experience. My novel, Too Near The Edge, has gotten good reviews from online reviewers and on Amazon and it won an IPPY award. But my local paper won't consider it for review because it's self published. And, also because it's self published I can't have it in the book dealers' room at the Left Coast Crime conference, which is being held here this spring.

So we reformers don't agree with the old guard. We say, "Yes, our books need to be good, but it doesn't matter how good they are if prejudice against self publishing keeps us from getting the word out."

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Is Conference Use of the MWA List Really Discrimination?

Discussion of the MWA approved publisher list has been heated this week on writing/publishing blogs and groups. Some who defend the use of the list (let's call them the old guard) say the list's use by conferences is not discrimination because no author has a right to have author status at a conference. The old guard says that the authors and publishers whose books are rejected are only rejected because their books don't meet certain standards. They liken this to other requirements—say, for example, a job description that requires an applicant to have at least two years of experience in the field in order to be considered for employment. So—the old guard asks triumphantly—would you say that all the people who don't have two years of experience are being discriminated against by this job requirement?

Duh. Of course we wouldn't say that. We (let's call us the reformers) know that the definition of discrimination (according to the 1992 American Heritage Dictionary), is "Treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit; A situation in which a group or individual is treated differently based on something other than individual reason, usually their membership in a distinct group or category."

We would agree that requiring someone to have a certain level of experience to be hired is reasonable and pertains to the applicant's individual merit. That requirement is very different than saying for example that no applicants from Colorado will be considered. Such a requirement could exclude very experienced and qualified candidates by ruling them out as a group based on where they live.

We reformers would also agree that we can't claim it is our right to be on a panel at a conference or have our books for sale in a conference's dealer room. All we are saying is that if some authors are to be granted certain privileges and status, the criteria for who is or is not selected should be based on individual merit. Judge the books by their quality. Don't assume you can judge their quality on the basis of who published them. Don't assume that if they were any good they would have been published by a traditional publisher.

While it's easier to just rule out an entire category of books, doing so will eliminate some good along with some bad. And, in fact, accepting all authors whose books are published by "accepted" publishers will let in some bad along with some good. If conference organizers really want to judge quality, they should do that. If that's too time consuming, why not let any author apply to be on a panel and select the ones whose panel proposals they like? As long as they let all authors apply and as long as they have some specific merit-based criteria for judging the proposals, we reformers would accept their decisions.

I would not object to being denied author status at a conference if someone had actually looked at my book and decided it didn't qualify. I might not agree with their judgement, but I would accept the process. I do, however, object to being denied author status because my family owns the company that published my book or because I have a financial interest in that company. That is discrimination because it's exclusion based on my being in a certain category or group of publishers, rather than on the merit of my book.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Omaha Mystery Conference Discriminates Against Family-Owned and Entrepreneurial Publishers

Family-owned businesses have long been the backbone of American society. Some 35% of Fortune 500 companies are family-run. Family businesses account for 50% of our gross domestic product, and generate 60% of the country's employment and 78% of new job creation. Similarly entrepreneurship has been a major contributor to the success of the U.S. economy. Many important innovations, such as the automobile and the personal computer were commercialized by entrepreneurs.

Universities, foundations and organizations throughout this country conduct research, run programs, and produce reports designed to assist family businesses and entrepreneurs in growing their businesses and passing them on to the next generation. It's the American way. Except in publishing, where a movement to stifle or eradicate entrepreneurial and family-owned publishing companies is quietly gathering steam.

The Mystery Writers of America (MWA), an organization that defines itself as " the premier organization for mystery writers, professionals allied to the crime writing field, aspiring crime writers, and those who are devoted to the genre," has developed a list of "approved publishers," and a set of criteria authors must meet to join as active members or enter the prestigious Edgar Award contest. The MWA criteria blatantly discriminate against authors whose books are published by companies that are not on an MWA-approved list. And in an alarming trend, conferences and contests are adopting this discriminatory, elitist list.

Take the Mayhem in the Midlands 9th Annual Conference May 22-25, 2008 in Omaha, Nebraska, sponsored by the Omaha Public Library. This is a conference for mystery lovers—where fans can meet their favorite authors and writers can meet their readers. But some authors are excluded from being on panels—most strikingly those whose books have been published by a company owned by themselves or a family member. According to the conference website, "The Mayhem committee uses the Mystery Writers of America list of approved publishers as their basis for determining author status for participating on panels."

