On Book Bigotry – Part 2


In my previous post, I set out three subtle forms of ‘book bigotry’ I have observed in publishing, whereby reviewers, readers, and even writers judge a book by some aspect of its publication, rather than on the basis of its written content. That post explored the first of these kinds of prejudice, based on a book’s format (e.g. physical vs. ebook). In this post, we turn to examine prejudice based on platform, and in the next, we will look at location-based biases.

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On Book Bigotry – Part 1


I first came across the concept of #bookbigotry in the writings of author and publishing guru Carolyn Howard-Johnson. She describes how people sometimes make snap judgements about a book on the basis that it is independently published – without reading the book’s description, or the author’s bio, or even looking at the cover.

Indie authors can encounter book bigotry early on in the publishing process, as soon as they start shopping their novels around for reviews. Many reviewers explicitly state that they will not consider independently published works.

Given the vast number of requests they are inundated with, it’s understandable reviewers want to narrow down the herd. A ‘no indies’ requirement appears to be a simple and effective hurdle for reviewers to put in place in order to stem the flow of requests. A way of using traditional publishers as gatekeepers.

But of course, not all traditionally published books are high quality and well-produced, and not all independently published books are error-riddled dross. I’ve written before about how traditional publishers are no longer the gatekeepers they once (supposedly) were.

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Bloggers and book hauls: 12 case studies

Things have been a little quiet on the blog, while I’m working on a new series focusing on #bookbigotry. But in the middle of preparing those posts, I got a little bit sidetracked – looking into the phenomenon of book hauls.

Kelly’s post on Stacked Books close to a decade ago seems to have been one of the first to draw attention to ‘book haul’ videos wherein some bloggers brag about the sheer volume of books they’ve picked up at conferences.

Now, I can hardly blame anyone for being excited about getting books! I love collecting books as much as the next person. But what appears to upset many in the industry – authors, publishers and publicists, not to mention other reviewers and librarians who ultimately miss out when all the copies are scooped up by a select few – is that some people are apparently walking away with great swags of books without any interest in evaluating or promoting the books received – and maybe not even reading them.

Now, as I’ll detail in an upcoming post, I do not believe anyone should feel obligated to review a book, full stop. Even if they have promised to do so. Some books simply aren’t a good fit for some people, and that’s okay.

But all this got me thinking – how many books is too many? To accept for review, or to take from a conference, I mean. (I’m certainly not proposing a limit on the number of books in your own personal collection!) And, have things changed in recent years? So, I put on my researcher’s cap, and did some digging.

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Do readers really own books?

In my last post of February, I answered Smashwords founder Mark Coker’s question ‘Can authors honestly call themselves indie authors when they’re getting 80-100% of their sales from a single retailer?’. In short, my answer was ‘No.’ But writers are only one piece of the puzzle.

My question, for this first post of March, is What about readers?

Online retailers and ebooks have brought readers unprecedented selection when it comes to reading choices. But in other ways, these platforms, both in collaboration and competition with the big publishers, have restricted readers as much as they have writers.

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Are indie authors truly independent?

In his annual post, Smashwords founder Mark Coker asks ‘Can authors honestly call themselves indie authors when they’re getting 80-100% of their sales from a single retailer?’

His question inspired me to investigate my own sales. And it turns out, the sales of Number Eight Crispy Chicken fall right in this range.

Although it is also available on Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords, over the first month, 91% of the sales of Number Eight Crispy Chicken were via a single platform. You guessed it: Amazon.

Drilling down, however, 44% of those sales on Amazon were for paperback books. Only 72% of ebook sales were on Amazon.

But that’s still a lot of eggs in one basket.

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Eight Days of Number Eight Crispy Chicken

Ladies and gentlemen, Number Eight Crispy Chicken has now landed at all good (and even some not-so-good – you know which ones you are!) bookstores! Find your copy at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or search on iBooks! (At time of writing, Number Eight Crispy Chicken is among the top 5,000 books on Amazon Australia, it’s both the hottest release and #1 bestselling Aviation-themed book, and is in the top ten Dark Humour books!)

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The After-After-Thought: The Spine

If a book’s back cover is often an after-thought, the spine is an after-after-thought.

Yet, as I wrote in my last post, the spine is the backbone of the whole operation. The thing holding the front and back cover together.

Typically (unless you or your readers upload photos or videos to Amazon or other retailers) your book’s spine won’t be visible to browsing customers online.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in an effort.

In fact, there are two reasons spine design deserves your special attention:

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The Forgotten Back Cover

Back in the days when brick-and-mortar book stores and libraries dominated, the back of a book was perhaps the next thing most readers would turn to after glancing at the cover, and before making the decision to purchase or borrow. The back cover was where you’d find not only the book’s blurb, but a tagline, endorsements from reviewers (also known as ‘blurbs’), any awards the book had been nominated for or won, and a short bio about the author.

In our current era of online bookstores, ereaders, and indie publishing, the back cover has been largely replaced by the description field on retail sites. In many cases, the front cover has taken on of the burdens of the back cover, with taglines, quotes, awards, and even biographical details jammed onto a book’s front.

So it should come as no surprise then, that self-publishing guides pay scant attention to back covers. E-books don’t require (or really have the facilities for) back covers at all (much to my disappointment!).

Even when ordering a paperback online, back covers don’t seem to play a significant role in readers’ decision-making. They’re much harder to see than front covers, requiring the reader to use the ‘look inside’ preview on Amazon, and then click ‘Back Cover’ to see a preview. It’s much easier to simply read the description, which also has the advantage of being searchable, and easily legible.

Why should indie authors bother with a back cover, then? And why bother to write a whole blog post about them?

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How the numbers are stacked against indies and small publishers

Recently, I typed a bunch of numbers into a web form, in order to purchase a bunch of numbers to stick on my books. In exchange for this privilege, an inordinate amount of numbers were subtracted from my bank account.

In other words, I purchased some ISBNs.

ISBN stands for ‘International Standard Book Number’. Yet, in spite of their International and Standardised nature, there is nothing standard about how ISBNs are sold – or priced – internationally.

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