A common complaint among indie authors is that it’s hard to get their books reviewed, no matter how well written, edited, and produced they are.
But reviewer prejudice is nothing new. Take a look at Best Books of 2014 lists. The one from the New York Times is typical: ten books, and only is from an independent press. Back when I reviewed crime fiction for the Detroit Free Press, I watched as my colleagues around the country routinely ignored trade paperback originals and books from terrific small houses like Bitter Lemon and City Lights. Independent presses and university presses still struggle to get their books reviewed.
I saw this myself in my own writing career when I moved my mystery series from a large New York firm to an independent press: the number of reviews my books got shrunk dramatically when I appeared in trade paperback vs. hardcover. You’d think my being a reviewer, too, might have made a difference. It didn’t. The mysteries almost always got the four “pre-pub” reveiws: Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal. My tenth mystery recently got a starred PW, but the other three ignored it.
Too many reviewers still seem to think that big press = quality. That makes me laugh. I’ve just read books in a row from major new York houses with gross typos all the way through: missing words, words stuck together without a space between them, and a whole host of basic errors that should never have seen their way into print. This happens often enough to make me think that copy-editing is no longer high priority for many New York house houses; getting product out there is.
Too many reviewers, whether in print or on sites like Salon, seem to instinctively reach for the big press books. It’s less work, but it reveals prejudice and a lack of imagination. It’s also self-indulgent. When I was at the Free Press, with with hundreds of books coming to me every year, I felt I was doing my readers a disservice by not digging deeper into those piles to find books they might never hear of or see otherwise. And it was always exciting to discover a writer I didn’t know and could champion from my corner of the reviewing world. As a writer myself, I looked for these treasure that would make my own writing life richer and found them just as often in places other reviewers ignored.
Lev Raphael is the author of Book Lust! (Essays for Book Lovers) and 24 other books in genres from memoir to mystery. Check out the trailer here.