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A challenge to self-publishers

GoldenTicket2Thank you all for your comments, here and on Twitter and Facebook, about the question of reviewing books from self-published authors. I am learning a lot. Hey Zetta Eliott–how about another article from you for our pages on this subject?

A number of commenters have suggested that the Horn Book begin a column highlighting the best of self-publishing for children, but I don’t think this does our readers much of a service. We (he said, drawing his emeralds warmly about him) are not interested in reviewing the best of a certain manner of publishing; we are only interested in the best.  The Horn Book Magazine has the luxury of not being a comprehensive review source (The Horn Book Guide is that, but if I invite self- and e-publishers to add to their already heavy workload, Kitty and Katrina and Shoshana will quit), instead reviewing only those books we think are the very best for young people. As Pat Hughes, with admirable generosity, pointed out, there are plenty of great books that aren’t reviewed by the Magazine, books that get starred reviews elsewhere and even books that win a Boston Globe Horn Book Award. Sometimes it’s that we have a demurring opinion, sometimes we like a book but like other books more, and sometimes we are just wrong. This is why God gave us more than one review journal. To publish a column of “the best of self-published” is to review with an asterisk.

Here is what I want to try, as an experiment. I invite self-publishing authors to send me ONE book that he or she thinks is comparable in quality to the books recommended in The Horn Book Magazine. I strongly advise that you read a few issues to see what kind of books we like and what aspects of a book we consider in arriving at our judgments. Be forewarned that I may publicly mock any entry that provides egregious evidence of someone not having a clue; I will also tell you on this blog about the books I like.

Call it a contest, although, unlike most other contests, or, erm, review sources for self-published writers, there is no entry fee. The prize(s) will be a review written by me for the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. I RESERVE THE RIGHT NOT TO GIVE A PRIZE IF I DON’T RECEIVE A BOOK I THINK IS GOOD ENOUGH. The winner(s) and selected runners-up, if any, will also receive a year’s subscription to the Magazine. Here are the rules:

1. Send one copy of one book (either a finished copy, f&gs, or a bound galley) before 12/15/14. It must have a  publication date of January 2015 onward. Include ISBN, price, distributor, and email contact for you. It must be a book intended primarily for young readers within the range of 0-18 years. Only printed books (hard- or softcover) may be submitted and they will not be returned to you. You will not be provided with an acknowledgment of receipt.

2: Mail the book to:

Selfie Sweepstakes
The Horn Book Inc.
300 The Fenway
Palace Road Building Suite P-311
Boston, MA 02115

Do not call me. Do not visit me.

3. Make sure it arrives by December 15th and is marked “Selfie Sweepstakes” on the package. Entries arriving after that date or without that marking will be discarded unread.

I don’t know or care if these rules set a high bar or not; they represent what we expect from all publishers. I am very interested to see what I get, and I will keep you posted here on Read Roger about the progress of the submissions. Please put any questions in the comments here, and feel free to distribute notice of this contest among your fellows.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Is the deadline December 15th or December 1st? The directions are contradictory.

    And, by the way, thank you for the challenge. It isn’t my genre, but I look forward to the results.


  2. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Thank you! It’s the 15th–I fixed it.

  3. You know what’s great about indie publishing? There’s no mailing of hard copies required. No waiting for months for a reply. There’s practically no cost at all in moving those 1’s and 0’s around! So if you really want to sample the great indie YA and children’s lit out there, it’s a mere mouse-click away.

    I invite you to download my bestselling YA Mindjack book, Open Minds – the whole book is FREE! And when you’re done reading, you can join the 739 other people who have left reviews and tell me what you think about it. But the true “selfie sweepstakes” is over there, with the readers. They’re the ones who tell me what they like and vote with their hard-earned dollars to show their appreciation. Thousands of indie authors are winning those sweepstakes every day, and it’s a great thing.

  4. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Well, Susan, that’s not indie publishing, that’s ebook publishing. Let’s save THAT debate for another time!

