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Opinion: If Indieland Must Have Gatekeepers… By Dan Holloway

Opinion: If Indieland Must Have Gatekeepers… by Dan Holloway

Dan Holloway, indie author and performance poetIndie author and poet Dan Holloway considers whether it’s possible to implement quality control standards in the world of self-publishing without changing the nature of the indie community.

Whatever meteorological metaphor you use to describe the proliferation of self-published titles, if you are a serious-minded self-publisher you will probably be relieved at the growth of websites that promise to sort out the very best from the tsunami/flood/avalanche/deluge of also-rans. Sites like Awesome Indies and Compulsion Reads do what all the best inventions are supposed to do. They have identified a problem (lack of quality control amongst self-published books), and they have solved it. Win for readers. Win for authors.

I have to say, I am full of admiration for anyone who is prepared to tackle such a controversial problem head on, and the people behind these sites work tirelessly for the benefit of authors and readers.

How Can Quality Be Judged?

I want to say something about the metrics used for judging quality, though. If you’re like me then your first thought is probably “how on earth would you do that?” Awesome Indies and Compulsion Reads take very similar approaches. In addition to proofreading requirements, they emphasise the mechanics of the writing – plot, pace, and characterisation.

The problem is, as the old adage sort of goes “measures are great at measuring what measures measure.” In which case, quality control sites have to answer one key question – what is it that readers really want, that self-publishing in its state of nature doesn’t give them? What do they look for in a book?

Now, I wouldn’t begin to answer that question. There are as many criteria as there are readers. Or quite a few, anyway. And, unless I’m unique as a reader then not all of them are quantifiable. I should add at this point that Awesome Indies at least have taken the brave step to expand their criteria for certain genres so as to recognise that “good” means different things in different contexts.

Why I’m an Indie

What I want to do is offer two observations. First, I am “indie” for a reason. A reason that has to do in equal parts with awkwardness, nicheness, overwheening artistic vanity, an outsider complex, a passionate belief that no one knows my readers better than me, and an equally passionate belief that art cannot be distilled to quantifiables or commodity status. I believe as though my life depended upon it in the priority of the subjective over the objective, and that the most important thing about a book is that it speaks to me at the deepest level. That is why I look for new books to people I know share my taste. We mustn’t replicate what we became indie to escape – we have a tabula rasa and should use it to celebrate the rich panoply of values and experiences in our new land. If we keep too many gates, we are in danger of forcing some of the most original voices to move out of Indieland in search of yet another frontier.

The Disparate Nature of Indies

Second, the power of the indie community is its fragmentedness. It is wonderful to have places where we can all hang out and share, but what makes hanging out and sharing so exciting is that we are all so different and bring such diverse creative values and styles to the meeting. To do justice to the indie community, we can’t treat it as such – a single community with a single way of doing things. We don’t want to build a mall, we want to build a bustling market full of the myriad sensual treats of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. And that means not claiming to single out “the best” as though the best saffron were the same as the best silk hijab. It means celebrating the differences and championing “the best” within each very small section, acknowledging that it will mean different things for each.

The great thing about indies is that one size doesn’t fit all, that there is no one stop shop, and if we’re going to do justice to the landscape of Indieland and the readers who’d like it here then our showcases must reflect that, must be unafraid to be subjective, to be our trusted friend rather than our quantifying teacher, and must be proud of their limitations of scope. Those things aren’t weaknesses. They’re the key to our success.

 

Dan Holloway

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, which has appeared at festivals and fringes from Manchester to Stoke Newington. In 2010 he was the winner of the 100th episode of the international spoken prose event Literary Death Match, and earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transparency-Sutures-Dan-Holloway-ebook/dp/B01A6YAA40

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  1. Hi Dan-

    I am a little late to this discussion but I was interested in your blog about “gatekeepers” and I agree with much of what you said.

    At indieBRAG, LLC we consider ourselves gatekeepers in a sense, but we have a somewhat unique approach. There are indeed many incredible indie books available today – but the obvious challenge is how does the reading public find them in the huge heap of substandard books? Unquestionably, these poorly written books engender the disparaging comments leveled against all self-published books.

