Awesome Indies

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:

awesome indies

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.

36 thoughts on “Awesome Indies

  1. Thank you for this post, Litlove, as an independently published author (via a writer’s collective/cooperative) this is all music to my ears.
    I’m going to post this everywhere.

    About (expletive deleted — pick your one of choice) time, is all I can say. The independent publishing field has been crying out for something like this.

    More power to their elbows.

    • I think an evaluation system is a great idea. I have seen some really crummy stuff as far as self-published books go on Amazon. Sharing your post for sure, and thanks for the in-depth insights you have presented.

  2. Pingback: Awesome Indies: a new aid to helping reader find books worth reading | Strip-mining Mobius

  3. This sounds like such a great project. Thanks so much for sharing it.
    I agree on “edited” books. It’s so sad what people pay for or what I’ve seen in the past. I think there are a few sites who offer professinal editing. I think a major problem is that wehn someone wants be a freelance editor and that’s his/her sole income. I suppose you’d rap any book that comes along and some are just too bad to be properly edited. the decent thing to do would be to tell the author – go over it again and come back later but that would mean you’d lose the money. Plus I start to suspect that aspiring authors often simply want someone to tell them they are great and are willing to pay for it. I know it’s a harsh view but unfortunatley not wrong.
    And authors are too keen on publishing. Self-publishing, obvioulsy encourages that. the examples I’ve seen so far were not that bad, they were just not ready.
    I also feel there is a bit of a misunderstanding between editing and copy-editing.
    Sorry for this long comment. I got carried away.
    All in all – I think this site is a great idea.

    • That’s why I think it’s important that new authors get a manuscript appraisal from someone who is prepared to give them the truth before paying for editing. I offer such a service very cheaply to encourage authors not to miss that step. There is a lot of ignorance about what is meant by a professional edit and I’ve explained it in my post called “you don’t need an editor, you need an editing team.

      • Thank you Thalia. I’ll have a look.
        I just saw something seriously bad happening. An author with potential, paid a so-called professional editor and the outcome is really bad but she doen’t see it and sings the praise of that editor.
        I have a background in publishing and editing and I know you have to be cruel to be kind but the author is likely not to return.
        And then there is editing and editing. Just because someone worked for an editor doesn’t mean much.
        You’re doing a great job.

  4. This sounds a fantastic idea. I have worked with students who have self-published, some of whom deserved a much wider readership than they were likely to get (and some who didn’t!) and this would be a wonderful way forward for them. I must make sure out creative writing staff know about it. I’ve also been exploring a couple of small publishing houses who run subscription series which is another way of finding really excellent fiction that we might otherwise miss.

  5. I’ve just been over to their website and they have real problems with some of their links. If you have a contact it would be helpful to them if you could let them know about this.

      • The link for the blog in the text (as opposed to the heading) on your main page doesn’t take you there and at some point when I was exploring a home link took me elsewhere. I’m sorry I din’t make a note of which one it was. Also, when signing up for you your recommendations I was only allowed to opt for one genre when I would have liked to have been able to request material from several. I hope this helps.

      • Thanks Alex, it does help. I’ll look into it. I wasn’t aware that the options were limited to one, that’s not the idea, but there’s often a difference between an idea and its manifestation 🙂

  6. Surprised to realise so few people knew about Awesome Indies. They only showcase what they consider the best of the best so it is a critic’s choice, made only from books that meet their specific criteria. That makes them more of a readers list than a help to indies, who should remember there are conventionally-published bestsellers out there that also haven’t made it onto prestigious lists.

    That sounds like sour grapes, I looked into this a few months back and realized they wouldn’t want anything I wrote, so yes, it probably is. They are only interested in about 1% of the whole indie scene, and tbh I wasn’t particularly impressed by the books they did consider worthy (back then. may have improved) which were beautifully edited but utterly stiff and lifeless.

      • I don’t consider posts the same as books that we ask money for. If I had to edit precisely everything I wrote in a blog post, I wouldn’t bother. I thought people understood that.

        Elegsabiff might be interested to know that we have a different criteria for experimental fiction, as well, and also a different reviewer. Perhaps his or her books might meet that criteria.

        We are not the stiff sticklers for rules that some assume whenever they see a list of criteria and I am confident that our reviewers are well aware of when they aren’t relevant to a particular book. We’re just trying to promote the indie books that do come up to mainstream standards. The specific criteria are so that everyone knows exactly what is being evaluated. I really don’t think we can be fairer than that.

    • We actually accept on average about 40% of books submitted for approval and our reviewers bottom line is simply whether or not the book would have been published in that state by a mainstream publisher. It’s not really such a big ask and actually all indie books should come up to that standard.

      I personally wouldn’t pass anything that I think is stiff and lifeless, but that kind of evaluation is a very personal one. We try to evaluate craftsmanship rather than personal likes and dislikes.

      • I remember the very real stigma of Made in Japan that ranked right up there with self-published. I appreciate the effort of Awesome Indies to give a level of respectability to self-published books. A.I. does a real serivce in recommending Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Invaluable resource.

  7. What a great idea and a nice looking site! I stay away from self-published for the very reasons Thalia was prompted to start the site. Will definitely be browsing and returning often. Thanks!

  8. Pingback: Awesome Indies | The Passive Voice | Writers, Writing, Self-Publishing, Disruptive Innovation and the Universe

  9. Definitely a useful site that has found a niche in our age of ‘free expressions’. I found this statement particularly true: “Everyone can say whether they like something or not, but not so many can say whether a book is well crafted or not.” This is so true when one goes onto Goodreads and just see the star ratings without any reviews written to explain how that conclusion is drawn. I’ve appreciated your questions, and the answers are very informative. We’re certainly seeing a new trend in book publishing. But then again, the ‘democratizing’ of ideas still blossoms profusely on the Internet. It begs the question of ‘who can be a critic?’

