Amy Holman Edelman discovered one day that there was no good resource for information on independent (indie) books and authors, so in 2009 she founded the website IndieReader as a resource for consumers looking for great self-published books.
Since that time the brand has expanded to include the IR Discovery Awards, IR Publishing Services, IR Publishing, IR Reviews and the just-launched IndieReader In-Store, a distribution service for indie (authors) to indie (booksellers).
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Amy Edelman Transcript
Tim Knox: It’s another edition of Interviewing Authors, Tim Knox here. Amy Edelman is on the program. Amy is a, well she’s kind of done it all. Her background’s in public relations and marketing.
She has been an author, has appeared on the Today Show talking to Katie Couric about her book. Great story about that experience. Her claim to fame as far as we’re talking about today though is as the founder of IndieReader.com.
Now if you haven’t been over to IndieReader.com you certainly need to go over there and take a look. It is the website for consumers looking for great self-published books. Everything is all about the indie these days, the indie movie, that sort of thing. If you’re an indie author, meaning that you have published your own book, you might want to check out IndieReader.com.
A lot going on – not just a website. They also do publishing services, they do reviews of book and they just launched a brand new blog to help writers do what they do better. Good show. Amy Edelman today on Interviewing Authors.
Tim Knox: Amy Edelman, welcome to the program.
Amy Edelman: Thank you, Tim. Thank you for having me.
Tim Knox: Amy, tell us a little bit about you.
Amy Edelman: Well my background is in public relations and marketing, not for books but for consumer products like Dunkin Donuts and Hanes and M&Ms. I had picked up the New York Times back in ’08 and found an article about a couple self-published authors who had recently sold their titles to a traditional publisher and I thought, wow, I wonder if there is a resource that will tell me – a book lover – all about the coolest indie titles that are out there. You know, in my mind I was looking for comics and art books and photo books because the self-published – I consider it a genre, self-published genre – was really quite large. To my surprise I didn’t find anything.
Tim Knox: You didn’t find a place where you could go and see what the bestsellers are, who the writers were, that sort of thing.
Amy Edelman: No, not at all. So I created one. I launched Indie Reader, which is a consumer facing site, in ’09 and from there quickly added on services for authors who were contacting us and looking for them. People wanted book reviews and they wanted publishing services and they wanted book distribution. When we started in the beginning I was kind of slow to add a “contest” because there seemed to be so many of them out there and it just seemed to be a way to take people’s money, which I really didn’t want to do under false pretenses. But then the closer I looked the more I realized that these “contests” didn’t really have any kind of credibility, you know. There weren’t any judges or the judges that were there seemed to have not very good credentials. I thought if we created an award that actually had those things that we would be able to provide another way for authors to develop credibility. The big thing out there is that there were I think 391,000 books self-published in the last year or so. Where do you go? How do you find what’s good and not good?
Tim Knox: You really started out as a consumer. You were looking for information on these independently published books. That is what an indie is – is that the definition of an indie?
Amy Edelman: Well, you know, the thing is that the term indie is thrown around so much these days that our definition of an indie book is one in which the authors pay to have it published.
Tim Knox: So not necessarily a Kindle.
Amy Edelman: No, that’s… no. It’s not… Kindles and eBooks and there are many eBooks, some from traditional publishers and some that are self-published. But our definition of a self-published book is if authors pay to have it done. They can pay editors and designers but the author acts as the book’s publisher, meaning that they pay for the services involved with getting their book produced.
Tim Knox: Okay, that makes sense. So there was no resource in the marketplace in ’09 so you started IndieReader.com and since then the concept has taken off. The term indie now is almost like a mantle that a lot of authors wear. It means something now to be an indie writer where years ago it really didn’t, right? It’s kind of come around where it’s kind of the cool thing to be.
Amy Edelman: Well, again, this is where my background in public relations and marketing rears its ugly head that I first recognized the potential, and certainly I’m not the only one, but I recognized the potential of this category to be have some cachet because indie movies and indie music certainly have cachet. The problem that we run up against is the whole vanity label and also the fact that of those 391,000 give or take books there are going to be some that are not good.
Tim Knox: Sure.