  5. That “debate” was pretty well settled in 2012, but just to be clear… I publish ebooks. I publish print books. I publish audiobooks and translations. They are all “indie” because it’s a cool name and what I choose to call it. Language evolves. And when lots and lots of people use a term, something magical happens… it becomes common usage. Regardless of whether one wants it to happen or not.

  6. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Susan, I think you are arguing with something I didn’t say.

  7. Am sharing! This is a fine way for self publishers to step up their game, to follow protocols, to take care, and to recognize that good enough is not good enough when it comes to having one’s name and reputation on the line. Best takes hard work, professionalism, and a deep sense of craft. I will be so curious to see the results, Roger.

  8. So you weren’t referring to the debate as to whether “indie publishing” can be used to describe “self-published authors” versus reserving the term for “independent publishers who are mostly small independent presses but definitively not large corporate publishers, often called the Big 6 (or 5)” as it had been used before the self-publishing revolution?

    Because that’s the debate I was referring to. My bad. Carry on.

  9. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    No, Ron Charles was talking about that at the Post; here I’m just talking about reviewing print books by self/indie publishers.

  10. ChristineTB says:

    Very gracious of you, Roger. I’m anticipating January is going to be an interesting month. I think you may want to line up some interns for the onslaught. Will be rooting for you to find something good.

  11. KT Horning says:

    They key to these sweepstakes rules is: Do Not Call Me. Do Not Visit Me.

    I suspect one of the reasons people at review journals get negative feelings about self-publishers is that they are also self-promoters, and this is where inexperience can really get in the way. First you get the call or email asking if they can send you their book, and what is your address? And while I have you on the phone, let me tell you about my book. Then you get the book, sometimes wrapped like it’s being presented to royalty, so you have to open the packaging two or three times. And a few days later, you get the “Did you get my book? What did you think? Are you going to review it?” call.

    This is one thing mainstream publishers don’t do. They just send the book and let the reviewers take it from there. They don’t harangue them before and after The Mailing.

  12. Kiera Parrott says:

    Amen to this. I’m open to considering self-/indie-published titles (within reason.) But when I begin to feel harassed by an author, that’s when I get the strong urge to chuck a submission into my circular file.

    To self-published author, I’d advise you to back off, let your work speak for itself. If it isn’t speaking to me, those are the breaks when you submit to a major review publication. You are competing for my time, my attention, and our space and staffing limitations with major and established publishers. Realistically, that’s some stiff competition.

    Roger, I’m curious if you will stipulate any distribution or availability requirements. That has been something I’ve wondered about with some of the self-pub platforms. For SLJ to consider a title, we generally require that said book is readily available through major distributors (thus making it relatively easily buyable by our readers, should they want to buy it.)

    I’m most compelled by the argument around diversity, beautifully articulated by Zetta Elliott. That, for me, has the most traction and I think is the best opportunity that self-published titles present at this juncture. If we can have some hand in spotlighting a fresh new voice and perhaps give an author or illustrator the chance to gain the attention of an established publisher, that could be a true service to the industry.

  13. Fantastic challenge, Roger! Do let us know what happens.

  14. Is the publication date December 2014 or December 2015 onwards?

    Thanks so much. This could be a great opportunity by some lucky writer.

  15. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    They must have a 2015 publication date. Those are the books I am assigning now for review.

  16. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Kiera, any winning book must have some kind of distribution plan beyond the author mailing copies from his or her home, but for this particular experiment I’m not wandering further into the weeds.

  17. Thanks for answering.

  18. Great idea, Roger. I look forward to following this initiative. Cheers!

  19. Wait a minute. “It must have a publication date of January 2015 onward.” What about a just published book right now? Sometimes I feel like I’m bringing the broom to the wizard. How about a just published book in 2014 but too late for this year’s Horn Book Awards?

  20. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    By the time December comes around, 2014 books are history. The Horn Book aims to review books within the three month span straddling publication date.

  21. Dear Mr. Sutton,

    What a monumental task you are undertaking and I wish you well on your endeavor. I wonder if you will be able to survive the mountain of books I anticipate you’ll receive from those self-published authors who all think THEIR book will be the one to change your mind about indie publishing?

