How do you review and rate an Indie book?

Indie book ratings

I’m asking this question because I am (happily) receiving an increasing number of books from Indie authors to read. And in some cases I have a bit of a dilemma when it comes to reviewing and rating them.

Some of the Indie books I’ve been reading are excellent. For these 4- and 5-star books, reviewing and rating them is no problem at all. They are a pleasure to read; a delight to review.

Some of them are less good or even poor. It’s these that are giving me a headache.

If the same book had been published by a mainline publisher I would have given it 1, 2 or 3 stars. I would have been honestly critical, and made my review public. (E.g. Philip Pullman should do better than this).

But for Indie authors I somehow feel more protective. Indie author Audrey Driscoll identifies why I feel this way: “A trad published book is the product of a company, with many more people behind it than the author. Most Indie books are created by their authors alone, so a critical review is by nature personal.”

Thus there seem to be two alternative approaches to reviewing:

1. Treat all authors equally

This approach is simple. A book is a book. It doesn’t matter if it’s been published by a giant international publishing company, or by using the first free eBook publishing software that came up on Google. It’s a level playing field out there. So all books should be treated equally, and reviewed and rated according to the same standards.

So bring on the duel: Stephen King vs. The keen historical fiction author who lives down the road.

And if your local novelist is producing material that just doesn’t match Mr. King’s exquisite prose, well, it’s a tough world out there, so you mark her down!

2. Be more generous towards Indie authors

Here we take into consideration the resources available to both types of author.

The publishing company with offices in London, New York and Sydney can put a whole team behind an author. The team is there to iron out plot deficiencies, suggest better endings, recommend more memorable chapter titles, catch those annoying typos, and myriads of other tasks necessary to make a 5-star book.

The Indie author of course, does not have access to these limitless editing and quality control processes.

Accordingly, we turn a blind eye to our local Indie author’s illogical plot twists, the over-use of clichés, the scattering of typos. But we are aware that she’s done it all herself and she’s obviously put her heart and soul into her book. So we overlook the errors and generously award her 4 stars.

So it’s a case of choosing your approach and sticking to it.

Or is it?

No, because things are never that simple.

Shifting definitions

Traditionally published authors are increasingly dipping their toes into the self-publishing lake. Some of them are quite liking the sensation and are diving right in. This makes it difficult to identify who is an Indie author and who is not. If J.K.Rowling suddenly comes over all Indie, do you rate her as an Indie author? What if she changes back? What if she has one foot in one camp and one in the other?


At the same time, this black and white delineation between traditional and Indie publishing is becoming blurred. No longer is it either “getting paid to publish OR paying to get published”. Hybrid publishing has been around for years but is growing in market share. There seem to be endless models on offer, but generally it involves the author raising capital, paying for certain publishing services, having a fair degree of control, and receiving higher royalties. I suppose it’s like “getting paid to publish AND paying to get published.”

How do you review an author who falls into this category?

Going public, or giving private comments?

Here’s another aspect to think about. Should we make a 1-, 2-, or 3-star rating of an Indie book public? Or keep it to ourselves?

Indie author Don Massenzio gave me his philosophy on this: “I review Indie books with the same criteria that I use for traditionally published books. The only difference is, if I think the book is three stars or less, I don’t publish the review. Good reviews help Indie authors as a collective, but a single bad review can cause irreparable damage.”

Taking this further, maybe we should be sending our 1- to 3-star reviews to the Indie author as a private message?

Final thoughts

I asked Orna Ross, Founder and Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors for her view on this issue. She said: “We encourage our members to invest in good editorial, design and so on, to essentially give their manuscript the same level of editing, quality control and design as a trade publisher. We believe readers deserve no less.”

Maybe Orna has touched on the heart of the matter. If all Indie authors were to focus on quality – over quantity or speed, for example – maybe all books could be treated equally.

Questions, questions and yet more questions

What do you think? Where do you stand?

If you are an Indie author:

  • Do you want to be treated differently from or equally to authors published traditionally?
  • If a book reviewer rates your book as poor, are you resigned to seeing it go public or would you prefer to get this feedback privately (or not see it at all)?
  • Is one of your goals to be picked up by a traditional publisher or are you content to remain Indie?

If you are an author published by a mainline publisher:

  • What’s your view of the Indie publishing marketplace?
  • Are you tempted to go Indie or Hybrid? Why or why not?
  • Do you think Indie authors should be reviewed equally or more generously?

