PW Select: Opportunity or Exploitation?

NOTE: PW Select no longer offers reviews. PW Select listings now appear in the magazine’s print and digital editions, and authors who buy PW Select also receive “featured” listings on PW’s BookLife website.

Print on demand technology has done a lot over the past 10 or 12 years to change the publishing landscape. Among other things, it has created an explosion of fee-based publishing options, small publishers, and micropresses. These ventures in turn have driven an intense proliferation of services targeted to writers, all of them intended (theoretically, at least) to offset the minimal marketing and limited distribution that’s typical of POD publishing services and small presses.

Among these new writers’ services (or “services,” depending on how incompetent or unscrupulous the providers are) are book review services that review for a fee. Many are independent, and often run by not-necessarily-highly-qualified people–for instance, Reader’s Choice, which offers an Express Review Upgrade for $45 (you can pay more if you want a marketing package as well), or IP Book Reviewers, which charges between $50 and $90 depending on length.

Other paid review services are associated with a review publication that mainly does non-paid reviews. The “sponsored reviews programs” from San Francisco Book Review and the Sacramento Book Review cost $99 to $299, depending on how fast you want your review (if you’re a writer, you may have been spammed by one or both of these magazines). ForeWord Magazine offers Digital Reviews for “worthy” books that can’t be covered in the magazine ($99), and Clarion Reviews for authors “experiencing trouble getting your titles reviewed through traditional outlets” ($305). And of course there’s Kirkus Discoveries ($425 to $575, depending on turnaround time). To preserve the appearance of impartiality, none of these services promises a positive review (and indeed I’ve seen some pretty negative ones from Discoveries)–and all of them segregate the paid reviews from the rest, publishing them only online or burying them in a special newsletter.

Is it ever worthwhile to buy a review? Not in my opinion. With independent paid review services, quality can be a problem; plus, there are plenty of non-professional book review venues out there that will review for free. With services like Discoveries, you may actually get a professional-quality review–but it will be a second-class review, stuck in some backwater on the service’s website. Plus, no matter what altruistic motive the service offers to justify its fees, paid reviews are less an effort to expand review coverage to worthy books than an opportunity to make some extra cash by exploiting self- and small press-published authors’ hunger for credibility and exposure.

Now there’s a new entrant in the fee-for review arena: Publishers Weekly. This coming December, PW will launch PW Select, a quarterly supplement that will focus on…

…announcing self-published titles and reviewing those we believe are most deserving of a critical assessment…Each quarterly will include a complete announcement issue of all self-published books submitted during that period. The listings will include author, title, subtitle, price, pagination and format, ISBN, a brief description, and ordering information provided by the authors, who will be required to pay a processing fee for their listing. At least 25 of the submitted titles will be selected for a published review. There will also be an overview of the publishing trends that can be identified from among the titles from that reading period. We will also focus on the opportunities that the self-pub world offers. A resource directory will accompany the section offering names of companies providing services in the DIY space.

The entire PW editorial staff will participate in a review of the titles being considered for review, and we’ll likely invite a few agent friends and distributors to have a look at what we’ve chosen. No promises there, just letting some publishing friends take advantage of the opportunity to see the collection.

The reading period for the December supplement will be September 1 through October 31. The processing fee is $149 (plus the cost of a book and postage), and includes a 6-month subscription to PW’s digital edition (much of PW’s digital content is available for free, so this is less generous than it appears). Finished books or bound galleys only; no ebooks or manuscripts.

So, let’s recap:

  • PW, probably the best-known of the professional review venues, is opening its doors to self-published authors for the first time…
  • For a fee of $149…
  • Which will buy:
    – a listing in a supplement (not the main magazine) that includes advertising from publishing services and fee-based publishers…
  • Which may buy:
    – a review, but no guarantees…
    – a look-see from an agent or editor or distributor, though no promises.

Fees notwithstanding, those are powerful lures for exposure-starved writers. I suspect a perfect storm of books is about to head PW’s way.

PW Select is not quite like other paid review services. You aren’t paying for a review–just for a listing and the possibility of a review. This may seem like splitting hairs, but I think it’s a meaningful distinction, since it allows PW to, in its words, “maintain our right to review what we deemed worthy.” Precisely because authors aren’t buying a review, a review, if they get one, may have more credibility–assuming of course that it’s a real review, not a couple of lines of summary, which we won’t know for sure until the first issue comes out. And whether or not PW follows through on its non-promise to involve agents, etc. in the selection process, I think it’s not a stretch to imagine that at least some industry people may be watching PW Select with interest–at least to start.

For a self- or small press-pubbed author with a quality book, therefore, PW Select could–just possibly–be an opportunity. Problem is, most writers believe their books are quality, whether or not that’s so. Many, if not most, of the writers who pay the $149 won’t have a prayer of getting a review (sorry, self-publishing advocates, it’s true. Large numbers of self-published books suck). All they’ll receive for their money is a listing–and while the reviews may attract attention, who will look at the listings? It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone beyond the authors themselves will care.

Plus, there will be that “resource directory” of fee-based services and publishers–great for PW, which gets advertising income, not so great for anyone else, given how saturated we are already with these kinds of ads (and will PW vet them to exclude scammers?). Bottom line: as much as Kirkus Discoveries or any other paid review service, PW Select is a moneymaking venture that feeds on self- and small press-pubbed authors’ hunger for exposure, in full knowledge that the majority of the writers who buy the service will not benefit from it.

Opportunity or exploitation? A little of the first. A lot of the second.

Possibly to PW’s surprise, PW Select has generated some criticism from the self-pub community. And Lee Goldberg points out that there are conflict of interest concerns for PW review staff.

UPDATE 6/9/16: As noted at the top of this post, PW Select has been folded into PW’s Booklife subsidiary (for want of a better term). I take a look at Booklife’s high entry fee award, the Booklife Prize in Fiction, here.

UPDATE 1/29/20: Via PW Select – BookLife, Publishers Weekly has begun to sell a “very special” service:

These prices rival those of the scam magazines I discuss here. And the promise of print exposure is not quite what it seems. Per PW’s Q&A explainer, the interviews appear not in the body of the magazine, but in “PW’s BookLife supplement, which is published the last week of each month bound into that week’s issue of Publishers Weekly“. In other words, easy for readers to ignore or skip over.

