Marchbooks' Blog

July 26, 2009

Integrity in the Publishing Industry

It is difficult to become recognized as a new small publisher. With so many books being published every day, it is a challenge to stand out from the masses. Getting your titles reviewed is one way to spread the word about new releases. But, how does one separate the legitimate reviewers from the not-so-legitimate reviewers?

Darned if I know.I bet you thought I was going to drop some great pearl of wisdom on you. Unfortunately, I am fresh out. As a novice publisher, I anticipated a pretty straight-forward process when it came to getting book reviews: find a list of reviewers, send out the ARCs and wait impatiently by the mailbox for the flood of reviews.

Okay, so there is no comprehensive list of reviewers. New plan – painstakingly compile a list of likely reviewers. We did, and it was painstaking.

Even with our list in hand, it did not seem advisable to send copies out willy nilly without the recipient knowing of their pending arrival. So, we sent out a shot of emails announcing our books availability for review.

Because we are new, I did not anticipate that people would be falling over themselves to respond, especially being that the list included major  reviewers like Kirkus, The Harrow and NY Times. What I did not expect was to have 50% of the emails returned to us undeliverable. Apparently there are others out there who are even more remiss than I about updating their websites.

We forged ahead, sending out 30 ARCs of each title to a select group of reviewers. That was two months ago. We had included Midwest Book Review on our list after hearing that they were particularly kind to those who were new to the publishing business.

Approximately one month after that mailing, I received an email from MBR saying that they were declining to review our books because we had sent advance review copies rather than finished books. My faux pas. We had not noticed that they only reviewed post publication copies. I replied with an email that apologized for the oversight and asked them to reconsider their decision. I plead my case. ‘We are a new small publication with a limited budget for review copies. And, after all, the ARCs that were sent were very close to finished (a sentiment that one of their reviewers, Hank Luttrell, readily acknowledged in an email AFTER WE DISCOVERED THAT HE WAS TRYING TO SELL OUR REVIEW COPIES ON THE INTERNET!).

Now, I get that reviewers have to be selective and cannot review every book that comes across their desk.  I would not ask or condone just throwing rejected books away. I think that donating them would be a highly acceptable option…but, trying to make a profit off of them…

This left little doubt in my mind that their request for final copies was not in good faith. After all, they show no compunction for selling an item which is clearly marked ‘Not For Resale’. What other possible motivation would they have for this insistence on finished copies only?

Starting a new business is an arduous task, made even more difficult by people like this who try to profit off of another’s efforts. These books; The Little Insanity and Nightsweats in Bigelow Hollow  are the fruits of someone else’s labor. The publisher went to the expense of printing, packaging and shipping these books to the reviewer. The reviewer responded with a despicable and unscrupulous (in my opinion) act. Is this a cottage industry for MBR – soliciting review copies and then reselling them? Without question, this is not an isolated incident. We sent two titles for review and both copies became available for sale by Hank Lutrell.

Is there no integrity left in the world? It seems that this has become quite an accepted practice. Biblio.com has over 9000 titles listed which bear the ARC descriptor.

It comes down to this – Hank Luttrell, through Midwest Book Reviews, presented himself as a book reviewer. His name was not picked out of a phone book. On the basis of that representation, publishers send review copies (and if MBR has its way, finished copies) to them for review. Certainly, if the reviewer had deigned to read and review these books, I would not take exception to his selling the less-than-pristine copies. He would have earned them. But, sans the review, he has shown himself to be just what he is – an opportunist trying to make a buck off of another person’s sweat and effort. Shame on you.

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26 Comments »

  1. I review books under Clark’s Eye on Books. I do not care whether the book I receive is a manuscript, ARC, or finished book. However, if I do a review on a book received in ARC or manuscript format, I would expect a finished copy after the review is published and the book is printed.

    There are a lot of books which I read in a week, sometimes 3 or more. I do not review all of them, it has to be a book worthy of a review. If it is, I will do the review. However, poorly written books in any format will not get a review. I write for Midwest Book Review and submit about 3 to 4 books per month to them.

    Additionally, during the past year we have done a lot of reviews and built a circulation of over 2 million readers based upon the publications figures of circulation. This does not mean that every person reads the review or buys a book.

