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.