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.