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Indie Authors and Book Review Hostage Situations

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Hello Friends,

I recently encountered a problem when enthusiastically announcing I was reading another independent author’s book. I’ll bet you can guess what happened. I hated the book.

The Conundrum of Reviewing Other Indie Authors

Writers, let’s face it, when we read a book, we are perceiving writing style, storytelling and overall composition of story through our personal filter. We base our opinion of what an author has conveyed through their specific skill set and talent with our own skill, knowledge, and talents. So, how do we effectively provide a review that is worthy of the product (book) the author has created?

Tricky ground, for sure! Neither reader, nor writers, are ever perfect. So, the best we can do as reviewers is to be honest from our point of view. Well, that is the way I see it, anyway – if reviews are to be truly beneficial to their future writing effirts – the author should receive an honest review.

As a writer, indie author, and reader, I have my personal tastes and pet peeves in genre, writing style, and storytelling, etcetera. My opinion of a book, whether it be a novel, short story collection, or selection of poetry, is purely based upon these things. As such, my way of giving a rating and review of a peer’s work may not be the same as others who have read the same creative work. Though I do not expect them to be on entirely different spectrums of reality.

Candidly speaking, as an independent author I primarily read books written by other indie authors. I read with a gracious and open mind with the aim to be positive and supportive. That is not to say that I am willing to lie about what I really think about another indie author’s book.

My reviews are my honest opinions, but I do grant a measure of grace, knowing that my preferences and perceptions are not the same as another writers’ styles or intentions. However, even with this realization, I have read many indie books where at some point I cringe a little noting spelling or grammatical errors (minor), redundancy, repetitive words, telling instead of showing, or skip several pages because the story isn’t moving or encounter author ego creep. These type of unpleasantries occur when we do not get objective eyes to read over our work to provide helpful feedback – prior to publishing

If info dumps, long descriptions, and unnecessary (slow ‘draggy’ scenes) keep occurring, I start fanning pages to get past these bouts of author ego creep. I have done the same with established best-selling authors, too. They are not exempt from the very same failures as indie authors!!

No book exists that does not have its faults. My preference is to focus on what I do like about the books I read, and to provide the best feedback/review and rating according to my personal scale. When leaving book reviews, I have three measuring points.

  1. Was I entertained?
  2. Was what I liked about the book strong enough to overshadow what I did not like? (60/40)
  3. What is the best rating I can give, based upon what I enjoyed about the book?

Many indie authors, these days, are providing (or expecting) reciprocal reviews. Why is this a problem? Writers love to receive good reviews, right? Yes, but not in a hostage situation! If I leave an honest review knowing that the author has downloaded a copy of my book and is holding back on reviewing it because they want to see my review of their book first – this is a book hostage situation. Book review ransom, if you will.

I’m not down with that reviewing scenario.

If I am already giving leeway to an indie author’s book with positive and supportive benefit of the doubt, turning a blind eye to typos, and other minor issues, and considering the imperfect nature of reader/writer preferences and perceptions, then a four- or five-star rating should be relatively easy. But if my conscience will not allow a rating above three stars and I have a laundry list of complaints about the book, do I leave the review? Especially, if my own book is being held in said ‘hostage’ situation?

I do not align my writer’s reputation with a bad book by giving it a dishonest, high rating. To give a high rating to a book that I believe needs to be pulled out of publication and subjected to many more rewrites, edits and beta reviews is a violation of my integrity. A smudge on my reputation I refuse to submit to for a fake review in return. I cannot fathom putting a gold-star seal of approval on a book I don’t think deserves it, just to ensure I receive the same in return from that author. It’s not worth it and will not do either of us any favors in the long run. Ultimately, it would indicate a lack of writer’s acuity on my part. I cannot, in good conscience, lie and promote a failed book as excellent, when it is not. When others might then take my recommendation, purchase, and read the work only to find it sorely lacking, then my opinion, integrity and writing skill would fall into question.

Plus, I don’t like playing readers for suckers.

So, my advice to author/writers reviewing the work of fellow authors is this: Write your review from your heart, be positive as you can, provide beneficial feedback where appropriate – and let the chips fall where they may. If the receiving author is upset by the review, they should consider the source, the intent of the feedback, and consider perhaps, avoiding the same type of tragic mistakes in the future. No author wants to believe their work is anything but fabulous, but we must be realistic. We are not perfect, especially in our early works – and writing is a continuous venture of improvement.

If an author makes the poor decision to retaliate to an honest review by giving a vindictive review in return, it is hurtful (and yes, can cause our books not to be read)– but ultimately, it’s on their conscience. So be it. At least you have maintained your integrity instead of selling out (selling your soul), in the hopes of receiving a good review for yourself. What matters most?

Honesty and Integrity

I’ve recently learned two lessons: Never agree to reciprocal reviews and do not inform another indie author I am reading their book until I have read it and decided whether I enjoyed it.

Let me know what you think in comments 🙏

Thanks, and take care!


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