    While measuring the quality of self-published books is problematic, our solution has been to let readers decide. And while you might argue that amazon reviews and Goodreads do just that, I think you would agree that these reviews have often been manipulated by both readers and authors alike and, therefore, cannot always be trusted.

    At indieBRAG, we have gathered a group of over 200 avid readers – not necessarily publishing professionals or literary experts, simply everyday people who love to read books. We believe they more closely represent the reading public who actually buy books, rather than the critics and experts who review them. We ask our readers to judge the merits of an indie book based on a basic list of criteria such as editing, plot, etc., but the most important question they must answer for us is –“Is this a book you would recommend to your best friend?” This allows them to look for the uniqueness and creativity that you mention. We honor self-published books in every genre –from historic fiction to paranormal and if you are interested, you can learn more about us at our website, http://www.bragmedallion.com.

    In summary, we believe that while the mechanics of writing a book are important, it is the artistry, or the heart and soul of a book that are perhaps even more critical measure of its quality and value. So if a reader is looking for a book that other readers feel is well worth their time and money, all he or she has to do is find one with the B.R.A.G.Medallion!

  2. I’m truly enjoying the design and layout of your blog.
    It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant
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  3. sounds like some are using clever marketing strategies to appeal to a writers ego=the site will define the standards and if u get their approval ur ego is stroked and u become a member of the elite. Its all bs of course. Its intention is to make $$$ at some stage & i don’t blame anyone trying to make a living.
    I write for a niche market, accept readers comments gracefully & am grateful that they took the time. They are my reader review. Also there are other writers around to whom I submit ongoing work for comment, critique, & suggestions. Just a suggestion [& not a new one]. Perhaps if the writer has other writer friends they can peer review.
    Plus in my niche there are indie publishers who offer the above supports to new and ongoing writers.
    Imo, we don’t need gatekeepers and we ought to thoroughly canvass the field b4 committing $$$ only to get graded on a 1-10 scale or by some other writer’s standards. There are no rules anymore. We are creating a whole new mode of writing, and delivery.

    1. I think you’ve put your finger on something really important, the increasing need for writers who self-publish to do a lot of research before they start taking steps – it used to be that we just had to look out for vanity publishers, and things like Yog’s Law or a quick trip to Writer Beware and Predators & Editors would do teh trick – now we have to reserach in a wide array of fields to find not just those places with honourable intentions, but those places that are a good fit for us and our writing

  4. Each word in the expression “implement quality control standards” carries a lot of weight. Each contributor to the ‘system’, i.e., writer/creator, reader/consumer, helper/facilitator, use quality criteria to guide their choice of what to write, read, facilitate (e.g., publish, review, etc.). The extent to which the quality critera of contributors is congruent determines the relative ‘perfection’ of the system at any given time. Unlike manufactured widgets, quality assessments of creative works depend upon subjective judgement moreso than objective measurement. Subjective judgement about ‘quality’ usually (not always) improves with experience and is influenced by cultural changes, (such as technology enabling self publishing). The ‘system’ is dynamic in that the contributors interact and inflence judgements about quality, (sometimes irrationally). I think that self publishing has perturbed the system leading to the present concern over quality, (imperfection ).

    1. “The extent to which the quality critera of contributors is congruent determines the relative ‘perfection’ of the system at any given time”
      I think that’s an important point – and at the moment, as you say, these criteria have been misaligned by a perturbation in the system and it’s a question of multiplpe iterations until they resettle into a variety of better functioning models

  5. This is a great article with some interesting points. I love the idea of the bazaar-like market place.

    I do think there should be some kind of system in place, but I’m not sure reviews are the answer. Categories may offer the answer: a broad label that, rather than define the book, gives it an appropriate placement. For example: Appropriate reader age, style and subject. A book should be able to have many categories to define it correctly. Often two pre-defined choices are not enough.

