The Seal

Jasha Levi

A number of ideas are now floating about the obvious need for a new book-publishing business model, One of them directly addresses both the cause of and the remedy to its problems: The

The glut of self-published works on the printed and digital markets is a direct result of the changes in technology. Any computer savvy individual can now publish a manuscript — unfortunately, regardless of its worth. Often, such manuscripts have not been even touched by an editor’s hand. This makes it hard for readers to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. It also makes bookstores and libraries reluctant to carry works which have not been vetted by the traditional industry gatekeepers.

The imbalance between the number of existing mainstream “gatekeepers” and the number of authors seeking to publish their work has already resulted in a flood of titles not vetted by any standard. This harms the reputation of all indie-published books.

The emergence of this problem was the genesis for the idea of The We are instituting a free, objective and trustworthy review of indie titles, evaluated by our panels, each consisting of three volunteer peer reviewers. The standards given them as guidance are no different than those used in traditional book publishing. The text of the standards will be on view on our website, as will each of the “approved” titles.

Our seal will give readers, bookshops and libraries an assurance that the self-published books we review and find up to standard are as good as those that passed through the hurdles of mainstream publishing. (The only element we will not wager on is whether or not the reviewed title will make money, which is one of the basic criteria in the business of traditional publishing. But this may actually give us an advantage which dozens of now famous self-pubbed authors in the past, such as James Joyce for instance, did not have.) And the best news is that indie authors can now offer bookshops consignment contracts with terms as favorable as those given them by other publishers.

With our peer reviews, The seeks to establish an even playing field and to open the market to all good authors, whether mainstream or independent (i.e. self-published).

This would benefit both the “mainstream” industry and the all-too-numerous writers who are self-published because the overwhelmed established model is accessible to so few of them.

The is introducing a much-needed element to the market of literature by making it an even playing field.

Authors are invited to notify that they would like to receive a peer review, indicating the platform of their title. We will contact them with the particulars.

Jasha M. Levi, author


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115 thoughts on “The Seal”

  1. I suggest they have a quick look at their site and content before getting too far along in the marketing.

    There is some formatting challenges on the front page. And when I click on the 'sealed' page, nothing is there. I suggest they at least get some of the members books in the indie seal of approval page.

    Where they list books, I was surprised that clicking on the image didn't send me off to the sales site.

    So, a good idea that needs some work.

    1. Dear PA,

      I wonder if it's your computer or your personal taste. I see no "formatting challenges" on the front page. Clicking on a book in the widget or a book's title will send you off to the sales site. As for the Indie Seal of Approval Books page (there is no "sealed" page), we have not yet delivered our first Seal, although we do have a number of books in line, awaiting review.

      Julia Petrakis

    2. There are two spaces after the period. The evil mastermind is very specific about such things.

      I will wait to see how this organization proceeds with its mission.

      Good luck and best wishes.

      1. Lois, thank you so much. As one who has been typing (and yes, I still seem to say "typing" even though obviously I use a computer) with two spaces after a period for close to 60 years and never prior to this been told this was a "challenge" of any sort, I am a bit astonished that this would be a primary point of contention regarding the value of a new, start-up organization hoping to support the likes of PA Wilson.

        1. Good evening Julia,

          We at Indies Unlimited are a tight knit group. We don't insult each other, but rather, laugh and enjoy the wonderful thing we share – a love of writing. Stephen Hise asks us to use only one space after a period. But then again the evil mastermind is always ahead of the curve.:)

          I certainly did not mean to imply that two spaces after a period would indicate poor editing. Rather, I noticed a difference in spacing and punctuation. One of our contributing authors will be doing a post soon on punctuation. I will see what her opinion is.

          Have a lovely evening.

          1. May I add here that one period after a space is now standard and has been for several years? Check your style manuals. Thank you, and have a lovely day.

  2. I don't know how I feel about this. You state your argument well, excellent post, but I think this is a very slippery slope…

  3. When I first read about this in linkedin I was very interested. A lot has happened since then with a great deal of 'sorting out'among members in the process. I decided to 'wait and see' since then. The idea has appeal, but, as Dan says, it is a slippery slope. Certainly the intentions are good – will it prove a benefit? Time will tell.

    1. I agree, Yvonne, it does seem slippery to me around here. I hope I can navigate the ice I am getting and prefer to take 'break a leg' as only a wish for success. Poetic licence, you may call it.

  4. Like Dan, I'm a bit unsure of this.

    However, because of the large influx of Indie books and the need for some sort of site to vet these books, Jasha's idea may work. I've heard that there are other sites that do this sort of thing.

    I'm inclined to give it a try.

  5. I dislike any mention of an "Approved" books list. There is far too much room for subjectivity in any sort of review system; no matter how impartial one may seem, there will be some bias.

    And it is a hop, skip and a steamroller from there to a ratings system. We need another PMRC debacle like we need holes in our heads.

  6. According to the reviewing principles and standards, "reviewers will pass books which meet basic objective standards of spelling, grammar, punctuation, editing, and formatting". Not a lot of room in there for subjectivity.

  7. For the first time in my life as a reader, I can now choose from a huge selection of books that were not made available solely because someone in an office somewhere thought any of them might make a buck. Why on earth would I want to return to the standards of anything that looks like "mainstream publishing?" How many Snooki bios do we need?

    1. I love it! I just mentioned the Snooki opus to somebody a few minutes ago as a refutation of the idea that things "vetted" and "qualified" and "selected" don't have to be worth a damn. Every day I download ebooks that are better than so many best-sellers. Not to say that Sarah Palin and "Twilight" and Monica Lewinski's memoirs aren't all vetted and wonderful, but…

      The idea that the approval of this group would be "not subjective" is absurd. Hell, the idea that editing is not subjective is absurd.