    No, I have not followed the self-published path and no, my debut picture book, THE STORY CATCHER, will probably never manage to find itself on your desk for review as it is being published by a small publisher, Anaiah Press, but I’m still incredibly interested in the outcome of your experiment!


    Donna L Martin

  22. Many indy authors are one-man publishers. They are so busy getting their book ready that the marketing doesn’t come until they feel the book is truly ready (published). Classics are timeless. It doesn’t matter when they “come out.” They just need to be read and shared. You say a book published this year is “history” in three months’ time? That’s an interesting way to put it. The many books that are history for me are the ones that stay with me and live with me always.

  23. And, if you read my book, you might understand just how relative time is. 🙂

  24. Hi Roger,
    I think this is a great idea, and I have a self published MG illustrated mystery that I dearly would have loved to enter, if it wasn’t already published July this year. My comment would be, that at the Horn Book, you set your parameters around that magical 3 month traditional publishing window, where a book either sells on the shelves or it is returned. However, for self publishers, that is rarely the case. It can take 3-6 months to get book reviews after release, then another 3-6 months to ride that momentum. I certainly found that with my first book, so I think to be closer to the reality of how self publishing runs, I believe you should set your parameters to include books from July 2014 – January 2015. He he, a girl had to try…. Best of luck to anyone entering.

  25. Julie – You are absolutely right about the different time frame for releasing and selling independently published books. My book was “released” in June and is starting to gain momentum. Once again I will say that the paradigm has shifted, and that includes those outdated parameters the industry has placed new books. The irony for me is that I spoke out about how reactionary the brotherhood of traditional publishers, agents, reviewers are, got this dialogue going; Roger opens up to indy authors by creating this opportunity, and my book is still excluded because of the same old school mentality about time, which we all know is an illusion. Sheesh

  26. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    While I am genuinely interested to see if self-publishers are actually doing a better job than is evidenced by the self-published books I already see,another part of this experiment is to find out if self-publishers can work with the Horn Book under the system we already have in place. Book reviewing is not an arm of your promotional efforts (despite some very large publishers’ attempts to make it so!); it is journalism covering news. In March of next year, books published in 2014 are not news. I understand that this system may not be right for self-publishers, but it’s not fair to have one standard for them and another for everybody else. Plus, you KNOW that if I said “okay, the contest is open to any book published in the last half of 2014,” someone will ask why I am excluding their classic novel appropriate for all ages published in February. Because people are like that.

  27. Hi Roger,
    I understand of course any competition must have limits, and I fully respect that. I do hope however, you will not leave it as a one time experiment. For any good experiment, you must be able to replicate your data consistently. If you don’t find one to your standard in this experiment, give us a years notice and run the competition again next year, so we can plan our releases to fit into your 3 month window, and truly be prepared for your challenge. Looking forward to seeing who steps up to the plate. Best wishes,

  28. Roger sez ” is journalism covering news.” So, say Candlewick or HoughtonMH pick up my book and publish a 2nd edition hardcover (which I can see happening), does that same “stale” book with a timeless message suddenly become news again? A Cinderella story, perhaps? And BTW, Roger, I so appreciate this opportunity for much needed discussion. Thank you.

  29. Hi Roger,

    Wanted to jump in and say how much I enjoy The Horn Book and express appreciation of your offer. I won’t be able to take advantage of it because I can’t finish any of my 2014 titles by then, but what a generous proposal.

    I’m sure you know, but your readers may not, that Kirkus and PW will review self-published books. There is a cost, of course, but publishers pay, too. An interesting fact is that 10 percent of the 7,000 traditionally published books they review get a star while 2 percent of the 3,000 self-published books do. The traditionally published books are obviously better—is anyone surprised?But there are well written “indie” books. I hope you get some of those.