    It is a difficult market for reviews. I do not get paid for the books which I review by many of the sites for whom I review. Still, I do not sell the books reviewed. I give them to readers who request them with the caveat they pass the book along after it is read to someone else who would like to have it.

    Put me on your mailing list of books being published. You can send by email and advise. I choose what I like to read. If you published hard core or xxx books don’t bother. If you have good literature, by all means let me know.

    Thanks….

    Comment by Clark Isaacs — July 28, 2009 @ 4:05 pm | Reply

  2. I review books on my blog
    http://write-juncture.blogspot.com/
    and on EzineArticles
    http://ezinearticles.com/?expert=Gail_Pruszkowski
    I review ARCs, galleys, etc.
    If you would like a review just send me an email.

    Comment by Gail — July 29, 2009 @ 9:31 am | Reply

  3. And who can blame you? I feel the same way about adding ARCs to library collections, which also happens although less frequently. I think I need to blog about this!

    Comment by Marie — August 9, 2009 @ 6:28 pm | Reply

  4. I’m sorry you’ve had so many ups and downs as you’ve worked to get review copies out! I know that as a book blogger, I’ve also had a sharp learning curve as I’ve figured out what I can and can’t review (and those I only wish). The interesting debate then is to what extent does this type of “word of mouth” through ARC copies and reviews then trickle down? We know they do a bit for each one of those copies, but how do you really see what happens with those review copies, and then their results. I do know that people rely heavily on reviews to get new books to read. In fact, as a book blogger, I get asked continually for lists of books I might recommend to someone.

    Thanks for making us aware of how things go from your end of things! These conversations help us all be a bit more professional.

    Comment by Becky at One Literature Nut — August 9, 2009 @ 7:24 pm | Reply

  5. Not sure if I am taken aback more by what you’ve reported in this post or part of the first comment ” …if I do a review on a book received in ARC or manuscript format, I would expect a finished copy after the review is published and the book is printed.”

    I for one never expect more than I ask for when reviewing an ARC. I only request or accept ones I feel are a good fit for my blog (and me), and that the publisher, publicist, or author understand that just because I received a courtesy copy, they are not entitled to a more favorable review. I state this clearly in my policy. I also state I am fair and honest with all reviews, even of books I did not like.

    I always make sure each of us know what to expect when I review an advanced copy. Once my review is done. We are done unless another book comes along that you have to offer and that I would like to review.

    Reviewing ARC’s is an act of mutual reciprocity where each party benefits. I am disappointed with the first commenter in expecting more than an ARC, in others who wish to benefit someway financially, and authors or publishers that expect a good review because the book was given away for free.

    For future reference, here is my review policy which is based on many other blogs who feel the same way I do.

    And to echo what Becky says, thanks for the insight and infromation.

    Comment by The Biblio Brat — August 9, 2009 @ 10:47 pm | Reply

    • I would agree. It seems odd that a reviewer would expect a finished copy – but again, my ARCs are very close to finished.

      I will qualify this by saying that I have chatted a bit with that commentator and I have visited his networking site. He has come up with an interesting way of dealing with used review copies. It seems that he offers these copies to people on his network, for the cost of shipping. He calls it the Book Sharing Group. I might suggest going a step further and adding the condition that they tender their own review of the book and making it available again to other members for shipping only, but it is a creative solution to a problem.

      As far as sending a finished book, as a publisher, I would, out of courtesy send a proofreader or reviewer a finished copy, if they were helpful to me working off of a rough copy. I have a friend who has generously proofed some of our manuscripts, out of the pure enjoyment of it. She will definitely be receiving signed, finished copies. But, as I believe I mentioned in the post, my ARCs are almost identical to the finished copy. Their only distinguishing attribute is the absence of back cover copy and the addition of ‘Galley Copy – Not for Resale’ language. However, that did not do much good in this instance, lol.

      I can’t stress enough that I understand that some reviewers receive more books than they are able to review. My issue is with the profiteering. I was sorely disappointed to find that Midwest Book Review was a part of this. More than one source that I had researched, cited them as a friend to small and independent publishers.

