All professionally published books have something in common: reviews. Some are favorable, some are not, but they all provide publicity. One of the major differences between self-published books and professionally published books is that professionally published books have reviews from legitimate sources – e.g. The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, other, well-known newspapers and magazines, and, of course, the requisite recommendations from professional authors who write in the same genre.
For Stanek, this was a problem. Writing hundreds of five-star reviews on Amazon.com is all well and good, but people expect to find professional recommendations on a book. All books have them. Even the spectacularly godawful The Fifth Sorceress has a glowing review from Publishers Weekly on its Amazon page, comparing it favorable to George R.R. Martin’s writing. If Stanek was truly the internationally bestselling author with millions of books sold worldwide that he claims he is, it looks awfully suspicious when there isn’t a single professional review anywhere to be found.
However, over the years Stanek managed to get his books, himself, and his publishing company, Reagent Press, mentioned in a few professional and pseudoprofessional publications. Naturally, he milked these recommendations for all they were worth. I was curious to find out whether or not these publications had actually recommended Stanek’s books. Since there were only eight of them, I did exactly that.
We will begin with three different books. As Stanek states on his blog:
Popular Series Fiction for Middle School and Teen Readers
The preface of this book talks about the criteria they used to select series for inclusion. These criteria include such stringent guidelines such as “a series generally needed three or more books” and “the series we selected would be content-based groupings of books with a consistent theme, setting, or group of characters” (page viii). The preface also gives this book’s specific purpose:
Popular Series Fiction for Middle School and Teen Readers provides guidance for professionals – and for parents – seeking to encourage young people to read (page vii).
With this book, librarians and teachers will find it easier to keep tabs on new articles in existing series and to evaluate new series (pages vii-viii).
That’s all. This book is nothing more than an extremely long list of book series that the authors consider to be written for a particular age group. Page viii also gives some insights into how Stanek’s books got a mention, as the authors state that they used amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com to make selections. As Stanek has written hundreds of reviews for both sites, it’s hardly surprising that the authors noticed his books and thought they were worth a mention.
Stanek’s books are mentioned on pages 290-291, and, unsurprisingly, they do not contain any recommendation whatsoever. They’re simply listed, with a brief and slightly inaccurate plot summary:
This is the only place in the book, except for the indexes, in which Stanek or his works are mentioned.
Complete Idiot’s Guide to Elves and Fairies
This book was written by Sirona Knight, a self-described ‘New Age Witch’, who hosted a call-in dream interpretation radio program. The cover of the book states that it contains “Down-to-earth advice on connecting with the elf and fairy energy within you”.
Clearly, if this book recommended Stanek’s works, it would be a review that we could take to the bank. However, once again the book does not so much as tell us whether the book is good or bad. Contrary to what Stanek may think, merely mentioning a book does not mean that it is good or that the author enjoyed it. The only thing that Knight is saying here is that the fantasies listed have a lot of variety. Which is certainly true. We don’t know if Knight enjoyed Stanek’s book or hated it. For that matter, we don’t even know if she read it. If she did, she clearly didn’t think it was worth going into any sort of detail about it.
Interestingly, in several other places Knight does go into a great more detail about different books; among them Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and the Dragonriders of Pern series. She even talks about how good these series are and why they’re worth reading. Not so for Stanek. For some reason.
This is the only place in the book, except for the index, in which Stanek or his works are mentioned.
The Ancient Art of Faery Magick
This book was written by D.J. Conway. It’s mostly written in the first person, and contains pages and pages of information on how to become friends with faeries. By going out in the woods and meditating and clearing your mind and then eventually the faeries will start appearing to you. Now, I’m not saying that this author is completely insane, but I am saying that I wouldn’t necessarily trust her opinion on anything.
That being said, at the end of this book the author has a list of books that is six pages long under the category “Recommended Reading”. And Stanek is among them. There isn’t any kind of discussion of the book or any sign that the author has read or enjoyed it, but it is listed under the recommended reading section, so I guess this is a semi-legitimate recommendation.
Again, this is the only place in the book where Stanek’s books are mentioned.
We now move on to the “multiple professional publications” that Stanek talks about.
