Novel Notions: Do You Read/Review Indie or Self Published Books Differently?

Posted January 21, 2013 by Melissa in Discussion Post, Novel Notions | 40 Comments

Novel Notions is a  feature where I discuss whatever bookish thoughts (ie. Novel Notions)  I have running through my head. This is not a regularly scheduled feature but rather one that I just post as ideas organically come to me!  I’m hoping that you will join in on the discussion either by simply commenting below or running with my idea and linking up a post on the subject in the comments at some point during the upcoming week.blockquote>


So for this edition of Novel Notions, I’d like to discuss reviewing Indie/Self Pub books vs reviewing Traditionally Published books.  Because I think I may have a confession…I may have realized  that I don’t review them the same way!

To start I’ll admit that I am less likely to read an Indie/Self published or small vanity press book than I am one published by a larger more well known publishing house.  Guilty :/  Since I started book blogging however, I have opened up quite a bit more and have read quite a few of these books.  

But do I go into them with the same mind set?

I fear that I don’t…and this may be a big problem.  I fear that I may automatically set the bar a bit lower for these books by not expecting as much out of them from the get go.  Expecting that they will be more rough around the edges…expecting that they may not be as grammatically perfect…expecting that there may be minor plot holes or transition problems.

Even just writing this I feel horrible…because I think…I know that I should go into every read (unless it’s an ARC or Beta read) with the same expectations.  Otherwise…aren’t I doing a disservice to the author, myself and any potential reader of my review?

Yes I may expect different things based upon reading level, genre etc…but should how the book was published factor into that?? I don’t think so….

Taking this one step further…

How does the difference in expectations based upon publishing method translate to the review and rating?

This may be even harder to admit, but I’m baring all here.  I think that I let those expectations (or lack thereof) color my reviews.  I don’t think that I am as critical of Indies or Self Pubs.  I think that I may gloss over some of the problems and may even rate them a slightly higher than I would if they were traditionally published. And the more I think about this, the more I personally realize that this is not good.  

It’s not that I am being dishonest in my reviews, but I think I am definitely less judgmental than I would be for a traditionally published book.  And that makes me “feel” a bit dishonest in retrospect. I don’t like feeling that way…and I really don’t like thinking about the fact that were I an author…I would want the unvarnished truth (as long as it was polite and respectful of course) And as a reader, I definitely would want a reviewer to not sugar coat anything.  I am a huge proponent of negative and or DNF reviews as long as they are written respectfully.

So I am going to make a concerted effort in future to go into every read with the same set of expectations and to hold each read to the same set of criteria when reviewing. 

Please tell me that I am not the only one struggling with this?   Do You Review Indie/Self Pubs Differently?

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40 responses to “Novel Notions: Do You Read/Review Indie or Self Published Books Differently?

  1. I very rarely read indie books but I think I would expect a lot more from them. They know that published books set the bar high so I expect them to be as good or better. My problem is that since I work for local bookstore I don’t like to promote amazon or b&n and most of these books are only amazon or b&n. I also feel bad that if I give a big publisher book a bad review it’s one of hundreds or thousands but with indie I would hate to be that one bad review. Or to be that bad review that turns readers away.

  2. I have trouble reviewing indie books as well–like you, I’m more willing to cut them slack, when that might not be the best thing. Additionally, I’m more reluctant to point out flaws, because I don’t want to seem like I’m picking on the author. For some reason, I feel like traditionally pub’ed authors have more of a cushion to protect them from bad reviews, even though that’s not the case at all. Logical, I’m not [g]

  3. You have no idea how happy I am to read this because this tells me I am not the only one. Since I do accept self-published work I always feel like I’m being too lenient on it. I write up a list of problems and yet still star it higher. And I always feel like I can excuse a self-pub author when if an author with a publishing company made the same mistake I would come down on them for that. I guess I feel like giving a bad review would hurt rather than help and to know that they came to me in the first place makes me feel like I owe them a good review. Does that even make sense? I really don’t know.

    • You are definitely not the only one…there is definitely something to the fact that we expect that traditionally published books and authors have more support and we perhaps are/were just trying to help support an author…one who we probably as you mentioned “know” a bit more personally….