      What a disappointment. No one: publisher, author…anyone, wants to just throw their money away. I have only sent one review copy out since that time. I am hoping to screw up my nerve and bank account to get back on the horse.

      Comment by marchbooks — August 9, 2009 @ 11:36 pm | Reply

  6. Your idea about encouraging additional reviews from those in the network is great. We do have that going on and it happened by accident. Many of the people we have doing extra reviews have been reviewing the same books we have already reviewed.

    Comparing the thoughts and reviews by different people can assist the author in the creation of a new book. What galls me is the reviewer who just for the sake of argument pans a particular book because it is not what he or she expected or liked. I got into a big brew-ha-ha with someone who reviewed a book I had previously reviewed. He thought that I had not read the book and just wrote a blurb on the book. What happened was I had been presented a manuscript of the book before publication and wound up being a book doctor for that publication. Corrections were made in the story line and format and it turned out to be a good book.

    Some reviewers are frustrated authors or have never authored a book in in the first place. It is not necessary to author a book to be a reviewer, but you do gain respect for the effort that goes into creation of a book.

    The reason I ask for a finished copy of a book which I have reviewed is that I add it to my personal library! That is not a salable item, it is a treasure to cherish!

    Clark

    Comment by Clark Isaacs — August 10, 2009 @ 10:59 am | Reply

    • Clark,

      I think it is great that you encourage additional reviews from the Book Sharing Group. I have come to one conclusion about readers; for the most part, no two opinions on a book will be the same. Although two readers might like a book, it is often for different reasons. Different aspects of a story, characters, plots and settings will resonate with different readers. A professional reviewer will be looking for certain things. Someone who does not make a habit of reviewing may see that story with very different eyes. Both types of reviews can be valuable to a potential reader and would be valued by a publisher like myself.

      As for the author who sent you an unedited manuscript to review – I have very definite feelings about that. Unless I am looking for editing/proofreading help or general impressions of the story from I friend, I would NEVER send a raw manuscript for a review (whether the reviewer allows it or not). To me, that would be like entering a beauty contest wearing an old pair of dungarees. As a fledgling small publisher, I do not have the resources of a big publishing house, but I have gone to great pains over the last seven months to ensure that our first releases can compete with the best trade offerings. Only time will tell if I have been successful. I cannot count the number of versions which have evolved in the process of bringing these books to their present versions. To send a book out before it has achieved this finished state shows a low regard for the writing and the story (in my opinion).

      I occasionally review posts on different writing sites. I know how infinitely distracting it can be to try to focus on a story when it is entrenched in bad prose, typos and grammatical errors. I have adopted a philosophy of not reviewing writing where it is obvious that there has been little or no effort at editing.
      This is an early rant on the subject, if you’re interested http://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1435158

      Thanks to all who have joined in this discussion. It has been invigorating.

      Comment by marchbooks — August 10, 2009 @ 2:56 pm | Reply

    • Clark, thanks for clarifying why you ask for the finished book. I personally would not do that as I guess I am too much a wuss to be that forward. Plus, many times what I end up receiving are the first editions. It all depends at what point in the process the book is in when I am contacted regarding doing a review.

      Please do not see my comment as being overly negative. For me, if I love the book that much, I am willing to go out and buy a copy thus helping the author get credit for a sale as I know if he or she will be writing another book, this is a figure looked at.

      Again, that comment is nothing derogative toward what you ask for. I’m just surprised because I’ve never heard of anyone doing that before. As I said, it is something I personally feel uncomfortable doing.

      BTW, I think how you handle the ARC issues with your network is great and I also think what Marchbooks suggested is an excellent idea.

      Comment by The Biblio Brat — August 10, 2009 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

  7. I do not feel bad about asking for a finished copy of a book. It is something which I believe is earned by the review. Realize, it takes me a couple of days of reading to finish the book. Then it takes a day of configuring an approach for the review and then writing the review itself. My reviews are concise and to the point. We have (my wife and I) to edit our draft, make it sensible, and finally complete it. During the past year and one-half we have written over one review per week, read a total of 3 to 5 books per week and distributed the reviews to on-line media, newspapers, and magazines.