      What is troublng me about this is the idea that there are indie writers who seem to feel that indie books should be weeded out by somebody. Other than "by whom", of which there are no non-scary answers, why would an indie author be threatened by all the junk out there. Bookstores have always been full of junk. What does it matter to anybody if there is ten times a much of it?

      And where the hell does it make sense for an indie author to say, "We need somebody to get rid of all these sucky books (by other people, of course) or build a special room where only the good people are let in."? If you're an indie author, it means nobody thought your book was good enough to get into their club.

      I see no way there could be a "site to vet books", and certainly no reason one is needed. What we have are hundreds of sites that present selected books to their readers and subscribers.

      I get about 5 emails a day from lists of ebook tips I subscribe to.

      It's like a huge smorgasbord instead of having to order off a limited menu.

  8. In defence of the Seal concept I was under the impression that 'reviews' would only be about the basics – typos, spelling, grammar, punctuation and general readability – not literary merit. So the Seal would simply tell potential readers that the mechanical bits are all ok.

    I've taken part in one panel and those were the only things I was looking at or for.

    Perhaps the word 'review' has too many negative connotations and obscures the service the Seal is actually attempting to provide.

    I'm sure there is no intention of becoming defacto gatekeepers in the traditional sense!

    1. Your impression seems disingenuous when Jasha is saying in comments on this very post that the idea is to stipulate "well-written" books, to declare which are and are not "literature".

  9. The sentence "The avalanche of self-published books creates a problem of legitimacy" also causes me a lot of pause. I wasn't aware that my books, minor though they may be in the grand scheme of things, were not legitimate works.

    Having books "awaiting review" is well and good, but perhaps promotion should have waited a while, until a few of those books had been reviewed and posted to bolster your website's own legitimacy?

    1. As founder and temporary head of this free and non-commercial, I try to listen and hear what is being said about our program. If a convincing argument rather than speculation against it comes up, I am ready to concede its strength, but haven’t heard a real one yet. The indiePENdents Seal indicates neither a like nor a dislike, and no peer-review team is "approving" any books. The Seal simply vouches that a title meets the best objective writing standards we could come up with; they are open to all to see on our website. If there is any fault with them, I'm sure we'll hear about it and I can assure you that our mind is open to reason. That is what prompted the whole idea in the first place: that in the marketing din and the publishing free-for-all, no talent be left behind. I think that this goal stands to reason.

      1. I've downloaded some BAD ebooks. And the first thing that turned me off was bad spelling, bad editing, bad formatting. Never mind if the story was great if it's painful to read, then why bother?

        Perhaps this whole idea is at least like a "Good Housekeeping" seal of approval for books. Those bearing the seal have at least gone the extra mile to have it edited, formatted correctly, and in general, give a darn about their work.

        I'll give it a try!

        1. Why would anyone everdray for a bad ebook?

          I mean, you get a good percentage of the book free in the sample, and some retailers even give you a grae period to return the book if it's a real lemon.

          is there seriously anyone left out there who pays for a book from a new-to-them writer without sampling first?

  10. There is a fundamental flaw with this program.

    A seal of approval is nifty. That's basically what is stamped on a book when a large publisher opts to purchase publishing rights. However, as we've seen from their lack of success in the ebook world…

    …readers don't look at those seals of approval.

    In fact, across almost all genres, the majority of top-100 bestselling ebooks today ARE indie books.

    All of them good books.

    Readers are not having any trouble telling good ebooks from ones they won't enjoy. That's what samples are for, and book bloggers, and reviews. And the "glut" has not harmed indie reputation. Indie popularity is still rising, although I'd speculate most readers don't know OR care that they're buying more indie books than trad pub ones.

    If the Random House or Penguin or Simon & Shuster names are irrelevant to most readers – and ALL available data says this is the case – then how is a small label seal of approval going to become important to readers, without the billions of dollars of a major megacorporation pushing it?

    Answer: it's not.

    Any writer who wants a seal of approval on their book can make one up, and get almost as much value as they will get from any other seal of approval, because most readers won't have heard of *any* of them, or won't care even if they have.

    At the bottom line, seals of approval are about writer confidence (and lack thereof). They're about writers feeling good because some other person has validated them, said "yes, you ARE good enough". And that's not insignificant; we writers are notoriously touchy and emotional. For a newer writer, having someone say "yes, you are writing high quality work" is a big deal. It can give a confidence boost which encourages the writer to keep pushing. For those purposes, I can see a seal of approval having real value.

    For readers? T'ain't going to happen. There are very, very few individuals or groups with enough PR clout and whose existence is known to enough of the public for their seal of approval to matter to more than a tiny fraction of people. For almost everyone, one seal – made up or real – is as good, or bad, as any other.

    1. Exactly, Kevin.

      This is actually a sort of defeatism, saying there's this big problem that needs to be defended against. In fact, people buy millions of books from indie authors. They don't care about the trappings and pedigrees. If somebody tells them it's a good book, or if they download a sample or have read a freebie they liked by the same author, they are a likely buyer.

      There are plenty of places people get "approval guarantees". Including trusted blogs, trusted reviews, best-seller lists, etc.

  11. We don't need another set of gatekeepers.


    This is the Internet, people. There are no more restrictions or limitations. This is freedom the like of which authors of old could only dream of. The only arbiters of good or bad are the readers – as it should be.

    We don't need a stamp of approval from anyone else, thank you very much.

