I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on this. I left a comment at Critical Mass. Mainly I'm glad I'm not the one who has to sort through all of the incoming books every month to choose which ones to review. Seems a thankless task.
That's a refrain that a lot of working critics seem to be singing, and I certainly can understand that for someone who is overworked, understaffed, and, after all, human, it's a Herculean problem.I think I would approach the problem in a different way. My instinct--which might lead to a very short tenure as a critic if I were ever to have such a position--would be to look at the pile of books from major publishers that I knew were going to be heavily promoted and advertised and set them aside. People are going to find out about those books in any case. Then I'd sort through the other pile and discard all the obvious tripe (and we all know it really is obvious). I imagine that would leave a stack of some interesting books that other critics wouldn't be all over.But that's just me, and I admit I'm a bit odd.
Dick, if you are odd, then we are the odd couple. What you describe is very close to what I used to do when I had a job similar to Frank Wilson's, and it is what I do now as an occasional reviewer of books. Indeed, the question within this general subject that always has vexed me is not, Why do self-published books not get reviewed?, but, Why does one perfectly good novel not get reviewed when another, good but no better (if I can use such loose terms in connection with fiction), get showers of attention? Is it the promotion behind them, or lack thereof? I don't think so. There isn't a heck of a lot of promotion of ANY fiction. It seems that some novelists become the hot-button or buzz novelists, and others do not. I have puzzled over it for years, and I do not know how it happens.
This is what I said at Critical Mass on the subject:I self-published my first novel Lost in 2000. As Dick said, there are high-quality self-published books. I had credentials (to the degree that it matters) and engaged professional designers, etc. The book did not look self-published. I also had a marketing background, which helped. Lost got reviewed in the Philadelphia Inquirer and was a BookSense.com daily pick and my indie effort was the subject of a half-page piece in New York magazine (because everyone's mother was not yet self-publishing). The reviews are here. All of this press attention took lots of work, because of the self-publishing stigma. Of course, there are lots of bad self-published books, but no self-publisher ever put out this.My new forthcoming novel Mean Martin Manning is not self-published but is being published by a small indie outfit, ENC Press. All due respect for the challenges reviewers face, of course, but how many people will discover anything new if all of the reviewers only review the same books?
I'd be curious to know why critics swarm all over certain books. The recent James Tiptree, Jr. biography has been reviewed in a suprising number of "big" publications (including yours). Which seems odd, considering that it's a bio of a relatively obscure SF writer.
Or, this can happen to you(r book), as it did to art critic Robert Hughes:--from his forthcoming "Things I didn't know":_Heaven and Hell in Western Art_ was a success, as such things go. It sold few copies and made little money; but it garnered good reviews, some of them better than it deserved. An energetic New Yorker named Sol Stein bought the American rights to it. There, too, it was a flop d’estime. But, as it turned out, the sales didn’t count a bit. What changed my life irrevocably and for the better was the copies that were given away. Or to be precise, one of those review copies, which Stein sent to Time magazine. On the 24th floor of the Time-Life Building in Manhattan there was a room in which incoming review copies were kept. There were thousands of books in that room, all new and almost equally fated never to be reviewed. Once in a very long while, however, it could happen that your book might be reprieved by a curious, scavenging staffer and set before a senior editor as a “possible”. This was what happened to the copy of Heaven and Hell. It was rescued from the oubliette by the senior editor in charge of the book section and passed to Time’s managing editor, Henry Grunwald, who was looking for a permanent art critic. Grunwald took it home, read it and liked it. He directed the chief back-of-the-book editor, AT Baker, to track me down. ----Never underestimate the power of LUCK as a factor in one's success. By the way, I took the above from a wonderful excerpt of Hughes'forthcoming memoir that was published in the London Times. It's online.