    We do not get paid for the reviews as that would compromise the integrity of the review itself.

    Most publishing houses who we receive books from automatically send us a finished copy of the book, especially after we have done a review of the book, sometimes, they just send us the copy without a review being done.

    We have many signed books which are really special to us. We have been building wonderful relationships with the authors during the past couple of years and do not hesitate to call them to find out their thoughts about the book after it has been completed.

    We review, fiction; non-fiction, and even historical fiction. The reality is that we really like the book business. I have written a few books both fiction and non-fiction. I wrote and directed two movies, they were business films, but what a great experience that was.

    I buy a lot of books as well as receiving them for review purposes.

    In the past I had a library of over 20,000 volumes and had to dispose of it because there was not enough space to store it.

    Hope that explains where I am coming from.

    Clark

    Comment by Clark Isaacs — August 10, 2009 @ 5:10 pm | Reply

  8. As a book blogger, I usually receive finished books for review rather than ARCs. I certainly would never expect a finished copy as well as an ARC. As for what to do with a review copy once I’ve posted a review, I either keep the book for my personal library, hold a contest on my blog for the review copy (ARC or finished book), or donate the book to the local jail or state prison for their library. I agree that selling an ARC/review copy isn’t polite (at the very least), and I’m sorry to hear this happened to you.

    Comment by Genre Reviews — August 10, 2009 @ 5:11 pm | Reply

    • I think it all comes down to two things when discussing ARCs versus finished books: the comfort level of the reviewer in asking for a finished copy (which I think is more than fair if the reviewer has taken the time to review the book – note that in my case Midwest had refused to review our galleys and had the gall to request finished books, which no doubt would have also ended up on sale). and the quality of the ARC.

      My understanding is that some ARCs are little more than manuscripts with a plain white cover, and as Clark pointed out, some are not even fully edited (a concept I am still having a hard time wrapping my head around). If an ARC is, for all intents and purposes, finished – and I cannot believe I am quoting the offending reviewer here, ‘As you might expect for an edition that actually appears before the nominal first edition, many collectors find these of interest’. At least that was his response to an email for information regarding our galleys that he had put on sale.

      I do appreciate the fact that many reviewers put considerable time and effort into their reviews, without compensation, just for the love of a good book and I would have no issue with their desire to have a finished copy of the book in their library.

      Comment by marchbooks — August 10, 2009 @ 5:43 pm | Reply

  9. “Certainly, if the reviewer had deigned to read and review these books, I would not take exception to his selling the less-than-pristine copies. He would have earned them.”

    Really? Why? Selling ARC’s, whether they’ve been read or not, reviewed or not, is illegal. It is stealing from authors and from publishers. Period. You’d think “book people” would understand. Seems to me that the commentators have gone down a rabbit trail discussing whether or not it is poor form for a reviewer to expect a finished copy as well as an ARC when the real point of the post was the integrity of reviewers who sell ARC’s.

    Comment by Marie Skinner — August 11, 2009 @ 12:37 pm | Reply

    • I am open to going wherever the discussion takes us…to a point.

      As for selling the used ARC after it has been reviewed – I truly feel that the reviewer has earned that right by tendering their review. True, I would not do it, because the copy is clearly marked ‘not for resale’ and it is technically illegal. Would I take exception to it? Probably not, because I don’t think there is the same degree of malice involved.

      I have struggled with a bulging library myself. It is a sad fact that most people do not have the space to keep every physical book that they like in their personal library. I don’t object to someone else buying and enjoying these titles in this situation any more than I would object to someone culling their library by having a yard sale. My objection is someone who represents themselves as a reviewer and then takes the fruits of that representation, without giving anything in return, and makes a profit off of them. There is a difference (to me, in any case) between honoring the unwritten contract and failing to act in good faith from the outset, which is what I think this particular reviewer is guilty of.

      Comment by marchbooks — August 11, 2009 @ 1:11 pm | Reply

  10. But “technically illegal” is still illegal. If you start saying that it’s okay for some people to sell their ARC’s and others not, then where does that end? My library is also very crowded but there are other options for cleaning out your library than selling ARC’s, they can be passed on to friends or donated.

