Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- IndieReader

There's been some recent buzz about IndieReader, a new service for self-published books launched by commercially-published author Amy Holman Edelman.

"The fact is," the IndieReader website says, "self-published authors know it's a rough world out there. They get no respect from publishers and little attention from consumers." But "more and more Indie books [are] finding mainstream success (Still Alice, The Shack) and more mainstream authors [are] writing Indie books (Dave Eggers, Noam Chomsky)." IndieReader is poised to become part of this "vast sea change in publishing:"

People are naturally drawn to what’s unique and genuine, be it Indie movies, Indie music...or Indie books. They are tired of hearing about the next John Grisham, of taking their cues from traditional publishers who are afraid of what's new, niche and different. They are hungry for something like IR—and with a team that has a combined 40 + years of public relations and marketing experience—we plan to give it to them. In short, what Sundance has done for Indie films—making what's outside the mainstream "cool"—IR will do for Indie books and authors.

(You all probably know my opinion of this kind of sloppy use of the term “indie,” but that’s not the point of this post, so I won’t make a fuss about it here.)

As "the premiere community of self-published and print-on-demand authors," IR will promote, market, and sell self-published books on its website. For an annual fee of $149 ($25 of which is a submission/reviewing fee), plus an extra $25 per book if they want to publicize more than one, authors get their own Web page and URL (here’s a preview), and keep 75% of the proceeds from any sales (IndieReader gets a 25% commission).

So far, so good--and not so very different from other self-pub-focused book listing/selling websites, such as Jexbo or Publitariat Vault. But there's a twist: IndieReader will be selective. "[G]ood books must be in good company, and so we reserve the right to exclude books that don’t meet certain standards of quality, both in terms of basic spelling and grammatical errors and content." According to IR’s FAQ, this vetting will be done by "editors, literary agents, publicists and just plain book lovers." Who they are or might be isn't revealed, though Ms. Edelman provides some clues in a recent interview. There’s also this job listing, which suggests that at least some IR vetters will be college students.

What if your book doesn't pass muster? Well, you can choose to participate in ReadRoxie, IRs non-vetted book listing site (which doesn’t yet appear to be online), or you can get a refund of your annual fee, less the $25 reviewing fee. You have to delve into IndieReader's Terms and Conditions to discover these last two facts. Some other significant provisions of the Terms and Conditions:

- Authors must fill orders within two weeks (if they don't, IR can cancel the order "and count these orders against your fulfillment rating").
- They must make sure the info on their Web pages is "accurate and current."
- They must maintain a "reasonable return policy," (the cost of that, along with shipping and handling, appears to be passed on to the buyer).
- They must agree "not to take any action to discourage customers from making purchases on the website" (a rather broad stricture that could cover a lot of things, including, conceivably, successfully promoting book sales on your own website).
- They may terminate their relationship with IR at any time with 10 days' notice--but IR reserves the right to terminate also, for any reason, including authors' failure to timely fulfill orders.

IndieReader is an interesting concept. Considering the many opportunities the Internet offers for self-published authors to throw money away on worthless marketing and promotion schemes, the $149 membership fee doesn't seem outrageous (and before anyone decides to pillory me for not getting angry at Ms. Edelman for requiring a $25 submission fee, I see this as analogous to a contest entry fee, rather than to an agent's or publisher's reading fee). Still, there's plenty of reason to be cautious, in my opinion, mainly because IR is new and unproven. Can IR really market its way to the kind of visibility that will justify its fees? Will the screening process be rigorous enough to fulfill its promise of quality (hmmm...college students)? Important questions, since these are the things that principally distinguish IndieReader from other book listing/selling websites--and presumably will be major publicity hooks for it.

If you don't know a great deal about the self-publishing community, you might suppose that self-pubbed authors would be open to the idea of a new and relatively low-cost service designed to help them achieve greater visibility. You would be wrong. IndieReader has been greeted with a good deal of skeptical and even angry discussion--much of which centers on the vetting process. An apparently harshly critical post at the Publishing Renaissance blog has been removed, but the paragraph quoted at Self-Publishing Review gives a sense of what must have been the tone:

Once again, we see Old Publishing trying to shoehorn it’s methods into the new Internet environment. It’s the same 20th-century, top-down, corporate approach to deciding the value of media — an approach which runs antithetical to the realities of the business of media on the Internet. Just take a look at how online booksellers such as Amazon, or book recommendation websites like Goodreads help individual readers decide what to read next. They don’t make recommendations according to what a small number of tastemakers have chosen; instead, the recommendations are based upon community input and involvement.

Though the post is gone, the comments remain (including several responses from Ms. Edelman), and they make for interesting reading. Valid points are raised about shipping procedures, the listing fee, what makes IndieReader different or better (or not) from similar services, whether IndieReader will be capable of providing enough of a sales boost to make it worth authors' financial while--but much of the discussion revolves around the screening process, which many of the commenters seem to feel is elitist ("Why form a special club that will shut some out based on the taste of you and those you’ve employed? How is this better than the system we already have in publishing?") or unnecessary ("It is readers now who judge and recommend, and social network, and etc. This is the internet, welcome to it.").

Given the extreme sensitivity of so many self-published authors to the issue of gatekeeping, I don't find this reaction surprising. Just as much as IndieReader’s promise of quality screening, however, it’s a tacit acknowledgment of the problem of perception that afflicts self-published books. Whether you admit the need for quality control, or decry it as a poisonous relic of "Old Publishing," it’s still the elephant in the self-publishing room.

78 comments:

Emily Cross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily Cross said...

I think some sort of vetting would be an excellent idea, but i can see why some would be wary of a 149 fee for a listing.
I think there would have been less cynicism among self-pub writers if there was no reading/annual fee but % of the sales. Once established, perhaps begin an annual fee for membership?

I do like the concept though

Mick Rooney said...

I have to say the jury is still out on this one and many similar sites. The critical 'proof of the pudding' will be if book listings convert to increased sales for authors, and that will always be the bottom dollar. What does strike me as interesting is April Hamilton over on Publitariat Vault is offering the first 300 subscribed authors for free. It will be intriguing to see how both these new sites develop.

"They get no respect from publishers and little attention from consumers." But "more and more Indie books [are] finding mainstream success (Still Alice, The Shack) and more mainstream authors [are] writing Indie books (Dave Eggers, Noam Chomsky)." IndieReader is poised to become part of this "vast sea change in publishing:"

Victoria, while you say the 'indie' term doesn't faze you too much - it bus the hell out of me! Do writers actually sit down and say to themselves, 'I'm gonna write an 'indie' novel.

If I remember correctly around the time AuthorSolutions acquired Xlibris earlier this year, the CEO for ASI released a PR excercise and jumped on the 'indie' bandwagon heralding it as some kind of 'new frontier' for self published authors.

What is this 'indie'? Its spurious and misleading. Every publisher not owned by a large media group and every author not signed to them is technically an 'indie'. What exactly do they believe they are independent from?

The mind boggles.

Mick Rooney
POD, Self Publishing & Independent Publishing.

S.D. said...

I hope they have strict guidelines for this vetting business.

And the term "indie" always makes me smile, since I think of India when I see it.

Victoria Strauss said...

Mick, I completely agree with you about "indie," and especially about Author Solutions' misleading appropriation of the term. But I think we're fighting a losing battle--as with the term "traditional publisher," which is so common now it's hard to summon the energy to fight about it any more. Although I still do.

Zoe Winters said...

I was really skeptical myself about IR initially, but after talking with Amy Edelman extensively, the idea sounds better and better. If IR ended up successful probably other similar copycat sites would crop up, which would give higher quality self-pubbed work better exposure.

And I know you don't like the "indie" term, but... it's here to stay. I've already heard readers in casual discussions about books (readers who are not also writers) make references to "indie writers" so the concept is starting to catch on.

While you may not be able to call yourself an indie publisher unless you own an actual publishing company, I think you *can* call yourself an indie author if you are maintaining control of your work and putting it out independently, but anyway, sorry about rehashing old stuff there.

As for the post being deleted at Publish. Ren. It was deleted by the author of that particular post, not the blog admins.

