Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Time to let the public sit in judgement

Wherever we turn, there are gatekeepers in place to turn off the undesirables. They are present in the city at the entrance to ‘exclusive’ nightclubs and on the seashore to keep riffraff away from private oceanfronts; but also reviewers who tell theatergoers whether or not to buy tickets for a show; and, of course, keepers at the gates of bookstores and libraries, preventing entrance to self-published authors not sanctioned by the Establishment.

As founder and president of The indiePENdents.org, I am concerned about the latter, because they prevent so many authors from reaching their audience, blocking the writer of a book from his/her readers,

The recording indies of the have cut the shackles of the big music industry and now publish and distribute freely without the censorship based on the bias of its middlemen, being it taste or finances. The copywriters now own their works, rather than having others manipulate it.

I have witnessed a play of particular poignancy to me, closed by fiat of a big critic’s bias. That power is still bestowed to mainstream publishing executives as the power to send a book into oblivion still rests with their gatekeepers.

I was already tired of all these talking heads, playing the Almighty with other people’s creativity, when The New York Times let Christopher Isherwood shoot a barrage against a Broadway play not because it was bad, but because it ‘disrespected’ him. 

I wrote the following letter to his paper, and it wasn't any welcome than my previous ones:

As a reader of the Critic’s Notebook, looking for what Charles Isherwood thinks about the current Broadway revival of 'Glengarry Glen Ross', I was sorely disappointed. The editor who let that piece through made me waste my time for what was essentially Mr. Isherwood's hissy fit at not being invited to issue his decree on the validity of the production.

More than any theatergoer, he is able to buy a ticket on the Times allowance, but he chose to be offended instead.

Good! Maybe the producers have stumbled upon a way of not letting official critics kill a play. 

I remember great critics in the not too distant past, eavesdropping on the theatergoers views on a play before adding their own. Today, the self-appointed arbiters of public’s taste manipulate the performing arts from their Olympus, just as other Establishment powers-to-be are allowed to wield their whip over book publishing. 

I maintain that it should be up to the theatergoers to determine the fate of Broadway plays, the same as it should be up to readers to judge the value of a book, regardless of whether it is printed by  officially self-sanctioned publisher or a self-published author himself. Gatekeepers are an impediment rather than facilitators of culture.

We are calling on librarians to open the door to self-published authors. The indiePENdents.org Seal of Good Writing should be enough to assure them a book is fit for their shelves. Their readers, individually or in book discussion clubs, will tell them what they think of the author and his/her title. 

Literature should not depend on middlemen’s biases and financial interests. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

An Open Letter from the President of ALA Maureen Sullivan to book publishers

As a founder of www.indiePENdents.org, I was delighted to see Ms. Sullivan take on the publishers for their refusal to make e-books available to libraries. The same publishers created a wall which prevents self-published authors to be displayed on library shelves. It is my hope that librarians all over will start accepting books with the indiePENdents.org Seal, ascertaining that they were "vetted" by our standards, We trust that the libraries will open the gates which the traditional publishing system put in the path of new authors.  Jasha M. Levi