This means that for me to have "author status" at this conference, my book must not have been published by a privately-held publishing company with whom I have a familial or personal relationship, and it must not have been published by a company in which I have a financial interest. And, the publisher of my book must be on the MWA list of approved publishers, which requires that a publisher meet a long list of criteria—including having been in business for at least two years since publication of its first book by a person with no financial or ownership interest in the company, and publishing at least five authors per year other than those with financial or ownership interest in the company.

How does this fit with the American dream that anyone with a skill or a product can start a business, enter the marketplace and compete on a level playing field? It doesn't! It looks like a blatant sop to large corporate publishers who already control most of the book buying and selling industry in this country.

What's next? Will the artwork of an artist who owns his/her own gallery be excluded from juried shows? Will a chef-owned restaurant not be considered for a rating by restaurant critics? Will an attorney who joins a family firm be excluded from professional legal conferences? Will produce and other crops grown on family farms be considered inferior to that grown on large corporate farms? Will a family-owned construction company or plumbing company be excluded from competitive bids for government contracts?

Of course not. We have laws to prevent this kind of discrimination—laws that people have fought long and hard to establish. And furthermore, we want to encourage creative enthusiastic go-getters to take risks and put their products out in the marketplace. Most people in this country don't want to promote the interest of large corporations over small business.Are attitudes different in Omaha? The Mayhem Conference is sponsored by the Omaha Public Library, which describes itself as "a nationally recognized public library known for its innovative programs, excellent staff and visionary community leadership." Strange way of showing visionary community leadership, I'd say.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Can We Unclog Reviewers'Filters?

What if by some miracle, reviewers take notice of my October 4 posting on this blog and say to themselves, "She's right. We'll start accepting all the books that come in and judge each book on its own as to whether it is worth our review."? Will that eliminate all bias against self-published books? Not likely.

As long as reviewers are aware of a book's publisher, self-published books and those published by small independent publishers will be at a disadvantage. Even when quality is high, it's easy for bias to creep in.

Malcolm Gladwell gives an interesting example in his book Blink. A female professional trombone player, Abbi Conant, auditioned for the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra in 1980, in an unusual—for the time—"blind" audition with candidates unidentified to the committee and playing behind a screen. When the judges heard Conant play, they were so impressed that they immediately said, "That's the musician we want." But when Conant came out from behind the screen, showing herself to be a woman, the judges reverted to old beliefs that the trombone is a masculine instrument that can't be played well by a female and said they couldn't hire her. After several more auditions, she was hired but—despite outstanding performance—fought for many years to be allowed the solo performances and level of pay that would have been easily hers if she had been male.

Why do prejudices prevail even when contradicted by evidence? It's partly because our filters are clogged with old stuff.—ways of looking at things, beliefs about what is good or bad or about what people should or shouldn’t do. Clearing out that stuff, choosing to look at things differently is not easy.

So how can we keep preconceived ideas about an author or publisher from influencing reviews? Probably the best way is to keep the identifying information from the reviewers. Gladwell points out that over the past 30 years as it has become standard practice for musicians to audition behind screens, the number of women in U.S, orchestras has increased fivefold. Similarly, many academic journals today select papers to publish using blind peer review which means that experts (usually 2 or 3 for each article) review manuscripts for publication without knowing who wrote them.

Sometimes a self-published author is fortunate enough that a reviewer gets involved in her/his book before learning it is self-published. This happened to my daughter, Laurel Osterkamp, when she sent out press releases to local media in Minnesota announcing her novel, Following My Toes. Because our publishing company is located in Colorado, at least one reporter did not see her book as self-published and requested a copy to review. She liked the book, interviewed Laurel and wrote a full-page favorable article. But she did admit that had she known Following My Toes was self-published (which she didn't find out until the interview), she never would have requested a copy.Clearly the challenge is to find a way to have this sort of blind review of all books. Any ideas as to how we could operationalize this?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

How You Gonna Keep Us Down On the Farm After We've Seen Paree?

A reader started a discussion on an mystery forum with a post about self-publishing saying he/she has written to Amazon asking them to stop carrying self-published novels. But—no surprise here—Amazon has not replied.