    1. Claire: who are the 'we' you represent with such authority? The indiependents I speak for are not a set of gatekeepers. To the contrary: we are not proposing to stop anyone at any gate. It isn't good form for a writer to repeat her/himself, but since you make an exception I will do it, too: WE ARE NOT A SET OF GATEKEEPERS BUT GATE OPENERS. And if you don't want our stamp, you don't have to shout: you are not being mugged to submit for evaluation anything you may have written.

      1. But a seal of approval IS a gate, if it's effective. An effective seal of approval would be one which encouraged readers to buy *that* book instead of some other book. An effective seal of approval is one which is highly desirable because without it sales are not as good.

        An ineffective seal is one most readers won't recognize or understand or care about. Such a seal would not represent a gate.

        Jasha, understand: the reason your plan raises concerns among writers is that *if you succeed* at building an effective seal of approval, then you have become a de facto gatekeeper. If the seal is effective, then not having the seal means losing sales to books which do, ergo, an effective seal becomes a prerequisite for marketing success.

        I'm not sure such a seal could exist; I don't think it's likely that anybody could create one, in today's market. But IF it was possible to create an effective seal of approval, those who did would gain enormous control over the market.

        1. This. Exactly this. There is nothing more to be said on it.

          I thought I was being obvious but this is pretty much my train of thought right here. Thanks, Kevin.

      2. What Kevin said below.

        By 'we' I mean all the indies currently working on and selling their books. Readers seem to be finding the ones they like quite well, so I'm not even sure what kind of problem you're trying to solve here.

        I still think this is a fool's errand.

  12. By all means, don't get what you don't want. Our submissions are by free will of authors who dont mind being recommended to the readers and being accepted by bookstores and libraries.

    1. My books are already being accepted by bookstores and libraries. But many other authors are not, of course. Jasha, I'm curious how your program impacts libraries and bookstores taking on indie books. Do you have relationships already set up with them?

      1. Kevin, as to your first post: we do not give a seal of approval, just say that the book, being well written, is literature. As peer writers, we are among equals and may be allowed to have a say about titles freely submitted to us. We have no ax to grind. Nobody pay us to do what we do, and we are not promoting anyone's interests but those of writers themselves who are still being stigmatized for self-publishing.  On your second question: not every writer is as lucky to have his books even looked at, let alone accepted on the shelves of stores and libraries. We are about to approach 750+ independent bookstores with offers to accept indie books; we are working on possibly finding interest-free loans to writers who cannot yet afford to pay the full costs required for bookstore shelf space, and the printing and shipping their titles on consignment.

        1. "Seal of Approval" is precisely the phrase used on your website, Jasha.

          I have nothing against the idea, and see some good that can come of it. I just don't think that it's likely any writer-organized group is going to succeed at becoming a recognized brand by readers when most major publishers, even with their billions, fail at that task.

          1. Our membership and the working group worked for at least three month debating how many angels can fit on the tip of a needle, and the A-word was one of the banished ones, so lets call its sneaking-in an X expression. Approval is many things which we do not engage in, such as like and dislike the subject; nor do we agree or disagree with a premise of a book or a posit of the author. Just the facts, ma'am — to steal a phrase — just facts about the writing. Are we trying to create a brand? No more than a report from any group aims to create a brand from its subject or itself. No brand, but a group of indie authors united for a needed purpose, yes.

  13. There are two really major things wrong with this idea.

    1. Is what is already being discusssed, this invention of some seal of approval which for some reason will open the doors of bookstores, despite the many reasons they would have not to fool with books that don't come to them in the way their system works.

    The whole idea of some ad hoc, self-annointed committee approving books is almost too silly to be dangerous.

    2. The whole thrust of this idea, of the associated Linked In group, of the entire personal crusade by Jasha, is to get books into stores.

    As I've often repeated (echoing almost every major expert on self-publishing) self-published writers should NOT be trying to get into stores. At best it's marginally profitable for the work involved–and does nothing to build your brand in real life, which is the internet for SP authors–at worst it's financially catastrophic, one of the few ways an author working ebooks and POD can actually LOSE money.

    And for what? Ego. That's the reason that SP authors get obsessed with stores. They don't mind losing money to be in there on the shelves and be "real". It's a huge mistake.

    I've found this group to be anything but friendly and receptive. In fact, there were several LI threads that just turned into Jasha and several disciples trashing people for not jumping on this bandwagon.

    This is not to say that writers can't do some things in stores, but it's nothing to shoot for until you have your feet well under you and this is basically a trap for your time and energy, and possibly a sort of literary Jonestown.

    1. As this gent says, his kind did engage me on LinkedIn. They pulled their ego-less knives and were personally offensive to me, so I will pass on his offered opportunity to get into their gutter again.

    1. You know, that one hit me in the gut, too. When someone gets to decide what literature is, I start getting that nervous feeling that makes me want to do everything myself and let the readers decide. Which they tend to do.

  14. I want to add one other thing…

    I see zero issue with Jasha or anyone else starting a site which shouts out about good books. There are hundreds of book blogs out there doing precisely that, and I think their effort is wonderful.

    Where I see a potential issue is someone trying to "save indies" (we don't need saving) from some imaginary "stigma" (which today mostly resides in the minds of writers and some big publishing employees).

    When you find a good book, shout it out to the heavens! I'm totally on board with that. But one book blogger or reviewer is no more valid than any other. *shrug* That's just the way it is.

