As part of our quest to promote allonymbooks‘ novels to a wider readership, and as part of engaging in The Guardian’s quest to find independently published books for review, this week’s blog surveys some of the organisations and websites which offer a quality review process. Definitions of quality in the review are naturally dependent on the quality of the reviewer as much as the book, and a review generally says as much about the person reviewing as it does the subject of the review. But in this context, a quality review process is independent, generates a review of reasonable length and depth, and has no requirement for payment in exchange. Like independent publishing itself, the review process is a work in progress, but here are some suggestions of good places to find reviews of independently published books. Rather than cover ground already covered for alternative and science fiction by Dan Holloway in his Guardian blog, here are some sites which focus on other genres.
The HNS has been in existence for around 15 years, having been set up initially in the hope of reviving interest in what was perceived at the time as a declining historical genre. The Society publishes a printed review magazine, The Historical Novels Review, and its website includes all its more recent print and online reviews, including an Indie section, which is expressly for ‘electronically-published, subsidy-published or self-published historical novels’ where ‘historical’ refers to a setting that is at least 50 years in the past. Reviews of indie books are made on the basis of selection by a dedicated editorial staff and their reviewers are drawn from their membership, of authors and readers of historical fiction. Submitting an indie book for review is very straightforward – fill out a form of information about the book, and await a response from the editorial team who will contact you if they want to review your book. The reviews themselves are a mixture of the descriptive and the critical, and of around 250-300 words in length. A slight flaw in the web design makes it impossible to filter a search of the Indie review section by format type (e.g. paperback. e-pub), and it seems as though books which are marked as Editor’s Choice cannot also be marked as Indie.
This is a well-administered, professionally run website which has a range of writers and readers reviewing books across a range of genres. Writers can contact reviewers directly and ask if they will review their book, with individual reviewers specialising in different genres. Some of the reviewers are also authors, who do offer their own books for review if submitters are interested, creating a sort of barter system. However, they are keen to stress that the exchange has no bearing on the review process, and they stress objectivity and impartiality with emphasis placed on both parties providing a substantive, quality review of a reasonable length (350-500 words) and not on being ‘nice’ about the other person’s book. Again, it’s easy to search for books by genre.
This well-established site is stylish to look at and easy to use. It functions on a peer review principle, like the academic world, in that reviewers are also writers. The website is clearly set up for locating reviews, with books categorised into half a dozen or so genres, although some readers may find the categories a little over-simplified (e.g. putting historical and romance together). Submissions are put forward via a facebook page where the author must essentially pitch their book as interesting to read. Reviews are a really good length – 500-600 words – and have a strongly personal flavour from the reviewer, though that doesn’t appeal to everyone.
There are also a few websites which really helpfully bring together many of the individual bloggers and websites that review indie books. The Indie View and Indie Book Reviewer are two such sites with a very similar feel to them. The Indie View collates the latest reviews and articles through its homepage, and on its Indie Reviewers List the site has collated the most prolific of the individual reviewers, along with genre and submission details, and links to their websites. Indie Book Reviewer categorises review sites in a long, easily searchable alphabetical list, and also by genre, giving links and information about each reviewer and the genres and formats they accept.
An interesting development would be for some of the other high profile writers’ associations, like the Romantic Novelists Association for example, to follow the Historical Novel Society and incorporate a review site. What is stopping them is probably the mammoth quantity of romantic fiction out there, for in indie terms romance is as prolific and genre-diverse as fantasy, alternative and science fiction. Nonetheless if you have any suggestions of good sites for specific genres that write reviews of a good length and depth in a credible fashion, please share them.