    There is a problem with reviewing art, especially when it comes to fiction. Reviewers, readers and authors make the same mistakes in that area because opinion is varied. Any piece of art is due for a bad review in the hands of the wrong reader, just as any review is bad in the eyes of the wrong reader.

    You could say: Slaughterhouse 5 is childish, and be both right and wrong.

    You could say: Gulliver’s Travels is obscene, and be both right and wrong.

    In different hands, any book is good and bad.

    Reviews by their very nature are opinion. Objectivity in any review is marred by personal taste, politics or profit.

    For line editing, there are rules, but what if an author breaks them? Adverbs, for example—yes, I don’t like to see them overused/misused either, but readers and writers have been happy with them for centuries, certainly in the romance genre. Bestsellers still abuse them with no problem at all.

    At what point do you call a book trash based on its wording? The English language is a living thing. It evolves over time and constantly changes. There are guides and rules we can follow, but language is a life form. It will never remain the same. One man’s typo could be another’s linguistic evolution.

    In the same light, a young teen author may write with appalling grammar, but what they have to say may be a revelation. Should that talent be hindered in their youth because they haven’t learnt the rules yet, or should it be nurtured into something greater? I’d prefer to see more of the latter and less nastiness in the industry overall.

    When it comes to book sales: popular fiction will always beat literary fiction as more people want to be entertained than enlightened. Not all, of course. But at the end of a hard day, entertainment is a release, an escape from reality. More people enjoy that, especially younger readers.

    On reviews: They are opinion, one person’s opinion. The online ‘authority’ system for reviews is messy. The biggest spammer wins. The more reviews, the more power they have. The system is hinky. The best book reviewer should be the best book reviewer, not the one who reviews more toilet roll brands than another (yes, I’ve seen that happen).

    But then, all the readers I’ve spoken to don’t read reviews at all. Reviews are only important to book stores because social activity on their websites makes them rank higher in search engines (online marketing). So we all do the review dance to top their ranking lists like puppets on a string.

    I find that giving my books out as free beta reads to actual readers months before a book is released provides me with honest feedback from the kind of readers who enjoy what I write. I’m fully aware that not everyone would enjoy what I write, and I’m happy that a small pocket of readers do. And if I do something wrong, they tell me to sort it out. They rarely notice if my conflict is driven in each chapter or my adverbs are OTT, but they do tell me: ‘This chapter is boring.’ or ‘I don’t like that character.’ I can use that information to find the flaw and edit it out before a release.

    In my experience, real readers don’t review unless you beg them in a rather unflattering manner. Authors review, reviewers review and readers just read. I personally believe that the entire review system is devalued by that fact. Authority reviewers, those with widely read and respected opinions, would be more relevant for both readers and authors than masses of personal opinon, but that’s not how the online systems works. The online system is built to benefit the book store. Well, why not? It’s built by the book store.

    For quality control, the readers need to decide. Not the book stores, not the publisher, not the authors and not the reviewers. Power should and does belong to the readers. They gain nothing (other than a book) by buying one book rather than another. Book sales figures define what readers find acceptable. So perhaps, a readers choice is the best option. Get them involved in deciding what they want to see and what they don’t.

    None of the systems in place are perfect, but everything evolves. I think as a group, indies need to create a better system, one that is ethical, nurturing and completely non-profit to keep it honest. 🙂

  6. There have been several convoluted discussions about indie quality control over on Goodreads of late… They all seem to boil down to people getting upset about the overflow of self-published trash they have to wade through to find the self-published gems… Well, yeah, that’s kind of what you get when the means of production become cheap and ubiquitous: everyone writes a book and peddles it. But banding together to push their own agendas as gatekeepers just seems like another club.

