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Book Bans Vs. Hate Literature—Librarians Caught In The Middle; Also, The Good And The Bad Of Hybrid Publishing: Self-Publishing News Podcast With Dan Holloway And Howard Lovy

Book Bans vs. Hate Literature—Librarians Caught in the Middle; Also, the Good and the Bad of Hybrid Publishing: Self-Publishing News Podcast with Dan Holloway and Howard Lovy

Today on Self-Publishing News: Book bans vs. hate literature. Librarians are accusing the Hoopla platform of distributing antisemitic and other conspiracy theory books, including Holocaust denial titles. But where is the line between “banning books” and establishing standards? 

Also, the Society of Authors released a report slamming all hybrid services. But do they all deserve to be painted with the same brush?

These are among the topics discussed on Self-Publishing News with ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway and News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy.

Find more author advice, tips and tools at our Self-publishing Author Advice Centerhttps://selfpublishingadvice.org, with a huge archive of nearly 2,000 blog posts, and a handy search box to find key info on the topic you need.

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Listen to Self-Publishing News: Book Bans vs. Hate Literature

On the Self-Publishing News #Podcast, @agnieszkasshoes and @howard_lovy discuss the line between book bans and fighting hate literature. Librarians are often caught in the middle. Click To Tweet

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About the Hosts

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines Earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle.

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last eight years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.comLinkedIn and Twitter.

Read the Transcripts: Book Bans vs. Hate Literature

Howard Lovy: Hello and welcome to the May 2022 edition of Self-Publishing News from the Alliance of Independent Authors. I'm Howard Lovy in Traverse City, Michigan, and joining me from Oxford university is ALLi news editor, Dan Holloway. Hello, Dan, how are you?

Dan Holloway: Hi, Howard. I'm not too bad, how are you?

Howard Lovy: Good, good. I was ill for a little while, but I'm better now. But if I were a sensitive person, I would say you were trying to ignore me, as I travelled across the Atlantic just to see you at the London Book Fair, but I understand you had a good excuse, you weren't really well.

Dan Holloway: Yes, I was somewhat under the weather.

Howard Lovy: But I enjoyed meeting all of the ALLi folks. So, next time.

Dan Holloway: Did you eat lots of Amazon's food?

Howard Lovy: I ate some of Amazon's food. You know what, the Amazon party that you talked up so much over the years, I finally went, and it was so crowded, I got nervous.

And usually, I don't mind crowds, but during a time of pandemic with unmasked people, I kind of left early.

Dan Holloway: Yeah, if it was anything like the normal Amazon parties, it doesn't really feel like the kind of thing you want to be doing during COVID.

Howard Lovy: Right. So anyway, but I had a good time, and if our listeners haven't heard it yet, I filed a report from the London Book Fair in place of Self-Publishing News last week.

Book Bans – Hoopla and Overdrive

Howard Lovy: All right. Well, let's start talking about the news, and the first thing we want to talk about is a very tricky subject about book bans, or at least questionable books that are making it through. And before we get into that, I want to tell you a quick story, because it's an issue that I've dealt with before.

A number of years ago, I was executive editor of Foreword Reviews, a magazine that reviews indie books, and we had a paid review service called Clarion Reviews.

Now, nothing usually fazes me, I'm not easily offended, except when it comes to Holocaust denial and Nazi literature. And in my writing life, I specialize in Jewish issues and antisemitism, so this hit home. Well, an author gave us a garbage book calling the Holocaust into question and spouting conspiracy theories about Jews.

So, I told the publisher that I wasn't going to dignify it by assigning a reviewer, and I suggested that we just give this person his money back. Well, I lost that argument, and in the end, we took his money, but gave the book a bad review. In my mind though, despite the bad review, a bad call was made, because we gave the book a larger audience.

Now, some would say, I guess, that I advocated censorship or others would say that I'm applying editorial standards, and everybody has their own opinion on that. With that, I'll be quiet and let you report the news on a distribution platform called Hoopla accused of distributing, I guess, antisemitic material and librarians who have a problem with it.

Dan Holloway: Yeah, so it's a complicated story because it's coming from lots of different angles on this. So, on the one side, you have this story around Hoopla, and I guess they've been picked up, but they are representative of quite a lot of platforms that maybe don't have any oversight of what they publish.