Amazon is in business to sell books, not to be a gatekeeper to weed out bad writing. Bricks-and-mortar bookstores do keep out most self-published books as well as many published by small independent publishers, but that's primarily an issue of using limited shelf-space for books that they think are most likely to sell. Amazon doesn't have this concern.

Being able to sell our self-published books on Amazon is a great example of how the internet has opened up opportunities for so many of us to share the products of our creative nature beyond our local community and/or immediate friends and family. The internet has democratized creativity by opening up the creative and/or problem-solving process to everyone.

And we are SO ready! Human beings are creative, imaginative and inventive by nature. We like to express our ideas through visual arts, music, and literature. We like to discover new solutions to old problems. We like to consider issues, formulate opinions and speak out. But for a long time we've had an elitist system that is biased in favor of credentials, expertise, experience, and connections.

The internet is changing all this by providing an opportunity for people to share or sell ideas, knowledge or creations without having to prove they have the credentials

  • We have Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia created by anyone and everyone working together, which is about as accurate in covering scientific topics as Encyclopedia Britannica, according to a 2005 study published in the journal Nature.

  • YouTube, a site where people can upload, view and share original videos complete with music, has in the two years it's been out there reached a volume of 20 million visitors per month, and gets about 65,000 videos uploaded every day.

  • A few years ago, the website asked people to create homemade political ads and posted about 1,500. Currently they are asking people to contribute to an ad campaign with pictures of themselves showing how they feel about the war, and a voice messages to Congress.

  • An online t-shirt company called Threadless gets all of its designs though an online contest that brings in hundreds of submissions each week. A few are posted to the website where anyone can rate them, and the ones with the highest ratings are made into tee shirts.

  • At the InnoCentive website anyone can register as a potential problem-solver to take a shot at coming up with a solution to technical or scientific problems posted by "seekers". Seekers and solvers are anonymous to each other. Companies evaluate proposed solutions on the basis of their merit rather than by evaluating the resume of the person proposing the solution. Solvers whose solutions are selected and used are paid for their ideas.

  • Blogs provide millions of writers the opportunity to share their thoughts, opinions and activities with readers all over the world.

The elitists among us continue to insist that the internet's level field promotes quantity over quality. They want gatekeepers to save them the time of wading through the muck in search of something worthwhile. They say that most people's views are not worth listening to, most people's writing is not worth reading, and most people's art is not worth looking at.

But I think they are fighting a losing battle. Thanks to the internet many of us have gotten a taste of freedom of expression and we like it. And we're not going back to the old elitist system.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Do Reviewers Need Gatekeepers To Save Them From Bad Self-Published Books?

Reviewers are deluged with books begging for review. Many of these books are dreadful. And reviewers are too busy to sort out the books that deserve their attention from those that deserve the trash heap. So they set up criteria to narrow the field by keeping out entire categories of books based on who published them.

Is this a reasonable and necessary approach? No. Reviewers should be able to tell in the first few seconds after they pick up a book whether or not it’s one they want to review. And they don’t need to do that by looking to see who published it.

In his bestselling book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell makes the case for the ability of our unconscious minds to make quick instinctive decisions that are as good as decisions made more slowly and with more background information. For example, he describes an experiment in which students rated the effectiveness of a teacher after watching a five-second sound-free video of that teacher. The students’ snap decisions about the effectiveness of those teachers were essentially the same as ratings of the same teachers made by students who had been in their classes for entire semester.

How can this be? Gladwell argues that a person’s unconscious has the ability to find patterns very quickly using only small bits of information, and then form surprisingly accurate judgements by focusing on the essentials. It’s like when you meet someone new and instinctively know you’ve found a new friend. Most of us can’t explain how we know these things—we just know.

Are these quick judgements always right? No. Can stereotypes lead to false decisions? Yes. Are we more likely to have positive attitudes toward people and ideas that are familiar to us? Yes.

But we can train ourselves to look beyond our stereotypes—such as a belief that all self-published books are junk. One good way to do this is to change our experiences to include positive examples of a group about which we have a negative bias. Following that logic, reviewers need to see some good self-published books. To do that, they need to let self-published books into their stack of potentially reviewable books.

