An Open Letter to the New York Times Book Review

nytbrLast week, the New York Times Book Review announced they are eliminating several of their bestseller lists. Here’s the original article from Publisher’s Weekly. This will have profound effects on many authors, especially indie and genre writers. I emailed the following letter to the editors this morning. It not only expresses my opinions on this issue, but also voices my (possibly far-fetched) hope that they will someday add coverage of indie authors to their pages. 

As both a long-time reader of the New York Times Book Review and an author, I have to say I am dismayed at the recent move of the NYT Book Review to remove many of the bestseller lists, especially the ebook lists. As an indie author who, due to the nature of my mode of publishing, is not carried in big name book stores, that is my only hope for ever hitting your lists. And I do plan to be on them. I still hold the moniker of New York Times Bestselling Author in high regard.

Whether you mean to or not, this move alienates a lot of authors, both indie and traditionally published, who rely on ebook and mass market lists to “earn our letters.” You are hurting traditionally published authors who are in digital-first or digital-only contracts, an increasingly common practice at major publishers, especially in the romance and other genre markets. In the traditional publishing world, foreign rights, bonuses, movie rights, and the money an author can demand on his/her next contract are often determined by making your lists. By eliminating many options, you are hobbling the very people you should be supporting.

In addition, readers are increasingly choosing ebooks over hardbacks/trade paperbacks for convenience and cost reasons, so you are essentially saying their buying choices don’t matter. Not to mention that eliminating the ebook and mass market paperback lists smacks of elitism and of a digging in/siding with the old guard traditional publishing industry in an era when prestigious publications like the NYT should be opening up to new modes of publishing.

Here’s the thing. Indie publishing isn’t the free-for-all mess it used to be. I, and many other indie authors like me, apply the same levels of rigor and professionalism to the production of our books as traditional houses – at least in part due to the hopes of selling enough to make your lists. We spend thousands of dollars of our own money on professional proofreading, editing, cover design and marketing. Yes, there are still those who slap their books on Createspace/Amazon without a second thought, but there are also low quality books produced by traditional houses. There will always be outliers.

We are no longer the authors who “couldn’t make it” in the traditional industry. Many indie authors are former traditionally published authors who have grown frustrated with increasingly anti-author contract terms and/or the antiquated slowness of the industry in an age of print on demand. Some are “hybrid authors” who publish some things traditionally, and some independently. Others, like me, have never been traditionally published and made the choice to go indie in order to control our work – our covers, our editing, our marketing, how/where our books are published – so that we are free to write the books we choose, rather than struggle with an editorial/publishing house agenda or idea of what will sell.

If you need proof that indies are professionals, look to the SELF-e Select books endorsed by Library Journal as the best of independently published books, or to the Indie BRAG Medallion honorees, who are put through a rigorous quality process before being honored. (Full disclosure: all of my books are SELF-e Select and one has earned the Indie BRAG Medallion.) Groups like the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLI) and Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) promote best practices among indie authors and reward those who produce high quality work. We’re trying to make our corner of the publishing industry better. We may not have traditional gatekeepers, but we want our best work to shine at a national level and make the same lists as our traditional counterparts.

That is why I am asking you to not only reinstate the ebook and mass market lists, but to cover indie books as well as traditionally published in your pages. There is room. Readers have written in before expressing dismay with the seemingly random essay/editorial/opinion sections that don’t adhere to what this publication is about: reviewing books. And I agree. Perhaps you can replace those with an indie book section. I’m not even asking for a weekly section, though that would be ideal; it could be monthly like your column that faces the back page that covers debuts or other groupings of books.

To date, the only indie authors I have seen your publication cover are those who were later picked up by traditional publishers. I’m happy for them, but they are the exception, rather than the rule, in our community. It would send a strong message of support to ALL authors if the NYT Book Review were to recognize indie authors and show you understand the changing nature of the publishing industry by keeping lists that allow a wider range of authors to be honored for outstanding work.


Nicole Evelina
St. Louis, MO

If you agree or have your own opinions on this issue, I urge you to contact the NYT Book Review at I’d also love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Falling in Love with Literature

readingLove or tradition? That is the question.

This week’s New York Time’s Book Review essay, “From the Heart” by Dean Bakopoulos, gives his opinion on the best way to teach literature while instilling a love of books. Is it through traditional theory or through reader reaction? In short, the author argues that people – not just English majors – connect more to a book if they form a relationship with it. He believes that asking basic questions about what makes your spine tingle in a work and what lines you wish you’d written are a better way to learn the arts of reading and writing than classical deconstruction. I’m not a teacher, but I have to say, I agree.

As a book lover and English major, I wish more attention had been paid to how a book made me feel when I was in school. I would have learned more about the craft of writing from analyzing questions like, “Why did this passage move me?” or “What makes me hate this character?” – all things I’m learning to do now as I read as a writer – than, “What form of literary theory was used here?” or “What do you think the author meant by this?” (How the heck do I know? I’m not in their head!) Perhaps these traditional teaching methods informed me in a ways I fail to recognize – after all, I never thought I’d find value in the dreaded History of the English Language class, and I use it all the time – but I think there are more accessible ways of learning about literature.

Thinking back on college, I remember very few of the books I was required to read, mostly because I’m not a big fan of the classics and that’s what we focused on. But those I do remember, I recall because they moved me – not because I was able to elucidate a hidden literary theory or expound upon their narrative form. I remember the independence I admired in Moll Flanders, the heart-rending pain of Tess of the d’urbervilles, and the laugh-out-loud hilarity of the Importance of Being Earnest (or anything else by Oscar Wilde).

Today, when I reach for a new book, I don’t often ask myself what the critics thought (although sometimes I do ask myself that upon finishing a book!) or what school of literary thought the book comes from. But I can tell you what I tend to go for in a plot and why I like a certain author’s writing. In the end it comes down to one thing: I connect with the book. If I don’t, I usually don’t finish it.

The books that truly move me are the ones I could easily teach a course on, but it wouldn’t be Ivy League accepted curriculum; it would be why I and the students like/hate the characters, how the author builds a world we want to inhabit more than this one, and what it is that tugs at our souls when we read it. These are the things that make people avid readers and what give them the urge to try to create something themselves. This is how we make sure literature, whether classical or popular, doesn’t die out, and how we inspire generations of future writers to make that same connection with readers.

What do you think? Is there value in traditional methods of teaching literature? Or would you rather focus on the emotional connection with the reader? Why or why not? What moves you as a reader? English majors: what was your experience in school? Teachers: how would/do you teach?