  30. Just thinking on this further, it will be interesting to see if you get a similar array of submissions that the SCBWI Spark Award (for self published books) got. I was one of the judges for the Spark and was pleasantly surprised and impressed by what eventually rose to the top. I will say, though, it was easy to VERY quickly separate the wheat from the chaff… I am a huge proponent, as you know, of any self publisher following the very best practices of publishing; will be interesting to see your results!

  31. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    I agree with you completely, Julie. As an experiment, this little contest will prove absolutely nothing, but I think it has already taught both self-publishers and the Horn Book more about each other.

  32. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    You know, I feel like we have reviewed self-published books that were subsequently picked up and re-edited by a trade publisher. So I guess it’s possible.

    Everybody needs to bear in mind how unlikely it is that any book will be reviewed in the HBM. It’s five hundred books a year. I’m trying to get that up to six hundred, but that’s still far less than ten percent of all children’s books published.

  33. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Ben–please see today’s post about fee-based reviewing.

  34. Thanks, Roger. I’ll comment there.

  35. Roger I saw the original posting and took part in the discussion. I think you’re a smart organization and brave person to be open to something different, especially after stating otherwise. It engenders what is great about humans, that flexibility. I agree with your goals and much of your assessment. I have two indie books that do not qualify, as they were published earlier this year and last year. I’m currently working on another, that I hope to have out by this time, If I succeed, I will take your challenge and be happy for the dressing down or the building up of your opinion. Whether I make the deadline or not, I look forward to the results. Thank you for the opportunity.

  36. I have a few questions, mostly to do with clarification.

    First, I’m feeling like the tone of this is somewhat condescending to indie authors (an opinion I feel is justified simply by reading your open letter to indie authors). But perhaps I’m being too sensitive. True or untrue?

    Secondly, I also feel like this is a bit . . . “I’m right. I know I’m right. And I’m going to do this experiement simply to prove I’m right.”

    So the question that creates for me is why on earth would I (or any other self respecting and very successful indie authors) want to submit to someone like that? I am very well respected in my field. I sell very well. I’ve won and been nominated for awards (beating out traditionally published authors from some very well respected houses). I have sold foreign rights. I have excellent reviews. I take my work very seriously, as do the contractors I hire (content and copy editors, cover designers, formatters, etc).

    Frankly, I have too much self respect and pride in what I do to submit to someone who is openly dismissive of everything I do, and I have no desire to convince derisive people of my “worthiness”.

    So my final question is really if you would like to clarify your stance. If I am being oversensitive, by all means let me know and I will happily submit.

  37. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    I’m not responsible for your “feelings,” nor am I going to vouch for my own integrity.

  38. I was simply asking for clarification on my interpretation of your tone. I suppose your response is answer enough.

  39. Johannah Wirkki says:

    Dear Mr. Sutton,

    How open-minded of you to give self-published books this opportunity. I look forward to the results with curiosity.

    I would also really love to see what kinds of reviews actual children would give to self-published books that are intended for them. My curiosity is partly inspired by an interesting experience my daughter (age 9) and had last year. We had the chance to vote on a couple dozen entries in a small picture book manuscript contest. The one my daughter thought was hilarious and “really different” did not win. (It was the one I also liked the best. Refreshingly modern, innovative, funny, and not preachy at all.) The winner was a story my daughter thought was boring and kind of mean. If you had a panel of children choose their 5 favorites and write why they chose them, that would be very interesting. It might also be interesting to have the children choose the 5 books they dislike the most, and explain why.

    Thank you.

  40. Hi Roger,
    It will be so interesting to see who enters for a couple of reasons. As a self publisher, the feedback I have had from reviewers is that my writing is improving with each book. And although every self publisher would like to think they have got what it takes, the proof is often in the feedback. The trick is to separate the feedback that is actually giving you keys to what can improve in your writing, from what is just opinion. Although I have a book that may well be ready by December this year, it is a third in a series, and I am not confident is enough of a stand alone. I have also often pondered when an adult reviews my book, and doesn’t quite get it, how they would have responded to my book if they were actually in the target audience. A couple of your other commenters have also mentioned this.

