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IndePENdents.org: Offers Seal of Approval for Indie Books

Independents Author

Jasha Levi, who founded IndePENdents.org is his 91st year

Let no talent be lost to the chaos of the publishing explosion: that is the cri de coeur of IndiePENdents.org, “an association of self-published authors, editors, proofreaders and others interested in the future of literature” founded, in his 91st year by reader and writer, Jasha Levi.

IndiePENdents.org “evaluates independent books and recommends those that meet our basic standards of writing” and wants to take indie writing to libraries and media reviewers. ALLi (The Alliance of Independent Authors) invited Jasha in to tell us more — and how indies can support his efforts.

JASHA LEVI: A main complaint about many self-published books is that they are “crap.” We are compiling a list of self-published books that we have determined to meet our standards and that we therefore believe are NOT “crap”, but are as good as any books published by the major publishing houses. The titles and authors of these books have been compiled in a catalog that we are planning to mail to libraries around the country.Our mission is to level the playing field and open the doors to new literary talents, where traditional publishing has closed them. We do this without charging any fees and without any  commercial interest.

Our goal is to separate the well-written from the badly-written books, that is all. Talk about our “reviewing” has been misconstrued. What we do, in fact, is “evaluate”: we simply attest that the book is properly written.

We check each title against a set of standards we initially thought was very simple and clear (apparently, nothing in this world is as simple as it first appears): correct spelling, correct grammar, correct punctuation, and basic formatting.

The award of a Seal of Good Writing goes to titles that meet these basic, objective standards, established by a membership plenum in the most democratic of ways, applied in cyberspace by majority vote. Members aren’t allowed to solicit professional services in order to keep our value judgments free of any possible bias.

By using objective criteria, we remove any personal bias from the scrutiny, leaving no room for subjective taste and opinion. We deem those to be the readers’ prerogatives.

By November 2012, we’ve awarded the Seal to 24 titles, representing a variety of genres. We listed them in our first ever catalog/brochure, WELL WRITTEN, WELL EDITED, UNKNOWN BOOKS – Don’t judge the book by its publisher. This is also available in print for $8 on Amazon.

We hope to convince libraries to start offering their patrons independently produced titles, and let readers, rather than publishing business gatekeepers, decide which books the public wants to read. We would also like to use the document as our calling card to book and feature editors in all media.

The other day, we informed the membership of our newly acquired non-profit status. A few responded immediately with contributions, some with kudos. It is too early to tell if our membership is able to provide material support we need but, if  the response of people from my personal address book is any guide, the reading public feels the plight of self-published authors and is keen to connect.

In less than 12 months, indie authors from all continents have joined us. With more than 300 registered members in cyberspace across the US and all continents, the organization has reached its next level and its goals are on their way to fruition.

Fundraising

We would like to distribute the catalog to all the libraries we can reach; with a simultaneous PR effort to the media, in a quest for recognition of independent writers, this requires a substantially larger sum than the two founders can afford.

For the whole first year of the organization, Julia Petrakis (my editor and co-founder) and I have been the sole underwriters of this program in whose contribution to society and its culture we firmly believe. The indiePENdents.org became a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in December 2012. As stated in our articles of incorporation, we evaluate self-published titles without fee, and no officer is paid. Why, then, are we suddenly asking for contributions?

True to the website pledge, we do not sell or promote any services or products. The membership is free and calls  for voluntary action.

As we grow, our success calls for more expenses than two citizens of modest means can carry on their shoulders. With our growth, the cost of website maintenance, mailing lists for libraries and bookstores, envelopes, printing and postage have been increasing. We are not specifically asking members to pitch in; they are welcome to do so voluntarily, as part of the public.

In serving the cultural needs of our society, we need partners and we believe our cause is worthy of support.

Our arguments are:

  • Publishers are abandoning the role of literary scouts. We are taking it on.
  • Multinationals spend thousands of dollars to reach the public. They vouch for the quality of the books they print, but choose only those they consider as sure moneymakers. This forces many writers to self-publish.
  •  Independent authors don’t have the same financial ability to reach the eyes and ears of the public.
  • Without the word of traditional gatekeepers, librarians and readers have no way of knowing if a self-published book is any good. We intend to change that.

