Thursday, November 30, 2017

Double Standards For Indie vs Traditionally Published Books?

Well...that title could open up about fifteen different cans of worms, and they are all worthy of being opened and brought out into the light. But I have a specific can I want to open today. A specific question I want to ask.

Do Indie Authors Expect Their Books to be Judged Differently Than Traditionally Published Books?

I could also word the question this way: Do Indie authors want their books to be judged differently? Ever asked that question before? Ever wondered what the answer might be?

You should know that I'm not trying to fling any accusations out there that I don't think will come back and land on me. I know this one will land on me. That's why I'm throwing it out there. 

My Story

This question goes back to one of the first critical reviews I ever got. It was three stars and the reviewer pointed out how she didn't like one of the characters and how the pace lagged at times. Another three star review for the same book stated that the backstory is revealed too slowly and that the reviewer wished more information had been given out right at the beginning because it would have made the book easier to follow in the first few chapters. I could list others, but they would all be in the same vein.

Here's the thing. I was upset that reviewers were giving my book three stars for things that had nothing to do with the quality of the book and everything to do with personal opinion. Didn't they know my book was self-published? Didn't they know it was also self-edited? Didn't they know there was a stigma attached to such things and they, as reviewers, held in their hands the power to erase that stigma by telling the world about this well-edited, grammatically correct book they had just read? How dare they dock stars for such a frivolous thing as personal opinion!?!

More Than Just My Story

This has not happened to me yet, but a common reason for a book getting a low rating from a reviewer is that the book is not the reviewer's preferred genre. So they may complain that a horror book is too scary. An erotic book has too much sex. A Christian book is too preachy. And if the authors of these books are indie authors, you will often find them complaining to their trusted colleagues that the reviewer shouldn't have picked up the book in the first place if it wasn't for them. Or at the very least their review should have made allowances for those things that make the genre what it is.

A Double Standard?

Fifty Shades of Grey was the first erotic book I ever read. Wanna know what my least favorite part of it was? The sex. Why? Because I wanted more story. I wanted to find out all about Christian's traumatic past and became increasingly frustrated every time he and Ana were in a serious conversation, and juicy details were on the cusp of coming out into the open, and then suddenly I was inundated by other types of juicy details, and other things (namely boobs and penises) came out into the open instead. And then I had to read about them having sex for the next four pages. Seriously, all I wanted was to know what happened to poor Christian when he was a kid. Couldn't the author just cut about two thirds of the sex scenes, then do a fade to black on the ones she left intact? The answer? Of course she couldn't, because her genre was erotic fiction and to write erotica you have to include a good deal of sex. 

So...had I written a review for that book, should I have glossed over the fact that I was annoyed by all the sex? Would it have been an honest review if I had written it that way? 

Of course, Fifty Shades is a bestseller that is now a popular movie series, so a few bad reviews will hardly kill the author's career. But what about a struggling indie author? When you've only got twenty or so reviews so far for your book, a handful of critical ones can look really bad. Should readers take that into account when reviewing them, and give star ratings based on objective things like grammar and writing style, as opposed to expressing their subjective, though honest, opinions of the story itself? 

I'd love to hear some other opinions on this, so feel free to drop your two cents into the comment section.


  1. As you said, this is certainly a can-of-worms type thing. But I'll go ahead and dig into that can with you!
    You've read Home To Roost, my first novel. You know how it goes. One of my first GoodReads reviewers (as in the seventh, I think it was), gave it a 1-star rating, and said, "This book started out with promise, but then just got darker and darker. Don't waste your time."
    A waste of time?! My heart just about broke. Almost. Mostly, though, I was annoyed. It's horror. It's dark literary fiction. OF COURSE IT GOT DARK! I check what other things she reads--not one of them was horror.
    She read outside her genre, and then didn't like it and left a review.
    As I said, I was mad. I'm not anymore--at least, not really. Do I think reviewers should take genre into account when rating a book? Absolutely. If it isn't something that they normally read, and they find that they don't care for a genre, they shouldn't slam the book. They don't need to give it 5 stars, but they could at least strike some kind of balance.
    But then there's this other question: should self-published works catch a break?
    I don't think so. As you know, self-publishing is hard. I think regular publishing is hard, too. Authors are choosing to do something difficult, plain and simple. None of them should get a break. It does annoy me that established authors can get lazy and get away with it, but I suppose it's envy as much as it is anything else.
    What DOES both me is when people are anti self-published works. Sure, there are mounds of self-published garbage. There are also mounds of traditionally-published garbage. And then there are great books that come from both categories. It seems silly to me when people automatically sneer at self-published works.
    But, again, there's not much I can do about it. Does it annoy me? Sure. Do I think they're wrong? Definitely. But it's their choice, and I can live with it, even if I don't like it.