    There is one award for independent publishers that actually takes this into account. The Wishing Shelf Independent Book Award, based in the Uk, takes children’s books from all over the world, and gives them to a bunch of UK school children to judge. At the end of the award, the judges feedback is summarised, so authors can get to the heart of what the kids actually thought, as opposed to an adults opinion.

    I don’t mention this to undermine your review site by any means, but time and again, I have read books that gained awards and glowing reviews from the adult reviewing community, only to be completely and utterly bored or surprised as to how the book ever got published in the first place, LOL.

    I am truly looking forward to this result, with a little grain of salt.

  41. Exhausted says:

    Heidi, your posts are great examples of why so many of us find self-pubbed authors exhausting.

  42. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Julie, the differences between what kids like in books and what adults like in books FOR kids is as old as children’s literature itself. As with adult books, what’s popular isn’t necessarily what wins acclaim. Depending on the book and on the particular review journal’s perspective, there’s an elastic tension between the two poles. Horn Book, for example, is more interested in literary achievement than in popular appeal. Mostly, but not always. That’s just who we are. SO, as far as this contest goes, just because your book has been enjoyed by many children doesn’t mean we would want to give it a good review. This may sound elitist, but think about the adult reviewer who finds (say) Toni Morrison a better writer than Dan Brown, even though Brown has far more readers. We believe there is a place for the same kind of distinctions to be made in reviewing children’s books.

  43. Hi Roger, I agree the distinction should be made . I certainly don’t want my little girl to only read pop fiction. I want her to stretch into the literary realm, so a review site like this will help me to decide what books will help to propel her forward. In the end, self publishing or traditionally, my hope is to help get kids reading, and also give a positive example to my child to keep striving ,

  44. Roger, come on. The medium is NOT the message. Indie-publishing means that the author controls the publication of the book, including choosing the medium. “Independent” means that the author is putting this book out independently. Many independent publishers are publishing in electronic format and print format and audio simultaneously. The story is what counts, isn’t it? And the reader then gets to choose which format is preferred.

    Very politely, I suggest that you might need to learn more about self-publishing. For one thing, many traditionally published authors are publishing their backlists and even new books without the traditional publisher. (We often enjoy the freedom from the draconian contracts and imperious and often byzantine politics of working with publishers.) Other experienced writers who have never been able to crack the wall, but write quite well, are finally giving up on the old way and are publishing their work themselves, and getting many readers. Much has changed.

  45. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Alyx, I’m not sure what you are come-oning me about. I’m not arguing about the definition of indie publishing. I know that new and established authors alike are self-publishing. I’m not against ebooks. (I DO think there is a difference between reading print and reading e-ink or pixels, and audio is a whole nother ball of wax; but that goes for all books from all publishers.) Right now the Horn Book only reviews print books from trade publishers and small presses, and this discussion is about opening that up to self-publishers as well.

  46. Imagine how exhausting “Self-publishing” is. Not only do we (I) do everything from writing and illustrating and formatting and cover designing, vetting and editing (and yes we have help with that)… but then we have to to navigate and try to infiltrate this closed world of datelines and industrial parameters. You think you’re tired? Try formatting a book for kindle. We do it all ourselves.

  47. Skeeter Lee says:

    I’m not a writer, but I’ve become fascinated–oddly riveted, frankly, by what I see as a circle-the-wagons mentality within the ranks of the traditional publishing “club.” Your blog post appears to reflect this point-of-view.

    My question: Why?

    In the movie business, studio filmmakers don’t mock independent film makers. Neither do major media film critics. Rather, they go to lengths to find ways to encourage them.

    In the music business, “mainstream” performers don’t mock “indie” artists. Neither do music critics. Rather, they support efforts to integrate these indie artists into the mainstream.

    Why is publishing different?

    Your mocking tone (dubbing your “contest” the “Selfie Sweepstakes”) is not only rude, it’s childish. You reserve the right to mock entries? To what end, exactly, do you expect to find pleasure in ridiculing someone’s else’s hard work?

    I have heard fine things about you: But the sentiments you’ve expressed in this blog post are, quite frankly, deplorable. I would have thought them beneath someone in your position.

