Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Battling Publisher Prejudice

I'm going to admit something that probably will make some people angry: I am kind of biased when it comes to deciding which books to review or read, based on their publisher. I give much more consideration to books published by the three or four biggest publishing companies, and rarely, if ever anymore, accept for review books published by smaller publishing houses or via self-publication.

I'm conflicted about this decision process of mine. On the one hand, there has to be some way for me to sort through the plethora of books that are published each year: I can't possibly read all the thousands of books published annually, and so I have to narrow my pool somehow, and the ways in which I do this may not be the fairest, or the best way. But it is a way--it is my way. And after my first year of blogging, experience taught me that the books I enjoyed the most were the ones that were published by the major publishing houses.

In a way, I think that my "sorting system" makes sense, because the major publishing houses are the ones that have the money to snap up those rare but precious high-quality books that I love: the people who work at those houses are the ones who can recognize quality (and, okay, yes, financial success as well, but since my opinion on most YA bestsellers doesn't match that of the majority, I'll just be talking about my own reading preferences here), and who are in a position where they have the luxury of being able to choose the best of the best, the cream of the crop. Naturally, whether we readers, authors, and publishers wish to admit it or not, not everyone has equal amounts of talent, and not every book is equal in quality, which is extremely subjective anyway. So the major publishing houses get first pick of the potentially critically and/or commercially successful manuscripts (unfortunately those two elements are not mutually inclusive, sigh) and have the capacity to ensure that those chosen manuscripts receive the largest readership; smaller publishing houses get to choose from the remaining pool, and so on.

On the other hand, I do still feel bad that, in a way, I am judging books by elements other than simply the quality of the story and writing, by leaving it up to the (mostly) capable hands of professionals to do the "pre-selection" for me. For the most part, this decision of mine has worked well for me. Exceptions do occur: I have enjoyed books published by smaller houses in the past, and authors have opted out of the traditional publishing track for a successful attempt at self-publication and self-promotion. However, the writer in me doesn't feel too great about the fact that I cannot give each and every author's each and every book an equal chance to be read by me, because of the basic fact that I do not have infinite amounts of time, energy, or patience; I barely even have enough energy left over after work to keep up my blog.

Nowadays, more small and independent publishing houses are coming out with their own YA imprints, but I have yet to be motivated to pick up any of their books. (I admit that one small publishing house nearly gets me with their absolutely breathtaking covers every time, but I have resisted, which turned out to be a good decision when I had a spare moment in a bookstore one day, picked up one of the house's books, and read the first chapter.) I have just found most of my experiences with independently published books to be a disappointment: those publishing houses, I think, either cater to a very specific audience, or they seek to ride the wave of YA's everchanging genre successes. Neither of which appeal to me very much. I admit that I am the worst publicist because I cannot find it in me to promote something that I don't strongly believe in--but, of course, when I do find that special and uncommon book, I will talk about it to all those whom I feel share my reading tastes, and who I want to share a good book with.

I've rambled on for long enough about a potentially divisive topic in a manner that I can't even tell is comprehendible or not. I'd love to hear what you think. Do you find yourself "biased" towards a particular publishing house, or group of publishing houses? How do you sort through all the review requests that you get, or the books available for you to read? How do you feel about smaller publishing houses, or self-publishing? If you're an author and have experience either with the major or smaller publishing houses, what insights would you like to share?


  1. I know what you mean, while I review books from every publication, there are some pub companies that i can always trust to deliver a "better" book for me.

  2. I can definitely see what you are saying. There is one publisher whose books I am regularly salivating over. I review books regardless of publisher, but I admit I do lean towards big name publishers for exactly the reasons you stated. I will also admit, I have thought about adopting a similar policy, but ultimately I am afraid of missing that diamond that you might find at one of those small publishers.

  3. When I see a book published by a smaller publishing company I tend not to read it/buy it because they usually don't turn out as well and I don't like it as much. It's unfortunate but it seems like the bigger companies always have better quality books.

  4. I'm totally biased. After 18 months of reviewing indie fiction, I've decided not to accept it any more. Of 50+ self-pub titles I've reviewed, I've enjoyed very few of them. I'm afraid that I've grown to trust the big houses and their level of quality control more than small houses and indie pubs.

  5. Yes those are some of my own reasons why I tend to stay away from self published or indie houses. I love the covers and the books have better through Big Four publishing houses. Great Topic

  6. I have the same thing, but I've come to learn that editors/publishers are in many ways a good thing for reviewers to keep track of.

    Kind of like agents, really. I notice that sometimes people will consistently like books picked up by Agent A or worked with by Editor B. I love Harlequin Teen and other Harlequin titles edited by Natashya Wilson, for instance, because I've come to realize she and I have extremely similar tastes, stylistic ideas about editing, and the like that make me a really good match for her titles.

    I think it goes into publishers, too. There's a level of quality control, and despite the fact that publishers are eclectic, they do tend to have "tastes" in story types. There are publishers that I salivate over, and publishers I don't. I try to be open to small presses/self-published authors who do a good job, but I've learned that with them it's harder to find stories that necessarily have that certain zest or world-building that bigger publishers are used to handling.

    I don't think it's a bad thing to have a taste thing, but I know I try to vary what books I read from each publisher so I get a taste of what each is offering.

  7. I (mostly) only read books from large publishing houses. I've never put the reason into words, but you put it succinctly by explaining it as "leaving it up to the (mostly) capable hands of professionals to do the "pre-selection" for me." Exactly. I only have so much time and money to spend on books, and I have fairly mass market tastes (in books) so I'm going to let someone else whittle down the contenders.

    I'm glad to know I'm not the only biased one! I was starting to wonder.

  8. In a way yes. I don't tend to get offers from big publishing companies however if I was offered a book by one I'd give it more preference because it's a "big" publisher. Having said that I still read what the book is about and if it doesn't appeal to me I just pass. I also pass on self published works. Small press I've personally had great success with. I'm always scared great I'll hate the book but no I've always ended up enjoying.

  9. While I can definitely see your reason for being biased, I have to say I've found some pretty great little gems in smaller houses and even self-pubbed books. Actually the last self-pub I read is a new favorite! Still, I am very picky about what gets offered to me and know I'm taking a bigger risk investing my time in something that might just be a waste of a few hours. I do admit that if an offer comes from a big house, I know it's going to be very well quality controlled,...but not necessarily a guaranteed win with me. Heck, I'm reading one right now from a big house that has gotten tons of build up---and I'm more than half way through and praying that it's going to get better any page now!

    Hm, btw...who are the big four? LOL. I only ask, because I have seven in my head right now that I consider to be "the big ones", but I'm curious to know who are the BIG big ones! :D Someone email me and fill me in if we don't want to name names here!

  10. I totally agree with what you say. The big ones are the houses that have the means to snap up the high-quality works, so it makes sense that they would be the ones to produce the best books.


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