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Book Reviews, Criticism, Digital Media, Fiction, Publishing, The Writer's Life, Writings

Why I Don’t Review Self-Published Books (For Now)

It’s a memoir about a life before, during and after the Holocaust, told from the perspective of a granddaughter…

I am cautiously curious. As an avid reader, history enthusiast, and, oh yeah, Book Review Editor at Los Angeles Review, I should consider this book as review material. But in the course of due diligence, I discover the uncomfortable truth—it is self-published.

That’s a bummer, and for now an automatic rejection.

The logic has always been that a self-pub book is an exercise in ego. That the author can’t see what every agent and publisher s/he has shown it to has said: “Not good enough for publication.” In terms of LAR’s policies it means the writing lacks the validation that traditional publication theoretically bestows.

As I’ve written previously, a perusal of self-published fare on e-pub sites like Smashwords and Amazon corroborates this view. A random sampling of books and stories on such sites reveals a landfill of so-called literature—one piece of garbage piled atop another, stinking and sinking slowly into the polluted ground of mainstream reading tastes.

But the state of publishing may change our stance. Actually, there are hundreds of well-written, interesting books produced each year that are not published traditionally. Since the book biz has been eviscerated by its big business overlords, whose mantra is mass market salability, there isn’t room for many works of literary quality. Smaller presses (with whom we work almost exclusively) help make up the shortfall, but their efforts are not enough to reward the talent and hard work of many serious writers.

For some, self-pub is the last option. For others who disdain the meat grinder of the publishing industry (not to mention its ridiculously low percentage of profit returned to the author), it is the first. At this point, I don’t fault either decision.

Some successful writers have already turned to self-publishing as a way of maximizing profit on their work. And just last week the New York Review of Books reviewed a self-published memoir alongside two other volumes.

Clearly the paradigm is shifting. Self publishing may be moving from a humorous industry anecdote towards becoming a serious part of the literary conversation. If only there were a way of extracting the treasures from the heaps of trash. Still, this change gives us much to ponder, and our editorial staff will do just that. Who knows? I may just have to reconsider those automatic rejections.

P.S.: Before you flood my in box with queries about self-published books, please wait for an official announcement.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


2 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Review Self-Published Books (For Now)

  1. Some self-publishing companies need to emerge which can vouch for the quality of their authors. As this happens, more self-published works will be accepted for review, but more importantly, the consumer will start to have some direction in the avalanche of digital tomes readily and cheaply available for download.

    Perhaps there will be some critics who emerge who specialize in self-published authors.

    Posted by ssternberg | May 12, 2011, 12:31 PM
  2. Hmmm. An interesting idea. Want to start a company?

    Posted by jpon | May 13, 2011, 2:22 AM

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