    Honestly, I am mystified. And more certain than ever that the industry you and your cohorts so desperately defend is headed off a cliff.

  48. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    What’s different, Skeeter, is that the self-published books I’m seeing for children are miles from what I see from trade publishers. They are trite, didactic, frequently ignorant of the basic rules of grammar and narrative, and amateurishly illustrated (when illustrated). I have stated my reasons for why this might be so already. And I am honestly happy to be proven wrong–unfortunately, the recommendations I have seen thus far for good self-published books have come only from their authors. Any indie musician or filmmaker would tell you that’s not much of a recommendation. What are some really great self-published titles for children I should be reading? All should chime in–but not with your own books, please.

  49. I’m reading a self-published collection of stories by Eugie Foster right now… she won a Nebula Award a few years ago, and when she died last week, her husband asked people to buy her books rather than sending flowers or whatever. So far the stories are pretty good, and the book design seems to be reasonably high-quality:

  50. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Thanks, Rachael, I’ll check it out.

  51. (Although honestly, I think it would be a better book, and one more likely to find readers, if it were illustrated and issued in a larger, hardcover format, like most folklore collections. As I feel certain it would be if it were put out by a “real” publisher. So.)

  52. I’ve read a large number of good self-published books, but what they tend to have in common is that they’re not at all general interest — rather, they’re local history volumes, or rulebooks for games, or an extension of a webcomic or instagram account, that sort of thing. It’s easy for me to understand why those are self-published, because few publishers are interested in something that’s only going to sell a few hundred copies at best. The issue isn’t quality, but quantity.

    However, most of the self-published children’s books I’ve read don’t fall into any of those categories. As such, although I’ve read several that I’d heartily recommend from ~extremely~ small presses, I can’t think of any that were self- or vanity-published that I’d recommend to you, alas.

  53. Janet Clark, BA,MS says:

    I am a librarian, Simmons 1981 grad, and have read many a review in ALA pubs, Horn book, antiquarian resellers and the like. What I do not understand is what did self publishers do with their works before the publishing selfie took place?

    How can the publishing world turn it’s back on these works that fill the readers with more options. I happened upon this blog after looking for a review of a recently published, selfie mind you, that a friend told me about. Not here where I would have expected one. I did not know when I began reading the book that it was self published however I ought to have been alerted to the fact that this lille book had No, zero, zip errors, something, errors that is, I find in EVERY book I read. None I tell you.

    And now you have to make this a contest.non-contest. The description of which is arrogant at best. Where do you get off being so insulting to writers who obviously have poured their heart and soul into their creations?

    Now that I have had my “say” I strongly urge you to read “Nelson Telson”. You can find it on Amazon and you like all of us will need to pay for the key to enter this magical journey. It is geared toward 10-13 y.o. yet what it taught me was beyond what I expected. The research and information in this book is cleverly executed and presented. There is a feeling of suspense that carries throughout the book. This is something children will love and remember.

    I do hope you find a more compassionate way to correspond with the public or perhaps it is time for you to retire. There is a bitter tone to you words and offerings which come off as offensive. Perhaps letting the public decide what warrants review might be a place to start

    Thank you for you time and consideration.

    Oh and at Simmons GSLIS we learn manners.

    Janet Clark, BA,MS

  54. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Janet, remind me never to ask you to recommend one of my books!

  55. It’s nice to see someone champion self-publishing! As I said elsewhere, I am not self-published, but I am an aspiring writer, and I honestly feel as though the best books I’ve seen in classes and writing groups are NOT the ones that get picked up. I’ve seen some good one picked up by traditional publishers, of course, but it seems as though they are the ones that are more commercial. That makes sense for the publisher and I get it, but THERE are good authors out there who don’t get published.