PW actually has the wide circulation and industry audience the scammers only pretend to. But given the huge fees and the segregation of the interviews in a separate supplement–not to mention the open question of how useful any kind of print advertising is for book marketing–there’s more than a whiff of the same kind of exploitation here.


  1. Well, I fell for it and regret it. Here is the email I sent PW Select today:

    I received the PW Select supplement. I have some feedback that I'd like you to please pass on to the people in charge of PW Select.

    I first contacted you to ask if a book that had been published in paperback a number of years ago, before PW considered self-published books, could still be considered for a review if the Kindle version had just come out. You said yes. So, I thought my book had a good chance of being reviewed because it had won an award and received many positive reviews. Otherwise, I would not have taken the $149 gamble. It was all for the possible review, not the listing. Your site says your "mission is to find the undiscovered gems out there." I read all the reviews in the December PW Select, and most of them were negative. It seems to me that if the editors were really trying to find the undiscovered gems, they would have reviewed a book that had indications of being an undiscovered gem—a book that had won an award and received many positive reviews from other review publications but was still undiscovered because the author/publisher had next to no marketing budget. Instead, it seems that the editors chose to review mostly books that they did not consider to be gems. I will not be recommending your service to fellow authors, as it appears that in most cases one pays $149 for either no review or a negative review. I have to agree with the following article that it's a waste of money:


  2. I am disturbed by poor quality reviewing, which I have found again in PW for a book of mine, and this poor quality comes out to the following approach: hurry through the work, make a partial summary comment or two, allow distortions on what the work actually says, and do not back up or clarify anything said that is critical, or even scornful. This PW thing is a scam as far as I'm concerned.

  3. I just did an interesting experiment. I examined the non-fiction books reviewed in PW Select: The Complete March 2011 Supplement:

    Two observations:

    1. Not all the reviews are positive. I thought PW would select the top 25+ books and highly them for a review. And maybe even give a star to the 3-5 best ones of that bunch. Nope. Instead, they seem to randomly select books to "honor" with a review.

    2. Here's the more interesting part: I looked up the Amazon sales rank of each non-fiction book that PW Select reviewed. I did this in Oct 2011, just a few months after the July 2011 supplement. Results? Apparently zero impact. Only one of the 10+ books was in the top 100,000. Most were around 500,000 or so, which is worse than my self-pub book that gets no promotion at all.

    CONCLUSION: Authors, don't waste your money on PW Select. By making it an easy-to-throw-away supplement and not making it free online and not highlighting the best self-pub books, PW provides little if any benefit to self-pub authors. BOYCOTT!

  4. RIP-OFF! I paid $150 to have my book, INVITATION TO WONDER: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE SEASONS listed in the March 2011 issue. Despite the description (explores Nature's beauty, wisdom and mystery), PW put it in the MEDICAL category, rendering it invisible to potential buyers. My emails and phone calls to the Managing Editor and Assistant Editor have gone unregarded. SHAME ON YOU PW!

  5. Michael, wow. I assume it has to be a good review?

    Because something left out of this long and turgid discussion is that indeed not all books that get reviewed for free are good books. Sometimes the purpose of the review is to point out that this book is not good at all.

  6. I'm late, as usual. Linda Pendleton and Zoe Winters said pretty much everything I was going to say, anyway, save for comparing it with buying a lottery ticket.

    On the same subject, today I came across a Craigstlist ad offering to pay five dollars via PayPal to anyone who reviews a certain book on Amazon. It doesn't ask anyone to buy the book–just review it. The poster mentions that the book is "faith-based," so I suppose that makes it all okay.

  7. Writing is an art, which requires editing, education and research. The issue most people, reviewers or otherwise, have with self-published books is that they are first drafts, without the benefit of a second or fifteenth pair of eyes, and without any attempt by the author to learn how to make the writing powerful, memorable, or even grammatically correct.

    The marketing of any book depends on spreading the news. Without good reviews from a reader, reviewer or friend, a book will not move beyond friends of the author, trying to be supportive. The value of the book is something else again. Often a self-published book’s value is the sense of satisfaction the writer has seeing his words in print. This does not make it marketable, readable or valuable in the book world.

    Authors need to be realistic. Very few writers make a living writing. The books that do allow that have lasting value beyond the author's sense of personal satisfaction. You can be proud of your grandson for learning to waterski, but that doesn't make him an Olympic athlete. Whether you agree with the traditional publishers' choices for what books they think will earn them back the royalties (and I often don't), traditional publishing means editorial review and board room decisions about where a book fits in a catalogue or within current literature. That means there is someone, educated about current literature, who has selected that book over a thousand other books, as worth reading for more than personal association with the author.

    You read the reviews for a car and a vaccuum cleaner before you buy one. Books are products. Some appeal to more people than others. Some people don't like vampire books. The literary marketplace is smaller than the overall book marketplace. And not every book fits in the literary marketplace. In fact many of those books sell less copies than mainstream books, but the authors continue to write them to build a reputation as that kind of writer, of trying to add to the body of literature. It's not for everyone.

    Decide what kind of writer you want to be. Work hard at it. That's the bottom line. If you want independent reviewers to recognize your writing as better than run of the mill, you can't pay for a review. If you want to sell more copies and you think you can convince some segment of the book-buying public (not all literary connoisseurs), then pay for a review and plaster it all over your book or website. Most educated readers know the difference. Calling yourself indies doesn't fool anyone. You met an editorial standard or you didn't. You don't care about editorial standards or you do. Some self-published authors work at their writing. They have educated themselves to get feedback in other ways and have edited their first drafts over and over. But in all honesty most of the self-published writers I've met do not care about making their writing stronger. They don't edit, they don't take classes. Many of them don't read. It always shocks me when I hear an author say they don't have any favorite authors, they don't have time to read, or their writing is good enough without wasting time on editing. Those people are kidding themselves.

    Serious writers, like all professionals, work at their craft. Talented or not, they edit, they re-write, they discard whole novels sometimes that just don't make the cut.
    And even those writers who spend years on their writing don't always get published in the places they want or by the publishers they'd like to have backing their books.
    This new age slogan that everyone's a winner is propaganda. Anyone can get something in print, but there are a lot of lousy writers out there who ought to be doing something else other than complaining about the labels. Go home and edit. Or read a master.