Moriah Jovan said...

An apparently harshly critical post at the Publishing Renaissance blog has been removed

As one of the charter members and contributors to Publishing Renaissance, I would like to clarify that the author of the post himself removed that post and every other post he made. For personal reasons, he withdrew all his contributions and left the PubRen team and we were very sorry to see him go, as we found him an articulate voice in our community.

It was not PubRen's decision to remove those posts and, in fact, we begged him to leave them. However, it was his material and thus, his to do with as he chose.

Zoe Winters said...

Mick,

What do indie bands think they are independent from? They are doing their own thing and self-releasing their own work, instead of going through a major record label.

Same for indie authors.

Ann Somerville said...

Since my attempts to nut this out with Edelman ended with her flouncing off with what I now realise is fairly typical gracelessness by those who support this scheme, I'll just repeat what I said at Absolute Write - if you can afford this service, you don't need it, and if you do need it, you can't afford it. Even if it does all it claims to do (and I remain deeply skeptical that it can, especially if it's setting the bar so low for its vetting), this is a very expensive service of unproved worth.

My view has not changed that its profit model is based on fees and not sales, and therefore is a vanity outfit, if not worse. There are cheaper and more effective ways of building a readership, and ultimately, unless you, the author, is producing a well-written, well-edited product, all the promotion in the world won't make it sell well.

Having dealt with Edelman now, I shudder at the thought of being one of her customers.

J.M. Reep said...

Hello Victoria.

I'm the author of the now-removed Publishing Renaissance post. Perhaps I'll publish a new review of IR in the future, but for now I'm waiting for IR to finally launch (it was supposed to have launched in early June, but I'm still waiting).

Most of my complaints and worries about the site are the same complaints and worries that you discussed in your post here. I dislike the "gatekeeper" aspect of the vetting process. IR also seems like a rather unfriendly place for authors. Between the fees and requirements for authors to fulfill the orders themselves, it seems like one must sell a LOT of books before one starts to make a profit through the site.

I'm also not sure how IR will be to compete effectively with established websites like Amazon, or innovative ebook sites like Smashwords.

If IR ever launches, perhaps we can get answers to these concerns, but for now, everyone should be very skeptical of IR.

Henry said...

Ann - Amy Edelman has been totally open and gracious in all my dealings with her, so I feel the need to defend her. I agree with you that there are questions about IR being able to provide everything it promises, but it doesn't warrant the intense criticism it's received. Why not let the site prove itself before dumping on someone who's trying to actually help self-publishers gain attention. Even if it's a flawed model, the site is attempting something new in a changing publishing industry, which is interesting enough to take a wait and see approach, not just say it shouldn't exist before it even starts.

Ann Somerville said...

"Amy Edelman has been totally open and gracious in all my dealings with her"

That's nice, but she's a heinous cow to me. From my observations, her ability to be pleasant exactly correlates with how much someone swallows her line.

"say it shouldn't exist before it even starts."

I never said it can't exist. I just said, and will continue to say no matter how many of you regular defenders pop up, that anyone who hands money over to this enterprise at this stage in its lifecycle - certainly in the amounts Edelman is charging - is likely to waste that money, and as a self-pubbed author myself, I know just how little money we have to waste.

Henry Baum said...

It doesn't take a stretch to think that someone who throws out terms like "heinous cow" probably wasn't being very gracious either.

Ann Somerville said...

Henry, it's impossible to conduct a serious discussion about the merits of a business when the principal of that business resorts to throwing insults, as Edelman did when I raised my concerns directly with her, or when her supporters resort to ad hominem attacks.

Edelman behaved like a heinous cow towards me for asking hard questions about IndieReader. Not only is that extremely unprofessional, it also raises questions about her good faith, and indeed, I was not the only person who saw her responses to my questioning over at the Smart Bitches blog as indicating she either didn't have the answers, or didn't want to give them.

If I buy any service from an untried vendor, I ask a lot of questions, and if the vendor wants my business, I expect straightforward answers - not a mouthful of personal abuse. But even if she had behaved like Queen Elizabeth, I would still consider Indiereader a risky, overpriced, and frankly not particularly innovative service aimed at a target market which already suffers from a plethora of exploitation. And so I will continue to tell people to hang onto their money until Edelman shows (a) she can do what she claims and (b) can do it with a modicum of grace.

Zoe Winters said...

Henry, Ad hominem rules apply to everyone but Ann. She routinely calls people names, including on her blog (which I saw several months ago before she friends-locked it), but few people stand up to her anymore because when we do, we become the target of her next attack. I wonder how the phrase: "heinous cow" could possibly not be ad hominem.

I was there that day at Smart Bitches, and from my perspective, Amy was caught off guard by someone who routinely is abrasive and rude to people under the guise of "telling it like it is."

Which would be one thing if in the next breath she didn't extol her own moral virtue.

Amy, being a normal human being like the rest of us, slipped for about two seconds under the onslaught of constant criticism and suspicion from several people. Ann moved in for the kill.

Game. Set. Match. Watched it a thousand times now.

Zoe Winters said...

Incidentally, if anyone cares to read the thread in Publish. Ren. in the comments section, I was pretty harsh on Amy at first, nevertheless she handled herself with grace and by the end she'd won me over. She does not in fact only behave nicely until you don't "swallow her line."

If that were the case she would have behaved that way in the Publish. Ren. thread.

I didn't swallow a bit of it but she continued to behave professionally even in the face of several people lambasting her with criticism and suspicion (including myself at first.)

Ann Somerville said...

On Publitariat Vault: According to the discussion at Smart Bitches, April Hamilton started this up in direct response to IndieReader, rather than IndieReader copying its format.

I have the same objections to Publitariat Vault as to IndieReader - and since I've now learned that April Hamilton makes her reputation, if not living, apparently exclusively by selling services to self-pubbed authors, I'm even more wary. Although Ms Hamilton claimed her site would be cheaper than IndieReader, $120 a year isn't exactly cheap.

Ms Hamilton was completely unforthcoming when asked about claims that 'publishers' had taken an interest in her venture, and I'm skeptical that any serious publisher would have time or interest in these sites.

Victoria, from your perspective, what is the real chance that any of these listing sites would in fact catch the eye of publishers (other than the usual scammers?) Even the epubs are drowning in submissions, so I can't believe they need to pick through material on such sites.

Zoe Winters said...

And now... we're going to make insinuations about April Hamilton some. Lovely *sarcasm*

Here is the thing, April Hamilton has worked tirelessly to provide information and resources for indie authors. She wrote a book called The Indie Author guide, which she has made available totally for free on her website (not exactly the behavior of a money grubber)

I've read the book and it's filled with tips on how indie authors can get their work out affordably.

Publetariat.com is a site filled with resources and discussion forums which April does not charge a dime for authors to be a member of. Running a website costs money, it is not free.

April has appeared at the O'Reilly Tools of Change Conference in NY on a panel involving the changes in the publishing industry along with Mark Coker of Smashwords and others.

She also has several publishers already interested in The Vault.

And further, she is offering a free 90-day subscription to the first 300 people to sign up for the Vault. And the first 30 days free to everyone after that. The subscription is renewable month to month at $10 a month and can be canceled at any time. It can also be canceled before the free trial ends.

There is also a precedent for this type of site called InkTip which has been running successfully for awhile and is for screenwriters.

Please get your facts straight before you start implying things about people and the businesses they run.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I did a lengthy post on the term "Indie" over on the Pod People Site a while back.

http://podpeep.blogspot.com/2009/05/i-write-therefore-i-am-what-by.html

You are an Indie if you make all the decisions. That's the bottom line. Some of us just want to make all the decisions, and that includes whether or not to pay for listing or marketing services. This is not cynicism; it's Indie pragmatism.