  56. Janet Clark, BA,MS says:

    Did not know you were an author? Please tell me what “my books” you are referring to? Oh wait…more nastiness. You either need to retire or find a new career. When these type of encounters happen in my life I turn to a Buddhist expression; “Those that us suffer are they themselves suffering more deeply”

  57. Emma, I agree 100%! I, too, eagerly await the results.

  58. Despite my best efforts to stay out of this, I can no longer help myself. Roger, you are a brave soul to tackle a subject as controversial as this one, with hard-core supporters and detractors on both sides, and do it with such conviction. Of course not everyone is going to agree with you. But you knew that, of course.

    People! Roger has opened the doors to an important and necessary dialog about the quality of publishing in both traditional and self-publishing. For the most part, the discussion has been both fascinating and professional. I am disheartened to find, however, that some of the debate has devolved into personal attacks against Roger. At no point in time did he ever make his arguments about why Horn Book Magazine would not review self-published books a personal attack against any specific author. He stated his reasoning for that decision. So why turn this into a discussion about his character? Horn Book has a perfect right to choose which books HORN BOOK will review. No author, no matter how he or she is published, has the “right” to a review.

    What I WILL contribute to the substance of the debate is that the very definitions of what is “traditional” vs. “indie” vs. “self” publishing are changing in such a way that lines are blurring everywhere, and yet that’s not being taken into account.

    For example, I am traditionally published in the sense that a publisher acquired my manuscript, edited, art-directed, designed, printed, shipped, and distributed my books and I am paid royalties. But that is where the similarities to what most people consider “traditional publishing” ends. My first two books were published first as interactive stories for the iPad and THEN combined into a print book. These books in all of their forms have won major, well-known awards.

    My latest book was also published by a very small publisher. This publisher loved the book but didn’t have the funds to include it on their list for this year. So we mutually agreed to run a Kickstarter campaign to cover the upfront, aforementioned costs of the first-run printing of the book.

    Long story short (because I swear I am not trying to make this about me or my work) is that as soon as people hear “digital” or “crowdfunding” or “ebook” or any other “name something OTHER than publishing with a well-recognized legacy publisher,” people assume it’s self-published because they don’t understand the new models that are emerging.

    So while I am not at all opposed to Horn Book or any other review outlet making decisions about which books they will and won’t review, I think if we’re going to talk about how publishing is changing, we need to expand the discussion beyond traditional vs. self-publishing. Otherwise, what I fear will happen is that the only books that ever get exposure will be those coming from publishers who’ve been around long enough to have name recognition. And (last point, promise) a great deal of what pushes the boundaries of any art form often happens on the fringes.

    So I applaud you, Roger, for conducting this experiment and opening this discussion. I, for one, hope very much that you will find some outstanding books. Either way it is going to be interesting!

  59. Me, too, Emma! TOTALLY sharing this on Brain Burps About Books podcast and everywhere else I can think! LOVE this! LOVE LOVE LOVE. Thank you, Roger!

  60. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Thank you, Julie. Indeed it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between vanity published, self-published, “indie published,” small-press published, and mainstream published. I write in my forthcoming (November-December issue) editorial that self-published books used to announce themselves by the sheer cheesiness of their physical design, but that certainly isn’t necessarily true any longer.

  61. Kate Barsotti says:

    I agree, Julie. I love the Horn Book the way it is, but being open to an experiment will be interesting. And I enjoy Roger’s cheekiness, which I don’t read as arrogance in any way and never have. I appreciate his candor and passion for literature. I always learn from the Horn Book.

    We have layers of difficulty here. If you compare self-published books to films or bands, it won’t work in most cases. A truly bad movie may have a cult following, but even then, the basics of film making have to be there. Say, the picture in focus or with clear audio. An indie band gains attention for the music, something about it that captures an audience. The same is not true for books. Anyone can type up a story and create a file, with all sorts of errors and problems. It’s not the same. There are just a lot more people doing it, so many, it is almost impossible to cope with.

    I thought I’d stay on the positive side of things: why I want to publish children’s books in the traditional manner, at least for now:

    1. I like being part of a heritage. My heroes are writers and artists. It’s a lineage. Even being part of an imprint or house is a lineage.

    2. I want to work with a team and see what that is like. I am certain an editor and art director will push me to be better.