    So I went ahead and rolled my own approval system: http://smashed-rat-on-press.com/srop-approval.html

  7. As well as being an indie author myself, I also offer reviews – both through my website, GoodReads and via Awesome Indies.
    Firstly, what I look for in a book is readability. I always approach a book as a reader, not a writer. A huge problem for me as a reader is the amount of books I have paid for that are absolute rubbish – and I wonder how a book could ever have been published in such a state.
    One of my saddest moments, recently, was in reading a review on a book I was considering for purchase, only to see the reviewer had written that this poor standard was what would be expected from an indie author. Unfortunately, I come across this kind of comment more and more.
    For me, sites like Awesome Indies and Compulsion reads, as well as IndieBragg are so very important in attempting to avoid that stigma.
    I wholeheartedly agree that we cannot put independent authors into a box – I myself would hate to be pigeon holed or told what to write. I received a review recently, slamming my last book simply because they didn’t like the timeline …. other readers love this approach. I never base a review on such subjective preferences, but always try to base it on the book’s merit … it’s not the author’s fault if it’s not my particular cup of tea.
    The questions I ask are:
    Is it well written? Can I understand it? Has it been proof read? Does it hold up on the editing front? (And by editing, I don’t mean a set of died in the wool rigid formats – however, there are some rules that simply cannot be dispensed with if it is a quality read we want). Independence does not want to be confused with sloppiness … the work I do in helping to promote and review my fellow indies is to avoid that very confusion.
    It seems to me that Indie publishing is threatened from two sides:
    On the one hand, appalling books are giving us so much stigma that if left unchecked then eventually nobody will by indie.
    On the other hand, it would be far too easy to regulate the ‘indiependence’ out of indie.
    I am striving to find the balance, and it is not always easy.
    So yes, when I read a book for review, I will always look at it’s structure, and assess it’s basic editing and proofing standards. I will also pay close attention to the story. I don’t read a book looking for mistakes, but I do pay attention to how many times such issues pull me out of the fiction. I don’t mark it down just because I might not be drawn to that particular genre, and in this case objectivity is vital.
    As for ‘paying for reviews’ – this is something I do not, and will not, hold any truck with, ever. It makes a mockery of the whole review process. I haven’t checked out Compulsion reads, but I can say with some authority that Awesome Indies does not charge for any review. Any fees listed, are for priority in the very long queue – nothing more. In fact, the latest priority review I gave only merited a weak 3 stars. I did not even consider the fact that the author had paid for the faster service when I read the book or wrote down my thoughts – that was entirely irrelevant to the whole process. If any site or person ever demands that you pay for a review – as opposed to paying for priority in the queue (much like private health care in the UK) – then avoid it like the plague.
    Sorry this is so long winded – I’ll shut up now 🙂

    1. Harmony, I agree with your last point, about running away, but not because those sites would not provide a good critique review but because the author should think twice before putting that 5star (if he got one) on Amazon or Goodreads. If it is a critique service, there are peer-reviews groups that do that for free, among established authors (an example is critters.org) but sporting a good review from a site that readers can visit and verify that an author has to pay to be reviewed… well, frankly it’s a waste of money if the goal is to flash that banner/seal/accolade with readers: their final take is always “this author buys good reviews.”

    2. A book can be well-written without being to your taste.

      I have read a few books completely out of my usual genres simply because they were well written. It is easy to dismiss books outside my genre when they are poorly written – and it only takes a small sample of the writing to figure that out.

      As to poorly-written books IN my favorite genres, well, there are so many good books there, I don’t have to read the others.

      So it is with many readers – I love reading the negative comments on books, both before I buy, and after I’ve formed my own opinions.

      But as a writer who will later depend on those same readers’ opinions, I’m not making myself an easy target by leaving negative reviews anywhere in the world. This means that I don’t leave a review at all if I can’t honestly give a book 4 or 5 stars.

      This doesn’t make me a good reviewer, and for that I’m sorry. I am grateful for all the people who DO put their negative opinions out for me to see – though I check them out before trusting them. If I see several reviews pointing out a common flaw, I may check the sample out, but often don’t. Too many books, too little time.

    3. I agree, Harmony that there is a big difference between a site where you have to pay to get a review and one where reviews are free and payment is an optional extra for those who want speedy processing. If everyone has to pay to have their book considered for a ‘gatekeeper site’ then it’s a little suspicious.