Amy Edelman: In fact when we started reviewing books, again back in ’09, and we had an editor who was working with us. Frankly I couldn’t believe there were so many good books out there. I just couldn’t believe it, and this isn’t necessarily my take on it because I don’t read all the books that we get for reviews. We have reviewers who work for us and do this and they’re saying that, hey, this is four star, five star book.
Tim Knox: So Indie Reader, the website itself, how do you determine the bestsellers? How do you go about pulling this data from somewhere and making it all available to the folks that come to Indie Reader and see the book listings and everything you’ve got going on there?
Amy Edelman: Well the fact is is that we don’t necessarily say and pull the numbers. We go to the resources – New York Times, US Today – we pull from there. So every Sunday I sit down and go through the New York Times list and the US Today list and the Amazon list and look for the bestselling indie titles. Frankly, back in ’09 I couldn’t do this because the New York Times said they wouldn’t have a bestselling self-published list. So yeah.
Tim Knox: So I think the marketplace has kind of changed their mind a little bit.
Amy Edelman: Oh yeah, yeah.
Tim Knox: I really do like the concept and I think you kind of answered the question there is if the New York Times is actually giving credence to indies, there must be something there.
Amy Edelman: Yeah and the other thing is that week after week… there’s a trade publication called Publishers Lunch. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it.
Tim Knox: I’ve heard of it, yeah.
Amy Edelman: And they lift every day I guess, they lift books that have been picked up books by traditional publishers. There were three self-published, formerly self-published books on the list just today. It’s actually put me in mind with starting a new column for Indie Reader called… I don’t know what it’s going to be called yet but it includes formerly self-published books and authors because when I do go through the New York Times bestseller list there are so many books starting from E.L. James, 50 Shades of Grey and Sylvia Day’s books. I mean it’s ridiculous. The fact is that for traditional publishers to say that the books are not any good and then, you know, turn around and sign them, it just doesn’t make sense. Two plus two doesn’t equal four in that sense.
Tim Knox: Right and that’s one question I was going to ask you. What other effects or changes have there been in the industry because of this, the movement toward the indie here? I like what you said – the publishers kind of stick up their nose until they sign them.
Amy Edelman: Right, exactly.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little bit more about the site. It’s IndieReader.com. You have a lot going on there other than the top 10 books. You’ve got book reviews, some blogs, features. It appears that a lot of work goes into this website.
Amy Edelman: Yeah.
Tim Knox: And you’re doing it all by yourself?
Amy Edelman: Well I do have lots of wonderful people that work with me, starting with my web designer. He’s been really quite busy lately because as I said it started as IndieReader.com and then recently, I’d say within the past year or two, spun off into separate websites for the Discovery Awards, for the publishing services. We just launched a blog for that which is really geared more specifically to what indie authors want to know and need to know about selling and distributing and writing their books. Indie Reader In-Store as well, which is our new distribution service that gets indie books into indie bookstores.
Tim Knox: You’re a busy lady.
Amy Edelman: I am.
Tim Knox: If you don’t mind I want to talk a little bit about your background as a writer. You mentioned the marketing and that sort of thing. You have also had books published. You had dealings with agents and publishers and that sort of thing. I just want to touch on those experiences. Tell us a little about what was the work, when did you do it, who published it, that sort of thing.
Amy Edelman: Well I consider myself to be very lucky because back when I was, I guess I was in my early 20s, I went to Fire Island and I was hanging out with some kids who I have no idea even how I met them. I said I wanted to write a book and he said, “Oh my friend’s an agent,” and that was basically it. When I got home I called the agent because back then we didn’t have email and she was with ICM, International Creative Management, which I only found out much later was I think it’s the number two or three agency in the world, talent agency in the world. She did take the idea for the book. She wasn’t able to sell it but back then she was somebody’s assistant and she stayed my agent pretty much all through the years. When I had an idea for a book called The Little Black Dress, which was the first book I had published, I brought it to her and they ended up having a bidding war. So that was my first book. I’m like so excited and I signed the contract and then I worked on it for, oh God I don’t even know, at least a couple of years.
I learned a lot. One of the things was that your editor… I had an editor. The publisher was Simon & Schuster and I had an editor who did not know what she was doing. I can’t remember her name or anything like that.
Tim Knox: You blocked it from your memory.
