|Copyright Mick Stevens, The New Yorker Collection|
If you've read my review policy (which I'm sure you have...I mean, who hasn't?), you know it includes this line:
"I currently do not accept self-published books for review."
I have gotten questions about this statement several times since I started the blog. Some people are just curious why. Others imply via their tone that I'm being a snot. And still others tell me that I'm missing out--self-publishing is blowing up right now, so why would I neglect all those books for review?
Let me tell you how that policy came to be.
I received my Kindle as a gift in May 2011 (over a year before this blog opened). Before that, I don't think I had ever read a self-published book. But if you get a Kindle, what is one of the immediate appeals? ALL THE FREE BOOKS!! I blindly waded into Amazon's "free" section and started downloading anything that looked even remotely up my alley.
Then I started reading them. The first one was...eh. The second one was...meh. By the end of the third one, I was a disgruntled reader.
The books had flat characters, awkward dialogue, nonsensical plot elements, and confusing uses of POV. Not to mention that they were riddled with bad spelling and grammar. I found myself wondering who in the world their editors were, allowing these things to be published?
And then I realized--there were no editors! These were self-published works.
So when I started my blog, I decided that I would not be seeking out or accepting self-published works for review. My early Kindle freebies had ruined me, and I had thousands of other books to choose from anyway.
Now that the blog has been running for a couple of months, I've had ample opportunity to read reviews of self-published works from my fellow bloggers. And while some of them sound similar to how I reacted to those Amazon freebies last year, others sound pretty awesome. I've also received several review requests from authors who have self-published works (despite the disclaimer in my review policy). I've turned them all down up to this point, no matter how good they sounded, in the interest of sticking to my original policy. Because when it comes right down to it, anyone can self-publish--and who wants to take the time to wade through all that mediocre work, looking for the good stuff?
But in the last week, two things happened. First, I received an email from Novel Publicity tours (for whom I serve as a tour host), asking for blogs to host a book called Bluff by Lenore Skomal. Reading the description, I was excited--this book sounded awesome! I couldn't wait to read and review. However, going on Goodreads, I quickly realized it was self-published. Feeling deflated, I emailed a bit with the Novel Publicity rep about it. She assured me this was a well-vetted piece of fiction, encouraging me to host if I was considering it. I couldn't forget my initial excitement about the book--should I really let this one go? So I took a chance, and said I would host.
Second, I clicked on a link in my daily Shelf Awareness email last week to get an ARC of a book that sounded pretty great: The Thief of Auschwitz. The author (Jon Clinch) has published with Random House before, so I was initially confused as to why I was downloading the ARC off his personal website. Then I read this article. And I found Clinch's story quite compelling. Long story short: he published with Random House, and despite good reviews, had disappointing sales with the publishing house. As an experiment, he wrote another book and self-published it under a pen name--and lo and behold, sold thousands of copies with no publisher backing him. So he decided to also self-publish his next literary novel (The Thief of Auschwitz). Of course, this created a conundrum for me--should I turn down a self-published novel from someone who has already earned critical acclaim for his writing through bigger publishers?
In the end, I decided to take another chance, and I downloaded the ARC.
So, where does this leave me and my snooty review policy?
For now, I'm going to leave that line in the policy. My personal belief is still that a lot (A LOT) of self-published work does not have enough editorial support to read as cleanly and strongly as that put out by publishing companies (indie or big-name). (That's not to say publishers never put out terrible books--but the "terribleness" is usually not based in structural/editorial issues the way I've seen it in self-pubs, and if it is, the book usually gets enough widespread bad publicity that you know it well beforehand.) However--I am more open to the idea of self-published work, if (after researching it) I have some compelling reason to believe it is a strong piece of fiction.
These two examples have shown me that my early Kindle freebies may not necessarily be reflective of all self-published books. Thus, I am going to use these two novels as an experiment. Because my critics' assessments are correct--in the era of e-readers, self-publishing is huge. And some awesome work is bound to come out of that. But for me (especially as a blogger), the trick is wading through that messy sea of self-pubs and finding the treasure--not an easy task.
So, be on the lookout for my first two reviews of self-published work (for Bluff and The Thief of Auschwitz) coming up in December/January. We'll see how this experiment goes, and I will post a follow-up once they've both been reviewed.
Readers, respond! What has been your experience with self-published work? How do you distinguish between the good and the bad--or do you not bother to do so?