CHICAGO — The following open letter was released by American Library Association (ALA) President Maureen Sullivan regarding Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin refusal to provide access to their e-books in U.S. libraries. 
The open letter states:
It’s a rare thing in a free market when a customer is refused the ability to buy a company’s product and is told its money is “no good here.” Surprisingly, after centuries of enthusiastically supporting publishers’ products, libraries find themselves in just that position with purchasing e-books from three of the largest publishers in the world. Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin have been denying access to their e-books for our nation’s 112,000 libraries and roughly 169 million public library users.
Let’s be clear on what this means: If our libraries’ digital bookshelves mirrored the New York Times fiction best-seller list, we would be missing half of our collection any given week due to these publishers’ policies. The popular “Bared to You” and “The Glass Castle” are not available in libraries because libraries cannot purchase them at any price. Today’s teens also will not find the digital copy of Judy Blume’s seminal “Forever,” nor today’s blockbuster “Hunger Games” series.
Not all publishers are following the path of these three publishers. In fact, hundreds of publishers of e-books have embraced the opportunity to create new sales and reach readers through our nation’s libraries. One recent innovation allows library patrons to immediately purchase an e-book if the library doesn’t have a copy or if there is a wait list they would like to avoid. This offers a win-win relationship for both publishers and library users since recent research from the Pew Internet Project tells us that library users are more than twice as likely to have bought their most recent book as to have borrowed it from a library.
Libraries around the country are developing mobile applications and online discovery systems that make it easier to explore books and authors on the go. Seventy-six percent of public libraries now offer e-books — double the number from only five years ago — and 39 percent of libraries have purchased and circulate e-readers. Public libraries alone spend more than $1.3 billion annually on their collections of print, audio, video, and electronic materials. They are investing not only in access to content and devices, but also in teaching the skills needed to navigate and utilize digital content successfully.
Librarians understand that publishing is not just another industry. It has special and important significance to society. Libraries complement and, in fact, actively support this industry by supporting literacy and seeking to spread an infectious and lifelong love of reading and learning. Library lending encourages patrons to experiment by sampling new authors, topics and genres. This experimentation stimulates the market for books, with the library serving as a de facto discovery, promotion and awareness service for authors and publishers.
Publishers, libraries and other entities have worked together for centuries to sustain a healthy reading ecosystem — celebrating our society’s access to the complete marketplace of ideas. Given the obvious value of libraries to publishers, it simply does not add up that any publisher would continue to lock out libraries. It doesn’t add up for me, it doesn’t add up for ALA’s 60,000 members, and it definitely doesn’t add up for the millions of people who use our libraries every month.
America’s libraries have always served as the “people’s university” by providing access to reading materials and educational opportunity for the millions who want to read and learn but cannot afford to buy the books they need. Librarians have a particular concern for vulnerable populations that may not have any other access to books and electronic content, including individuals and families who are homebound or low-income. To deny these library users access to e-books that are available to others — and which libraries are eager to purchase on their behalf — is discriminatory.
We have met and talked sincerely with many of these publishers. We have sought common ground by exploring new business models and library lending practices. But these conversations only matter if they are followed by action: Simon & Schuster must sell to libraries. Macmillan must implement its proposed pilot. Penguin must accelerate and expand its pilots beyond two urban New York libraries.
We librarians cannot stand by and do nothing while some publishers deepen the digital divide. We cannot wait passively while some publishers deny access to our cultural record. We must speak out on behalf of today’s — and tomorrow’s — readers.The library community demands meaningful change and creative solutions that serve libraries and our readers who rightfully expect the same access to e-books as they have to printed books.
So, which side will you be on? Will you join us in a future of liberating literature for all? Libraries stand with readers, thinkers, writers, dreamers and inventors. Books and knowledge — in all their forms — are essential. Access to them must not be denied.

Monday, September 3, 2012

How can the indie cause become known?

With an increasing frequency lately, The New York Times has been printing  articles dealing with the technology, economics and marketing of self published books. The latest was about the newly sprung shady business of "review mills." 

Literature is being treated as a commodity and it will continue to be until independent authors accept that it is in their common interest to speak with a common voice and, as an Australian member of the organization suggested, "go on strike". They should start to speak as individuals to their radio stations and to their local press against marketplace pressures which keep their work in fact discriminated against, censored and hidden from the public. The writers are not marketers; and the readers are not sheep who can't be trusted to make a choice of books for themselves.

As founders of The indiePENdents.org, Julia Petrakis and I have sent the paper the following op-ed article which they have not acknowledged nor printed. 

The readers aren’t given the choice of books to buy

As your Sunday, August 26 article, "The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy" describes, some self-published authors are purchasing literary reviews as if they were car dealers purchasing advertising for Summer Clearance Events.  Forced to become marketers of their own work, their books now treated not as literature but as commodities, many authors have resorted to asking other authors to write favorable reviews on Amazon or to “like” them on Facebook or even, according to the article, to paying as much as $499 for 20 reviews, $999 for 50 reviews.

In today's literary world, independent authors are denied access to the market of ideas simply because libraries and bookstores will not display and sell books that are not produced by “legitimate” publishers. These publishing houses have shrunk from being talent scouts and have been absorbed into multinational conglomerates.  Shy of introducing unproven new authors, they opt for celebrity writers and proven moneymakers, such as respectable porn like 50 Shades of Grey.

Independent authors, finding the gates to mainstream publishing closed to them, are now enabled by technology to readily self publish, resulting in a flood of titles in print and an equal number of writers seeking ways to make readers aware of their existence. However, the playing field isn’t simply uneven; it is closed to these writers and to their potential readers, who are not given the opportunity to choose for themselves which books to buy. 

This is why the two of us, separated by 2914 miles on opposite sides of the country but close by in cyber-discussions among lovers of literature, decided last December to start The indiePENdents.org in order to stop the ostracizing of self-published authors and to help gain recognition for them and their work. We formed a Working Group of members that developed standards of good writing by which we now offer to review, for free, self-published books submitted to our panels of volunteer reviewers. Those titles that meet the standards receive an award of the indiePENdents Seal of Good Writing, which can then be displayed on the titles. We have already awarded half a dozen Seals and have at least two dozen texts in the pipeline. Our goal is to assure booksellers and libraries that the titles with our Seal are grammatically and structurally worthy of being put out for the public to read and to decide how they rate. 