 

IndiePENdents is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.  Contributions can be made by PayPal to [email protected], or by check or money order to The IndiePENdents, marked for bank deposit only, and mailed to 9 Ashton Lane, Hightstown, NJ 08520. Contributions are tax-deductible in the US.

 

 

This Post Has 9 Comments
  1. I am deeply skeptical of any claim that one bad review would halt sales of any book. Especially one so obviously lacking.

  2. Wow. What a Pandora’s Box of conflicts. I think that anyone reading this column and the responses will not need exhaustive “for examples” to know that in literature beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty that arrives “poorly dressed,” “weak in construction,” “badly edited, blah, blah blah will still be beautiful to all those who read for content–and not for style.

    This is the dilemma facing Jasha Levi and his cohorts. Here, from the responses to his article is the truism we all seek, “The majority of them, however, will not be found in libraries, schools, or even bookstores, which are losing readers who would love to browse and buy the books from them but are forced to turn to other sources. The problem isn’t the future of books but of publishers, libraries, schools and bookstores.” If you can’t see it you can’t know it is beautiful, notwithstanding the Pecksniffian, hypocritical commentary of the self-aggrandizing Community College English Literature masters candidate.

    As a first-time author of fiction (lifetime career in instructional writing and teaching) I have been caught in the Amazon Trap. Upon publication I immediately received 4 or 5 4 and 5 star reviews. These came from some friends and some “beta-readers” at my request. No incentives other than a signed copy for any written review. That positive stream continued until I had reached 27 4and 5 star reviews from all walks of life. Even people who did not have interest in collector cars (central theme) or motorsports (background of the hero) people who would be expected to dislike the book, commented that they found it interesting (and well-written) even though the subject was foreign to them. Lovely comparisons were made to some of our era’s best mystery writers.

    By the time we reached 30 reviews we had a I and a 2. Understandable from the reader’s perspective. Then came a review titled UGH! and followed by the request “Please kill me if I ever read another book like this. Sales have hit a flat wall.

    Amazon in its democratic zeal for “Fair and Balanced” has positioned this review as the “most helpful” for six would-be readers. (I assume that if it was helpful one did not buy–or read the book) And it is also clear that the reviewer didn’t either. Upon pointing this out to Amazon they reply that they give their readers much latitude–in fairness.

    So why have I bored you with this typical whiny author story? Because in your quest, you will soon learn that in commerce there are 2 and only 2 paths to prominence. Great press (free) and large advertising budgets. Nothing wrong with that until the press rises to the bait and sips very expensive PAYOLA to say nice things. That’s Commerce, what about Art? Aha, in art critics rule. And who credentials critics? Why they do with resumes and such. Later Auctions confirm what we suspected./ Art is valuable and the best art is the most valuable. Critics be damned.

    In order to improve this breed you (or someone) are going to have to employ “experts” to comment on the early work. According to Amazon one negative consumer is as valuable as 27 positive reviewers. So your panel needs to vote. weak editing? What’s that? lack of stucture? What’s that. Misspelled words? Kill the author–he doesn’t have a word speller.

    While it is obvious that many errors in the craft are self-evident, what is not is their effect on the outcome. (Again we forgo the thousands of examples of technical flaws that make up colloquial manuscripts.) In other words, correct craftsmanship will not save a bad story and vice, versa Literature like Art is subjective. And you know what you like.

    Where does this end? (Puhleeze) It ends with a panel of judges who render a verdict on a point scale. We do it with the Olympics, why can’t we do it with literature. Sure is a better consumer guarantee than that lunch your agent had with your publisher, at your expense.

