Thursday, July 12, 2007

First Anniversary

Today is the birthday of iUniverse Book Reviews. After several months of carefully planning exactly what I wanted to accomplish with a review site, I launched the first post July 12, 2006. A number of forces inspired me to begin the project. I began writing the first draft in about 1967 of what I thought at the time would become my first book. You can see that I have never been a prolific writer when you realize that that manuscript was not completed until about 1972, and it wasn't published until 2002! Like so many other writer wannabes, I wrote reviews for an underground paper in college, and I knew that one day I would publish a book or two. The material from that first manuscript was so important to me, and still is, that, when I discovered iUniverse online in early 1999, I wanted to practice first by releasing a compilation of stories that had already found a captive audience. The plan was for me to learn from whatever mistakes I might make with Plastic Ozone Daydream prior to publishing my modern theory of personality, The Last Horizon. iUniverse gave me everything I wanted except recognition.

I am a consumer populist by nature. I want to see good products succeed, and I loathe the many undeserving ones that so often succeed instead. I could not be any more aware of the destructive nature of our modern, out-of-control, corporate culture. Books sell because there are celebrity names on them. They sell because either the subject or the author has been on television. They sell because an enormous herd of obsessors feel they must buy everything with that name on it. They sell because some faction or other is incredibly insane or stupid. Do they sell because the author offers a genuine talent with words? Do they sell because the subject matter is something everyone needs to know? Do they sell because a new approach to an old problem is offered? Do they sell because the author's storytelling ability is unparalleled? You and I both know I do not need to answer these rhetorical questions. We already know the answers. Modern, consumer America has become a dung-heap of celebrity, do-nothing, bad girls and left/right, red/blue slap-fighters. We used to be in it all together; now everything has degenerated into my special interests versus your special interests.

I created iUniverse Book Reviews to be a beacon shining up from the muck. I knew without question when I began reviewing iU books that I would find many other works like my own. These books would have absolutely nothing wrong with them that a little better proofreading couldn't cure. They would be works that could never have a chance in the marketplace simply because the author had never been on TV. Many of these books would have arisen from years of composition and editing by their loving parents. Many would cover subject matter only these particular, unknown authors could adequately present to an audience. I knew there were many high-quality POD books out there in the muck-filled jungle, and I found them.

iUniverse Book Reviews is the only cat in the jungle that roars for its small cadre of authors with individually composed, custom-designed reviews on this site, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Authors Den. The five-star rating system is utilized only at Amazon and B&N, and yes, the ratings provided by Tabitha on these two sites may be a bit optimistic in some cases. If they were not, my reviews on these overblown, meaningless review sites would appear to be far too pessimistic. My ratings on those sites are intended to help unknown authors sell books. You can consider me a sort of iU cheerleader when you read my reviews at those ubiquitous sales sites. The reviews on this site are usually a bit more critical, and there will never be a star rating system at iUniverse Book Reviews. There are quite enough stars already at all the other review locations. Even with the slightly more critical viewpoint of Tabitha's reviews on this blog, let's let the cat out of the bag. Only one book has not honestly earned at least three stars in my reviews. That is also the only book without reviews from Tabitha at Amazon, B&N, or Authors Den. Of the twenty books with reviews posted so far, one should have had no more than two stars, two should have had three stars, thirteen easily earned four stars, and four made it to the brass ring. Why didn't I just say this in the reviews in the first place? The reasons are numerous. How can a 100-page book be fairly compared to a 400-page one, when the editing and proofreading are such a vital part of the author's job? How do I compare heavily researched nonfiction with a short, fictional story for young adults? As the self-proclaimed proofreading police, how can I adequately rank a book by its error count? Some errors are obviously so much more egregious than others. I even considered using an error quotient, in which I divide the page count by the error count. Although I might use that as an unpublished tool with which to evaluate a book, there is still the problem that not all errors are created equal. Some authors even repeat the same mistakes multiple times in the same book. Should each instance be considered a demerit? Before composing each book's reviews, I have to make certain decisions based on the merit of that particular book. I want every iU book I review to ideally hide within the massive forest of traditionally published books. I also want every book I review to inspire and satisfy the reader with its compositional merit. Tabitha walks with the agility of a cat on a tightrope suspended between these two criteria.

The first year of iUniverse Book Reviews has been successful in all aspects. Every goal has been met. There are many iU books out there who belong on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. Unfortunately, only one of these that has both made the shelf cut and been reviewed on this site actually belongs on that shelf! As I have suspected all along, there is no correlation between the quality of an iUniverse book and any of the overpriced bullcrap options the company sells. There is also no direct correlation between writing quality and the sales record of an iU book, either. Let me tell you about two books I have reviewed. One is the best-selling iU book I have reviewed and the second is one of the best-selling iU books I have reviewed. The former contains 477 properly composed and edited pages. The latter has 196 pages containing an incredible number of short, incomplete sentences and page after page of italics! The latter book has sold almost as well as the former. Both authors paid for iU's bull-puckey options and both authors have received a lot of attention. Due to its subject matter being the first cousin to what I refer to as cheaters, the first book has been exceedingly successful for an iUniverse book. I don't know why the second one has been so successful. I accepted it for review at least partially to find that answer, and I am still baffled! The point of this story is that I don't think very many people, as authors or readers, are aware of the actual truths surrounding the success or failure of any particular POD book. It's my job to try to enlighten their vision.

At least one more Interview with the Author is in the works, and I hope there will be many more to come. I would like to offer interviews to those authors whose previously reviewed books presented at least some sort of exceptional or professional merit. If you have read certain recent, previous posts, you know now that you can contact me at ice9 at e-tabitha dot com or place an appropriate comment on any post to request a review or interview. Twenty books have already survived the proofreading police wringer, one suspect is in the interrogation room now, one is waiting in the outer office, one is in the hands of the United States Postal Service, and one has just been re-released by iUniverse after being re-edited by its diligent author. In other words, this blog isn't dead yet: at least four other authors are waiting with chewed fingernails for their trip through the wringer!

4 comments:

Amy Lane said...

As one of the authors with the chewed nails, I applaud your efforts--and your willingness to believe that the little guy should have a voice. (That still stands, even if my book doesn't make the cut!)

ian said...

Thanks so much for reviewing my book, The Milkman! Your review was actually very inspiring to me, and a friend and I are cooking up a serious underground promotion movement to see if we can build up buzz, interest, and sales. It's very experimental and we're going to try a lot of non-traditional means of publicity. I invite you to check back on my website regularly to see how this is progressing. If it works well, it might be a good model for other POD authors trying to promote their own work without spending massive amounts of money we can't afford because we already blew it all at iUniverse.

Ian
http://www.ianthealy.com/milkmanhomepage.htm

Emily Veinglory said...

happy aniversary :)

POD Critic said...

Here's to another year!