A truly scary place!!!

The other night I had the opportunity to participate in a radio show, a round table about book reviewing and the publishing industry as a whole. To say the least, it was an informative 45 minutes, the discussion though could have gone on far longer.

Many aspects were discussed, however there was one underlaying theme that kept rearing its ugly head. The sudden growth in the POD (Print On Demand) sector of the book industry. When I first heard of POD some years ago, I was elated. Finally there was a way to circumnavigate the mire of agents and established publishers. Having interviewed many, many authors over the past few years I can honestly say that the most common gripe from them was the difficulty they experienced in finding an Agent or a Publisher that was willing to take the project. In fact one enterprising Author actually went so far as to buy his own publishing house!

POD changed the lay of the land, whip out your credit card and you can print as many, or as few copies as you need. A particularly attractive option is BookSurge, this POD company is owned by Amazon, you can list your book on Amazon and as copies are needed they will print them. What could be better?

Well unfortunately there is a downside to POD, and it is a serious one. Removing the roadblocks also removes many of the otherwise mandatory quality checks. You can write whatever you want and get it into print. There can be spelling and grammar errors, there can be holes on the plot line, and a hundred other issues. That is not to say that all POD books are bad, just that the potential exists.

The average first time author does not have a lot of money to throw around, so the idea of saving a few hundred dollars avoiding a professional editor seems like a good move. Instead, this almost certainly rings the death knell for the book. Your wife/husband, mother, best friend, makes for a lousy editor. They are not trained in the science. Yes I said science. Good editors are not just spelling and grammar freaks, they are story shepherds. They ensure that the plot flows and develops in a balanced and readable way.

As a child my mother would use the phrase “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover”. This English saying is often used to describe someone that has a gruff exterior, but a heart of gold. Alas I must disagree with my mother, reading in excess of 100 books a year I have become fairly good at judging a book by its cover, and I am rarely wrong. The first thing I do with a book, is check the cover to see you the publisher is. If it is from a large publishing house like Harper Collins it will have been edited to death by the best of the best. This, incidentally does not usually make for great reading. If it is from a small house it will be edited correctly, and the authors story will be told the way the author intended. If it is a POD creation, and after a while you get to know who the POD publishers are, warning bells go off in my head. My next step with POD is to read the acknowledgments to see who gets editing and proofing credits, if it is a relative or friend, I start to cringe!

I am rarely wrong, this class of book will have typos, and other problems with it. About a year ago I reviewed a book by a first time author. I really liked the story line, but the story was written in a choppy style, no editor was my surmise. I interviewed the author and slipped the question to him in a round about fashion. I had a hard job keeping a straight face with his answer. He had indeed spent top dollar on an editor, but hated the fact the she had hacked his masterpiece up, so once she had finished the hack and slash, he had spent 6 months un-editing it back to its original form!

Another hurdle for the first time author is getting exposure, generating buzz about the book. One excellent way is by getting people to review it. This used to almost inevitably lay in the world of newspapers and magazines. That is no longer the case, the traditional print media has been spiraling downward for years, and as readership wans, the space provided for lifestyle and literary articles has shrunk to microscopic proportions. Unless you have a NYT bestseller you are not going to see your name in print. Sending review copies out blindly will do nothing more than deplete your bank account faster than a Wall Street meltdown.

The internet has become a major hub for reviews, and there are indeed a huge number of really good review sites with very conscientious reviewers, of course there are also a huge number of sites that will publish any old rubbish! Good reviewers are few and far between and with 300k new titles being published every year, competition is fierce.

I am often asked where do I get my books from, and how do I select them.

The majority come from small presses that I work with fairly often, I know the owners and I know that they would not publish a bad book, so when they ask for my help, I almost always agree. The same rules for the most part apply to PR companies that I work with on a regular basis.

A surprising number of books come from authors that I have previously reviewed. Their work is a known entity, and so I almost always say yes.

Pretty much this fills up my reading calendar. I do receive a lot of press releases and emails about new books, but only a few get more than a cursory look. Occasionally I will get a personalized note from a publisher or author, something along the lines of, I noticed that you recently reviewed abc by xyz, I have just published a book that I think would appeal to you because………

This approach works! Here is someone that has done some homework rather than blindly cc’ing everyone they can possibly think of. The chances are high that I will say yes, or if I cannot personally do it, I will ask around my group of reviewers for a volunteer. Either way, a review will happen.

Simon Barrett

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