  8. As a book reviewer, I've read various self-pubbed books. A rare few are wonderful, many are mediocre, and most can't entice me past page one. It is sad, but it is true.

  9. According to Zoe Indie means you can avoid the stigma self-published, but not for long when the terms are interchangeable. We get that.

  10. Shawn, you said it well. Slippery slope.

    There is one easy solution: write well. Marketing does cost money, but desperation for good reviews should not drive strategy.

    Buy ads, set up a website, send ARCs to carefully chosen reviewers, etc.

  11. As a reviewer (primarily posting on Amazon and my website or blog, writers (as do product manufacturers) approach me all the time offering me money. My approach is decidedly different than 99% of other other reviewers, and the writer would like that I apply my style to their book. I appreciate that, but buying my opinion is not the way to go.

    Free books and stuff are one thing. Money is another. Even if I am objective in my subjectivity, as it were, the appearance of lost scruples is enough for me to reject them.

    One author once sent me postage stamps for a self-published, mediocre, poorly edited book I did not request. I used the stamps and did not review the book.

    When I see Kirkus Reviews or the others you list, I dismiss the book entirely. When an author approaches me, quoting Kirkus, they are not helping their case.

    I will take money to write marketing copy and use a similar style, but this will not be posted anywhere by me presented as a review. Then, I charge a genuine writing fee.

    If a publication wants to write reviews for them, that's different. The ethics are clear. I am free to say what I please.

    My time, skill and art can be bought, it's true, but not my integrity.


  12. ….that should have been "it's WORTH nothing to me"…. iPad's keyboard is waaaaay too sensitive:)

  13. Shawn has brought back the issue. For me, the point is, it is wrong for an industry professional of any kind to charge a fee for something that their business is set up to do for free.
    We warn against agents charging for readings, as reading submissions without charge is an assumed part of their job.
    what would we think of publishers charging to read submissions, whether they take the manuscript or not?
    When a review is paid for it's with nothing to me.
    In a sense, PW has always charged for reviews, based on ad space taken out and paid for by commercial publishers. Now, it seems, PW is just opening up that, pay for your review, to indie's, self publishers, et all.
    Oh how very fair and totally misleading to any writers that pay that atrocious subscription rate.

  14. There's Real Conflict of interest here. It's ethically wrong for any review medium to charge for reading a writer's material. When Trade magazines like Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly start reviewing for pay it sets up a slippery slope. How do we know they aren't taking cash for reviews of books from publishing houses? How do we know if the reviews they give good or bad aren't based on the amount of cash paid out to the readers? What if a publisher wants to push a poorly written book on the public and pays these two journals to give it a great review? It cheapens the value of PW's reviews and tarnishes the credibility of the magazine.

    I was asked to review a book this year and guess what I got compensated with: a copy of the book. That's all I was supposed to be compensated with for a review. As a self-published writer I avoid any reviewer who charges for writing a review, it's just morally and ethically wrong.

    For self-published and indie authors there are a dozen book clubs, indie zines and blogs that will review a book for free. It takes a little work on google, MySpace, and Facebook, but a writer can find reviewers looking for fresh material in their genre. Sometimes the reviews in niche are regarded more highly than Kirkus or PW. Self-published writers should save their money and put it towards other promotion menthods.

  15. The problem with my posts is that I don't edit them . . . Anyway, what I am trying to say is the public wants to pay less, therefore publishers think they can do better by charging less for books. They give away the e-books of some writers to support the sales of the books of other writers–but that is by no means all. They also want to charge less for books and since they don't want to take the cut in revenues themselves, they want us to do it.

    The ongoing struggle about e-books, between publishers, writers, the public, and booksellers such as Amazon, is largely not about e-books, in terms of the format. It's about free-books–or at least, cheap books. Everyone is looking at it as a way to reorganize the way revenues are distributed long term, and to hold onto rights for the long term. Unfortunately, readers, publishers, and booksellers are pretty much all fighting to remove financial benefits from writers and take those benefits themselves. The current recession makes the struggle more heated but it would have happened anyway.

  16. Lee,

    I'm about to touch on a sensitive area, but mean no disrespect to anyone.

    We all know labels have power. Take the example of ethnic groups, where when one term is pejorative, many members of the group adopt another term. As in "Negro," versus "Black," versus "African-American," versus some other terms that have never been anything but insults.

    What someone wants to be called, to present the best image for themselves and for their group, is an important issue and should be respected. It's not that anyone is trying to "fool" anyone, but getting respect from others is important.

    And not just for psychological or personal reasons. Respect for a group (or the lack of it) affects the opportunities of the members, how they are treated, and what they are paid for their work . . . which is what we are talking about here.

    Creators of works–writers, musicians, artists, photographers, and others–are being pushed into a kind of Third World status. The "information should be free" crowd appears to hold books in such contempt that they don't want to pay for them (or not much), but at the same time, they loudly assert they want them anyway. They want their very own Third World here in the US, with creators of works slaving away to create cheap informational products for them. And unfortunately, publishers and others involved in paying writers are bowing to this pressure to create cheap informational goods and to give away the e-books of some writers to sell the books of others. And who is taking the pay cut? Us, the writers.

  17. As a full-time writer and a published author, I don't think the titles are important. My experience has shown that it doesn't matter if you're published or self-published, there are people who don't believe writing is a true profession. I support my family with my writing, and I've learned along the way that there people who dismiss or reduce the contribution writers make. Usually, we are the last to get paid in the totem pole, and often, there are people who want us to work for far less than minimum wage, yet expect top-quality writing that sells and makes them buckets of money. That's why I created an eBook called How NOT to be a Starving Writer. It's high time that whatever we call ourselves, that we demand respect from our clients and public. You can get my eBook here:

  18. Fran, I hear ya!

    Lee, what do you mean "fooling anyone?"

    I AM an indie.

    Indie author means independent author. What's hard about that? Why do you so desperately need me to call myself "self-published" all the time. (Incidentally I DO use the terms interchangeably.)

    Isn't it all a marketing game? And isn't marketing all about proper packaging? "Indie" has more cache than "self-published author" no matter how you slice it. Doesn't mean anyone is trying to "fool" anyone else.

    People already know that an indie musician doesn't have a record label and an indie filmmaker doesn't have big studio support, so
    I think it's fairly obvious that an independent author doesn't have an outside publisher and is therefore self-published. And I don't think my readers are morons. So yeah, I'm fairly sure they all "get" that I'm self-published.