    1. Kevin: The stigma is very much alive for most less privileged self-published, not known writers. I speak from experience: when I got tired of unanswered calls and emails, and walked into the independent Labyrinth bookstore in Princeton, I was told flat out that they won't even take a look at my books, let alone give me a signing, because I 'don't have a publisher'. Before someone makes a crack that my books may not be good enough, could one tell without looking at them? And yes, I want my books in bookstores where readers can peruse them, compare, and decide for themselves if they want to buy them. It is called an even playing field.

      1. Jasha.

        I don't often say things like this to other writers.

        But I don't have to read your books.

        I read your posts. You write English in quirky, loopy way that does not inspire confidence. You have an imperious and defensive approach.

        I would guess that you will have trouble getting books on shelves no matter what you hang on them.

        There is no even playing field in bookstores. Big companies pay for placement, pay for co-op advertising, deliver through existing channels with billing systems in place.

        This is windmill to tilt at and saavy self-publishers don't worry about it.

        If you think those guys at Labyrinth are snickering now, wait until you sashay in there and announce that your book now has a seal of literary quality bestowed by your writers group and watch them fall on the floor laughing.


      2. Jasha, print bookstores don't carry 90% of what the biggest publishers put out. They don't carry but a trickle of what the most respected small presses put out. Of course they're not going to carry indie books. It's not a quality issue, so much as it is an issue of space.

        Bookstores across the US have slashed shelf space. What's left, they cram with best sellers and best selling hopefuls. They want books they can turn over rapidly, so that they can fill shelves with the books coming out next month.

        This isn't an indie-friendly place. Heck, that isn't even a midlist-friendly environment, which is why the midlist has been shattered over the last half decade or so, and why so many thousands of midlist writers have turned to indie publishing.

        In a couple of years, physical bookstores are going to be in the same shape CD music stores are today: mostly gone. Why focus on what a dying business model thinks about your work?

        1. Good points, Kevin, and to continue down that avenue – bookstores will only purchase books if they can return them to the publisher at year-end if they don't sell. A bookstore can NOT return POD books, and since most Indie books are POD – that's the biggest deterrent right there. A friend of mine had books printed and sold them to a bookstore…at the end of the year, that bookstore returned the unsold units and nearly sent her into bankruptcy. It was a nightmare for her.

          1. Hi Kevin – Good to see you back and sharing your wisdom with us.

            I would address only one part of this argument, there is a disconnect between what we (Indie Authors) know about SP and the public's view of it. They do not have our insights and knowledge of how writing and publishing is evolving.

            For the public, they continue to equate SP with Vanity Press. They don't understand POD and the eBook world yet. They are learning to come into the 21st century, but it is a tortuous trip.

            Is having Jasha's seal of value? Perhaps, if you look at it as one brick in a very BIG wall of getting our books out there.

          2. Hi Kat – If your friend was almost bankrupted by the return of her books, then she made some bad business decisions. It doesn't mean that being on a book shelf is a bad idea, but be smart about it and don't overreach.

          3. Exactly, Neil. For some reason, she didn't realize they would be able to return them. It's just an extreme example – and I used it here to prove the point that bookstores can and will return books at year-end.

  15. Ouch. I feel as if I'm stepping into a cage full of lions armed with a feather duster. And hi Kevin 🙂

    Let me put this small argument out there : I log into Amazon and I want to buy a book. Even in a single genre there are tens of thousands of books. How do I choose one out of so many without just closing my eyes and going eeeny meeny mo with a pin?

    Chances are I'm going to get a real stinker, the kind of book that has been churned out in a month to cash in on the ebook craze, the kind of book that has never been edited, the kind of book that went from the flourish of 'The End' straight to Amazon.

    Wouldn't it be nice if I could click on a category that let me see only those thousands of books that have had some care put into their production? Some editing? Some proof-reading?

    Of course I'm still going to have to read blurbs, read reviews etc but at least I'll be able to look at ideas instead of wondering how many spelling mistakes there are going to be after the first few pages.

    To me this is about having a /minimum/ level of quality.

    There is not a writer on IU who could not get this Seal with both eyes closed and one hand tied behind their backs! People like myself come here because we know we will get quality writing. Isn't that an unacknowledged Seal in itself?

    1. Excellently put, Meeks.

      There's a lot on this comment thread from writers concerned about some threat to their imagined freedom, which doesn't scan with me. This idea, for good or ill, is not really going to change anything. But Meeks makes an excellent comment from the reader's point of view: there IS an awful lot of badly-written junk out there, and I believe that it would help this chaos if readers DID have some way of making a purchase with a better-than-50/50 chance of not getting burned.

      I don't see any threat to any writer's freedom to publish whatever they want, irrespective of whether any "seal of approval" gains traction with the great reading public or not (which will take an inordinate amount of time, btw).

      Often we celebrate when an Indie gains success (and rightly so), because it helps all Indies. But then the reverse must apply: every reader that swears they won't buy Indie again because of the poor writing standards must damage all Indies.

      The best solution would be for every hack to make the effort and learn to write English correctly. But since that's pretty unlikely to happen, in the meantime those of us Indies who do our utmost to produce well-written, original and entertaining stories need to consider all the alternatives.

      The reader should be front and centre in everything we do.

      1. Thanks Chris. I know a great deal will change in the next ten? years but I hope that all the great indie writers get a chance to be /seen/ sooner than that! This is where the innovation is coming from, and the bulk of the talent, imho but it's lost in the crush.

        1. We all have a chance to get seen NOW.

          It's what's happening. At least, it's happening to people who are making it happen.

          Trying to move into the future by clinging to the trappings of the past is a bootless enterprise.

          In ten years there might not BE any bookstores. Publishers are starting to discontinue print versions even now.