Every Indie is different -- different reasons and different business models. Every Indie should be an independent thinker. Jumping on bandwagons or wanting what everyone else wants seems contradictory to the Indie philosophy. Don't ya think?
As far as Indie Reader and The Vault are concerned, I always err on the side of pragmatism. Both are good “in theory.” The effectiveness of such efforts and the “money well spent” commentary will only come with time and validated statistics. I don’t think either are scams. However, every Indie author needs to assess their business plan before spending money on listing services and marketing. Money well spent would be on editing. I have no problem with gatekeepers either. I just want to make sure there is no fee-based influence, and I want to be sure the so-called gatekeepers are qualified, as in, who are they? A list of said gatekeepers with a short bio would be nice. I, as an Indie pragmatist, want to know with whom my wallet is getting into bed. It’s about establishing integrity, nothing more.

Yes, I am an Indie author who owns my own imprint. Not that it makes a difference.

Anonymous said...

No one is going to proof a novel for 25.00. If they do, they're nuts. So telling writers they have to pass an inspection is about the same as throwing 25.00 out the window. They may read the first page and that's about it, just like any other publisher or agent. And since agents and most publishers don't have the slightest idea what will sell and what won't sell, there is no magic formula for success other than having people read your books. If you are an independent, you already have a slim profit margin if you are also the publisher. Adding another 25% will leave you with little or nothing. Sounds like a bad deal to me just to get a webpage.

Victoria Strauss said...

I just want to ask, before things get too heated, that we not go off-topic or get into flaming. Opinions are welcome. Insults are not.

Re: the Publishing Renaissance post: it never occurred to me that the post had been removed by anyone other than its author, but I can see that my wording might imply otherwise. Apologies for conveying an inaccurate impression.

Re: Publitariat Vault: I plan to do a post on it next week--not because I have an agenda to debunk it, but because I find it interesting and think it will make a good companion piece to this one. I haven't studied the site in depth yet, so I'm not yet ready to offer any opinions.

I'm adding clickability to Cheryl Anne Gardner's post about "Indie." She asks, "Why on earth does anyone give a frosty crap what we call ourselves?" For me, stickler for proper word use that I am, it's about the misappropriation of terminology (seriously, if you don't own your ISBN number and have granted rights to someone else, you are no more--and no less--independent than a commercially-published author) and the use of euphemisms--trying to escape the negative implications of something by calling it something else. I feel the same way about unpublished writers who call themselves "pre-published."

I absolutely agree that with services like IndieReader, time will tell. As with brand-new publishers, authors would be wise to wait for IR to prove itself before jumping on board.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Thanks for the link Victoria. We seem to agree on the listing site issue. I am taking the wait and see approach, and I always do that when authors are paying.

On the definition of Independent, I tend to take an independent thinker point of view with the traditional definition, as in, who is the decision maker? A Lulu author can take their book out of print at whim and go somewhere else. A traditionally published author would be unable to walk into their editor’s office and say, ya know what, I don't want that book with you anymore. Therefore, the Indie rights issue really depends on the contract the author has decided to enter into. I own my ISBNs and imprint, but I still have to pay a printer and a distributor in some form or another. Marketing as well if need be. So, Independent from the traditional business model in this case is a contractual delineation, nothing more. We could argue the varying levels of Independence to infinity. Won’t make any difference. It really is about who calls the shots -- nothing more -- including whether or not they want to use a service like Indie Reader or The Vault. I just think Indie authors would be better served if that money was used towards editing services first. After that, marketing dollars are marketing dollars -- spend it how you want -- spend it wisely. Being and Indie means doing your own market research. Ignorance ain’t bliss in this game or it will cost you.

William Haskins said...

Thank you for including a link to my AuthorScoop piece on this, and I'm glad you're addressing the issue—if, for no other reason, that it led to some clarity on the PubRen piece and why it was removed. For the record, I am not categorically against a process whereby self-published works are vetted, but I'm squeamish at the thought that authors might feel they have to go on bended knee to "industry insiders" for their blessing.

Anyway, great piece, and I'm thoroughly enjoying the comments.

steeleweed said...

Even assuming IndieReader (or any other website, for that matter) got its act together and provided a good venue for selling books and dealt properly will all parties, it would be useless unless it became a top site for readers. There are thousands of great websites out there which are totally unknown. The only reason I ever heard of IndieReader is because I follow your blog. I follow it because I am a writer.

Most poetry is purchased by poets - preaching to the choir. I wonder if IR isn't depending on writers to buy its books. Which might not be a bad idea, at that. Maybe all us writers should simply agree to buy each others' books...

Kate said...

POD authors may want to take a look at Nothing Binding, a free posting and book review site for "indie" writers and readers that's slowly gaining steam.

I have no clue whether NothingBinding has helped authors gain sales, but there's quite a bit of networking and support between the authors within the organization.

NothingBinding was conceived of by Jerry Simmons, a a 25-year marketing veteran of New York publishing with Random House and the former Time Warner Book Group. Simmons is also the author of "What Writers Need to Know about Publishing."

I'm not a POD author myself, but I've heard Jerry speak and found him to be a sincere man. There may be merit in his NothingBinding community. http://www.nothingbinding.com

Victoria Strauss said...

Adding linkage to NothingBinding.com. Interesting site--thanks for telling us about this, Kate.

In a post today at his POD, Self-Publishing and Independent Publishing blog, Mick Rooney says something really interesting (my bolding):

My beef is not necessarily with the ‘badge of honour’ approach which seems to go with being described as an ‘indie’ author who has fought in the wars of the publishing world at the ‘frontline’ of battle, but rather the connotation that what this author writes is somehow different or alternative to the norms of what authors have always written...The ‘indie’ revolution is starting to become about books of ‘perceived content’ over actual content.

This is something I didn't pick up on, but it rings very true to me. It makes perfect sense that self-defined "indie" authors might attempt to change the ground of the argument by changing the definition of quality--kicking the elephant out of the room, so to speak.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Thanks Kate, that is very helpful, and I will cross post that over on the podpeople site. The similarities are interesting to say the least, and it's no fee.

I believe his pay-for-service writer consulting site is writersreaders.com, and that is quite a comprehensive site.

Brenda Rogers said...

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Please let me tell you and your readers about an exciting book contest at http://www.wakeupcelebrityauthor.com . First prize is a Barnes and Noble.com Best Sellers Listing. Check it out and good luck.

Sincerely,
Brenda Rogers
Salt City Books

ALC said...

Anonymous said...
No one is going to proof a novel for 25.00. If they do, they're nuts. So telling writers they have to pass an inspection is about the same as throwing 25.00 out the window. They may read the first page and that's about it, just like any other publisher or agent.


What a lot of "would-be" writers don't seem to get is that if your grammar, spelling, language usage skills, etc. are crappy, it only takes a page or two (or less) to determine that it is sub-par. It might take a few more pages, or even a chapter or two, to discover whether or not the author has significant issues with story development or, perhaps, problems with showing verses telling.

I know a lot of self-published authors want to make the claim that these things are irrelevant. A lot of would-be authors just don't get that these things actually "define" to a large degree, whether or not one actually has creative writing skills. Just having a unique story isn't enough. One needs the actual "skills" to tell it. And, having crappy language skills does not give you a unique "voice".

That said, there are self-published authors out there who DO recognize these truths. THEY are the ones who would definitely benefit from a selective venue (which IndieReader claims to be).

I'm not here to judge. I hope that IndieReader enjoys success. It would be quite refreshing to find a source of self-published books that are exclusively decent & readable.

I have yet to purchase a self-published book simply because I haven't found anything readable within the genres that interest me. I check out Lulu periodically. I won't buy anything that doesn't offer a sample of the writing, but I haven't found anything "with" excerpts that is worth shelling out the dough.

Please don't misunderstand - I don't look through EVERY genre. So I'm not saying that YOU are a crappy writer if you've pubbed w/LULU.

Good luck, IndieReader.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Now that I would take issue with Victoria. Independent from traditional publishing is one thing. Independent from the commercially viable genre du jour is ok too. But throwing quality writing out the window is something completely different.

Experimental writing doesn't mean an utter lack of respect for grammar, the English language, and established literary theory. If that is someone's definition of Indie then I have a bone to pick. I am all for anarchy, but academically, I do have to draw the line.

William Haskins said...

Thanks for the tip about nothingbinding, Kate. I went and checked it out and, within 30 minutes had set up an author page and a page for my book. It's an interesting site and solid concept -- with no fee.

Victoria Strauss said...

