Why is Indie OK for Musicians and Filmmakers…But Not for Writers?

In Guest Contributors by Guest Contributor

• Amy Edelman believes that self-published books deserve more attention from readers and retailers.

• She developed IndieReader.com, a website that curates and sells self-published books. The site is launching a service to distribute these titles to independent bookstores.

By Amy Edelman

Why is it that indie movies like The Hurt Locker and indie bands like The Shins win tons of praise for bucking the “establishment”, doing it on their own and being unique? It is because the movies are great and the musicians are talented? Sure. But then what of the great and talented indie writers? Doesn’t that same formula exist for them? Despite the success of indie books from Tolstoy’s War & Peace to Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad, the traditional publishing industry would have you think not.

It was that disconnect — that downright idiocy and short-sightedness –- that led me, a year ago this month, to launch IndieReader (www.indiereader.com). It was my belief that it made no sense to brand all self-published books as “crap” just because the “traditional” publishing industry didn’t embrace them. I knew, of course, that many very successful books were initially rejected by traditional publishers — Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Gone With the Wind, Carrie, (an early Stephen King novel) and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. In fact, IndieReader’s first featured author, Lisa Genova, spent a year and a half writing her book Still Alice while trying to find a literary agent, only to be told that there wasn’t “a general audience that would want to read about Alzheimer’s.” In the end, Lisa decided to self-publish, even after an agent counseled her that doing so would “kill” her writing career before it started. Not quite. Still Alice spent over a dozen weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, landing Lisa a deal with major publisher.

I couldn’t believe that there weren’t more great self-published books and authors out there waiting to be discovered. I knew that many good books weren’t embraced by the traditional publishing world because it was believed that they lacked what is commonly referred to as a good enough “platform.” Either that or the subjects of their books didn’t have enough mass appeal. Despite that, there were many self-published books that somehow managed to defy expectation and break through. So, where I asked myself, would I look for the other 750,000+ books (the number of books self-pubbed in 2009, a 181% increase from the year before). That question had me stumped. Because although there are many self-published books that can be found on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, how would you start to look for them? And more importantly, how could you separate the great from the not-so-good?

And that brought me to the problem self-published books have with image. Although I’ve written several books, my day job for over twenty years has been as a publicist. I’ve worked with companies including Ralph Lauren, Tiffany, Hanes, and M&Ms. I understand all about image. I also understand that, in today’s mass-market world, people are naturally drawn to what’s unique and genuine. It was true for indie movies and indie music. So why not indie books?

The truth is, the reading public is more than ready for IndieReader, which is really just a part of a vast sea change in publishing. Self-publishing has become a viable and financially desirable option for many authors, first-time and established alike. And with more and more indie books finding mainstream success (Still Alice, The Shack) and more mainstream authors writing indie books (John Edgar Wideman, Dave Eggars), it is clear that, to quote Dylan, “the times they are a-changin.”

To help aid the process of getting indie books into book-lovers hands, we just launched IndieReader Selects, the first-ever distribution service bringing the best indie titles onto the shelves of the best indie bookstores nationwide. This not only helps indie authors, it also helps indie booksellers by saving them time (they can send indie authors directly to IRS for info on bookstore distribution), makes them money (our co-op program pay booksellers to stock our branded indie books), and sets them apart from the big box stores that do not yet carry indie books.

The submission fee for IndieReader is $149 per title per year (IndieReader Selects is $149 per title for review and inclusion in our database). If your book is not accepted to IR, we will refund all but $25, which is our vetting fee. Exclusivity is not required, but your book will get more visibility on IndieReader. Anyone can offer their books for sale on the giant websites — which makes them a small tree in a very large forest. Unless someone is looking specifically for your book, they are unlikely to find it among the thousands of others. On the contrary, IndieReader has become a destination for high-quality self-published books.

In closing, with over 750,000 books self published last year, it’s just plain dumb to think that they are all bad (and to help them get better, our sister company IndieReader Publishing Services just partnered with WordSmiths, which offers craft-based advice for writers by Iowa Writers’ Workshop Graduates and other professional writers).

There are, in fact, many wonderful writers who — either by choice or by circumstance — end up going indie. The change is that with the advent of IndieReader (and IndieReader Selects), it won’t be so hard to find the good ones.

Amy Holman Edelman has worked in public relations and marketing for longer than she cares to remember.  She is the author of three books, one self published and two traditionally published.

DISCUSS: Is Retail Distribution the Missing Link to Improving the Image of Self-published Books?

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Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.