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How Should We Ease “Self-Publishing Gridlock?” [Discussion]

Quick programming note: We mentioned on our podcast last week that we’d be discussing branding this week. Shannon had to go out of town suddenly, however, due to a family emergency — so we’re going to put that topic on hold until next week.

There’s been quite a bit of talk the past few weeks about the importance of distinguishing quality self-published work from the well, not so great.

The need was first brought to our attention on Self-Publishing Central with John Betcher’s article An Open Letter to Amazon. The post was recently revised with additions and changes from the community. It serves as an eloquently written plan for easing “self-pub gridlock.” As John puts it:

Unfortunately, at present, there is no analogous way for potential readers to sift through the huge mounds of newly printed self- and indie-published books. The reader (read as “potential book buyer”) has only book covers, jacket blurbs, sample passages and reader reviews to aid her in distinguishing the published gems from the rubble. (Kirkus and The New York Times don’t review self- or indie-publications.) Such tools might seem sufficient, until one considers that there are a million or so new book covers and blurbs to view, samples to read and reader reviews to consider every year.

No single reader can process this huge amount of information. The result is self-pub gridlock.

His letter advocates Amazon.com creating an “Amazon Select Indie Book Index,” built from independent book reviews, to guide readers toward quality self-published fare.

Discussion Questions

Photo: MSVG | Flickr

So, we want to hear from you:

  • Would a ranking index built upon independent ratings like the one John advocates help ease self-publishing gridlock?
  • What other ways do we have (or SHOULD we have) to distinguish quality self-published work?
  • Or, should self-published work not be competing amongst its kin but instead against the traditionally published genre to which it belongs?
  • How have YOU made your self-published book stand out from the rest?

Last time we had a discussion there were some wonderful viewpoints shared in the comments — let’s make this one just as good!

If you’d like to learn more about soliciting independent reviews of your book, check out Where to Find Reviewers for your First Book or Part 2 of our interview with John Betcher, posting tomorrow.

  • I definitely didn’t like the idea (enough that I made a post about it when I read the original one http://kaitnolan.com/2010/05/28/amazon-select-indie-book-index-good-idea-or-no/ ). I don’t want people to separate me out because I’m an indie. I want my work to stand up there with other traditional authors in its genre, which, so far, it has. I think a well organized review campaign and a good cover, good blurb, good sample is all that’s necessary. And really, when you look at MOST of traditional publishing, there are also thousands of books out there each week (it seems) and for the most part, THEY don’t have anything to recommend THEM either, yet people still manage to find them (or not). I just don’t think being indie should be seen as needing to be separate. There are too many who would look at that and dismiss us all as riding the short bus.

  • Jane

    Whether fairly earned or not, the reputation of self-published works is that they are mostly produced by writers who really are not ready to be published. But we all hear every day that agents reject thousands of good books that for one reason another, they simply don’t feel passionate enough about to represent, or don’t know how to sell. It’s too bad we can’t get a “seal of approval” from those agents when they reject so we can be certain of the difference between unpublishable because of the market and the economy, and simply unpublishable. Unfortunately, I don’t have any suggestions for how to do that, but since agents are increasingly distressed by their slush piles, perhaps it’s the vetting system and not the agent compensation (as has been the topic among them lately) that needs to change. Once vetted, agents and editors can choose what they like without wasting their time reading things that shouldn’t be in the pile in the first place, and the rest can pursue self publishing with confidence, while the reader can look forward to work that doesn’t simply make them embarrassed for the writer after they’ve dropped money on it. Who would do this vetting? I don’t know, but I would be much more comfortable paying money to a slush vetter than paying a reading fee to 100 agents simply to have them “just not feel it.”

  • I completely agree with Kait. No offense to John, but this Indie Book Index is a terrible idea. I (as Duolit knows!) am a self-published author and I want my book, both its physical appearance and its content, to be judged against all other books, not just self-pubbed ones. It’s up to the author to promote the book and get it into the hands of readers, not Amazon. In fact, I would go so far as to say that self-pubbed authors, especially POD authors like myself, should be grateful Amazon lets us all on there in the first place.

    The solution to selling more self-pubbed books is simply to MAKE THEM BETTER, to make them as good as their traditionally published counterparts.

    • Toni

      Thanks for the great comments, everyone! I think, for me, the big advantage to an indie-pubbed index would be the ability to choose a quality self-pubbed book over a traditionally published one. I’d love to read more self-pubbed books to support the industry and those authors, but since there’s no “central hub” for quality control, I find myself sticking to traditionally pubbed bestsellers lists, simply because I don’t have the time it would take to dig through Amazon to find self-pubbed gems. I guess what I’m looking for is a quick way to know what’s self-pubbed and quality in a wide variety of genres. Lists like this one on GoodReads are a great idea, though: http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/3166.Best_Self_Published_Books_of_2009. I’d love to see more lists like that, but on a larger scale. I’m just thinking the backing of a huge bookseller such as Amazon/B&N could give quality self-pubbed books the wider exposure they deserve. That being said, I totally understand the arguments of those that disagree and would prefer to let the books speak for themselves.

  • Judith K

    Great comments and advice to follow, as always! I seem to get on the topics too late! I think the Calif. time difference is to blame 😉

  • I’m not a fan of the index idea at all. I believe well-done indie-published books should compete against others in their genre — not be labeled as self-published. Although I like the idea of supporting indies, I just don’t like the idea of labeling. I feel like the indies will never stand their own ground with the trads if they are considered separate.

    Catherine said it very well: “The solution to selling more self-pubbed books is simply to MAKE THEM BETTER, to make them as good as their traditionally published counterparts.” Amen to that!

  • SPAN, the Small Publishers Association of North America is working on a Certification Program for publishers. The vision is to create a class of professional publishers that stand out.

    Publishers would gain certification, not necessarily to show their qulaity to readers, but to organizational book buyers and reviewers.

    I wrote a blog post on certification and readers can find it here:http://www.spannet.org/profiles/blogs/publisher-certification .

    Thanks,

    Scott Flora
    SPAN Executive Director

  • I know this post has been around a while. But I thought I’d just clarify two points:

    1) In my revised Letter to Amazon, I mentioned that the “above-the-line” reviews could be of ALL BOOKS and not just indies. No one has indicated an objection to that idea.

    2) I want to support indie authors by buying their books. But I don’t want to buy poorly written, poorly edited, books. How do I find an indie-pubbed thriller (for example) in which I can have some confidence? I’ve tried doing it by looking at all the sorting methods on Amazon and BN. I can’t find ANY indie pubs that way. How do I find the well-written indie pubs without knowing their author name or title in advance?

    That’s all I really want to accomplish. And I certainly appreciate that others may disagree on how to accomplish this goal . . . or even whether the goal is worthwhile.

    Please don’t say that all you need is a very well-written book and it will rise to the top. That doesn’t happen — at least not where I have looked for books.