The Journal of Electronic Defense
In Stanek’s words:
In June 2007, The Journal of Electronic Defense gave my book, Stormjammers, their highest recommendation, saying:
Stanek goes on to quote almost the entire review on his blog, (the complete review can also be read here). I find it interesting that the review does have some criticisms of Stanek’s writing, noting that the stories are rather repetitive. However, overall the review is pretty favorable, and I wouldn’t have much of a problem with it except once again Stanek isn’t content to let the review sit on its own merit. He has to state the Journal gave him their “highest recommendation”. There is no mention anywhere in the article if this review being their highest recommendation, it’s simply an ordinary book review. That being said, I really don’t care much about Stanek’s nonfiction books, since he doesn’t put nearly as much effort into writing fake reviews for them. Nor does he try to claim that Stormjammers is an internationally bestselling novel.
In Stanek’s words:
Parenting Magazine recommended Bugville Critters in September 2008 as part of their audio & story selections in partnership with Audible Kids.
Bugville Critters is a series of picture books for young children featuring disturbingly creepy-looking anthropomorphic bugs. I have not read any of them and thus cannot pass any real judgment on the series, except for the artwork (which, as I said, is disturbing), and the titles, which make the series sound like every other boring cookie-cutter children’s picture book series in which kids learn valuable lessons about life. Still, I was interested if they were actually recommended, so I went to the library and found past issues of Parenting Magazine. September 2008 has no mention of Stanek or the Bugville Critters. Neither did the August or October issues. I searched Parenting Magazine‘s website and Googled it extensively, and the only results were Stanek himself, claiming that they recommended his books. I doubt that he simply made this up, but I have not been able to find any information to prove or disprove this claim, except that if Parenting Magazine did recommend the Bugville Critters, they didn’t do so in the print version of their magazine.
The Wall Street Journal
Stanek mentions on his blog that Sarah Nassauer of the Wall Street Journal interviewed the vice-president of Reagent Press, Jeannie Kim. I am not sure that Ms. Kim actually exists. Regardless, Stanek links to a complete copy of the interview, which is 1,193 words long and features a great deal of rambling by Ms. Kim. The interview makes it sound like Reagent Press was the focus of the story, which is not true. When reporters conduct email interview they send a list of questions and the interviewee can respond however they like. The reporter then takes whatever information out of that interview they need to actually write the article.
The actual article in the Wall Street Journal is about the audio book industry and contains about 100 words from the interview with Jeannie Kim, and, of course, makes absolutely no claims or recommendations about the quality of any of Reagent Press or Robert Stanek’s books. I located the article on microfilm, and apologize in advance for the poor quality.
VOYA stands for Voice of Youth Advocates, which is a bimonthly library magazine that I’ve never heard of. However, I searched through their online archives and found the review in their February 2007 issue. I would feel bad about quoting it in its entirety, but Stanek did the exact same thing on his blog, so instead I’ll just screen-shot what he posted:
It’s a positive review and I don’t have any real reason to believe it’s not legitimate (besides the author of this book being well-known for writing hundreds of glowingly positive five-star reviews of his own books, and almost everyone else hates them) I would also point out that VOYA isn’t exactly what I would consider a well-known or especially reliable publication. They also published 150-200 reviews per magazine. In other words, I am a little suspicious that Stanek might have submitted the review himself, posing as a librarian.
But I do not have any evidence one way or the other, so bottom line: There is a review in a professional publication that speaks positively about Stanek’s books.
It also doesn’t really help that this review was published in something as obscure as VOYA, but, for what it’s worth, Stanek does have one professional review that actually speaks positively of his books.
Ah, Publishers Weekly.
On April 13th, 2009, Publishers Weekly printed an article about publishing trends called Good Worlds and Bad. In this 2,223-word article, there is a brief mention of one of Robert Stanek’s books. Brief to the tune of 34 words:
How about fear of terrorist elves? Reagent Press concludes a seven-year project with a special illustrated edition of Robert Stanek’s Kingdom Alliance, in which two dozen elves battle with their mortal enemy, man.