The current publishing business model is in turmoil. New talent is hidden from readers. We hope that soon authors will no longer have to resort to ruses to offer their works to public scrutiny, and that the readers will finally be given the chance to make a real, not a discriminatory, censored  choice which books to buy.  In the tidal flood of self published titles, there must be some written by a future James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, or even Beatrix Potter, all self-published authors before they were discovered as worthy of a place in American literature and on the shelves of our neighborhood bookstores.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Let the reading public decide which titles are worth reading

           This came in the email tonight and I welcome it as a further sign that indie writers are coming together to further the goal of their organization www.indiePENdents.org 
          After barely eight months in existence, we number 200 plus members all over the globe, have issued Seals of Good Writing to five self published books and 21 titles are in the process of being evaluated. Where we haven't succeeded yet is in persuading booksellers to carry titles which do not have a traditional publisher behind them. It is as if they are saying to authors: "If you are not known as yet, we won't bring you to light". It will be up to their customers to demand the right to decide which books they want to read. If books are not offered to the readers, the booksellers are willy-nilly exercising censorship.  August 12, 2012, 8:46 pm (EST)

Hello Jasha,

            My name is Cindy Smith, and we have a friend in common—Jenny Milchman (see email below).  I don’t know if you know her personally or not; we became friends via our mutual authors’ group (Author Central).  She is such a lovely girl—so caring and helpful.  In fact, she was the one who told me about IndiePENdents, and I immediately went to your website, filled out the forms, and started communicating with Julia (also a wonderful lady!)  I sent her a copy of my book, entitled Nettie Parker’s Backyard, and it is now in the process of being reviewed by your group.

            When Jenny told me of your IndiePENdents, I, of course, submitted my novel to have it approved and put on your coveted list; however, even beyond that was the joy of finding an organization such as yours.  The home page of your site with its mission statement had me literally jumping for joy!!  Jenny and I have had many discussions about the very real need for a group that does just what IndiePENdents does:  to rate books for readers, without bias, and based on strict standards of grammar, acceptable writing style and content, etc.  In fact, when Jenny asked me to contribute to one of her blog’s “Made It Moments”, I at first declined, saying that I didn’t think I’d “made it” at all.  I was resentful that just because I was self-published, I couldn’t get into bookstores, large or small, and that since anyone could self-publish (and did!), there were thousands and thousands of new books on the internet marketplace monthly that were of very poor quality for one reason or another.  Yet, all of these books comprised my stiff competition.  Jenny and I agreed that some kind of body was needed to rank books fairly, which would not only be a boon to readers, but also to good self-published authors such as myself.  I told her that she had the intelligence and personality to create a body with this goal; she replied with a chuckle and declined.  It wasn’t long after that she emailed me about your group.

            To tell you briefly about my children’s WWII historical-fiction mystery, I must first tell you that the book’s themes are the very timely and important ones of anti-bullying and tolerance for all.  The story is about how my African-American heroine from South Carolina comes to care for eight, Jewish refugee children of the Holocaust in war-torn London.  It is both multi-cultural and multi-religious, and has had wonderful reviews by both children and adults alike.  After having worked as an educator in the Los Angeles Unified School District for almost thirty years, I saw first-hand the bullying, prejudice and hatred that children show each other.  The inspiration for my story actually came from a very vivid dream, and I decided to expand upon that dream and write a story for all children, regardless of their race, religion or physical challenges.  Hence, there’s quite a mixture of these topics going on in the story, but they all work and come together in the end proving love really does conquer all.

            I wrote my novel 6 ½ years ago, and I launched a massive, second promotional attempt 1 ½ years ago.  I have done many author presentations/book signings at schools.  This has resulted in the book being currently shelved in 2 public libraries (in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills), and it is also in a dozen private/public/synagogue school libraries.  I spoke about “’Oh, the Places I’ve Been’ on the Rocky Road to Self-Publishing” at the annual national AJL convention in Pasadena in June.  Of course, along with the other 1.5 million new books that are self-published yearly, I am listed on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

            I have worked almost full-time this past 1 ½ years to promote and market my book.  Unfortunately, although it does not seem destined to be a “commercial success”, I feel that I have achieved some measure of success in other ways.  I know that children who have read it, loved it, and that hopefully they have learned from the valuable lessons interwoven in the plot, and have tucked those ideals into their hearts for future reference.  I have met wonderful people like Jenny along my “rocky road”—people who loved the book and tried to help draw attention to it in any way they could because they believed in it, too.  I feel privileged to be in contact with you, Jasha, because I truly respect you—for what you have had to endure because of your religion and homeland, that you are a survivor who now writes books to educate others about this horrendous time in history, that you have conceived and brought to fruition the IndiePENdents, such a needed organization especially in today’s crazy world of publishing, and lastly, the fortitude and mental awareness you still possess at age ninety.  What accomplishments you have reached! 

