Why You Should Be Honest When Reviewing Self-Published Books

Amanda Diehl

Staff Writer

Amanda Diehl escaped to Boston to get her MA in Publishing & Writing. Though she loves her new home in the Northeast, she will forever mourn the loss of Publix and sweet tea. As for Amanda’s voracious love of reading, she got it from her mama, though her favorite genres are romance, horror, and the occasional memoir. She reviews romance novels for Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and when she’s able to scrounge together some free time, you can find her napping in front of the TV with the latest trashy reality show or scarfing down brunch-related foods. Twitter: _ImAnAdult

Recently, we ran a post on how honest reviewers should be when dealing with self-published books. Fellow contributor A.J. O’Connell, struggled with the questions of whether to leave bad reviews for self-published works and ultimately found that she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Of course, we all hope that our reviews, good or bad, will help an author, but she’s right in that there’s no guarantee that will happen. After all, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

But for me, there’s not a question of how honest to be in a review, especially if it’s bad. Granted, A.J. has a different perspective as an author, whereas mine is just from being a reviewer, but I think the world of criticism needs bad reviews. Being self-published shouldn’t affect that.

Self-published authors don’t have a stable of helpers that other authors, who are affiliated with publishings houses, have, such as a dedicated team of editors, marketers, designers, and publicists. It’s up to them in deciding how much time (and especially money) they want to invest in their finished product. Trust me, I know self-publishing something isn’t as cost-free as it sounds.

That being said, authors don’t get a pass from me for self-publishing. I’d still judge their work the same way I’d judge something from Penguin Random House. I want correct spelling and grammar. I want consistency and continuity in the details. And, of course, I want a damn good story.

I’m of the opinion that once you put a work out there to be consumed by an audience — be it a book, movie, piece of artwork, or whatever — it’s no longer in the creator’s control. People can talk about it and interact with it however they see fit, regardless of the intentions in creating it. As unpleasant as they may be, I see it as par for the course. Authors should expect to get feedback and sometimes, that feedback isn’t going to be all glowing praise.

Admittedly, I don’t write a lot of reviews for Goodreads aside from assigning star grades, but I’m definitely fully ingrained in the reviewing community. I’ve worked for a book review blog for several years and have been a member of Goodreads for twice as long. I’ve seen and heard the horror stories that often unfold between authors and reviewers. I also realize that there’s a difference between critiquing a review and being really awful about it. However, nothing makes me cringe more than the thought that we have to keep [insert any genre here] nice. We shouldn’t not talk about things because they might make someone uncomfortable, but we can phrase things in a way that is more constructive and less insulting.

But really, reviews aren’t for authors. They’re for readers and consumers. Of course, I’m sure it feels nice as an author to see people enjoying your book, but people are reading reviews to see whether or not they should use their disposable income on a book. I firmly believe life is too short for bad books, so I read reviews constantly, trying to see if one is going to be worth my time. And as working with the romance genre as taught me, things that I hate are things that other readers love. A bad review doesn’t necessarily mean lost sales.

While self-publishing operates differently than traditional publishing, my feelings for both remain the same in terms of reading and reviewing. One doesn’t get special treatment or preference over the other, and authors behaving badly isn’t just exclusive to those who self-publish. Instead of worrying about what an author might think — self published or not — think of how not saying anything could impact a reader.