          Writers getting together for mutual promotion is a great idea and we'll see more of it.

          But trying to form a "True Good Writers Club, Nobody Else Allowed" thing is counterproductive.

          And, by the way, there are already sites and associations that do reviews and grant annual awards.

          If anybody is not aware of that and thinks they need to be reinvented, it might explain why they would feel they aren't selling enough books.

          1. Oh, I don't know, Linton. You probably *could* get a "true good writers club" set up by using the only truly impartial judge of the writing: readers.

            Just set the bar at X sales of books, and don't let anyone join until they can demonstrate sales of that level or more. Voila! You have a list which, while it will not include ALL good writers, is unlikely to include many bad ones.

            Of course, there wouldn't really be any point to such an "in club". What I am illustrating is that the only opinions which have significant merit in determining the quality of fiction today are the opinions of readers.

    2. This is exactly the situation that has always existed.

      Shelves full of books, some you'll like, some you won't.

      Some people feel up to the task of sorting life out, others feel the need for somebody to show them the way and make their decisions for them.

      The idea of some self-appointed committee deciding what is "quality" and what is "literature" is a shabby one.

      These "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval", "Catholic Canon Reading Lists" things very quickly become corrupt, because we license their corruption by buying into them.

      I don't see any "threat" being addressed here. It's just a bad idea that's gathering a cult.

      Indie writers have the chance to be seen and read right now. The readers are out there. Go get them. You don't need little gold badges on a funny uniform hat to help you.

      1. Lin,

        It's not really the situation that has always existed. When buying a mainstream from a shelf, the reader knows that they are paying for a work that has been edited and proofed, where the English language is used with an acceptable level of accuracy (irrespective of the story content).

        This is NOT the case today. As Meeks said clearly, for readers the situation is chaos – they simply don't know from the thousands of titles available which will tell their stories in accurate English, and which are told by people who, for want of a better term, can't write.

        The Amazon star rating system is NOT reliable. I've read books with over 40 5-star reviews which are absolutely dire in the accuracy of English used. My research has shown the back-scratching going on here.

        I repeat: if readers buy an Indie book and get burned because of poor use of English, then there won't be many readers to go get for long. The Indie writing movement will wither and die unless use of English standards rise across the board.

        1. Chris, I don't think readers are actually even SEEING "bad books" (and by this I mean the truly awful ones, not just the ones that aren't to their taste) most of the time.

          Books start out unranked. And so far down the list that it is *impossible* for a reader to find them without searching or digging really, really deep. Most readers don't do that.

          Most online book buyers today browse the "stacks" by clicking their favorite genre and scanning the first 40-100 books. Those are usually the "most popular" (which means they are selling lots of copies). If they're selling lots of copies, they *aren't* bad books.

          Why? Because most people won't buy a truly bad book. They'll sample. If the sample is gripping, they'll buy. If not, they'll move on to another sample. I sometimes download a dozen samples at a time, just to have a few first chapters around to check out when I'm bored or waiting in a line.

          Those bad books never make a sale. They sink – and continue to sink – down to the bottom of the stack, which makes them even harder to find. Less readers see them to even sample them. They're invisible to almost all buyers – irrelevant to the market.

          Readers aren't having trouble finding good books. The only ebooks most readers even see today ARE good books, because anything in the top few hundred slots for a given genre is selling too many copies to be a bad book.

          1. True that readers are not seeing bad books. They are not seeing good books either. Both for the same reasons. And there lies the rub. How do we distinguish between 'new', 'unknown' and 'bad' when the book is so far down the list it never sees the light of day.. I am not sure a 'seal' is the answer. Wish I had an answer. But at least we are talking about the problem here, and there are many different points to share here. It is all grist for the mill. That's a good thing.

          2. Bon Jour Yvonne,

            As per your comment that started: "True that readers are not seeing bad books. They are not seeing good books either. Both for the same reasons."

            I am thinking that is just another way, or as I said earlier, (seal, shmeal) another brick in the wall of publlicizing my books. And so, as of this coming Monday, I will be on Twitter, tweeting with all of my fellow author birdies.

            And my website is being technically tweaked to become more user friendly as we speak.

          3. I agree, Neil.

            The whole "seal" thing seems to me to be divisive, problematic, and likely to tick too many indies off.

            But another site out there helping to find and promote good books? I can't see how that could be a bad thing. =)

  16. An interesting concept. Both good intention and possible bad results are clearly evident.

    My problem is wondering why validation is needed in the first place? Yes, having a "seal of approval" for grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. is nice. But it does, as pointed out, lead to the potential of lost sales for an author who chooses not to go with this service over one who does.

    Then there is the issue of what rules are these guidelines set by? Grammar techniques have been cast-off in the past in favor of creative voice; the same with spelling (Look at "Flowers for Algernon"); and also leniency for some creative license with punctuation. Yes, writing has industry standards. But many of those standards were instituted by the iron fists of publishers of yore.

    I commend an effort to raise the perceived indie status. The practical application of it, however, might be elusive – like trying to catch a rainbow. In the end, I believe, it is in a combined effort of indie authors working to produce the best possible works AND the readers utilizing the "peek" programs to educate themselves prior to purchase that will achieve these ends.

    Sadly, there will always be junk published. There have been numerous titles produced by traditional houses that needed serious revision of grammatical issues. The fact that I am an indie author (or self-pubbed if a preferred term) should not alone tell the reader how well I write. My work should speak for itself. That would be the only seal I would need. And should be the only seal readers should need.

