Self-Publishing Gatekeeping, Film Festival Style

One of the recurring discussions of Problems in Self-Publishing These Days is how to connect readers easily to material that has been vetted for quality but not constricted to the tastes of an agent/editor/publisher. So here’s a big thought I’ve had recently: self-published book festivals that are curated the same way as film festivals are.

I volunteer as a screener for a film festival in my city (fingers crossed that I continue to meet their screener criteria!). My role is to watch as many movies entered into the festival as I can stand for about three months and offer a brief (1-page form) description and critique of the film and a recommendation as to whether I think it should screen at our festival based on production quality, originality, and overall suitablity of the theme/tone for our festival.  There are about 10 screeners for each category of the festival, and the final judgments as to what plays at the festival are up to the festival’s board of directors. The screeners’ job is just to provide the directors with a shortlist of movies they should take a serious look at.

Having sat through countless hours of these films, I can attest that most of them are not very good, and that the festival directors who look at our shortlist really don’t miss out on anything.  Some of the movies are godawful and nigh unwatchable; others are merely pedestrian and uninteresting. A handful are genuinely good. I think of approximately 30 films I watched during the last festival season, I recommended 3 or 4 to be screened. So that is…about 1 in 10. Or a direct reiteration of Sturgeon’s Law, that 90% of everything is crap. To support that this was not merely my assessment of the movies I saw, two that I disliked scored high enough to make our final shortlist, and only one of the films I recommended actually played. That is the point of having multiple screeners–to make sure each work submitted gets a fair chance to be featured instead of being knocked out by one person’s dislike of a style or theme.

This idea of applying indie film festival curation to ebooks occurred to me after someone over at Passive Voice made a comment comparing books and movies and people venerating independent work in one and denigrating it in the other…I think the comment was pointing out that consumers only ever see the best of the indie films at festivals like Sundance or SXSW, so why should we be applauding the absolute lack of curation in ebooks?

I am not sure how a book festival in the style of film fests would work, exactly. I mean, the idea of having authors pay a small fee to have their books read by several knowledgable readers and, if they make the cut, get profiled at the “book festival” is pretty straightforward. The question would be how to get the information to consumers. Would it just be a website, like “The Will Scarlett O’Hara Book Festival for Medieval Romances Official Selections,” free to anyone who wants to read it and offering a write-up of the books? Or would it be like…some kind of subscription conglomerate, where interested readers would pay for access to titles selected by the festival, on a title-by-title or all-access pass or a X-downloads-of-your-choice basis?  How would the “audience choice” awards, which are hugely important at film festivals, work?

The festivals could be large or small, topic-specific or general, same as you get with film festivals. Smaller and more specific would probably be more useful for reading. For instance, I would be much more interested in the selections from a romance novel festival than a general fiction festival, and more interested in a Regency romance festival than a general romance festival. I imagine the same would hold true for most readers, simply because if you read across genres you can just look at the selections for festivals dedicated to the other genres (or subgenres) you read and have more books in that section of your reading playground to choose from.

This is the sort of curation that would actually be quite easy to do with crowdsourcing. Some people love to dig through piles of dirt to find gems–obviously film festivals have people like me who volunteer to screen for them–and others would pay to have people sift for them.  It would be a cool way to get some publicity and credibility to self-published books, without being quite the same as a straightforward contest.

Hm. I am actually kind of sold on this idea. Makes me wish I had more media heft. If anyone who does stumbles onto this and wants to give it a go, please let me know about the plans! 🙂



Filed under Digital Revolution, Ramblings

2 responses to “Self-Publishing Gatekeeping, Film Festival Style

  1. What you are suggesting is much like where writer’s read and judge eachother’s work.

    Only it didn’t work.

    The idea is a good one – putting it into practice…?

    • ha ha, yeah, it’s always the implementation. how do you make people notice, how do you make people care. There is another collective I’ve seen, something with PEN as part of the name in all caps that seems like it’s offering the same kind of vetting…if it has their stamp of approval it means it meets minimum guidelines for being properly formatted and free of bad grammar, typos, etc. , with no value judgment passed on whether the contents are good or bad.

      I think something like this would work only if it started in an already established online community, where there was already an audience listening, a ready-made pool of volunteers, and some trust in the community to choose well. I can think of a few romance sites and blogs that have the audience to do it. I don’t. Alas, bc I enjoy organizing things like this. Then again…it would interfere with my writing time, so I refuse to be sorry about that. Maybe someday… 🙂

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