To review or not to review? That is today’s dilemma. I’m surely about to take a deep dive into a large pool of hypocrisy, but there’s something on my mind that I just can’t keep to myself. Believe me, I’ve tried.
Aside from buying their books, you may know one of the best ways to support an indie author is with your recommendation. Word of mouth is a powerful tool and can be amplified online in dozens of different ways. In my experience, the most commonly requested is a review, especially an Amazon review. I often ask people to post reviews of books by indie authors — but I need to confess that don’t always do it myself.
Should I Review a Bad Book?
Even before starting a co-op for indie authors, I read lots of books published in a non-traditional manner. I want to love every single one of them. I really hope to give each of them a rave review. After all, bringing that book across the finish line can be a difficult and costly endeavor.
Anyway, this desire to support and encourage indie authors leaves me in an awkward (and unenviable) position. What should I do when it’s a bad book?
The term “bad book” could spark a very long debate. (And, if you choose to do that in the comments, I think I’m good with it as long as you remain kind and civil to one another.)
When I refer to someone’s work as a bad book, I’m not talking about disliking a character, a plot twist, or an ending: that’s a matter of taste and personal preference. What moves something into the DNR (Do Not Read) pile is a great number of needless errors. I certainly make more than my fair share of mistakes, both online and in print. And I’m a long way from asserting that I’ve seen them all… but there have been enough to make my heart heavy and my eyes hurt. Here are a few that come to mind.
Wait ~ What Makes a Book Bad?
Editing. I know not everyone knows where to find or can afford a top-notch professional editor. Likewise, we are not all friends with authors with whom we can trade off indie publishing tasks. Still, while it may be a different animal than one from a professional book editor, it doesn’t hurt to get a read-through by your favorite librarian.
Proofreading. Friends and followers of my Facebook author page have a small window into my extreme dislike for any and all things “autocorrect.” (My printable nickname for it is “auto corrupt.”) I cannot always get it to allow me to use the word or the word form of my choice, let alone stop “fixing” things that don’t need to be fixed. I’ve also teared up when looking at someone’s proud new release and seeing the AUTHOR’S NAME (yes, I’m using all caps aka yelling) misspelled on the front cover. Sure, mistakes happen but I can only imagine how that author felt. All that hard work only to have her name spelled incorrectly on the front cover. I felt terrible for her.
So, to the authors who rely on technology as their sole form of spelling and grammar checks? Good duck. (OK, Siri, for once it really IS ‘duck.’)
Production. Prior to becoming full-time authors, some of us were fortunate to have jobs that included buying print products. Training in the trenches of fairly large companies with modest marketing budgets forced my former fellow copywriters (and me) to learn about paper stock and page counts, gutters, and bleeds. We even got to learn that there are “signatures” involved in the process long before any book signings.
So what’s the beef with the production of indie books? It can range from teeny, tiny font sizes rendering the work barely legible to anyone without the vision of a twenty-something to stock and cover choices that scream “amateur.” Ironically, expensive vanity presses are among some of the worst offenders. Even if the subject matter is phenomenal and inspiring, the production quality will push the most serious readers toward a hard pass.
What Would You Do?
So, on the one hand, I want to write reviews in support of other authors. I want to rave about fresh new voices and perspectives. I want to give encouraging, honest reviews.
On the other? I lean toward the “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” end of the spectrum. Instead, I try to listen to the voice that tells me to go to my own blog and vent. Here I can rant about whatever it is that got me going… without identifying or embarrassing an aspiring author. And, who knows? Maybe that anonymous author will run across the information while looking for something else.
I know how hard it is to write a book. I never want to discourage people or hurt their feelings. Their stories are often amazing and it takes courage to share them. Everyone deserves to have their story told in the best possible manner. That’s why proofreaders, editors, and cover designers exist.