    1. Great post, by the way. Sorry if I got a bit rantish! :)

    2. I saw that review of your book when I went to Amazon to post mine. I think the reviewer likely missed the genre description and went into it thinking it was a fun little fairy tale or something. That's what I got from that review.

      Here's my take on reviews for self-published books: When you remove the gatekeepers you open the door for books which are rife grammatical errors and plot holes. But that doesn't mean those things should be the only things that cause self-published books to get bad reviews. Honestly, I think it says a heck of a lot when you look at a self-published book on Amazon or Goodreads and there is no mention of errors or plot holes even in the worst reviews. That tells the reader this is a well written book, even if it wasn't that particular reviewer's cup of tea.

      I do admit it is frustrating to get a low rating when you only have a handful of reviews to start with, even if that low rating is simply a matter of personal taste. But if you're going to get bad reviews, and everyone does, those are the best kind.

  2. You're certainly right. And bad reviews are painful, but so long as you've got a decent number of good reviews, it's probably just fine.

  3. Greta, you know how much I totally respect your views here and on Facebook where we often interact. So keep in mind my views here are out of respect for yours even though I can't agree with you on a few things :-).

    First off, you mention your experience with getting 3 star reviews and I feel like you're implying that 3 stars is a "bad" review. 3 stars in not a bad review, in my book (I'm saying this as an indie author who has gotten plenty of 3 star reviews). It's an OK review, not a great review, mediocre maybe (depending on the comments) but not a bad review.

    Also, I see reviews in a different way. To me, they are all about the reader's opinion, not an objective assessment of the quality (or lack thereof) of the book. This goes certainly for user reviews but also for more editorial reviews, like book blogger reviews. I think most readers are aware that any review they read (even from some national magazine, like O! Magazine or The New Yorker) is not an objective "yea" or "nay" about the book but that reviewers opinion of what he/she feels is "yeah" or "nay" about the book. So it's perfectly natural for reviewers to rate a book according to what they see as its strengths and weaknesses, regardless of quality. It doesn't mean that book necessarily has those strengths and weaknesses, as it's their opinion of it.

    Finally, you bring up an example of possible bias with indie books vs. traditionally published books with 50 Shades. But keep in mind it's a matter of proportion as well. Is there a bias against indie books as opposed to bestsellers like 50 Shades? I can't make that judgment but just as the sales are different, so is the number of reviews. Just out of curiosity, I looked up 50 Shades on Amazon and it has 84,943 reviews. Of those, 13% are 1 star and 6% are 2 star (which is what I consider a "bad" review, not 3 stars!) That makes roughly 20% bad reviews and 20% of 85,000 reviews (again, roughly) is 1700 reviews. In other words, 50 Shades has roughly 1700 bad reviews! I'm willing to guess that hardly any (if any) indie books have or will ever have 1700 bad reviews :-). So it's also a matter of proportion.

    I'm not saying that your points aren't well taken that there may be a bias against indie books as opposed to traditionally published books, just that there are some things to consider.

    Tam May

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. A lot of the "arguments" I was making in this post were an attempt to see the situation from the point of view of a lot of authors I've seen on Facebook lamenting their bad reviews. As a reader who sometimes reviews book, however, I do feel I have the right to complain about something I don't like in a book, even if that something boils down to subjective opinion as opposed to quality. So I think we may actually be on the same page with this.

      I did share my own story, however, just to show that I don't think I'm better than any other author who has gotten upset about reviews. Because I certainly do get upset, especially if what the reviewer complains about is something I happen to like about my book. The reason I mentioned three star reviews is because I have not yet (knock on wood) gotten any of those dreaded one or two star ratings, so I can't comment on those from my personal experience.

      That being said, I do think the question of whether reviewers should take into account that they are reviewing an indie book, which may only have a handful of reviews, is a valid one. Because one two star review out of a total of maybe ten or twenty can really skew that book's rating. On the other hand, though, the worst thing we can do is make people afraid to review our books because they think they might offend us.