Behold The Gatekeepers

One of the best things about self-publishing is that it takes agents, editors and publishers out of the equation. One of the worst things about self-publishing is that it takes agents, editors and publishers out of the equation.

The purchase of a self-published book is a roll of the dice or, more aptly (to pull out another cliché), a shot in the dark. So with the publishing industry on the ropes and print-on-demand on the rise, where does a discriminating reader turn for some quality control? Enter IndieReader.

Launched by “public relations professional and author” Amy Edelman, the IndieReader aims to be a gatekeeper, separating the wheat from the chaff, as it were, and providing consumers with confidence and authors with that gee-whiz feeling of “goshdarnit, I am good enough”.

But since the devil’s in the details, let’s take a look at how it works with hypothetical sucker author Bob.

Bob’s published a book through, say, Lulu. It lists on the Lulu site at $10. Bob’s itching for more sales, so he submits his book to IndieReader. First things first: he pays them $149 dollars.

Now that that’s out of the way, IndieReader sends the book to one of its stable of reviewers (“editors, literary agents, publicists and just plain book lovers”, according to the site). Let’s say, for the sake of argument, they decide not to list it. In that case, Bob gets his book back (if he included a SASE) and $124. IndieReader keeps a $25 submission fee.

But let’s not be negative. We all know Bob’s a good writer. IndieReader accepts his book for listing (and keeps the whole $149), but he gets a spiffy Author Page and the ever-coveted seal of approval from industry insiders. But does he really? Noble intentions or not, something tells me that no startup is going to turn down $149 from anyone and everyone willing to pay it. Would you turn down a thousand authors when it meant kissing $150,000 goodbye? Come on…

But back to Bob. His current arrangement with Lulu gives him a 40% cut of the $10 list price of his book. That means each copy costs him six bucks. Assuming IndieReader lists it at that same amount and charges, say, five dollars for shipping, let’s see how it works out for Bob if he sells 50 copies in his first month (IndieReader’s pay cycle).

Each customer will pay a grand total of $15 for their purchase. Once the purchase has been processed, IndieReader sends Bob an email. At that time, he’s responsible for delivering the book to the reader. That means he goes into his Lulu account and takes the time to order up a copy at his author rate, also paying for shipping, let’s say five bucks again. He’s now out $11 for every book sold, $550 for the month.

At the end of the month, it’s time for IndieReader to settle up. They take 25% of the list price, so for the 50 copies that’s $125. They send Bob a check for the other 75% of the list price for each copy sold, plus the shipping charges they’ve collected. The check, then, is for $625.

Bob has thus made $75. Red Lobster, here we come.

On the other hand, had Bob had drummed up his own business, allowing the reader to deal directly with Lulu, his haul for 50 books would be $200, which is two visits to Red Lobster and a movie. This is the way successful authors are supposed to live.

It’s worth noting that IndieReader is not without its supporters. Self-Publishing Review posted a defense a couple of weeks ago. I’m disinclined to buy it, though I give them credit for posting the following kernel of truth from a now-scrubbed Publishing Renaissance post:

Once again, we see Old Publishing trying to shoehorn its methods into the new Internet environment. It’s the same 20th-century, top-down, corporate approach to deciding the value of media — an approach which runs antithetical to the realities of the business of media on the Internet. Just take a look at how online booksellers such as Amazon, or book recommendation websites like Goodreads help individual readers decide what to read next. They don’t make recommendations according to what a small number of tastemakers have chosen; instead, the recommendations are based upon community input and involvement.

That about sums it up for me. What do you think?

9 Responses to “Behold The Gatekeepers”

  1. Jamie Mason Says:

    Oh boy. This setup sounds ridiculous. And who are these agents and editors doing the reading? Are they getting a cut of this pie? ‘Cause they’d almost have to be, considering they have so much work to do as it is that query turn-arounds can be weeks to months.

    It really sounds like a nifty new avenue for someone to get paid for questionable output of effort.

  2. William Haskins Says:

    yeah i can’t imagine the industry insiders will work for free. they probably get some, if not all, of the $25 they keep, even as they reject you. but that’s just speculation. maybe they’re just dedicated volunteers who, after a long day at the office, enjoy reading a self-pubbed book or two before bed…

  3. chris bates Says:

    ”editors, literary agents, publicists and just plain book lovers” … all for just 149 bucks.

    I don’t think you could find a ‘true’ pro editor out there to even read your book for that little, let alone provide a critique.

    As for the “ever-coveted seal of approval from industry insiders” … the only thing that truly legitimizes any published work, in a business sense, is sales.

    An IndieReader thumb’s up won’t do jack-shit on that front. Author Bob needs to ante up and pay for a proper edit … or pass and play out the game with a crap hand.

  4. William Haskins Says:

    re: the editor. i saw nothing that indicates editorial feedback. my assumption is that an editor (assuming that is who reads the work, and not the “agent, publicist or book lover”) simply indicates to the business whether or not they should list it.

  5. Caleb J Ross Says:

    (insert additional objection of IndieReader)

    I like the idea of a gatekeeper for self-published books, but the the charge for such a review is crazy.

    A great site that reviews self-published books is Its humorous, and the editor rarely finds a good one, but still it’s worth the read.

    Caleb J Rosss last blog post..Broken Clocks but a fully functioning new issue of Colored Chalk

  6. William Haskins Says:

    thanks for the link. fun stuff.

  7. Henry Baum Says:

    Thanks for linking to my piece – as I say in there, I think IR’s too expensive, or at least has to make good on the cost. Sure, you’d make more of a profit selling directly through Lulu, but you might not sell nearly as many books. If IR can get attention it’s possible – possible – that it would be a way to unload more books at a time, which is better to me than turning a profit. If you’re selling books in one place, this can lead to greater book sales in another.

  8. Outsider Writers Collective » Outsiderish Newsesque 6/14/09 Says:

    [...] don’t think I’d want to smell what they’d come up with for Irvine Welsh.” | AuthorScoop has some thoughts on IndieReader – is it just another way to dupe gullible [...]

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