Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Crossing the Wake

It's been quite a while since I posted an update article to PODBRAM. I even missed the Third Anniversary of PODBRAM exactly one month ago today. A Third Anniversary post had, of course, been planned long ago, but there was just too much on my mind to put together into a coherent post back on 7/12/09, but things have settled down considerably since then.

The photo is of a 1960 Kettenberg Sweet Sixteen. Produced during the early days of fiberglass ski boats, this unusual classic has a wood deck placed on a fiberglass hull. The motor is a Mercury inline six of unknown power and vintage. There are many reasons why I have been relatively quiet these past few months, but this is the main one. I am working on a 2010 edition of my powerboat book, Ker-Splash, and it is quite a massive project.

The PODBRAM Review Team has already reviewed more than 160 books, and many more reviews are in the works. I have been considering adding a link index by author, and maybe one by reviewer, too, and if I find the time, I may add those at some later date. I don't think I shall ever rejoin The Team as a reviewer. My many projects, including the management of PODBRAM and two more blogs, will surely absorb all the time I have in the future, as it has for this past year.

When you drive a boat across the wake of another boat, you have to be careful to cross as close to a ninety-degree angle as is feasible, particularly when you are piloting a small boat following a big cruiser. A big wave can capsize a small boat trying to slide through at a less than oblique angle. PODBRAM is definitely a small boat following in the wakes of much larger vessels. There is an inevitable quandary in which PODBRAM is trapped within its own integrity. We can never grow into one of those larger vessels without doing as they do, charging the authors for a ride. PODBRAM can only remain a tiny little personal hobby of mine, and I do not see any way out of this dilemma. I have not been a happy camper these past silent months, watching sadly as the madness grows and swirls all around me. We cannot charge for reviews at PODBRAM without throwing our scruples to the shifting winds. We could increase the number of reviewers, and therefore accept and post more reviews, but we have already reached critical mass. If I had to manage and edit more reviewers, Ker-Splash 2 would never be completed. As someone has already suggested, I could set up PODBRAM for reviewers to post directly, but with apologies to my distinguished review team, I can imagine in advance that that plan would not meet my high standards. The organizational and editing efforts I put into the site are just too extensive for this level of quality to be coordinated continuously with more than one captain at the helm.

From the number of review requests that have been coming in, I doubt that many of you have gone to The POD Review Ring Chart to see that submissions have been officially closed at PODBRAM since 7/16/09. That's okay, because I did not really expect many of you to see it. I could easily have made a Submissions Closed statement to accompany the change to the chart, but I chose not to do so. Many of you have received replies from me that PODBRAM is not currently accepting submissions, and a few of you have even been sent later notifications that an opening for your book has appeared. As with most free review blogs, a lot depends on the timing of your request, whether or not you catch the reviewers at a time when they are not overwhelmed with books to read and reviews to write.

Speaking of free review sites, we seem to be diminishing in number quite steadily. You may have noticed a few changes in the link listings of other review sites as well as changes in the Ring Chart. Mark McGinty's The Boogle has been the only positive recent addition! The Self-Publishing Review is becoming an embarrassment to anyone interested in tasteful discourse. I have yet to understand what sort of P. T. Barnum sucker wants to be summarily trashed in public by someone who hides behind relentless anonymity, but there surely do seem to be a fair number of such authors out there! Her Odyssey hasn't posted a review since April 23rd! POD People (the only one older than PODBRAM) is still recommended, but with only three reviewers, only some of whom are active, I am sure their backlog must be as big as a house! The only real shining light among this sad state of affairs is LLBR. The LL (formerly Lulu) Book Review is the only site that currently should allow the word gangbusters in the same sentence. Shannon Yarbrough's LLBR has already surpassed the 100-review mark, and I highly recommend his site for authors looking for reviews. Shannon accepts only Lulu and CreateSpace books for review, so the rest of you are pretty much out of luck. I do know a place just down the street from me, however, that will be more than happy to review your POD book. For only $75 they will be glad to write a review and post it on Amazon with the rest of their paid reviews. I hope that by now everyone who reads PODBRAM regularly can spot one of these shams a mile away!

There have been other recent disappointments, too. As I feared and stated to many of you long ago, both The Kindle Boards and IAG have fallen victim to The Popeilians. Surely you must be kidding yourself if you really think you have been discovering any useful discourse lately at either of these message boards. If you are too young to remember Ron Popeil, he is the one who invented the Veg-o-Matic, the Pocket Fisherman, and other products that he hawked relentlessly in late-night television commercials. Dan Akroyd's Bass-o-Matic was a scream, but the original ads were simply annoying and disgusting. So are the advertising sideshow tents that these once encouraging websites have become. I have to tip my hat to First Mate Al Past for coming up with the Popeilian moniker. It's almost as good as his Dunking Tank!