If you are a book reviewer (and I am aware that authors are also reviewers):

  • How do you review Indie authors? Just like any other author? Or do you give them special treatment and make allowances?
  • Does it matter to you how a book is published?

If you are a publisher:

  • Do you care how your authors’ books are reviewed?
  • Do you think Indie authors should be reviewed equally or more generously?

I don’t know if this post has cleared anything up or simply muddied the waters. I suspect the latter.

Anyway, I do believe it’s an issue that needs to be discussed. So please answer any of the above questions by commenting below. Also feel free to share and reblog. It would be great to get some discussion going on this topic.


71 responses to “How do you review and rate an Indie book?

  1. Please, please treat every book in the same way. Only reviewers and publishers care about whether or not a book is indie published. Readers don’t even notice.

    Many book bloggers get round the problem of giving a bad review by not publishing a review of a book they would give fewer than three stars to – and this applies to traditionally published books as well. You shouldn’t perpetuate the myth that traditional publishers only publish good and well-written books; they don’t. I’ve read truly awful books that were somehow accepted by a big publisher and edited by someone with a five-year old’s understanding of grammar, plot and character development. I’ve read indie published books that I couldn’t put down.

    • Denzil

      Thanks for getting the ball rolling April. No way was I perpetuating the myth that trad publishers only publish excellent books, hence my link to the latest Philip Pullman book. And as I point out, I too have been delighted to come across gems of Indie books. I think readers notice when a book fails to meet certain quality standards, but this refers to any book from any source, as you quite rightly point out.

    • paulandruss

      Yes Spot on April… not only published by prestigious publishing houses but edited by professional editors too! (Shameful!) I read one where the first page consisted of 3 paragraphs of 3 sentences…. and the author thanked her editor and the Literary agency was touting it as a book of the year!).

      • Denzil

        It is always a mystery to me when I come across incorrectly spelled words in a (trad published) book these days, with all the editing tools available, far less the editing team. I don’t recall seeing so many errors in books 30 years ago.

  2. Food for thought, Denzil. I often wonder why certain books get published and others don’t. As a blogger, I was asked by one of my followers to read a book she had written and comment on it. I put quite some time and effort in pointing out good and bad things, in helping her correct language and spelling errors before she went to a publisher but she didn’t seem pleased at all. I publish ‘honest’ and very personal reviews of different types of books on my blog. Some get five stars, some only one.

    • Denzil

      You draw attention to a pertinent point Anna, which is that in general anyone who writes, takes their writing not only seriously but often very personally too. This means that giving comments on their work – even when you’re told “to be honest” – is a potential minefield. This is one of the reasons why it is so much easier to review the work of an established author from a big publishing house, who (a) may not read the review (b) may not care, than a local Indie author.

    • paulandruss

      That is a great point Anna… I volunteered to read and review someone’s books and actually never reviewed them because they were… well they were… in my humble opinion. And I qenuinely felt I could not tell them just exactly how they were…
      I think the time and effort you put in for that fellow author was a selfless good deed and very brave….I would get you into book heaven based on that one! But as you say, often people do not want a true appraisal of their book they simply want to hear how marvelous it is…. even if its not! As a review is purely a personal reaction to a book.. kudos to you for giving your honest opinion!

  3. As a reviewer I judge the book by the experience it gives me as a reader. With a long lifetime of past reading behind me I think I am well qualified to do so. If the book rates less than 3 stars, it’s by an Indie author, and I am able to contact him or her, I will send a personal message explaining where I think (s)he fell short of my requirements as a reader.
    As an indie author I aspire to be regarded alongside established trad. published authors so I would be disappointed to learn that I was being judged differently. I also welcome comments that tell me where I have fallen short of that aspiration.

    • Denzil

      Thanks for your input Frank. From this and other comments I am certainly picking up the desire for Indie authors to receive input personally. I think this is interesting as it opens up more of a dialogue between author and reviewer, as opposed to a rather anonymous posting of a review online.

    • paulandruss

      Frank you are spot on. As an indie… I would rather have an honest review no matter how hard it stung.. otherwise you are simply kidding your self and allowing all the Smug ‘professionals’ who put down indies to feel justified in their opinions even though trad publishers publish some of the most appalling rubbish…. along side great stuff…. just like the indie market has! Excelsior mate!

