Awesome Indie Books (A Criticism of Book Awards and Seals)

Today on Facebook I saw a post about the Awesome Indies website, which just relaunched with a new design.

I support indie authors and want them to succeed, and I like the idea of indie authors grouping together and doing cool things.

best indie books

The intention Awesome Indies is noble: lots of people are publishing crappy books. Awesome Indies will sort out the wheat from the chaff and let readers know which books are good. And I hate to be critical… because self-publishing is a small community and making friends is more beneficial than causing discord.

On the other hand, what I don’t want to happen is to have a bunch of indie author shepherds with platforms getting indie authors to do a bunch of stuff that doesn’t work. Somebody needs to be willing to address the real issues that plague the self-publishing community.

Self-publishing experts are often pretty vocal against the huge companies like Author House or Amazon or Hachette, but a little too tolerant of small companies with good intentions and noble purposes, that deserve at the very least to be scrutinized and tested.

So here’s what I don’t like

1. I’m pretty much against book awards in general.

They have some value, if they are recognized or have a big platform, and if having your book featured on their site brings you new readers.

Some readers can be swayed to buy a book if it has a pretty seal of approval on it.

While Awesome Indies isn’t technically a book award contest, there’s a $75 dollar processing fee that doesn’t guarantee approval. There are probably a bunch of ideological differences, but functionally – it’s an approval sticker meant to assuage reader hesitance.

2. Most of the book covers are unimpressive.

And this is a big one.

Awesome Indies probably checks the interior to make sure the book is edited and the writing is not horrible. I checked out a handful of the books on the site, and they are clean, even if the writing or stories didn’t hold my attention. I didn’t see any that look like they will be smash hits. I didn’t see anything in the same league as Twilight or Hunger Games (you may not like those examples, but they sell well for a reason).

The point of Awesome Indies is to say, “Hey – this book isn’t that bad! Never mind the ugly cover, you can trust me, I’ve checked it out, the story is quite good!”

And that’s what authors will sign up for: they think they have a good story but for some strange reason, nobody is buying it.

Nobody is reviewing it. They may think, “What’s wrong with everybody!?”

Maybe all it needs is some 3rd party proof that the story is good. And so they sign up for Awesome Indies, or other book award contests, and if they win/get accepted they add the seal of approval to their book cover as “proof.”

Here’s the problem.

An ugly cover with a shiny sticker usually makes an uglier cover.

Seal and stickers are cognitive appeals to logic.

Cover art needs to be emotional and immediate. It has to grab attention, and convey professionalism.

Readers decide about the potential quality of the interior based on the book cover itself.

If the book cover looks like crap, they will assume the inside is crap (even if it’s not true, and even if it’s not fair).

Even worse, if they see the Awesome Indies seal of approval on a bunch of crappy looking covers, they are going to start associating the seal with crappy books of low or questionable quality. Even if they’ve never read any of the books – this is the power of design.

book award contests

It sucks, but I’m not the bad guy here.

Readers don’t browse Amazon looking for seals of approval.

They don’t make purchasing decisions based solely on information alone. They don’t make a checklist of pros and cons.

If the cover is ugly or unprofessional, they won’t read the sales copy. They won’t read the reviews.

And they won’t care about the approval stickers.

At the very best, if a reader was aware of Awesome Indies or at least felt an instinctual trust in shiny metal stickers and book awards, they might be convinced to look past the cover and click on the book to Look Inside. Then they’ll spend 15 seconds skimming the first few pages.

If they aren’t hooked immediately, they won’t buy – approval stickers be damned.

3. We don’t need Gatekeepers (except better book covers).

Traditional publishing is dying. That’s the glory and beauty of the self-publishing industry. Readers can find every book easily on Amazon and other platforms.

Good books will rise to the top. Bad books will stay undiscovered.

This is a natural process. Readers don’t need to be told what to read.