      1. Hi Thalia,
        I’ve noted your coordinates and, I’m thinking , I would value your advice.
        I’ll contact you via your website when I’ve thought it through.
        I’m a first time indie author with one book published, so far.
        I’m writing the sequel as part of the my participation in the 2013 NaNoWriMo event.

    4. Yes, it’s a very difficult balance. As I’ve said in several comments above, I’ve no problem with sites catering to any kind of readers’ preference – I just wish there was more honesty about the fact that it is simply a preference, and that sites wouldn’t say they are seeknig out the “best of indie” or the equivalent, as though implying that their concept of what a reader should find good or bad in a book takes priority over someone else’s – 2this is what we look for – if that’s what you like too then come on over” – that does nicely. Any more and it sounds like marketing the author and not sevring the reader – and that I do have a problem with

      1. Dan,
        I like your comments and the ideas that underlie them.
        Somehow, as I think about arbiters of “all things good”, an old expression comes to mind..”Who died and made you king?”
        In that context, I value (subjectively) experienced, tested, people with reputations as a ‘good judges who consistently renders good judgements’.
        It took hundreds of years for societies to develop justice systems (judges rendering judgements) that ‘worked’ for most of the people most of the time. We continue to live with dissenting views even there.

  8. Hi Dan: I have been an Indie author/publisher (Frugal Marketer Publishing,) since 1995.This was the best and fastest way for me to go for my small business books as a marketing councilor. I wrote, produced and marketed them physically; not sitting in my office and being a “virtual” publisher. I drove 6,500 miles around the USA at book-signings, lectures and performing seminars that I had setup. I sold the books at $19.95, out of my truck, and made more true friends on a personal handshake, than on Facebook.Bowker and Ingram helped me a great deal with libraries and schools. Kirkus and the American Marketing Association reviewed my books without being paid. .

    It’s the POLITICS. Quality, like Art is in the heart and mind if the Beholder and the Reader. No one has the Right to Tell an author what to write or How to write their books. That is the author’s choice. A trade publisher has the right to make their business decisions. It’s a matter of CONTRO and METRICS. That’s what so-called genres do. They try to guide a reader to the type of literature that interests them. The burgeoning Indie Publishing business made possible worldwode from my home/office sounds a future death knell for the paper/cover power houses. It is predicted that all textbooks will be available on reading devices by 2023, This gives ulcers to the management of standard poublishers..

    Only readers, and our wonderful, vast, blessed audiences have the individual Right to Judge on their own personal subjective feelings, whether a story, or information is worthwhile to them in exchange for their time.and money.Their weapon is a personal review that can cut both ways. Indie authors must learn to utilize any and all marketing methods that they can obtain or create. If you don’t absolutely love it, then it’s just a hobby, and that’s O.K. too.

    .Thanks for your great thoughts Dan, Best of success.

  9. Well put, Dan. This is why the Awesome Indies not only has you as our experimental fiction reviewer with your own criteria for inclusion in that page of the site, but we (or I, at least) also do our very best as reviewers to recognize that different authors are trying to do different things and to evaluate their books according to what they are intending to do, rather than what we think they should be doing. It’s not easy, and it’s probably the cause of the occasional differences of opinion our reviewers have, but in the end we bow to what we think readers want and that is a good read.

  10. Just a sideways observation here: The test of “What do readers want?” is weak at best because sales to readers is governed by subject matter, whether for fiction or non-fiction.
    A reader who is passionate about Friesen Horses, for example, will buy a book about them whether it is well or poorly written, then decides which it is later.

  11. I love the image of the bustling market. I think that’s what we need to have and then as authors do our best to attract our readers, just like market stall holders do – with offers, sales patter and value for the readers’ hard-earned money. It should be down to the readers to decide what’s quality for them and to make their own subjective decisions. And it’s down to the writers to create books that they’re proud of and say what they want them to say.

