Self-published/Indie book platform

atsouthorn

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I've been mulling over the idea of creating a website for books by self-published/indie authors only. It would essentially be like a Goodreads "Lite", a place to view ratings, reviews, and general info about books, and be a springboard for finding and buying new books. The books would need to be completed and registered with an ISBN or have a Goodreads link, so it's not for beta or arc reading as there are plenty of places for that already.

It raises two initial questions.

1. Would enough readers actively like to spend time browsing the site knowing no traditionally published books are there, and;

2. Does a place like this already exist? I've searched a few websites, trawled discord, and looked around at social media channels. I found one website only, but then noticed when searching that books like Dune and 1984 showed up.

The fact that it would be free, niche, and allow readers to connect and support new authors gives me hope that a platform like this would work.

Yay or Nay?
 

Brian G Turner

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It sounds like an interesting idea, but would be awfully hard to build up traction without some form of perks, plus policing it could be a problem against spam - don't underestimate how damaging bots can be.
 

Ogma

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Are there readers who favor self-published books over trad? Not people who read self-published books or like particular self-published authors but actively prefer self-published books as a concept over stuff produced by the Big Five. And passionate enough to go to a site other than Amazon or Goodreads to leave reviews. Because that's the constituency for this concept.

How would casual readers discover this site to read these reviews? Would they give them more weight than the reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Bookbub, etc.? You could use the reviews from the self-published only site as editorial reviews on Amazon.

You would also have to vet every book put on the site. How would you handle hybrid authors? If an author has nine trad books and one self-published book what shows up on the site? Or books that were originally self-published but were picked up by a trad publisher? Or dropped by a trad publisher and became self-published. At what point does a self-published author producing work through a series of collaborations become a small press?
 

atsouthorn

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It sounds like an interesting idea, but would be awfully hard to build up traction without some form of perks, plus policing it could be a problem against spam - don't underestimate how damaging bots can be.

Spam and bots aren't a worry for me technically (worked on plenty of systems before) but policing honest uploads is of course an issue. The ISBN can be checked and authenticated, so can the author name against the profile name to ensure those can only upload their own books. A report function would be handy to flag anything else misleading.

Perks wise, it would be a gateway. The author would be able to add details about giveaways, free stuff, and anything else that would grab attention. The website's function is to put talented, undiscovered books out there. I know of a few places to do this, and they have plenty of users...behind a paywall. I firmly believe it should be free to give everyone a fair chance.

Are there readers who favor self-published books over trad? Not people who read self-published books or like particular self-published authors but actively prefer self-published books as a concept over stuff produced by the Big Five. And passionate enough to go to a site other than Amazon or Goodreads to leave reviews. Because that's the constituency for this concept.

Well, that was exactly my initial question: is the market for this big enough? Firstly, the self-published market is huge. Secondly, platforms for discovering and supporting hidden talent like Patreon are huge. So in theory, people will want to use a platform to find small self-published authors, contact them, and support their work. That's why I think sites like Wattpad have thrived. But where there are sites like Wattpad for rough, unpublished stories, and bookstores/major websites for big house books, there's this grey area in-between.

The fact that authors can put up their own deals and even freebies is a huge draw, as I know there are thousands of people out there registered for various newsletters and paid platforms that share self-published work. The website could have a "free books this week" section etc to draw more users.

How would casual readers discover this site to read these reviews? Would they give them more weight than the reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Bookbub, etc.? You could use the reviews from the self-published only site as editorial reviews on Amazon.

Review wise, the website could initially pull in Amazon reviews automatically which would save building a review system that people are unlikely to use early on, though I would need to add a simple function such as "likes" to add weight on the platform itself. It's disappointing that I'd have to lean on Amazon, but I'd just be making it impossible for myself without their data to begin with. Goodreads had a similar system you could pull data from, but as of December 2020 they shut it down. Openlibrary is great for data, but they lack substantial reviews even for popular books.

