Indie Book Reviews: My Unpopular Opinion

There’s been a lot of talk lately about writing indie book reviews. You know, it’s a kind thing to do, you’re giving the book a bump in the Amazon algorithms. You see it everywhere on Twitter: support an author, leave a review.

And I’ll be honest, when I jumped into the indie world, I read a lot of indie books. I was supporting my Twitter friends. But when you are just starting out, when you’re new to Writer Twitter, the thing that no one tells you is that there are bad books out there. Maybe I was naive, maybe I was just inexperienced. I was in awe of anyone who had published books. I hadn’t been exposed to the indie world, and I had no idea that a published book could be bad.

So I bought books, tweeted I was reading them, showed my support. The only problem was, some of them were good, some were okay, some were dumpster fires.

20-dumpster-fire.w1200.h630

Then I would have to write a review. I admit, I wrote a handful of 5-star reviews for books that were mediocre. (I realize that is a moral dilemma for some, and I have stopped doing it since it’s not fair to anyone). There was a lot of telling, or the characters were flat. Maybe a plot hole here and there.

After I bought two books in a row that I did not finish (DNF), I stopped buying indie completely. Because let’s face it, indie books are expensive. I buy paperback, and to get any kind of royalty, CreateSpace makes you price your book at a ridiculous price. So spending $17.99 on a book I won’t finish is a blow to my wallet.

But lately, the review talk is getting out of hand. While writing a positive review for a book that is well-written and well-edited is one thing, writing a negative review for a book that isn’t good is something else.

What makes a book bad?

Poor or complete lack of editing
The formatting is wonky, so wonky that it takes away from the reading experience
Flat characters
Plot holes
An all-around boring story

I’ve read my share, and if you read indie, you have too. I once read a book that had so many typos in it, I used it as a proofreading exercise (a quick run through Grammarly could have fixed 80% of those mistakes). I’ve read two books that I did not finish because the formatting was so terrible I couldn’t focus on the story. I read one book where nothing happened for three chapters. I was still waiting by chapter four and eventually toss the book aside.

Did I write bad reviews for any of those books? No, I didn’t. Did I reach out to those authors, my friends? No, I didn’t.

See, here’s the thing that you probably won’t agree with, but something that I live by:

When I pick up a book at Target, Walmart, Barnes and Noble, I’m picking up a traditionally published book. I’m reading a book that has been read several times by an agent, by several (and different kinds at that) editors. If the book is bad, say unlikeable characters, maybe a slight plot hole, or just a boring story, several people are to blame for the all the book lacks. I’m also reading that book as a readerI don’t know the author, probably. I’ll never interact with them. I can leave an honest review, and for a traditionally published book on GoodReads I have left, you know, two or three stars (which technically isn’t a bad review anyway).

When I read indie, I’m doing it because they are my friends, or I know them peripherally, or I thought it looked good and picked it up in a show of support. What do you get when you purchase an indie book?

Maybe something that hasn’t been edited all that great due to cost, resources, what have you. Most times editing is a favor, and it’s not always done by someone who knows how to edit.
A book that has a cover that was maybe done by the author to save a few bucks. I do my own covers, and I like to think they look decent. I know decent isn’t what we’re aiming for here, and I realize that if I wrote in any genre other than Romance, I would have to pay to have my covers done. Romance is the only genre you can get away with slapping a kissing couple on the front and adding the title and your name and be able to call it good.
A book that hasn’t been properly formatted. This has always bothered me because CreateSpace has free templates for you to download. And there are lovely templates you can purchase at a low cost you can use over and over again. Copy and paste your book into it, and you’re done. You’ve got your headers, footers, the pages where there should be numbers, and where they shouldn’t be. Gutters, margins. The templates aren’t perfect, and I’ve had to tweak mine, but even just using a template as a starting point will put you ahead of hundreds of authors who don’t know they exist or are too stubborn to use them. Pick up a trad-published book for God’s sake. Copy it. Page numbers, title, author name in the headers and footers. Full-justify the damn thing. Take out the auto spacing between paragraphs. A 200-page book shouldn’t be 600 pages. It costs money, for you and your customers, to print all that space. Stop it.

But you know what, a review is not the place to say all this. By the time the book is published, it’s too late. It’s not your job. You might say, well I have to warn other readers, or I’m giving my feedback.

When you read an indie, you are doing so as a writer, and that is not the same as reading a book as a reader. It’s not the same. When you read indie, you are peer-reviewing their books, and giving a poor review is a low blow. Reach out to them in a DM if you absolutely must, but be prepared for the backlash.

Look, there are a lot of readers out there, and eventually the book you want to “leave feedback on” will receive an honest review from someone the author doesn’t know. That’s an honest review, and maybe if your friend receives enough of them, they’ll pull the book and have it edited, or whatever.

reviews

This blog post is really long, and I haven’t even touched on the thing that makes me the maddest. I’ll write another blog post about it. But anyway, I don’t leave bad reviews for the simple fact that I am a nobody in the world of indie publishing. I don’t have thousands of sales, I don’t make six-figures. And when I do become an authority, I still won’t leave reviews. I’ll write blog posts like this.

Let’s try to save these books before they are published. Instead of reviewing, maybe offer to beta read, be a CP. Tweet informational articles about formatting. If you find services you like, tweet about it! Share when you find a paperback interior template that you LOVE. Share tips, tricks. A good editor that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Maybe you can get the information out there; even if you can help one person, it’s worth it.

