Hello friends! I think it’s about time I talk about book reviews (again). I did a post a while back about it, but I think it’s time I clarified how I go about giving some of my very humble opinions about books. A lot of that comes down to my standards for books especially between those that are published in the “traditional” way (i.e. by the “Big 5” in New York), those published by indie or small press publishers, and then self-published.
I’ve been reviewing a lot more indie and self-published books lately because reviews are the crux of the book industry regardless of how you get published. Even if people buy your book, if no one reviews it, then fewer and fewer people will read your work. It’s just a sad fact of the business, and the big publishing houses have access to more resources that can get books in the hands of early readers to guarantee those reviews on day one of sales and get books into more retailers etc. For everyone else, you usually have to give your book to someone in exchange for an honest review. I do that for my own book as well as offer to do that for others in hopes of earning good karma. Plus, there are some great stories that just get overlooked and I'd like to help people find them. But I do review those smaller authors’ works much differently than books that come out of the traditional publishing houses and there is nothing wrong with that and I think (or hope) that more reviewers take that stance.
Typically, I am a harder reviewer for a book that comes from a big publishing house because I expect more. I don’t think that expectation is wrong either. These authors are fortunate enough to have a large team work with them and their book AFTER their initial beta readers have finished with it. They’ll have multiple editors and resources to use in order to make their book the best it can be. So, if the plot is weak or the research wasn’t put into the work, I find that disrespectful to the reader. That’s not to say self-published writers can’t do all of that, they can and should, but reputable editors are expensive. Publishing houses will provide that service to their signed writers for “free” (they do get paid from book sales, but there’s no upfront cost) whereas self-published writers have to pay upfront and out of pocket for that so often times they can only really afford one editor and then they cross their fingers and hope its enough.
Even indie and small press publishers are in a similar boat. They provide cover art services and editing services for their writers, but usually it’s not a team of editors and early readers, just a handful of people. So a few more things slip through the cracks and maybe sometimes the cover or the printing of the book isn’t as good as the books on the New York Times Best-Selling lists but their stories are good. They have character development and a hook and they are usually just as fun as a traditionally published book, or they can be.
So, that’s why I rate those books differently even if the star system remains the same (can’t get around that, thanks Goodreads and Amazon). But it’d be like rating a B movie, or a film students class film, as the same as you’d review a big Hollywood blockbuster. It’s unfair to everyone involved. When you have more resources to lean against, you owe your fans and readers to make good on all that publicity and those promises you make. For small press and self-published, I look at it and see what they had to work with and if they respected my (and other readers) time by doing everything they could before releasing their book into the wild and then I rate their stories accordingly.
But, at the end of the day, for me at least, it’s all about good characters. If you can give me that, I am willing to forgive a lot, no matter who did or didn’t publish the book!
Ultimately, I hope people read my work with a similar lens. Not to say that I don’t think my work belongs on the USA Today or New York Times Best-Selling list (it’s not but that’s mostly because I went with a small press), I put a lot of hard work and effort into my stories and the small team I have has been incredible with helping me along the way. But that’s just it, it’s a small team. More eyes, more hands, means I have to answer to more people (which I’d rather not do) but it also means that more people catch mistakes or can offer diverse opinions about characters and scenes.
This is also why my reviews are so detailed. For the smaller authors, that kind of feedback can be really valuable as they move forward and create more stories they look to publish. So my reviews will always be long, but hopefully they are helpful to the author and potential readers!
I can’t stop other reviewers from reviewing however they want to. I just thought it was important to share the filter I put over my reviews and why books with thousands of four or five star reviews will get a two or three from me and a similar self-published book with no reviews may get a four or five.
What do you think of this system? Do you agree? Or do you go about reviewing books differently? Let me know!