And yes, they have been picked up for distributing antisemitic and general conspiracy theory books, and librarians have taken against this and so are wary of using this to feed their catalogues. So, that's one side of it, and then on the other side of it, you've got all these stories about book bans by libraries and schools in response to conservative pressure groups in America. So, there have been bands in Texas and various other states of certain titles, in particular LGBTQ+ titles, which has led the Society, or not the Society of Authors, that's the one in the UK. The Authors Guild of America have created a banned books list in order to counteract that with some of the books that have been subject to these bans.

It shows what a tricky subject it is, because you have these two sides. You sort of feel that, whichever side you're on, there are things happening at the moment that will make you feel that's a good thing and things happening that will make you feel that that's not really something you're comfortable with.

And this week it's, sort of, come to a head for indies in particular, because now Overdrive is in the sites, and Overdrive of course is what those of us who get our books into libraries, or eBooks into libraries, that's what we use, so that's how we get there.

And Overdrive, again, it's interesting, what they are being condemned for is, again, LGBTQ+ content, and I believe there is a county in Texas in which Overdrive has been, well, it's been indirectly banned, so libraries have dropped their digital programs, so you can no longer borrow e-books because, to borrow e-books, you have to be fed by the Overdrive catalogue.

So yeah, it's a really complicated subject.

Howard Lovy: That you're not necessarily going to wade into in terms of an opinion, I understand.

Dan Holloway: I think my personal opinions on subject matter are very clear which side I stand on of that. It does feel, I mean, I could relate it to another news story, which of course is the takeover, or the now, sort of, semi-stalled takeover of Twitter.

Howard Lovy: Right, right. Oh yeah, there are lots of analogies you could make there.

Dan Holloway: There are lots of analogies about freedom of speech, and what opinions should be given free rein and what opinions should not be given free rein, where the line is between conspiracy and freedom of speech, and so on.

Howard Lovy: Well, the issue there though, that has more to do with what I was talking about in terms of editorial standards. Twitter, when it bans hate speech, is not a government entity, you know, it's not censorship, it's setting editorial standards, just as if it were a newspaper.

Dan Holloway: So, yes, you're probably better at explaining that than I am, that the first amendment isn't necessarily what people say the first amendment is, it's a very specific piece of writing.

Howard Lovy: Yeah, but then we get into some tricky in-between ground when it comes to libraries, because those are public institutions, at least they are in the US, and I assume they are in the UK too, supported by tax dollars. So, we're not talking about a private company, we're talking about, where ideas are supposed to meet, and so it's a tricky dilemma, and I don't have all the right answers.

To me, there's a difference between depicting LGBTQ+ people in books and promoting hate speech, but maybe to other people there's no difference, I don't know.

Dan Holloway: Yeah, I think we are pretty much in agreement on that. I guess the question is then, and this is where I show my ignorance of American law, is if you push the issue back to the platforms and say, does this mean that Hoopla and Overdrive, they feed libraries, but they're not themselves libraries they're private companies who have a platform. What would the line be there between editorial policy? So, would it be different if they said yes or no to a certain kind of content rather than the libraries who use them saying yes or no, under the first amendment?

Howard Lovy: I don't know. I mean, are they just mindlessly the middleman in this, or do they have editorial standards of their own?

Dan Holloway: Yeah, as I say, that's where I'm not sure, in US law, what the position is.

Howard Lovy: Yeah, interesting. Well, we'll continue to follow it, and in the middle, as usual, are the librarians.

Dan Holloway: Yeah, this is the main thing that comes out of the story is I really wouldn't want to be a librarian at the moment because they are getting it from every angle.

Howard Lovy: Yeah, being a librarian or being a teacher in the United States seems to be a hazardous job.

Predatory Practices by Hybrid Services

Howard Lovy: So, let's talk about something that's a little more cut and dry, and that is predatory practices by hybrid publishing services, and I know not all are bad, but not all are good. And ALLi, of course, has our own watchdog service to alert indie authors to the less reputable ones and also the good ones, but recently the Society of Authors in the UK launched its own report on hybrid services. First, tell us, Dan, what we mean when we say hybrid services and what this new report says.