Of course this takes us back to the reviewers’ problem of sorting through all the books. Following the Blink model, they can do this quickly using their ability to make an instinctive decision after reading a page—or even a paragraph—of a book. In fact, editors do this all the time when reading through stacks of submissions.

And I make these quick decisions when I select a book from a library or bookstore. Don’t you? I never look to see who published a book when I’m deciding whether or not to read it. Do you?

Here is my challenge to reviewers. Don’t use an “approved publisher list” as a gatekeeper for what books to review. Accept all the books that come in and then make your own quick judgements about whether or not to review a book by reading a small bit of it. You may be surprised at what you find.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Lessons From the Little Rock Nine

Fifty years ago this week, nine black students entered an all white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. They didn't wait to be invited and warmly welcomed. They walked bravely into the school through sneers, scorn and worse to claim the rights the Supreme Court had established. The rest is history.

Now there's no way I'm going to try to equate the bias against self-publishers with the prejudice and discrimination black people have endured in this country. (Okay I may be a bit intense on this topic, but I'm not deluded). But as I've listened to some of these nine black former students speaking out in interviews this week recalling their experiences from a long-ago time, I've been struck by how their comments describing the feelings they had when prejudice hit them seem to be universal.

  • One woman said that she thought that she would be welcomed to the Central High School, but instead was rejected in a way that was beyond her imagination.

  • Another said she had been taught to look to adults for help, and she did, but the woman she thought was kind spat on her.

  • A man said that because they were entering the school a year or so after some changes had already been made, none of them expected the governor to use troops with bayonets to bar their entrance.

What? Despite the segregation and horrible injustices that had been done to blacks in this country up until then, these people thought they would be welcomed—or at least accepted—in this up-until-then all-white school? Of course they were children, so perhaps they were understandably naïve.

But aren't human beings often naïve in this way? We know we are good people, doing good things, selling good products or whatever. And we (perhaps naively) expect other people to recognize that—or at least to give us a chance to show them.

I think we as self-publishers have similar feelings—or at least I did. We write our books, get them critiqued and edited, re-write them, do (or hire someone to do) the layout and the cover to get them ready for printing—and we are proud of our books when we send them out into the world. Sure we've heard about the bias against self-published books, but we don't realize how bad it will be.

Now I'm not talking about having difficulty getting self-published books into bookstores. That's a complicated issue, especially because of returns, which can be a costly problem for a small publisher. The discrimination I'm talking about is more insidious and more unexpected. It's being told you can't join an organization of authors, or enter your book in a contest, or get it considered for review. It's being told that most self-published books are rubbish so they can't be bothered looking at any self-published books. It's being told your book doesn't measure up before anyone bothers to actually measure it. It's having someone spit on your hopes and expectations.

Bottom line—discrimination hurts. And it's hard to push on in the face of it. It's easier to say, "That's the way it is," and hope it will get better in the future. But, as a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch once told me after I told him I was hoping the market would go back up, "Hope is not a successful strategy." So we self-publishers need to act. We need to speak out against discrimination. We need to rise above it as the Little Rock nine did. Otherwise people will continue to spit on our books.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Is Bob A Self-Publisher, a POD Publisher, or What?

If you believe what you read on some discussion groups, a self-publisher is someone—let's call him Bob—who writes and pays a company to publish a tedious, badly-written, book about his Grandpa Sam's struggle to save his family's farm—let's call it Fighting For the Family Farm: Grandpa Sam's Struggle to Survive. And, since no one outside Grandpa Sam's immediate family and maybe a few neighbors has any interest in wading through Bob's narrative, Fighting For the Family Farm sells only a few copies at inflated prices to people on a list the company requires Bob to provide.

Wrong. Bob is not a self-publisher. Bob has paid a subsidy or vanity press, sometimes called a "publishing service provider" to publish his book. That company—let's call them has charged Bob a fee to edit and set up his manuscript for printing, design a cover, and print the books. On top of that, YourBookInPrint has used their own ISBN number for Bob's book, has sold him a marketing package, and has set the book's selling price, which is higher than similar traditionally-published books. Bob can buy copies at an "author's discount," but even then, they are expensive.

