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>Threats, we get threats

>So today we were threatened with legal action by a disgruntled publisher who wanted us to stop reviewing their books. They wrote that if we did review any more of their titles, they would “seek legal remedies on the grounds that your publication is publishing misinformation” about their books. Meaning we don’t like them very much. On the phone, I was told by the publisher that we (or any review media) need permission from them (or any publisher) in order to review their titles.

All I can say is that their grasp of the law seems to equal their grasp of what makes a good book for children.

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.

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  1. shewhonowwishestobecalledportia says:

    >Let’s invite them to tea with the Outraged Parents.

  2. Anonymous says:

    >Not that you need permission (there is such a thing as fair comment and criticism), but wouldn’t their sending you a review copy imply that they are giving you permission to review their books?

  3. Roger Sutton says:

    >Only until they want us to stop, the publisher claimed. When I replied that, if we wanted to, we could buy one of their books at a bookstore and review it, they said we could not. I’ve got a message in to theater buff Elizabeth asking the name of the Broadway play to which the NYT was famously not given press tickets. The Times just went out and bought one.

  4. >Oh man, I am so curious….

  5. Lisa Yee says:

    >Can you at least give us the first initial of the publisher, and all the vowels?

  6. little brother says:

    >Wasn’t it David Merrick who, leery of the press’ reception to 42nd St, simply kept extending the Preview run of the show? The press came anyway and reviewed it.
    And lately, Hollywood has been releasing the real stinkers without previews or a press showing so folks will get suckered in by commercials before being warned off. (DAMN YOU AEON FLUX!! I’ll never get those hours of my life back)

  7. >reviewers can review whatever they like. how bizarre. one assumes your reviews were not, shall we say, stars.

  8. Roger Sutton says:

    >It’s a small schools-and-libraries publisher and I don’t see any reason to name them. Besides, I bet every publisher would like a little veto power! 😉

  9. shewhonowwishestobecalledportia says:

    >Aren’t you always complaining about being harangued constantly by people who want their books reviewed by you and you won’t and now you have someone who doesn’t want to be reviewed and you are determined to. I think you just don’t like to be told what to do. I do remember reviewing a reviewer here once and having my comment deleted which is a nice little power I bet that publisher wishes he had. I don’t like what you say and poof it is gone. I think everyone should just go home and have a nice fishpaste sandwich and plan their next pedicure.

  10. Gregory K. says:

    >Then again… maybe this is a classic reverse-psychology ploy to get you to keep reviewing their books on the double premise that 1) any publicity is good publicity and 2) eventually you’ll like something they do and will thus review it. Oooooh. Devious. 🙂

  11. Alex Flinn says:

    >Is this referring to Guide reviews?

    Wow, talk about a high class problem. I thought people *wanted* to have their books reviewed by Horn Book. I also think even a bad review (by anyone, not just HB) is better than being ignored. After all, people are more likely to buy a book if they’ve heard of it.

    And of course you can buy a book and review it. I get reviews all the time on websites, or newspapers three years after the book has been released, where I’m sure my publisher has no idea the person got a book.

  12. Elizabeth says:

    >I asked the theater blog “Talkin’ Broadway” about times critics had been denied tickets to a Broadway show, and David Merrick’s name came up several times! Also, Michael Feingold of the Voice posted an interesting response, below. (If you’re intersted in reading the whole thread, it’s at http://www.talkinbroadway.com/allthatchat)

    “There are many such stories, and they date back at least to the days when the Shuberts attempted to bar Alexander Woollcott, then the Times critic, from their productions. And after all, there is no obvious reason why a management should give free tickets to somebody who is going to write unpleasant things about its work.

    But you can’t stop anyone from buying a ticket, seeing a show, and writing about it. To do so is in fact a federal crime. So in general producers have honored the press list, and the press has returned the favor by honoring the date the producers designate as the opening. Over the years managements have tried to deny comps to specific individual critics – I’ve been an occasional target, John Simon a frequent one – but this doesn’t keep the critics out, because of that federal law, or help the production.

    The producers of SARAVA and MERLIN, among others, tried to “work” the system by postponing their openings indefinitely. I think in the former case, the Times bought a ticket and reviewed the show, at which point the producers capitulated and invited the press; in the latter case, if I remember right, the Times threatened to do so & the producers caved and set an opening date.

    To me a workshop – like the SPIDER WOMAN case – is a slightly different situation. But any number of producers, esp. at downtown & experimental theatres, have tried to “work” that situation too – by barring critics because it was a “workshop” while cultivating as much feature publicity as they could squeeze out of the same newspapers.

    Basically the whole thing is an issue of public responsibility: If the public is being offered something openly at market price, there should be no bar on public discussion of its quality. The preview-and-opening-date system is simply a way of organizing this that works to everybody’s convenience – until producers try to cheat on it.”

  13. Anonymous says:

    >People shouldn’t publish if they don’t want reviews. There was a letter to Miss Manners recently in which a girl wrote that she had said in her blog that she didn’t like a novel and the author, having done a search on his name, found the blog and berated her for it.
    This just seems like someone who should have kept his novel in his own secret diary under his bed.

