This is the question people have been asking and arguing about ever since the new wave of self-publishing hit with the event of ebooks. No one has been able to give a definitive answer, not just because there is clearly a range of quality and, therefore, one can’t really make a blanket generalisation, but also because people only have personal experience with which to gauge quality, and they are unlikely to have taken any actual figures of books that have and haven’t met their personal standards, or, at least, not over a large number of books and a wide range of genres.
Now the Awesome Indies has figures with some degree of relevance in this debate. Prior to centralising our review requests, we took figures from our most prolific reviewers and discovered that on average they only recommended 40% of books they reviewed for the Awesome Indies. Since meeting our criteria is equated with meeting the same standards as mainstream books, that meant that according to our criteria, 60% of self-published books were inferior to mainstream books.
Since centralising our review requests, we have taken more detailed and precise data. We also made it very clear on our request page that we would give low rated reviews where warranted, something that would scare off a lot of authors, so we need to consider that these new figures are most likely only taken from authors who, due to a measure of positive reviews, are already fairly confident of the quality of their books, or, as is possible if the book has only recently been published, completely ignorant.
Out of 68 books submitted for review. 28 were not admitted to the site. 28 gained immediate approval, and 12 gained approval after reworking and re-submitting the book, usually after fixing copy errors and line-editing issues. In total, 40 books gained approval, and 10 of them received the Seal of Excellence.
In rough percentage terms, of those books submitted for review:
41% were rejected because we considered them of a lower standard than books published by the mainstream.
41% were considered of an equal standard to books published by the mainstream.
17% were considered of an equal standard to books published by the mainstream after the author attended to a small degree of copy edit and line editing issues.
14% gained a Seal of Excellence. These are the books that might actually have had a chance of picking up a mainstream publisher. Most of these either had agents before the author decided to self-publish or were written by authors who had previously published books with a mainstream publisher or had formal writing qualifications.
In total, 59% were approved for addition to the site, but BEFORE reworking and resubmitting only 41% were considered of an equal standard to books published by the mainstream. That validates our original figures that suggest that the majority (around 60%) of self-published books in the marketplace are indeed inferior.
The figures are, as yet, based on low numbers, so cannot be considered definitive, but considering that it is likely that our review requests are coming from those who are both concerned about quality and have done their best to achieve it, I’d say that the figures are likely to be fairly optimistic. At the same time, we rarely get requests to review books from established indie authors whose books consistently receive large number of reviews over 4 stars, so if those books are of a quality to warrant those reviews, then the lack of such books in our data would balance out the lack of books submitted from authors not so concerned or confident about their quality.
The only way for readers to be sure that they are getting quality indie books is to only buy those that have some form of approval from a valid source. Due to lack of honesty, lack of education, and in some instances unethical behaviour by authors, public review ratings are unfortunately not a reliable system of evaluation. Personally, I would stick to indie books that either have some kind of award, or stamp of approval from a trusted source, or are produced by an indie publisher who I know from experience consistently publishes books of a high standard.
But rather than haggling over blanket statements about the quality of self-published books, the question we should be asking and answering is where do we find the good ones?
Obviously one of the answers is: here at the Awesome Indies.
How do you ensure that the indie books you buy are good quality?