Self-Published Book Critique

So while I'm sitting here trying to block out my roommate and her family (she's moving out today) and the rap music she's blasting, I was thinking a bit about Let's Get Digital. I wanted to look up some self-published books, check out the cover art, and see how successful they are compared to trade published books. I went with YA titles just because I'm more familiar with them and therefore a better judge.

I searched through Goodreads and found this book called Awaken Me by Emily Gossett. It's the first in a series (the rest aren't out yet).

Cover Art: Alright, so it's not bad. It definitely screams 'YA' and 'teenage girl'. It's a decent photoshop job. I liked it until I read the summary and realized the cover doesn't really tell readers anything about the book itself. It's just the typical eyeball you'd see on a DeviantArt creation or Meyer's The Host

Summary: I'm not so sure about this part. The summary provided on Goodreads is extremely wordy and has several grammatical errors. If that's any indicator of how the actual content is edited, then I definitely would not be able to get past the first page. It's only 211 pages, but the summary talks about so many different aspects of the plot that I can only wonder how Gossett managed to include everything – and do it well. There's a fiance, a murder, another guy, supernatural elements, something called 'the Rogues', strangers, a man who owns the narrator Aimee, Greece, deceit, and power. Interesting. I do like how the narrator is 23-years-old. Books about people in their early 20s aren't very common, and I'm not sure why!

Rates: An average of 4.9 stars

Format: It's available (according to Goodreads) in hardcover and ebook.

Reviews: On Goodreads many of the reviews are very positive, so I can only assume that the summary doesn't do the story justice. Even so, I couldn't help but notice that many of the reviewers had multiple grammar mistakes themselves. 

My thoughts: Having not read the book myself it's hard to judge it fully and fairly. With that said, it seems like the author either consulted a professional cover art designer or is really skilled at it herself – both options are something that Gaughran talked about in Let's Get Digital. However, it would appear that Gossett opted not to pay for a professional editing job. It actually seems like she didn't even edit it herself, but based on her website (which I also checked out) she is not exactly the most grammatically inclined person. I won't say that my grammar is perfect because I know it is not – not at all – but hers could definitely use some work. Overall, based on the positive reviews and ratings on Goodreads and the pretty cover, I'd say that Gossett was successful at her self-publishing venture. My only suggestion to her is to get an editor next time.

 

Publishing 101: Simon and Schuster

So today I have another one of the Big Six Publishing Houses, Simon and Schuster, to talk to you guys about. 

First, I have to say that I love their website. It's awesome because currently on their home page they have The Great Gatsby movie trailer, their current titles on the NY Times Bestsellers List (including Jodi Picoult and Mary Higgins Clark, whom I adore), and a section dedicated to book-to-movie adaptations (including Warm Bodies – which I still need to read – and The Perks of Being a Wallflower – both versions of which I thoroughly enjoyed). They even have a section called 'Squeaky Clean Spring' that lists books for 'green' awareness and other housekeeping awesomeness. 

I'm impressed so far. 

Okay so for a little background information on the company…Simon & Schuster was established in 1924 by Richard L. Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster. They're initial endeavor was a crossword puzzle book. Who doens't love doing those?

Headquarters is located in NYC, not unlike the other big publishing houses I've researched. They have relations in over 200 countries with 1,350 employees that publish about 2,000 titles annually. The company is also a part of CBS. Carolyn Reidy is the President and Chief Executive Officer.

There are several imprints, including: Pocket, Scribner, Touchstone, and Simon Pulse. Simon Pulse is probably my personal favorite because they publish a lot of great YA titles. 

Their mission: "dedicated to bringing an extensive cross section of first class information and entertainment in all printed, digital, and audio formats to a worldwide audience of readers." 