  4. Nope, I don’t review them differently. I review a lot of self AND traditionally published books, and to me, it doesn’t matter who publishes them. I’m not going to lie though, I *do* have some fave publishing companies like HarperCollins and Harlequin. But truthfully I don’t really care how or who publishes it, so long as the book captures my attention. I think that’s what’s most important.

    So if I feel like a traditionally published book was not for me, I say so…and same goes for self-published books. Like most people, I hate giving out bad reviews, but you know what they say about honesty, so I like keeping my reviews honest.

  5. I am guilty of lowering the bar when I begin to read an indie book, but how to put it that is just (I think) a defense mechanism. But at the end of the book I try to meditate, leave some time pass to really feel the after taste of the book, am I still thinking about the book once it ended? Did it affect me in any way?
    I feel that reading an indie book you might you into it with the same set of mind you would do when meeting one of your best friends friend, you give it a chance because that person if a friend of someone you value but at the end of the day you decide if you like or dislike this person.

    • Glad I am not the only one that was “lowering the bar” a bit… and I definitely ask myself all of those same questions…as I would with any review…I just need to make sure that I’m holding my answers to the same standards going forward.

  6. I review each book on its own merit whether it’s indie published or traditionally published. I’ve found lots of gems that are indie published and I’ve reviewed lots of books. Why review them differently? A book has to stand on its own and frankly, I’ve read lots of traditionally published books that aren’t very good, at least in my opinion.

  7. I noticed that I was giving indie books more leeway when it comes to errors. I expected them whereas if a traditionaly published book had that many errors I wouldn’t even finish reading it. I do note the errors is my review but I don’t judge them as harshly.

    I’m talking about minor typos – not a book filled with bad grammar, spelling and writing.

    And if I’m being honest, I don’t have as high expectations going in but I’m always willing to give indie’s a chance because I have found some of my favorite books and authors that way.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Sometimes we don’t even realize our own bias.

    • I’ve definitely found some great self pub/indie/small press books as well this way and am so glad that I’ve expanded my reading parameters. And obviously I’m not talking about glaring errors here…I could never gloss over that! lol

      And so true…we all have biases…it’s just a matter of trying to be more self aware and discovering them!

  8. I read quite a bit of indie/self pub and debut novels, as well as traditional, and honestly, I have to say that I review every book the same way. I have the same expectations for indie/self pub as I do traditional with perhaps possibly expecting a bit more from those authors who, in my own opinion, have proven themselves exceptional. I assume that every author is putting forth their best effort and as for errors – I’ve actually seen more, and major errors, in traditionally published books than in indie/self pub. More and more traditionally published authors are opting for self publishing. So considering that, would you lower the bar for them when they should really know more about what their end result should be?

    I suppose it’s like anything subjective – we can’t help but have our own preferences, likes and dislikes. If everyone loved the same things in this world, it would be a very dull world indeed. Thanks for the interesting topic of conversation. : )

    • I agree that every book is a product that should not be presented for public consumption until it is as polished as it can be and thus they all should be reviewed the same way….and good point about traditionally pubbed authors now self pubbing!

  9. Great post Melissa, I am very selective with the Indie’s and small press books that I choose to read..but if I were honest I would think I was harder on them, then say one of my favorite author’s who I adore.

  10. You are definitely not alone in this Melissa! As much as I would like to pretend I go into a self-published book with the same expectations as I do a traditionally published book, that’s just not the case. Like you said, I expect there to be more problems with a self-published book, things that would have been tightened up or fixed in editing, and it shames me to say this, but I feel I’m almost more critical as a result. Almost like I go in looking for errors or things that won’t work for me because I expect to find them, so in that way, I’m the opposite of you. There have been of course exceptions – self pubbed and indie books that have been hugely successful for me, but on a whole I think I read them more critically which isn’t fair. I don’t know how to fix that though:( *blogger fail*

    • So glad that I am not alone! And I loved reading your perspective. I can see how one would go into a self published book with a more critical mindset “red pen in hand.”

      I’m still trying to figure out how to fix my “blogger fail” too…but I definitely think that talking about it is the first step!