You would also have to vet every book put on the site. How would you handle hybrid authors? If an author has nine trad books and one self-published book what shows up on the site? Or books that were originally self-published but were picked up by a trad publisher? Or dropped by a trad publisher and became self-published. At what point does a self-published author producing work through a series of collaborations become a small press?

Hybrid authors is a good question. My initial idea is to take the ISBN data and vet it on a book basis rather than an author basis. The ISBN can be denied based on certain publishers. Small press collaborations and all the other possible in-betweens may be something to manually vet as the website grows before a good automatic process can be put in place.
 

KiraAnn

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For a concept like this, I would think a Facebook page would be a necessity, perhaps also LinkedIn, with periodic "sales events" on eBay.
 

Bick

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Are there readers who favor self-published books over trad? Not people who read self-published books or like particular self-published authors but actively prefer self-published books as a concept over stuff produced by the Big Five. And passionate enough to go to a site other than Amazon or Goodreads to leave reviews. Because that's the constituency for this concept.
This is the key point, well made. I don't think there will be many readers who actively prefer self-published work. Frankly, it means preferring something with a significantly lower average quality, over something where there's a minimum quality threshold - who prefers that? I can't see much interest to be honest.
 

M.P. VandenBerg

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I like the idea, but I can't help thinking it would be difficult to get off the ground. If you could make professional relationships with indy publishers, and get promotion deals through social media it would be doable. The rating/review system would be crucial, I've put down a lot of books from indy publishers because I didn't know what I was getting into beforehand and the general level of quality is lower.

Working your way through a business plan might answer some of your questions, but those are very tedious to make.
 

Laura R Hepworth

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I like the idea, though it would likely be difficult to get off the ground. However, the same is true of just about any website so don't let that discourage you if it's something that you really want to do.

Good luck!
Are there readers who favor self-published books over trad? Not people who read self-published books or like particular self-published authors but actively prefer self-published books as a concept over stuff produced by the Big Five.

Yes, actually, there are. I happen to be one of them. While I still will read some trad-published books, I've found I much prefer indie authors. I've also had this discussion with a number of others on a Discord fan server for an indie author that I read and many there are the same way.

I don't think there will be many readers who actively prefer self-published work. Frankly, it means preferring something with a significantly lower average quality, over something where there's a minimum quality threshold - who prefers that?

Not necessarily, there are some excellent indie authors out there. Yes, there is also a lot of 'meh' quality (and worse) out there, but I've read trad-published books that I thought the same thing of (good grief, I tried one trad published book where one of the very first sentences was a run-on). Personally, one of the reasons I'm finding myself preferring indie authors is that I find there is greater variety in it. You might have to wade through more muck to find the gems, but they are out there.
 

Laura R Hepworth

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Agreed, because there's less focus on the commercial side of things and more on the art.
Exactly, which is why I got bored with trad-published books. They're so hyper-focused on 'will it sell,' that they keep repeating near identical storylines because such-and-such sold well last time, maybe it will again if repackaged as another story :rolleyes: . They're often too formulaic and predictable. With indies, they have much more creative freedom.
 

atsouthorn

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The rating/review system would be crucial, I've put down a lot of books from indy publishers because I didn't know what I was getting into beforehand and the general level of quality is lower.

Oh absolutely, that goes without saying. Otherwise it's just a random book listing website. The idea is to find the gems and hidden talent amongst all self-published work, which as @Bick rightly said can be of low quality.

Agreed, because there's less focus on the commercial side of things and more on the art.
Exactly, which is why I got bored with trad-published books. They're so hyper-focused on 'will it sell,' that they keep repeating near identical storylines because such-and-such sold well last time, maybe it will again if repackaged as another story :rolleyes: . They're often too formulaic and predictable. With indies, they have much more creative freedom.

I'm glad there are some that agree, and I've definitely seen a large amount on social media too. I think if people were able to easily discover highly-rated indie and self-pub work with the added perks of contacting/supporting authors, then that would be a win-win for everyone in my books.

For a concept like this, I would think a Facebook page would be a necessity, perhaps also LinkedIn, with periodic "sales events" on eBay.