It’s hell for an author to pull a book to fix it, and by then, their reputation may already be ruined. All it takes is one book for a reader to be turned off by an author, forever.

Let’s stop it before it starts. It can only help all of us.

no one heals themsevles by wouding another

Tell me if you leave bad reviews. Feel bad about it? Proud of yourself for being honest? Let me know!

Vania Blog Signature

9 thoughts on “Indie Book Reviews: My Unpopular Opinion

  1. I’ve never left a negative review, for the reasons you’ve stated. I *have* sent private messages to authors. The dance usually goes like this:
    Me: If I find typos in your book, do you want to know about them?
    A) Them: YES!
    B) Them: No thank you.
    What I’ve learned is that group A wants my feedback, and will want to know about anything wrong with their book, which is invariably a lot more than just typos. But don’t tell group B anything. If it turns out they wrote a great book that can get a good review, cool. But if they didn’t, don’t even tell them that you won’t be writing one. I made that mistake once, and got promptly blocked across all communications channels.

    Also, what the hell is the deal with those group B people? How could you not want feedback on your work? I find it puzzling.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. I would never turn down feedback. Especially in the polite way you offer it.

      Sometimes I feel bad that I didn’t reach out to the people who’s formatting was a turn off. It’s an easy fix most times, but on the other hand, I’m not formatting/plot hole/flat character police. Surely they’ve had other people look at their book before publication, so they probably *choose* to publish their book the way they did. Why should I bother contradicting their choices? Eventually someone will tell the author my thoughts, and until then, there are plenty of other books to read.

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  2. You know the answers to your questions from me. However, I don’t feel bad about it. Will I do it again? No. I actually no longer will leave reviews for anyone. If I read a book I really like, I’ll do a blog post. I don’t believe in writing untrue reviews so if an author of any kind is looking for just great reviews, then I’d rather not, I’ll walk away from their book and never look at it again.

    I’m new to the indie world and I am learning as I go. I expect negative reviews, which is why I am going to publish and walk away. One thing I’m learning about this business is that you have to have faith in your writing because the world is full of haters.

    While I may not feel bad about the constructive review I left, I do know better about the art of posting a review. Maybe just do a star instead of giving a reason. However, I’ve seen even doing that people yell at you to tell WHY you gave it. So, when it comes to reviews, you can’t win except to just avoid it altogether.

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    • Perhaps if you really do want to keep reviewing, set up a website just for that. Make it clear you’ll leave an honest review on the website/Amazon/GR. Then, let them come to you. Maybe that’s part of the problem: when you read someone’s book and then leave a bad review–they didn’t ask you to read it and maybe they feel the bad review was unjustified. Just a thought. There are lots of book bloggers out there. If you keep with it, you could turn it into something big. 🙂

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  3. As a writer: I knew nothing when I first published my book. And I had no money for editing, cover design, etc. It was for a personal accomplishment that I wanted it published before my birthday. It was reviewed once by a “friend” who was a journalist. She did a very crappy job. Since then, I’ve changed the cover 4 times and finally had it reviewed by a professional editor. I wasn’t on twitter then and knew nothing about beta readers, or critique partners. I got decent reviews but it was the honest ones I appreciated the most.

    As a reader: I am far from considering myself a professional writer yet, so I AM reviewing the book as a reader. I believe my reviews are polite, honest and about the story making sense. I do the same exact thing for published authors. Sadly, I’ve had quite a few Indie authors who didn’t take it that way and sought revenge on my books. I decided it’s not good business to review another writer I know either. I had such a dilemma recently posting how I really felt, as opposed to giving a good rating because it was a nice person. But like you said, I’m sure someone else will do it for me.

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    • I appreciate the response. 🙂 And for the honest reviews you received, you said you weren’t on twitter yet, so I’m going to assume that the reviews were from people you didn’t know. I’m not saying to never leave bad reviews, but while Writer Twitter has thousands of people in it, we’re a small community. Why pollute the water you swim in? If you need to say something, like Joshua said, message them. But that doesn’t always go over well either. Writers need a tough skin, and unfortunately not a lot of us have one. I would rather keep my friendships and keep my mouth shut. I’m not writing for Writer Twitter anyway. I’m writing for readers. I haven’t found them yet because I’m not advertising or marketing–I’m building my backlist before I sink money into my books.

      Anyway, like I said at the end of my post–wouldn’t you rather be helpful in a different way? Sign up to CP with #cpmatch, or offer to beta read. Offer to edit. The more we help each other *before* the publishing process, the better we all look. The better indie-publishing will look. Maybe we’ll shake the “last resort” slime that still coats the industry.

      Thanks for reading!

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  4. Thanks for this blog. Giving reviews is difficult for me. I love to give a five star review, but it’s painful for me to give less. 🙂
    I love the indie book publishing world, but I think we can do better. I think we need to put the time and effort in to make sure our books are well edited and interesting stories. I think we can change the reputation out there, but I think it will also take a lot of work. 🙂
    Thanks again for your post. I really enjoyed it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree; there’s room for improvement. It’s just that publishing is so exciting! It’s tough to have patience. I love to help my friends by beta reading, editing (for free), and formatting. It’s great to give advice, and be given advice, but we also need to know when to take it. And that can be difficult.

      Thanks for reading, Shawn!

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