The deluge of the Information Age has made it difficult to keep pace, but that doesn’t mean we should discriminate so callously.
On one level, I get what you’re saying: You can’t possibly review every single book. Even if one day, while you were reading in a bank vault, an atomic bomb took out the rest of humanity, you still wouldn’t be to read every single book because your glasses would undoubtedly slip from your face and be crushed beneath your clumsy feet. (Also: radiation poisoning.)
But even before armageddon, you’re overwhelmed. Roger, you’re currently dealing with 8,000 traditionally published children’s books a year; Ron, you receive 150 traditionally published books a day — to ask you to read even more would certainly be audacious. Journalism isn’t exactly a rapidly expanding industry, and despite our most desperate wishes, no one’s adding hours to the day.
And you’re also right to say that self-published books are probably not going to be as polished or even as well composed at traditionally published ones (though I think saying that “Most self-published books are pretty terrible” or “Your books are not good enough” is a little tasteless). Self-published books haven’t run through the gamut of agents, editors and marketers, and they haven’t had the benefit of literally hundreds of years of collective publishing expertise and billions of dollars in resources, so yeah, they’re gonna be a little rough if not frequently misguided.
That said, refusing to review any self-published book because you can’t review every self-published book is poor logic. Ron, you admit that “there are great, truly great self-published books being produced — and ignored — every year” but that you can’t read “15 pages of every one of the 300,000 self-published book [sic] that would land in our office if we opened the door.” You already can’t review every traditionally published book, but that hasn’t stopped you from reviewing some traditionally published books. If it’s a numbers game in that you’re trying to review only the most polished, best composed books, it makes sense to tend more to traditionally published books, but does that have to be to the necessary exclusion of all self-published book? That’s like saying that you don’t have time to read all of the newspapers printed each day, so you aren’t even going try to read a blog.
We all struggle with the deluge of the Information Age. (I’ve taken it so poorly as to throw my smartphone into a river.) The relative ease of all forms of self-publishing, be it YouTube or Bandcamp or, yes, self-published books, makes it downright impossible to keep up with everything. But that doesn’t justify a knee-jerk reaction in favor of the establishment over the vanguard, the veteran over the newbie, the traditional over the innovative.
Publishing, and literature in general, has long been exclusive — not to mention discriminatory — and this is only to its own detriment. Roger, you yourself admit this, writing, “back in the 1960s through the ’80s, there was a demand for counterculture-friendly children’s books that was not being met by publishers.” Have similarly marginalized demands disappeared or have we not been looking hard enough? An intractable policy to not even consider self-published books for review might be akin to keeping your eyes shut and insisting its nighttime. (I know there’s a Twilight-Fifty Shades of Grey joke in there somewhere, but I’m too dense to find it.)