    I think the problem of illegal ARC selling goes on precisely because it is considered a “petty” theft and people look the other way. As you noted in your post, all sales adding up to big dollars. Obviously it would be impossible to go after every individual, but I have long thought that someone, perhaps the Author’s Guild, should go after the biblio.com’s and ebay’s of the world. They are selling these books with full knowledge that they are stolen and they do it with impunity because no one tries to stop them. If we don’t expect reviewer to honor the written law and contracts, how can we expect them to honor the “unwritten” ones?

    Comment by Marie Skinner — August 11, 2009 @ 6:51 pm | Reply

    • There is no contract between the reviewer and the publisher. There is an understanding that the books furnished are for review purposes. Once the binding is broken the book is now a used book and does not fit in the same category as a new book. A used book can be disposed of in any manner the owner sees fit.

      There is no written law, if the publisher does not like what the reviewer does with the books, don’t send them books! It is that simple. If a reviewer constantly pans a book by a certain publisher or a self-published book, then that publisher should examine why they are sending that person books!

      Send review copies is expensive, that is why I tell the publishers, send them by media mail USPS. The fact that UPS or Fed-Ex will get a lot of dollars less does not bother me. It does not speed up the process at all. My wife and I review a book a week and sometimes 2 or 3. We have a back-log of many and try to do our best to get them out in a timely fashion. We do not like writing about books more than 1 year old. Donating to the local library or giving to friends or others to keep books in circulation enhances readership. It is not cutting into the livelihood of authors since they had already allocated the book for publicity. I really like the idea of getting more reviews from the books and will be telling those I give a book to, “Review this book and Post it at my website”. What a great idea that is.

      Clark

      Comment by Clark Isaacs — August 11, 2009 @ 7:17 pm | Reply

      • I believe that good ideas are built like a wall, one brick at a time. You laid the foundation.

        Comment by marchbooks — August 11, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

    • Marie,

      that is a wonderfully stated argument, and I don’t disagree at all. As I said, selling something that is clearly marked ‘Not for Resale’ is something I would never do, but as with most things in this world, there is not so much black and white but shades of grey. Yes, wrong is wrong but, where the reviewer has read and reviewed the ARC that was tendered, it has served its purpose. I send an ARC out to get a review and it got a review.

      For me, and again this is nothing more than my opinion, the difference is intent. Setting oneself up as a ‘reviewer’, just to encourage authors and publishers to send books for review when you fully intend to take some of those books and sell them (in a pristine and unreviewed condition) is unethical and misrepresentative.

      I think Clark has hit the nail on the head – selling a used ARC, that has already served its purpose is vastly different than actively marketing stacks of unblemished Galleys in direct competition with the publisher or author’s efforts. A person who is in the market for a new book is not likely to be persuaded to buy a used ARC. A clean ARC, on the other hand, that is priced to undercut the publisher’s retail is taking a sale out of the publisher’s hands.

      I think that Clark’s solution is a wonderfully creative one. He is offering used ARCs to a community of people that he is familiar with – people that he knows are interested in books and reviews. Like donating the books to a library or school, this is a way of creating more interest in the book. What publisher could ask for more? I would be delighted to see any of our books travel around the world in a book exchange like what Clark proposes, especially if each of those readers would take the time to write even a small comment on his blog, his network or on Amazon.

      As for the Bibios of this world – I totally agree with you that they should be severely penalized for so blatently offering a venue for people to sell these books. It sounds like a contradiction. Let me reiterate – for me the difference is between selling a brand new, unread ARC and selling a used ARC that has already served its purpose (gotten a review).

      Comment by marchbooks — August 11, 2009 @ 10:16 pm | Reply

  11. Well, we probably won’t ever agree on all these points but, we’re all on the same page about the best way to rid the library of unwanted ARC’s – pass the books on to friends, family, libraries, etc. who might enjoy them.