I was going to delete Brenda Rogers' comment, above. Instead, I plan to blog about it. She may be sorry she spammed Writer Beware. Bwa-ha-ha.

BuffySquirrel said...

Spelling and grammar aren't a matter of taste. Maybe back in Elizabethan times, but not now. They are a basic measure of commitment to the craft.

Simple homophone errors indicate the author relies on the spell check. Basic grammar mistakes suggest they don't read enough. And so on. There's a lot to learn from the first page of a novel or short story. Sometimes you can learn everything you need to know from the first line.

Seriously, people, whether "indie", self-published, vanity victim or whatever, why why why why not try at least to get the basics right? What do you have to lose?

Zoe Winters said...

Cheryl: I am all for anarchy, but academically, I do have to draw the line.

HA! I think I love you. :D

BuffySquirrel on "why not try to at least get the basics right?"

It seems to me that IR is trying to provide a showcase for authors who "have" gotten it right, and the Vault seems to be a showcase for publishing pros for indies who have not only gotten it right but have started connecting with readers who agree.

And I totally agree with you on that point. Unfortunately I only have control over what *I* choose to self-pub, not what anyone else does. I think things like IR and The Vault will hopefully start to create the impression in people's minds that there is... self-published, and then there is self-published. And though they are technically the same thing, one group of self-published authors actually *cares* about craft, and isn't publishing the rough draft of the first novel they attempted to write.

Most of us who are serious about improving and writing and publishing something of quality, resent the broad brush strokes that assume we suck because we are *in* the group called: "self-published." (Perhaps one reason for the "indie author" label.)

Hopefully things such as IR and The Vault, if they are successful, will help to make the dividing line more clear between self-publishing as a "delusional activity for the untalented" and something that some people do with full comprehension of what they're doing both odds-wise, and skill-wise.

Ann Somerville said...

"It seems to me that IR is trying to provide a showcase for authors who "have" gotten it right"

By using students to screen manuscripts....

Sorry, no. I've got dear readers who are young students, and though I treasure them, they are not people I would ever use to critique my spelling or grammar, or anyone else's. There may be exceptions, but if IR is paying the princely sum of $25 for the service, they won't be getting the exceptional.

All this talk reminds me just how important to a self-pubbed author their own support community is. You simply can't afford to pay what you get from friends in terms of free criticism and editing and advice, and a self-pubbed author should be doing her best to build a strong, critical group of fellow authors and intelligent readers about her. There is no substitute for producing a book that is good - good in craft, good in polish, good in appeal. IR won't help with any of that, even if they gave their services away.

Zoe Winters said...

If an average reader can't separate a good book from a bad book, then we have a larger problem. If the average reader can't tell the difference in bad self-pubbed work, and good self-pubbed work, then why is there so much hysteria about how bad most self pubbed work is?

Most people who read can catch it if there are too many typos/grammatical errors, and most readers have enough taste to know if a book truly empirically sucks or has any redeeming qualities whatsoever.

If they can't, then that's the real threat. But if readers can't be trusted that far, then we should all give up writing.

Ann Somerville said...

"most readers have enough taste to know if a book truly empirically sucks or has any redeeming qualities whatsoever."

There is nothing 'empirical' about taste. The ad for student editors specifically says they will "review Indie books for basic spelling and grammatical errors and content". Nothing about taste, or indeed redeeming qualities (whatever that means - I write gay romance, and a lot of people consider that the direct opposite of 'redeeming'.)

If I'm handing over a couple of hundred bucks for a book which will make me about $300 if I sell it without help, then I expect more than the 'average' reader (a mythical creature) to look over my stuff. More to the point, if I'm listing my books as having been 'vetted', I expect that vetting to be done to a higher standard than basic spelling, grammar and content. The consumer will expect that these books cross a higher bar than that too.

Publishers don't use college students as editors. IR is setting itself in the place of a publisher. Therefore, one expects pro publisher standards. They can't deliver that because they aren't editing the books. Best they can hope for is that well-edited books will be submitted to them.

Well-edited books (like mine, I will be bold enough to say*) don't need IR because they garner enough interest by their sheer rarity without paid promotion.

*If anyone wants the proof of that pudding, I'll be happy to furnish it.

Owen said...

Hmmm.

lots of interesting things here.

First off - IndieAuthor. I think people are tending to conflate several issues. First off screening material - her choice, her site, nothing wrong with it but it shows that they completely miss the point of a participatory system - and it makes me less likely to care what they recommend.

Second - the charging of a fee - independent of anything else - that's completely up to them. I regard it as a red flag personally - but not one that would completely keep me away if other things looked good.

Third - the attitude - this is what gets me - it is the 'we need to screen self-published works for their own good' attitude. Actually, no, you don't. That's what the marketplace and the public do anyway. If I want to publish a work of total drivel that's my right. But then, from what I see it is also the right of Random House, et al. In other words, value is in the eye of the beholder.

And this is where I think almost everybody in publishing and even many in self-publishing are making a huge mistake. There SHOULD be far more books published - and most of them should sell far fewer copies than most published books have in the past century. That doesn't mean that they have no value to the tiny audience that wants them.

As for indie vs independent vs self-publishing. I think this is an internal argument to the industry. Someone standing outside looking in would not care really.

In fact, I wonder just how much it matters what the industry thinks about these things. If I can print 10,000 copies of a book and sell them all myself - all without ISBN numbers or barcodes or listings or bookstore availability - then am I less a publisher than Penguin? I would argue that I am just as much a publisher as Penguin even though nobody in the industry would recognize me as such. (I should be clear - I am none of those things I just said - it was just an example - but one I happen to know is true in more than one case). But I would truly be an independent and an indie publisher....

Zoe Winters said...

Ann,

Fair enough on all points except for "IR setting itself up in the place of a publisher." I don't really feel like that's what they're doing. Rather they're creating a "curated bookstore" trying to get a lot of the "good self-pubbed work" in one place.

One of the biggest problems of self publishing supposedly is how readers are supposed to be able to separate the bad self pubbed from the good self pubbed work. I *personally* feel that good self pubbed work doesn't *look* self pubbed and therefore the average reader doesn't automatically have a higher skepticism regarding the book than with any other book they might read.

Nevertheless it seems that in popular opinion good self pubbed books are really rare. I don't think they are *that* rare and if IR were to be successful and actually keep the quality of the books presented on the site up, then there would be a large group of self pubbed books that didn't suck all in one place.

I can't see that as a bad thing for self-pubbed authors in general. If IR ends up succeeding, then I will bet that there will be some cachet for a self pub author to be able to say their work is there.

However they accomplish the feat doesn't matter so long as they accomplish it. If the people they have vetting the work do a good job of it, it really doesn't matter "who" those vetters are. If the vetters do a poor job of it, then we'll all never hear the end of it. What matters is the end result, the quality of the books on the site.

I am reserving judgment on the quality of the vetting until I see what IR judges as "good self-published work." Until such time as I know what got through their vetting system, it's pointless for me to argue about it.

Zoe Winters said...

Owen,

If I felt like Amy's attitude was “We need to screen self-pubbed for their own good” I wouldn't be supportive of what she's doing. I'm self-pubbed too, I would find that rather insulting. But given many of the realities and disadvantages of self-publishing, wouldn't it be nice if there were more rewards for creating a quality self pubbed book?

We're shut out of most contests, most brick-and-mortar sales outlets, etc. When someone wants to help you gain some visibility, it's a good thing.

If IR is successful, then such a site could garner extra attention for some of the better self-pubbed work out there. I don't know, I just see this as a little bit bigger of a thing than a bookstore and short-term sales. (Which seems to be how many people are measuring the issue.)

And yes, it is your right to publish total drivel, but if you do publish total drivel why should “I” be punished for that if I “don't” publish total drivel? Or vice versa with our roles reversed, why should “you” be punished for “my” drivel? As it stands now, many people want to paint “all” self-pubbed work with the same brush of suckitude. Wouldn't it be nice if that weren't true?