  4. I think that well thought out reviews, even 3 star ones are invaluable. Especially to a new author like myself. But, reviews that give 3 or less stars with no real reason why, are detrimental to both indie and traditionally published authors. I tend to review books at 4 stars and above with a tiny amount dropping below to 3 stars. If I came across a 1, 2 star book I’d contact the author rather than publishing and explain why. I’ve received a variety of reviews from 3, 3.75! 4, and 5 stars. Perhaps a three star review is harder to take for an indie author. It is an interesting question. I hope to get some more 5, and 4 star reviews!

    • Denzil

      I hope you get more 4- and 5-star reviews too Marje! Like Frank above, I am seeing from your comment the importance of author-reviewer dialogue. I believe this could be especially relevant for Indie authors who are more likely to be working in a “vacuum” than trad published authors.

  5. Hi Denzil, your post and email had me pondering for a brief while and I could only answer this when I considered the reviews I write for both indie and traditional published books. If a book, however published, is not good or terrible I will not write a review. Only in one case was I so incensed at how desperately bad a book was (by a famous author) I was compelled to write. Most of my reviews are between three to five starts, a reader will then be able to make up their own minds from the review.

    Since I am now starting to receive reveiews myself, including from yourself thank you very much, I take a lot more notice of them. At the end of the day I am very happy with my book, it looks professional, reads well and I can’t do any better.

    One article in a writing magazine addressed the matter of bad reviews and said the odd one can even be helpful as it shows how good the others were and that potential readers can make up their own minds what is relevant and understand everyone has different tastes.

    Hope this helps the discussion a bit…have a great weekend! 😀

    • Denzil

      Thanks for your comments Annika. As the comments come in it seems that the dilemma centers around books that we find poor. Whether to review them in the first place, and then whether to make our review public. I guess there is never going to be a single solution; it’s a personal preference.

      Another factor is when we are reading a book and 20 percent through we decide we are not enjoying it and can’t go on. Do we review/rate it? Maybe mark/rate it as DNF? It seems tough to review and rate a book that you’ve not read. But equally tough to waste time reading a book you are not enjoying.

  6. Hi Denzil, I landed here from ‘The Literary Diva’s Library’ and at the outset I must thank you for this thought-provoking post. Being an Indie, I have read this with great interest.

    As a student of literature, I had to read classics and disliked some of them and wondered how they came to be called so. At the same time some of the contemporary best sellers are quite ordinary writers and probably the reviews and the influence of publishers have put them on that higher pedestal. So reviews do matter.

    Personal opinion too matters and if you don’t like the genre, you may not appreciate the mindless twists and turns or fantasy. To be honest, I have noticed that some readers are generous towards Indie authors for their own reasons!

    While I believe that all books should be treated at par, I avoid reviewing a book that deserves a bad review. If it is too bad, I may drop it and would you believe I dropped ‘The Dark Places’ due to the gory details, which gave me nightmares! I must mention that my poetry book ‘Emerging From Shadows’ received a poor review as the reader found the language difficult, with “excessive alliteration and unnecessarily lengthy words. As writers, we want to reach people, not push them away. Big words don’t make a big story,” that’s a personal opinion of one reader!

    So the topic you are discussing is quite sensitive but you have handled it quite well. Thanks for giving us a platform to discuss our views.

    • Denzil

      Thanks for your input Balroop. You touch on something I did not cover, which is genre. It’s easy for someone not to like a book or give a poor review simply because it’s not a genre that they like or are familiar with. This makes it essential to review books from the appropriate genre.

      I am not sure that long and difficult words is a valid reason for a poor review. Maybe they were just words that this particular reviewer was not familiar with.

      You also touch on “best-sellers” which leads me to comment that there are a lot of reviews out there that are more like marketing blurb, with the objective of bigging up a book so that it becomes a best-seller.

  7. I’ve heard the view before that if the book is bad, just don’t publish the review and that seems like a good approach for me – mainly because the indie books I tend to review are those of people I know and I certainly wouldn’t want to be responsible for having a hugely negative impact on the book. Fortunately, I haven’t yet been in the position where I’ve thought an indie book was bad!

    • Denzil

      I think that approach is a sensible one Andrea and seems to be if not a consensus, a majority view.

