Reviewing Indie Fiction - A Guest Post from Kat StilesI think most people by nature are polite. Maybe more so with authors, because we’ve had our hearts ripped out and stomped on repeatedly by literary agents and publishers. And maybe there’s some unwritten code I don’t know about, that says if you’re an author and you’re reviewing someone else’s work, you have to give them five stars and a glowing review. If that’s the case, then I need to quit reviewing.

A friend of mine once described me as “genuine,” but it’s more than that; I suffer from this annoying condition of being honest to a fault. As such it’s really impossible for me to read something that makes my head hurt and give it five stars. I can’t do it. I feel like a politician even thinking about it.

The thing is… I love reading indie fiction – either indie authors or indie publishers, it doesn’t matter. There are some great voices and stories out there that no one knows about because the author doesn’t have the guns of the big 5 backing them up, exposing them to the world. One of the tenets of my blog, Connected with YA Paranormal, is to support my fellow indie authors, sharing amazing indie fiction I’ve discovered.

Glamorous Indie Fiction

So here’s the problem: not all indie fiction is created equal. Some of it is unreadable. I’m not saying that to be mean, it’s the truth. It’s like it’s half-baked, and not quite ready to get out of the oven yet. I realize this is probably going to get me some hate feedback, because I’m supposed to not talk about the giant, ugly elephant in the room. I’m supposed to pat the author on the back and say, “Good job!” But I can’t, and I really don’t think anyone else should either.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the monumental task of completing the writing of a novel. A lot of people attempt it, but never finish it. However, when an author self-publishes something that isn’t readable, it affects me too.

I spent a lot of time, years actually, editing and trying to make my novel readable. It was truly unreadable in the first drafts! It’s still not perfect, I know that. But I put in the time. I read countless editing books, had my novel professionally edited twice and beta read by people at least somewhat critical in their feedback. My novel may not be perfect, but it’s readable. Some people will like it, some people will hate it, but it’s structured correctly and follows the rules of fiction writing.

Wait, what? Writing has rules?!?!??

As a general rule, if I can’t give at least three stars I contact the author and let him know as opposed to posting a one or two star review.

I recently had a bad experience with an author who asked for more detailed feedback after I attempted to read multiple stories and couldn’t continue. Instead of using the feedback I gave to improve the writing, the author decided to try to refute my feedback (which almost always happens, by the way, when I give feedback). In the reply, the author actually said there are no rules in writing. That just floored me.

I tried to think back to when I was new to fiction, maybe I believed that at one point. I don’t think so though. I was an English major in college, and I guess I’ve read enough fiction to realize there is a structure that’s followed, rules to make fiction readable.

The Mining Process

I learned pretty quickly to do a little homework before I accept a request to review. Amazon has a “Look Inside” feature that I use EVERY time now. I can usually tell within the first few pages if the book is readable, written in a style I enjoy reading, and with a plot / characters I’d like.

If an author approaches me to review before the book is publicly accessible, I know to ask for a chapter sample before I agree to review it. This has seriously cut down on the headaches, both from reading the bad fiction itself and from having to explain to the author why I can’t review it. I always feel horrible when I’m in that situation –

I’ve never outright told an author his book is unreadable – but it’s still awkward and I know how fragile author egos are. I’m actually very gentle with my criticism, and always offer positive feedback as well, to let the author know what’s being done right.

The Upside

By reviewing other authors, I’ve found my favorite new indie author as well as many interesting and fun novels. Plus I’ve made some new author friends, which is always nice. And I know I’m helping the authors I review because they’re in the same boat as me – relatively unknown because they’re indie, but still offering a wonderful product to share with the world. Some of my favorite novels have been indie fiction.

Also when I participate in reviewing groups, I’ve found other authors who like my genre and are willing to review my book. I welcome feedback and realize that the experience of reading is different for everyone – what one person may love about my book, another hates. I’m not going to lie, finding another author who truly gets my book is downright exhilarating. All in all, I’ve learned a lot about writing reviews and giving feedback in a gentle, positive fashion.

So I will continue to review and find the gems out there, taking care to avoid the unreadable books. And I will continue to share all of my amazing finds on my blog.