    Why are you so concerned with my label?

    I don't need a term to feel better about myself. I've got plenty to feel good about. I'm proud of what I'm publishing and how I'm publishing. I'm making money.

    I work damn hard to produce my books and I have a fan base that loves it. Creating something myself from the ground up and actually starting to build a fan base from it is an awesome feeling.

    You make it sound like "indie author" is equivalent to: "french fry technician."

    PW can think what they want. Their thinking it won't necessarily line their pockets if the eye rolling from the indie contingent is any indication.

  19. I'm not ashamed of being self-published, but since saying so in a press release is an almost 100% guarantee that the press release (and any accompanying review copy of the book) will be immediately dumped in the trash, it just makes sense to use another term in marketing. And maybe, just maybe, thereby get five seconds of focus on the book instead of on the reviewer's or publication's knee-jerk prejudices.

    No offense intended — and I mean that — but do you think calling yourself "indie" is fooling anyone?

    I don't think the term "indie" is aimed at reviewers…I think it's a term created by self-published authors to feel better about themselves. I think using the term "indie" actually perpetuates the stigma of self-publishing rather fights it… it screams, at least to me, that a writer must be ashamed of self-publishing if he insists on calling it something else that means exactly the same thing.

    I suspect PW thinks that it only follows that someone who calls self-publishing "indie" would consider a paid PW review as meaningful as a non-paid one.


  20. Publishing tries to set up "legitimate" versus "not legitimate" publishers, and by extension, writers.

    I have known musicians, dancers, and fiber artists who will readily deliver their opinions of others doing the same kind of creative work, sometimes very negative opinions about certain individuals. They do not, however, in my experience typically try to declare that these people are not "legitimate" and have no right to play music or whatever. I mean, if you think someone's that much worse than you, they're not competition so why worry about it?

  21. Fran,

    I flip-flop back and forth on how I should respond to the "most self-published books are crap" argument. On the one hand, like you say, it's wrong to just "assume" out of the gate that the person one is talking to is one of those people, especially without taking a look at the cover or sample chapter of their book.

    But at the same time, denying the self-published crap exists altogether seems to be a credibility killer. Though it is a double-standard given that there is so much sub-par stuff out there in "everything" not just in the publishing realm. And yet the stigma for self-publishing is completely out of proportion to the situation and completely out of proportion to how other industries deal with the "crap".

    There may be one, but I've never seen another creative industry that was so down on entrepreneurial creators.

  22. Zoe,

    And every computer programmer who sets up a garage business to develop and release his or her software is assumed to be an entrepreneur, while self-publishers are supposed to be merely self-indulgent. Surely everyone has run across badly designed, buggy, undocumented software from tiny companies? Yet, people don't automatically assume the software they are reviewing or buying must be crap.

    It's like prejudice against women, non-white racial groups, gays, the handicapped, and other minorities. I always want to say, "Yes, some people in my self-publishing minority are like that, but not all of us."

    Having said that: Marketing self-published books is an uphill battle, but there are still good business reasons to self-publish. At least for me, and also for many other people.

  23. I'm not ashamed of being self-published. I've been very open about that fact. But… the self-publishing label DOES have stigma. And it is often used as a slur.

    Whether the stigma is deserved or not is not the issue because many indies are putting out a quality product. Many indies are not slapping rough drafts up on Kindle. Many indies get professional cover art and editing. Me and others like me will choose our own labels. I don't "have" to self-reference with a word that is used by most in the publishing industry as a slur.

    Also being an indie author is the same thing as being an indie musician or an indie filmmaker. Those things are respected. Indie authorship should be respected as well.

    There are plenty of crappy indie bands and indie films… just go to Youtube for proof of this. And yet people don't spend all their time obsessing about how much crappy self-published music or movies there are.

    In publishing it's like a favorite past time.

    A LOT of hard work goes into what I do. And those of us who bust our asses to produce and publish good work should not be denigrated along with everyone who didn't put in the effort.

    I've also never denied that most of what's on Smashwords is crap. The difference is that when I say it I don't say it as a way to sweep away all self-published work as if none of it was worthy of consideration by readers.

    I've always readily acknowledged that most self-published work is crap. BUT… that has nothing to do with *me* or anyone else actually putting forth the effort to put out a quality product.

  24. Lee,

    I prefer the term "micropublishing." But there is a value to a term that describes both self-publishers and very small publishers of other authors' books. Both face the same business, financial, industry, and marketing issues–and prejudices.

    It is true that vanity/subsidy presses co-opt all the terms truly independent micropresses use to distinguish themselves in the marketplace as the real (if not always successful) businesses they are. It can't be helped, though.

    I'm not ashamed of being self-published, but since saying so in a press release is an almost 100% guarantee that the press release (and any accompanying review copy of the book) will be immediately dumped in the trash, it just makes sense to use another term in marketing. And maybe, just maybe, thereby get five seconds of focus on the book instead of on the reviewer's or publication's knee-jerk prejudices.

  25. There are quite a number of micropublishers who are not self-publishers, or who publish some of their own books and also some by other authors.

    That may be. But in the self-publishing circle, people who publish their books through Lulu, Kindle, CreateSpace, Authorhouse, etc. all call themselves "indie" in attempt to separate themselves from the self-publishing label and, most likely, the stigma that comes with it.

    Yes, being published by a small press would probably qualify you to call yourself "indie" published. But uploading your book to Amazon, and publishing yourself with a click, doesn't make you an indie. It makes you self-published.

    And I say this as a guy who has self-published his out-of-print work on the Kindle. It is what it is. Calling it "indie" published is every bit as absurd and cringe-inducing as an aspiring author calling himself "pre-published."


  26. Lee,

    There is a distinction between self-published and independent publishing–both of which can also be called micropublishing. There are quite a number of micropublishers who are not self-publishers, or who publish some of their own books and also some by other authors. The big players in the industry lump all micropublishers into the same category. But there is more than one business model in practice.

  27. Plenty of excellent writers are very naive about the publishing business. Indeed, some believe it is essential to their self-image of being "artists." It's in their own interest to discard that outdated idea (even most of the Romantics were writing for cash) and get savvy.