  8. paulandruss

    Denzil… well it’s safe to say I haven’t got a single opinion… as you probably noticed!!!
    Personally I think all books should be treated on a par and no concessions made… and there is a whole slew of arguments for that including the current perception of ‘how indie authors just go round liking each others work, just to have their work liked and if we were any good we would be trad published! (Not my opinion….I’m not venturing an opinion.. it is one I have heard).
    I don’t know the solution. Part of me sides with Balroop and Annika that says write to the author and say that it would warrant a poor review if you were to review it. However part of me thinks… you are setting yourself up for retaliation…. how dare you not like me book! Who are you!
    Perhaps it might be a solution to say you will only review books that appeal to you and you do not guarantee reviews if people send their book unsolicited. But I don’t know. I don’t envy you.
    And great topic by the way mate! Paul

    • Denzil

      Thanks for this and your other comments here Paul. Treating all books equally certainly seems the fairest approach. Thankfully as I am not an author, the potential of retaliation that you mention is not applicable to me, but I could imagine it’s a potential issue with author-reviewers. Of course, if I were only to accept 5-star books to read and review, the problem would be solved. Oh to have that intuition!

  9. Reading the comments and thinking some more, I think I agree with what others have said — publish 3 to 5 star reviews, noting the issues behind the 3 star ratings. Indie authors’ books that deserve no more than 2 stars are probably left unreviewed, but if in your judgment the author would be receptive to private comments as to why you choose not to post a review, send such comments in an email. But hey — surely you don’t want book reviewing to become a burden and a source of angst, so just include a statement that you can’t guarantee a review of every book, and that honest reviews may include some criticism. That leaves you a graceful exit route from awkward situations.
    Thanks for this opportunity to weigh in on a complicated issue!

    • Denzil

      I think you talk a lot of sense here Audrey. Certainly I don’t want reviewing to be a source of angst, for me or for the author. I’m keen to “get it right” though because I do like supporting Indie authors.

  10. I think Orna Ross hit the nail on the head. Readers deserve quality and should expect that authors have done their utmost to present their best effort, no matter how their writing is produced. I know this is a little off topic but I believe the idea is the same. As a Primary School teacher I read picture books and other books meant for young children every day to my students. Often the stories are so poorly constructed and have little literary quality. Knowing first hand how difficult it is to even get an editor or agent to look at manuscripts, I do wonder how these dreadful books get published.

    • Denzil

      I don’t think it’s off topic Carol. In fact I might say that it is even more crucial to ensure high quality in writing, artwork and design through to production in children’s books than it is for adult books. This is generally when a love of reading develops, and children are not going to catch the reading bug by being given poor quality reading matter.

  11. This post and the comments have provided a lot of food for thought. The comments about not reviewing a genre you either don’t like or are not familiar with makes a lot of sense. The reviewers that have the time and inclination to offer the author a private review are heroes in my book. I think that DNF is a fine category, if you can provide specific reason(s) why you did not/could not finish the book. I like to be entertained or informed when I read so I am normally too lazy and /or apathetic to read most of the classics. (Maybe that will change as I age–mature may be asking too much.) Great topic and wonderful variety of comments. Keep these thinking person’s topics coming. We could use them to analyze our own thoughts on writers and writings. Pat

    • Denzil

      Thanks for your comments Pat. I will reply to one in particular: reading the classics. I too would like to read more of them, but actually struggle with reading any book twice as there are so many unread books out there I would like to read. Interestingly, I read War & Peace in my late teens and loved it. A couple of years ago, with great enthusiasm, I picked it up again to re-read, and barely made it through the first chapter! Based on that experience, I am a little reticent about revisiting some of the classics about which I have such fond memories.

  12. I think books should all be judged equally. I have been involved in the children’s publishing industry, dedicated to always learning more, and to be published traditionally (hopefully, someday soon.) That said, if I were to Indie publish, I would want my book to be judged by the exact same standards as traditionally published books. One of the things I see over here is a great many self-published books without critical attention to plot, design, good illustration, and plain good writing. I know that does not apply to a goodly number of Indie authors, but to me, if you’re going to put a product out there, it should be your very best. The author should have done his/her homework about what a good book in their genre really is. (Yes, I know that can be subjective.) Based on much of what we see here, there’s more than one of us who thinks that “Just because you can (self-publish), doesn’t mean you should.” And this is not said from an elitist standpoint, trust me.
    I also know there are traditionally published books out there that leave us scratching our heads (or worse), saying “THIS got published? Then why not me?” Either way … if you’re going to put it out there, regardless by what means your book was published, be prepared to learn from a fair and honest critique by a knowledgeable reviewer. Hope for the best, be open and humble, and know there are always more stories inside us to write.