Although you can tell them, through lots of advertising or guest posting or marketing, you can keep telling them about your book and they just might buy a copy. You can keep buying $75 dollar seals or Twitter Blasts or Indie Marketing Packages that share your book with lots and lots of people.

But unless you have a great cover, none of that will work.

People won’t read the reviews or descriptions until you get their attention. You have to make them care, before they are interested enough to click for more information. The way you do that is with a beautiful book cover.

A cover isn’t one feature of your book. It’s not just one thing you need to consider.

Your cover IS your gatekeeper. It’s the thing that’s keeping readers away.

Now you may moan and complain and berate readers, and form “indie author support groups” to try and beg and convince people that your book is actually, despite appearances, pretty damn good. And that’s your choice, if you don’t want to spend any money getting a better book cover.

But if at the same time you’re paying for anything else, then you’re making a stupid decision.

If you’re paying for book marketing, or advertising, or publicity, or a blog tour, or a Twitter Blast, or a contest, or a seal of approval, instead of paying to improve your book cover, then you’re throwing money away and avoiding the root cause of all your publishing frustration.

Covers aren’t actually that expensive. You can buy one for $10 on Fiverr.com that’s better than 50% of the self-published covers out there.

A very decent one can cost a couple hundred dollars. Or you can make your own with my free guides or templates at www.diybookcovers.com.

To remove the Gatekeeper you just need a better cover.

Think of Cinderella. She had to get into the party dressed as a princess to make the prince aware of her. Once he paid attention to her, he realized she was a nice person with a great heart, and he fell in love.

But if she hadn’t used magic to dress up like a princess, she would never have been let into the ball. If she was just dressed in rags, the prince would never have gotten close enough to appreciate her qualities.

A decent book cover is the entry ticket to the publishing game, and you must be willing to buy a ticket.

But that’s the great thing: if you have a decent cover, you will quickly discover that all this “self-publishing bias” or “prejudice against indie books” disappears. There’s no such thing. Ugly covers keep readers away, and that’s the whole story.

Get a decent cover and people will start buying your book and reviewing it (if nobody is buying or reviewing your book – your cover is probably ugly, no matter how much you love it.)

Whether or not they like your book – that’s a different matter altogether. You can’t pay people to like your book.

But at least you gave it a shot.

PS) I don’t mean to be unnecessary harsh towards Awesome Indies, but they are representative of a host of self-publishing related businesses in a very gray area of value. For example, when I offer book marketing, I won’t accept any books with low quality covers because I know all my marketing will be fruitless. Book covers matter.

Awesome Indies seem to think that only what’s on the inside of the book is what matters – but they give readers too much credit.

If you already have a beautiful book cover – or at least one that’s good enough and doesn’t look homemade – then by all means sign up with Awesome Indies and Book Award Contests… just don’t put that shiny sticker on your book cover, because it will probably ruin the design.

(You can put “winner of XXX award” in small text on the top of the cover, and in the sales copy, which can in some cases be beneficial.)

PPS) Awesome Indies has a PR4 and a growing platform, so it may be worth signing up just in terms of visibility and reach. I’d love to see the data, like how many times a book’s “Buy” buttons are clicked each month. But still: spend that $75 on a better cover first before you decide.

4. A final point…

Awesome Indies has a flawed selection process. They don’t go out looking for great books to recommend: They let authors apply.

What kind of authors are going to apply? The ones whose books are not doing so well. Does this mean they aren’t good?

Of course not.

But the really good books won’t need very much help.

The amount of resistance/difficult you face connecting with readers is a good indicator of the book’s potential (not necessarily based on quality; it could just be that there isn’t a big readership or market for the book you wrote.)

Get a nice cover and do a free book giveaway, promote hard, then price at 99cents.

If nobody downloads your book – your cover wasn’t good enough.

If they download but don’t review – the book wasn’t good enough.

If they download and review (and liked it) you shouldn’t need to do any more marketing.

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me

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