Amy Edelman: Yeah, right. It got to the point where… and I kept trying to give her what she wanted but because she didn’t know what she wanted it was just a disaster waiting to happen. When I turned in the book they rejected it. They suggested that we hire somebody else – and I was going to pay for half of this – somebody else to put it together. She would kind of use my stuff and just repackage it. I sent her all my work and she came back whatever, months, weeks later and they loved it but I said to her, to the agent… it was the editor that was bad, not the agent. I said to my agent, “I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to put my name on somebody else’s work,” but at that point I knew what the editor wanted. I took another week and I rearranged everything that was there and turned it in and they loved it. In terms of an author thinking that when they get an agent and a traditional publisher that they’ve got it made. There’s just so much that can happen. The thing is that there’s a reason that self-published authors are selling their books to traditional publishers and they’re turning around and self-publishing more books.
Tim Knox: Right, they find it’s just a frustrating experience sometimes. It sounded like yours was.
Amy Edelman: Yes, and then the editor wanted it to have it be a summer release, a beach book, which this was not a beach book. The reason that they, you know, they had like problems from the printer in China or something that pushed it back until Christmas. It should have been a gift book, was a gift book. Then the publisher, and again this is Simon & Schuster… I mean, it’s Simon & Schuster from years and years ago so I’m sure the people have changed there. I got a full page in Town & Country. I was interviewed by Katie Couric on the Today Show so the excitement was really great but then people were going to their bookstores and they couldn’t find the book because they had underestimated how many they’d need. By the time January comes around, February comes around and they bought something else for their mom or their Aunt Martha. It just wasn’t handled well.
Tim Knox: It sounds like it still bugs you just a little bit.
Amy Edelman: Yeah, yeah, just a little bit. But then, so my next book which was seven years later, I lost my husband suddenly in ’01 and I went on this kind of journey of trying to find a husband. My agent saw something in the New York Daily News and called me up and said, “Oh, I think we have a book here,” and we did. The issue there was we went in for a meeting with the publisher. I had anticipated coming in and they have like five or six ideas for the cover and the title and then we pick. So I went in with my agent and there was a picture taped to the door of my publisher and I said, “What’s that?” She said, “Oh that’s the cover. Barnes & Noble loves it.” Not really having done this before, this ended up being written as fiction, who was I to argue with Barnes & Noble?
Tim Knox: Was this Manless in Montclair?
Amy Edelman: Yes.
Tim Knox: Let me just kind of back up a little bit. It sounds like things happened really fast and then almost like things got somewhat beyond your control dealing with this editor and everyone else it seems has ideas about your work and they want you to just kind of fall in line. As a very strong woman who’s also very strong creatively, how frustrating and how difficult was that for you to do, even though you were sitting down with Katie Couric and all this other great stuff was happening. It had to be a real range of emotions.
Amy Edelman: Well, you know, it was but again my point to all of those authors who are can’t wait to give control of their works away, which is essentially what you do when you hand it over to a traditional publisher; it makes you think twice about that. The thing that I say too about indie publishing is it gives you something to show an agent. It gives you something to show a publisher. All of these books that I see on the bestseller list that are being picked up by traditional publishers, it’s not for nothing that they make the New York Times and USA Today bestseller list.
Tim Knox: I see a lot of that now. When we were talking earlier I mentioned a young man named Andy Weir who had a book called The Martian that he had self-published. It gained some traction on Kindle and then I think Crown picked it up and got the movie deal and the whole nine yards. It seems almost like they’re out there trolling, looking for these potential authors. If someone doesn’t really know how to go about becoming an indie author, what’s that process?
Amy Edelman: Well I think you first need to write a book.
Tim Knox: That would help.
Amy Edelman: And the second thing you need to do is… although Hugh Howey, who is another indie to traditionally published author. For his science-fiction book, Wool, he basically had his mom and his wife do the first edit. I’m not really sure if his mom was an editor or, you know, just a mom but regardless I would say to pay somebody or barter with someone to make sure that the book is as good as it can be. I also think that, and again I’m not sure how these other awards things work behind the scenes but get somebody to review the book honestly and then see, you know… I think it’s kind of a work in process. I know that there probably are many people who just kind of put it out there and I just don’t think that gives self-publishing a good name. Frankly, the number of books that we get that are subpar, and again this is nothing to do with my feelings about them but it’s reviewers, our reviewers who are saying these books are pretty good.
