The Perils (and Benefits) of Reviewing Indie Fiction

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.


Profile image for Kat Stiles

Originally a Jersey girl, sunny Texas is where I now call home, in a town way up north in the panhandle called Wellington. Along with the man of my dreams, I have two children: a rambunctious five year-old girl and a sweet but vocal one year-old boy. Three cats, three dogs and an inordinate amount of pet hair complete my household. For fun I like to read YA, horror, and existentialist fiction, as well as watch cartoons, movies, and sometimes even cartoon movies. I try not to take anything in life too seriously and I tend to smile often.

Author of Connected. | @KatStilesAuthor

11 thoughts on “The Perils (and Benefits) of Reviewing Indie Fiction”

  1. Thanks for sharing this Kat!

    I’m with you. I don’t post glossy 5-star reviews of everything just to be seen as nice. It’s dishonest. And it does a disservice to anyone reading those reviews. I’d much rather people know they can trust me when I share my opinion on something or make a recommendation.

    At the same time, also like you, I’m probably not going to bother reviewing something publicly if I think it only warrants one or two stars. At least that’s the case with books. I just won’t waste my time on it.

    With other products I will if the issues are serious enough that I think other buyers should know before making a buying decision. But with a book, the author would have to be publishing downright dangerous information that could affect my own readers for me to even consider posting that bad of a review.

    I have no problem calling someone out over something that could hurt my readers. But more than not, with books it’s a matter of preference or stupid editing mistakes, in which case I take the view that the book simply isn’t worth space on my site.

  2. I have the same problem, Kat. And it gets worse as I meet more and more of the authors I review, both trad and indie. And yet I don’t want to give up reviewing, because I love it! Oh for the days (and I’m talking about way before the internet) when author-reviewers could hide behind pseudonyms on the reviewing side…and authors couldn’t hit Send before they’d thought through their response.

  3. I’m sailing in a different boat. I’m a teacher, therefore, I am editing student’s work. I realize that I must be honest and point out mistakes. I have to be kind. I don’t want to discourage a young author.

  4. Hi Kat,

    I think it’s fair and nice that you warn them if you won’t be giving 3 stars.

    I try to thread carefully when I review stuff because I tend to review mainstream novels as well. It’s not that I’m claiming to be an expert, but I’m a writer myself, and I’ve read countless books in my preferred genres (thrillers, legal dramas, and romantic comedies that aren’t strictly chiclit). Some books’ popularity while they break some of the rules we actually respect and love to follow despite some really solid stuff’s relative unknown status can be baffling.

  5. I knew I should have made an extra effort on my birthday to read everything, especially your posts…

    I once reviewed (on request) another authors work, never again. Mentioned jokingly in the review that he seemed overlyfond of comma’s, big mistake. He never spoke to me again.

    My interest is more in how on earth to get reviews now for my own eBook, offering money just isn’t working so I’m considering getting a bunch of my grandkids schoolfriends to do it, (hey I’m bottoming out here!)

    There must be somewhere one goes to pool reviews, like ‘I’ll do yours if you’ll do mine’ kinda group, surely. (I know, don’t call me shirley).

    • Yikes. That seems like a minor thing for them to get worked up over. I’m sorry you had that experience.

      As for reviews, I hope you don’t actually resort to paying for them or exchanging them. Not only can Amazon remove these kinds of reviews (such as friends, family, and fellow authors you know reviewing your book), but if they link to your own author website (you didn’t link to one in your comment, but I sure hope you have one) you can also get penalized by Google for both review types. And that doesn’t even touch on the damage to your reputation that can occur if readers find out you “earned” your reviews in these ways.

      So don’t think about pooling reviews. When you came up with your marketing plan (which should have been done before writing, or at least before finishing, your book), you should have come up with a pitch list of potential reviewers. If you didn’t, you’re not in an ideal position, but it’s not too late.

      You’ll want to make a pitch list including bloggers who review indie books, top Amazon reviewers in your niche who you can offer a free review copy to (just make sure they disclose the fact that they received a free review copy in their review), and other media outlets (your local paper, local talk radio — better for nonfiction, podcasts related to indie books or your book’s topic, etc.). Once you have your list, get pitching. You have to do the leg work to get the most valuable kinds of reviews. Even if you only start with a few pitches at a time, the important thing is that you get started. Then, with your next book, make sure review copies start going out well before the release date so you can generate some early buzz. You can do it Martin! 🙂

  6. I have recently found that I love indie fiction, even if some of it is completely unreadable. Finding an unknown author that you really enjoy makes it so worth it! I’d love to start reviewing what I have been reading, especially if it would be helpful to authors.

  7. Perfect. Although I’m not a reviewer, I am an author and I beta read for several indie authors. I try to be as gently honest in my feedback as I would expect someone to be for me. If it’s not ready, I tell them and provide line-by-line feedback, not just an overall. It’s not editing – I would never put myself out there as an editor – but it’s based on several years of receiving feedback.

  8. I have just published my first book and it’s nerve wracking. It has taken me 5 long years to write and edit. In fact, the editing has taken the longest because I’m so aware of presenting something with as few mistakes as possible. I love indie authors when they take the time and make the effort to present their best. If they’re lazy, I’m not going to bother either. I’m very honest when I write a review and if the book is really bad, I’ll just delete and forget.

    I’m currently living on a teeny, tiny (population 1.2 million only) island in the Indian Ocean. I do not have access to the book fairs or the conventions unfortunately and I don’t even think there’s a publisher here. I’m a complete introvert (although not socially awkward), so promoting my own book is hell. I really have no choice though if I want to sell, do I? Thank goodness for the internet though. It really has made life easier

  9. This was a great post! I think a lot of authors who read indie can relate. It’s so important to be honest with reviews and I think indie authors can still support each other and be honest.


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