    • Denzil

      I think you have summed it up eloquently Jeanne, particularly the point about a self-published book being your very best. Yes, that refers to a trad published book too, but for an Indie author it is much more of a personal project, even a personal projection, and it surprises me to come across the occasional Indie author who aligns with your statement that “just because I can self-publish, I will.” Quality, quality, quality surely has to be foremost in every writer’s mind, whether we are self-publishing a book, writing a blog post, or even commenting on a blog.

      I look forward to hearing more about your own publishing ambitions Jeanne, for which I wish you courage and success.

      • Thanks, Denzil. Maybe it’s just who I’m meeting in my area; I don’t honestly know, but I am always surprised at the number of books I see where quality is quite lacking.
        Thanks for your good wishes, too. The road to being published can be a long one, but I remain optimistic. You will know when my first book is accepted because you will hear the “WOO HOO!” all the way across the pond!

  13. I take a simplistic view on this. When I purchase a book I expect it to have been thoroughly edited and to appear to have been professionally formatted and presented. I’m currently paying a free-lance editor, and will pay someone to design the cover, and may well pay someone to format the e-book and certainly the paperback version of what will be a debut novel. I accept that it is likely I will not get the money back; what I won’t accept is that I put a sub-standard book out there. As for the writing, that is subjective, and I’ll take whatever, if any, reviews I get, be it the odd, 1, 3 or 5; or even 2 or 4. For me indifference will be the hardest thing to deal with; at least with a review there is a good chance the book has been read! Eric.

    • Denzil

      I think your approach is admirable and professional Eric, and in theory there should not be any consideration or inclination to do anything otherwise. As for (maybe) not getting your money back, I believe that any investment into quality, in terms of money, time or energy, will likely be returned with interest. I wish you well with your debut novel.

  14. Since I have little to offer as an ‘advisor’ or marketing guru I decided that reviewing indie books was one way I could ‘pay forward’. I wanted there to be no obligation to review so I never accepted requests for reviews for free books. That way I could ‘gift a review’ but if I couldn’t then at least I had bought a copy!

    I tended to review books that were not genre ( I don’t read much straight genre!) and which really ‘grabbed’ me. The mistake I made was in believing that awarding 5* would convey, having been a ‘validated purchaser’ that the review was genuine.I should also add that my reviews are designed to persuade a potential reader to buy. so I don’t summarize plot etc but simply convey why they appealed.

    Instead Amazon decided to curtail ( and refuse) a perfectly unsolicited review because my reviews did not show a ‘spread’ of reactions. None were negative. Also I realised that the authors who I had ‘met’ online and become friends with seldom reviewed my books because of the fear that Amazon would see in the connection ( that followed a review!) that there must be some collusion. So paying forward meant no reciprocity.

    I am far too busy to read books that do not appeal. Now I am loathe to review the very books that need it most, the obscure, non-genre works that are truly original!

    A sad conclusion that deprives authors, deprives Amazon, and deprives readers of new discoveries!

    • Denzil

      The refusal of your review by Amazon does seem unfortunate Philippa. Was it just one review or multiple reviews that were refused? Maybe you could submit again?

      You bring up another interesting topic that we have not discussed on this forum yet: collusion between authors. Not being an author myself, I have no personal experience of this. However, I am convinced it takes place. “I’ll scratch your book if you scratch mine” could well be happening both consciously and unconsciously.

      • THanks for your reply. Undoubtedly the back scratching happens ( as well as its reverse- the posting of negative reviews by competitors in the same genre) which is why Amazon is so assiduous of finding any social links to discredit such reviews.

        Unfortunately the social contacts that are established (as a result of in depth reviews) AFTERWARDS cannot be distinguished from those that pre-existed! So the babies get thrown out with the bathwater! Which makes lofe for the non-genre writer very difficult.

        Very few indies are willing to risk reviewing a book from their own reviewer for this reason. Yet the irony is that one-off books are likely to attract only those genuine readers that are hard to find!

  15. You judge them using the same criteria you’d use for any other book, Denzil.
    Is the story believable? Are the characters well developed? Does the writing “take you there”? Is the story compelling? Etc. etc.

    As for typos and misuse of grammar:
    My tolerance for significant typos in any book (including my own) is roughly 6. It’s a rare book that doesn’t have a few these days. Also, what may seem to be bad grammar to some is often a matter of style. However, numerous typos and poor grammar detract from the believability and even readability of a book, and no-one should publish a book before it’s been edited.