    • Hi Arti, That is, of course, the big question and one we put a lot of thought into. Early research showed that people with degrees in English literature & creative writing or who had credentials in mainstream publishing were most inclined to be accepted by readers as valid critics. We’ve extended that to include experienced reviewers who have shown by the quality of their reviews that they understand the criteria. These are our Awesome Indies recommended reviewers and they have all read the book our criteria is based on ie Self-editing for fiction writers by Reni Brown and David King.

  10. Pingback: An interview with the Awesome Indies founder Tahlia Newland - Awesome Indies

  11. I hope I can ask a question of Tahlia.

    I am trying to wrap my mind around your rationale for awarding the AIA Seal of Excellence or Awesome Indies Badge based on the requirement that an author who has reviewed an AIA-worthy book has been “employed or associated with a mainstream traditional publishing house.” I’d like to respectfully challenge that concept, because it goes against the very concept of Awesome Independence from the broken, busted traditional publishing system.

    TradPUB is no longer a gatekeeper for good quality. It simply publishes those titles that are sufficiently bland and tidy so that they can market said titles to the vox populi with the least possible output of creative marketing energy. TradPUB has lost its relevance, at least if you define relevance as protecting or preserving artistic quality.

    That said, I want your seal of approval, because I’m an author, and I like seals, and shiny badges, so I am querying the 87 reviewers of Ripple, who have awarded it an average of 4.9 stars on Amazon, to see if anyone has the required English, Creative Writing or Journalism degree. Until then, I tip my chipped coffee mug at you, dear editor-gatekeeper, and wish you a lovely evening/morning/afternoon.

    E.L. Farris

    • I know. I agree, and initially I included authors who were already Awesome Indies approved in that list for exactly that reason unfortunately, however, I discovered that some authors were just submitting their friends books and several books really shouldn’t have been there. I tell you, it was a terrible shock when I began reading one! The only way I could stop this tendency by indie authors for sure was to cut out indie authors as aacceptable references. I did, however, begin approving Indie authors as reviewers where they were obviously ‘professional’ in their approach. I simply evaluate the quality of their reviews, give them a book on editing to read, make sure that they understand the criteria and approve them. Generally only those who know what they’re about offer their services.

      We are not gate-keepers. We are not stopping anyone from reading a book and I’m sorry that people react so emotionally to what we’re trying to do. When I first floated the idea on Kindle boards, it was clear that the only arbitrators people respected without question were those from the trad system. Until all self-publishers behave like professionals, I really can’t blame them for thinking that way.

      I think the real problem here is the lack of number of approved reviewers we have, but I don’t have time to find them. You and your friends are welcome to apply to become a reviewer for us. I would be grateful if you could ask around and direct them to this page where they will find the information they need. I am sure that there are many fine reviewers out there, and I welcome them should they wish to help out.

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  13. Great idea and interesting to both visit the site and read the comments about self-publishing. I’ve tended to avoid the SP industry for the same reasons mentioned but I’d be tempted by one of the books at Awesome Indies. I also liked Tahlia’s mention of a manuscript appraisal and the fact that the indie books are available in Kindle format.

    Oh, and if you feel like doing a Liebster meme, Litlove, I tagged you.

  14. After three books published traditionally, I went indie with my fantasy trilogy because it was too different, too cross-genre, too out-of-the-box for the commercial houses. Also too challenging for the 26-year-old “senior editors” at the New York houses, with their MFAs but little solid experience. How delighted I was to discover Tahlia Newland and Awesome Indies! Acceptance by AI validated my work and my decision to publish independently. That was in 2011-2012. Watching the indie explosion since then, I have been dismayed by the flood of poor-quality work. I view Awesome Indies as a highly reliable “sorting house” for quality independent fiction. With an acceptance rate of only 40 percent of submitted books, AI maintains standards that are at least equal to those of traditional publishers — and oftentimes superior. I am proud to be an Awesome Indies Author, I’m grateful to Tahlia for her wonderful vision and tremendous hard work, and I thank Litlove for hosting this interview!

  15. Oh, what a good idea. I’m really pleased to think there’s someone out there doing this sort of thing – it is surely the way of the future. The flood of dreadful writing is just too depressing for words and definitely puts me at least right off the whole e-book zoo. But one of my friends has just published her crime novel on Amazon – I’ll tell her about Awesome Indies right now!

  16. “I don’t consider posts the same as books that we ask money for. If I had to edit precisely everything I wrote in a blog post, I wouldn’t bother. I thought people understood that. “

    I agree posts are not the same as book author ask money for. But when you are representing yourself, that be as author, editor or as the site, which wants to become a prominent player in indie community, your articles and posts are judged, especially in the representation articles and post like this interview. They are your advertisement, so to speak. So if you are not careful with your post and you have trouble with a simple grammar and if your site is not typo free, how can readers (me) believe that you can recommend them (me) a quality, well-written fiction?

  17. Tahlia,

    I just found out about Awesome Indies, and let me this: I am thrilled. I’m one of those “almost published” authors who nearly landed a contract with one of the Big 6 (5?) for my first novel. My agent advised me to self-publish, and I’ve really been on the fence about it. How was it possible to convey the fact that my novel has in fact been vetted and edited — that it’s commensurate with those that are traditionally published? As a reader, I’m also glad to have a site to defer to before I choose self-published books. I want to support indie authors who have put serious time and effort into their writing.

    • The same thing happened to me. I had an agent and an almost major deal, but my Australian agent didn’t think I should self-publish because of the stigma. American agents seem more inclined to support the move.

  18. Pingback: Still room in the next edition | Jaye Em Edgecliff

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