    I've known a fair number of people who worked in various fine arts. My observation over time has been that people who have an A level of artistic skill and a C level of marketing and business skills, often do not succeed nearly as well professionally as people who have a B level of artistic skill and an A level of marketing and business skills. It may not seem fair but it's the way it is: Knowing the business (and having a good sense of self-preservation) counts for a lot.

  28. Zoe writes:
    If indies want to be taken seriously then we can't deny that there is a lot of self-published crap. But what we CAN deny is that it even MATTERS. You can look at a book from a good indie and just look at the cover, the reviews, and a few pages to know it's in a whole other solar system than the rough drafts being published by the majority of self-publishers.

    I mean go on Smashwords… most of what is there is appallingly bad. I can understand why indies would want to fight against the assumption that their work is like that, but denying the crap doesn't make the crap not exist, it just makes those who deny it look like they can't tell quality from crap.

    And if you can't tell quality from crap, no one will want to trust that your work is part of the quality.

    On this point, Zoe, we totally agree. But I must admit I am shocked to see you making this statement when, in other discussions elsewhere, you have objected so strongly when I've made the same observation.


  29. Zoe,

    You're doing it again…proving Victoria's point. You write:

    Please don't misquote me and say I said things I didn't say. I never made an absolute statement. But odds are very good that the "best" indies, will steer clear and PW will not be reviewing the "best" because of the way they set it up, which continues to play into the stigma.
    Define "best indies." The best written self-published work? The best educated self-published writers? The most experienced self-published writers? How do you decide who is a "best indie" and merely one of the self-published? And, undoubtedly, you count yourself among the best.

    What makes you think the author of a well-written self-published book won't be as likely to fall for the PW and other paid review scams as anybody else?

    Every good indie I know has said this same thing. And we've all been posting on our blogs about this issue.
    Define "good indie" vs. "bad indie"? You are establish this elitist view within the self-published ranks that embodies the very snobbery the "indies" claim exists among published authors.

    I agree that most self-published books suck. And I AM self-published. I think that for us to deny most self-published books suck calls into question the quality of our own (indie authors) work.[…]If indies want to be taken seriously then we can't deny that there is a lot of self-published crap. But what we CAN deny is that it even MATTERS. You can look at a book from a good indie and just look at the cover, the reviews, and a few pages to know it's in a whole other solar system than the rough drafts being published by the majority of self-publishers.
    You are attempting, yet again, to make a distinction between self-published work and "indie" when There isn't one.. They are the same thing.


  30. Re the hierarchy:

    I have years of professional training and experience in publishing, and I publish my own books to the same standards expected of me when I worked for midsize publishers. I publish niche books for small audiences: But they are not crap.

    Technology has made self-publishing significantly cheaper and in many ways, easier. And, industry changes are making self-publishing much more desirable for some authors. Industry changes such as, some large publishers' desire to get e-rights virtually in perpetuity for comparatively low payment, and then they blithely circulate unprotected files with no regard for how piracy may affect the author's long-term income. Also, large publishers are expecting authors to do increasingly more marketing work, often very labor-intensive work that significantly cuts into the time the authors could spend on a day job or writing more books.

    Therefore, increasingly large numbers of authors are self-publishing. Some of them are experienced, some are inexperienced but good, some are clueless newbies at everything but will learn, and some are publishing crap and always will.

    Many traditional industry entities–including Foreward, Kirkus, and Publisher's Weekly as well as many other reviewer media, and major wholesalers and chain bookstores–don't want to bother analyzing which books are crap and which are not. It's far more convenient for them to tar all independent publishers with the same brush and reject all their books–unless they pay to play.

    And that is why independent publishers want to be hierarchical: They don't think they personally can eliminate all those powerful industry prejudices–ones that have a very strong effect on their incomes. So, they settle for just trying to get their own books to be considered on the merits of the books, not on the publisher's name, and to get treated fairly by the traditional industry entities. Since this is not in the interest of those entities–or of the large publishers competing for the same review and shelf space those entities support–indepenent publishers very seldom get that fair treatment, no matter how good their books are. But the impulse to try to get it–to say, "Yes, some micropress books are awful but ours are not, please give us a chance"–is natural.

    The Library of Congress does the same thing. Large publishers always get free cataloging data just by asking for it. Micropublishers and self-publishers are denied it by the official LOC rules. If they want cataloging data to make their books more salable to libraries, they have to pay from $55 on up, per title, to an independent cataloging service. It's not much, but the unfairness bothers me, because the LOC doesn't even read any of the books they catalog. And it's yet one more fee independent publishers have to pay that their large-publisher competitors do not have to pay.

    So you can't expect anyone to jump for joy now that they also have to pay Publisher's Weekly (and Foreward and Kirkus), too.

  31. Victoria (not, thankfully, Victoria Strauss):

    I've self-published 9 books (2 currently at the printer). I've run my business for 18 years. I've worked in publishing for 28 years (the first 10 years for midsize publishers). I am not, in other words, incompetent or a clueless newbie.

    Why, exactly, are Foreward, Kirkus, and now Publisher's Weekly charging independent publishers–BUT NOT TRADITIONAL PUBLISHERS–for reviews? If it is a "necessary change in the industry" that publishers "support the magazine" by paying for reviews, why are publushers not ALL doing it equally? You say you would not sully the pages of your magazine with reviews of bad books. So why, exactly, are you ghettoizing ALL independent press books? Why are independent presses supposed to subsidize a magazine that works primarily to support large publishers, while the large publishers get a free ride?

    Publisher's Weekly is the worst because they are not even guaranteeing a review for the money paid by the independent press. PW is NOT saying they will review all books they deem to be worthy. They say they will review 25 books per issue–no matter how many worthy books they receive.

    And I have yet, even once (as a longtime member of very active self-publishing e-groups, as well as by direct contact with publishers I know) to hear of ANYONE buying a review from Kirkus or Foreward and getting ANY marketing mileage whatever for it. It's just announcing to the whole world that the magazine won't mention your book unless you pay them.

    If you need to increase revenues by charging for reviews, charge all publishers equally.

  32. @Victoria Strauss

    Okay, sorry my last post in a row. Please don't shoot me.

    I agree that most self-published books suck. And I AM self-published. I think that for us to deny most self-published books suck calls into question the quality of our own (indie authors) work.