            If you have any ideas you can suggest to help me further the acknowledgement of my book, I would greatly appreciate hearing from you.  If my story has stopped just one child from becoming a bully or from hating another merely because of race, religion, or outward appearance, then I, too, have accomplished a great deal.  Just think how many more children I could potentially reach, help and change for the better via further distribution!  The book’s website is www.nettieparkersbackyard.com, and Julia already has the paperback copy.  I hope to be hearing from you in the near future. You could reach me by email at nettie.halley@gmail.com
            Again, many, many thanks for all that you are doing for us writers in today’s uncertain and upside-down world of publishing.

            Best regards,

            Cindy (CV) Smith

Hi Jasha,

I wanted to write and see how you are doing. I hope your summer is going well?

I'm copying an independent writer named Cindy Smith on this email because Cindy has learned about IndiePENdents and I was telling her what a noble and intriguing area you're delving into.

I think you two may have a lot to say to each other!

My best,

Friday, July 27, 2012

Returning home

Yugoslavia is dead as a state structure, but not forgotten as an idea. 

In the forthcoming Serbo-Croatian translation of The Last Exile, I write this epitaph as its Prologue:

“It was a lamentable fact that virtually no supplies had been conveyed by sea to the 222,000 followers of Tito. (...) These stalwarts were holding as many Germans in Yugoslavia as the combined Anglo-American forces were holding in Italy south of Rome. The Germans had been thrown into some confusion after the collapse of Italy and the Patriots had gained control of large stretches of the coast. We had not, however, seized the opportunity. The Germans had recovered and were driving the Partisans out bit by bit. The main reason for this was the artificial line of responsibility which ran through the Balkans. (...) Considering that the Partisans had given us such a generous measure of assistance at almost no cost to ourselves, it was of high importance to ensure that their resistance was maintained and not allowed to flag”.
Winston Churchill, 24 November 1943
It seems only fitting to start the introduction to this edition with this quotation from the leader of Western European resistance to Hitler.
Its date coincides with the time Mussolini fell in Italy, and I was fleeing Asolo, where we were confined as enemy civilians since November 1941. By the time I reached Rome, to hide in it for another 9 months from the Nazi’s and Black Shirts, the Allies have established a beachhead at Anzio and were  fighting to break through the Gustav Line at Monte Cassino.
Thanks to Churchill’s change of heart and his decision to finally acknowledge the realities on the Yugoslav battleground, Tito’s recruiting station was established in Rome as soon as the Allies liberated it. I joined to restore the opportunity which, in Churchill’s own words, they missed in Dalmatia. 
Thus, this most apt of quotations marks the two crucial parts of my life: survival as a Jew in WWII Italy, and my journey into the building of the new Yugoslavia. My new, optimistic life, lasted 10 years before -- disillusioned in false promises of democracy -- I disassociated myself with the country of my dreams.
I wanted to be a writer since the early days of my youth in Sarajevo in the ‘salon” we held on banks of the Miljacka. I studied architecture in Belgrade because, as a Jew in Hitler’s Europe, I had to make a compromise between my love of art and a more practical way of making a living. 
I never became an architect. The Germans make sure of that when they attacked Yugoslavia in April 1941. As to writing, I experienced a meteoric rise as a newsman in Borba, where they had no openings, but admitted me in bookkeeping. I started free-lancing and became famous as a newsman, in good part owing to my knowledge of languages.
In 1944-45, I had participated in the ground thrust for Trieste when I fell to typhoid fever at its doors, and my first journalistic passion was the diplomatic fight for that city. This led to my being blacklisted by Her Majesty’s postwar Government, which, for reasons of their own, championed the cause of a war-enemy against their war-ally. So much for the Paris Peace conference in 1946, where I was further shocked to hear that my mother died at 46. I barely made it to her funeral in Sarajevo, the last time I set foot in it.
I had other passions: the fight against Stalin’s attempts at Soviet supremacy, rejected by Tito and championed by a special center spread in Borba which I edited. Here is where I had daily meetings with Milovan Djilas, who was the government pinpoint person in charge of Cominform relations. Both he and I got labeled by Moscow as “well-known Great Serbian Supremacists”. A badge of honor at the time.
Traveling the world as far as Panmunjom Peace Talks in Korea, most of Asia and the UN, I wrote mostly polemic reportage and several books on foreign policy. After staying in America in 1956, I retired from preaching politics and, once happily “defrocked” took two jobs leading national non-profit volunteer organizations; retiring thirty years later, I finally took to writing again, but this time in English.
The books, The Last Exile - Tapestry of a life, and Requiem for a Country - A history lesson, are both n print and on digital platforms. Translated editions are available in Italy and Belgrade, and will also appear on Amazon and other international listings.
In addition to all the credits I give to people who helped me with writing, editing and improving my books, I want to add special thanks to my Serbo-Croatian translator, Nada Donati. I know I am opening myself to criticism for using this designation of our language, ignoring all attempts at splitting it apart the way the country was split by the inept and corrupt lilliputan heirs to Tito. But language lives in books, and our literature speaks for itself, in spite of attempts at nationalistic distinctions. Let it be known that, in the world of our diaspora, the Jews seem to be the only ones carrying the torch of Yugoslav unity, not so fashionable today, but perhaps a nod to the saner future of the South Slavs.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


