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Et tu, PW? Publishers Weekly preys on self-published writers

August 27, 2010

The venerable trade magazine Publishers Weekly has figured out a clever way to shake down self-published authors desperate for publicity and review attention. It’s a quarterly supplement with the sneakily upscale moniker PW Select, and you can list your book in it for the extortionate fee of $149.

The first supplement comes out in December, according to PW. What do you get for your hard-earned money? A listing of your book, complete with “author, title, subtitle, price, pagination and format, ISBN, a brief description, and ordering information provided by the authors.”

As a “supplement,” PW Select will be conveniently segregated from the rest of the magazine, so everyone except your mother and significant other can ignore it completely. Those considerate folks at PW have thought of everything!

“We believe the self-publishing supplement will bring self-published authors more attention from our subscriber base of publishers, agents, booksellers and distributors,” says PW president George Slowick Jr.

That’s a statement of such audacious cynicism, I had to step back and admire it for a moment.

What PW‘s really believes is that PW Select will create an income stream from the huddled masses of self-published authors spawned by the digital revolution, yearning for the flaming torch of critical attention. Or, as Lee Goldberg,  says in blog post seething with wit and rage, it’s “just another vanity press scam…aimed squarely at deceiving aspiring writers out of whatever money iUniverse hasn’t already shaken out of them.”

In fairness I should mention that self-published authors who are already subscribers to PW get listed for free. According to, a yearly subscription runs $168. What a bargain. Oh, and 25 lucky self-published authors will be selected for actual reviews by the magazines regular critics.

Thus, PW can nobly confess: “We briefly considered charging for reviews, but in the end preferred to maintain our right to review what we deemed worthy.” But as someone named “Emily Veinglory” notes at POD People, a news and reviews blog for self-published authors:

“That is presumably their attempt to seize the moral high ground and try to spin the fact that they are doing the one thing worse than charging for a review.  They are charging most of the authors $149 (plus book and P&P) and then not even giving them a f—— review.”

Emily apologizes for the strong language, but as a long-time devotee of Publishers Weekly, she’s taking the matter personally.

If you wonder why the self-publishing community is upset by PW‘s new gambit, see Victoria Strauss’s “PW Select: Opportunity or Exploitation” at Writer Beware for a history of the myriad ways self-published authors have been scammed by paid review services.

Strauss says it’s never worthwhile for an author to pay for a review, but unlike Goldberg, finds “a meaningful distinction” in PW Select’s “processing fee” in contrast to a straight review fee. “Precisely because authors aren’t buying a review, a review, if they get one, may have more credibility.”

Nonetheless, she finds PW Select more exploitative than anything else. Yet she predicts “a perfect storm of books is about to head PW‘s way” from “exposure starved writers.”

While I admire Strauss’ even-handedness, I’m more in sympathy with Goldberg’s outrage: “This is a money grab, a blatant attempt to exploit self-published authors to improve their sagging bottom line. It’s PW pissing on their own good name.”

And yet here I sit here, shaking my head in bemusement, because ten years from now, or five, or maybe as few as two, we’ll look back and wonder what the big deal was. Sooner rather than later, this will be SOP, business as usual.

Sooner or later, all books will be self-published, all reviews will be fee-based, and all authors will be squirming in a vast digital pit, reaching upward for any glimmer of attention.

And then the bad old days of traditional publishing, with its tweedy elitist editors and swarming pushy marketing staffs, will be recognizable as the Eden it always was.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2010 12:01 am

    Yes, all the signs are there. The publishing dystopia is fast approaching.

  2. October 19, 2011 12:01 am

    Thanks for the heads up: I was actually looking into paying to get on their list, after reading an article on how one author got on the list, got reviewed by PW, and then got published by Amazon’s new publishing service.

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