On reviews that say a book was “put together quickly”

I am always on the lookout for reviews of books that we have published, and am usually gratified to read them. If there is a complaint in the review, it is most often that the book has typos or needed better copy editing. One recent review of one of our books, and I will not name its author, stated that the book “appeared to have been put together quickly.” I have a comment about that judgment, in that particular review and possibly in others.

First, that reviewer wrote the review already aware that the book was published by my press and that I operate my business as a sideline to my job as a librarian. Other reviewers, though they may not know that I am a librarian, know that Library Juice Press and Litwin Books are very small and new imprints. It strikes me that with this in mind, these reviewers are inspecting the books for signs that they were put together quickly, with less attention to detail than a dedicated publishing house would give it. I suspect this because I happen to know that in the publishing industry as a whole, publishers have cut back their expenses wherever possible and are attempting to reduce their overhead in order to stay alive, and as a result are now allowing typos and proofreading errors to reach the final published editions of their books. Anyone who reads new books is aware of this. Yet reviews of books from major publishers that suffer the same imperfections seldom mention it. It seems to me that reviewers are assuming that I am rushing books to press much faster than a traditional publisher, and that I should therefore not be given a “pass” when it comes to typos. I think it is selective scrutiny.

The error is in the assumption that I am rushing books to press faster than a traditional publisher. I know some things about one academic publisher in particular, whom I will not name, because he has given me a lot of very helpful information and advice. They are publishing approximately 300 books per year, with an editorial staff of nine. That works out to 33 books per year per editor. I think that kind of a ratio between the number of books published annually and the editorial staff may be representative of the industry. I am publishing between five and ten books per year, admittedly on top of a full time job as a librarian. Those numbers indicate that despite operating with a lower overhead, I am not rushing books to press faster than a traditional publisher. In fact, some authors have been disappointed with the fact that the process of getting their book to press has taken such a long time. (One of the reasons it takes a long time is that the books are copy-edited multiple times.)

So, what I am asserting is that the reason a reviewer says one of our books “appears to have been put together quickly” has more to do with a desire to indicate our shoe-string nature than it is a fair judgment in relative terms. Though there may be typographical errors, reviewers should show an awareness of current industry standards if they choose to focus on them in a review of a book published by an upstart press. In fact, a book that it is claimed “appears to have been put together quickly” might not strike a reader that way if she is not already motivated to draw that conclusion. (I think the book reviewed in this particular case looks very good.)