It will not have slipped anyone’s notice that over the last few years the number of self-published books has increased dramatically. New technology coupled with an available distribution channel allows wannabe authors to enter the market all on their own, thereby creating quite the debate about self-publishing versus traditional publishing and also about quality in books in general, the basic assumption being that self-published books are of much lower quality than those that go through the traditional publishing process.
I have invited Geri Dunlap Clouston, President of indieBRAG, to spread some light on these issues. Geri is one of those people who gives astounding amounts of her time to find and promote quality self-pub books, so I dare say she will have a lot of interesting insight to share with us.
I would also recommend that you visit the indieBRAG website and browse through all the varied books displayed there. Having read quite a few of these books, I can vouch for the fact that they are at least as good as any traditionally published book! Yay!
First of all, Geri, very welcome to Stolen Moments. I know for a fact that you’ve recently spent quite some time in England – does that mean you’re sick and tired of tea, or can I tempt you with a little cuppa? (and yes, if you insist, I do have coffee as well)
I would love a cuppa and a chat! I am home now and miss tea time terribly. I am back to American coffee only because we have an amazing -and easy- coffee machine!
Now that we got the very important subject of beverage out of the way, I’d like to start by asking you to tell us a bit about indieBRAG and why you started it.
My husband is a self-published author as are several friends. When we first started to promote his books, we were quickly overwhelmed by the number of titles self-published each year, and dismayed at the poor prospects of standing out from the masses. We thought that there must be a way for diamonds to rise to the top of the coal heap but we could not find it (not that either of us necessarily believed his books were gems but they certainly weren’t lumps of coal). We discovered that there are professional (and often costly) review sites and writing competitions. However, none seemed to provide a reader-centric source to advise the public which indie books merit the investment of their time and money. It was then we got the idea of trying to expand the concept of book clubs across a larger base of independent readers; and setting the bar simply at whether or not a reader would recommend a book to their best friend. One thing led to another and now our global reader base numbers nearly 200! (Anna’s comment: it isn’t quite as simple as all that, as B.R.A.G. readers are asked to evaluate plot, character development, narrative, formatting, presentation & overall editing. But still: a book that lives up to all these criteria is obviously a book one would recommend.)
Having read my fair share of self-pub books, I must come clean and admit that sometimes the quality in these books sucks. Is it your perception the quality in self-pub is improving? If yes, why do you think this is happening?
That is hard to say. Certainly the quality of books being submitted to indieBRAG has improved since we began our Company two years ago. However, that may be due, at least in part, to a process of self-elimination as less-talented authors discover that only about 10% of the books submitted to us are honored with our B.R.A.G. Medallion and decide to forgo submission. More broadly, I believe that the quality of indie books will gradually improve as all those who saw self-publishing as a quick way to make millions realize it is anything but, and leave writing to those with more talent and stronger dedication to their craft.
What, in your opinion, is the single most important thing for a writer to do/invest in to ensure a basic level of quality in their book?
Turning out a quality book is not easy- it takes skill and determination and hard work. While every aspect of publishing a book should be handled with the same determination and diligence that went into creating it, without question, editing is the single most important thing an indie author must do and have done to their work. And by that I am referring to more than simple spell checking. Depending on an author’s finances, at a minimum he or she should have their manuscript professionally copy edited, and preferably content edited. Too many writers rush to push that publish button: when placing the product of their many months of hard work in the public eye they should remember the old adage that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
There has been a lot of discussion about Amazon’s Kindle program allowing aspiring writers to flood the market with dross. Do you think this is a correct description?
As I mentioned before, about 90% of all the books submitted to us are rejected by our readers; and more to the point, 50% don’t even make it past our initial screen. This certainly supports the contention that the indie book market is heavily laden with dross. But without amazon’s kdp, and similar offerings, all but a tiny percentage of aspiring authors were locked out of the world of publishing. And the fact that bad indie books far outnumber the good, does not negate the reality that there are some really talented authors whose work would never have seen the light of day without amazon’s kdp and the like, as evidenced by the over two hundred excellent books we have honored on our website.
What should a reader look for when buying self-published books so as to be agreeably surprised?
A B.R.A.G. Medallion of course! (Sorry, I couldn’t help a bit of self-promotion). Having said that, other than our readers, I don’t think most people look to see who published the books they read, or even know the difference between self- and traditional publishing. Of course, this may change if and when they are burned by purchasing a really bad book and discover that it was self-published. But even then, it is very difficult to avoid this in the future because often indie authors create their own imprints that sound like traditional houses. And while there are many thoughtful and intelligent reviewers and bloggers out there, the brutal fact is that a reader can’t trust the reviews on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads, (good or bad). Just as anyone can write and publish a book, anyone can leave a review – even if they haven’t read the book. We all know the stories of trolls, sock puppeting and paid reviews. I think the best way a prospective buyer can trust any book is through word of mouth from other readers who have no vested interest in the book; and, again, in effect that is what we have tried to create.
