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.


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.


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

#Smutchat Editing Giveaway

Thanks to everyone who participated in #smutchat tonight! I hope you maybe learned something from chatting about editing!

Tonight’s giveaway is:

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King

Have a great weekend everyone! I’ll see you next time!

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Which Came First? The Chicken or the Egg?

This is going to be a touchy post. Not uncomfortable touchy-feely like your creepy neighbor, more touchy-feely like you’ll probably get mad. At me, at my thoughts about the indie-publishing industry, whatever.

Indie writers are famous (infamous?) for not liking being told what to do. They don’t like being told to write every day, they don’t like being told not to genre-hop, they don’t like being told write to market. No head-hopping, no weird 1st person to 3rd person shifts in the middle of a novel, no using their artistic license to do what they want.

And that’s really great–up to a point. Yes, write what you love. For sure. Use 100 POVs in a novella because you think they fit, do that crazy cover because you want to stand out. Do whatever the hell you want because it’s your book, you’re self-publishing it, and you don’t have to answer to anyone.

There’s disdain for the traditional publishing industry. I know there is because I’ve felt it myself. When I attended the Minnesota Writer’s conference I went to a workshop on how to self-publish your novel. That she ran her own self-publishing firm seemed a conflict of interest to me, but anyway, her firm hired out everything. She hired out the editing, the proofing, the formatting, the cover. They did it all for you for a hefty tune of $5,000-$10,000. I could hear dreams shattering around me like fragile champagne glasses thrown against a stone fireplace mantle. (Romantic, yes?) Having already published 1700 for free (I only paid for my ISBN number) I sat there shaking my head.

But between then and now I had a realization. She wasn’t trying to rip anyone off. On the contrary, what she was actually trying to get across was that when you self-publish, especially when you self-publish, you are in charge of the quality of your book.  You are in charge of how good the story is, you are in charge of how eye-catching the cover is. You are in charge to make sure the inside of your book is not a hot mess. The speaker of that workshop discouraged a lot of people from ever trying to self-publish because they didn’t know where else to look for information. They didn’t realize that you could self-publish for free (or for cheaper than $5,000!).


It’s too bad because the only thing she was trying to press upon the attendees of her workshop was that a certain standard is expected when a reader opens a book.

Traditional publishing is under a lot of fire lately for not being flexible and not changing their ways to adapt to what the publishing industry is turning into. I agree that to keep up with the output of indie authors they are going to step up their game and do things differently. But while distribution and output may change, the point is, quality is something a reader can always expect from a traditionally published book.  And whether you want to believe it or not, a reader is going to want that same quality from your book, too.

Oh, I know, you’ve found typos in books. I read a book recently and a whole speech tag was missing in a sentence. I don’t know how it slipped by an editor, but it did. There have always been typos. And there will be more as the publishing industry has to tighten their bootstraps and make budget cuts. But for every little mistake that slips by in a trad-pubbed book, there things a reader can expect to get from a book they bought from a big publisher:

  1. A story that makes sense in terms of plot, characters, and POV.
  2. A cover that looks nice that will hint at what the book is about.
  3. A blurb that also makes sense and makes a potential customer want to read the book.
  4. Formatting inside that doesn’t distract from the reading experience.

An author who is traditionally-published doesn’t have to worry about that stuff, and unless they go hybrid and self-publish as well as have their books trad-published, they won’t have to.

But you will. Not knowing isn’t a valid reason. If you want people to read your book, and read the next one you write, and the next, you have to take ownership of your work. It isn’t unheard of for indie-authors to revamp their first books as they publish more and learn more. I redid the cover for 1700, fixed typos, and fixed some formatting errors.

Anyway, the point I’m getting at with this post is that you are responsible for the quality of your book. Going rogue in the name of artistic license may feel good at the time, but how good is it going to feel if it ultimately means giving up sales and maybe even sullying your reputation as a writer?

