Authors and publishers weigh in on what it takes to get a book reviewed and readers respond to "When Science Lied."

By Salon Staff

Published September 20, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

[Read "Bribes, Threats and Naked Readings."]

Americans can read a variety of books because small, independent publishers print them. The article ignores this. Six major publishers, the conglomerates, operate from New York. A number of them are controlled by foreign money. More than 50,000 independent publishers, who have invested their souls to live the American dream, work across the United States. Guess which side, the conglomerates or the independents, publishes the most books, the widest range of books and the best books! If you chose the independents, you chose right.

I am an author, and I am an independent publisher. My book, "Not Yet At Ease," is a coffee-table book of photographs. It was professionally edited and designed throughout. The production quality matches or exceeds any book done by the National Geographic or Taschen. The content brings people to tears. But my book will not be reviewed by the likes of the Washington Post or Newsday.

They won't review my book because they discriminate against people like me, the independent American publisher. They openly say this is their policy. They won't judge the book's merits because I chose to invest my retirement dollars to pursue my dream rather than to suck up to foreign money. So, the comments by Laurie Muchnick and Jonathan Yardley are totally trash.

Quality among independent publishers is like quality among independent filmmakers. Some is good, some is bad. Just as you have to see the film to judge its merits, you have to read the book to judge its merits. The issue is less getting published and more getting reviewed.

The major reviewers who blindly reject the independents are shirkers. They serve the interests of the big guys against the small guys. They do not provide honest reviews about the larger sea of books available. Instead, they review a sample from the wading pool owned by the conglomerates. And so, they cheat their readers. No wonder authors will do whatever they can to get noticed!

-- David Chananie

GREAT article about how difficult it is today to get your book reviewed, regardless of whether it was published by a large, recognized house, or through the self-published POD route.

I've had some success getting the word out about my book by being very selective about whom I query for a review. The piece is fiction, it's a comedy/mystery, and it has a gay theme. I only target reviewers who in the past have supported gay work, and, in the mainstream press, those reviewers with whom I feel a connection -- people whose work I read all the time. That way I can query them with some degree of politesse and honesty.

I don't think it's fair to lump all POD books into the "shit" category because editors feel inundated by other stuff. I do believe that worthy material finds its audience. The author needs to identify which audience he wants to promote to, find those he feels safest with, and query openly. Enough of this kvetching, already!

-- Steven Schreibman

As a self-published author I would like to respond to the article by Christopher Dreher. His implication seems to be that self-published authors are semiliterate wannabes who take away valuable time from more august intellectual endeavors such as, say, the latest insights from Chastity Bono, and that instead of self-publishing we could more profitably invest our energies watching professional wrestling or playing our banjos on the front porch.

As with many other authors, I wrote my book because I could not not write it! However, being unknown and unfamiliar with the byzantine machinations of the publishing industry, with no family or celebrity connections, with only inner resources to guide and sustain, how do you proceed?

It takes huge sacrifice and huge risk to follow your inner truth, even if -- especially if -- others cannot see it. It takes perseverance in the face of rejection (or worse, no response), and persistence when paralyzed with self-doubt.

My modest (and continuing) self-publishing successes include:
-- national distribution to independent bookstores ...
-- an excellent syndicated review from the L.A. Weekly ...
-- a mention in Herb Caen's column ...
-- a feature in the S.F. Chronicle Sunday edition ...
-- a listing in Amazon.com resulting in (among others) one order for 300 books ...
-- expressions of gratitude in letters and cards from around the country ...
-- ability to assign ISBN numbers as a legitimate publisher ...
-- worldwide orders from my Web site ...

At this writing I still lack the financial resources to pursue professional advertising and marketing strategies. So what does one do? One option I have considered but have not effected is some sort of publicity stunt, which might generate a little more exposure because that's the name of the game. I would do a naked reading in a heartbeat, but without publicity, who would show up?

I can only dream of the possibilities available with 1 percent of the budget allocated to the latest Britney Spears "book." There are many valuable and helpful self-published materials available today that have been rejected by mainstream publishers to their own detriment. In fact, if present trends toward corporate editorial decision-making continue, the only interesting and thoughtful material will be self-published!

After finishing your article I was reminded of a quote from Herbert Spencer: "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance -- that principle is contempt prior to investigation."

-- Jesse Lemic

[Read "When Science Lied."]

Alison Motluk's choice use of "disingenuous" characterizes this entire media flap over Kettlewell's work.

What is widely ignored is that the gene-shift population evidence of the moths has been substantiated and the photos of moths on trees serve illustrative purposes only.

The only victim is the simplistic "dark-tree/dark-moth" explanation. As Francis Crick reminded Stephen J. Gould, there is an invidious predilection among evolutionary biologists to compose "Just-So" stories.

The true cause for the established gene-shift is obviously more complex than a single environmental factor with a direct effect allows and yet awaits elucidation. That doesn't mean the factor (or factors) are figmentary, nor that the best tool for finding it/them isn't the application of evolutionary science.

Creationist piffle certainly hasn't shown any merit at shining the light on the as yet shuttered unknown.

-- JJ Brannon

The arguments that Hooper raises in her book (that Kettlewell's data has been fudged or faked) have been raised before, by the creationist Jonathon Wells in his book "Icons of Evolution." However, subsequent research has shown that Kettlewell's data, however he obtained it, was essentially correct. A thorough review and critique of Wells' book (and now, apparently, of Hooper's) can be found at the talk.origins archive, specifically, here.

Included in this review are citations for recent (1999-2000) work with the peppered moth. Work that should have been considered by Judith Hooper, and by the author of this review, Alison Motluk, before she makes the claim that scientific fact isn't.

-- Kelly Garrison

In her review of Judith Hooper's "Of Moths and Men," Alison Motluk criticizes Hooper for failing to explore the deeper questions of how the flaws in Kettlewell's work passed peer review, why his study was accepted as gospel before it was replicated, and why so few people read the original papers before passing the story on. Perhaps Hooper was not willing to face the hostility that answering those questions engenders. When Jonathan Wells suggested in "Icons of Evolution" that the scientific establishment's infatuation with Darwinism was to blame, the true believers attacked him zealously. Maybe the bully's message is being heard: mess with Darwin, and we'll mess with you.

-- Ashby Camp

Salon Staff

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