    Most of the bad stuff most people don't see because it doesn't rise to the top. But… acting like it's not there, or it isn't the majority of what's out there makes little sense.

    If indies want to be taken seriously then we can't deny that there is a lot of self-published crap. But what we CAN deny is that it even MATTERS. You can look at a book from a good indie and just look at the cover, the reviews, and a few pages to know it's in a whole other solar system than the rough drafts being published by the majority of self-publishers.

    I mean go on Smashwords… most of what is there is appallingly bad. I can understand why indies would want to fight against the assumption that their work is like that, but denying the crap doesn't make the crap not exist, it just makes those who deny it look like they can't tell quality from crap.

    And if you can't tell quality from crap, no one will want to trust that your work is part of the quality.

  33. @Sue (and sorry for the multi-posts here) I think you make a good point about legitimate companies. I hadn't taken that part of it into consideration. I forget that I witnessed the Harlequin Horizons debacle where Harlequin had the plan to sell their self-publishing services to their slush pile. Or that I watched when Bloomsbury tried to trick their authors into signing into worse contract terms by bypassing their agents and making it sound "exciting" to be getting paid on net.

    I'm jaded enough to know not to trust a "legitimate" company either. But just because I am, doesn't mean everybody else is. So if someone falls for the PW thing, I don't think this makes them in some way "empirically stupid."

    I do still believe it makes them rather naive though. I think a lot of people associate "naive" with "stupid" and I think that's a false correlation. Because we're all naive/uninformed about something. It doesn't mean there is something wrong with our cognitive functioning.

  34. @Carla I think unless we want to say the people at PW are morons, that they knew exactly what they were doing when they worded things the way they did. Rather than being more honest, they put spin on it. So yes, I do believe they are trying to sucker some people in to make a buck. Maybe I'm just more jaded and cynical, but when a company puts that much spin on something, it's my belief that the spin is intentional.

  35. @Victoria… what I said was:

    "MOST actually savvy and talented indies will see this crap for what it is and avoid it, PW will MOST LIKELY have a pool of crappy work from naive authors to pick form for review."

    Please don't misquote me and say I said things I didn't say. I never made an absolute statement. But odds are very good that the "best" indies, will steer clear and PW will not be reviewing the "best" because of the way they set it up, which continues to play into the stigma.

    Every good indie I know has said this same thing. And we've all been posting on our blogs about this issue.

    Might some really good indie who just doesn't know any better, sign up for this? I suppose.

    Why do I insist that it's naive? Because it's a segregated publication and you're paying for a worthless listing with very little chance of review. Maybe someone is a great writer and sends their book to PW and they get selected… they're still in a segregated publication with all the other little self-published books.

    Most of us don't want to be "GOOD FOR SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS" We want our books to stand on their own merit, not based on how they are published.

    If someone thinks my work is good, whether they know I'm indie or not, I want them to think it's good cause it's good, not because it's "good for an amateur effort." That's pretty insulting.

    I understand PW and everyone else can't sift through every single self-published book. But if my work gains enough attention and reach due to it being good enough to make readers passionate about it, then if someone reviews my work, they need to review it as a "book" and not as a "self-published effort".

  36. "A PW review (like those from Booklist, ForeWord, Kirkus and LB) is an honor"

    It is not an honor to be reviewed by ForeWord, it's a purchase that you've made, no different than buying tampons or deodorant. Is it an honor to buy Tampax?


  37. As the publishing world changes, so will more and more businesses pop out of the woodwork identifying so-called 'gaps in the marketplace' where they can offer desperate self-published authors a way to sell more copies of their books. Paid book reviews is one way, but I have to ask, do book reviews really sell more books?

  38. Annon 2:54' why would it be an " honor" to be ALLOWED to pay for a book review??? the mind boggles.

    As I sAid in my other post, to PW, Publish America's money is as good as anyone's. Like PW cares how many sad and hopeful writers they help to take down by aiding in making a vanity press look legit!

    I guess, as the Donald says, it's not personal…….

  39. Ms. Strauss, if you accept Sturgeon's axiom you cited then you would have to include your own work. Do you believe 90% of your work is crud? I've never read one of your books and I don't believe that; I think maybe I'm going to go buy one now. I do like fantasy. If you do believe 90% of everything you write is crud then I empathize. I certainly don't feel that way about my own work because it would steal all of the joy I derive from writing and denegrate the talents with which God's so richly blessed me.

    As to "indie-authors", I'm actually one of those, too. However, please note I didn't call myself an indie author; I said I was indie-published, which is simply to say that I'm not traditionally published.

    I'm also traditionally published. So entering my 14th year as a professional novelist, I've been traditionally published, an indie author, and indie-published. And I'm about to do it all again.

    I hope that clears away any confusion. As I said, the issues raised herein are largely semantics and of no real consequence in the big picture. Thankfully, I don't lose any sleep over it.

  40. Victoria Sutherland, editor of Foreword Magazine said:
    Wake up people. The traditional trade review magazine business model is dead, and publishers, large and small, killed it by expecting to have their books covered in editorial pages but not supporting it with advertising and/or subscriptions.

    I take great exception to this comment, and here's why.

    On July 16, I received an email from Teresa, your online editor, telling me that one of our books had "qualified" for a review, and that FW was inviting me to PAY for that review for $99 dollars. I politely declined, indicating that I wasn't interested in enhancing this particular profit center. She then forwarded my reply to you.

    You, in turn, emailed me back telling me that everyone charges, so I should get on board. You then told me, "BTW, in the past twelve years, I don't believe Behler has ever enhanced our profit center."

    I invited you to check your records. We spent over $6k in ad space, and for that, we received roughly six reviews. That rounds out to a grand per review.

    The term, "we gave at the office applies," and I, for one, am extremely insulted and disgusted by your attitude that it's our responsibility to keep you afloat.

  41. As a writer I think these are exciting times. I've had agents and near-hits with trad pubs many times. And wound up using POD 2 times. 10 yrs ago I was def not even a 2nd class citizen! I think people felt I was pathetic to try to market my own book! But, I had some fun. I never expected to make money anyway. Now, 10 yrs later, book stores and periodicals and blogs are open to my book. By that I mean they don't turn me away categorically and in many cases even have established procedures in place for self-published books.
    There are SO many new venues for us. PW is only one option. Let's not waste too much of our time on them. Instead, let's keep figuring out how to use all the media and opportunities we can to gain an audience! In the end, that's all that matters.