The best way to know how to format your book is to look at one. Check one out at the library, or go to the bookstore and look through several in your genre. When I wrote my front matter for 1700, I took the book I was reading and copied it. You’ll notice in a trad-pubbed book the margins are justified, there are pages numbers, the book’s title and author name in the headers. There aren’t any spaces between paragraphs (this is a big pet peeve of mine).

There’s no doubt that the publishing industry is changing. But like anything that changes, you want things to get better, not worse.

Tell me what you think! Am I being too picky?

Other articles on self-publishing quality:


Protect Your Summer Writing Time!

Summer is here!

Sumblackboard-2192605_1920mer is here and the kids are out of school. Maybe you can sleep in a little more, and dinner is certainly easier to make—just throw some steaks on the grill and open that container of potato salad you bought yesterday at the deli.

You would think that with the arrival of summer you would have more time to write. Right? The days are longer making it easier to stay up at night; the kids don’t have activities they need to be driven to every afternoon. Maybe the workload at your job is a little lighter.

This all sounds good in theory, but the reality is, summer takes up a lot of time. Things don’t change much if you still need to get the kids to daycare or summer day camp, and your evenings are just as packed as they used to be with getting everyone home, dinner, bath, and bedtime. If things in your day-to-day routine haven’t changed, and you still want to do summertime fun stuff—going to the pool, the lake, the cabin, the beach, the parties at the park, the parades around the 4th of July—your weekends are even busier than they were before. Never mind fitting in family vacations.

So what does this do to your writing? My kids have only been out of school for one day, and already my writing schedule is out of whack. Did I get anything done their first day off? Nope. Would I have?  Yep.

It’s important during these next three months to guard your writing time. If you used to be able to write one or two hours a day, try to keep that going. It’s easy to let the time go by taking the kids to the park or sitting on the porch with the neighbors sipping daiquiris while the kids play in the water sprinkler.

My daughter is asking to go to the zoo, have playdates, have a movie night with me. And I absolutely want do those things with her. For sure! She’s eleven, and soon she won’t want to spend any time with me. But you know what else I want to do this summer? I want to publish Summer Secrets. I want to finalize edits in Running to Love (not the title anymore, but still) and get that ready for publication (formatting, book cover and writing the blurb) this fall. I want to keep writing this blog and figure out the mysterious newsletter thing everyone says authors need to have. I want to keep writing my 3rd Tower City Romance book. I need to edit the second one. No, I’m not going to be able to fit all that into the summer, but I’m not going to fit any of it into these next three months if I allow them to slide by in a haze of bug spray and suntan lotion.

I think of writing as my (second) job—I have a publication schedule I want to stick to. I don’t want to take a three-month vacation from writing.

So, it’s best for me to remember that when I’m tempted to stay up until 2 am and sleep until noon. I’ll remember that when my daughter wants to watch Moana for the second time that day.

Time alone is good for kids, and it’s good for me, too.

Only, I’m not alone—I’m with my characters, and it’s a nice place to be on a sunny summer afternoon.


Photo credits:


#SmutChat Tropes Giveaway

Thank you for participating in #smutchat. Here is the link for the giveaway of Jennifer Probst’s book, Write Naked: A Bestseller’s Secrets to Writing Romance & Navigating the Path to Success

Good luck and stay tuned for the winner announcement!

(This contest is open internationally!)

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Don’t Rush to Publish!

Probably the best advice I can give you about publishing is not to rush.

I’ve always promoted doing as much as you can yourself—especially since your first book is pretty much a loss until you write more and have more books available for purchase. When it’s when it’s your only book available, you’ll never get back what you put into it. (Unless you have a tangible way to measure pride and satisfaction.)

Combining the fact that this is your first book with doing it all on your own is dangerous. You’ll never be sure if your book bombed because you’re an unknown author and this is your first book, or if it’s because your book sucks. Publishing a superior product rather than a POS will take some of the guesswork out of the question.

