Rose, M.J., and Angela Adair-Hoy (2000). How to Publish and Promote Online. New York: St. Martin's.

Reviewed 26 May 2001

Rose and Adair-Hoy, How [Not] to Publish and Promote Online (cover) I was sorely tempted to throw this book across the room—several times—but I didn't. I don't mistreat library books the way Rose and Adair-Hoy have mistreated their potential readers.

I used to believe that part of the function of publishers, particularly of their editorial and legal departments, is to limit or eliminate gross misstatements of fact and/or law. Apparently, I've been grievously mistaken. While that damned well should be in their purview, they sure as hell didn't do so with this crime against forest preservation policies.

Listing and explaining all of the errors in this book could well take as much space as the book itself. Before diving in there, though, perhaps a few words on the authors' qualifications to write on the subject would be in order.

A very few words, as there really aren't any. Rose now writes a column for Wired—a publication more notable for its attitude than its perceptiveness—on electronic publishing, on the strength of her success in getting a mediocre-at-best nonerotic erotic novel to sell in some quantity as an electronic publication, and then get picked up for print (Lip Service 1 star). This dubious achievement says more about the narrowmindedness of both marketing and acquisition at Establishment commercial publishers than about anything else. Angela Adair-Hoy is something resembling an electronic publisher. However, her publications consist largely of advice on how to succeed in electronic publishing. Similar circular logic permeates the substance of the book, such as it is.

Here's a relatively random list of a few problems in the book. I'm afraid that these are indeed representative, but the list is a small sample only.

•  "Once you write 'Copyright © YEAR Your Name' on a document, it is copyrighted. However, should you ever need to prosecute someone else for infringing on your copyright, you need to have it registered. And, you need to register your copyright before someone else steals your material and copyrights it as their own" (26).

◊  Since 1 March 1989, marking of a document has been completely unnecessary. Since 1 January 1977, copyright attaches (begins) as soon as a work is set in fixable form; before 1 March 1989, marking was necessary only upon publication

◊  One doesn't "prosecute" a civil claim such as ordinary copyright infringement. Criminal copyright infringement is prosecuted, but by criminal prosecutors—not copyright holders.

◊  Registration is not a race. If it was, there would never be an infringement suit between songwriters alleging that songwriter A's copyrighted song copied songwriter B's copyrighted song.

•  I expect somewhat better of this from John Kremer, but chapter 16 is rather on the intellectually dishonest side. Kremer lists a number of "success stories" from self-publishing. Many of the thirty examples are successful works indeed, but many are completely off-topic.

◊  Seven were published before 1950, prior to the modern publishing environment.

◊  Six more were published as adjuncts to other activities, primarily "business success" courses for which participants generally paid substantial sums.

◊  Five more are "inspirational" in nature; the religious segment of the publishing industry has a completely different publishing model from the commercial publishers so decried for rejecting so many "masterpieces."

◊  Six more are "fad" books, such as a guide to Beanie Babies™, cookbooks, and travel guides; again, these are published under a different model.

◊  That leaves six books that truly illustrate the point—four of which merely had the misfortune to miss publication, and two of which are garbage anyway. The commercial publishing system is far from perfect, but the proportion of good material that it misses is far lower than many would-be authors would like to believe.

•  The bulk of the book consists of marketing advice; as in all marketing guides, some is sound, some is unsound, and some is just plain loony. That's not the real problem. The real problem is that the advice is completely generic, and encourages marketing without linking the marketing effort and book content.

•  The book is long on cheerleading and very, very short on mechanics. The authors desperately try to convince that anyone can be successful with electronic publishing, and particularly with online promotion (even for self-published print books). I will not dignify this assertion with a response more detailed than a reference to the Think Method in The Music Man.

•  Although they cagily avoid saying so, the authors advocate spam-posting on newsgroups and use of spam e-mail as core elements of a marketing strategy. Whether this is even legal is open to question; whether it is ethical is not.

None of these problems are particularly difficult to avoid. Even minimal research would have prevented most of them, and a little thought would have prevented the others. This book is an example of the inductive fallacy: the particular, individual successes (if they can be called that, for they are not really analogous to the situation faced by a "real" author anyway) of these authors are expanded to all authors. One size fits all. One strategy works for all. This is exactly the major difficulty with contemporary marketing: little to no tailoring of the actual strategy and materials to the content and potential audience. Even in publishing, one must ask just how effective the "bright and shiny is good" school of cover design is when applied to every potential bestseller, and so on.

The most frustrating aspect of this book, though, is that it occupies the field/market niche for a useful book in the area. Online promotion and publishing is important for authors, whether in support of commercial publishing efforts or self-published works. But this kind of unthinking, formulaic approach is all too well suited to the unthinking, formulaic books that dominate the contemporary publishing scene, whether from commercial print publishers or from anyone else.

Overall rating: no stars
Don't bother. Buy John Kremer's 1,001 Ways to Market Your Book instead, if you really feel the need for a guide to book marketing for authors. But, more importantly, write a good book.

   This is not to say that no book can ever be written by someone without obvious qualifications. The difficulty for this book is that the authors hold themselves out as experts—an assertion justified by neither obvious qualifications nor, as we shall see shortly, even minimal research and reasoning.

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