Dan Holloway: It is a really unhelpful term, I think, and the Society of Authors have latched onto this term ‘hybrid services', it's really confusing because we use the word hybrid to mean something else in the indie community. We mean it to use people who self-publish some books and use a traditional publisher for some books, so you're a hybrid between two different kinds of getting your work published.

They're using it for what we would call publishing-services companies. So, these are most usually, and certainly the negative practices they're looking at, they're companies that bundle up a set of services. So, somewhere like Reedsy is a platform for editing, and they specialize, you will find an editor there, you'll find cover designers, and so on. Whereas publishing-services companies, they tend to provide you a bundle, which has ostensibly, editing services, cover design services, formatting services. The worst ones tend to put most of their emphasis on their marketing services, which usually means sending out a release to a list of blogs that may or may not say anything about your book.

So, it's these publishing services companies who provide a bundle of services to help you self-publish your book, and there are some exceptionally good ones, lots of them are partner members of ALLi. It's hard not to recommend, if you go and have a look, you'll find some of the good ones. I've certainly done some editing work for Silverwood Books, for example. And there are ones who do offer a really good service because, as an indie, there are lots and lots of different things you have to coordinate that, for a traditionally published author, the publisher would coordinate for you. So, you have to hire an editor separately, you have to hire a formatter, you have to hire proof-readers, you have to hire a cover designer, and so on. And a publishing-services company does all that for you. So, it's essentially a project managing thing.

Howard Lovy: Right, which is very helpful. So, how do you tell the difference between something that's worth spending money on and something that's not worth it, or ripping you off?

Dan Holloway: A lot of it has to do with the amount of money you're spending. So, I mean, what the Society of Authors has focused on are these companies that charge thousands of pounds for the package. Now, I can share that it cost thousands of pounds to publish your book, once you add up all the services involved, but by and large, these are companies where you get a minimal amount of editing, most of the money is ostensibly going towards marketing services that end up not delivering things for you.

I guess the real thing, and this is where it comes back to the bad old days of vanity presses, is looking at who's the customer here, who's buying the product, because for a publishing-services company, the person buying the product is the reader. Ultimately, you're about delivering books that are going to be sold to readers. Whereas, these predatory practices, they're not interested in selling to readers, the customer is the author, and the copies of the books that get sold are the copies of the books that get sold to authors. And this is something that is not MLM, but it's something that's familiar from the world of MLM and the slightly dodgy sorts of companies where you're not really interested in selling the product or to a consumer, you're interested in selling the product to another person within the scheme.

Howard Lovy: Right. Now, you mentioned marketing services as, sort of, a warning sign. Is that because it's very hard to prove success there, you don't know if you're throwing money away?

Dan Holloway: This is something that's discussed quite a lot in the ALLi forums. There are some great marketing companies, but you really need to look at what they offer. If someone were offering you access to a really good BookBub deal, and the payment for BookBub in your genre was inclusion in the deal, and a number of other such news lists or mailing lists, then that would be really great. But by and large, what they do is they send out a generic press release to a bunch of blogs. They maybe organize a blog tour for sites that are just blog tours, and nothing really happens.

So, I know a lot of people spend a lot of money on these packages. Some of them even produce really glossy looking press releases, but they don't go anywhere, and I think that the figures they've produced are quite stark. So, the average, sort of, cost they're looking at is £3000, but 80-90% of authors who are buying these services are not making three figures in terms of sales of their book.

Howard Lovy: Right. But it's an attractive promise, you know, nobody wants only their friends and relatives to buy their book, so they have dreams of a professional company helping them to market.

Dan Holloway: It is. So, it feels like one of those things that is highlighting something that needs highlighting, but it's {inaudible}. If I were a reputable publishing-services company, I'd probably not be overly happy about the way it's being presented.

Howard Lovy: So, the Society of Authors is presenting it all as, it's all a big rip off and avoid hybrid services altogether.

Dan Holloway: It's not going that far, but there's no nuance. So, it's a well-meaning campaign that maybe they would be, no, that's probably out of line I would say. It's another example of where, if organizations who have really good intentions about practices that target indie authors in particular, were to partner with, say, an organization whose sole purpose is to represent indie authors and do lots of research on these subjects, if there were such a thing, for example, I wonder what it might be called.