This, of course, in no way talks about the inherent quality of the books or recommends anything. This did not stop a sockpuppet by the name of Samantha G, who, on August 26th, 2009, posted a topic in the Amazon.com forums titled Publisher’s Weekly LIKED it so will YOU and began talking about how awesome Stanek’s books are. Another person named Maine Character replied and pointed out that Publishers Weekly never said they liked the books:
I’d like you to specifically note the phrasing that Samantha G uses here, as it will become important in a moment.
Notice how everything that Samantha G says here is technically correct but also completely misleading. Yes, the article talks about eight different books but it uses them as examples, it doesn’t “pick them out” or “highlight” them. Yes, what Mike Homler (and how the hell would Samantha G have ANY idea whether Mike Homler is a nice guy or not??) said leads into the example from Kingdom Alliance, but the 34 words there are in absolutely no way, shape, or form a “discussion”. The only blatant lie in there is the heavy implication that the print edition differs from the online edition, and even here Stanek – sorry, Samantha G – is clever enough to not directly say that the two editions are different.
However, as Maine Character didn’t have the print edition to compare to the online edition, he agreed that differing editions made sense and Stanek might have won the round….except the person who wrote the article for Publishers Weekly, Rose Fox, posted to deliver the most deliciously eloquent of verbal curb-stompings:
I looked up Ms. Fox’s contact information from the Publishers Weekly website and emailed to ask if she personally wrote this post, and she confirmed that she had.
I think it’s obvious that Samantha G is actually Robert Stanek. Why would Samantha G lie? For the sake of argument, let’s say she isn’t Stanek. Why would she make this up? I could almost forgive the title of the thread, which is very misleading but not necessarily deliberately so (although I believe it was very deliberate). But assuming she was just one of Stanek’s fans, why would she make something like this up? Why would she spent the time writing up a post that was blatantly wrong, claiming that a different article existed in the print edition? Why would any fan try to make up pretend news articles about their favorite author? The only reason I can think of for someone to lie like this would be if there was some kind of financial motivation behind it…
Far more telling, though, are Robert Stanek’s comments. From his blog:
I’d like to call your attention to three things:
First: both Stanek and Samantha G incorrectly call it “Publisher’s”, rather than Publishers.
Second: both of them specifically call out that Stanek’s books were picked over dozens of others:
Samantha G: Actually, Publisher’s Weekly chose the book and several others from many dozens or hundreds of others available.
Stanek: selected Ruin Mist Chronicles over dozens of other books to feature and write about in the article
Third: both of them specifically mention it’s the cover story:
Samantha G: is the cover story from 4/13/2009 edition
Stanek: In April 2009, the Publisher’s Weekly Cover Story,
Fourth: both of them stress that it was one of the eight books, and they were singled out:
Samantha G: The feature article picks out eight books and highlights each
Stanek: was one of eight books singled out in the article
Why would two completely separate people write something that uses so many nearly identical phrases? Why would both people be so desperate to make it sound like this 34-word mention in an article was so much cooler than it actually was? I mean, Stanek is an internationally best-selling author! He’s sold millions of books and been translated into dozens of languages. Right? Why, then, would such a popular author sit on his blog and desperately talk about how important this brief mention was? Why does he try to make it sound like there were dozens of books in the running and Stanek’s books won out after a grueling battle? Yes, Publishers Weekly could have chosen different books? So what? If I decide to write a book review, does that mean that that I specifically chose that book over the millions of books that have been published in the history of the world because that book was better? No. It just means that I happened to choose that book. And especially if I just happen to be writing an article about publishing trends. This is not like Stanek was making the list of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential Novels.
This gets even more ridiculous when you realize that everything Stanek is claiming is completely false, as stated by the person who wrote the article. Stanek’s books weren’t selected especially, they were inserted by an editor as an afterthought, after the article had been written. The person who wrote the article has never read Stanek’s books and didn’t even interview Stanek or Reagent Press!
I mean, I understand why Stanek is lying about this – he’s desperate for legitimacy, and does pretty much everything he can to make himself sound more important than he actually is, but even his lies aren’t internally consistent.
And that’s just sad.