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Should Writers Review Books?

Recently, I have noticed a lot of banter on Twitter and blogosphere about writers, reviewers and self-published/Indie authors. Many authors who self-pub, or even trying to get their small-press Indie publishing company off the ground have been out seeking reviewers of their newly published books. And many authors are frustrated because the review sites will not accept self-published or Indie published books. I’ve seen valid points on both sides of the argument.

Yes, I am a writer. I write. But I also read. I’ve been reading much longer than I’ve been writing. And I feel that reading is a necessity for writers. Reading can provide an escape from reality. But it can also provide lessons for the writer. Books can give me insight into story, plot, structure, and characters. It also opens me up to many different styles. I can then learn from what I read and analyze and make it my own, in my own writing. When I review someone’s book, and if I find issues, I will note it and try to find ways for the author to improve. I don’t sugar coat anything. I don’t find it beneficial to have a line of “Yes Men” giving out glorious reviews on something that isn’t production-ready. It only serves to inflate the author’s head and does nothing for the fan base. (Honestly, I would prefer to have my critique sessions to come BEFORE publication so I could work out the kinks and make it a better story)

So, recently I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing some rather sketchy comments on Twitter and blogs bashing people who don’t accept self-published or Indie books for review. The authors of these types of books seem to be blowing things out of proportion and generalizing too much. Some have gone so far to say that those reviewers are downright rude. I’ve gone to a few reviewer’s sites and read their policy, even read why they chose not to review self-pubbed/Indie books. I’ve not yet found a single rude comment. Just because it goes against your wishes, or your opinion, does not mean that you can categorize it as “rude”. Take, for example, All Thing’s Urban Fantasy’s stance and reasoning. The blog post is very well written and very tactful. I cannot see any sense of rudeness. However, I’ve seen comments that point to an author’s distaste for the decision.

I read. And when I read, I expect the author to have a basic understanding for grammar. If a writer cannot master spelling and grammar, how can you expect them to master the more intricate form of storytelling? I don’t hold a traditionally published author to a higher standard than a self-pubbed/Indie author. In fact, now that I think about it a little more in-depth, I may hold the self-pubbed/Indie author to a higher standard. At least with a traditional pubbed author, you know that they’ve fought tooth and nail with their story to get it as perfect as they can before submitting to an agent/editor/publisher. And those that are traditionally published, don’t have to go through much more editing after that. Their work is not necessarily perfect, but as perfect as they can make it.

Now, I like to support my fellow writer and I think reading and reviewing shows that support. However, I’ve had some serious issues with the majority of self-pubbed/Indie writers. I haven’t fully taken the step to limit my reading to traditional published authors, but I am seriously straddling that line. Why? because the majority of self-pubbed/Indie Author’s I’ve read are just not ready yet. Granted, there are a few who’ve gone out of their way and went through an editor and several revision processes. One of my local critique partners has self-published a few of his short stories. I’ve read them. I’ve reviewed them. They are actually, what I consider, publishable quality.

I was hesitant, at first, to garner him support for the self-publishing world. The stigma that surrounds this area is very negative, even in my eyes. My first encounter with a self-published author was an OMG! I can’t believe this made it to press! moment. When I found out that it was self-published, I became biased and distanced myself from reading those types of books for a very long while. It was only when I started following more writer-ly people on Twitter did I decide that reading and reviewing their work would be good support for them.

I recently read a book and gave (what I thought) a very insightful, tactful review. However, once the author saw the review, their twitter stream exploded! You would not believe what I read. Rather than focusing on the content of the review and taking it as a means of bettering their writing, they focused on the fact that I said it was “self-published”. Now, this book was not technically self-pubbed–meaning the author didn’t do it themselves. Rather, they went through a newly formed Indie publisher who, in my opinion, is nothing more than someone who assists authors in self-publishing. I don’t want to knock this method. It really helps those not technologically savvy. But, my point was not remotely anywhere near bashing self-published or Indie authors. It was simply to state that the story was good, it just needed a few more editing passes before the author actually put it to bed.

Not only did the author’s twitter stream explode, but then I get a response to the review on Amazon, apparently from a friend of the author. I did not apologize for my review. In fact, I stood behind it. It was honest, heart-felt, and I truly wanted to help the author better their writing.

Unfortunately, the level of maturity I’ve seen in some self-pubbed/Indie authors is akin to a teenager. Many seem to lack the ability to take constructive criticism. So when I see an author asking for “honest reviews” on their new book, I am very reluctant. Can the author REALLY handle my reviews if it’s not a 4 or a 5 star review? Or will I get a snotty brat when I’m done? I so want to say, “I’ll review your book and give you an honest opinion IF, and only IF, you can handle this: Skeleton Lake by Angela Kulig Review.”

