The New York Times won’t do it. They won’t even allow one of “those” books on their e-book bestseller lists. Even if it is a legit bestseller.
USA Today, a tad less bigoted, does allow self-published books on their bestseller list. Their reviewers just aren’t allowed to review them.
But it’s not just the highfalutin consumer publications that practice this outright discrimination. Even many book bloggers, who themselves have just cracked the legitimacy ceiling, turn up their noses at the prospect of reviewing a self-published book.
What happened to the right to be judged by your peers (and I’m not talking about your friends and second cousins who agree to post their reviews on Amazon)? There are, of course, a myriad of paid options, guaranteed to make a self-published author feel like the pimply high school student who has to hire a hooker to get a date to the prom. Now that self-publishing has become big business, there is no end to the services, book contests and awards that strive (for a price!) to make indies feel as if they’re getting an invite to the party, when in fact they’re just there to check the coats [full disclosure: in addition to offering no-fee professional reviews to indie authors, IndieReader also offers a paid review service].
So why all this segregation? Perhaps because traditional publishers buy ads that help keep some of these publications afloat. Or maybe it’s just an undying and unfair assumption that if a book—and an author—don’t carry the stamp of approval from a “higher” source (aka a traditional publisher) they can’t possibly be all that good. Or it could simply be that many media professionals are so overworked that they don’t have the time it takes to go out and discover something new. Something not written by Stieg Larsson or James Patterson. Or any one of those brilliant wordsmiths that reside at The Jersey Shore.
Whatever the reason, the exclusion in the halls of “legit” publishing of a group of writers—who include award-winning and prestigious authors like John Edgar Wideman, Seth Godin and Dave Eggers—is just plain unfair. And short-sighted. Because however you cut it, the fact remains that the best of these otherwise ignored books are scooped up by traditional publishers every day. And magically, like the Fairy Godmother did for Cinderella—what was once considered dreck is repackaged and re-launched, as if its indie incarnation was merely a bad fever dream.
Having been traditionally published twice, my intent is not to put down the traditional publishing establishment. I admit that there is a certain prestige gained by having been deemed “worthy.” And that’s fine. But why does that prestige have to be gained at the expense of another worthy group?
In short, it’s time the traditional book establishment—from publishers to book buyers and reviewers—admit that there is more than one valid way for an author to create a book. Why should they do that? For the reason that most businesses these days do anything: money. Because when indies are finally deemed equal to their peers, it will give the entire book industry a much needed bump (kind of like Calvin Klein did for tighty whities). Keeping indies in a self-publishing ghetto is a loss for everyone—from consumers who already embrace the indie movement in their music and movies, to bookstores looking for something to set themselves apart, to reviewers who might just find that they like what they see.
I have a dream. That one day self-published authors won’t be judged by the imprint on the covers of their books, but by the quality (or lack, thereof) of what’s inside.