According to their website, the company seems to be very eco-oriented, which is definitely awesome. Another very cool aspect of Simon and Schuster is something called Archway Publishing, which is listed as "self-publishing." The tagline says, "Powered by experts. Published by you." Very interesting…

Okay now for some Glassdoor reviews of Simon and Schuster. A lot of the reviews were pretty repetitive in that they said the same things over and over in each one. Most of them said that the company was laid back and gave out tons of free books, but that it was stagnant and experiencing many layoffs. There were also a lot of complaints about the staff, including "clique-y" "petty"  and "backstabbing." All-in-all, relatively similar to the reviews of the other publishing houses.

Editorial Assistant: $33,000

Assistant Editor: $32,000

Publishing 101: General Terms Defined

So I don't know about you guys, but sometimes in my research I come across terms or publishing lingo that confuse me. So, I thought I'd go ahead and look some of them up. Maybe you'll find it useful as well. 

(1) Imprint: "The designation under which a publisher issues a given list of titles, and by which designation, the books of a publisher are identified" – A Glossary of Publishing Terms

(2) ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies): You see these a lot on the online book community, especially blogs and Youtube. Regular reviewers are often contacted by publishers with copies of new releases that have not yet been released. They are sent to these "clients" (really, just regular people on Youtube) with the hopes that they will review them – positively, I'm assuming. These copies usually don't even have the official cover art, some have typos and errors. Basically unfinished manuscripts. They're pretty hot commodities within the community, especially if it's a much-anticipated title. 


And because I always have trouble distinguishing between the different editing/publishing job positions, here are a few defined. 

(3) Editor: Basically the head-honcho. They oversee the editing process as well as do a lot of planning. They may be in charge of a team or group of other people involved with the publication. 

(4) Editorial Assistant: So this is the position you're likely to get upon applying with minimal experience/skills, because it's the entry level position. It's mostly a lot of secretarial work, but opportunities to edit and write may come up depending on the company for which you work.

(5) Associate Editor: Editing, revising, writing, managing the production process, planning, design, administrative duties, etc.

Publishing 101: Random House

Yet another one of the "Big Six" publishers – Random House – will feature in today's segment. Random House claims to be the largest publisher of general interest fiction and nonfiction. Interesting to note that all of these huge companies publish general books or at least a wide variety of genres under multiple imprints. There don't seem to be any specialized publishing companies that have made it big. I think that also says something about DIY publishing as well. Limited resources equates to limited output. 

Anyway, I was unable to find much about the company's history in my research, but I did find that it was founded in 1927 by Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer. The current CEO is Markus Dohle and headquarters is located on 1745 Broadway in NYC. They have a very safe, yet respectable mission: to connect readers worldwide to adult and children's fiction and nonfiction authors both familiar and new. 

In 2012 Random House actually merged with another Big Six publishing house – Penguin – to form Penguin Random House. Personally I think that Random Penguin House sounds a lot cooler, but to each their own. This was a very significant move for the world of publishing that caused a storm on the web

Here some populat titles published under Random House that you may be familiar with: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Fifty Shades of Grey, The Da Vinci Code, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Hobbit, The Road, and many others. 

Now for some company information and reviews from Glassdoor.

The overall vibe I was getting from many of the comments is basically summed up in this one review: "great people and benefits, little room for advancement, not progressive, low pay."

Some people did say that Random House paid more than other publishing houses.

It seems that the reviews on all of these companies are fairly similar. Many of them complain of little room for advancement because once the senior members are in place, they stay there. They also mentioned that the leadership isn't trained and neither are thes other employees for upper-level position. As these publsishing houses transition into the digital world of e-books, some employees are being left in the dark because they're not familiar with the new job responsibilities. However, some reviewers said all Random House has to do is send them to a simple training class in order to keep them involved. 

– Associate Editor: $46,126

– Editorial Assistant: $35,869

– Publishing Assistant: $35,138

– Editor: $59,551

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Fanfiction & Copyright

This past week in my WRT 200 class we discussed copyright laws and how DIY publishers can run into trouble with them. RiP Remix Manifesto anyone? Girl Talk? But anyway, it inspired me to look into copyright issues – specifically in regards to fanfiction. Fanfiction is one of the most popular forms of fan expression and could also be considered a form of DIY publishing. That's where it gets tricky though, because the content is rarely 100% original – or original enough, that is – to be published on its own. 