      1. A small group of people deciding which books are "well written" and which are "literature" isn't elitist?

        What I'm not seeing in this whole thing, by the way, is even the most basic and rudimentary explanation of what good this will and how it will work.

        What is going to happen here that will suddenly make bookstores change their business models? A badge from Lulu, saying it's good, so they'll buy it?

  17. Some form of peer review and approval is required. Every new industry in history has discovered that quality control is necessary for the industry to thrive. I signed up.

    1. Not really.

      Is there a "quality control" for painting? Somebody saying you can't hang crappy paintings in galleries and museums?

      Is there quality control in music? Somebody out there saying that you shouldn't buy this sort of music because it's not "good". (Think about that one a minute… run over the ramifications)

      This is the arts. This isn't like the government making sure people aren't buying cars or toaster that will kill them.

      There is no definition of "quality" in the arts. It's all about personal taste.

      The LAST thing you want is for ANYBODY to be making these sort of decisions on your behalf. Especially not crackpots and cults.

      My prediction would be that this little goodie medal, if it ever gets past the "oh, we're quality and others aren't, let's build a clubhouse" stage, would be a laughing stock, actually harmful to public perception of indie writers.

      And if anybody thinks stores are going to care about it, they just don't know what the bookstore business is all about.

      1. Lin,

        With respect, you're making uneven comparisons.

        Writers need to communicate effectively in the English language; it's not the same as a painting or music (or maybe it is: painting has colours, music has notes).

        The nearest accurate comparision in my opinion would be pottery: if your clay is lumpy and you can't use the potter's wheel, then you're not going to make a work of art. Similarly, someone with poor use of English skills is not going to tell a good story.

        1. Actually, that comparison is way further off than mine.

          And somebody who's tone deaf won't sell records, and blind people will only be able to show in avant garde galleries. Yada yada.

          The analogy, in general terms, is that there is no such thing as "quality control" in the arts. And in fact, not that much in many matters. People buy crappy Chinese tools because they're cheap. They buy polyester shirts.

          The original comparison of writing to industries with safety and quality standards was the "uneven comparison".

          And guess what, industries don't institute quality control based on a what a bunch of people out on the street group together and declare to be "quality".

          This whole thing has been scattered and contradictory from the start, on Linked In. Just follow this, you have them saying "Oh, we wouldn't gatekeep quality, just grammar and editing, then turning around and saying, we just judge what is well written, what is literature."

          This is basically a cultd. If it ever gets off the ground it will splinter and vie within itself.

          And what it is really based on, if you examine it, is, "Waaaahhhh, I want to have my books in stores like real books."

          1. "No quality control in art." Fair comment.

            Thing is, the standard of English in quite a few Indie books is poor (objectively: in comparison to accepted, current, standard English usage).

            Next thing is: readers feel ripped off; they pay for a product offering entertainment, but which dissatifies the purchaser due to objectively poor quality.

            Next thing is: they tar all Indies with the same brush, so we all lose.

            This is a clear, increasing problem that threatens all of us. It needs to be solved.

          2. I don’t think the comparisons to the visual arts are fair ones. You wouldn’t expect a customer to take a peek at one corner of a painting, for example, and base his or her purchasing decision on that small sample. I think it’s disrespectful to readers to apply a “buyer beware” model and expect them to spend time researching their purchases, poring through reviews and reading samples, just to find out if a book meets basic standards of craftsmanship (spelling, punctuation and grammar). Most other industries have ways of regulating quality, either through voluntary membership of organizations or via legally required standards. Why should indie publishing be any different?

          3. So you will deal with that threat by putting a bell on the cat?

            By going around and making all those people shape up?

            By…. actually I can't figure out exactly what this whole thing will do to prevent this.

            Here's the thing. There is already a lot of screening in place, that's more effective.

            Reviews on amazon for instance. If books are so crappy tht they put people off, you see it in the reviews. Or in the look inside.

            This is a false threat, being cooked up by people who want to be in some sort of control. "Weapons Of Mass Stigma".

            In point of fact, your marketing and brand have nothing to do with that.

            You reach your people your way. You build a brand and presense.

            This whole idea that people buy books by strolling down an aisle in the supermarket is antiquated.

            Again, I think much of this horror story of rotten indies poisoning the well for the rest is cooked-up. Mostly by people who haven't figured out how the whole indie book market works.

            People who want to be "REAL authors" with the trappings of the old system, like some sort of literary cargo cult.

            You have to play your own game. You can't play the traditional game or you will lose. Castro and Mao didn't build paper mache tanks and give themselves cool uniforms and medals, they fought a different kind of war.

          4. "I don’t think the comparisons to the visual arts are fair ones."

            Maybe use the same method the indie music industry uses. As far as I can see that's listening to samples and figuring out if it appears to be something you'd like and done to your standards, whatever those may be.

    2. Shaun,

      I don't know what you mean by using the term "required." Required by whom? In what way is this required? Even the proponents of the seal of approval approach bill it as voluntary.

  18. Go Shaun! I'm reminded of free-range eggs. No-one could stop the misery of factory hens until the general public started buying certified free-range eggs instead of the other kind. Now free-range is slowly becoming the norm.

      1. And the proper term is 'free run' in any case. That means they are not caged. 'Free range' means they can scratch around outdoors, which is impossible in most of the continent due to winters that are too cold. (I grew up on chicken farms so I am on top of that). Not that that means anything to this discussion. lol

        1. lol – the language divide! We call them free-range in Australia, maybe because we don't get snow and ice they way you do. Winters are just damp and chilly, at least they are for us.

