How To

A Beginner’s Guide to Finding Great Self-Published Fiction

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A.J. O'Connell

Staff Writer

A.J. O’Connell is the author of two published novellas: Beware the Hawk and The Eagle & The Arrow. All she’s ever wanted to do in life is read and write books, and so, is constantly writing at least one novel. She holds an MFA in creative fiction, but despite the best efforts of her teachers at Fairfield University's low-residency program, remains a huge dork for sci-fi, fantasy and comic books. She is a journalist and has taught journalism to college students. She blogs about feminism, the writing life, and whatever else comes into her head at Blog: A.J. O'Connell Twitter: @ann_oconnell

My new year’s reading challenge is to read at least one self-published novel a month in 2016. Seems like a pretty easy goal right? Well, not exactly. See the title of this post? “A beginner’s guide?” Right. I’m the beginner.

Why am I doing this? Let me back up a bit. I was listening to The Sell More Books Show recently. The hosts were discussing Serving Pleasure, an erotic novel by Alisha Rai, the first self-published book to ever make it onto one of The Washington Post’s Best of the Year lists. One of the hosts got pretty bent out of shape about this, saying that the Post should have included more than just one self-published book, and adding that book reviewers are in publishers’ back pockets, and aren’t combing the web to find quality self-published books for themselves.

Now, I spent most of my career in journalism, so when people come up with theories about which reporter is in bed with whom, that’s usually my signal to start listening to elevator music in my head. (As a schools reporter for a local paper, I was once accused of being in the back pocket of a high school marching band. But that is another story.)

I was about to tune out, but then I started thinking: Wait, do I read enough self-published books? What about indie authors? Books put out by micro-publishers?

I’m an independent author myself, and I often lament the fact that a lot of readers don’t seem to read independently published books — or at least I’m not very good at finding an audience (and this, my friends, is why I listen to a podcast called the Sell More Books Show.) But I also write for Book Riot, and because of this, I know where to look to find advance review copies of novels put out by traditional publishers. In fact, most of the books that I read, or want to read, have been traditionally published. When I go to Amazon — which is where I buy the majority of my books — the novels that are recommended to me are traditionally published ones.

My buying habits don’t support self-published or indie authors at all. I need to change that. So my plan is to read one self-publisher, or one author put out by a very tiny press, every month.

The trouble with deciding to read one self-published book a month is that although it’s full to the brim with self-publishers, you can’t just go to Amazon and type in “self-published.” (That will just get you a list of books about self-publishing.) You also can’t plug “great self-published books” into Google; you’ll get pages and pages of of businesses trying to sell to self-published authors.

So where to find self-publishers? If you want to join me in this challenge, below are some sites we can start at together. (If you know of one I’ve missed — and you probably do — definitely leave it in the comments.)

Smashwords: Smashwords is probably the most obvious place to start, since its core mission is to publish the work of independent presses and individual authors, but because of the ease of Amazon, I never really gave the site much of a chance. Now I’m going to be living there for a while.

Paid review sites: As an author, I am not really a fan of paid review sites. However, they work for this reading challenges, because sites that publish reviews of only self-published books are obviously a handy way to quickly find self-published books in the genres I like. (I’m starting with BlueInk and Self-Publishing Review.) Another benefit of paid review sites is that they tend to have more longevity than their nobler cousins, the free review sites.

Free review sites: I love people who review books online for a hobby. Their TBR lists are long and their time is short and they are doing it for the love. There are a few drawbacks to the free reviewers: for one thing, don’t often specialize in how a book is published; they just review genres they like. Also, many tend to become inactive. I’ll be finding free review sites through The Indie Book Reviewers List. The list is kept more or less updated — reviews have to be free and the site must actively be publishing to appear on the list.

This is my reading challenge for next year. I’d be honored if you would join me.