Reviewing Indie Books: The stories so far…

As we re-open the review list for indie authored books this week, allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore reflects on what she has learned so far about indie publishing from reviewing.

As a rule, I enjoy reading book reviews. I scan the pages of the main British newspapers two or three times a week, looking not only for the formal recommendations but also the reader-recommended novels. I read those little cards on the shelves in Waterstones written by their staff, and I read other book reviewers’ blogs. I even read The Economist‘s arts section to see which book they have allowed to rise to the top of the pile. If they are reviewing a fiction book, it’s usually interesting (if not good).

But do I ever read the books that are recommended by others?

That’s an obvious reason for reading a review, to get a recommendation. But let me give you the other reason I read reviews. Because they tell you so much about the reviewer too. Continue reading

A loss of independence? Goodreads by Amazon

Everyone seems to have been taken by surprise by the announcement that Goodreads is being taken over by Amazon, and generally there seems to be concern about Amazon taking over the world of online bookselling. The Authors’ Guild’s observation that it is a “truly devastating act of vertical integration” has not found complete agreement, but this blog is, unsurprisingly, more concerned with how the change is going to affect indie authors.

As many readers of this blog may have discovered for themselves, Amazon has an erratic and somewhat ruthless approach to the way reviews are posted for indie books. That this scrutiny was probably triggered by the fake reviews scandal last year shows that this is not a situation unique to indie authors, but it does seem that reviews of indie-authored books are scrutinised much more closely than those from print publishers. Certainly anecdotal evidence gathered at allonymbooks indicates that indie authors do find reviews of their books just disappearing.

From an indie point of view, Goodreads represented a safe haven, as it were, where there were strong forum communities supporting and interested in indie books. Being reader-driven it was perceived as free-standing of commercial interest from any individual bookseller, providing as it did links to B&N and other retailers as well as Amazon for book purchases, and it has done well in the past to promote a sense that reading, the enjoyment of books, and the sharing of reading experiences are its paramount goals. One presumes that those other retailer links will go in due course, as Amazon is hardly likely to want that option available. And so, one fears, might the perception of that not only is the site free-standing, but also that its aim is to share the enjoyment of books. It would be very sad if it became a marketplace, where the loudest shouters win the customers, for Goodreads has up to now managed to keep that small community/big community Continue reading

Indie Book Reviews (2)

This week Evie Woolmore reviews a short story and a set of short stories, both rich with atmosphere, and a historical novel full of detail.

Leah and her Twelve Brothers by William Saunders (available at Amazon UK and US)

This collection of short stories has both a timeless and a very specific period feel to it, fusing a sort of Edwardian curiosity about the world with some quite contemporary touches. Leah waits at home while her twelve brothers explore the world, and she receives from each of them four gifts, borne by somewhat caricatured natives of the cities they are visiting. Leah weaves a story from each set of gifts, and then ponders its significance with one of three gentleman callers.

It is an interesting premise for a story collection – something of Sophie’s World meets Aesop’s Fables – and they often work well when woven together with a theme or narrative. Indeed in this instance, the collection allows the author to explore some quite philosophical and metaphysical ideas, as well as some moral ones. Leah is in some ways the most interesting of the characters, though for this reader the repetitive format of her receipt of the gifts, the encyclopaedia entries, and then the long opening descriptive prose passages of each story could have taken more variety. For while we learn much about Leah’s imagination, we don’t learn much about her character. Her male companions are rather stifling of her at times, and she never really develops very much, Continue reading

Guest Post by Tahlia Newland of Awesome Indies

This week Tahlia Newland, founder of Awesome Indies, writes a guest post about the importance of review sites in the new publishing

 

The advent of ebooks and print on demand technology have revolutionised publishing. For the first time ever, it is relatively cheap and easy for anyone to publish a book. That is wonderful news for the authors with excellent stories who just missed out on getting a publishing deal. Such authors can now take their books directly to their readers, and if they have a professional attitude, get the help they need and follow the exact same steps as those taken by a traditional publishing house, their book can be as good as anything put out by a mainstream publisher.

In that scenario the reader gains access to many great books that they would never otherwise see, sometimes for no other Continue reading

Joining the reviewers: a bit of give and take

In this week’s blog, Evie Woolmore discusses her decision to join Awesome Indies as a reviewer.

In the last blog of 2012, it was noted that I had exchanged one of my books, Equilibrium, for review with Tahlia Newland, author of Lethal Inheritance. It was an interesting experience, knowing that I was going to get a thoughtful review from someone who genuinely cared about providing an opinion – not unlike the editorial experiences I have had as an author, and that I have provided in my other professional lives. The blog suggested that the exchange aspect was not part of the rules of the new game, particularly not for the other reviewer. But it got me thinking.

What if – in this raw, still evolving world of indie publishing – I could consciously participate not in making rules as such, but in establishing a community of indie writers who – rather than waiting for print publishing reviewers to review our work – collectively contribute to establishing a strong, credible review culture of our own work that promotes quality.

Admittedly, there are some who will think that getting indie writers to review other indie writers is like asking British newspapers to regulate themselves. Pointless, and unlikely to contribute to a raising of standards. But that is to make a few assumptions that I think we can challenge.

1. Indie writers will always scratch each other’s backs, giving flattering reviews in exchange for flattering reviews. Yes, some people operate on that basis. Let’s not lie about it, let’s not pretend it isn’t true. Follow me, I’ll follow you; praise my book, I’ll praise yours. Even print-published writers have been going to extraordinary lengths to promote Continue reading

Is the (self-)Editor dead? Not here, she isn’t

“As an aspiring novelist and current student of an MA in creative writing, I dream of working with an editor. Not just any old editor but one assigned to me by a publishing house. For me, this is the holy grail of writing. That’s why I’m against self-publishing a book. I feel it circumvents the real business of writing, which is editing. Any writer worth their salt knows that a book goes through several drafts before it’s fit to be read.” Tasha Smith’s blog ‘Is the Editor dead?’ in the Huffington Post

The quality of editing in contemporary fiction has reportedly been in decline for some years, and a New York Times article as long ago as 1998 bewailed the knock-on effects of the massive increasing commercial pressures on editorial staff in the major publishing houses. Not only were publishing house editors failing to find sufficient time to devote to the activity of scrutinising a manuscript for mistakes, inaccuracies and typographical errors, but they were also unable to devote the time to being what the NY Times described as the author’s “romantic ideal of an editor as a confessor and critic”. Increasingly, the article described, authors were proactively employing their own editors not only to help identify mistakes, but also to shape manuscripts to prevent rejection or cancellation. Now, there may be a confusion here between activities more traditionally associated with proof-reading (typos, poor grammar, accuracy) and more stylistic attention to flow, pacing, unnecessary elaboration and so on, but it is the notion of the editor as critic which stands out.

Two years ago, Salman Rushdie publicly criticised JK Rowling’s editors for not being more ruthless in the fashioning of her longer Harry Potter books, saying “editors let J.K. get away with too much because no one wants to challenge the ‘goose that lays the golden eggs….The long books started to have long passages that any editor would normally have the courage to cut'”. What is being suggested here? That Rowling’s books would somehow have been less commercially appealing had they been ruthlessly edited for length and her detailed descriptive style? That Rowling’s literal Continue reading