If Bob were a true self-publisher, he would have started his own publishing company, bought some ISBN numbers, maybe paid someone to edit and typeset his manuscript and design a cover. Or, if he has skills in layout and design, he may have done those tasks himself. Then, when Fighting For the Family Farm was ready to go to print, Bob would have chosen a printer—either offset or digital (POD technology)—to print his books. He then could set the cover price and decide how and where to market the book. In both cases, Bob has paid the costs of publishing his book. But only when he is a true self-publisher does he have control of all aspects of his book.

Either way, Bob's book will be subject to negative prejudices, but as a self-publisher, his book will get more of a chance for reviews, etc. than it would through YourBookInPrint. But what if Bob, as a self-publisher, chooses to have his book printed digitally, through a print-on-demand (POD) printer? Is Bob now a POD publisher? You hear a lot of derogatory comments about POD publishers. And authors report that bookstores turn them down "because my book is POD." What does this mean?

There is a huge amount of confusion about self-publishing these days. It is common to use the term "POD publisher" as synonymous with "subsidy" or "vanity" publisher. Actually, POD means print-on-demand. It is not a method of publishing, but rather a method of printing. Any publisher can use it, and some traditional publishers do use it to keep old books in print without stockpiling thousands of copies. Most subsidy publishing companies now use POD printing. But it's actually not correct to call them "POD publishers." Many small publishing companies such as mine (PMI Books) use POD printing to avoid the book-storage problem.

It doesn't matter to me whether Bob starts his own company and becomes a true self-publisher or goes with YourBookInPrint; or whether his book is printed through offset or digital POD technology. I have my opinions, but the decisions are his. What does matter to me is that he makes an informed choice—that he understands what he is getting and the trade-offs he is making if he chooses a subsidy press rather than self-publishing.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why Self-Publish?

So why do people self-publish, given the stigma associated with it and the difficulties it creates in marketing books? In my own case, I got into self-publishing in 1984, with the demise of a small publishing company that had published a stress-management book, Stress? Find Your Balance, that my husband and I co-authored. The original publisher had printed an initial run of 10,000 books, but was doing no marketing and selling no books. Meanwhile we had developed a computerized stress assessment that we were selling to medical centers, hospitals, and businesses, and that referenced the book. We had the opportunity to sell books in bulk to the purchasers of the stress assessment, but the publisher refused to discount the book price sufficiently for bulk sales.

When we had the opportunity we bought the 10,000 books and the publication rights back, sold those 10,000 copies and then revised the book in 1988 and printed another 10,000 copies through our own business, Preventive Measures, Inc. To date, we have sold 50,000+ copies of Stress? Find Your Balance in this country, and we sold the rights to an Australian edition to Queensland Teacher’s Health Society in 1994. (Interesting side note: That Australian insurance company selected our book and stress assessment for their members because we owned the rights to our book and could negotiate more favorable terms than a traditional publisher would. This was a lucrative contract for us that we would not have gotten had our book been traditionally published.)

Through the mid-1980s and 1990s we were happily selling our self-published book through bulk sales and taking the profits to the bank, without ever thinking about the stigma of self-publishing. We got lots of good comments on the book from health, mental health, and wellness professionals who gave it to their clients and from readers themselves who said it had changed their lives. They didn't care who published the book, only that it got results.

Eventually we got to the point where we no longer wanted to have 10,000 books printed and delivered to our doorstep, although we wanted to keep the book in print. In April 2005, I read with much interest an article in the NYT Book Review entitled, "How to Be Your Own Publisher," which described the new print-on-demand (POD) technology. The article inaccurately equated POD with subsidy publishing, but oddly-enough gave a mostly favorable review of what they called "self-publishing."

This was the first I'd heard of POD technology. I began to investigate and soon found that the companies described in the NYT article had control of both ISBN numbers and cover price for the books they "published," and that their prices for the books were so high that selling many copies would be difficult. I kept looking and eventually found Lulu and then Lightning Source, which we eventually used to print out revised (4th) edition.

Even though the printing costs are higher with POD, we are delighted to have found a way to keep the book available without having to print and store another 10,000 copies. And being able to have boxes of books shipped directly to our customers though a simple online order is a luxury we definitely appreciate.