  11. When I first started blogging I would not review Indie authors. However a year into it I took a chance with one called Planning to Live and was shocked by how good it was. Ive read a ton of great Indies, and a handful of crap, a bucket load of garbage and have encountered some very rude and ridiculous authors. I think its a gamble, you have a 50/50 chance. I go into Indies knowing there will be typos, grammar issues and always walk away surprised when a find a great one! I think traditional publishers are catching on to the Indie-craze right now, seeing how tons of them are being published. Id say 75 percent of the time out of the carefully chosen Indies I pick I wind up with a great story and overall well written book, most of my favorites have become published under a big name publishers, I think I review my books all same, Im looking for a connection and a well presented story, any author published or self-pub can succeed or fail at that.

  12. This is a great post! And one subject I have given some thought to. In the beginning I was harsher on Indies, not in my review so much, but in my mind. I was more critical looking for errors and mistakes and trying to assessed if dialogue was realistic, etc. I also ended up with a lot of DNF books (still do) and I don’t review them if I don’t finish them. Then I got to where I found I was really pointing out the strengths and glossing over the negatives a bit. But as I read more and more I have found my reviews evening out. I pretty much expect the same quality as traditionally published and I’m honest when I don’t get it. But if I’m not really liking a story I stop reading. So you just don’t really see reviews under 3 stars on my blog.
    Its definitely harder to be critical for an indie author. If I dnf I try to send an email telling them my issues, cause I think they need to know.

  13. I always feel like self published or indie authors are more likely to read your reviews so I think that I am a bit easier in my reviews of them. Not necessarily with the rating or even admitting I don’t like something, more with just the words I use. I guess I try to candy coat the stuff I don’t like just in case they read it.

  14. Great article and great comments. As an Indie published author myself, when I have fellow authors ask me to review their books, my standard response is that I could not give it an unbiased review. I’m colored by “knowing” that person, even if it is only through the direct (if minute) contact of the request. I find it difficult to publicly point out flaws in people I know. The review is more personal. I think I view traditionally published books not as people so much as product. Trad authors have a “buffer” as someone else here said.

    Also, there is always the worry over receiving unmerited “nasty” reviews of my own work in return. Like I said – with Indie authors, reviews become personal.

  15. I try to be as hard on Indie books as I am on Traditionally published books. Being a writer, I feel much the same way you do, that being dishonest or sugar-coating my reviews is dishonest and does a disservice to the writer whose work I’m reviewing. But I’ll also admit that I’m sometimes forgiving about issues I discover in stories if I really like the story. I might ignore a mistake or a plot hole or something that seems too convenient if the story pulls me in and keeps me entertained despite its issues. I do that for both traditional and Indie books though and, honestly, I’ve found just as many issues with the traditionally published books I’ve read lately.

  16. What a great topic! Years ago I was harder on Indie/self-published books, but since blogging, I have a whole new outlook on them. I review them just as I review traditionally published books. Yes, I do have my favorite authors and publishers, but these days, some of those are indies, too!

  17. I did a post on this topic last year after I slogged through a bunch of bad self pubbed books. I am for good indie gems, but I lack patience for ones that don’t bother to get them professionally edited, it brings down the whole indie industry. Thankfully, more indie authors are taking note and getting their books polished.

  18. It’s hard not to cut them some slack because they don’t have professional editors.

    I do read and review them but I try not to review books I don’t finish and if I’m not feeling it, I’d rather ditch it then move on and give them a bad review.

    Great question.

  19. Great idea to have a feature like this as and when you think of something you’d like to open up for discussion Melissa! This is an interesting topic. I definitely read more self published books now that I am blogging. Just from becoming more aware of authors etc and the different routes into being published. It can feel more difficult when you’re dealing directly with the author if you’re struggling with the book I think. I try and treat them – the books – the same.

  20. As an author who has published through small presses, small publishers, and self published, I think the main issue comes down to what so many are saying about feeling bad for giving an indie book a negative review. Many of you seem to feel like a negative indie review is a statement toward the author, and the same negative review toward a trad. published title through a larger house is directed toward the book, not the author.

    But I think the truth is, it’s a little bit of both, either way. I’ve read books by big publishers that are riddled with major errors, and Indie books that are also full of similar errors.

    But, basically, all of us authors are tough and can take a beating or two, so bring it 🙂 *hopefully minus too much snark*

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