Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Essay: Strange Queries

Every Wednesday, I'll have an essay or a feature on any topic that catches my fancy!

I'm an editorial assistant for a publications company at my day job (which, surprisingly enough, isn't really any different from what I was doing in high school as the news editor of the school paper, or right now with some of the websites--including this blog--that I'm working with)andas can be expected, I have my fair share of weird stories. And when I say weird, that's really my euphemism for saying those asking questions should know better.

For example, one of the books we produce is the annual The Philippines Yearbook. Suffice to say, the actual content changes every year that I can't really describe it as a whole other than the fact that it has a revolving theme and concept. Last year for example, we featured the country's prominent and upcoming visual artists, including not only a full-color photograph bleed of the said personality but a short write-up and some sample work. Think of it as your college yearbook except snazzier. The year before, on the other hand, we featured various recognized and unrecognized destination spots in the country and that had a more Lonely Planet feel to it, whether in the writing or in the layout. It definitely had a more informative bent to it.

What's consistent with the book however is that it has ads. Lots of it. In fact, The Philippines Yearbook in certain ways resembles a magazine more than most people's concept of a "book." Now one of the random queries I got--a phone call from a student doing research--is whether we consider ourselves a book because we have ads. Now to me, a book is a flexible medium and the only restrictions you have is the physical form: Cover? Check. Spine? Check. Pages? Check. Anything else is up for grabs.

I mean honestly, your reason that a book isn't a book because it has ads? Have you never picked up a paperback? Lots of books have ads in them. Usually advertising the other books of the publisher. Some even have mail-order forms, subscription forms, surveys, etc. The contents of a book is whatever you make of it. If your condition that a book isn't a book because it has ads, well, what about all those paperback books? Or maybe you want some empirical method, that a book is only a book if the ads make up less than 10% of its contents?

Or let's do the reverse. Is a magazine a magazine if it doesn't have any ads? Of course it's still a magazine. It's the form that dictates it, from the cover to the type of binding used. Reader's Digest for example will never be a book even if you strip away all the ads.

Now part two of this blog entry deals with a recent email. Basically, here's the gist of the email:
"Hello my friend! I'm from -insert country here- and I'm a big fan of fantasy but such titles are rare here. I read your post about receiving PDFs for review and I'm a fan of -insert midlist author here- so I was hoping you could send me PDFs of the author's books to review."
Here, verbatim, was my response:
"Hi.

Reviewers themselves aren't supposed to give out copies of other people's work. We don't have that authority and doing so is piracy.

If you want to review them, it's best you contact either

a) the publisher
b) the publicist
c) the author

Thanks and good luck finding copies of -insert author's name- books"
Now allow me to elaborate.

I like PDFs. They make life easier--at least for me (especially considering I'm in Southeast Asia and many of the publishers I like to read are based in the United States or Europe). In fact, it makes life a little bit too easy that spreading books around is as easy as copy and pasting.

Except it's not ethical to do so. Especially not review copies which the publisher has a note effectively saying "do not distribute."

Now if you're an aspiring book reviewer, sure, you can approach other book reviewers for tips or how to go about soliciting books from publishers/publicists/authors. But never ask fellow book reviewers to send you PDF copies of books. Simply put, they don't have the authority to do so. And why would they? They're not getting paid to promote the author. There's an entire department for that from the publisher. And they certainly don't represent the author. Worse, if they actually do so, they're infringing on the rights of the author and the publisher.

You don't approach a magazine or broadsheet and tell them "hey, send me the books you featured in your publication so I can review them on my website." That's honestly a ridiculous proposition. And that's definitely a different statement from "hey, send me books so I can review them for your publication."

Guys and gals, please do your research rather than settling for the first thing that shows up at Google. Again, a good chance to start with are the publishers themselves. Most have websites and they have their contact information listed there. Try to get in touch with their marketing department (usually but not always the publicists). Another approach is to contact the authors themselves. And if you're really having trouble finding their contact numbers, then presumably you can ask fellow book reviewers to help you out in finding them. This isn't rocket science people.

1 comment:

Kyle Penchant said...

You got a point there with regards to pdf's but the thing is that it's sometimes put into consideration with regards to copyright issues. It isn't that appealing especially if the book will be used for essay.