    3. I want to work with kids, doing school visits and the like. I want to be in libraries and indie book stores. That is easier with a traditionally published work.

    4. I want to be viewed as a professional.

    There are many valid reasons to self publish. But remember that you are going around a traditional system that has been in place for a long time. It cannot cater to you and your way of doing things, at least not with ease. Both traditional and self-publishing have advantages and disadvantages. You may sacrifice reviews in guides like the Horn Book, but gain something else if you produce your book on your own.

  62. Kate, I agree 150%! Authors need to be aware of benefits and drawbacks of all publishing models and choose the one they believe will bring them the greatest rewards.

  63. Carolyn Ehringhaus says:

    I stumbled across this blog from a Facebook posting (disclaimer, I am a friend of Ms. Mayo). I was impressed that you responded to her frustration as a self-published author, yet I remain confused as to the purpose of your experiment. Is it to ascertain whether or not a self-published book is of the same quality as those recommended by Horn Book Magazine? If so, I am not sure it can succeed. You state that there is no certain winner. If you do not find a book that meets your criteria, I fear that this contest will just confirm the perceptions of some blog readers that you are biased. Bias is inherent in decision-making; even objective reviewing criteria cannot allow us to escape completely what any reader brings to the text. As it stands, the time taken by all involved (both submitters and reviewers) could be wasted, with no one benefitting or learning something new. Given this, in order for the contest to be viewed as a better test of the quality of self-published books, I believe its design could be improved. I realize that you will have to limit entries to keep this manageable, yet, if you would truly like to give self-published authors an opportunity to demonstrate the merits of their work, why not relax the publication date rules to be more sensitive to their work requirements? It seems that all self-published books meet your “new news” criteria, given that their books are unknown to the general public. You might also require manuscripts only, as packaging alone could contribute to bias. Even better would be mixing both to-be published and self-published manuscripts, using a panel of readers “blind” to this distinction. Obviously, I am not familiar with your process, and it may be that my suggestions are not feasible. Again, I respect your decision to act on Ms. Mayo’s original letter, I just fear that the current rules will not lead to any sort of meaningful results.

  64. Erik Ammon says:

    hmmmmm…do I hold off a self-publication date by 4-6 weeks for this chance???

  65. I wish we could submit our latest book, The Collar of Courage, in the children’s series titled The Adventures of Flapjack. ( Unfortunately, it was self-published in April 2014 through Dog Ear Publishing which rules it out for this Selfie Sweepstakes. Hopefully, you’ll offer this opportunity again and we’ll be able to submit the third book in the series which is currently in the process of being illustrated.

  66. I just mailed over my picture book, I think you have a fair deal going on here.
    There is a certain charm and vulnerability to Indie-Picture Books, that I absolutely love.
    We have the freedom to create, to succeed, to fail- complete freedom paired with savvy knowledge creates something magical. My book is on it’s way, BRING IT ON!

  67. Hello Roger,
    I am confused about the publication date required for submission. I just had my book printed in the last week through Createspace with a copyright of 2014. How would I send you a printed book prior to December 15, 2014 that has a publication date of January 2015?
    I hate that I may have missed this opportunity to participate. Any advice for future opportunities would be greatly appreciated.

  68. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    That’s just fine, send it along.

  69. Double-amen. If I may add my own “To the self-published author,” please read the requirements of the journal or site to which you want to submit a review copy. If the site reviews graphic novels, don’t send them a prose title with pictures or an illustrated screenplay. If the journal reviews only children’s books, don’t email them about your adult thriller. And after you’ve sent it and the journal or site has said they will let you know when the title is reviewed, don’t email them multiple times asking “Has it been reviewed yet?”

  70. Mine will be in the mail tomorrow. Thanks for the opportunity.

  71. I realize this discussion took place years ago, but I was wondering if there were any plans for another round of the Selfie Sweepstakes.


  72. Chris Mason says:

    Hello Roger, could you please direct me to a link of this contest results. As a in the author myself I am interested in what the outcome was.

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