July 4, 2012

A Resource for Independent Authors

Filed under: Declaration of Independents — jenny @ 10:32 am

If there is a greater fan of independence in authorship than Jasha Levi, I haven’t met him. And Jasha’s background, which spans 90 years and counting, including a stint as a refugee of war, perhaps uniquely suits him to a task of nearly epic proportions.

A task that is growing more epic by the day. Which one do I mean? That of whittling down the volume of self-published books to showcase the ones that deserve to shine.

We’ve most of us read these numbers, right? 300,000 books published in 2003. 3,000,000 in 2011. A staggering leap. But in 2012 the number of ISBNs sold is projected to hit 15,000,000.

I’m going to come right out and say that there are not 15,000,000 people capable of writing a book that deserves to be published. I may get slammed for saying so. But writing a book is hard, darn it. The plain truth is that more people think they can write than actually can.

But that doesn’t mean that many of those 15,000,000 books aren’t deserving. And that they may not have found readers through traditional publishing channels. That such books are out there is worth celebrating…if we can find them to celebrate.

I may not agree with Jasha’s every conclusion–in fact, I’ve had many experiences with traditional book publishing that run counter to the assessment you’re about to read.

But I’m still glad that when it comes to establishing a system for filtering indie book releases Jasha Levi intends to help.

At 90, I have finally reduced my concerns to three main ones:

  • Explaining my survival in WWII Italy
  • Speaking about genocides in Bosnia and elsewhere
  • Gaining access for self-published authors in bookstores and libraries

I owe my long life to the fact that, as a young Jew on the periphery of the Holocaust, I was saved by being a civilian internee of war (Geneva Convention speak) in Asolo, a small hamlet north of Venice. This was followed by  nine months spent hiding as fugitive in Rome, until American troops liberated the Eternal City in June 1944.

Recently, Angelina Jolie directed a movie: The Land of Blood and Honey. In it, she attempted to describe the roots of the 1990’s genocide in Bosnia. It made me even more aware how difficult is my attempt to explain the previous Bosnian genocide, in 1941, from which I escaped. In both of them, neighbors turned against neighbors, lovers left each other, brothers fought against brothers. They made the prophetic Bosnian saying true: If you don’t have an enemy, your mother will give birth to one.

The publishing model as we know it is…heralding a makeover of the industry.  The economics of the marketplace have affected our literature, which is perhaps the strongest pillar of civil society, standing right next to democracy. Publishers, once a haven for new talent, have been shrinking into a few conglomerates listed on the Stock Exchanges.  Nowadays, they must look first at their bottom line, and no one can blame them for it. In the shrinking field of publishers, literary agents, once the talent scouts and discoverers of emerging writers, have fewer sources of income, while more and more people self-proclaim themselves  writers based on no one’s judgement but their own. This is bad news.

The perception of self-published books as lesser in quality remains, even though it is as obsolete as the system that brought it about.

Intent on making a change, and with my editor, Julia Petrakis, equally fired up, I  started indiePENdents, aimed at changing how the world looks at independent authors.  Our website carries a list of authors who in their day couldn’t find agents or publishers; it is an exciting roster. Should we all end up as successful as they have with the public!

However, as self-published authors, we can’t reach our public  unless we gain access to bookstores and libraries, which are often not welcoming. Barnes and Noble lists books by indie authors on its website and on Nook, but does not carry them  on its shelves.  We feel that, to achieve access, we must first erase the perception that our books are second rate.

To even the playing field, we are establishing a set of standards by which we will judge or validate a book. Our volunteer review panels will issue The indiePENdents Seal to published books, bringing about a much needed change to the publishing industry and the standing of authors on which it depends for its livelihood.

In the next 10 years I will be supervising the translation of my books into Italian, complete The Balkan Pot, a cookbook started by my late wife Slava, and work to gain recognition for independent authors everywhere.

Jasha Levi is a ninety year-old Sarajevo survivor, the author of Requiem for a Country and The Last Exile, and an advocate of indie authors everywhere. Read his blog or visit him on his website.


  1. This is a great idea, and right up there with the Brag Medallion, which has effectively the same goal. Perhaps these two efforts could work together to make this happen?