Copyright laws aren't really something I've ever paid attention to, but I've noticed little things here and there. When I went through my vigorous fanfiction-reading phase, most – if not all – of the authors put disclaimers at the top or bottom of each chapter they would post. The disclaimers would always say something along the lines of how they don't own the characters, they're just playing with them. I used to think the disclaimers were annoying, but after studying it in class this week I've realized they might be extremely valuable.

One of the topics that came up in class was Fifty Shades of Grey, which was originally a Twilight fanfiction posted to Fanfiction.net. For those of you wandering, I did read it while it was on the site when the characters were still Edward and Bella. That was the only appeal for me – the familiar characters that I loved so much. I have not – and will probably never – read the Fifty Shades published series. I regret to say that my mom owns them all, so if I'm ever feeling particularly daring one day…

Regardless, it's interesting to see how bestsellers can originate from sloppy fanfiction posted on the Internet by fledgling writers and fangirls. It's also interesting that if the story is different enough from the original text – as was the case with Fifty Shades and Twilight – all the author has to do is change the characters' names, appearances, and perhaps the setting in order to avoid copyright infringement. I'm curious to see what Stephenie Meyer's reaction to this was. The only thing I could find though was that she's never read the Fifty Shades series because "smut" is not her genre. Verbal porn might be a more accurate description though, Meyer. 

We also talked breifly in class about how authors of original texts avoid reading fanfiction for very specific purposes. Many fanfics – as they are commonly abbreviated – are continuations of the story; they make predictions. If an author who's working on a sequel to her series stumbles upon a fic, likes it, and decides to use material from it…well, let's just say they could potentially run into a lot of trouble themselves. Granted, authors like Meyer remain steadfast to their claim that they've had the entire story mapped out since the very beginning and would therefore have no need to borrow/steal ideas from fans. 

It makes me wonder though if a lot of other authors have pulled their literature from fansites in order to publish the piece as their own like E. L. James did. I remember coming across quite a few fanfics that were very, very good and had huge fan followings. The authors were consistently encouraged to look into commercially publishing them but I'm not sure if they ever did. Should they be allowed to?

The stark difference between corporate publishing and DIY publishing is evident here, especially when a text transitions from one to the other like Fifty Shades did. As a fanfiction, the author had an intimate (excuse the pun) relationship with the fans – on the site, readers have the option of leaving reviews and even private messaging the author to give feedback, ask questions, and offer suggestions. The site also has a feature for authors to see how many "hits", or views, each story and chapter they've posted gets. They aren't paid. They don't usually have editors – although many of the more popular, serial fics did have what is called "beta readers." 

I myself was a beta-reader once. It's easy; you check the box stating that you're interested in editing others' works and then you select the genres and fandoms that you're willing to edit. The author checks out your profile, and if they like you, you're in. 

It's extremely DIY, and also extremely free. Very much unlike commercial publishing.

Big publishing houses pay the authors, print the text, create cover art, circulate the literature, and provide them with the opportunity of achieving success, fame, and possibly even wealth. However, they often also have strict contracts and deadlines authors must abide to, and the process can be confusing at times. 

When it comes down to it, the choice is ultimately up to the author. What sort of medium they'd like to publish their text through and the consequences of each is entirely their own decision. Personally, I'm conflicted. I love the vibe of fanfiction – well-written ones that is – and the intimate relationships developed. Authors can talk about the writing process and give links to pictures of things and songs mentioned in their stories. But, I have to admit that I'm drawn to commercial publishing. I'd much rather read a print copy of a story than anything posted online. I can only stare at a computer screen for so long before my eyes bug out of my head. And of course, the money and fame must be nice too. 