    Every writer needs an editor. Amen.

    Thanks for posing this question, Denzil. And for both offering and requesting advice on the matter.

    • Denzil

      Thanks for visiting and commenting Cynthia. It’s an unfortunate reality that we are tolerant of errors. Where does this come from, I wonder? I do not remember books published in the 70s and 80s having spelling mistakes in them, yet, as you say, it’s a rare book that doesn’t have typos these days.

      Indeed, every book needs an editor. I would add: “who is not a friend of the author.”

      • I’m not sure if it’s the modern spellcheck programs or the human proofreaders, but even books by the biggest authors have 5 or 6 typos these days— tiny errors most times, but still noticeable. As for editors not being friends: I’d suggest that the important criterion is that they be skilled at editing.

  16. I review Indie books in the same manner I review traditionally published books. Like Don, I only leave reviews of 4 or 5 stars in either event. If I’m given a book by the author for review, I let them know in advance that I only publish 4 and 5 star reviews. Happy reading and reviewing to all!

    • Denzil

      That’s an interesting stance Bette. I have also been wondering whether to publish only 4- and 5-star reviews. However, I am coming to the conclusion that as an independent reviewer I have a duty to inform potential readers of a poor book. I do however try and be constructive in my criticism while also pointing out positive features of that book.

  17. What a great discussion. I was traditionally published with a small press and converted all my books to self-published when my contracts were up. Haven’t regretted it a bit. As an author, I don’t feel it’s in my best interests to bash other authors and there are plenty of books that are poorly written and edited out there. I tend to follow Don Massenzio’s rule – treat all books the same and only post reviews for books that I honestly feel deserve 4 or 5 stars. I don’t think it’s fair to readers to overrate the quality of a book. I would be willing to provide feedback to those authors of struggling books (because I personally love the chance to fix things that aren’t working) but I’ve read that unsolicited feedback isn’t a good idea, so I’ve refrained. Perhaps from a reviewer who isn’t an author, this feedback would be more welcome. Great post. 😀

    • Denzil

      Thanks for your comment D. Sorry for the delay in replying, but your comment got stuck unseen at the bottom of my spam folder, for some reason. You highlight a key issue: whether to publicly reveal a review that gives a book 1, 2 or 3 stars. The jury’s out I think. I can understand Indie authors being rather wary of doing so. On the other hand, independent (non-author) reviewers might feel a duty to honestly inform readers. Each to his or her own, I guess.

  18. This indie author would hate it if you treated my books differently in standards, after all the effort I put into crafting and editing before I spend £££s on a professional editor.
    I take the same approach as Don to indie reviews, though. If it isn’t good enough, I may post a bland review (read between the lines), and give the author feedback. It doesn’t do me any favours, though, so these days I tend not to finish indie books if the review won’t be good. I put it on my DNF shelf with no star rating to drag it down. I have been known to post a ‘technical’ post the same week as a book review that made those technical issues need pointing out!
    Trad published books get what they deserve, although I’m more likely to DNF those, these days, too. Just too many excellent books out there.

    • Denzil

      Thanks for joining the discussion Jemima. Gladly I think the vast majority of the Indie authors I have come across are fully committed to extensive quality control in all areas, from writing through to production. Your idea of using the DNF rating also makes sense, especially, as you point out, when there are so many excellent books out there.

  19. This is a timely and most interesting blog post, Denzil. Just recently, I heard a statement from a reader regarding Indie Books. She said, “Indie Authors are writing great stories and I am enjoying them despite the typos. We have come to expect typos from these author.” That statement hit me hard. How is that acceptable? If someone finds a typo in one of my books, I want to know so I can fix it. That being said, I’d appreciate a private message as opposed to including that in the review. Honesty is the only way to review any book whether traditionally or Indie published. Thanks for bringing this up.

  20. What an interesting piece. I agree with Orna, who suggests writers should have their work edited before being published. I review books by an indie publisher, whose work goes through multiple editing stages – after the author has his work edited before submitting. Agreed. Quality over speed. And there are many more editing/character mistakes in traditionally published books.

    • Denzil

      Thanks Lisa. Actually it could be that many Indie authors put their books through more intensive editing processes than traditional authors!