    Comment by Thomas A. Knight — July 4, 2012 @ 10:58 am

  2. A volunteer review panel for self-published books is a wonderful and generous proposition. I fear, tho, you may be swamped. How would you handle that?

    The credentials of the reviewers are extremely important. It seems that reviewers would have to be professional writers and editors; i.e. be able to present published work separate from the independent book.

    You might want to consider offering a book review feature. Today I received an email from CreateSpace whereby you pay anywhere from over $300 to over $500 for a review, and even then, you aren’t guaranteed a good review.
    I’m sure you’re familiar with it, but here is the info:

    Kirkus Indie: https://www.createspace.com/Services/KirkusIndieReview.jsp

    Expedited (5 weeks): $529

    Standard (10 weeks): $379

    Foreword Clarion: https://www.createspace.com/Services/ClarionReview.jsp

    Expedited (4 weeks): $549

    Standard (8 weeks): $399

    Many thanks for taking the time to explore an initiative that aims to spotlight the best independent books!

    Comment by Susan G. Weidener — July 4, 2012 @ 11:46 am

  3. Great idea and Jasha sounds like a great man. Makes me feel like a youngster.

    Good luck,

    Arthur levine

    Comment by Arthur Levine — July 4, 2012 @ 11:55 am

  4. Jasha, it’s nice to meet you. You are inspirational, particularly because of your full plate at 90 years old. Looking forward to checking out indiePENdents and thanks for your support of dedicated Indie authors.

    Thanks Jenny!

    Comment by "Doctor Barbara" - Barbara Ebel — July 4, 2012 @ 12:00 pm

  5. Very interesting ideas Jasha! You are an inspirational man.

    Comment by Kellie — July 4, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

  6. I know I’m repeating other comments, but you’re an inspiration. I think this is a wonderful idea, and I appreciated reading about just a little of your background. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Comment by Marja McGraw — July 4, 2012 @ 1:14 pm

  7. I agree with most of the above – good move in the right direction. However, my forays into Barnes & Noble, and
    a few other bookstores yielded a slightly different argument from them as to why they won’t shelve your indie book. They say it’s not so much that they doubt the quality of your book, but that it won’t SELL because it doesn’t have the imprimatur of a traditional publisher, or of a well-known author. One will have to deal with that hypothesis when trying to get indie books on bookstore shelves.

    Comment by William Schiff — July 4, 2012 @ 1:56 pm

  8. Fantastic to see you here Jasha. Not only are you doing great things for independent publishing, but writing really inspiring books as well. I would urge any self-published, vanity published, authors and all readers, to at least take a look at IndiePENdents. I would especially ask those readers who are sceptical of independents ability to deliver good material to take a look, all the more so if you have had bad experiences with independent authors.
    Yes, there are terrible SP books, but there is a huge wealth of brilliant writing as well.
    Jasha has been on more cultural, combat, and business frontiers than most could fit in nine lives. If anyone doubts the quality of independent authors one could do far worse that having a read of Jasha’s own books.

    Comment by Richard Bunning — July 4, 2012 @ 3:23 pm

  9. (Full disclosure: I work behind the scenes at IndiePENdents, doing something-or-other when Jasha asks me to.)

    @Susan, one clarification about IndiePENdent’s use of the word “review.” Rather than trying to determine the literary value of the books, they are being reviewed for some very basic mechanical criteria as listed here: http://indiependents.org/1/post/2012/05/indiependents-reviewing-principles-and-standards.html

    Because the measuring stick for this criteria is essentially objective and verifiable, the validity of the seal doesn’t rest on the qualifications of the reviewers.

    @William: Book stores do indeed say that, and I don’t buy it. No one but overt supporters of traditional publishing pays any attention to who published a book. I daresay that if a reader found a book they liked at the local chain store which didn’t list any publisher whatsoever, they’d still buy it. The books stores might care, but buyers don’t. I’ve never heard of a single instance where someone bought or didn’t buy a book based on who published it.

    It is, indeed, a prejudice we’ll have to work hard to overcome.

    Comment by Joel D Canfield — July 4, 2012 @ 5:47 pm

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