    In the retail world there’s Marks and Spencer and Tesco where suppliers provide goods to a tried and trusted formula and customers can get their basic essentials quickly and without too much thought. But there are also the small independent shops and yes, market stalls where customers can buy a precious one off, or a distinctive, fun or eccentric item. The indie sector are mainly and probably should remain small and beautiful with a loyal customer base.

    Thanks, Dan for, as always, provoking me to think.

  12. I am not at all happy with Awesome Indies, Dan. Like the laughable Indie Reader, they keep changing their criterion for “membership” with the clear intention of making money out of reviewing. Check these two links

    http://awesomeindies.net/submissions/review-requests/
    http://awesomeindies.net/submissions/

    Maybe six weeks ago, they kicked out a bunch of previously Awesome Indies for not matching their new requirements – UNLESS you were a writer who was actively promoting their business, in which case they were prepared to let their new rules slide.

    As far as I am concerned, they are all about growing their business and making money and nothing at all about yer actual independence.

    1. I get that people need to cover their costs but money in general makes me deeply unhappy when it creeps too far into the arts – especially when it’s positioned between authors and readers – that seems to me to be what we went indie to get away from

  13. Hi JJ,

    I approached two ‘Indie Recommended’ reviewers and got polite ‘I’m too busy’ replies. That’s understandable. It takes a lot if time to read, think and write a review. Who has that kind of free time?

    There is a need here for those of us who need/want some kind of credible, independent validation. Hard as I try, I can’t get my readers to comment or review…the just want to read and move on.

    Maybe a buddy system would work..I’ll review you if you’ll review me…hence some kind of brokerage or market…are you there Mark Coker?

    1. a buddy system would certainly need a 3rd party broker so that no one sees the other review before writing theirs. But yes, I think a credit-type system can work well – I explored this quite a lot when I set up my first collective, having grown up in a town that uses the LETS system alongside a cash economy, whereby people gain credits by providing services, and then cash in those credits for others’ services. I think there’s mileage in investigating further

      1. A 3rd party broker for a buddy system swap is a great idea. I have done two “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” type of reviews. The first one I felt like the other writer was waiting for me to write and post first, so he knew whether or not to find mine favorable or how many stars he should give me in return. After that I was skeptical. The second time, then, someone offered me such a deal, I mentioned that experience and said I’d only do it understanding that we both want an honest review. This experience was better. But there’s still that “tit for tat,” that feeling that “I want to see what he says before I say good or bad things”. Doing it blind through a third party would be a great way to go to keep it honest and guilt-free.

    2. The danger to the buddy system of course is mutual incompatibility. I tried it some years ago, was sent a snorter and got no review in return. So, ‘Know your buddy,’ is the first requirement.

    3. “Hard as I try, I can’t get my readers to comment or review” because they just want to read and move on. You hit it on the nail!

      Even with a Like button – how hard is it to click on the Like? – few readers (except for a lovely subset – thanks, guys!) seem to feel driven to comment. Those few comments I value as gold – and are the reason I’m polishing the novel in public, so to speak, by putting up a finished scene every week.

      I’m glad to see lack of comments isn’t just MY problem – sometimes I feel as if I must be producing something entirely unacceptable by any standards. And then I get one lovely comment – and I’m back in Happyland.

      Being of the variety of reader who loves being invited to comment (the plain words ‘Leave a reply’ – really WordPress, can’t you do better? – are sufficient invitation), I’m mystified when other people don’t – I guess that’s what puts me firmly in the writer column.

      The only problem with ALL systems is the qualifications of the validators. Exchanging work with other writers is fraught. Several times I’ve had to return someone’s work because I committed overenthusiastically, only to find our standards were very different. Fortunately, they have been kind about it. So finding appropriate review buddies will be the hard part.

      1. OK. How about we just week out the 25% of schizophrenics (not a joke), the 50% of functional illiterates, and the 20+% of narcissists who do nothing in their “work” but rant in self-serving, subjective language and Mary Sue plots. At least then, readers might be able to see the one diamond lying on the bottom of the cesspool.

