Transcript: Checklist for a Professionally Published Book

Interview with Angela Bole, CEO, Independent Book Publishers Association

For Podcast Release Monday, June 12, 2017

KENNEALLY: We should all know not to judge book by its cover, but is it any better if we judge the same volume by its business model? Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. I’m Christopher Kenneally for Beyond the Book.

The nation’s largest association of independent publishers and self-published authors sees a bias against indie voices in book award contests, media reviews and inclusion on bookstore shelves. In a market where competition for readers is fierce, indie author and publishers deserve a level playing field, says the Independent Book Publishers Association.

To ensure that books are judged on merit and quality rather than on the size of the publisher or the author’s business model, IBPA has made available an industry standards checklist for a professionally published book. IBPA’s CEO Angela Bole joins me now with the details. Welcome to Beyond the Book, Angela.

BOLE: Thanks, Chris. It’s nice to be here.

KENNEALLY: So what’s the point behind all of this? This notion that indie voices aren’t getting an opportunity to be heard – what lies at the bottom of all of this? It’s about presentation – professional presentation.

BOLE: Well, that’s what we hear it’s about, but we also think it’s about just this mass of content that comes in, and I think people are trying to figure out how you can take the amount of content that’s published and decide, what do you look at and what goes in this bucket and what goes in that bucket?

And what we’re trying to do is say, well, we have now this two-page checklist. If a book can meet all the criteria on this two-page checklist, then this is a professionally published book, and it should get all the consideration that any professionally published book would get with regard to book award programs, again with regard to association memberships for the author or the publisher – and just generally getting into the supply chain, getting into the traditional trade book market.

We don’t want to see someone pick up a book and just say, oh, is this self-published, oh, is this from a really small press in the Midwest? Well, in that case I don’t have time to review it. I’m just going to pick up what I see from the big five and look at these, because I know that’s quality. We know that there’s a great deal of quality coming out of these small presses and coming from self-published authors, and we want to help the industry find a way to see that – come to a place where they can acknowledge that that’s happening too.

KENNEALLY: Right. And if you’re going to try to characterize the independent book publisher marketplace, which is difficult, obviously, because it encompasses so many different voices, it is that point – that it is a diverse array of voices and backgrounds and people speaking about specialized issues, so you don’t want to see them marginalized inadvertently. You want to see them embraced, really?

BOLE: Right – not marginalized inadvertently or even advertently or in any way whatsoever. I understand that that’s a lot to contend with – that that means that you have to look at a mass of content that you hadn’t had to look at before, but as things start to crunch in the big five and things start to consolidate more and more, you’re seeing all the fringe voices and such come up through the indie presses and in the self-published authors.

You’re seeing great content coming out of this space. You’re seeing voices that can’t be heard elsewhere and – yeah – absolutely, let’s not put them on the sideline just because we don’t understand their business model or we have some kind of a bias against author-subsidized work – paying for your work to get published.

KENNEALLY: OK, so the checklist is available on the IBPA Website, and we will link to that on Beyond the Book. But it comes two sections around content and around production, and maybe you can give us some high points for each of those. First, with content, there are some things that readers of a certain level expect to see and they want to see – and when they don’t see, that’s where the roadblock comes in, so you’re advising your authors what they should have in place to give it that professional level.

BOLE: In a lot of ways, the checklist is about – well, as you say, it’s about content, but we can’t really comment on whether the book is good, right? That kind of subjective nature of a book isn’t really addressed in the checklist. But we are saying that there are professional markers to the publication of a book, so you have to have the right copyright page with the right kinds of information there, your title page needs to be there.

We’re telling publishers where to put your dedications. We’re giving them advice on grammar and copy editing and breaking down what the different levels of editing are and how important it is to engage in all levels of editing. But again, just as any book that’s going to be published is, you’re going to like it or you’re not going to like it. We’re not saying anything about the writing or the stories that are being told within that.

So yeah, we’re basically trying to say this is put together in a professional way. It has all the hallmarks and markers of a professionally published book.