    So friends, let’s get Amazon (the ultimate winner when every reader did not send back a single book), to get on this case and fund the Amazon-All Star Readers. No, these are not amateurs looking to win stars in their little community so they can brag to friends. They are qualified, experienced readers who get one free book for every one they review. Thus they can go on enjoying Civil War Battles while reviewing my book, “The Duplicata.” Since they have no ax to grind they can reject a book for their review if they find it (something to be defined) and get a different book. They and the next three rejections will explain why Amazon doesn’t want to sell this book (but might)

  3. Hello everyone,
    I have always found it difficult to define “right or wrong” with any writing. Yes there is correct and incorrect if one must judge, but is it not really how understandable and enjoyable the story. I have read many stories, and by authors, if I may use the term, of “high standing” that would not necessarily pass a grammar check, yet I found the stories fun, interesting, and exciting. There is without a doubt poorly edited books, but who is to judge “quality,’ I would have to say, the readers. However, I am a putzy editor/writer, and believe that like anything else, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. My question is, is there truly a standard to measure art? I can warm up to the idea of submitting works to libraries for instance, yet who is to determine what is considered “quality?” (Hope there is some sense to these statements and questions) 

  4. I have completed a novel that is now being edited by a professional with a good track record. I want to publish on Kindle. I know about 52novel and know about front covers but but have no idea what to do afterwards. Can anyone help?

  5. It’s a minefield, isn’t it? We had similar questions raised when the Awesome Indies site started, Our list is also a way to let readers know about quality indie books. Our answer to the kind of issues raised here is to be very specific with what we are evaluating rather than use terms such as ‘well-written’, and to make sure that our evaluators have industry recognised qualifications (eg degrees in English lit, professional editing experience and so on), or have otherwise shown that they fully understand and can evaluate our criteria. The criteria are laid out clearly on the site. Although only one qualified reviewer is needed get a book on the list, it takes 3 for a book to obtain our seal of approval.

    Our criteria for spelling and punctuation says – in accordance with the author’s country of origin. Our reviewers are well aware of the differences, and consistency throughout is evaluated rather than style.

  6. I’m with Karen and Dan here. And I’m afraid spelling, punctuation and grammar can’t be judged objectively either. Are we talking about UK or US spelling? We don’t need standardisation so much as tolerance. My spelling of standardisation was just flagged up as wrong, but it isn’t. Not in the UK. Grammar? So much a question of usage. Are we boldly going where Shakespeare and Captain Kirk have gone before – or do we hate split infinitives because we’re assuming English should be structured like Latin? Microsoft Word loathes the passive voice yet it’s almost impossible to write an academic essay without it. And don’t even get me started on the minefield that is punctuation: Oxford commas anyone? This is why traditional publishers and newspapers have ‘house styles’, so that there’s a modicum of consistency. The house style manuals are very useful, but they aren’t the last word in accuracy. They just involve a set of conventions. The credentials of those doing the evaluating here bother me as well. They are said to be non-professional volunteers but who evaluates the evaluators? Formatting is another matter. But in my experience, it’s often traditional publishers who fail to check for formatting glitches. Most indies make strenuous efforts to get it right.

  7. I agree that well-written is subjective. On your website you used the phrase “properly written.” I think that’s a good phrase.

    Thank you for your efforts to show the world that many self-published books are just as good, and often better, than traditionally published works.

  8. I’m also more than a little amused at the “who’s the editor” bit. Let’s see, we’re going to take all those uncredentialed indie authors and make them magically more respectable by referring to an uncredentialed editor, since god knows there are hundreds of those hanging out shingles these days.

    Either your reviewers (sorry, evaluators) can judge “well-edited” or they can’t. If they can’t, what are they doing?

    How about cover design? Book design? All of those professionals that the indie authors may or may not have involved? Why stop with editors?

    Honest reviews are useful. Credentialing is not.

  9. The focus on libraries is great, and it would be super to have something similar in the UK, and elsewhere.
    I absolutely understand the importance of sticking to objective criteria but my worry is that the use of terms like well-written implies something else. Likewise “Without the word of traditional gatekeepers, librarians and readers have no way of knowing if a self-published book is any good. We intend to change that.” – “any good”, like “well-written” implies a subjective judgment about plot, story, readability, importance, originality, pace – a whole load of subjective criteria. I absolutely see the importance of a seal for well-edited self-published books, but would be a lot happier if the promotion of the books that meet the criteria limited itself to calling them well-edited – as soon as you start equating that with well-written is when you start first stirring up controversy and second laying yourself open to devaluing the seal when a reader claims that books on the list aren’t well-written – stick to he objective criteria throughout and this will be something of real value that people can follow-up knowing what it means

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