          1. Perfect idea – now just how are you going to execute it?

            It’s always down to ‘who is going to bell the cat?’

            I think over time people will try all kinds of validation and review methods, and some may settle down and become the, if not gatekeepers, then annointers of certain quality standards – and readers may then follow their chosen reviewer/standard/gatekeeper for advice on things they may like.

            A ‘New York Times Review of Books’ equivalent of some kind – but different ones in different genres might evolve.

            Try everything, keep what works – at least we have more control over what to try.

  14. I thought I might submit one of my books to Compulsion Reads and/or Awesome Indies and checked them both out. I see I would have to pay $79.99 and/or $104 for an endorsement and a review (or two).

    Seems to me these are just two more pay-for-review scams. I will never pay for a review. An honest paid-for review is an impossibility in my view.

    I see no mention of IndiepENdents.org which charges nothing and provides a Seal of Quality to well-written books – entirely free of charge.

    JJ

    1. Thank you for the link to IndiePENdents.org – interesting.

      ‘Quality’ is a mixture of objective standards and subjective ones.

      As to the subjective standards, one person’s ‘literary’ novel may be my ‘throw against the wall because the author has no plot to speak of, and the characters are maddening.’

      It is a bit of a minefield to take on the subjective standards, but I’m all for providing readers with a seal that says ‘this author can handle punctuation, paragraphing, and basic adverb use.’

      Having seen ‘real’ books in print or ebooks with horrible cases of objective standard failure, I’m not going to blame self-publishing, per se.

      But I agree: paying for reviews and endorsements and blurbs is just wrong. It’s like a student being required to pay a teacher for college recommendations. My better half writes a lot of those (he’s the only upper-level science teacher), spends an inordinate amount of time on them, and would never consider being paid for that work (which consumes all his free time for 4-6 weeks every Fall – he’s a very slow writer).

      As for the subjective standards, there I’m happy to let the readers be the judges: that’s what Goodreads and Amazon reviews are for. If a book has no plot, the readers who want one will complain if they don’t get it, not buy another book from that author, and sometimes demand a refund. And they can be very verbal about their likes and dislikes – which is at it should be.

      1. Great to hear from you.

        “I’m all for providing readers with a seal that says ‘this author can handle punctuation, paragraphing, and basic adverb use.’ ”
        Oh yes, I have absolutely no problems with that at all. My problems come when sites claim to offer readers the very best in indie books and then that turns out to mean
        ‘this author can handle punctuation, paragraphing, and basic adverb use.’
        when the two are VERY different – to me, that’s straightforwardly misleading, but were it’s presented for what it is, it can only be a good thing – the more sites catering to the more niches the better

        I think my personal problem (not as in “I have a problem with” but as in “I don’t see the point for me personally”) with sites that ignore the subjective is that’s just not how I buy books. I buy books based on recommendations from people I know share my taste. So I’m not quite sure what quite such a generic measure of something objective does for me as a reader – though I can see it’s not the same for all readers. Like I see we need more sites. I think the thing I really object to is sites that say they’re a one stop shop or somehow try to homogenise the unhomogeniseable or suggest that their criteria are the ones that matter – we need to celebrate the diversity of readers’ tastes and be proud of nicheness!

    2. thanks for the mention of indiePENdents – the list was more a “such as..” than all-inclusive, and I’m certainly not criticising the sites involved, more making a general point. I review experimental fiction for Awesome Indies, and was thrilled when they were open to the category and revised criteria for inclusion – i just think we need more of that – for each genre to be considered on what matters to its readers.
      I wasn’t aware of the fees, but I’ll look into that. There’s no way I’d continue to review for a site that insists on fees.

    3. Hi JJ, I’m a bit taken aback to read that you’re dismissing Compulsion Reads and Awesome Idies as “just two more pay-for-review” scams”. Did you see these recent posts on the ALLi blog describing how they operate? They include some very positive feedback from authors who have used them.

      http://selfpublishingadvice.org/how-to-use-indie-book-review-sites-to-reach-new-readers-part-1-of-2/

      http://selfpublishingadvice.org/reach-new-readers-book-evaluation-sites/

      1. Debbie, I replied to that post. Unfortunately it does not matter the feedback from authors, what matters is readers’ feedback.

