For a while now, I’ve been speculating that what we need is a kind of sorting house for the wealth of self-published material that’s now available. There I was, wondering when someone would start one, and as chance would have it I happened to be put in touch with the Awesome Indies site when the thriller writer whose books I’ve been much admiring lately, T.V. LoCicero, asked me to stand as a guarantor for his work. So of course I was curious and rushed over to have a good look, and I have to say that Awesome Indies is pretty awesome and a properly exciting new development in the rapidly changing world of publishing. This is how they describe themselves:
We showcase quality independent fiction for the discerning reader. They have been evaluated by industry professionals against specific criteria for quality fiction & deemed to be of the same quality of craftsmanship as books published by mainstream publishing houses.
Wanting to find out more about the site, I asked its founder, Tahlia Newland, if she would be kind enough to agree to an interview, and the results were as follows:
1. So what prompted you to start up Awesome Indies?
As a reader I liked the price of indie books and also the fact that they were different to the mainstream, because I was a bit sick of the same old things, but I kept finding myself buying books that looked good and had high ratings, but were so badly written or edited that I couldn’t finish them. It’s really frustrating to get half way through a book and realise that you’ve wasted your time. I soon realised that reviews by readers without education in the specifics of writing weren’t that reliable. Everyone can say whether they like something or not, but not so many can say whether a book is well crafted or not. I always looked at the low starred reviews and was really grateful when someone mentioned problems with the writing, but though you see them more often now, a year ago, that kind of review was very rare.
2. I love the organisation of the site – how did you go about setting it up and finding people to read for you?
It took time. I started with just me. The idea was to share the books I’d read that were of the same standard as mainstream books, but I didn’t want to be the only one so I instituted the system where authors have to find reviewers who meet the qualifications I wanted, and submit reviews by them. That’s how I met the other reviewers and asked if they’d help out with the Awesome Indies. I also knew of reviewers whose opinion I trusted, so I added them to our recommended reviewers list. Other people came to help out as the site grew and people realised how important it is for readers and authors to have something like this.
3. You must have some stories to tell about the books you’ve had in – what’s been your overall experience of self-published books and their authors?
Very mixed. Some are so brilliant that Jen Blood and I awarded them the Seal of Excellence as soon as we instituted it, but aprox 60% of books submitted to our reviewers are rejected, and that’s from those who think they’ve had their books properly edited. (We tell authors not to apply unless they have had them professionally edited.) So unfortunately there really is a lot of substandard books out there. The difficult ones are on the edge, and that’s why we have a group of back up readers to give us second opinions.
Most authors are very supportive but a few get a bit stroppy if you reject their book. I have a clear review policy that authors have to indicate that they agree with before I’ll review their book, and I haven’t had any problems since I said that I wouldn’t discuss my opinion with them. The judges’ decisions are final.
The worst thing is when an author has paid someone to edit their work and the editor clearly didn’t know what they were doing, or where it’s been partially edited, for example it has a copy edit but is sorely in need of a line edit. The copy editor didn’t tell the author that it also needed a line edit, or they had no idea that it did need one. Either way, the author thinks it all fine, but it isn’t. I feel very sorry for such authors, because they paid their money in good faith. Others don’t pay a thing and have a expert job because their sister or friend happens to be a professional editor. Publishing independently is very hard work and full of pitfalls. Authors need to do a lot of research before starting out.
4. The publishing industry is in such a huge transition right now. What do you think it’s doing right, and what is it doing wrong?
It’s hard to talk about the industry as a whole because there are so many aspects to it, but in terms of independent publishing, I think the freedom for all to publish is good, but the flood of poor quality books is the main issue facing independently published books today. I wouldn’t want to see Amazon or Smashwords evaluate books before printing, though, instead I’d like to see Amazon advertise a list of recognised evaluators like the Awesome Indies. I suspect that more evaluation systems like ours will emerge as the need becomes greater. If readers aren’t told what books are well written and encouraged to buy them, then the standard of acceptable written English will decline. Readers will look at the standard and think they can write as good a book themselves, then we’ll have even more badly written books and the downward spiral will continue.
5. What do you think the future of self-published books will be?
Once the existence of evaluation sites like ours becomes common knowledge, books listed on them should do well in the long term, so long as they are the kind of books people want to read. (A good book is not always a popular book) A lot of authors will give up, and their books will fade into obscurity, but, unfortunately, you’ll still get people ‘chucking their book out there to see how it goes,’ and such books will always be the Achilles heal of independent publishing.
Apparently the sales of SP books have leveled out and the challenge is to reach those readers who presently will not touch a SP book due to concerns about quality. It’s up to groups of authors like the Awesome Indies Approved authors to band together and present to the world the beauty of quality independent books. If this doesn’t happen, SP books will always be the poor cousins in many readers’ eyes, and the number of readers willing to read them won’t grow to match the volume of books coming onto the market.
6. I saw an article recently that said there’s been a huge shift, and now more people want to write than want to read – do you think that’s the case?
I don’t know, but anyone can make a home movie and it hasn’t stopped us going to the movies to see a proper one. Anyone can play around with music software, but they still download other people’s songs and not everyone wants to listen to little Jonny’s latest creations.
7. What kind of books do you find you are getting – do you receive as much literary fiction as genre fiction?
We get both genre and literary fiction submissions for the site, but we find that in most cases literary fiction books fit into one of the genre fiction categories as well, so authors don’t put themselves in the literary fiction category, we go by what the reviewers say. We also place cross-genre books in with the literary fiction, so it’s for anything that doesn’t fit any of our categories or that goes beyond what is expected of genre fiction. We have a lot of books that cross genres and some genre fiction that is also literary in its treatment; for example, we have literary fantasy and literary mystery. We also have a large metaphysical fiction category and a magical realism category, and many of those books could also be called literary.
8. Where would you like Awesome Indies to be in two year’s time?
It should be THE place for people to go to choose their independently published fiction. It should have hundreds of thousands of hits every day from people who are looking for new, interesting, quality fiction. Everyone who wants something a little more daring, a little outside the box, a little surprising without having to concern themselves with judging its quality before they buy will be visiting the site regularly. I would like to see our authors selling thousands of books a day through the site. I want to see them get the recognition and rewards they deserve for a well-crafted product.