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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