Refusing to Review Self-Published Books

This article at the Los Angeles Review of Books sets out to make the point that there are far too many self-published books and explore the stigma of that label, but I found it more enlightening in its comments on review policies. Apparently major media, newspapers and magazines, don’t cover self-published works as a rule, believing them to be “amateurish”.

The Washington Post does not review self-published books. The Post’s fiction editor Ron Charles admits, “We simply don’t have the staff to wade through the torrent of submissions that would come in.”

Laurie Hertzel, Books Editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, doesn’t review e-books or self-published books. “I receive about 1,000 books a month from commercial publishers, large and small,” she says, “and it’s all I can do to keep up with them. Adding e-books and self-pubbed books to that mix would quickly raise the number to something closer to infinity.”

Steve Paul of the Kansas City Star says, “…The main problem is that self-publishers think they don’t need editors. And real editors and real publishers serve as a gateway, making the first judgment of whether a manuscript is of interest beyond the author and his family.”

Freelance reviewer Mark Athitakis has never reviewed an indie-published book [and] says, “I somewhat testily discourage writers from pitching me self-published books. I get some testy emails in response, but the fact is that reading a book is time-consuming, and while I’ll try pretty much anything, I want evidence that more than one person was excited enough about a book to see it into print before I invest that time.”

These sources rely on publishers to serve as a filter, believing them to have winnowed out lower-quality books, so that the big name becomes a way to vouch for the quality of the material.

Comics has always been different when it comes to this, without people looking down as much on those who self-publish. (The term “vanity press” doesn’t have any meaning in comics.) After all, when you have gifted creators achieving success with works such as Bone or Finder or Strangers in Paradise, it’s hard to argue that self-published works are poor quality. And artist-driven works are often more interesting, vibrant, and creative than the franchise maintenance works coming from the big US comic publishers, as well as more diverse in subject, genre, and viewpoint.

Still, for a second, I was thinking about how different my to-do stack would be with this rule in place. I’d have more time for books from outlets like Oni, Top Shelf, and Dark Horse, less for discovering the next artist to watch.

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