Great idea, thanks!

Well, I'm going to get started writing up a plan and developing a test version this weekend. Any further suggestions/help would be incredible! :giggle:

Ultimately there are great stories floating around out there just waiting to be found.
 

KGeo777

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The stigma around self-publishing has definitely vanished. There used to be real hostility towards it--but as traditional publishing has become so stale and restricted in creative freedom, I think there are lots of people who just want an interesting story-if they know it exists.

Maybe you could advertise on social media for readers who prefer indie books--and ask them to contribute to the site?
Non-authors if possible. That would distinguish it from the typical author-run promotions.
It seems to me that is key -- you have to get enthusiastic readers and not make it seem like authors peddling their own works.

I would think focusing on plot and genre and advertising something based on the idea of the story might be a way to narrow the field--so people could search for something based on their preferences and not just a series of book covers or ratings.
 

atsouthorn

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Maybe you could advertise on social media for readers who prefer indie books--and ask them to contribute to the site?
Non-authors if possible. That would distinguish it from the typical author-run promotions.
It seems to me that is key -- you have to get enthusiastic readers and not make it seem like authors peddling their own works.

I would think focusing on plot and genre and advertising something based on the idea of the story might be a way to narrow the field--so people could search for something based on their preferences and not just a series of book covers or ratings.

Yeah, good idea. It's all about finding the readers which there are plenty of on facebook groups, tiktok, instagram. On the other hand I'll have no problem attracting authors to use and submit their work to the site as it'll be free.

Categorising will have to be done well as you say. It could just be a case of selecting a genre and then adding a series of limited keywords, again similar to what Amazon force you to do. In fact, I could just copy that and then allow users to search freely or by categories. Or perhaps there is a better way?
 

Bick

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…traditional publishing has become so stale and restricted in creative freedom…
What is this based on? It’s a very sweeping comment and runs counter to my experience. The majority of modern traditionally published SF seems offer extremely wide viewpoints, styles and freedom of expression and sub genre. This is the case both in novels and magazines (online and print). If anything it’s never been less ‘stale and restricted’. This seems to be a commonly expressed view of self-publishing supporters, but I don’t find it convincing to be honest.
 

Lostinspace

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I am in favour of anything that helps me find books that I will enjoy amongst the mountains of published SF, indie or otherwise. However, I am slightly confused by the definition of self published as several authors have reclaimed their copyright and published digital editions of previously published books on Smashwords (and probably on KDP and Draft2digital as well). Examples include “The Steerswoman” by Rosemary Kirstein The Steerswoman, an Ebook by Rosemary Kirstein, which was listed for a Locus Award when it came out back in 1989, and “Sundiver” by David Brin Sundiver, an Ebook by David Brin, the first volume of his award winning uplift series.

I am also worried that rating books with one to five stars may not solve all the problems. If you were just dealing with comparatively honest people such as cocaine traffickers or state intelligence services, it might be OK, but these are authors and will probably employ services such as AMZTigers How a thriving fake review industry is gaming Amazon marketplace – Which? News to corrupt your data.

The other obvious problem is that tastes differ. I looked at Goodreads and found one star reviews for each of the last three winners of the Hugo Award for best novel. I haven’t read the 2019 winner but I find it hard to understand how anyone rated “A Memory called Empire” or “Fugitive Telemetry” below four stars, but in each case someone did.

Perhaps, it might be interesting for readers to list their favourite books and for your software to notice that other readers who liked those books, also liked a few others, ideally from different authors, which the software could then recommend. Of course, some might pay a bot to list fifteen highly rated books with their own five publications but if the software tries to find different authors, it may only give you one of the poisoned five.

Of course Amazon already does this but I would never get “A Succession of Bad Days” by Graydon Saunders A Succession of Bad Days from their suggestions (I even went through the suggestions from ASOBD on Amazon owned Goodreads and none of their suggestions cycled back to ASOBD).
 

