August 10th, 2011



Just to be up front about this, I'm sad Borders is going out of business, but I'm not one to pass up a book sale. I've been on a bookbuying moratorium for so many years now (mainly due to how crowded my shelves are already with books I haven't gotten to yet, though also because book prices have become ridiculous, even for mass market paperbacks, which used to cost a buck twenty-five, for Christ's sake), that a going-out-of-business sale strikes me as a good opportunity to break the rule, kind of like eating dessert on vacation.

I visited the Borders near Alexa's office a few weeks ago and was shocked to find that all the good stuff--meaning books I wanted--was on sale for a mere 10% off. I could, and regularly do, find books for less online (during those times when the moratorium slips)--which, by the way, is a big chunk of the reason Borders is going bye-bye. Anyway, I wanted to buy Peter Straub's A Dark Matter and A Special Place, but not at these prices. So I left the store in the kind of enraged tizzy one only gets into when one had one's heart set on something only to be unreasonably disappointed. (I later found A Special Place on sale at Amazon for $2! That's not a typo!)

I returned to Borders today to see if anything had changed and discovered, to my joy, that all the "good stuff" was now 25% off. Better, though still not an oh-my-God-$2 level of discount. A Dark Matter was no longer there, of course, but I did buy a few other books that I figured wouldn't be around much longer:

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. I love Sedaris' books, and have been meaning to buy this one since it came out in 2008 but kept putting it off because of the moratorium or something.

Hawkes Harbor by S.E. Hinton. I only picked this one up because it looks like a lot of fun, and is short enough not to overstay its welcome should it be less fun than it looks. Also, I'm told it started life as a rejected Dark Shadows novel, and that I've got to see!

The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett. Bennett's Mr. Shivers was one of my favorite novels of last year, and this one looks pretty damn good too.

Maybe I should have picked up more, but I didn't want to overdo it (moratorium!). Still, I figure I'll head back over there in a few more weeks when books are 50% off or more, and see what's left. I imagine it'll be slim pickings, but you never know.

Yet Another Review Site Ripping Off Authors

I was recently contacted by the former book review editor of the Rocky Mountain News about working for the new review website she started, where I would review self-published horror, science fiction, and fantasy novels. It sounded like something that could be a bit of an endurance test--how long would I be able to stand each poorly written military science fiction adventure about the best pilot in the fleet who's also a hit with the ladies before contemplating my own death?--but I'd done similar work before as genre judge of the Writers Digest Self-Published Book Contest, and the promised $100-per-book payment was more than a little tempting.

Then I started to wonder how they could afford to pay me $100 a book, seeing as how even Publishers Weekly with its thousands of subscribers can't pay that. Fearing the worst, I checked their website and, sure enough, they charge authors for reviews. A lot. Here's the reply I sent back. Maybe I should have waited until I cooled down a bit, but I was aghast.

Dear [redacted],

Thank you for thinking of me, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to pass on your offer. I cannot get behind, nor associate myself with, any review source that charges authors for reviews. According to your website, you charge a belief-defying $395-$495 per book, as well as a $19.95 handling charge for books sent to you as a PDF instead of hardcopy. Frankly, I find this appalling. Not only does it automatically draw the truthfulness and impartiality of the review into question, it is, in my opinion, just another way of fleecing authors who have already been wildly fleeced by vanity presses.

Again, I thank you for thinking of me, but not only would I not want to be a part of a pay-to-play service like this, it is exactly the kind of thing I have been consistently warning other writers against for years now.

Nick Kaufmann

Seriously, this preying on the hopes and dreams of authors makes me ill. Charging nearly $500 to review a book? I'm surprised they get any customers at all--or I would be surprised, if I didn't know how desperate so many writers are to see their work in print, no matter what the cost (literally, in this case).

Remember this mantra, folks: Money flows to the writer. Your work is a commodity. Companies are supposed to pay you to publish it, and reviews only cost the price of postage and an ARC/copy of the book (if that; some review sources accept PDFs now, even without a $19.95 "handling fee"). Anytime any agent, publisher, or review source asks you for money to do their job, run away. There's a word for what they are. The word isn't vanity, or subsidy. It's scam.