Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Rat's Derriere

Stuart W. Mirsky at the Amazon Discussion Board, Adventure Genre, POD Books Department, asked me a few questions about the operations at iUBR. After composing a somewhat detailed reply on that board, I thought I should post a variant here. The subjects of Stuart's questions should be obvious from these statements.

From its inception in July 2006 until about a year later, I don't think I refused to review a single book. (I cannot be sure my memory is correct on this issue.) As the second half of 2007 brought more and more attention to iUBR, this situation had to rapidly change, much as I had always known it would. At some point, any venture has to either grow or die, and I was soon swamped in the morass of too many books to read and review. I began keeping more accurate records of the whole procedure and made plans to slowly expand the operation. Once the announcement arrived of the impending merger with AuthorHouse, I planned to glow with the flow and expand iUBR at least to all the AH publications. The addition of many of the smaller POD firms to the submissions list was not much of a stretch once I had corralled a cadre of reviewers.

If you look at my own books and scan through the whole package of iUBR, you will see that I am not your typical genre fiction author, but the great majority of POD authors are in that group. The point of the reviews at iUBR is not to please individual genre obsessors with the rating of plotlines, but to separate the quality POD books from the junk. This idea is based more on presentation, grammar, editing, niche marketing, and, the bane of POD, proofreading, than it is storyline satisfaction for readers of particular genres. The Amazon review system is actually more foe than friend in this scenario, since most Amazon reviews are posted either by non-legitimate sources or for non-legitimate reasons; i.e., paid reviewers, authors' acquaintances, or particular genre obsessors raving about the doo-dahs they love. Few of these charlatans give a rat's derriere about editing, proofreading, or any other such boring, technical issues.

Unfortunately, most POD authors only want to be rich and famous, and they don't care how or why. That's where I come in, and yes, I have made a few authors mad at me. It's a dirty job, and somebody's got to do it, or else POD will never shake the stigma of publishing bad books by not-real authors. There are mainly two reasons why I have always in the past reviewed only iU books. The first is to write what you know and the second is that the submission pool has to be limited somehow. The number of submissions refused at iUBR has been gradually increasing, and I expect that trend to continue. When a request has been received, I have a pattern of criteria I look for in my research of the author and his or her book. I take into account the following issues, as well as many more: the age and experience of the author, many variables within the scope of the present reviews at Amazon, B&N, and other sites, the genre of the book (unusual is better), and the sales rankings (good is a demerit and bad is a plus). By encouraging all prospective submitters to read some of the more critical posts at iUBR, I feel that many of the get-famous-quick monkeys are discouraged from submitting to iUBR in the first place.

Once an author has passed the submissions screening, they are given the most personal service on the web. All authors receive an e-mail message from me at the conclusion of the review process, stating that they may use any part of the reviews in any manner they wish, allowing even a scathing review to be excerpted to the author's best advantage, making any trip to the dunking tank at least survivable. Those few authors who snap back at me like smart-mouth teenagers are the ones who ultimately prove to be butts. The ones who have professional attitudes and act like adults can at least expect to be treated with respect at iUBR in a manner they will never receive anywhere else. I don't claim to be perfect, and yes, I do tend to be harder on those who have achieved more success in the rich-and-famous manner than those who have not. I consider myself to be like a grumpy old college professor who is harder on his smart students than on his average ones. As a book critic, I want all my authors to do their very best work and be appreciated for it.

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