I was still naïve about the stigma of self-publishing, probably because it wasn't relevant to the sales of that book. It was only when I created an imprint—PMI Books—and published my novel Too Near the Edge and my daughter's novel Following My Toes that I discovered the bias and the problems self-publishing creates for fiction, which is dependent on reviews, awards, signings and other author appearances for its sales.

Even so, I would have made the same choice for my novel, based on my experience with my other nonfiction book, which was published by a big New York publisher, had limited sales and is now out of print. I like having control over the book's title, price, look, when it comes out, and most of all how long it will be available. But I don't like the stigma, which is why I started this blog.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Beware of Overgeneralizations

I appreciate that publicity expert Bella Stander responded to my August 23 blog about being excluded from her Publicity 101 workshops because I am a self-published author. (You can read her comments below my August 23 blog entry, "No Self-Published Authors Allowed.") But I do not appreciate the line of thinking she expressed in her comments.

She maintains that in the past she did allow self-published authors into her workshops, but "their books were so poorly written, produced and distributed that they had no chance of success in the marketplace." Obviously I can't speak to the quality and/or market success of the books written and published by the self-published authors who came to her workshops. But I can say that it is neither accurate nor fair to assume that they represent the universe of self-published books.

Many authors have chosen to self-publish books that have become big success stories in terms of numbers of copies sold and/or selling the rights to a major publisher after originally self-publishing. Here are some examples:

  • The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

  • The One-Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson

  • Life's Little Instruction Book by H. Jackson Brown

  • The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer

  • What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles

  • In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters

  • The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans

  • Invisible Life by E. Lynn Harris

  • My Brother's Keeper by ReShonda Tate Billingsley

  • What's Wrong with Dorfman? by John Blumenthal

  • Familiar Quotations by John Bartlett

  • The Whole Earth Catalog by Stewart Brand

  • Legally Blonde by Amanda Brown

  • The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

  • The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas

  • Life 101 by Peter McWilliams

You can find lots more of these on John Kremer's Self-Publishing Hall of Fame These books obviously had the potential for success in their original self-published form. We know that because they actually became successful books in the marketplace. So weeding out self-published books from contests, conferences, workshops and such would have eliminated these books as well as their lower-quality companions. And that would have been a mistake.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Self-Publishers Must Stand Up

I subscribe to several online groups on book promotion and publishing whose members post regularly. What surprises me is that even though many—and in some cases all—members are self-publishers, the majority seem to agree that most self-published books are second-rate or worse, and that they don’t deserve to be given equal treatment by reviewers, contests, etc.

Now I’m willing to agree with the critics of self-published books that there is a lot of bad writing out there—especially fiction, and especially from subsidy publishers. And I can understand why reviewers faced with piles of dreadful novels decide to close the doors that those books come through. They are already overloaded with books to read and review, so why not make their job easier by refusing to look at books from certain companies, or even from any so-called “non-traditional” publishers?

But as an author who owns her own publishing company, I’m not willing to accept being lumped into a group and labeled deficient. Every book is unique. While as a group, self-published books may be inferior, many individual self-published books are well-written and worth reading. I think self-publishers must stand up and insist on having our books judged on their individual merit.

Some self-publishers say we shouldn’t speak out against unequal treatment because by doing so we are calling attention to ourselves and associating ourselves with writers who have produced bad books. They say if we put our attention on creating good books, the barriers will eventually come down.

But how long is eventually? I’m not willing to wait. Are you?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

No Self-Published Authors Allowed

A couple of months ago, I got an email on one of my listservs that a Bella Stander, a publicity expert who specializes in book promotion has recently moved to Denver. She's apparently well-known and well-regarded among authors. She does 8-hour "Book Promotion 101" workshops around the country, each limited to 8 participants, who pay approximately $500 to attend. I decided to check her out so I went to her website, where I read glowing testimonials about her work.

But, guess what? I can't go to her workshop. She says, "Book Promotion 101 is exclusively for commercial trade book authors. No self-published or P.O.D."

I was stunned! Would I somehow pollute the atmosphere if I went? Or maybe it's not a good thing for me to learn too much about book promotion since I'm promoting a self-published novel? Maybe I'd become more successful than a self-published author should be?

As a self-published author, I'm certainly serious about learning more about promoting my book. And if I have the $500 fee, I don't see why I'm excluded. It could be that her workshop is so oriented toward traditional publishing that I wouldn't get anything out of it. If that's the case, why not tell me that and let me make my own decision about whether it's worth the time and money?