The Bosnian conflict of the 1990s was only the latest of the barbaric fratricidal wars which have plagued my beloved hometown in my former homeland. 
After finally uniting in 1918, following the assassination of Crown Prince Ferdinand in Sarajevo which served as a pretext for WWI, the South Slavs were torn  apart by the German invasion in 1940s, which inflamed a religion-driven genocide. The country was made whole again, thanks to the Partisan war of liberation and the strong hand of Tito’s “fraternity and unity” movement, but after his death the country disintegrated.  The sons and daughters of Yugoslavia fought In the 1990s against each other and divorced in the flames of a cruel genocide. Their marriage had lasted less than three quarters of a century.
The irrationality of the atavistic Balkan conflicts makes them hard to explain. The recent movie The Land of Blood and Honey tried to do so and in the eyes of Sarajevo witnesses of the infamous three-year siege failed. 
A native son, uprooted by the first Bosnian genocide in WWII, witnessing the second from abroad, I tried to make sense of it all in my two books, The Last Exile and Requiem for a Country. To further help me explain the inexplicable, Blood Without Honey now brings in the witness of my newly “found” niece, Inga Geko, a mother of a young child, herself a victim who endured the infamous three-year siege by sectarian forces in the once most tolerant of the cities in Europe.

(From the preface to “Blood Without Honey”, © 2012 by Jasha M. Levi. On Kindle, $4.99. Free five-day downloads every 90 days starting July 27 until further notice. Soon in paperback. Royalties will be used for the education of children of the Bosnian genocide)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A guest blog from Australia

Like two ham radio operators, Clancy Tucker Down Under and I on the Eastern Seaboard found each other on the same frequency and playing the same ballad seeking recognition for indie writers. Here is his daily blog, set to appear July 17 (which is tonight at Midnight in Australia) in cyberspace. Note his plug for indiePENdents.org: 

Quote of the day:
'The real essence of work is
concentrated energy."
Walter Begehot
Writing tip of the day:
G'day guys,
All writers have different approaches to writing, but generally there are three methods of attack:
1. Dream up an idea and shoot from the hip. That's me. Most of the time I have no idea where the story will head or finish up. Fortunately I find it an adrenalin rush and the story becomes self generating. It's exciting and normally takes me three months to write manuscripts 85,000 to 100,000 words. A few years back I went overseas two weeks after completing a manuscript and wondered why I was so tired. Mm ... any wonder?
2. Plan everything out before you start writing. I have been to an author's home and found entire walls covered in A3 sheets of white paper. Each sheet contained personality traits of the characters, chapter points and other issues relevant to their manuscript. I found it gob smacking, but that's the way she approaches a novel.
3. Write everything by hand, then type it up. Many authors do this. I certainly do. Why? Good question, but I think it relates to the fact that many of us started writing early in life; well before computers. Our mind was trained to write on paper. It's an odd connection between the hand and the mind. However, as with most things, do whatever you find best. There is no right or wrong way. Experiment until you find a happy and creative space. Once you have typed it on your laptop you can go back at anytime and add or delete any part.
Just do it. Many people over the years have told me they'd always wanted to write a book. My stock answer is, 'Do it!'. However, they usually cringe and give some excuse for not having started. My simple advice is this: writing a manuscript or short story is a draft in the first instance, so just let it out, let it rip. You can sort things out in the many revisions you will do; especially the first read when you've finished it. Revision of your work is vital.
Be brave. Try to be brave in each story, play or manuscript you write. Step out of your comfort zone. Maybe use a different gender as your main character, or write a story about something you have to research. It can be an enriching experience. I wrote three manuscripts in what I call the 'Kick Ass' series and the main protagonist is a girl. She is 14 in the first manuscript, 18 in the next and 32 in the third. That surprised some of my feminist friends. On the other hand, 'Mister Rainbow' has a boy and girl as the chief protagonists. Why? It allows you as a writer to give a male and female perspective to whatever disasters or events occur in your story. Also, it makes the book appealing to boys and girls.
f. Retain your own voice. Retain your own voice at all times. Never try to emulate another writer's style. Find your own and present it well. It's great therapy.
A message for all self-published authors:
Self published authors! Looking for exposure? We think that to reach readers, they should be able to see your titles in the first place. The do-it-yourself marketing and social media publicity may pave a way to some, but where most readers could see them is on display in bookstores. We are trying to open the doors of independent booksellers to indie authors. How? Look up The indiePENdents.org -- a non profit, volunteer membership organization, set to level the playing field. It is non commercial and free, with just one item on the agenda: the interests of new literary talent, neglected by the publishing industry.
Keep writing!
Don't be shy ... leave a comment or send me an email: clancy_tucker@hotmail.com
Thanks for listening.
I'm Clancy Tucker