  42. Reviews have become a part of the promotional process of book publishing, but it surprises me that questions of how to best promote a book have gotten lost in this discussion.

    A few questions people need to be asking about their work before they send it to anyone for a review:

    One: Are you asking for a review, or for editorial help? This is important because it is perfectly reasonable to pay for editorial help, just as you would pay a doctor or lawyer for a diagnosis (as Victoria noted elsewhere). But this is not the same thing as paying for a review of a finished project, since the review generally won't change the book being reviewed.

    Two: Who is doing the review? Do they review books like yours, or not? What criteria does PW use in selecting the reviewers for particular books? This can make a huge difference in the quality of the review, and that fact that PW doesn't give this sort of information out in their announcement is, to put it mildly, troubling (And no, "friends" doesn't cut it).

    Three: who is going to read the review? If your book is intended for a niche market, as many self-published and small press books are, what are the chances that anyone who reads the review will actually be interested in buying it? Paying for a review in a publication that isn't in your market seems foolish, and PW doesn't address this point either.

    So far as I can tell, PW is counting on their name recognition to get self-published authors to send them money with very little promised in return. Each author needs to consider their promotional strategy very carefully, and beware offers couched in sales language the way this one seems to be. Research your prospective reviewers, folks.

  43. Jon Guenther said,

    "Large numbers of self-published books suck." Is that statement itself not the very them and us you're counseling Zoe to avoid? And where's the empirical evidence to support the statement? Give me data.

    I subscribe to Sturgeon's Law: "Ninety percent of everything is crud." Large numbers of all manuscripts suck. Most people who've written a book haven't written a publishable one. This is a tough truth that most aspiring writers would prefer not to think about, but anyone who has looked at a publisher's slush pile (as I have, albeit a small publisher; I've also judged writing contests and a major writing award) knows that it's true.

    Self-published books are the slush pile in print (or pixels, if you self-publish electronically). I know that large numbers of them suck not because I think suckage is a quality unique to self-publishers, but because it defines most writing. It's a giant myth that the world is awash in wonderful unpublished manuscripts.

    Is this an elitist "us" vs. "them" point of view? I'm sure many people will think so. But I tend to think it's just realistic.

    And by the way, I have to register again my irritation with the confusing, euphemistic, and in many cases completely inaccurate term "indie author."

  44. This is a great opportunity for indies/self-pubbers. PW is the first biggie offering non-for-pay reviews to the new market segment. It legitimizes that segment and will shine light on the gems that previously had no industry recognition.

    A PW review (like those from Booklist, ForeWord, Kirkus and LB) is an honor. Libraries pay attention. The review can be quoted on the cover of the book and subsequent books. A good review will truly distinguish the book from the sea of lessor ones. Cudos to PW for extending this opportunity.

    Sure, PW may make a little money in the process. So what? I'm flabbergasted that indies and self-pubbers are badmouthing the first organization to step forward and offer them opportunities that never exited before.

  45. I agree PW is something libraries and booksellers can use, but they will be drawn to the big books with the big advertising budgets. It would be great if every bookseller and every library bought books, but I imagine their budgets are getting tighter, too. The Dorchester mass market paperback book group folding was a bad sign for everyone in publishing.

  46. Christine, PW covers are advertising–the publishers that appear on them have bought the space. Last year, a vanity publisher bought the cover during BEA week (and charged thousands to the authors featured on it).

    Anonymous 10:53, booksellers and librarians use PW–and other professional review venues like Library Journal–to make buying decisions, so the reviews may not be so important for readers, but they can be an important component of book marketing.

  47. …and how much will anyone bet me that Publish America will jump on this new paid review offer!
    I can see them sending out their newest "offer" to their writers now. "Buy 10 of your books and PA will PAY for your book to be reviewed in PW!!!!"


    I lost all faith in PW years ago when they accepted a cover featuring all PA books, thus giving the idea to new, yet unpublished writers, that PA is a legit choice to submit to.
    I realize money is money and PA's is as good as anyones for PW to sell cover space to but… I would have expected more from them.

  48. There's never a point in buying a review…Do it honestly! One must look themselves in the mirror, after all…

    – Jeff Emmerson

  49. I've always thought PW was a waste from a writer view. It's an industry mag for industry people, not so much for writers. If you aren't with a major and have a promotional budget, you don't get squat. Most readers outside the industry have probably never read PW. I've known several people published by small press with PW reviews, and it did nothing for them. I do agree publishing is changing. It's changed a lot since the corporations took over. Bookstores are going down and publishers are going down, Dorchester for example. There are just too many books and not enough readers.

  50. Where is the love for the reader? The person who reads the book? What is a reader to do if book reviews are paid PR and do not offer any critical thinking/evaluation? That's what I look for in a review; some expertise and finesse along with info that points me in a reading direction I had not considered.

    Oh well, there's always Library Journal.

  51. Wake up people. The traditional trade review magazine business model is dead, and publishers, large and small, killed it by expecting to have their books covered in editorial pages but not supporting it with advertising and/or subscriptions.

    ForeWord was the original fee for review service, introduced in 2003 to the outrage of the entire publishing community. In fact we were lampooned in a cartoon on the cover of Kirkus who shortly thereafter fell into similar economic challenges and had a change of heart about providing reviews for cash. PW seems to be taking baby steps into the process, but it won't be long before they commit fully to the concept.

    What the three of us (PW, Kirkus, ForeWord)have to offer that we are asking you to support now is: our brand, which still actually means something to librarians and booksellers who want a robust, quality 400 word critical review of your books curated by a team of experts we have spent years culling. These reviews are valuable enough to be licensed by the top wholesaler databases serving the book trade including Bowker, Baker & Taylor, Ingram and more. This kind of exposure ALONE is worth the fee to any publishers.

    Do you think we would jeopardize the integrity of our publications by providing a book that was not trade quality with a good review just because you paid for it? I've been around long enough to tell you this is what people expected, but not what they got. And seven years later, ForeWord is still providing a beautiful magazine with incredible reviews (free) and enjoying a nice "side" business which keeps us alive.

    You need PW, Kirkus and ForeWord. Why not investigate the process a bit more and think before you speak ill of necessary changes in your industry.