Publishing 101: HarperCollins

Today's segment is about another one of the largest U.S. publishing companies: HarperCollins, a merger of the separate Harper and Collins. Founded in 1989, the company's history is not impressively long but the two separate publishing houses from which it merged extend much further into the history of published material, dating all the way back to 1817. Harper published Mark Twain, the Bronte sisters, and William Makepeace Thackeray (has anyone else trudged through Vanity Fair?). Collins is best known for publishing H.G. Wells, Agatha Christie, and J.R.R. Tolkein. Many of these authors are esteemed and venerated, but from the reviews of the company I found online, HarperCollins' ethics seemed to have changed…

Before I get to that, however, I'll give a little more background information on the company before I proceed into "hater" reviews. HarperCollins has over 30 imprints, two of which I am familiar with – HarperTeen and Harper Children's Books. Some of my favorite authors and books have come from these imprints, including Neil Gaimon, Lemony Snicket, Meg Cabot, and Lauren Oliver (I'll admit to succumbing to the Divergent hype). They have a decent and very active selection of YA novels, which I can appreciate. Some of their well-known children's books include: Charlotte's Web, Goodnight Moon, and Where the Wild Things Are

HarperCollins' mission, or motto you might say, is a little different than Scholastic's. It has to be though, considering the different audience. Whereas Scholastic is aimed towards children and middle grade readers, HarperCollins publishes for all age-ranges and genres under different imprints. Therefore, they're vision has to be a bit broader. 

According to the company's website, "It's all about the author and the book. More than just the authors and books we publish, but the idea of the book. The idea of an individual's inexhaustible and surprising CREATIVITY, DARING, and SINGULARITY…."

I like it. Of course the book itself is important. I like that this publisher is so broad – some publishers will only put out certain types of books by certain authors to promote a certain message/theme. It doesn't seem like that's the case for HarperCollins.

So now on to those negative reviews I mentioned earlier. Out of all the ones I came across, the majority detailed negative experiences that employees had with the company. Here are a few.

"high profile, stressful, competitive, rewarding"

"cons – hierarchy and lack of opportunities; unreasonable expectations; low pay; lack of collaboration; corporate culture"

"no room for growth; typical cubicle culture"

"The entry-level salary is upsetting and insulting. HC doesn't care about publishing well-written books. $$$$ is the name of the game and it's an uninspiring environment to work in."

"Everybody is at each other's throats, shaking with anxiety, willing to throw anyone under the bus."

Acquisition editors don't know how to edit; the books HarperCollins puts out are compared to literature that anyone can get online for free.

Sounds pleasant doesn't it? I have to admit that I am a bit turned off by the complaints. Especially the supposed obsession with money. It makes sense though; having so many imprints and a non-focused publishing range correlates with the desire for revenue. It would also explain the "low pay" and the fact that college internships are unpaid with no living stipend. However, the reviews about the internship programs at HarperCollins were mostly positive.

Briefly, the summer internship program at HC is comparable to Scholastic's. It's for college juniors and seniors with a "strong interest in a long-term career in publishing." You have to have "excellent communication, organization, and computer skills." As aforementioned, it is unpaid but the students do receive credit for the program, pending that the school accepts it. The program runs from June 10th – August 15th 2013. The interns are required to work Monday-Thursday 9-4 (24 hours/week). Sounds promising to me, although the living situation and lack of pay would inevitably be a problem. 

Facts & Stats:

  • Editorial Assistant: $32,000
  • Production Editor: $36,600
  • Assistant Editor: $39,000
  • HQ: 10 East 53rd St., NYC
  • CEO: Brian Murray

On a side note, I discovered this Youtube video of HarperCollins' employees doing the ever popular Harlem Shake. This means they must have some fun right? Also, loving the business casual. 

 


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Publishing 101: Scholastic Corporation

I'm starting a new segment called Publishing 101. I'll be researching and discussing publishing companies, the process, careers, etc. mostly because it's something I'm very interested in. I hope one day to have the opportunity to be employed by one of these companies – as an editor, hopefully – and so this research is as much for you guys as it is for me. Not only that, but it'll be cool to compare the companies and see the successes and drawbacks of each. 