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bragging rights?

Today's mail brought a large manila envelope with a copy of Publishers Weekly Select for July 2012. It is A quarterly guide to what's new in self-publishing.

I was surprised as I never subscribed to PW. The explanation was inside, on page 19, where, under non-fiction, I spotted this item:

Requiem for a Country
A History Lesson
Jasha M. Levi, Editions JML HIBOU, $15
paper (166p), ISBN 978-1-105-22956-6
Amazon; www.jashalevi.com
The birth and death of Yugoslavia twice
between 1918 and 1994 and the world
events of the century that found its author
"waterboarded by history."

I am glad they found me. I am even more delighted that -- like The New York Times, they have started taking notice of independent authors. Indies are on their way to the days when the gates will be open to them, ending the bookstores' boycott, giving access to  the libraries, and leveling the playing field.  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Judging a book by personal taste or literacy?

This past week brought up an interesting question from a member of The indiePENdents who had signed up as a reviewer and took exception to one particular title: Do we judge a book by our personal tastes or by its literacy. My response, for obvious reasons omitting mention of the title, follows:
 All I can say is that your letter made me read excerpts of not just the title in question but several others under the same name. There are so many of identical titles, one could call it a genre, as they all suck blood (and other things), pierce each other in many ways and pulverize a confusing array of ill-defined enemies or friends, it don’t matter. I now have a better idea what the current movies of this kind are all about, movies that I am told are the delight of teenagers and hits at the box office.
To each his own.
Some of the titles I checked out of curiosity seemed better written than others; I am sure it was my sheer luck I didn’t come across any that wouldn’t pass a literacy test. As you yourself said, the one [you got to review] can be faulted for formatting: I don’t know about that aspect of the book, so what I am left with is that you fault our standards for somehow not aiming at excluding content you and I may not like. The answer is that we can reject a book if it confuses its characters or for a fault in formatting, but not on the basis of personal reading preferences.

But friend, can we arrogate for ourselves the rights to be arbiters of the literary tastes and access of others to them? I remember how, back in 1985,  I grossed out a lady lunching with me at a Greek restaurant on 9th Avenue, while they were still serving roasted lamb’s head on a platter, soft cheeks, succulent eyeballs, tongue et all. Age and lack of availability had since made my barbaric yen for innards disappear, but I will not agree with anyone picketing a restaurant offering such fare.
Similar to that was a dilemma we faced at In Touch Networks, a national 24/7 radio reading newsstand for the blind (and otherwise print-handicapped people) over whether or not we should read Playboy on the air. Some donors questioned our broadcasting such disgusting material and Indiana authorities banned it. A blind lady client of ours objected to our reading The Daily News, and thought that we should stick to The New York Times. 
My answer was that as long as sighted people have the right to pick up anything they fancy from a newsstand, who are we to deny such right to those among us who are blind. The venerable newspapers and magazines, all of which gave us copyright permission, didn’t object to be in the same program with The National Inquirer sold on the street or read in our scheduled broadcasts.
Similarly, our Seal does not tell people what genre they should read: Our only intention is to distinguish, within each genre, those who don't do damage to the English language. 
Our Seal should not be construed as a card of identicality (my coinage) of its recipients. It is a given that they are diverse. Neither do the Seals mean that we recommend the political or any other orientation of the authors or that any of us approve each other’s company; they do attest that the titles carrying them have earned the right to a level playing field in public spaces. The final arbiters are the readers.
...., I hear your concern about the company you keep. But, please, did you take a look at the three awardees so far? They are all different. [The book you got for review] happens to be about vampires, with 13 more in all kinds of genres now in the pipeline. We cannot determine who will submit what work to us in the future. An objective reviewer shouldn’t ask for an assignment to his/her taste. This is not what we evaluate. We are not censors of the public taste. Let the readers buy what they want. We just tell them if the author passes muster as a writer.
I have come to respect your knowledge, judgment and persona.  It would pain me to see you separate from our goals on the basis of a misunderstanding. I am sure we can find a joint ground. 
Please reconsider. Don't leave. Give me your suggestions as to where you think we might change, improve and clarify. 
Most cordially, and reciprocating your affection,

Sunday, June 24, 2012

What is the qualification of a book reviewer?