  52. Another insightful post. Personally, I think it's a nicely dressed up proposition which looks good at first glance, but once you get past the headline, it's just another scam (albeit run by a credible company).

    As always, thanks for sharing 🙂

  53. Like it or not, the publishing landscape is changing. The can of worms has been opened and it's not going back. In the traditional publishing model, there are so many good books that don't get published simply because publishing companies are limited in how many books and what sort of books they can publish. Not any longer…a new world is coming, a world in there's an open market for writers and readers alike. I too take issue with the comment that a large number of self-published books suck. Sure, there's some self-published books that suck, but there's also traditional books that suck. Sometimes I shake my head over some of the traditional books that get published, knowing that these books got a contract and money forked over to them by some traditional publisher simply because someone thought that that particular book would appeal to readers and be a big seller. On self-published books, there are a LOT of them that are very good books but for whatever reason, couldn't secure interest from one of the traditional publishing houses. Ask any editor; they'll tell you they have to turn down very good books because their hands are tied in what they can accept. The indie author movement is growing, and I've joined them myself, after much time and effort trying to get my book published by a traditional publisher.

    Steve Powers

  54. Indeed it is insulting. And yes PW is trying to cash in on charging already struggling Indy authors and probably for financial reasons. And why not? Everybody else in the publishing industry does it and gets away with it.

    I think most "non-dumb" Indy authors get "scammed" by this because they can't believe a "legitimate" company would actually operate in such a manner. Surely some watch dog group would call them on it. Well, it looks like they have!!!

    Thanks for pointing out how ridiculous it is to pay for (maybe) getting a review from PW and not getting anything worth the money they ask for.

    Oh, and now that professional writers who know how to turn out a sell-able book, are flocking to POD publishing, one can no longer say POD or self-pubbed books suck. Well, not if they know what they're talking about. 😉

  55. How much have traditional publishers been paying PW for the same services (either directly or indirectly) through ads and a subscription for everyone at their company?

    If the fee was five or ten bucks who would care? $150 for a listing and a review lottery ticket is insulting. For that kind of money a review should be guaranteed.

  56. On some levels, I have to agree with Carla. I also take issue with the statement "Large numbers of self-published books suck." Is that statement itself not the very them and us you're counseling Zoe to avoid? And where's the empirical evidence to support the statement? Give me data. We can't "know" that because up until now very few indy-pubbed books have been reviewed. Isn't it readers that define what is good or bad in literature with their pocket books?

    What I find most interesting in this whole industry debate is that the most impassioned seem to be those on the traditional side. Case in points: Harlequin announces Dellarte: writer groups take umbridge. Thomas Nelson brags about their success on the betseller lists, terminates 58 positions on Black Wed., then turns around and announces WestBow. Jeff Bezos broaches a new business model and John Sargent bristles. You see where I'm going? Most of the vitriol is coming from the response of the publishing machine against indy pubbers, not the other way around. When I went POD with my last book (which was under contract and got dropped along with many others in the economic downturn of 2008), I didn't take out a full-page color ad to say I was going with alternate publishing. I just did it. And I've made some coin on it. The bottom line is this entire "dilemma" is really no dilemma at all. It's just different ways of doing business, and business is about making a profit. Bottom line. That's what trad-pubbers are in it for, same with indy-pubbers. There's no difference other than in opinions.

  57. Victoria,

    Going to disagree with you. The truth of your statement, "only dumb, crappy writers will get scammed" is inherent.

    Let's look at it from an empirical data viewpoint. As humans, it is a documented fact that we get smarter through change, and change occurs when we open our minds enough to learn something new. Change affects our intelligence. In order for a writer to remain dumb, means that they are unenlightened, probably not following current trends, and have not allowed their open-minds to engage, thus, keeping them dumb, according to my definition above. I'm now speaking only of ignorant in the field of writing, and not dumb as relating to IQ.

    And it's also a widely-accepted idea that dumb people get taken for rides. I didn't make it up, and neither did Zoe. It's human nature. Simply turn on the news and listen to any number of ad nauseum stories about unsuspecting people who get scammed because they remained uninformed, and didn't care to learn.

    I doubt that PW sat down and said, "Hey! How can we rip off independent and stupid authors?" as Zoe implied, but they are certainly doing nothing to stop re-inforcing the accepted stereotype, no matter how cutting-edge they may think they're being.

    I do, however, have to question Zoe on the inclusion of the word "talented." Talent has no bearing on one's intelligence, or being well-informed when it comes to learning about the fluid dynamics of the publishing industry. A talented, yet uninformed author can just as easily be taken in by scams as the crappy, uninformed author.

    Let's be careful in making assumptions that have global implications, when that usually isn't the case.

  58. Hey Victoria-

    What an asset you are to anyone contemplating wading into the world of publishing. Anyway, I'm contracted with a small POD pub to publish my debut novel. Being that what I'm offering fits such a small niche, they fit. Know what I mean. Well, the publisher certainly ain't forking over that kind of review money and if I did, it would take awile before my royalties recouped that expense.

  59. Zoe, I can't help thinking that saying "only dumb, crappy writers will fall for PW Select" is a lot like saying "only dumb, crappy writers will get scammed"–it's an elitist view that not only doesn't fit the truth, but creates an "us" and "them" dichotomy whose main function is to make the speaker feel superior. Because of course the speaker is not one of "them."

    I apologize for any offense I may give you with this comment. But I'm just really struck by this demonstration of hierarchical thinking. As much as people may claim to love the so-called democratization offered by all the self-publishing options out there, what they really want, in their heart of hearts, is a meritocracy. with the status and recognition that implies. Which is what evil old "traditional" publishing is all about.

  60. I think it's a way to take indie authors' money without having to actually do any work (i.e. review anything). Sure, they'll pick a few books to review to keep it "above boards", but I'm really not impressed here.

    Also, it's been brought up by some that since most actually savvy and talented indies will see this crap for what it is and avoid it, PW will most likely have a pool of crappy work from naive authors to pick from for review.

    The best of "that" bunch might get reviewed, but it won't represent the best of indie work, and it will continue to play into the stigma of self-publishing.

    Few people will stop to consider that most talented and smart indies won't fall for the lure to begin with.

  61. This appears to be a way for PW to generate income, which they apparently have been lacking by the looks of the magazine this last year or so. I have read PW weekly since 1985.

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