  21. Interesting question to bring up 🙂 As a reviewer and reader first I like to review all books equally. I see it as the case of, if I were to browse some books as a reader, would I want only favourable reviews to appear next to a book, or some potentially honest negative ones. As a reader I don’t like the idea that some people don’t publish reviews if they would be negative. A negative review, if written well and highlighting the problems the individual reader found, does actually help me. For example, one book I found (though I can’t remember if this was indie or trad) had quite a few negative reviews about it. It was a book about health and a lot of the text was about natural medicines. Now, whether you subscribe to that thinking or not it doesn’t matter, I was interested in reading about natural medicines as I’d not heard of the ideas suggested in the book, but the negative reviews were all by people who disliked any kind of natural medicine preferring to go mainstream. Their negative reviews though made me want to buy the book. Likewise a contemporary novel with a predictable romantic storyline was slated by negative reviews, but I decided to buy it as that’s just the sort of silly book I felt like reading at the time 🙂

    I found it hard to rate indie books when I used to review lots of them as some of them were incredibly bad (basic storylines and grammar didn’t make sense) but my sense of not wanting to disappoint made it hard for me to be honest with my reviews. It got to the point where I had to stop reviewing indie for a while as I felt if I reviewed one more book (a particularly bad one I was reading at the time) I’d start to lose my honesty and rate it higher than I’d usually say it deserves.

    I know indie authors have a hard time getting noticed and negative reviews don’t help, but if I published a book independently then I would want it and me to be treated as an equal with the trad market. As it’s been suggested, quality is the important factor and as desperate as indie authors are to get their books published, I’d always advocate spending that little bit longer looking over it, or getting another pair of eyes to look over the work to make sure it’s as polished as it can be. Some books out there are very professionally written by the way and I still have a few authors I’d say are so good, if I didn’t know they were indie, I would have said they’re trad as the books are that good!

    Sorry for the looooong comment. I’ll stop now lol 😀 :p !

    • Denzil

      Thanks for taking the time to give your detailed and insightful input. You make some good points.

      Yes you are right, reading and reviewing the right genre is key. It doesn’t make sense to mark a book down just because you disagree with the content. Whether it’s factually correct is another matter of course.

      Like you, I was wary of posting negative reviews of Indie books. However, I have decided to go ahead and publish. Readers (and usually authors, so I’ve found) appreciate honesty. If I look at a book and it’s been reviewed with 4 and 5 stars and then buy it to discover it’s full of holes and punctuation mistakes, I would be disappointed.

      This touches on another issue which you have also come across: the collusion between Indie authors. It takes a very brave Indie author to read a fellow Indie author’s book and give a poor review. They immediately open themselves up to a “revenge attack”. Consequently, they give very positive reviews of poor or mediocre books. I can understand their dilemma. This is why many of them decide not to publish negative reviews of Indie books. But this skews the results of reviews. The Indie book industry needs people like us who are independent and unafraid to be honest, publicly, with our reviews.

      I can give examples of where this collusion is obvious, but I am sure you can give many more than me!

      Anyway, thanks again for your valuable input. I enjoyed reading and commenting on your great blog.

      • Thank you again for reading and your own post has highlighted more issues over reviews. You’re right there is collusion, indie authors themselves have told me in the past about the worry over reviewing others negatively, not just the worry that they don’t want to disappoint someone but I’ve heard of authors who deliberately give negative reviews if they aren’t happy with the rating they received for their own work regardless of whether the book they read was good or not.
        It’s really down to the individuals. there are some great authors out there who are very professional in their manner and there are others who aren’t. And yes independent reviews are key to any industry, whether books, films or something else, but those reviewers need to be respected 🙂

  22. Like many other authors who have commented here, I would be horrified if I thought that I was getting favourable treatment because of my self-published status. I put a great deal of time and trouble into making my books as good as they possibly can be, and if I didn’t believe that they could stand alongside traditionally published books then I wouldn’t put them out there. My reason for self-publishing isn’t that I want to cut corners, it’s that I’m writing in a niche that’s not seen as particularly commercial, and I want to retain control over content and timescales.

    • Denzil

      Thank you for your input Kathleen. Your point of view certainly seems to be backed up by your fellow Indie authors. The more Indie books I read, the more impressed I am at the high quality standards of their authors. Indeed, I have only come across one Indie author who fails to see the importance of taking every possible step to remove errors. The majority, like you, are proud of their quality.