No one says: “Damn this last Avon published book I bought sucked rocks, I'm never buying another Avon book again.” NOBODY thinks that way. But... if someone buys a bad self published book they often determine never to buy one again. Why? It's even sillier than not purchasing from the same publisher again. Authors shouldn't be punished for the crappy work of other authors, we should only be responsible for our own work. If sites such as IR and the Vault want to attempt to raise visibility for indie books that don't suck, hey I am on board that train.

It's not an attempt to keep anyone from self publishing, but rather an attempt to aide those who are doing a good job of it.

No one said anything about fewer books being published, self or otherwise.

Though I agree with you on the someone standing outside the industry doesnt' care about our labels. I'm sure they probably think we have way too much time on our hands to be arguing it in the first place.

Ann Somerville said...

"NOBODY thinks that way."

Except people who buy from epublishers or read ebooks. I know you've seen mutiple discussions on this point at Dear Author. I've seen people declare they are giving up on epubs, or ebooks, because of one or two badly edited or written books by small epresses.

Self-publication, like e-publication, is fringe activity compared to traditional mainstream publishing. People are wary, and people will be turned off by bad products. Nothing fair about it, nothing unusual either.

Unlike some, however, I don't believe the answer lies in display sites or rebranding. I don't know what the answer is. All I know is what works for me personally when I sell books. What works for me, won't work for someone else. There isn't a single answer.

BuffySquirrel said...

Oh, I dunno. Having read several books published by Solaris that sucked, I'm not willing to buy anything put out by them again. Perils of being a small publisher, I guess--it is possible to identify them as having editors who don't share your views on what makes for good writing.

It seems bizarre that some self-published authors feel so threatened by a site that expects a minimum standard. It gives the impression that they really think these things don't matter. Contempt for your readership's ability to spot careless writing isn't a very good place to start, imo.

Ann Somerville said...

"It seems bizarre that some self-published authors feel so threatened by a site that expects a minimum standard."

I'm not 'threatened' by anything. I'm wary of a site which is making money out of fees to authors instead of sales, and I'm irritated that the owner of that site considers it beneath her dignity to discuss those concerns with people who are way.

My career will carry on just fine without IR, because my standards are a lot *higher* than anything they advertise as holding to.

BuffySquirrel said...

You did see the word "some" in there, right?

Ann Somerville said...

"You did see the word "some" in there, right?"

Yes. Which is bizarre because I'm not aware of *any* author 'threatened' by IR, and certainly not any who have raised concerns.

Perhaps you could give examples of the 'some' you mean, with links and so on?

BuffySquirrel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BuffySquirrel said...

So...the constant references to IR setting themselves up as "the new gatekeepers" merely by requiring correct spelling and grammar don't count as feeling threatened? Okaaaaaay....

(hah! removed previous post for Egregious Noun/Verb Disagreement!)

Ann Somerville said...

"the constant references to IR setting themselves up as "the new gatekeepers" merely by requiring correct spelling and grammar don't count as feeling threatened?"

That's certainly not how I read it. Annoyed, rather than threatened. After all, one can set oneself up as President of Greater Belgravia and claim all kinds of privileges and be completely irritating about it, without that giving you the least power.

IR can't threaten because it can't do what it claims it will. The only people who believe it will, are the supporters. The critics are saying, "yeah right, and that's a stupid hat too."

BuffySquirrel said...

Well, it's clearly a matter of interpretation, as with so many things writing-related.

It isn't relevant whether or not IR can 'threaten' anyone; what's coming across to me is outrage at the mere 'threat' of being expected to write correctly. That ought to be the most minor of a writer's worries. They should already have spelling and grammar knocked. So why the concern at this minimal 'gate-keeping'?

Ann Somerville said...

"what's coming across to me is outrage at the mere 'threat' of being expected to write correctly."

Again I state, that's a bizarre reading of the links and discussion. None of the people involved in this discussion are illiterate or averse to basic quality control, so where are you seeing anyone 'outraged' by being asked to do what they already do?

I'm 'outraged' personally that IR would use such *low* standards for quality checking, actually, as I said above. I haven't seen a single person discussing this thinking they might *fail* to meet those standards.

BuffySquirrel said...

So why refer to IR as "gatekeepers" if the standard is so pitiably low?

Ann Somerville said...

"So why refer to IR as "gatekeepers" if the standard is so pitiably low?"

Because IR are putting themselves in the position of publisher, and publishers are seen as gatekeepers.

A gate is a gate whether you can walk through it, climb over it or kick it down. Someone decided that they could attempt, even theoretically, to control access, and that can piss people off.

BuffySquirrel said...

Someone decided that they could control access to their own product? Oh noes!

As far as I can see, IR are setting themselves up as distributors, not publishers. And their 'control' is asking writers to meet a standard they should be meeting anyway. So why does that piss them off? Or threaten them, as it appears to me?

Zoe Winters said...

Ann, you're right about epubs. I'd forgotten about that point. I've heard people saying they wouldn't buy another EC book and I'm like "huh?"

I don't know whether places like IR will help anything or not. I'm just willing to wait and see. I'm hopeful for anything that helps beat back some stigma.

Though I *do* hope the vetting standards are high enough to let in quality work and keep out work that isn't.

I'd be more comfortable at this point if the standards were a little higher too, but since I haven't yet seen what IR is going to let through, I can't know for sure about anything. i.e. I don't know if they'd let a truly abysmal book with a poor plot arc and badly drawn characters through the gate just because it had proper spelling and grammar. I would "hope" that they wouldn't. Even though "good" is subjective, there are still rules to fiction. But until IR opens to the public and I see with my own two eyeballs what has gotten through the gates and I can investigate the matter futher, I'm not in a position to judge. I'm willing to give IR a chance to see if it can succeed.

*If* the standards of what gets through are a high enough quality across the boards I think such a thing would be good, or at least not be in any way *bad* for authors who self pub.

Ann Somerville said...

"IR are setting themselves up as distributors, not publishers"

Distribution + alleged QC + alleged selectivity == publishing (of a kind)

Their gatekeeping isn't quality control, it's their fees. If they were only taking books of high quality without charging fees no one - absolutely no one - would complain, even about the commission.

But what they are saying is that not only do you have to be good enough, you have to be *rich* enough - and that's the vanity model. If they believed in what they did, they'd make money solely off sales - like Amazon and Lulu do, for instance.

I believe you understand this perfectly well and are being obtuse for a reason. Someone else can attempt to clarify further, if they can be bothered.

ALC said...

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, but I'm reading a lot of "rage" here. Quite frankly, IR has the right to set their business model up any way they see fit. They have the right to "price" their product, they have the right to "exclude" any that they don't feel are right for them. I don't see that they have tried to scam or mislead anyone as to what they are trying to do.

They are telling up front exactly who & how they are attempting to weed out less than stellar (or even outright incompetent) works. If someone isn't interested in using their service, I don't see any thugs holding guns to anyone else's head trying to force them to use it. If you're not interested, you're not interested. If you feel that a similar service which offers its product for free will do a better job, use it.

Just as some people like to scream & shout at anyone who would lump all self-published works together as vanity crap, drivel & poorly printed first drafts that should never have seen the light of day, there are those out there who want to have a screaming fit at the idea that they or anyone else might be excluded from "anything".

Having written something does not entitle anyone to enter every single venue. That's the problem with sites like Lulu. There's absolutely no quality control with the writing. You can have a literary genius buried in there somewhere, but who will ever find them???? After wading through thousands of excerpts of poorly written, minimally edited crap, most of us give up.

If you don't want to use a service, don't use it. If you have proof that the service is a fraud, show it. If you don't believe it will work, fine, don't get into it. But, IR has the right to give it a shot. Any writer who WANTS to try their service has the right to do so.

Until we see what IR allows on their site, quality wise, until we see whether or not it will prove the least bit effective, then I don't see what all the "rage" is about.

Someone here said that they write gay romance novels. Good for you. But, if a similar site opened up exclusively for gay & lesbian novels & that site reserved the options to exclude both poorly edited/written novels & non-gay & lesbian novels, would you put up a stink about it???

If a family oriented site opened up & reserved the right to exclude writings it deemed questionable or inappropriate & those that are badly written or poorly edited, would anyone put up a stink about it?