    Comment by Marie Skinner — August 12, 2009 @ 4:52 pm | Reply

  12. Here is a link to SLJ… I don’t know if it will help, I’m sure since this was written a while back you might already know who is good and who not to trust.
    http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/info/CA6409019.html
    My husband does reviews for them. As you can read, they are a little selective, which is fine.
    Good luck with this round of reviews,
    Sarah

    Comment by sarahwinters — September 26, 2009 @ 1:13 pm | Reply

    • Sarah,

      Exchange of info is always welcome and appreciated. I did not have this link. Oddly enough, one of my early resources was an article put out by Jim Cox of Midwest Book Review on how to spot an unethical book reviewer. Quite interesting, considering…don’t you think?

      Comment by marchbooks — September 26, 2009 @ 6:29 pm | Reply

  13. Here is an interesting update. I had offered to send books to those who are members of my web site. Well, the funny thing is that after three months, no one was will to ask for a book!

    I would have sent them free, but it seemed that no one wanted to get them.

    During the last couple of weeks we had a friend we met on the web stop by and stay a couple of days out here on our ranch. We gave her a book to read and write a review. We are very pleased with that review and will run it as a guest review in our column this coming week.

    Strange, but true, many people just do not have time to read books other than those they have selected.

    What I really like about this business is the books and reading them. Sure, we do not make any money at this, but someday it might be decided by powers that be, it is not a bad thing to send a review a few dollars to purchase books or buy a little frue frue, they might not otherwise have.

    Clark

    Comment by Clark Isaacs — September 26, 2009 @ 1:51 pm | Reply

    • Clark,

      that is a curious phenomenon. Perhaps most of the people on your site are more comfortable reading reviews than writing them. Many people find the writing of reviews to be very stressful and daunting if they are not accustomed to it.

      They feel insecure about writing them and nervous about how their reviews will be received. One of the sites that I spent long hours at, in the past few years, incorporates reviewing into their philosophy, yet on average only about 10% of those who read a piece actually take the time to write a review.

      If you were so inclined, you might want to make your offer on a site that caters to the reviewing community rather than the reading community. One such site is http://bookblogs.ning.com/group/bloggingbooks .

      They have a pretty extensive membership and numerous subgroups ie. for fantasy and YA titles.
      Just a thought.
      elizabeth

      Comment by marchbooks — September 26, 2009 @ 6:40 pm | Reply

  14. This just dawned on me… so I had to come back. But here is one of those times where the Kindle & Reader would come in handy. For book reviews! If there was some way the author/publisher could offer a freebee to a few chosen reviewers then the book could not be sold illegally over the net. There should be a way this could be done… it would save the author and publisher from losing a little money and from being scammed. I know the reviewing place would have to be willing to work like that, the reviewer them self, and then Amazon or Sony would as well, but it would work. Maybe with a free book code or something…
    Sarah

    Comment by sarahwinters — September 26, 2009 @ 2:59 pm | Reply

    • Sarah,

      I am still looking into the question of whether or not to offer our titles on Kindle. I do know that with some reviewers, they specifically refuse to read eversions. For those that will accept them, it is a great idea. Would be great to save all of those shipping and review copy costs (Not that I begrudge it, she hastens to add). I have no problem going to that expense, as long as we ultimately get reviewed.

      It is the numerous copies that are lost in the ozone (or worse, sold on the internet) that are my only cause for distress.

      Comment by marchbooks — September 26, 2009 @ 6:47 pm | Reply

  15. About three weeks ago I came up with the same conclusion as I was investigating the kindles. Since the cost of sending the books is so high and the Kindles or Readers are getting a bit more sophisticate (7,500 book storage) and also with back lighting, and thin and on and on.

    It would make sense to do this. The cost initially is expensive and the transition period would have some cross over, but the result would be less cost to the publishers and certainly would consume a lot less space on my book shelves.

    However, here is the rub, if there is going to be a future cost saving beyond the start up, pass some of this to the reviewer who does the review. Pay a small stipend for the time, trouble, and effort to download a book. If the book is reviewed and the review is published, pay to buy back the download. This would retain all rights for the publisher and author, not be involved with paying for the review itself, and leave the integrity of the review sacrosanct which is what the major papers and critics alike seem is important.

    In pursuit of this idea I wrote to a large publisher about this idea. Have you heard from them? I never did either.

    Clark.

    Comment by Clark Isaacs — September 27, 2009 @ 10:30 am | Reply


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