  23. You’re addressing several topics here – getting a book published, having it reviewed, and publication standards. Apples, oranges, and lichee nuts. This was bound to be a challenge when indie publishing became a practical route for publishing books. Catching the eye of the traditional editors and publishers has always been difficult – read the stories by famous writers from a century or two ago to see how they struggled to become published. Thus, the vanity press was born, and everyone knows that nearly all the books were indulgent and awful. No longer true as so many indie books are exceptionally well written and well worth reading.

    As you know, I am not a published author – yet. But I’ve worked very hard on the four adult books I’ve written, and I want them to be published and read. I’m still hoping to be taken on by a traditional publishing house but I know it’s unlikely. They want a writer to be young and gorgeous, especially if you are a woman (see the back cover photos of authors,) and to have graduated from a prestigious writing school. I don’t qualify. Or they seek stories by famous or infamous politicians, athletes, entertainers, other headliners, or those who’ve survived harrowing circumstances. Instant best sellers. Nearly all are ghost written. I don’t qualify.

    No matter the highbrow attitude of traditional publishers about the quality of the books they publish: they want to make money, and nobodies have little skill in that game without the team support you’ve described. So what they’re good at doing, providing team support, they reserve for what appears to be a guarantee for them. (Yes, I’m cynical.)
    Having a book indie published is an expensive undertaking. I can’t do that right now.

    As for reviewing: I don’t do star ratings. What’s the point of assigning a numerical system when it might apply for a particular aspect of a book and not allow for consideration of other points? I write reviews of books about which I’m passionate, stories that have made an impact on me. I explain why I’ve chosen the book to review, and if I have reservations I’ll include them.

    I try to consider the genre of a book, and I keep that in mind when reviewing. Those that are meant to keep you up all night and those that are intended to help you fall asleep might all be great reads, but for different reasons.

    I do like your reviews, Denzil, but I only just noticed that you use an owl rating system. Frankly, I’m drawn by what you write about each book more than the number of owls each may garner – though the owls are pretty darned cute. (One thing you can tell about me – I like words.)

    • Denzil

      Thanks Sharon for your in-depth and insightful comments. Firstly, I wish you well with your own books and hope that they can be finalized and published sooner rather than later.

      Interesting what you say about trad publishers wanting their authors to be young and gorgeous. I too have often wondered about this. For one thing, why do books need photos of their authors? And for another, why are authors only photographed if they are young and gorgeous?

      You make some good points about the star ratings Sharon. I have at times thought of getting rid of them. But it does give a simple, easily visible symbol of my overall impression of a book. And a chance to put those darned cute owlets on display!

      Something that I am realizing about ratings and reviews though is that in general, Indie authors are awfully nice to other Indie authors – even to the point of turning a blind eye to obviously poorly written books (i.e. error-strewn). Something to do with scratching backs comes to mind, which is perfectly understandable. Thankfully there are independent reviewers who are willing to go where other reviewers fear to tread. Mind you, it’s a dirty world out there. I’ve been referred to, indirectly, as a “moron”, “Indie hater”, “foolish” and “literary assassin” for giving a poor review (and that was only for a 3-star review: just imagine if I had marked it as 2- or 1-star!).

      • One fairly obvious reason that you need to be young to catch the eye of an agent and a trad publisher s that they are looking at the possibility of a gold mine that won’t run out in under a decade or two. Us oldies have no chance – who knows when we might drop dead or get some terrible affliction that messes with our ability to comprehend the world.

      • I’ve seen plenty of obsequious compliments by recognizable authors about terrible traditionally published books as well. I bet they’re authors contracted to the same publishing company, agent, or editor.

  24. Ha ha Frank, you said it, we older ones don’t have time to fiddle about with the trad publishers even if they would have us! Denzil, fascinating topic. I’d like to be judged as an author against all other books out there wherever they came from. I don’t trust all 5 star reviews on a book. If you want to get your book honestly judged, get a BookBub, have thousands of downloads and sit back and wait for your star average to drop and drop. Those unknown readers can be quite brutal and possibly honest. And thank you Denzil for your lovely review recently, as I had approached you as an honest reviewer who wasn’t looking for a 5 star review in return!

    • Denzil

      A pleasure Lucinda. Don’t like the sound of BookBub, but if they give you advice which you can implement, maybe it’s useful.

  25. I treat all books equally. Indie or not, I judge a book by how much it entertains me, the quality of the writing, and whether or not (in my opinion) it was time well spent reading.

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