So, I think I will continue reading self-pubbed/Indie authors in hopes I find some real gems. But, I will probably stay away from authors like the aforementioned ones I’ve come across. I will also continue my HONEST review process in hopes of helping those who want to better their writing. Self-pubbed/Indie Authors can be a very good way of getting your name out there. Make your book the best it can be! As good as a traditional author does to get their foot in the door of an agent/publisher.

The stigma will always surround self-pubbed/Indie authors, for a long time to come. Get used it, but overcome it! Change the stigma one book at a time, one author at a time! Stop whining about it!

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  1. Ping from J.L. Campbell:

    Good post. I think I mentioned somewhere before that in the haste to get a book out, too many writers cut out the necessary steps that go with making a book something to be proud of.

    Personally, I don’t think a writer is ready to be in the public spotlight if he/she can’t handle a bad review.

  2. Ping from Matt:

    This is why I think it’s important to publish something–anything–a few times with an editor or have a strong peer review group. You’ll get some feedback that you’ll bristle at initially, and then realize that not everyone loves everything you write.

    This helps you build a thick skin. If you self-pub after that, then at least you’ve been through the process and have seen critical comments. Otherwise, it’s “well, my mom and brother and best friend loved it, so there.”

  3. Ping from rddentonRance:

    I can’t wait for somebody to give my book a bad review once it gets out there somewhere.

    I’ve never been the biggest fan of self-published material. I’ve always thought it was mostly under-par (thus supporting the reasoning as to why it’s still self-published). However, reviewers who *don’t* support self- or indie-published efforts are, in the long run, hurting themselves more than they’re helping. There’s this stigma on self-published novels that they’re going to be crap. Because they will be. But that’s because there’s no one harsh or willing to be a big-enough dick on a public level about them to get self-published authors to change their act.

    Self-published authors have no sense of consequence. “LOL HEARZ MY BOOK IT WAS ZO HARD 2 RITE RASPECT IT.” Honest reviews in more public forums would kick the living shit out of self-published authors and I guarantee ensure that they think far more in the future before putting out a half-assed effort.

    That’s why the reviews *you* do, Jamie, are very important. I’ve only read and reviewed two self-published books, and I was happily pleased by both of them. But I can’t wait to read stuff that REALLY sucks.

  4. Ping from Michael A Tate:

    Great post, and I actually have pretty much the same feelings. I have reviewed a couple self-pubbed books and the results were not very good. I did feel bad giving this particular author a 2 star review, but it’s not going to help anybody out if I’m not honest.

    People-pleasing is a rampant problem in the book reviewing world. (ESPECIALLY when it comes to people doing reviews for indy/self-pub authors) Thank you for your honesty.

  5. Ping from K.T. Hanna (@KTHanna):

    I’m with Angela. I don’t understand why people would react to their negative reviews. You can never please everyone. And trying to? Is only going to make you a miserable excuse for a human being.

    What you CAN do – is revise and rip the hell out of your first draft (after a period of time has passed or else you can’t see what you need to), and then send it to people who are known for honesty when it comes to books and reviews. People who aren’t just going to pat you on the back and say OMG THIS IS THE BEST THING EVARRRRR DUUUUDE!

    Because that isn’t going to make you a better writer.

    You have to be strict with yourself, strict with how you allow critiques to effect you (and I don’t mean ignore advice, I mean distance yourself as a person from the self as a writer), and you have to be strict with the level you want your work at.

    For me – I have a very high standard in what I read. I realized a while ago that I hold self-pub’d authors to a different standard and I shouldn’t. I should hold them to an equally as high one.

    Hence – what I write? Needs to be of that high standard.

    If I need a few people to tell me: OMG KT, this DOES NOT WORK! Then I need to hear it.

    But then…there are just those who feel they’ve been slighted in some way when someone gives them advice on how to improve. Can’t win em all… right?

  6. Ping from Angela Brown:

    I think many authors seem to forget that not every person in the world is going to like their story, whether it is great on the edited side or not. Accepting that truth first and foremost is a hard pill to swallow. Once that’s done, then just maybe more self-pubbed and indie authors can take a negative review, search it for the content and learn from it instead of pouting to the world.
    Actually, I’m still trying to understand why authors are choosing to respond to these negative reviews at all.

  7. Ping from Alessandra:

    I’ve been trying out a couple self-pubbed authors but it’s tough. There’s so much out there that I have a hard time figuring out what’s worth my time and what’s not.

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