Again, all I want is a level playing field.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Because I'm self-published, I'm not an author?

When I heard that the annual "Left Coast Crime Convention," (LLC) meeting will be in Denver in March 2008, I was excited. The LCC convention is a mystery convention sponsored by mystery fans, for mystery fans. Since I live next-door to Denver in Boulder, CO, and I published my first mystery less than a year ago, I figured this would be a chance to go to a regional conference as an author, meet fans, and maybe even get my book in the "book room" to sell. I went to their website, clicked on "participants" and found a long list—at least half of them authors with links to their websites.

Uh,oh…not so fast. Turns out that to be considered an author at the LLC I have to either meet the requirements for active membership in the Mystery Writers of America or be shortlisted for a major mystery award like the Edgar or the Anthony.

So what are the requirements for active membership in Mystery Writers of America? Well, I have to be a professional writer in the mystery/crime/suspense genre. That makes sense. But beyond that I have to have been paid at least $1,000 in advances and/or royalties for my book, which had an initial print run of at least 500 copies. Furthermore, I can't be considered an author at their conference if my book is self-published or cooperatively published. My publisher must have been in business for at least two years and publish at least five other authors per year, none of whom may be an employee, business partner, or a relative of the publisher. Oops! My husband and I own our publishing company, and so far, all our books have been written by family members.

Then, just to make sure some author of a self-published book doesn't slip through, they say my publisher must be on the MWA list of approved publishers—who they describe as "reputable, professional publishers" who work with agents or other authors' representatives and are listed in the Literary Marketplace or belong to professional publishing associations.

Well my publishing company, PMI Books, belongs to PMA, and we are reputable—but clearly, given all their criteria, they aren't going to put us on their approved list.

But wait, what about the award thing? They said they would consider authors whose books have been shortlisted for certain mystery awards. I'm not on their shortlists but my book actually won a silver medal IPPY award. I didn't think that would get me in, but my husband (ever the optimist) said I wouldn't know until I tried.

So I wrote them a very polite email asking if the IPPY would qualify me to be an author at their conference. They replied that I don't meet the eligibility requirements and that awards like the IPPY are not on the list, "since they are primarily awarded to authors from non-traditional publishing houses."

I think their criteria are outdated, unfair and shortsighted. They are arbitrarily excluding some good books and authors based not on the quality of the books but on the publisher and method of printing. There must be a better way and I think self-publishers need to work together to find and promote it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Hey, reviewers! Take a chance on us!

"Sorry, we don't review self-published books." Too many publications from local newspapers to major national reviewers to ezines use this convenient way of slamming the door in the face of any author whose book is not published by a major traditional publisher.

Because I have chosen to self publish my novel Too Near the Edge (see the "About" page for my reasons), I have been knocking on these doors in the past year. And my nose is out of joint and flattened. I can understand that some reviewers might not like my book, might think it is boring, badly written, whatever. But they can't think that if they haven't seen the book.

So why won't they look at it? My brother, who has been a businessman all his life says, "That's just their business model. They use it as a quick way to cull out the trash because self-published books are less likely to be good quality."

"But is that sort of blanket condemnation fair?" I ask. "After all my novel won a national IPPY award. Shouldn't that vouch for at least a good enough level of quality to get it considered for a review?"

"I didn't say it was fair or ethical," he said. "It's just their business practice."

Approximately 800 books are published every day. So, yes, reviewers are deluged with books to review. Then, like a trendy new NYC bar, they man the door so that only the well-connected get in. As a social worker, I find that unjust. As a publisher, I find that unfair. As an author I find that offensive.

"But your books aren't available in major bookstores nationwide," they say. "Why should we review books that readers can't easily find?" Duh? Have they heard of Amazon and B& Availability is not an issue today as Jan Nathan (recently deceased Executive Director of PMA) explains in an excellent column in the January, 2007 issue of The Independent Publisher, entitled Dear Reviewer: Please Join Us in the 21st Century.

Ms. Nathan ended her column by encouraging all reviewers to move into this century’s book-publishing community. I would echo that and raise it to the level of a challenge. Reviewers should be in the business of judging books, not judging publishers. All we are saying is give us a chance.