Tim Knox: I think you make a really important point there and let’s talk about that for just a minute. Just because you are going to self-publish or indie publish or whatever you want to call it, do not forego the quality. The book needs to be as good as it can be if not better than it would be if it went the traditional route. Don’t ignore the editing and the rewriting and a great cover and all the stuff that goes along with it because it’s really up to you to bring it up to that level of quality that if someone does notice it and takes a harder look at it, they’re not going to go, “oh this is not as good as we thought it would be.” It has to be really excellent in quality for it to be picked up and bought, right?
Amy Edelman: Yeah it does. If it’s an eBook, Kindle has that amazing ability to read a couple chapters before you buy it. So if it’s not good then you’re not necessarily going to get sales from it. People are going to know if it’s what they’re looking for or not pretty quickly.
Tim Knox: Are you a big fan of eBooks?
Amy Edelman: A couple years ago I asked my husband for a Kindle for Christmas and it sat there until I think late summer before I picked it up. I have to tell you it changed my life, only because what I didn’t realize was that before eReaders you had to buy… I mean you could stand in the bookstore and read a couple chapters but inevitably you had to buy a book or I guess it was just more time consuming that way, you know, before you made the investment. What I didn’t realize was that I now have the ability and go and try out books. I didn’t have to spend the money until I found something I liked and plus the space saving was amazing. That said, that first summer I read two books on the eReader and then a paper book in between. I’m kind of equal opportunity that way.
Tim Knox: Do you find you still like the feel of a book, though, a real book?
Amy Edelman: Yes, I do.
Tim Knox: This is always my example. I have a teenage daughter. She’s 18 and just an avid reader.
Amy Edelman: Lucky you.
Tim Knox: Somebody had to get the brains because they passed through my generation but she really loves her Kindle but if there is a book series or a book that she really loves she wants that tangible, hardcopy book.
Amy Edelman: I do the same thing. I do the very, very, very same thing. I feel like it needs to exist in my library. The eReader doesn’t allow that to happen.
Tim Knox: Very interesting. Well we’re talking to Amy Edelman. I guess you’re the founder, owner, publisher, chief cook, bottle washer of IndieReader.com.
Amy Edelman: Yes, my business card actually says cheerleader on it.
Tim Knox: That’s your formal title.
Amy Edelman: Yeah. The last identifier says cheerleader.
Tim Knox: Exactly. You certainly have a lot going on. I want to encourage folks to go over to IndieReader.com and take a look at that. You’re starting the blog there. Is that connected to the website yet? Is it live? Where can they find that?
Amy Edelman: It is. Actually I wrote a post today alerting authors to the new blog. That is available today. I have my web guy working on – I don’t know if it’s up there yet – creating a link to find more author-centric information at the blog.
Tim Knox: Very good. We will put links to everything on our website. Any final words of encouragement or wisdom or warning for our audience, Amy?
Amy Edelman: Well I just, you know, it sounds so kind of then but I’ve learned that the opportunities and the downside of being an author exists for authors in general, not for indies or self-published or traditionally published. I just think if it’s going to happen it’s going to happen. Sometimes it’s like pushing a rock uphill and I do believe in pushing that extra mile but don’t think that the book is not good, that your work is not good if it’s not embraced by readers. I don’t know. Some people are just going to be… they could be a lousy writer; it could be a lousy book. No one would claim that 50 Shades of Grey was a well written book but it’s evidently a great story and people just went crazy for it. It just was her time. She was meant to be an author.
Tim Knox: Was she really?
Amy Edelman: Well, again, I don’t know how to explain it and it can’t be explained. It really can’t be. Why was that person chosen over me, you know? It’s a long way from sitting down to write a book to having it become a bestseller. There’s a lot of things that you have to do before then to know whether that’s going to be your destiny or not. I would suggest to all of the authors listening that you start with that step. Start with writing your book and making it as good as can be because you just never know.
Tim Knox: Amy, it’s been a pleasure. We will keep in touch, keep us posted. If there’s anything we can do to help promote Indie Reader you just let us know.
Amy Edelman: Okay, great. Thank you so much, Tim. I appreciate it.