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A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Takes the Book Biz to Task

Another “New” Technology to be Loved or….

     When I was in the fourth grade I had a teacher who was memorable in three ways.  She was very tiny, not much bigger than I was. Her boobs hung down to her waist, an attribute I found very curious because I came from a family of fashionable women who happily wore the falsies and waist cinchers that were popular in the 50s. And every day she would chalk a new adage on the board for her class to memorize. One of them was:

“Never judge a book by its cover

     That may have been my first introduction to the concept of tolerance. You see, in Utahwhere I was raised, we were all pretty much blue-eyed blondes with names like Nielsen and, well, Howard and Johnson. Our culture was rather isolated at the time. No computers, no TV, no diversity, no need to talk much about race. Religion was a big topic among both Mormons and the non-Mormons called Gentiles but the subject was mostly underground except for proselytizing. Books were a good place to start learning about tolerance, though I doubt that my teacher was purposefully espousing the need for that.

     Now, more than 50 years later, we still have not learned the lesson posed by this wise old saying and that teacher who probably lives on only in memory. Here are a few of the reasons I feel comfortable saying that:

  • Barnes and Noble still will not put a book published by a POD press on its distribution list for its stores (though it will carry them on its website.) 
  • Reviewers often pass over books published by the subsidy publishers. (By the way, though subsidy publishers like XLibris and 1stBooks generally use POD presses, the opposite generalization—that POD books are subsidy or vanity published-- is incorrect.) 
  • Sometimes reviewing sites will not list books released by POD publishing houses. And it is harder than pulling one’s own teeth for a POD-published book to get a review from The New York Times or Kirkus Reviews.
  • E-books are a curiosity loved by the press but often disdained by the book trade’s hallowed halls—excepting, of course, when those halls are republishing their own titles in e-book form as my publisher has just decided to do (see their new e-book library at:

     Mind you, there are some very good reasons for some of this, but it is still judging a book by its cover—er, by its printing press. It still means that many of the world’s finest books may never be published, much less make it to a bookstore’s shelves.

     Now there is a new concept afoot. It is a book available on a CD that can be viewed with a computer or TV and heard as well! These “books” have many of the attributes of a DVD. They can be fast-forwarded, paused, and so on. One of my author friends, Christy Tillery French, whose newest book Chasing Demons will be published this way, describes the concept like this:

“The reader is reading a mini movie while listening to a narrator read the text. She has the option of turning the narrator's voice off.  This is meant as a way to pull in those would-be readers who feel they don't like to read because they are slow or because they are semi-illiterate.”

     This approach to reading books will also appeal to the tekky generation. Some of Christy’s daughter’s college-age friends pronounced the concept by Hot Java, “cool.” It sounds pretty neat to me, too. I have a blind aunt who could actually read my book if it were published that way. And my new book of poetry? Now, who could I get to do the reading?

     This company (go to - is reputed to pay a pretty good advance and is indicating that books published by them will eventually be partnered with a good, traditional publishing house.

      My question now is this: Will this method of publishing be judged inferior because they aren’t doing it the same way it’s always been done? I hope not. The world is a better place with choices and I wish Hot Java and my new friend, Christy Tillery French, the best of luck.

Tips and Tidbits

Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.

Writers' Tidbit: Subscribe to “The Publicity Hound’s Tips of the Week” e-zine and receive FREE the handy checklist “89 Reasons to Send a News Release.”

Readers' Tip: I am reading a book that is sorta, kinda genre fiction. That may surprise those of you who know me.  But true to this column’s advice, I decided to never judge a book by anything but what’s between the covers. This book is called Mysticus by Randall Silvis. His writing is literary and the genre is, well, indescribable; it’s a little of almost everything. It would be wonderful if it got the attention it deserves. Learn more at: amazon (Mysticus)

2003 Past Columns

Carolyn Takes the Book Biz to Task

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