Call me a snob if you will. I've been called that and worse before. PODBRAM by its very nature must be the Studio 54 of POD review sites. We have to keep the riff-raff out because we have time to read and review only so many books, and we want these to be the best we can find, and we want to write the most professional, accurate, helpful reviews possible. We are here for the readers just as much as for the authors. Of course we understand that most of our readership are also authors, but when we review a book, we want it to be as much like a real, old-school review as we can make it. We tell your potential readers whether or not they may want to read your book and why. A book review is not supposed to be a writers' workshop critique, although that is exactly what many of the online review sites produce. We are not here to tell you all about the plot details of a book, as many of the moronic Amazon reviewers do, or blow heavenly smoke up your butt about the limitless high quality of your average genre novel, as even more of them do so voraciously. We are here to invite you onto our dance floor and then tell you and your readers if you can really dance or not. We won't be catty and criticize your outfit or your hairdo, but we will glance under your skirt when you do the twirl.

Another issue I have been watching and researching carefully lately is the Kindle phenomenon. I think the boom has peaked. I could say it a lot of different ways, but this is the bottom line. It's like we have been hearing on the news lately that the recession is no longer in freefall. It's still falling, but at a slower pace. Invert the curve and that's what I think is happening with the Kindle. Kindle readers, for the most part, will always be obsessive, high-volume readers of genre fiction. Earlier this year I had hoped that the Kindle would open a new market up for otherwise grossly overpriced POD books, but that market has already exploded and fizzled like a damp firecracker. Yes, the market is there for everyone's positive gain in the future, but the excitement of the fad is already over. How long will it take for all the new Kindle owners to actually read all the free and low-priced books they have downloaded just because they could when their excitement level over a new toy was fresh? I rest my case.

Back in 1999 iUniverse was almost as good at unleashing a monster as John McCain! We can all try to deny that that's what they unleashed when they rattled the cages of thousands of authors who wanted to become instantly rich and famous. We can all say, You talkin' 'bout me? We can all deny that we want recognition, but we cannot deny that the cage door has been left open and there are far, far too many of us!

I cannot answer with any absolute accuracy what the future of PODBRAM holds. The beast has yanked me up and down an emotional roller coaster for the last three years. Just when I get disgusted with the lack of quality submissions or the lack of growth in the legitimate, free review blog universe, somebody sends me a heartfelt thank you for the work we do, and the coaster goes right up that next hill. I have considered increasing the number of reviewers on the team, but at least for now, I need to sit on that idea simply because I don't have time to increase my involvement with PODBRAM and finish Ker-Splash 2 on schedule. The incoming requests from publicity firms are being immediately thrown into an e-mail folder for now, and I may never give any of those a shot at our dance floor. We have more than enough direct requests to keep us busy without dealing with arrangements with authors that have proven to be something less than reliable. As of today, I am officially closing all submissions for children's books. We have enough more serious literary dance partners to keep entertained, and it takes as much of my time to run a kids' book through the system as it does a more deserving adult author who has invested considerably more time in his project. At what reader age bracket will the cutoff point be? I have not decided yet. Will we ever charge for reviews, post less than three stars at Amazon, or simply blow you off and never actually read and review your book? No, no, and no.

PODBRAM will continue to cruise the waters of small inland lakes. We shall never be rich or famous, but we shall never rip you off, either. We don't want to be the big fish in any pond. We want to be the tastiest catch. We want to be the Alaskan King Crab swimming among the canned tuna fish from Wally-World. We want to be the Maine Lobster served on Murder, She Wrote. Happy Third Anniversary from The PODBRAM Team and Captain Curmudgeon!


Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Nice post, Floyd. I know your pain. We don't have a backup at The Pod People Blog though, most of the submissions never make it out of the incoming mail folder. This is just the nature of the review business. But those we do pick, we try to give a quality review to. No charge, of course.

Our reviewers post their own reviews. I understand your "quality and editing" dilema, but, at the Podpeople, we are all writers, so we should be responsible for our own editing. We should know better, and so the embarassment is ours alone to bear if we typo all over the place or write a crap review. The readers will call us on it. As far as style and approach, each of us has our own style of review writing, but I, myself, stick to the Academic guidelines for writing a review.

We wish you well though and hope Podbram will be around for a long time to come. The community certainly appreciates your effort.

You will be missed as a reviewer.

Floyd M. Orr said...

Thank you so much for your kind remarks, Cheryl Anne. We all have to choose our battles carefully. I started PODBRAM as soon as I launched my fourth book in 2006. Now the time has come to downshift my activity level at PODBRAM so that I can finish my fifth book. I plan to release Ker-Splash 2 no later than 1/31/10, so I may be ready to take on more reviewers and speed up again within a few months.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

That is a worthy reason to go silent. Emily went awol for a while when she was writing her non-fiction research book. I have been known to drop off in activity if I am in throes of a new book. Right now I am just editing for re-release, so I have the luxury to be more active.

Fact is though, the blog work does take time away from the actual writing, so there will probably come a time next year when I am finishing Sin-eater that I will go missing. We all totally understand. A writer's priority has to be their own work.

Unknown said...

Hi Floyd-

Thanks, as always, for your support and for the kind words.

LLBR also added Wordclay to its mix back in March but we have yet to hear from one single WC author.

We are also opening our doors to Outskirts authors effective September 1st.

Good luck to you as you take off the reviewer hat and put your author hat back on. I hope it's not too dusty and fits just right!