“How to Handle Book Bigotry”

“How to Handle Book Bigotry” 1024 576 Reader Views

by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books for writers

An excerpt from How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career

I believe—know—that attitudes toward self- and indie-publishers have become more accepted over the decades. When my first novel was published, any book published by anything other than university presses and New York’s Big Five were derisively called “vanity publishers.” Still, book bigotry or its near cousins hasn’t disappeared entirely.

That sounds discouraging, but it’s a reality. Even today, some—including reviewers—find it convenient to let the name of a press help vet their final choices among hundreds of thousands of books available to them. Using the name of a respected press is an easy—though misguided—way to do that.

Brooke Warner, the author of Green Light Your Books and board member of IBPA (Independent Book Publishers of America) says, “I advise authors with [print-on-demand books] never to specify how their books were printed [when they are] talking to book buyers, event hosts, booksellers, conference organizers or librarians . . . .”

Notice that Warner is not suggesting you fib about how the book is published. It seems she is suggesting we just omit that piece of information. But in some cases you can bravely face down book bigotry. That means owning up to however your book is published. My coauthor of the Celebration Series of Chapbooks Magdalena Ball and I list our poetry chapbooks (booklets) in the series as “proudly self-published in the time-honored tradition of poets since before Gutenberg invented the press.”

Honesty is essential. Reviewers and other contacts are not naïve. They know a digitally printed book, micro press, indie publisher or any number of entities now in the publishing business when they see it. Further, Amazon.com is pretty good at letting readers know exactly who published your book in their metadate even when you carefully publish under your own imprint. But, as writers, we know that words and the way we use them are powerful and we should be willing to use the power to the best of our ability within the boundaries required by ethics.

It is your job—no matter who printed your books—to convince reviewers (and, yes, readers!) that your book is the one they want to spend time with. That your book has value that particular reader or reviewer can use, wants, or desperately needs. We do that:

§  By publishing or having someone else publish a professional, well edited book. Read more on how to do that in my multi award-winning The Frugal Editor and find more books that will help you with the journey in the Index of that book. Know that the better editor you are, the better partner you make for any editor assigned to you or hired by you.

§  By building—and continuing to build—a platform that is respected by others in the publishing industry. Read more on that in the third edition of The Frugal Book Promoterpublished by Modern History Press(Notice from that last entry that I am equally proud to make it clear to readers when my books are published by traditional presses. I firmly believe there is a “right” way to publish any book based on the title, the personality of the author, and the health of the author’s pocketbook.)  

§  By approaching reviewers (and other gatekeepers) with whom you have built a relationship and/or those you have researched so you are confident that they will have an interest in your genre. That requires lots of reading and research so you won’t waste sending a book to someone with no clout or who charges you for a review thus rendering her- or himself unethical from a pubrely journalistic perspective. You’ll want to read How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career, proudly self-published, to learn more on getting and managing those reviews successfully.

Note: By being familiar with the reviewer or other contact and the media she writes for, you limit the chances your book or the content within will be misused. For more on that see the chapter on “Why Book Reviews Aren’t What You Think They Are” in How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically.

You, the author of your book, are the one who is most passionate about your book, so passionate about it you will not be daunted by the review-garnering task. Persistence is the key. But here’s The Secret to getting around this to-tell-or-not-to-tell conundrum:

Pretend you are a florist and must put the best blooms in your book bouquet forward. You discard the wilted ones, or at least place them behind the more exquisite blossoms in your inventory.

·      So, you shout it out when it’s your advantage to tell and you do it with pride.

·      When you think your bloom will appear slightly wilted to your contact, you disguise it with the name of a professional publishing company you set up for your own books.·      And when all else fails, you tactfully omit that information as Warner suggests. You won’t fool anyone who finds this information super important, but there is no rule that you must flaunt it, either.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers—some self-published, some traditionally published. She has partner-published in the past, but generally advises authors to avoid presses that still smack of that vanity thing when indie publishing is within the reach of most, more accepted by professionals, and far more frugal than paying someone else what they can learn to do themselves.

Carolyn was an instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program for nearly a decade. This article includes excerpts from her How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically. It was launched in a special BookBaby.com promotion and it is estimated that it was downloaded by at least 20,000 authors, which made her practically ecstatic that she could help that many authors in its first months as an e-book. It is now available as a paperback, too.

Note: Carolyn is so adamant about book bigotry as well as other forms of intolerance she uses a hashtag to use in her social networking promotion.  See what you find when you search on #bookbigotry or #BookBigotry.

“Careers that are not fed die as readily as any living organism given no sustenance“


Her website is www.howtodoitfrugally.com.

Web site: 


Twitter: @FrugalBookPromo



  • Carolyn Howard-Johnson

    Thanks for dropping by, @B.LynnGoodwin! Yes, lots of small presses we have never heard of are also traditional presses. Meaning that the publisher only makes their expenses and some profit when their books sell. No morey upfront from the author!
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson

  • Carolyn Howard-Johnson

    Thanks for dropping in, Lynn. I agree. And many times very small presses are also traditional–meaning authors do not pay for the any of the printing services. AND that the press should pay for some of the marketing as well. It is smart for authors to ASK what their marketing campaign looks like as well as what they both expect and encourage from the author before signing on the dotted line. Also many traditional presses are university presses with very good followings and expertise.
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson

  • B. Lynn Goodwin

    Good advice. I’m a reviewer and editor as well as a writer. Lately, instead of wondering why a bigger publisher didn’t take a book, I look at content and wonder how an author with a small publisher might find more readers. There are so many wonderful books that speak to me regardless of who the publisher is. Thanks for sharing this, Carolyn.

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