 

Today I'll be talking about Scholastic. It's one of the most well-known publishing companies probably because of its tight integration into the United States school system. They claim to be the "largest publisher and distributor of children's books in the wolrd" earning an average annual revenue of about $2 billion. They have services available in 45 different languages and 150 countries. Scholastic prides itself for working closely with teachers and schools – about 90% of all U.S. schools actually – through books, magazines, educational programs, teacher resources, and stores. Their mission? To "encourage the intellectual and personal growth of all children." 

 

 

Who didn't love the Scholastic Book Fairs and clubs? I've always thought that the book fairs are an excellent way to get kids excited about reading. The atmosphere of the fairs are awesome – classmates comparing books, students walking around and checking out titles.

 

I personally really love the mission of this company and what they stand for. Literarcy is essential and I just have total respect for a company with good values such as this. Scholastic has also begun implementing "green" programs to print with recycled materials, which is of course another plus for an environmental advocate such as myself. Scholastic has also managed to keep up in the "digital age" with ebooks and other technologies that has helped the company stay afloat. They're even on Twitter

 

However, some reviews on Indeed concern me. One reviewer wrote, "mission is noble but mostly lost on those who work there." I can see why truck drivers and warehouse workers might feel disconnected from the company's mission, but higher-ups, editors, writers, and anyone directly involved with the production process should certainly be invested in the promotion of children's literacy. Another criticsm that Scholastic faces is that they sell too many toys and video games instead of focusing more on the books. I don't fault the company for this – it's a smart way for them to increase revenue, get kids interested, and help them learn all at once. The only non-books at the Scholastic Book Fairs I've been to were pens, pencils, cool eraser caps, posters, and other miscellaneous tools to keep in one's desk. The books were definitely the focal point. Nothing wrong with that, in my eyes. 

 

Some popular Scholastic books that you might be familiar with include: Clifford the Big Red Dog, The Magic School Bus, Goosebumps, Harry Potter, I SPY, The Hunger Games, The Babysitter's Club, Captain Underpants, the Wishbone series, and Ripley's Believe It or Not. You may even recognize a few of them from posts I've done on my blog, evidence that Scholastic has defintely made an impact on my childhood and ultimately my life. I know I can't be the only one. 

 

Brief History:

  • Scholastic was established in 1920 by Maurice R. Robinson. In 1974 his son, Richard Robinson, took over as president. 
  • The first book published was entiteld Saplings, which was a collection of student writings from the Scholastic Writing Awards, held 3 years prior. 
  • They acquired Grolier, which is the company known for publishing the Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia and The New Book of Knowledge. I've seen Grolier a few times when doing research for school projects online, academic databases. 
  • Headquarters is located at 557 Broadway, NYC. This is a good location, albeit expected. Especially for me considering NYC is only a few hours drive my hometown in New Jersey and just a little farther from my school in central New York. 

Careers:

  • Reviews from Indeed: "great people bad pay" "Nepotism and favoritism wins over intelligence and skill" "good healthcare and benefits"
  • Executive Editor: $100,300
  • Senior Editor: $64,600
  • Associate Editor: $44,712
  • Assistant Editor: $40,535
  • These salaries are in comparison to the Senior Applications Developer who earns $103,689/year and the Tech. Lead who earns  $103,601/year. 
  • In order to be considered as an associate editor – one who reviews and edits enriched scripts, ~1000/year – you need to have at least 2 years of experience in children's publishing, a background in education, excellent writing and copywriting skills, and you should be proficient with Outlook, Excel, and Word.
  • Editorial Internship: 12 interns; college juniors or seniors, 8 week program from June 17th – August 9th 2013; $12/hour; 35 hours a week; you must submit with your application a cover letter and resume. 

 

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