IR has stated its mission. It just wants to try to weed out the thousands of blatantly horrible self-published writers out there. And YES they are out there. That doesn't mean that you are one of them.

If you don't think they can deliver, fine, don't use them. But, they do have the right to try.

I'm sure that a legitimate business would welcome more in depth questions about how they plan to weed out the slush. If they are strictly going by poor editing, bad spelling, horrific grammar, they are still providing a valuable service to would be readers because Lulu & Amazon don't even do that much (I think one or both may offer editing services - may be mistaken - but if they do you can bet you'll be paying for it).

So in one paragraph, can someone tell me why they are so irate about the existence of IR??? Really, it's a personal choice issue is it not?

If you know that your writing is good (grammar wise, spelling wise, editing wise, etc.) then why you're getting up in arms about IR requiring others to meet these same standards is confusing to me - especially since you make no bones about the fact that YOU will not be using their service.

Victoria Strauss said...

Zoe Winters said,

Fair enough on all points except for "IR setting itself up in the place of a publisher." I don't really feel like that's what they're doing. Rather they're creating a "curated bookstore" trying to get a lot of the "good self-pubbed work" in one place.

I agree with this. I see IR as similar to a distributor. Reputable distributors (as opposed to wholesalers like Ingram or Baker & Taylor) "curate" their offerings too. Publishers can't just sign up for distribution; they have to pass a vetting process first. I see IR as doing something similar to this for self-pubbed books in an online setting.

BuffySquirrel said,

It isn't relevant whether or not IR can 'threaten' anyone; what's coming across to me is outrage at the mere 'threat' of being expected to write correctly.

I agree about the outrage; some (though by no means all) of the comments and posts I've seen about IndieReader are very angry indeed. But I don't think it's about being expected to write correctly--I think it's about the very concept of gatekeeping, which is anathema to self-published authors who see themselves as working outside an elitist system and letting the readers do the deciding about what sinks and what rises. For me, there are major flaws in these arguments, which I think place way too much faith in the wisdom of crowds (an oxymoron, in my opinion)--but I think the anger about gatekeeping is an ideological issue, rather than a wholesale rejection of quality standards.

Ann Somerville said,

More to the point, if I'm listing my books as having been 'vetted', I expect that vetting to be done to a higher standard than basic spelling, grammar and content. The consumer will expect that these books cross a higher bar than that too.

I completely agree with this, and for me, it's one of the major stumbling blocks for IR (the other is achieving enough visibility to drive book buyers to the site). If you're going to advertise quality control as a reason for readers to use the site, the quality control has to be real and rigorous, which means pissing a lot of authors off when you tell them they're not good enough. If you loosen the standards in an effort to be more inclusive, you risk book buyers feeling that you aren't fulfilling your promises. Whether or not readers reject publishers on the basis of a couple of bad books, you can bet they will reject a service on the basis of a couple of bad experiences. If IR advertises quality control and fails to deliver it in a meaningful way, there will be no reason for readers to use the site.

As to fees--I'm a bit boggled as to why that has become such an issue. Ms. Edelman clearly has a vision, and I believe that her intent is to do some good--but she also wants to run a business and make money. So what? In what universe must she be so altruistic that she offers the service for free? I constantly get questions from self-published authors who are considering spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on worthless "promotional" services such as press release blasts or social media spamming or fake book reviews--$149 doesn't seem like such a bad deal to me (always assuming, of course, that IR succeeds, which at this point is by no means certain).

Anonymous said...

I could see hiring college interns for a kind of "first level" screening. If the book is riddled with grammar and spelling errors, it could be "kicked out" of the scrutiny early before employing any pricier judges of quality.

But if the spelling and grammar test is all the site will do, then it's not likely to really draw a lot of readers because I wouldn't serve the READER well. I've read a handful of self-published books sent to me for review and they were bad -- really bad -- and not in some subjective elitist way but more in a "what the heck are you doing" way.

Finally I just said "no self published books" because I don't want to (1) give a bad review or (2) explain on a book by book basis why I'm not reviewing THAT book.

BUT, if there were a place where I could actually find well vetted potentially good books, I would be interested in reading them. I like the idea of self-publishing but I don't have time to wade through tons of bad books. And I've learned a lot of reviews just flatly lie -- they applaud books that I then take a chance on and find out they're horrible.

So if there were a site with real vetting...not just spelling and grammar. I would (as a reader) be very interested in it. As I would like to see the "good" side of self-publishing. I would like to believe there really are good solid self-published books and I've just not managed to read one of them. But unless someone trustworthy vets them first, I just don't have time to read the slushpile of self-publishing to look for the 2% that is likely to be good.

Zoe Winters said...

ALC:

Thank you for everything you said here!

Here is the thing: I believe neither IR nor the Vault is a scam. I believe both are legitimate businesses *trying* to help indie authors. But, what I see is a lot of outrage on the part of indie authors who for whatever reason without doing too much research think they are being "scammed."

Well, I don't believe that is happening, and I believe if either or both of these ventures ultimately fail because of a few really loud voices who don't intend to use it anyway, and others "allowing" them to determine for them what is right for them, then I don't want to hear another indie author complain about how "hard it is."

Because clearly every time someone steps up and tries to *do* something about that, whether the business model is perfect or not, they get crapped on by many of the people they are *trying* to help.

There seems to be an attempt by many out there to almost shame someone and make them feel stupid or gullible if they use a self-pub related service that someone else has a problem with. To me that's a little high-handed. It's all well and good to say: "This service probably isn't for me for this and that reason." Fine. And if someone has legit proof something is a scam, fine. But when all there is is speculation and suspicion and cynicism well, I think it's a case of shooting oneself in the foot.

I self pub in SPITE of the stigma, not because of it. I would like the stigma to go away and I would like for the GOOD work to rise to the top, not only in actuality, but in the minds of others. I would like for it to be commonly recognized that hey there may be a lot of crap, but until we know you're crap we won't automatically assume it.

So anytime someone starts something up like IR or the Vault and I have a reasonable belief they are really *trying* to help, I support it.

Anna Petrakis said...

Most interesting question raised, for me:

Can the vast majority of potential readers tell whether a book is well-written or not? Does the possession of spoken English-language fluency mean that an otherwise sub-literate reader will notice infelicities of phrasing and such problems as telling rather than showing?

I don't know the answer, but it might explain the contents of the average best-seller list.

Zoe Winters said...

LMAO Anna! I think you make a good point, and I think that might be part of the fear with regards to self-publishing, and hey I don't blame people. Did you see the movie "Idiocracy?" It's a comedy, but it's also very true. We rant against authorities and gatekeepers and etc, but most people just aren't that smart, and if the majority control things like entertainment, we have a continual dumbing down until idiocy is rewarded and intelligence is punished.

I *like* to think readers are more intelligent than most other people, but if popular entertainment continues to be dumbed down, that won't be true for long.

Ann Somerville said...

"$149 doesn't seem like such a bad deal to me"

People keep quoting that figure. It's actually $149+$25+25% commission. Which commission, btw, is higher than what Lulu takes (and is on top of what your printer takes).

As I said on the Absolute Write forums, I made close to $300 selling 77 copies of an ebook in six week (which has now been picked up by a small publisher). That's not bad money for a self-pub book, for low to typical sales. Using Edelman's service, I'd have paid out $251 on those sales.

Ah hah, you say, you'd sell more through IR, so it cancels out.

Well, I doubt it, actually. My Samhain books are listed at Amazon, who justify swiping a massive 65% off the list price by the same logic. Kindle sales are only 5-10% of total for the best selling books, and yet the exposure there is huge. I sell much more through Samhain's own store because that's where the marketing push is targeted. Simply being listed on a high traffic site does nothing.

"(always assuming, of course, that IR succeeds, which at this point is by no means certain)."

No, it's really not. And if it's useless to the self-pub author, $149 is money better spent on beer and chips.

Tell me, Victoria. You defend Edelman's right to charge fees, but vanity publishers are excoriated for the same business model. Why aren't you asking IR why they don't aim to make their profits from sales? Because if their business is all that it claims to be, surely sales are where the big money is to be made.

Right?

Victoria Strauss said...

