Saturday, March 27, 2010

Reviewing self-published books

I've received lots of yummy books in the mail of late. I love getting books by my favorite authors delivered to my door. I also get unsolicited requests to review books. That's ok, too. I even say yes to some of them. Now this is a well-worn subject. It's going to continue to be bandied about because of the advent of print-on-demand technology.

What am I talking about? Self-publishing, of course. This is going to step on a lot of toes. Please don't misunderstand me. I wish all the best to writers who can make it work. Here's the problem from a reviewers standpoint. When a reviewer starts accepting self-published books, his or her TBR (to be read) pile starts looking like a slush pile.

I think the only way forward for self-published works that are good is for there to be some other form of vetting. Granted, the ivory towers of the top publishers may not always be the best authority of what is good or what readers will like. But it's better than just the author deciding that for us. Anyone can publish a book, with or without talent, if they self-publish.

Now let's talk about reviewers. Personally, I'm not just a reviewer. I'm a writer. I like to review books because I get all these lovely books delivered to my door and it makes me read more -- which is good for my writing. I don't get paid for my reviews. I just get to keep the books. This is not just true of me. I don't know any reviewers who make their living just reviewing books.

I hate it when I get a book for review and don't like it. I don't like giving bad reviews. Most especially, because I'm a writer, too. I'd rather just give it a pass than give it a bad review. My editor at Mostly Fiction, bless her big heart, feels the same.

I wish there was a better way. Are there reviewers out there that are paid to read self-published works all day in the hopes of finding a gem? Or could there be another way of vetting these works? Freelance editors, perhaps? But then, how do we know the freelance editor isn't sayin' it's good stuff because it's their third cousin's book and they owed their uncle a favor?

I have so many books to read. I'll never run out. I like what I do. I don't want a slush pile, especially since I'm not getting paid for reviewing these books. And this isn't my main gig. I'm first and foremost, a writer myself. I want to be a best-selling author, or at least be read by enough people that I can make a difference, make people laugh, make them stay up all night reading.

But I do wish authors who choose this route all the best. Really, I do.

vote it up!


Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

We over at the PodPeople blog review primarily self-published books. We have a query process, and if the query doesn't pass the mustard then we don't review the book. If the query makes the grade, we want a preview. No preview, no review. If we like what we read in the preview, then we request the book from the author.

Should we get a couple of chapters in and realize it is not up to par, we decline the review. Our disclaimer email response explains the entire process. That is key.

No review blog attempts to review everything that comes across their desk. A reviewer has to vet what they review as much as any reader does. Your TBR pile doesn't have to become a slush pile if you manage it properly. I only review the best of the best self-published books, and we DO NOT allow unsolicited submissions.

I see more and more reviewers wanting to dip into self-published books because the publishing climate is changing, but they just don't know how to do it properly. Email me offline if you want some tips.

Ann Wilkes said...

That sounds like a sensible solution. If I was doing nothing but reviewing, I would consider adopting it.

Thank you for submitting one possible solution to this dilemma.

If you're on LinkedIn, you can follow the discussion I started about this on Writing Mafia, First Time Authors and LinkEds groups.

Karen said...

This is a great article with a lot of hard truths in it. But I felt compelled to comment on a book I recently read that had passed the vetting process and was published by a big name. I won't say the name of the book or the publisher, but the book was horrid. It was poorly written, difficult to follow, used improper grammar, and had a predictable storyline. It was hard for me to finish! I only plugged away to the end because I kept being astonished that a major name publisher would actually invest in such terrible writing. So sometimes even the big guys make mistakes. Because I have so much respect for the self-published author, I have decided to take a chance on ordering some self-published books and see if any of them are gems. I hopped on and found half a dozen that looked promising. I can't wait to read them. I hope they arrive soon. I have become somewhat annoyed that the publishing market seems to be monopolized to a large degree by huge conglomerate houses that hide behind all kinds of imprints. Anyway, thanks for your great post and for letting me vent my point of view!

Ann Wilkes said...

Cheryl Anne, Thanks for reading. I have just taken on four reviewers for SFOO, so we DO now consider self-published books. And I can totally relate to the bad books that get past everyone to the shelves in a traditional fashion. It happens.