An Author Creates a Website for Consumers: IndieReader

IndieReader—which will go live in June—promotes, markets, and sells self-published/POD books. Authors set the retail price for their books and receive 75% of the transaction. IndieReader also provides authors with their own Web page with their own URL (no unintelligible code!). What Sundance has done for indie films—making what’s outside the mainstream “cool”—IR will do for indie books and authors.  Amy Edelman, who started the site, has published with Crown and Simon & Schuster.  Her interview at Editor Unleashed goes into further detail about the site.

Where did the idea for IndieReader come from?  It was primarily my belief that it seemed stupid and shortsighted 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 others? 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? There are many people who believe that if something hasn’t been accepted into the mainstream it doesn’t have any value.  That was something that needed to change—and something that had changed in the fields of films and music.  I believed that showing readers how many quality, self-published books existed was the way to do that.

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 (Dave Eggers, Noam Chomsky), it is clear that, to quote Dylan, “the times they are a-changin.”

Joining me in this venture are two awesomely talented women.

Claire McKinney has been working in publishing as a publicist for over twelve years with a wide range of authors—from celebrities to serious novelists to political heavyweights and pundits. Her work has included books by Thomas Frank, Robert Dallek, Barbara Ehrenreich, George Pelecanos, Rick Moody, Richard North Patterson, and Queen Noor. As a PR director, she worked under the Harvey Weinstein umbrella at Miramax Books and at Henry Holt, where she managed a range of campaigns from three different imprints. She is especially interested in digital promotion and has focused on this area as the market has changed, bringing a multi-media focus to campaigns recently with USAToday.com and Chemistry.com.

Carrie Cantor is our Editorial Director. She has worked in book publishing for over 20 years, as an acquisitions editor and a development editor for publishing companies, literary agents, and individual authors, and is a published author herself. She has seen first-hand how many good books have been cast aside by the mainstream, not on the basis of merit but rather because they did not meet up to the current standard of marketability in the big-name, big-box culture. Among other things, she will oversee the vetting process to make sure our books meet certain standards of quality, both in terms of basic spelling and grammatical errors and content. All books accepted onto IndieReader must be well written and offer something of value to our customers.

The submission fee for IndieReader is $149 per year, but if you sign up prior to IR’s going live (in early June) we are offering a discounted rate of $99 per year. If your book is not accepted, we will refund all but $30, which is our vetting fee. Exclusivity is not required, but we fully expect you and 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 will be a destination for high-quality self-published books. We will offer consumers many of the bells and whistles they find on other shopping sites, including Bestseller and Favorite Lists and a Featured Author and Featured Book section.

The other thing I want to mention is IndieReader’s commitment as a resource to independent bookstores. I know this sounds crazy—we are a retailer, after all—but as a writer myself, I believe that indie bookstores are an author’s best friend. They get indie books into the hands of book lovers, while indie books help indie bookstores set themselves apart from the big-box retailers. It’s a win-win. So, there will be a function on the site where indie bookstores can punch in their zip codes and find local indie authors, enabling them to set up in-store events and bring them more business. We will also have a link on our site to IndieBound.

Although the site isn’t live yet, there’s plenty of information to be found there. We’re very excited about the potential of IndieReader to bring quality indie writers and books out of the shadows and onto the shelves of book lovers. And we hope that you will support us in the effort.