Tell me, Victoria. You defend Edelman's right to charge fees, but vanity publishers are excoriated for the same business model. Why aren't you asking IR why they don't aim to make their profits from sales? Because if their business is all that it claims to be, surely sales are where the big money is to be made.

I excoriate vanity publishers for charging fees because they misrepresent them (either by not revealing them upfront or by lying about why they're being charged or what they're for, or by pretending that they match them with their own money) and also because they tend to overcharge. I have no problem with a straightforward, fully disclosed fee-for-service arrangement, such as what the POD self-publishing companies offer--though whether such services are the right choice for any individual writer is another question.

Edelman isn't trying to be a publisher. She's proposing to provide a distribution service. I just don't see what the problem is with charging a fee for that. Her payment model isn't so different from print distributors such as NBN, which also take a cut (a pretty big cut) of every sale in exchange for the services they provide.

Whether IR is worth the money, of course, is a whole other issue. Maybe it will be; maybe it won't be. Only time will tell.

Zoe Winters said...

Ann,

Actually the $149 *includes* the $25 vetting fee. That's somewhere on the IR site's TOS or FAQ.

But you're right that it is $149 plus commission on sales. Which won't work for everybody. It just depends on someone's budget and also how they are getting their printing done.

Using LSI it would still show close to the same profit for me as I'd make through Amazon, but I can imagine it wouldn't for someone using Lulu since there is a slimmer profit margin already on Lulu.

Ann Somerville said...

"She's proposing to provide a distribution service."

Well actually, it's being pitched as a *promotion* service. So my problem is on one hand, the author is being asked to pay for promotional services - fine, that's routine. But then what's not routine, is being charged commission on sales.

I guess the flat fee to me indicates a lack of faith in the effectiveness of the promotional product, in which, by taking commissions, Edelman apparently has a stake.

And since we're only talking about a listing site, and the promotional efforts are, by Edelman's own admissions, going to be towards making the *site* well known rather than any individual book, I think that lack of faith is probably justified. Books aren't sold by advertising the store they're sold in.

Ann Somerville said...

"The yearly fee is the same no matter how many books you list with us; however a $25 submission fee will be assessed for every book after the first."

Neither of us were completely right.

$149 annual fee? That's a lot.

Victoria Strauss said...

Ann said,

Books aren't sold by advertising the store they're sold in.

I'm not sure I agree. If no one knows the retailer exists, no one's going to visit it. But if the retailer can advertise itself as providing some sort of unique service, it can draw consumers interested in that service, which in turn benefits the retailer's products. Anonymous 1:57's comment demonstrates how that might work for IR.

I've been thinking about it, and you have a point about the fee-plus-commission. For me it's still not a deal-breaker, but it does point up the risk writers may be taking by signing up with IR before it has proven itself.

Zoe Winters said...

Ann, that's true, it's $25 per book, but for the first book it's included in that fee. It might be less confusing for everyone if it was $25 per book vetting fee, and then the listing fee completely separate from that and make it clear that it's "per author" instead of "per book."

I have mixed feelings about listing fee plus commission, if only for the fact that depending on what company someone uses to get their books printed, the commission could cut completely into profit. And the reason I feel *that* could be bad is that some authors who might be good enough might not even bother with IR because it wouldn't work for them on that level.

I don't mind doing order fulfillment myself, but it would seem that a listing fee would suffice in that scenario. And I hate agreeing with you on this point, and not because you're Ann, LOL, but because I want to see IR succeed. It is not a perfect model and I think the only way the model will improve is through trial and error.

Ann Somerville said...

"But if the retailer can advertise itself as providing some sort of unique service, it can draw consumers interested in that service."

Of course, and for specialist markets, that's especially true. If IR were aiming at specialist books - eg technical manuals, or SF, or some specific genre say - then their argument would become a lot more compelling.

BUT - how long does it take to build up a presence on the internet? How long did it take Amazon, and now you *do* have Amazon, the 800 pound gorilla, how do you compete with that?

I'm also completely unaware of any pentup demand in the consumer market for self-pubbed books - even in my tiny niche subgenre of m/m, people just aren't interested in self-pubs even though the books certainly exist, *unless* the author already has an audience (which they often do through things like fanfiction.) If you're talking potential mainstream genres, which a lot of self-pubbed stuff aims to be, then why would consumers go looking for books which are inevitably more expensive than New York products, and which have a much greater risk of being dire? (I don't even buy NY books because the quality is so low.)

And finally, even if you establish your site as a big player. Even if there is that pent up demand. It doesn't mean any books listed on that site benefit. My Samhain books are listed on Amazon as Kindle books - but sales on Amazon make up as little as 1% of my total (no more than 10% at best, in sales, and much less in royalties.) The vast majority are on the publisher's site because that's where the books are marketed most heavily (and it suits me because I get a much bigger cut through Samhain's store.) Even with the huge potential exposure of Amazon, the sales go to where the books are pitched.

I guess that's why IR have that clause about not taking "any action to discourage customers from making purchases on the website" because the profit of selling through IR will be higher, inevitably. If an author still has to market her own book heavily (and she will because everyone does) where would it make most sense to send people to buy the thing? To IR which takes their 25% cut on top, or say, to her Lulu store?

Once you've hooked the reader, *where* they order the book becomes irrelevant.

If IR were setting up a chain of bricks and mortar stores, then we'd be having a different discussion.

Look - if IR succeeded, I'd be happy to chow down on crow, despite Edelman's atrocious behaviour to me personally. Anything which gets *good* books out to readers, is fine by me, and god knows NY publishing is not the last word on what is a good book. But you keep saying that we need to see how it goes, and what I'm saying is that the approach has inbuilt failure, and I don't believe Edelman knows enough about how self-pub authors work, or how readers of their product think, to make this a success.

Zoe Winters said...

My hope is that if IR doesn't work as it's set up now, that Amy will respond to that by tweaking her model so that it does work. In my experience with her, Amy is a very nice person with the right motivations. (And she was that way despite me giving her a hard time at first on the Publish. Ren. site) That doesn't mean IR will succeed, but I hope it does.

While you may have perceived her as being rude, she wasn't prepared for the way she was approached with so much automatic suspicion on Smart Bitches. She's human, like the rest of us. We all screw up. We all say things we shouldn't say *lord knows I do that with probably unparalleled frequency*

We all have bad days, or bad hours, or bad whatever, and unfortunately anything we say on the internet will come back and bite us on the ass forever. You know this as well.

The most a lot of us can really hope for is that someone else says something infinitely more stupid or mean so that our goofiness blends into the background of the noise.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I just had to share this because I think that it is relevant to the discussion. Since I own my own imprint and am legally registered as a publisher, I get these in my business email box almost weekly:

NEARLY 35,000 LIBRARIANS...
UP TO 3200 INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES...
AND FREE LISTINGS!
The Deadline for your FREE Bonus Month(s) in REVIEW DIRECT is JUNE 30th

BUY 3 OR 6 MONTHS, GET 1 MONTH FREE

BUY 12 MONTHS, GET 2 MONTHS FREE!

Plus, Save an additional $26 to $162 When You Register Online

Visit www.BookReviewDirect.com, choose your desired package,and save $26 to $162 by purchasing your package and entering your book information online as opposed to the manual registration form.

Jenkins Group offers an opportunity to introduce your book to nearly 35,000 public and university librarians and up to 3200 independent bookstores in the United States through our monthly Review Direct e-newsletter. Each monthly newsletter features a link to a PDF document where your title listing will appear. Each title listing will feature a front cover image, your 90-100 word description, basic bibliographic details, and your contact information so that interested parties can connect with you directly to learn more about your title or even to make a purchase!

