Back in February, I blogged about PW Select, the quarterly feature in Publishers Weekly that focuses on the world of self publishing. For those of you who either missed reading it or don't remember, self published authors can, for a fee of $149, purchase a brief listing for their book that includes basic bibliographic information plus what appears to be a thirty word or less description of the book. In each edition of PW Select, no fewer than twenty-five of these books listed will also be chosen to be reviewed by members of PW's staff but the reviews will remain segregated in the ghetto of PW Select rather than being intermingled with the regular PW reviews for that issue. My scepticism and distaste for the way PW was conducting this enterprise was duly noted here .
And yet, because hope springs eternal, I actually felt optimistic when the July 9 issue of PW Select heralded "A Strong Crop of DIY Titles." This was followed by a paragraph that crowed that 45 of the 184 titles listed were given full reviews and that this was the first time since PW Select's inception that more than one title had been given a starred review. I wondered if maybe things hadn't started to turn around or if perhaps I had been a little too harsh in my initial assessment of the motivation behind PW Select.
Well, dear reader, they haven't and I wasn't . Here's why:
1. Of the 184 titles submitted for listing in PW Select, just under a quarter of them were selected to be reviewed.
2. Of the 27 adult fiction titles that were reviewed, twenty-one were given unequivocably negative reviews, two books received what I would consider to be mixed reviews, while only four books were given positive reviews, with two of those titles receiving starred status.
3. Those who submitted adult non-fiction titles faced less favorable odds, with only 13 out of 75 titles (17%) being reviewed. However, eight of those thirteen books received postive reviews (5 of those starred), with three receiving mixed reviews and only two receiving outright negative reviews. I also found it more than a little curious that four of those five starred reviews were for memoirs by ordinary people no one has ever heard of.
4. In the children's book category, five of the fifteen books were selected for reviews but only one was written about favorably while three of the titles received mixed reviews and one book received a completely negative write up.
Contrary to what was stated, a sampling in which more than half of the titles selected for review are negatively critiqued is not indicative of "a strong crop of DYI titles." One can only imagine what the PW staff thought of the titles that did not make it into the review section.
Perhaps the most troubling point of all is that I continue to be unable to find PW's selection criteria for how it chooses which self published books to review. Lacking any other information to go by, the logical assumption would be that PW staff members choose to review those titles that they consider to be the best of the bunch. Because such a large percemtage of the reviews are so negative, isn't it then logical for me to also assume that the books not selected for review were at least as bad, if not even worse, than the ones that were featured in the review section? What possible reason could there be for overlooking more worthy titles while choosing to publicly trash the weaker offerings? And yet, I still wonder if some of the better offerings aren't being ignored.
Although I want to retain an open mind regarding the possibility of finding self published books that would make good additions to my library's collection, I find PW Select to be mostly just a waste of my time. I perused all 184 listings and found that in the vast majority of cases, a 25-30 word description just wasn't enough to get a sense of what a book was about although in some cases the poorly composed descriptions served as red flags to stay away. What was equally discouraging was the fact that none of the five titles in the listings (3 fiction and 2 non-fiction) that did catch my eye were selected to be reviewed. Since collection development librarians make up a large portion of the target audience for PW, why was A Degree is Not Enough!: 8 Smart Things You Need to Do in College to Jump Start Your Career and Finances, by Katherine Berntzen passed over for a review in favor of such esoteric titles as Inside the Cup: Translating Starbucks into a Drinkable Language, by Kenneth Brown and My Top 40 at 40: Making the First Half Count, by Kari Loya. The first sentence of the review for this latter title begins, "In this entertaining nonfiction collection, voice-over artist Loya celebrates his 40th birthday with 40 wide-ranging tales from his own life." It's likely that some of my patrons might be interested in 8 Smart Things You Need to Do in College but I don't think anyone is going to be beating down our doors for either Inside the Cup or My Top 40 at 40 so what, exactly, was the rationale behind reviewing either one of these two books?
Based on my own experience with PW Select, I 'm guessing that most librarians have already made the decision not to waste any more of their time with it. Unfortunately, self published authors, at least for the short term, are probably going to continue to pay $149 for the illusion that their money is buying them valuable exposure to people who make book buying decisions. The people at Publisher's Weekly should be ashamed of themselves.
For the record: Of the 89 self published fiction titles listed in PW Select, I identified 15 that would fall under the classification of crime fiction and two of them received positive reviews, Accidental Felon, by Gloria Wolk and White Heat, by Paul D. Marks.