KENNEALLY: Right. And production is the other piece of this, so it’s not just, as you say, about the quality of the writing but about the look and of the book itself. And there are expectations we all have. We’ve read a lot of books in our lives, and we’ve gotten to know what’s a well produced book and what isn’t just by intuition almost, but there are some things that go beyond that.

And as an example for the checklist, there’s a correct way and an incorrect way to display the ISBN number and there are some other formatting issues for covers and spines. And all of this again would seem picayune, but in fact it’s important.

BOLE: It is important, and it’s that book in hand that I think professional book people have been doing forever, taking a book and just looking at it and judging very quickly whether this is quality or not.

And if it’s not, that’s fine. You can put it in the pile that says I’m not going to review it, it’s not yet ready for the professional book market. But if it is – if the spine is representing the title and the author and the publisher in the right way and the back cover has all the hallmarks that it needs, then you put it in a different pile and you say, OK, this book deserves consideration.

KENNEALLY: So the IBPA is urging independent authors and publishers to take all of this into consideration. Is it expensive? And what’s going to be the challenge for them in bringing this all in? Is it going to be more work, really? And they’re already doing a lot of work.

BOLE: Well, I don’t know for whom it will be more work and for whom it won’t be more work. I guess it depends on where you are currently engaging in professional business practices, but I’d say that, if it is more work, it’s work well worth doing, and it makes a difference for – you know, just for the reputation of indie publishing generally, and the rising tide is going to lift all ships. So I would strongly urge that, if you’re in this business, if you want to publish books – and I encourage you to do that – that you do so professionally and you put in the work that’s required to do that. This is a profession of professionals, and we want to make sure that everything we’re putting out as an industry – as an indie press industry – is up to par.

KENNEALLY: And the IBPA has an advocacy committee, so you must have been discussing this for some while before the checklist was published in the spring. And one of the questions you probably asked yourselves was do readers care? And what are the answers that come back from publishers and from authors? Do they find that readers do care about these things too?

BOLE: I think they do to a degree. Some of the stuff is a little bit insider baseball, so a lot of this is about getting beyond the gatekeepers to the readers, if you will, so making sure these books don’t get stuck somewhere where the readers then therefore can’t find them. But a reader is going to want the good story and they’re going to want a professionally produced book – and that it’s not falling apart. That’s what they care about, I think.

But really, before we can even get to that place, we have to get the book in front of the reader and get the author recognized for the work that they’re doing, so.

KENNEALLY: And so finally, Angela Bole, the industry has changed so much in the last few years, predominantly because of the rise of self-publishing and independent publishing. And it is now very much more inclusive of all these voices than in the past. Does the industry itself as a whole – not just IBPA – have a real responsibility to help to lift all those boats, so to speak – to bring on board all these voices?

You guys are making the checklist available, doing what you can, but is the time over when people can reflexively reject these kinds of titles just because they are independent, quote-unquote?

BOLE: Absolutely. I think the time has always been over. It’s just been a little slower bringing along the more traditional sides of the market. Again, I appreciate all of the content that that then brings into consideration, but I think that there’s no time but now for us to acknowledge that the consolidation at the higher levels is making it so we need to get these marginalized voices into the conversation, particularly – there’s lots of reasons for that – what’s going on in our country and where we are today. So yeah, I’d say now is the time.

KENNEALLY: Well, thank you , Angela. We’ve been speaking with Angela Bole, the CEO of the Independent Book Publishers Association about its new industry standards checklist for a professionally published book. Once again, Angela, thanks so much for joining us on Beyond the Book.

BOLE: Thanks, Chris. It’s great to be here again.

KENNEALLY: Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global leader in content management, discovery and document delivery solutions. Through its relationships with those who use and create content, CCC and its subsidiaries RightsDirect and Ixxus drive market-based solutions that accelerate knowledge, power publishing and advance copyright. Beyond the Book co-producer and recording engineer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. I’m Christopher Kenneally. Join us again soon on Beyond the Book.

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