You want to put your best work out there, so when you have more books available you don’t have to waste time fixing it. Being it is so easy to update files in Kindle Direct Publishing, you may get into the habit of updating your files and covers all the time. It’s a waste and you’ll never move forward. Fixing your files in CreateSpace is easy too, but your book isn’t available until your files are approved, and CreateSpace’s approval time is longer than KDP’s. People still can buy your Kindle book while the new file is being approved, but it will be your old file.

Here are some tips to not rush:


Never publish your first attempt at making a cover. Make many covers. Many, many, many. Try different pictures, fonts, and color themes. Take your best two or three and turn them into a contest on Facebook or Twitter. Enter all the names of the people who chose the one you decided to use into a drawing and give a signed copy of your book to the winner. Ask for lots of feedback. There are plenty of people online who are willing to give you an honest opinion.

Research your genre, watch picture manipulation videos to learn how to do what you want. If your idea is too much for you to do on your own, or you just can’t get your vision from your head onto the computer, ask for help.  Don’t publish your first attempt. Keep it clean, keep it professional. One day you may change your cover to bump up sales, or because your skills have improved, or because you found a better picture. All I’m saying is, don’t make it a habit. You’re supposed to be writing more books.

Formatting/Book Interior

The inside of your book needn’t change much. As you grow your library you may want to add those books to a list in the front or back matter letting your reader know they are available. Maybe you’ll want to fix typos, but don’t get caught up with this. You’ll never stop editing, and I feel it’s disrespectful to the people who previously bought your book before your fixes.

CreateSpace takes 12-24 hours to approve files, and your book is not available during the approval process. You can lose sales going into it to fix to too many times.

KDP takes five hours, but don’t use this as an excuse to fix every little thing. Plus you want your paperback and Kindle files to match. Publishing your book as close to perfect as possible will save you lots of time in the long run.


Changing your book’s description is simple enough, but if you offer a paperback you’ll want your product information to match the blurb on the back of your book. Again, CS has to approve any changes and this takes time. Blurb writing is difficult, every writer loathes it. I find it easier to write blurbs for others than for my own books. Research how to write one and get plenty of feedback from people who both have and have not read your book. The people who have read it can tell you if it’s accurate. The people who have not read your book can tell you if the blurb makes them want to read it.


I’ve written a lot about editing in my publishing series, and in two prior blog posts. Editing is the worst because of all the waiting, waiting, waiting. For other people. To read your work. You’re waiting on someone (or hopefully many someones) to read your work and you can’t say anything or you’ll seem rude. If you pay someone, hopefully, you come to some kind of a time agreement. If your friends are doing you a favor, you need to be patient. I’ve edited for people who have published before I was done. Please don’t do that—especially if they keep you updated and they are finding things. It’s rude, and frankly, it hurt my feelings. What I advise you to do is forget about publishing it. Work on something new. Work on your cover—can you make it better? Work on your website, or write a few blog posts and schedule them out so you’re ahead. Try to get into a blog tour, or ask some of your friends who run blogs to interview you. Beta-read or edit for someone else. There are plenty of ways to fill your time and still feel like you are moving forward career-wise.

Be patient.

Don’t rush into publishing. It will save you a lot of time down the road, and a lot of regrets, because you’ll never now how many sales you lost because of a poor cover, or your first 20% in the Look Inside feature has typos in it and a potential reader didn’t want to take a chance on the rest of your book.

It took a year or more to write your book. Waiting a bit longer won’t hurt.

What’s your biggest publishing regret?

April’s #smutchat Giveaway

Using Rafflecopter is a pain in the butt, but thank you for clicking and entering the drawing! Good luck and I hope you had fun participating in #smutchat!

See you soon!

(And if you want to follow my blog that would be super cool!)

Click here to enter:

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Congratulations to Jewel E. Leonard ( for winning the book giveaway! Thanks for playing!