  14. Joseph Yetter says:

    >Anonymous is spot on!
    Publishing means you put your work out there in the marketplace–among the public! If your fish stink (or if anyone does not like the aroma, for any reason at all), the public has every right to know. Now (apropos Anon.), if you are keeping the dead fish in secret, under your bed, then maybe the public has no right to its opinion.
    I just wish my own books would get enough attention to merit review.

  15. >Right–if you play the publishing game, you have to expect both good, mediocre, and even awful reviews.

    But conversely, the reviewer (or editor of the reviews) has to know that occasionally he or she will get “reviewed” as well. As in the recent contretemps on Childlit where various Kirkus reviewers fainted in coils when people said bad things about Kirkus. And when they arose from said faints, pronounced things like “But I work so hard and it takes me ten days to write a review and. . .” Which left authors sending one another email guffawing and falling off their chairs.

    I mean, I have been known to tweak Our Host quite often about a certain editorial he wrote about a book of mine almost 20 years ago.

    Play the game, expect the consequences. Else don’t play the game.

    She who would be called Jane

  16. Roger Sutton says:

    >Yikes, Jane, twenty years? I wish we could time-travel!

    Jane is referring to an editorial I wrote re her novel The Devil’s Arithmetic. While I said many admiring things about the book (something Jane always forgets ;-), I took issue with the fantasy aspect of the plot. Everybody else pretty much loved it, which, as I explained to the publisher who threatened us, is why no librarian relies upon a single source for book reviews.

  17. Anonymous says:

    >Sad indeed that there are small presses out there dying for a HB review and this one is asking them not to review their books.

    I think it’s weird. I work for a small press and getting any attention is VERY hard. You have to fight all the way, tooth and nail, to get noticed at all.

  18. >You know, Roger, I forgive you. I just can’t help TWEAKING you. Maybe it’s the bowtie. Maybe it’s getting up the nose of power.

    He he.

    Jane

  19. Andy Laties says:

    >A negative review from a reviewer who’s viewed skeptically by a reader might redound to an author’s benefit! Publisher’s Weekly informed readers that I am a “bitter, bitter man” (the book is designed to convince chain bookstore employees to quit their jobs and launch indie bookstores to destroy their former bosses at the chainstores). Barnes & Noble of course didn’t place an order for my book — at the national level. But when I went into our local B&N a few months ago, there were four copies of my book, faced out, in the Featured Titles area of the business section! I brought a copy over the the staff people at the info desk, and they said a manager must have ordered it himself for their store. When I urged them to read it since it was written just for them, but warned them that PW had called me a bitter, bitter man, the two employees there both reached for the book and one said, “Oh, we’re bitter bitter employees.”

    Thanks, PW.

  20. shewhonowwishestobecalledportia says:

    >Oh Andie, it’s the human condition. We’re all bitter, bitter. Let’s get a charter flight to India and the Ashram.

  21. shewhonowwishestobecalledportia says:

    >Everyone is wronged in some small way, Andie. Why don’t you write a book called Indie Bookseller and Indie Bookseller about an indie bookseller prince who decides to choose another indie bookseller instead of Americas’s Next Top Whatever because they are in sympathy and pure of heart? It may not be a wronged blockbuster but I’ll buy it.

  22. Andy Laties says:

    >Well, I’ve been on a book-tour this week with my publisher, Sander Hicks — the tour has doubled as a campaign swing through New York for him: he’s running for Senate, on the Green Party ticket. He’s not only my publisher: we also opened a bookstore in Brooklyn together called Vox Pop. We’ve been giving tag-team speeches about corporate monopolies and neo-conservative evil politics etc. — thus, Portia, I would say that I have in fact done exactly as you suggest. Sander & Andie’s Big Adventure! My daughter Sarah came along as campaign cinematographer so while a book about the campaign may not be forthcoming, a movie there may be. However you’ll have to give me some further ID if you want to get a dub in the mail.

  23. shewhonowwishestobecalledportia says:

    >You’re not getting any I.D. from me, toots. I’ve got troubles enough, but I’ll keep my ears open. You go, boy! The stand up for what you believe in brigade is always behind you.

  24. shewhonowwishestobecalledportia says:

    >Hey, Andie, I’m reading EAt, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert right now and I think you’d like it. It’s very funny and she’s very personable, despite what the altogether embarrassingly corrupt NY Times says about her.

  25. Andy Laties says:

    >Thanks for the recommendation: I’ll find a copy.

  26. shewhonowwishestobecalledportia says:

    >I meant Andy with a Y. Sorry.

  27. Andy Laties says:

    >I thought you were making a pun about the words Indie and Andy.

  28. shewhonowwishestobecalledportia says:

    >Well…maybe I was….

  29. Writerious says:

    >It was from a school and library publisher? Eeek, I hope it wasn’t one of my books!

    But you can’t please everyone (as I’ve learned on one of my recent books that’s being edited by committee), and there are no guarantees that we get to go through life without criticism. Is it that we’ve become too thin-skinned, or too in-your-face? Or both at the same time?

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