The indiePENdents being an international group, my email rings around the clock. At many a time in the middle of the night, I answer.
Last night, it was about the qualification of reviewers, ours, those on indiePENdents.org. I answered by asking about the qualifications of mainstream reviewers, who anoints them and why. Ours are professional writers and editors, probably at least as good, I said. 
In the morning, letters to The Sunday New York Times Book Review made me take the compliment back. Four out of six letters addressed reviewer’s inaccuracies, misrepresentations, or lack of understanding of the books they were writing about.
One of them pointed how the reviewer of A Difficult Woman -- a history book about Lillian Helman by Alice Kessler-Harris -- made the review a polemic against Hellman’s character and took the opportunity to express agreement “with McCarthyite purges that Hellman abhorred.”  The reviewer also referred to the work as an “unsparing psychological examination of Hellman and [Dashiel] Hammett”, to which the author responded that “there are no psychoanalytical categories involved in my biography.”
Another reader speaks of a “scathing and unwarranted” review of Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.  “I defy anyone" -- the letter goes on to say -- "to read the book and not find it uplifting, humorous and personal on some level. The reviewer  definitely sounded churlish, negative and sarcastic ... The book isn’t just an honest and thoughtful look at the good things that age and experience bring most people. I think I am in good company in having eased into my older age with a lovely sense of wisdom, humor and comfort -- exactly what the reviewer does not have”.
As one letter says: “The Times should have assigned this book to someone prepared to evaluate a historian’s attempt to interpret Hellman both as a creature and defier of her world."
The author of the novel Miss Fuller,” April Bernard, says of another Times review: “The reviewer’s assertion ... is belied  by Fuller’s  sentiments in her actual letters ... That the  reviewer could mischaracterize these urgent personal and political matters ... amazes and confounds."
To which I would add that an author could trust even everyday book readers with the ability to make a sensible evaluation better than some mainstream critics. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Fellow self-published brothers and sisters:

I am a serious Australian young adult fiction writer, author, photographer and sometime poet who has been working fulltime for 12 years. I recently published my first book which has won two awards in the Australian National Literary Awards, and am about to publish my second book. I rejected four contracts for the first book (Sydney, Melbourne, London and New York) after consulting a literary lawyer. Hopefully I can offer some ideas from the 'land downunder'.

Here are my thoughts:

1. Maybe a You-tube video, Twitter or Facebook connection etc could be organised to advertise this push to gain recognition. Publicity and numbers are the keys to the success of this.  

2. It might be an idea to obtain the views of self-published authors from each country represented: USA, Europe, Australia, UK etc. It could be interesting to learn the differences from one country to another. Example: I gather authors in the US must have an agent before they approach a publisher. In Australia, agents are as rare as dinosaur eggs.

3. Could we not organise the most lucrative book prize in the world? That would make publishers sit up and listen and give us some power and publicity. Publishers would want to enter the books of their cherished authors. Give Bill Gates a call!!! 

4. (a)Yes, each book must have a prestigious seal of approval - an internationally accepted and recognised logo. Also, the world must learn what we are doing and everyone must immediately recognise the logo!!!

(b) Each approved book must have an ISBN.
(c) Each book must be registered with the Library of Congress ... Australian National Library etc

5. Once some books have been given the seal of approval, can we maybe organise for three top publishing house editors to look at them? It is a conciliatory way of keeping 'in' with them, not 'opposing' them. Honey is sweet, vinegar is sour. Their comments might also give weight to our 'seal of approval logo'. OR, why not have some famous authors read our approved books and give their official sanction. That would give our organisation some clout.

6. This must become a worldwide movement, one picked up by the press and all media and social media outlets.

7. When we are suitably backed and supported by thousands of writers, it would be wonderful to contact a distributor and bookseller to take all of our approved books without question. It might be in their best interest to do so, especially financially, considering how many self-published authors exist, and are coming on the scene.

8. In view of what is written in points 1-3 below, pressure must be placed on major book awards to accept 'approved' indiependent authors' books.