        The perception is that if a site asks for money in order to get a review (as Compulsory Reads does) having a banner does not buy you readers automagically. In some cases you get the opposite result.

        Mine is not a judgment on the quality of the reviews from Compulsory Reads, I’m sure it is at the level of Awesome Indies, but a reader laugh at indie writers who wave endorsements they had to pay for (perception IS reality).

      2. Paid-for reviews are not necessarily a scam. I’ve sent books to Kirkus Indie and been very happy with the deal. The reviews there are honest and useful to authors seeking feedback (you have to wait about 3 months unless you pay a premium). If you’re lucky and worthy you might get a word of praise you can use in your blurb or back cover.

        1. Not saying this. I’m saying the general perception from readers is that they are. Kirkus and other review sites for authors seeking feedback are certainly valuable, but to the eyes of readers the author has just bought a good review, in most of the cases.

          1. I am an indie in waiting – have several books close to publishing, and in my view, the acquisition ed of the past served the reader. It’s the reader who needs to know what they’re buying and in the price of the book that they bought was included that gatekeeper’s fee.

            Today, I think readers should be buying the reviews. If I see a book, new author to me, that looks attractive on the surface and I want to know what’s available inside the cover, I’m not going to ask the author. I’m going to ask a reviewer I trust and am willing to pay for it. A book is a big investment: beyond the cover price is the read and my time has value.

    4. Respectfully disagree, JJ. The fee—if you read again—is not to buy a review, but to ask for a critical review FASTER than just waiting your turn patiently. Often, the fee you pay will get you rejected faster, too.

      None of those site SELL good review. What you pay is getting ahead of the list. Period. Their rejection rate is above 60%, and the wait is so long because of the many submission.

      So weather’ yar book’re ins’t wreetteen lik tis, ya payeay a fastr rejettion 😉

    5. “I see I would have to pay $79.99 and/or $104 for an endorsement and a review (or two).”

      This compromised situation means that any “review” they come up with is absolutely worthless for readers. Ditto any artificial spotlight that can be purchased. Totally, absolutely meaningless for readers.

  15. Dan,
    Well said. Your “Why I’m an Indie” resonates with me. Time will tell If there is wisdom in the crowd.

  16. Bravo Dan…. “We mustn’t replicate what we became indie to escape – we have a tabula rasa and should use it to celebrate the rich panoply of values and experiences in our new land. If we keep too many gates, we are in danger of forcing some of the most original voices to move out of Indieland in search of yet another frontier. – ”

    There’s the danger, there’s the rub. So are these self erected gatekeeping sites there to help the readers on the business of wheat and chaff? Or the writers needing some kind of imprimatur?

    The frontier is alarmingly looking like silence!

    1. I do accept that in a way it’s inevitable that today’s liberating revolution is tomorrow’s establishment. On the other hand, it would be wonderful to try to keep the excitement of what made the liberation so, well, liberating. And yes, I do wonder sometimes to what extent it’s readers or authors who are served

  17. Dan, you’ve put your finger on exactly the issues that make me nervous about all the recent talk of having to regulate the self-publishing explosion. This is a phenomenon often seen with new movements – the need for change generates tremendous energy to create something new and no sooner is the new out there than the need to regulate and control creeps in. Indie publishing celebrates diversity – gatekeepers are part of the old system. Readers will judge what they will put out money to read. That is the bottom line.

    1. How? Readers don’t have the time to screen 200-400,000 books annually. Right now, self-publishing reaches what tiny number of reades it does solely randomly. And, Sturgeon’s Law applies. Why should any reader waste time on self-published stuff when it’s overwhelming likely to be pure crap? (Keeping in mind that Amazon reviews are worse than worthless, and that online message boards and “book blogs” are dominated by teenagers who wouldn’t know good writing if it bit them on the ass.)

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