Independent Bookstore Review Direct
Your title listing will include an image of your front cover, your 100-word description of your title, basic bibliographic details, and your contact information so that interested parties may contact you directly for additional information.
REGULAR PRICING: 1x = $175 3x = $420 6x = $735 12x = $1050
ONLINE REGISTRATION: 1x = $149 3x = $357 6x = $624 12x = $888 (plus one or two free months for multiple runs)

Librarian Review Direct
Again, your title listing will include a front cover image, your 100-word description, basic bibliographic details, and your contact information.
REGULAR PRICING: 1x = $175 3x = $420 6x = $735 12x = $1050
ONLINE REGISTRATION: 1x = $149 3x = $357 6x = $624 12x = $888 (plus one or two free months for multiple runs)

Review Direct Combo Package
Take complete advantage of your title listing and your marketing dollars. Place your title listing in both the independent bookstore newsletter and librarian newsletter at once, and take advantage of additional discounts.
REGULAR PRICING: 1x = $275 3x = $660 6x = $1,155 12x = $1650
ONLINE REGISTRATION: 1x = $249 3x = $597 6x = $1044 12x = $1488 (plus one or two free months for multiple runs)
--
Interesting, no doubt.

ALC said...

While I'm still a bit put off by Ann's ire at IR (apparently due primarily to a personal issue w/ the proprietor - yes, I know, you hate, hate, hate her business model as well), I DO agree with her point that the business would stand a far greater chance of success if it were to focus on a particular genre. This makes sense. If you focus on the genre with which you are most familiar & enjoy the most, you'll do a far better job of assessing the quality of the work. You'll also have better luck finding people you can trust to make good judgement calls.

I wouldn't want to have to take a chance on finding someone else to weed through the slush of a genre with which I am completely unfamiliar.

Also, focusing on a specific genre would make promoting the site easier.

I have not self-published so I would not be able to determine just how much the whole comish' issue would affect profit. Perhaps IR should consider asking for a much smaller comish'???

Either way, it still seems that it is up to the individual to decide whether or not they want to use the service & unless one can prove fraud or scam one can easily point out the negatives without open hostility.

Actually, pointing out the pros & cons & saying "this isn't for me because..." without all the hostility would be far more effective. As it stands all of the rage is bordering on "bullying". It's quite a turn-off. Perhaps that's why I, personally, feel more inclined to give IR the benefit of the doubt & wish it great luck & good fortune.

Ann Somerville said...

Speaking of genre specific listings, this might be more successful because it's targeting a group of readers already happy to use online resources:

http://www.free-press-release.com/news/200906/1245919505.html

Not self-pubbed focused, but in a way that's good as there's no distinction made. I'm not a member of this group, and not sure I want to be, so I'm not mentioning this for any reason other than it being an example of what I'm talking about.

@ALC "yes, I know, you hate, hate, hate her business model as well"

Let's be clear. I hated the business model *first*. I got *angry* when I was accused of wanting something for nothing because I had the nerve to question the high fees of this service, for what I perceived as little benefit. Edelman made a huge faux pas in doing that and a number of people warned her about it - didn't stop her carrying on as if the opinions and reputation of the very people she is targeting, means sweet FA.

My 'rage' is frustration at the obfuscation - and personal attacks - and also, as an actual self-pubbed author, of seeing yet another venture apparently aimed at exploiting the dream of becoming a writer. When you're an author, it seems everyone wants a piece of you. If you're a good writer, and you're published, you have to toe the company and editor line, or they used their contract to make you. If you're a bad writer, then scammers swarm around trying to keep you deluded and poor.

And if you're a good writer and *self-published*, then you still have to contend with people like Edelman telling you what you think and how you want to do business. Which goes down like a cup of cold sick with people like me. I'm just control and authority averse, and I accept nothing at face value. Ever.

Mary Kuhner said...

It seems to me that everyone is looking at this from the writers' point of view. But if a site is going to sell books, its appeal to readers is more important than its appeal to writers.

So: What do we *as readers* need from a site like this?

I know that I, personally, don't want to look at unfiltered unpublished manuscripts. I was a member of a large SF reviewing site (Critters) for several years. While I read some wonderful stories, it was not, in general, a good place to go for recreational reading: 95% of the stories were somewhere between mediocre and truly awful. I have had much better success with published stories.

So, as a reader I personally want some filtering, to get rid of the truly awful. I particularly want filtering to get rid of awfulness that isn't visible on the first page. I can perhaps filter on first pages myself, but if I read a whole novel only to find the author can do beginning and middle but is clueless about ending, that's a lot of my precious reading time down the drain.

I also, as a reader, am only interested in a few genres. I would like the books categorized so that I can quickly identify the ones I might be interested in. I know I miss out on some potentially good books that way, but life is short, books are abundant, and I have to make choices somehow.

I'd be willing to pay for this type of filtering. I am not, demonstrably, willing to pay *anything* for self-published books that are not filtered. I'm not generally even willing to look at them for free.

Any business model needs to hook in readers. Maybe I'm not the target reader, but then, who is she and what does she want? That's the big question here.

Mary Kuhner

Zoe Winters said...

Those are very good points, Mary.

ALC said...

Ann said: And if you're a good writer and *self-published*, then you still have to contend with people like Edelman telling you what you think and how you want to do business.

Uh, no, she's not telling "you" how to do business. She can set the standards for material offered on her site. She has that right whether she charges for her service or not. Her rules & standards only apply to those who are interested in using her service.

It blows my mind that a self-published author can get so up in arms about a site having "gate-keepers" (standards).

This is a completely separate issue from a business charging for its services.

The reason that I don't have a problem with the fees??? Because when scammers do it they are using deception & misrepresentation. They claim that their fees are either the norm (such as in acquiring agent representation- completely false) or they say they will provide a tangible product (such as 1,000 quality,edited copies of your novel) & then don't.

Self-publishing, itself, is still growing & developing. Sites which are exlusively representing self-published work (printed & bound, anyway) are still relatively new. The norms aren't carved in stone yet (& probably won't be for some time to come).

I, as a reader/consumer, personally welcome sites that offer even the most rudimentary gatekeeping. Anything is better than nothing at this point. I have yet to find an excerpt from work in a genre that interests me that was decent enough to encourage me to buy.

Even those without excerpts usually offer descriptions of the story. If their descriptions sound completely ludicrous, ill-thought through or even just plain dull, then I'm certainly not going to purchase. If the writer can't offer a decently worded description of their own work (I'm constantly amazed at the vague, generalized, hackneyed cliches used in the story descriptions - yikes!!!!) then why on Earth would I assume that their novel would be decent enough to read?

This is what I've come to after perusing hundreds of titles on Lulu. I keep going back looking for that gem, but nothing so far.

I did find one that was so horrible I thought it would be fun to read, but I refuse to pay that kind of money for it because I'm not going to reward bad writing.

If there's a site out there that can weed through the crap FOR me, I welcome it.

Oh, & before we go on & on about IR not being able to deliver on what it's offering: That is an assumption, first & foremost, that will only be proven by the test of time. Also, IR is basically dealing in intangibles. The value of an intangible is pretty much interpreted by the user. What may be deemed great in value to one may not to another. It's all in what you're really after. If you're satisfied with only making $300 in profit for a novel you've taken the time & effort to write, edit, polish & self-produce, that's great! It may sound like a lot to less successful self-published writers. It may sound like a wasted effort to a successful, mainstream writer. Again, it's all in how you look at things.

You see IR as a waste of money & not worth your time. Someone else may see it as perfect for their needs. Either way. Like or dislike, the business's fees are legitimate (no matter how high - the market determines whether or not the price is too high. If it IS too high, there won't be any takers. If it's not, then plenty of people will get on board.)

The pioneers will set the beginning standards. The successful ones will make it work, the unsuccessful ones will either revamp or fizzle & fade.

Yahzi said...

I have to agree with Ann Somerville: IR cannot be successful.

They want a 25% cut. Given the price of POD Demand, this means books bought at IR will simply Cost Too Much. POD already struggles to compete with mainstream, and it won't be an honestly viable alternative until the price difference is measured in pennies. Adding another layer of expenses on top of that is just... auto-fail.

ALC said...

Yahzi, you make an excellent point.

Hopefully, IR will adjust its business model to make it more appealing to self-pub authors. (Again, the market will determine the price & IR will surely adjust to survive or it will fail.)

Another suggestion to IR - I'm not certain whether or not IR intends to return copies to authors whose books are rejected (I certainly hope so). I would hope that the cost of returning the author's copy of his/her book would be included in the $25 fee.