Indie publishing and its effect on traditional publishing is a work in progress, and we can’t fully measure its impact. But as we head into a holiday season where ereaders are likely to be a popular gift, it seems clear that book bloggers and reviewers are the next gatekeepers in the world of publishing.
Originally, publishers had that role. Then they (mostly) stopped taking unagented manuscripts, outsourcing the role to agents. Agents have been the first hurdle for many authors to clear for years now. Then came ebooks and Kindle Direct/PubIt/Smashwords and all of a sudden authors could go direct to readers. No gatekeepers! Complete freedom from constraints. Um, no.
Once there is no gatekeeper at the publication point, anybody can publish. And as legions of slush pile readers at agencies and publishing houses can attest to, that means there are a lot of bad books out there. There also are at least as many mediocre ones. As has always been the case, only a small percentage of the books that are written are good, never mind great. But in the past, readers could assume that if a book was published, it met a certain level of quality. (Yes, sometimes that isn’t true. But as a general rule, let’s stipulate it.)
We now have millions of books published each year as ebooks and POD books. Major retailers have review sections for each books, but it’s easy to game those. Get a bunch of friends and family to log on and review your book and you’ll rack up a couple of dozen five-star reviews pretty quickly. Likewise, there’s a segment of anti-indie readers who go around leaving one-star reviews (and admitting to it on various book forums) for any indie, even if they haven’t read them.
Because of the easy ability to manipulate reviews, those are becoming less trustworthy. Some readers have even said (again, on book forums) that they won’t consider an indie book that only has glowing reviews because they don’t trust that they’re honest.
Another popular indie tactic has been to discount to 99 cents or price at 99 cents to get readers. It’s proven to drive sales, but some authors, such as Selena Kitt are starting to question if it actually has long-term benefits. Again, because there is so much dross out there, and much of it is at the lower price points, serious indie authors are having discussions about whether they need to price in the $3.99-$5.99 range to signal to people that they’re producing quality books. But if they do and are successful, how long will it be before the lower-quality books follow the tactics and price again becomes an unreliable metric?
As I said back before I published Thrown Out, I think this is where indie publishing will start taking on some of the conventions of fan fiction communities, namely recommendation sites.
The person who will have the most power in the publishing world in three years is the one who creates a site that offers honest reviews of indie books that readers can rely on.
Keys to Success
- It would have to have several reviewers so all genres are covered and so the backlog can be kept manageable.
- It would have to have a strict ethics policy to keep reviewers from reviewing their friends’ books and so there was never a question of authors buying reviews, and that policy would have to be clearly stated on the site.
- The reviewers would have to be willing to honestly evaluate books – top ratings should be difficult to get and there should be some mediocre reviews. The rating criteria should be clearly stated, and uniform across reviewers. One thing that might help would be to have reviewers post bio information with examples of well-known traditionally published books that fall into each of the rating categories.
- The site would have to promote itself at existing book sites such as Goodreads, Amazon, etc., to start drawing in the readers that are the other half of the equation.
If somebody could create a site like this and get the number of reviews to critical mass quickly enough to build a reputation as THE place to find recommendations for quality indie fiction, that site would have a lot of clout in the future of publishing because a review there would carry weight among readers. Done well, you create a system where readers are willing to buy based on the site’s reviews because they trust that the site honestly evaluates the quality of the books. And on the other end of the equation, the site is able to get review copies from the best authors because they know that a good review there is worth well more than the single ARC in additional sales.
Absent a single clearinghouse, individual book bloggers in various genres will start to build reputations that for that genre become make or break.
Who are the book bloggers you rely on for reviews?