          1. That's funny – and of course you are likely correct. lol There is no area of Canada, possibly with the exception of Vancouver, where hens can roam all year. And you are right about the taste. I always try for free range when I can.

      2. Have you ever studied a Robin's egg? Beautiful! And free-range DOES taste better than caged–as if to say Indie authors have the freedom to express ourselves in a way big publishers don't. I love being Indie, and it would take a heck of a lot of $$ to entice me to sign on with a publishing house. I like the freedom, yet I also take pride in what I publish. Personally, I'm not against having some voluntary type of approval. If I go that route, I don't plan on flaunting it everywhere-no, a simple image of the seal in the front matter, and a brief explanation of why the book carries the seal. It's up to the reader to decide if they want to buy it or not. Samples are there for the taking.

  19. I line up a bit with Chris. "Indie" is a four-letter word to some readers, because some have been burned by choosing titles that are not well-edited or even well developed. I don't want to be tarred by that same brush. I wrote about that on my IU blog this week. Perhaps some entity could help educate readers and writers alike. I don't know if it's this one. It's too early to tell, and from the tone of some of the responses, my hope wanes. Another point I take issue with: Why does this entity need to benefit mainstream publishing?

    1. The con's in this debate are in effect advising indies that all they really need is good marketing. Does paying for marketing advice guarantee success? We are even told that The Seal of Good Writing can endanger the species, lead is into Jamestown. It would be good if all commentators placed their personal interests in this debate on the table. For, to tell the truth, the arguments sometimes sound like national politics, where propagandists tend to hide their true affiliation.

      1. Not really what I am arguing at all, Jasha. Summary:

        1) Getting your seal of quality noticed by readers is going to be VERY difficult. Until readers recognize your seal and view it as a mark of quality, your seal isn't any better than someone making up their own seal of quality and labeling their book that way. IndiePENdents must market their name to readers in a way that inspires reader trust before it is of any value to writers. Penguin and Random House cannot do that, and they spend tens of millions a year in the effort.

        2) You've said there is stigma around indie books; yet you are talking about labeling books as indie with your seal. Personally, I don't see much stigma of the sort you are discussing. If I'm right and there is very little stigma, then your seal is unnecessary. If you're correct and the stigma is still very real, then doesn't labeling books as indie (which using your seal would do!) actually HURT them, since most of the time readers won't have a clue whether a book is indie or not unless you tell them?

        3) If a seal of quality were to actually succeed, it would become a new gatekeeper. Success would mean books with that label were viewed differently by the public, and got higher sales. Success would make a seal a "must have" if you wanted to get good sales, which would put enormous economic power in the hands of the reviewers. I'm not comfortable with that. Groups can start with the best people and best of intentions, but power corrupts.

        Marketing is, frankly, over-rated compared to simply writing good books, lots of them, packaging them well, and publishing them. 😉

    2. Laurie, I'm honestly curious here: how does a reader tell that one of your books is indie published? In your case I actually looked up "Drawing Breath" (I think that's you), and your print book is listed as published by Createspace, while your ebook is listed as published by Amazon Digital Services. These are, incidentally, clear giveaways that it's a self published book.

      If you check out "By Darkness Revealed", you can see that I've added my registered business name as publisher for both the print and ebook versions. It's on Select right now as a test of the program, so Amazon only if you want to look. Point is, most readers are going to be incapable of telling my publishing company apart from any of the zillions of others out there without doing some legwork. And most readers don't care.

      You're right that there are some folks who still knee-jerk against indie books. I'm not shy about saying my work these days is indie published (I went the other route, too, back in the day). But why would you not present your books as being the same as any other book? Why set up potential roadblocks for readers?

      1. Kevin – While "stigma" is rather strong, there is a less than positive view of SP today by the public. Yes it is changing, but ever so slowly at the moment. However, as that gains momentum . . .

        A slightly different issue that you brought up. What are the advantages of having your own registered business name as publisher?

        1. A good question, Neil. Maybe we need a new essay on that! =)

          Well, for purposes of this discussion, anyone who IS inclined to feel all self published books are bad is going to see a registered business as the publisher. If the go so far as to actually look up that business, it has a website, although I need to do quite a bit more work there, been lazy about updating that one.

          More crucially to me, a business is useful because it lets me open a business bank account under the business name. That helps me keep finances straight. I'm good at math, but a lazy accountant. If I was dumping all my book income into my main account – well, it'd be OK right now, as income is still not that great, but as my writing income continues to increase it would rapidly become a nightmare.

          Useful for things like insurance, business loans, rental of facilities, and other odds and ends as well, although those are not as critical to my publishing business yet.

          Lastly, I now own a small press; if I want to, I can begin accepting submissions from other writers. Say the retailers decide someday that the whole self pub experiment was a horrible failure… Small presses will still be around. They will still be able to get books out. By already working to build my small press as an effective brand, I set the stage to be able to widen the scope of that business should it ever become necessary.

          I've run a few businesses before. Registering a business name is automatic to me at this point; it's simply something you want to do. It's part of the brand building process. It's a crucial part of your marketing identity. And it's the professional course of action, in my opinion.

          1. Thanks Kevin. I've had my own very small business before but it just never occurred to me to set up a business for my writing. This is definitely one idea I'm going to explore.

        2. Those readers who are the most virulent anti-indies would (and do) claim it is to hide that you're self-published. In a way that seems to be way Kevin is saying too, although I think he sees it (and reasonably so) as forcing the reader to approach his book(s) without preconceived notions while those who object see it as purposely misleading.