Howard Lovy: Where could we find such an organization, Dan?

Dan Holloway: It would be really great to partner with them to produce a campaign that not only highlights the issue but does it in exactly the right way.

Howard Lovy: Right. So, yeah, I mean, we've been studying this for a long time, and we get the nuances, and people on our forum certainly get it, and if you look at our own watchdog service, we have various levels of warning about who's reputable and who's not.

Dan Holloway: Yes, and we do a really good job of highlighting the good along with the bad, because it's always important to remember that there is good out there as well as bad out there.

Howard Lovy: Exactly. Right. So, take a look at the Society of Authors report, but then also visit ALLi's website and we'll tell you what's really going on.

The Kindle Storyteller Award is Now Open

Howard Lovy: So, here's a bit of news that's very positive in the indie publishing community. The Kindle Storyteller Award is open now. I've interviewed last year's winner, Rachel McLean, who's a great storyteller and a great author. So, tell us more about the Kindle Storyteller Award and the prize.

Dan Holloway: It's an award that I was quite sceptical of when it came out because it seemed to be really skewed towards heavily marketed best-selling books and looking at the quality of the book's marketing campaign more than the book, but actually, it's been won by some really, really good books.

And last year's in particular was really, yeah, Rachel McLean, really great author, really good books.

So, it's a £20,000 first prize, that's the headline news. So, it's an award that's worth winning. It's free to enter at the point of use, that sounds like a British politician talking about things being free at the point of use. So, you don't pay money in order to enter it, but in order to enter it, you have to make your book exclusive on KDP select for a certain amount of time until the competition has finished. It opens on the 1st of May and closes on the 31st of August, and the best book published over that length of time that's entered in the competition wins £20,000.

Initially, it's a slightly algorithmic and slush system to produce the short list or a long list, but once you get to the listing stage, entries are read by real judges who know real things about real books. I know Orna has been a judge before, and I would be very, very happy having my book in a competition where someone like Orna is reading it to judge it and would trust the criteria that it's being judged on.

So, if you have a book coming out in the next four months, definitely think about it. If you've scheduled your book in for release in September, think about whether you might want to release it in August instead.

Howard Lovy: Now, these are UK authors only, right?

Dan Holloway: Your book has to be published in the UK, and the key to that is it's published and available in paperback in the UK. So, it has to be available in paperback as well as eBook.

Howard Lovy: Well, just in case there are American writers who publish in the UK, that translates into between $24,000-$25,000. So, I actually Googled that, I did not do that in my head.

All right. Well, that's all we have for today. Is there any other news you want to talk about? I think you had mentioned the-

Dan Holloway: No, that's good, let's leave it on a high.

Howard Lovy: Leave it on a high note, okay.

Dan Holloway: I'm sure next time we'll be talking about Elon Musk at great length.

Howard Lovy: All right. Well, we'll see, hopefully he'll keep his hands off Twitter, but I don't have high hopes for that.

Well, thank you, Dan. It's great talking to you as usual and have a great month.

Dan Holloway: You too, thank you.

Howard Lovy: Bye.

Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Thanks for your comment and for listening (I think), C.D. As I say in the podcast, there are no easy answers. However, would you consider antisemitic and Holocaust-denial literature to be an “alternative viewpoint” or hate literature?

  2. My concern here is that what some people call “hate literature” is really anything but. You mentioned “conspiracy theories.” But anything can and has been labeled a conspiracy theory in the last two and a half years in an attempt to enforce political censorship and keep certain truthful items that are harmful to Democrats (in the US) and pro-individual freedom out of the news. Moreover, the bulk of book banning has come (again, in the US) from the extreme political left via Twitter outrage mobs and internal pressure from extreme leftists at publishing houses, both of which have repeatedly demanded that books be canceled because the content doesn’t agree with their own beliefs. Meanwhile, one of my local libraries has two shelves dealing with race issues, seventeen of which were written by Black supremicists, Black nationalists, or their allies. Only two were written by someone with an alternate viewpoint (which are often labeled as “hate speech” even when they’re politically moderate). When y’all start having an honest, well-rounded discussion about censorship that includes these efforts to suppress speech that a vocal minority of extreme leftists deem inappropriate (much of which is so moderate as to be inoffensive), then I’ll listen to you.

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