How Do You Find Good Self-Published Books?
It’s no secret that self-published books are mostly frowned upon by many readers. “If a book looks ‘self published,’ then I’d say there is a good chance that it sucks,” writes one Reddit user, a proof that there’s this stigma that self-published books are bad. Well, there might be a grain of truth in that. Anyone can self-publish these days, what with the abundance of platforms such as Kindle Direct Publishing, Draft2Digital, and Smashwords. The gatekeepers of publishing have already been bypassed, the keys thrown out the window. And oh, it’s not limited to ebooks only. Now, anyone can self-publish in print and even have their physical book distributed to brick-and-mortar stores. Anyone can now also hire narrators to record their books — this is a different realm already, but you get the idea.
When self-publishing, most authors do all the work on their own, not realizing that publishing is a collaborative effort. There’s a reason why in traditional publishing, there are art directors, illustrators, layout artists, editors, proofreaders, publicists, and other professionals involved. A book project passes through many hands within a publishing house. At the first stages of publishing alone, the manuscript is vetted by a third party, like a literary agent, editor, or a beta reader who might catch problematic content. I know because I am a publisher myself; the amount of work done to have a book published is unbelievably long and tedious. The typical publication timeframe can take up to two or three years.
I’m not saying that when something’s traditionally published, it’s automatically a good book. There are books by traditional publishers that are just as bad. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that self-publishers can’t get professional help for their projects. Some indie authors who have the wherewithal can definitely do it, too. But oftentimes, the cost is steep, and the average self-published author is probably juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet.
I know because I’ve seen it from their perspective, too. Aside from being a traditional publisher, I’ve also self-published my own book a lifetime ago (no, I won’t link it here, sorry!). I know how difficult it is to do it all on your own. Self-published authors are often really at a disadvantage for the lack of means.
So if most self-published works have bad reputation, where do we find ones that are worth our time and money? For starters, we need to define what’s considered a “good” self-published book. Is it the production? The cover? The writing? Should it feel like a publishing house–quality book? Is it the overall feel? Well, people judge the book by its cover and content, so you’d know a “bad” self-published book when you see it.
To help you find the standouts among this crowded field, I’ve compiled a directory of sources for you to visit to give self-published authors the chance they deserve.
Publishers Weekly’s Book Life
Book Life is the reviews section for independently-published books at Publishers Weekly. They regularly review indie books here, just like in their traditionally-published books section. By browsing the reviews, you can see which ones have merit.
Meanwhile, in this section, the authors paid for the reviews. And since they paid for it, they’re guaranteed a spot. In that page, you can see “production grades” of a book such as ratings for cover, content, editing, etc. It’s surprisingly detailed, and I find it helpful when scouting for under-the-radar books to read.
Book Life Prize
On the other hand, this one is PW’s award for self-published works. It’s an annual writing contest that aims to “support independent authors and discover great books.”
The contest is divided into two categories: Fiction Contest and Nonfiction Contest. Since the winners are evaluated by critics, you may want to check them out to see if they’re worth adding to your TBR.
Independent Book Review
This is a website that publishes reviews of books from small presses and self-published authors. Since they publish a lot of reviews from these creators, you get to find something noteworthy.
According to the disclaimer, they only publish “good” reviews, so let’s assume that anything you find here is exceptional — the bad apples discarded.
Kirkus Reviews’ Indie Best Books List
This magazine publishes the best of independent books each year, and it’s also a great place to find good self-published books.
Here you’ll notice that the books have the prominent blue star atop them, which means that they are starred reviews. Additionally, you can browse indie books published from 2015 to 2022.
IndieReader is another book review site that caters to self-published books. The reviews have a point system with corresponding meaning, from one-star reads that are “really bad, work on it” and five stars that are “excellent! must-read.” I find it unique and helpful. In that way, you’ll know which ones are worth buying. You can also sort through the genres if you’re specifically looking for something.
There are also books that are stamped with “IR approved,” which means that the site’s staff recommend that you check them out.
IndieReader Discovery Awards
Like Kirkus, this site also has a writing competition geared towards self-published books. The contest aims to “find the best of the best.” And according to them, only books with over four-star ratings in their reviews section are read by their judges. You may check out the past winners to see whether you’d like the titles listed there.
You can also browse the entries for 2022 for more options.
It simply is difficult to find good self-published books these days since publishing one has never been easier. And it doesn’t help that so many self-published works have poor production value, adding to the overcrowded scene.
Luckily, the websites above make it easy to see which ones have merit. For more of these, here’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Finding Great Self-Published Fiction.”