Introducing: Backword Books

This will repeat some of the information mentioned in the inaugural post of Backword Books – an experiment in self-publishing.  Backword Books is a compendium of self-publishers – a kind of hybrid of self-publishing and the traditional literary press.  It’s not a press that uses POD technology because the difference is that each writer on Backword uses a different method to print books – iUniverse, Lulu, Lightning Source, and so on.

The idea of the site is to start small and grow from there – selecting a few strong, well-reviewed self-published writers and seeing where it takes us.  Even though it doesn’t cost any money to ship books as it would with a traditional publisher, it would lessen its impact as a hybrid between traditional and self-publishing if it were to accept everyone.  But the idea is to add new writers, just as any lit press brings on new writers.

Some people may take issue with this whole process and criticize the site for bringing gatekeeping into the world of self-publishing.  I address that on the Backword site:

I don’t see any problem with there being an editorial process to weed out some books and accept others.  Really that’s the premise behind every good small press, so to say this is a corrupt system is pretty off-base.  To that someone might counter: well, I self-publish to avoid the editorial system entirely.

To those people I say, I love publishers.  I love Grove Press, love the early years of Vintage Contemporaries, Future Tense Books, Soft Skull Press, and so on.  I also love literary movements.  Not saying for a second that Backword is a new Beat Generation, but I’m saying that there is a lot of power in a group of artists/writers banding together.  And I think for self-publishing to gain more legitimacy, hybrid examples like this one are going to start cropping up more and more.

Why even bother coming out defending it?  Because if the reaction to Indie Reader is any indication, people hate the gatekeeping process in any form whatsoever.  I don’t.  Mainstream publishing’s gatekeeping system is broken because it’s based on marketing before quality, but the concept of editorial rejection and acceptance isn’t at core a bad thing.  And if the new paradigm in publishing is going to take effect, the differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing are going to blur.  Whether that’s mainstream publishers using methods of e-distribution like Scribd and/or print on demand, or self-publishers mimicking the features of a traditional press.

I’m talking as if this site is an outstanding success already.  Obviously it’s no guarantee to unload a lot of books, but I think it’s an interesting experiment and it would be an interesting development if there started to be groups of self-publishers releasing books under the same imprint.  It’s slightly different than just a group blog format, and definitely different than an e-publisher or POD publisher.

I’ve written here before that part of the reason that indie movies and indie music do not fall under the same stigma as self-publishing is because there’s so many stamps of approval along the way – even if movies and music are self-released.  For music: you’ve got a group of band members.  Even if the songwriter sucks, he or she is backed up by the acceptance of other musicians – as well as the acceptance of an audience.  Movies are the same, on a larger scale – grips, producers, actors, and so on.  Self-publishers are entirely alone.  So maybe Backword can absorb some of the criticism by becoming a band of writers.

It’s not really an example of: if you can’t beat em join em, because 1. Literary presses are a good thing and 2. After all, we’re still all self-publishers doing the work ourselves.  We’re just trying something new.  By all means, if you know of other groups like this please mention it in the comments.  Book View Cafe seems sort of similar:

Book View Cafe is a consortium of over twenty professional authors with extensive publishing credits in the print world…Book View Cafe is a new approach to publishing made possible by the Internet. Book View authors write in a variety of genres including science fiction, fantasy, romance, horror and mystery.

And there are other groups like Sisters in Crime.  Most of the group sites are by niche – our niche is self-publishing, so hopefully that seems new enough that it will get some attention.

  • Randall Radic

    Wonderful idea! I wish I’d thought of it first! But you’re right. More and more SPed authors should congregate together and do the same thing. The concept is not much different than a church, really. Like-minded people coming together under one roof to fellowship and absorb strength as they do.

    Don’t worry about the naysayers. People like that are a dime a dozen. Usually, they’re just jealous or wannabes.
    Once again, I love the whole idea!

  • Great idea, Henry! I completely agree with you and with Randy’s comments. We writers need the reality check of other people’s reactions to our work. Not enough of us are terrified by the writing they do, by the knowledge that we can write from the heart and it’ll turn out to be junk. I know I’m lucky that my first novel, God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana (yes, doggone it, a plug), won a Spur award from the Western Writers of America, but that novel went through a solid year of testing among critical readers. (Thank goodness the people in my writers group don’t praise just anything.) We need gatekeepers to tell us this doesn’t work. Unfortunately, IMO, the gatekeepers don’t tell us the truth often enough. Instead of, “Sorry, this isn’t for us,” why don’t they tell us that we need to improve our writing, or the character’s voice lacks appeal, or the plot doesn’t hang together?

    I’m 2/3 through the first draft of the sequel, Gold Under Ice, and I’m scared silly. God’s Thunderbolt was OK, but what if this one sucks?

  • Henry, anytime independent artists (and writer’s are artists) come together something magical can happen. It is like a jam session amongst musicians. Self Publishing is the equivalent of musicians forming independent record labels to get their music out. Self publishing changes the dynamics of things and even an independent author can now get distribution.

    Looking forward to learning more.



  • In every crowd there has to be at least one dolt that just doesn’t get it. I’m the dolt. I appreciate the comfort like–minded of compatriots, the support, the feedback, etc. On the other hand, I don’t really see the value of a formalize organization of compatriots unless it offers extended readership. It seems to me, that’s my goal. I visited the Backward Books’ site and didn’t really find that much. It’s a book stores, a mark of approval, and a group of authors from what I can see. There’s inferences that interviews and perhaps other services are possible, but how many opportunities can there be when everyone in the group wants them too.

    Most of the writer’s critique sites suffer from this dilemma. When everyone is interested in their own work, not much critiquing gets done. For the most part, authors do just enough to stave off guilt while guilt-tripping the other authors for a critique. In the end, it’s all very half-hearted.

    So I’m the dolt here. I just don’t get it. What exactly do I get when I place a work with this group?

  • “I’m 2/3 through the first draft of the sequel, Gold Under Ice, and I’m scared silly. God’s Thunderbolt was OK, but what if this one sucks?”

    I worry about that too, but in my case it’s “what if the next sentence sucks…”

  • The group’s new so it can’t promise overnight success but the goal is to offer “extended readership,” so I don’t understand the problem. The combined efforts of 7-10 writers is potentially better than one writer working alone.

  • I said I’m the dolt. It’s not fair to expect wisdom. My point may be pointless: when everybody is after the same thing at the same time, self interest trumps group efforts. Equally, as consortiums grow, the individuals in it shrink; it becomes harder and harder to get notice in the group let alone a market.

    I agree with your points, that filtering for quality isn’t a bad thing, that the filter should not put the audience first, that groups have a louder voice than individuals. I also agree that the experiment should be given a chance to work. I’m being a skeptic which is another way of saying (yup) dolt.

    Most likely joining the group at this juncture is a good idea. I plan to give it a shot. It just doesn’t electrify me.