          1. I obviously don't see it as misleading. 😉 I am building my publishing brand with an intent to build a quality label that will produce quality work. Some of the work I've published or am publishing under that label has received awards for quality. I have confidence in my work.

            I do find it fascinating that in computer games, film, music, journals, and most other media, it is standard practice to form a business entity even if it's a one person operation – but that there are folks who call foul when writers do the same.

            Frankly, I say "let 'em say what they want". I really don't care what some random internet pundit who doesn't understand business anyway says about my business plan.

      2. Kevin, I'm hiding nothing, and I resent the implication. Nearly every indie who publishes under his or her own name on Amazon has these tags put on the work.

        1. Laurie, I'm very sorry – that's not what I meant at all. Actually, what I was saying was that by listing Createspace and Amazon Digital Services as the publishers for your work, you're marking your books as clearly self published. If anything, you're NOT "hiding". And if the folks who postulate that many readers still avoid indie works are right, you're hurting your sales.

          Most of the more successful indie books are basically indistinguishable from any other small press book – good covers, good editing, good prose, and a business entity named as the publisher. I do regular surveys of various genres, tracking percentages of the top 100 lists which are indie vs other publishing modes, and it's become increasingly difficult over the last year to tell indie books apart as the overall professionalism of indie work has grown.

  20. This will be an ongoing issue for a long time to come. Things go in cycles, or like the swing of a pendulum. We are on the first downswing, a time of chaos and major changes. The time will come when things will settle into a new 'tradition' the bottom of the arc. When those that no longer fit the mainstream get tired of that, along with the gatekeeping it implies, we will see a new 'Indies' movement – the swing to the other side of the arc. It's just how things work. As for me, I'm kind of glad we are not in the 'trad' section of the arc. That means that we have many more options.

  21. This is an important discussion. Let's make sure we are discussing ideas and not people or their motivations.

    Please stay on point and do not engage in ad hominem attacks.

  22. What an interesting idea. I have enjoyed reading the responses as well. In five to ten years it will be interesting to look back and see where people stood on the issue of quality vs art. Subjective? Perhaps.

    I've found quite a few gems in the indie author community over the last year, but there have been just as many books that could have used the red ink of an editors pen.

    Good arguments on both sides of the fence, though I believe that the public will eventually decide the issue. As much as I admire the indie spirit and community as a whole, getting this diverse group to agree to *anything* will be the most difficult challenge. The image of cat herding comes to mind.

  23. I look forward to Kevin's post on the advantages of creating your own publishing company. I remember something of this discussion a long time ago on LI, the question was whether to buy a block of ISBN numbers for this purpose.

    Once again Indies Unlimited has provided a great service to the writing community at large by publishing this post and comments.

  24. Thankfully a "seal of approval" didn't exist in the 70's for music…I imagine there'd be no Ramones as some might have said, "They're not musicians, they're unprofessional…they only use three chords!" Ha!

    1. Bingo.

      And what you've seen recently is indie artists selling mp3's online, not trying to cook up some way to get into the diminishing number of record stores.

      That would be like stowing away on the Titanic.

      In a totally unrelated observation, the third of the Big Six publisher filed for bankruptcy protection last week.

  25. First, I would like to thank Stephen and Kat for allowing this discussion to take place. It has coincided with a sudden increase in the membership of the indiePENdents.

    And second, I would like to ask a question: Why has this teeny tiny organization, which was started by and is now run by a 91-year-old writer and his almost-80-year-old sidekick and which is here almost unanimously considered useless, ineffective, pointless, and badly put together, why has it sparked one of the longer and more spirited discussions on IU? Why wasn't it — as the adjectives above suggest it would and should be — given the "Who Gives a Hoot Seal" and simply ignored?

    1. Julia, I felt the discussion here was far from one-sided. There was a lot of back and forth about the possible merits and detriments of such a process. Some had stronger opinions than others, but there were many different angles discussed. And the length of the replies reflects just that.

  26. Possibly because it was being championed so heavily by "disciples" who came here for this one post?

    Since you ask.

    And I think "coincided" might not be the right word.

    I love your "Give a Hoot" seal idea, though. I'm designing one right now.

  27. I'm really upset that this discussion has turned into a flame war. I don't want to have to take sides when there are good people, good intentions and good arguments on both sides. Aren't we all trying to champion the indie cause in our own ways?

    Hugs to all,

    Meeka out.

  28. Can I ask which standards of spelling and grammar will be applied? I'm British. As you are probably aware British writers get criticized/criticised in reviews for using British spellings and grammar. Will the seal of approval reinforce that prejudice or counter it?

  29. British writers will not be criticized/criticised in the reviews. Since you mention it, however, can you add to my list:

    1. Single rather than double quotes.

    2. Periods outside rather than inside quotes.

    3. Z instead of S.

    4. our instead of or.

  30. 1. there are a number of verbs that inflect differently, e.g dove (US) dived (Brit), gotten (US ) got (Brit)

    2. Americans use the subjunctive more than the Brits

    3. Americans are reluctant to use plural verbs and pronouns with such words as audience in situations where the Brits readily do so

    4. some words ending with er in US are spelled with re in British – eg theater (US) and theatre (Brit)

    5. Many words ending in log in US are logue in British – eg catalog (US) catalogue (Brit)

    6 many words that are written with ae or oe in British English are written with an e in American English eg archaeology (Brit) archeology

    7 use of doubled consonents (too complex to explain)

    8 hyphenated compound words – the British usually hyphenate, the US normally combines the word without a hyphen.

    There are more (See Wikipedia American and British English Spelling Differences entry). I'll ask my husband who used to Americanize books for Dorling Kindersley

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