Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Business of TRUST

I write reviews for an award winning website. Armchair Interviews is run by two women with class, intelligence, integrity, and their fair share of talent.

Recently, I read an amazing story with equally amazing editorial challenges. I had a built-in respect for the NYTs bestselling author, but horrible conflict surrounding the ARC (Advance Readers' Copy or Edition) I was asked to review. I shared my frustration with the owners of the website, who in turn shared them with the publicist. I was asked to write a short article for their site about poor quality ARCs.

My article follows, but I encourage you to check the website out for yourself. Quality attracts quality, if you know what I mean. Once you're there, click on "The Author's Place." As a further enticement, Hallie Ephron has a great article up regarding the writing of crime fiction.

A Publisher That Rushes Out a 'Threadbare' ARC Can Spell Disaster for the Author

Imagine books as a tapestry. The first thread is the writer, and the tapestry begins. It flows through, adding agents and editors, professional readers, marketing people, bookstore owners and reviewers, finally ending up in the hands of readers—the people the writer was talking to in the first place. Every single thread can have an impact on what the reader holds in their hands. Every single thread is formed in trust.

I’ve written reviews for books that have already had their tapestry woven, as well as books whose tapestry is still being formed. When I receive an ARC (Advance Readers’ Copy, or Edition) in the mail, I don’t expect it to be perfect. The trust the publisher and the writer are placing in me is that I understand this isn’t the final product, and that there could be some minor modifications. In other words, don’t do a line edit, and don’t quote what might be cut in the final version. My trust, as a reviewer, is that the story is significantly in place—the tapestry filled in—so that when I write a review, consumers who might base their buying decision on what I have to say, will not end up loosing their trust in me.

I just reviewed an ARC of a book from a New York Time's bestselling author that's not due out for three months. This book made me feel the tapestry threads had been knotted up somehow. There were threadbare sections. The vision had been hurried and the product slapped together and out the door without much, if any, refinement. Plot threads (one of the really important threads in any tapestry) were out of whack and unfinished.

The story itself was amazing. One I think could very well land this author on the Bestseller List again.

But writing the review (a positive one) required a huge leap of faith. I have no idea if the editing issues, the plot issues, will be worked out resulting in a final tapestry built on trust for the readers. It made me very uncomfortable. I can only hope the thread I was responsible for doesn’t end up shattering trust.

The risk this publisher took—that I wouldn’t trash the book—was enormous. They held the career of their author in their hands and broke threads going both ways in the tapestry.

The reader, the person who will become the final thread, deserves the best we all have to offer. Anything less is unacceptable.

CR: Still reading Dream House, a debut novel for which I'm trying to get a genre feel.

It's all better with friends.

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