How much do the popularity of the e-book and the growth of self-pub go hand in hand?
I think they are rapidly becoming two sides of the same coin. Just as print-on-demand technology opened up the world of printed book publishing to indie authors, e-books have made entry into the field even quicker and easier. For readers, it provides much less expensive books and the convenience of shopping anytime, anywhere and receiving the book in minutes. Finishing one book at 2 am and downloading another in minutes is becoming the new reality of book buying. And although I would not encourage this, many self-published authors are choosing to only do e-books. The downside of this is that there are still readers out there who prefer the look and feel and smell of a book in their hands.
There are a number of self-publishing providers out there who offer excellent comprehensive services to aspiring authors. Do you think that over time these providers will become far more selective as to what they actually choose to publish under their imprint, i.e. will self-publishing providers – in the interest of quality & readability – turn away prospective customers because they don’t quite meet the required standards?
That is an intriguing, and somewhat unsettling thought. If carried to its extreme, it could begin to shut the door to aspiring authors, and return the world of publishing to its former closed-door state. Indeed, as more and more traditional publishers acquire self-publishing companies it is not outside the realm of possibility. However, I don’t think self-publishers (or the traditional publishers who might own them) would want to lose the revenue that such selectivity would produce. To avoid this loss they would have to increase the fees they charge for services, which would drive aspiring authors elsewhere. However, it may eventually lead to market segmentation among self-publishers, whereby one or more companies carve out a ‘premier SP imprint ’ niche that offers an indie author a faster track to a contract with one of the big traditional publishing house.
One of the more far-reaching consequences of self-publishing is that the traditional publishing business model comes under threat. With a lot of “cheap” books on the market – especially valid for e-books – prices are generally being pushed downwards, thereby reducing overall profitability on books. What will be the consequences of this, do you think? Will traditional publishing retreat to focus on “safe bets” only, whereby the newbie authors have no choice but to go for self-publishing?
I think traditional publishers are already there. This is one reason many of them are acquiring self-publishing companies as I mentioned in the previous answer. This provides them with an opportunity to reduce their risks by offering contracts only to authors who have already proven their profit potential. I was at a book seminar this past year where a speaker from one of the traditional publishers told the audience made up mostly of self-published authors that if they have sold several thousand books and have a following, she would love to talk to them. Hardly an appealing sales pitch. I am not sure why any indie author who was that successful would be interested!
Let us assume someone sends you a manuscript to read. It’s a great read (okay, yes a couple of minor spelling mistakes) and the writer wants your advice whether to submit to an agent/publisher or go it on their own. What would you say?
Well, as you know we only consider books that are already published and commercially available, but to answer your question, I would first tell a writer to do their homework regarding both options. On one hand, I would caution them that even if they were among the tiny percentage of previously unpublished authors who were successful in getting an agent, and eventually a publishing contract, it was highly likely that they would be disappointed with the eventual outcome. This is based on the feedback from many of our Medallion honorees who were previously traditionally published. In return for a royalty of 25% or less, they would lose control over virtually everything to do with their book, including its title, cover, interior design and even its content. And they would still be expected to do the lion’s share of promoting the book. Not a very appealing scenario.
On the other hand, I would tell them that there is far more to becoming a successful self-published author than writing the book and pushing the publish button. I would remind them that their book will be judged against all books, not just self-published books, so that they had better do everything in their power to make it the best it can be. This means getting it edited properly, having a quality cover designed, and developing an effective promotion plan. For a writer who is willing to do this, and many are, this is the way to go. They will keep up to 75% of the books sales price and they will answer to no one other than themselves.
Finally, which three books would you insist on taking along to a deserted island – and why?
There are a number of B.R.A.G. Medallion books that have become my absolute favorites but it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to single them out. I truly am proud of every book we present on our website.
Now among other books that I have read, Les Miserables is an all-time favorite of mine – but having said that, I even found it needed editing (a curse of my job!) I also love anything Jane Austen. And finally, I am currently reading an incredible biography of Beethoven- Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph which is fast becoming a favorite.
Ha! I wonder what Victor Hugo would say to that? And me, I listen to Beethoven rather than read of him – maybe something I should correct. Thank you, Geri for having taken the time to answer my questions – it was a pleasure having you!
Thank you so much Anna for giving me this opportunity to spend time with you and talk about the thing I love best – indieBRAG!
Other than on the website, indieBRAG can also be found on FB