9. I am a member of an Australian organisation for self-published authors. I have contacted the president and suggested that their organisation fully back this movement. Suggestion: there must be other such organisations around the world. They also must get onboard. Trust me. Numbers are the key to success! This is not an 'us' and 'them' scenario. No, I see it as writers stepping up to the plate and barking to be taken seriously and fairly, and have their work judged on its merits. That's it! Simple. Done and dusted.

Recent discoveries: 

1. I recently self-published a book to enter major Aussie book contests to gain some recognition. Mm ... the results were disappointing indeed. It is a closed shop. Example: the most expensive book award in Australia is the Children's Book Council of Australia Awards (CBCA) - revered by teachers, parents and librarians as the doyen reference. It cost just under $400 AUD and ten books to enter. Everyone on the short list was a well established author, none were self-published and all of the 30 short-listees were published through mainstream publishers. Not only ... at the bottom of their list of short-listed authors were two paragraphs that were blatant: DONORS & BENEFACTORS. Yep, 3 of the 30 short-listed authors were donors! 27 of the 30 publishers were benefactors of the CBCA! 

2. I have been fighting a battle with the Australian Prime Minister's Office for some months. Why? Because self-published authors cannot enter the PM's Literary Awards! The First Assistant Secretary and I have become friendly adversaries. However, I've had one major victory. Now, we have a poetry category in the PM's Awards. Amazing to think we never had one in the first place, considering that one of our most famous Australian authors and poets, Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson, is depicted on our ten-dollar note and is the author of Waltzing Matilda! Hello!

3. Now, in recent days, the State Premier of Victoria's Literary Awards have opened. Mm ... self-published authors are NOT allowed to enter!

Guys, I've been battling against the odds for some time. Not only, very few authors have the courage to challenge those with the 'power', or write the emails I have written to the likes of our Prime Minister etc. I am fully behind you, but this must become a worldwide movement to change the thinking of publishers and distributors. The bottom line is simple. In regard to major book awards, the judges are not judging the full literary talent of this country - only a small percentage. So, who is really looking for the next Dickens, John Grisham or Lord Jeffrey Archer?

By the way, two years ago in Australia, the two biggest selling books were self-published. Yep, 'Underbelly' and '4 Ingredients' - one about Aussie crime barons and the other a simple cookbook. Both have gone from rags to riches - movies etc.

Thanks for listening.

CT (Clancy TuckerFrom the land downunder


Sunday, April 29, 2012


There is no code used in alternating the description of a self-published writer as an indie or independent. The moniker is accepted by other professions, such as by musicians, who had a similar problem with their industry and solved it by releasing their works by themselves. They didn't kill the mainstream issued music, but did gain respect and a just return for all those who produce it. The market evaluation is not provided by a bunch of  industry executives, but by the listening public, . This is not yet the case with independent authors.

The industry funnel is much too narrow to accommodate all writers who seek to be published. Therefore, one should not assume that the fact a manuscript wasn't "vetted" by an industry gatekeeper is to be considered inferior by definition. But the ease of self-publishing (in print and digital) enabled by new technologies, does allow books of lesser quality to flood the market along with many perfectly solid works.
To understand better where The indiePENdents. org and I as its founder stand: We are simply proposing  to separate the wheat from the chaff, by peer-reviewing indie titles which were not given access to the traditional publishing channels. To our surprise, we are encountered resistance to the idea from some indie authors; many are simply rugged individuals, but others may be driven by other considerations.

So far, bookstores and libraries have been accepting only books issued and recommended by the industry. Our aim is to certify, through panels of three reviewing peers for each submitted indie title, that the book with our Seal deserves a place on their shelves. 
We don't claim this as a right, but do want to level the playing field, which is not the same as asking for an entitlement. 
The economics we suggest are no less appealing than those bookstores get from the publishers. 
A consignment contract by which the indie author ships a requested number of copies at his/her expense, pays a stocking fee of $40 or so, and is responsible for the return of all copies not sold in six months. In the meantime, the bookstore retains 25% of the selling  price. I don't think "mainstream" is giving a better incentive to bring a book to the judgment of readers. 

Some marketers try to discourage consignement placement, claiming that the bookstore will favor titles from'mainstream' publishers the way supermarkets display their wares. I say that if the bookshop owner gets a comparable percentage of profits, with prices which are comparable, he will not spend time to hide 'self-pubbed' books in favor of  the 'pubbed' ones.

As an example: a writer strapped for money need only $115 to send 20 copies on consignment. He will get his total investment paid back after half of the books are sold.  Each additionsl copy brings him a royalty of about $10. Multiply this by a factor of x if the book takes off. 
If need be, sometime in the future, The indiePENdents.org  may consider finding sponsors for an escrow fund: it would lend authors seed money for the initial investment cost of consigning their books. We can call it  ABSOL ("A Book Send Off Loan") program until a good writer comes up with a better title.