KGeo777

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What is this based on?
HP Lovecraft and Truman Capote. They said mainstream publishing was restricted to a narrow range of thematic ideas and certain voices were promoted or ignored based on whether or not they were in alignment with the publishers' tastes.
And if they are discouraging certain literary voices, it does have an effect--because then it may cause artists to follow the trends and perhaps suppress their natural voices or discourage them completely. Who knows?
This is true of other art disciplines--I can think of a couple of examples in visual art. Norman Rockwell was dismissed as a serious artist in order to boost the profile of the Jackson Pollack types, and Robert Bateman said he wasted his school years doing abstract before he found his voice again in wildlife art.

But the difference between writing and other mediums is that you have to invest time and focus in reading, while with a painting or song, you can determine in a few seconds whether you like it or not.
That is the problem for writers and readers--this is why the critic and the reviewers tend to matter-it's harder to market writing.

I suppose another idea--not the best because it is a gimmick--but you could find visual artists to do a picture based on a book--whether they read it or not-whatever the plot inspires them to do--and then publish the artwork with the book link. So an art gallery section on the site.


I see problems with that idea, especially if the painter feels that their painting generated a lot of $$$ traffic for the author but, I am trying to think outside the box for marketing. :)
 

atsouthorn

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I am slightly confused by the definition of self published as several authors have reclaimed their copyright and published digital editions of previously published books on Smashwords (and probably on KDP and Draft2digital as well). Examples include “The Steerswoman” by Rosemary Kirstein The Steerswoman, an Ebook by Rosemary Kirstein, which was listed for a Locus Award when it came out back in 1989, and “Sundiver” by David Brin Sundiver, an Ebook by David Brin, the first volume of his award winning uplift series.

There are going to be some unusual cases, and I personally don't mind that unless feedback tells me otherwise. The main idea of this is to filter out published work that is already heavily marketed and given a helping hand in the industry, so that others can flourish. It's very much somewhere for modern books and new releases to be listed without having to compete with the heavy hitters.

I am also worried that rating books with one to five stars may not solve all the problems. If you were just dealing with comparatively honest people such as cocaine traffickers or state intelligence services, it might be OK, but these are authors and will probably employ services such as AMZTigers How a thriving fake review industry is gaming Amazon marketplace – Which? News to corrupt your data.

The other obvious problem is that tastes differ. I looked at Goodreads and found one star reviews for each of the last three winners of the Hugo Award for best novel. I haven’t read the 2019 winner but I find it hard to understand how anyone rated “A Memory called Empire” or “Fugitive Telemetry” below four stars, but in each case someone did.

In my experience, no rating system is perfect as it relies on human behaviour, so that's not the problem I'm trying to fix. Five stars is a useful indicator but nothing more. If you can let people filter by keywords and categories, then display the book covers and blurbs, then we're off to a good start.

Having said that, I was initially going to display "popular" books based on the number of reviewers, but I will need to think about this more carefully.

Perhaps, it might be interesting for readers to list their favourite books and for your software to notice that other readers who liked those books, also liked a few others, ideally from different authors, which the software could then recommend. Of course, some might pay a bot to list fifteen highly rated books with their own five publications but if the software tries to find different authors, it may only give you one of the poisoned five.

Of course Amazon already does this but I would never get “A Succession of Bad Days” by Graydon Saunders A Succession of Bad Days from their suggestions (I even went through the suggestions from ASOBD on Amazon owned Goodreads and none of their suggestions cycled back to ASOBD).

Yeah, your point about bots is valid. Judging things on page views is an invitation for spam, but I can investigate options. I'm not sure how much I would trust Amazon's suggestions given the world we live in and how easy it is for people to nudge companies in a more favourable direction. Food for thought - and thanks for a great suggestion :giggle:
 

KGeo777

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Two expert commentators on contemporary publishing.
It's obvious that the modern corporate publishing field is restricted. They have authors signing morality contracts so they adhere to political agendas.
But, in the era of publishing considered the Golden Age, you had expert commentators saying it was a restricted field as well.
 

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