Sunday, 17 June 2012

The indie author's quest for reviews

As an indie author, I've just spent the best part of a week googling and listening in on twitter streams like “science fiction”, in search of possible reviewers. I've managed to locate four lovely bloggers who are first of all willing to review indie authors and who, furthermore, are willing to read soft science fiction.

The gatekeepers and the slush pile 

What I've found time and time again, however, is that a great many reviewers (most of whom are themselves self-published) will not look at the work of the indie author or the self-published. One such reviewer, Gav Reads, has written a blog post entitled “Thoughts – Reasons Why We Reviewers Won’t Read Your Self-Published Book” which will give you a taste of what indie authors are up against, not only when looking for mainstream reviewers but also book review bloggers, and what reviewers are themselves up against.
With paragraph headings like “We [reviewers] know it’s going to be rubbish”, as you can imagine, this led to a lively debate and raised a few hackles – not least my own. I think that the mistake I made was to be mildly offended by the double standards operating between Gav's use of the term “We Reviewers”, which includes the self-published and suggests a superior class of sentient being, and the notion of “Real Writers”, which excludes self-published proles like me.

Just to put things in context and to balance up the blanket assumption that the work of self-published authors is bad, here's a list of famous self-published books and authors whose work was self-published at one time or another. Anyhow, that said, like Dobby the house elf, I shall now have to go and iron my hands.
Don't get me wrong: Like writers, bloggers work long and hard, most often for free, and I am delighted to read on-line book reviews. I can also imagine that like traditional publishers, book bloggers' slush piles must become unmanageable and that, if I were to go into writing book reviews, I could see me being faced with the self same difficulties and end up becoming an unwilling gatekeeper myself.
One possibility to help filter content and make life easier is the idea of writers' collectives offering some kind of seal of approval or British standards-like “kite mark”. One such body which has just begun to implement such a scheme is The indiePENdents. There's another lively debate about their proposed “seal” at Indies Unlimited, and you might like to check this out.
Hopes raised and dashed

As I went from site to site on the internet, I did find some possible openings and my heart began to lift as I read through the bloggers' review policies and found that I could deliver what they were asking, in the form they preferred. And then, time and time again, just as I'd committed myself to writing a formal review request, a little further down the page or on their contacts form, they'd point out that they had a long lead time and already had several months' – or in one case over three years' – worth of books on their “to be read” or “to be reviewed” list. Or else they'd say that regretfully they were not currently accepting reviews, and to come back again in perhaps another three months' time or even at some unspecified date in the future.
In two minds
I'm in two minds about all this. On the one hand, we are advised that having written our book, it is utterly fruitless sitting around waiting and hoping to be discovered and that the chances of being accidentally discovered by readers at a site like Amazon are remote. Having said that, I'm acutely aware of the fact that authors can take their business strategy and self-promotion a little too far at times at social networks like twitter and facebook, to the point of churning out reams of annoying and wearying legitimized spam.
And on the other hand, there are others who might say that “the cream will rise to the top” and that “if your work is good enough, reviewers will come to you and readers will buy your book. End of story.” Of course, the world's history is full of contrary examples of what often rises to the top in our cultures. The meek, as they say, shall inherit the earth ... or what's left of it.
Have your say
Anyhow, what do you think? What are your own experiences as a reader, writer, reviewer or publisher? Have you successfully negotiated a way through this obstacle course? What vision do you have of the future? Best of luck to you in your own endeavours.

• By Etienne de L'Amour ~ Google+


  1. Dear Etienne, I am delighted to have met you by asking the question, Your thoughtful and considered comment brought me here to check out your work.
    So I guess we've both answered the question: writers do still read blogs. And sometimes it will result in sales. But I for one am choosing a less-is-more approach, a deepening approach, for my own sanity and quality of life...which was so elegantly hinted at in your comment.
    Toby Neal

  2. Many thanks for taking the time to drop by from your own blog, Toby. It's good to meet a kindred spirit.

  3. I wrote a little 20 page minibook on this that sells for 99 cents. It's my answer.

    But that was the first book. Still muddling through now to launch the second...and I'm confident my books are good, with a lot of reviews that are 5 star. Still, getting "discovered" is a long hard haul.

  4. Even all the way across a couple of oceans!