A Review of Self-Publishing Review Sites

Via the Podler, there’s a fairly contentious post on Mrs. Giggles on the state of self-published book reviewing, stating that self-publishing reviewers are too complementary – unrealistically so – without enough of a critical eye.  She singles out Pod Peep and Podbram for being the best self-publishing review sites out there.

I agree with her to some degree, but I feel that self-publishing is a different animal than traditional publishing.  Given the fact that self-publishers are facing an uphill battle to find readers and distribution, it doesn’t entirely make sense to write negative reviews.  So, like the old Poddy Mouth, who only reviewed books she loved, there is some value in propping up those books that deserve attention.

SPR doesn’t review only good books to this degree, as we publish negative reviews as well.  But I find myself increasingly avoiding those books that have too many problems.  As an aside, I’m currently revising my own novel, so I just don’t have the time to devote to reading and writing 500 words about a book that is mostly flawed.  After I’m done, I’ll probably have more headspace to dive into negative reviews.

Her main point is that the good reviews aren’t tempered by enough honest criticism, and I’ve probably been guilty of that.  In an effort to legitimize self-publishing, there can be a tendency to oversell those books that deserve more recognition.  But I am wondering from authors: would you rather have a review that’s mostly negative or no review at all?  As they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.  Do you really believe that?

It will help to legitimize self-publishing by calling out those books that have fundamental problems, so it’s an important process, but a review of a book that might not be helped even with constructive criticism does not seem, well, constructive.

Mrs. Giggles seems to have a bit of an anti-independent streak.  She criticized an anthology I appeared in, Falling from the Sky, saying:

If you are starting to think that “edgy and experimental writing” is an euphemism for stories about crackheads and other junkies, you’re right. Trainspotting has a lot to answer for, I tell you. Still, to be fair, not all the stories here are about the angst and melodramatic tribulations of being a fashionably cool junkie – some deal with booze, lonely women writing to imprisoned criminals who shot down their beautiful old school friend’s husband, broken relationships that always leave the woman reeling with pain, odes to people dying. In other words, the whole thing comes off like a collection of stories for young kids who dabble in making amateur horror movies and writing poems about anguish and despair.”

(I wrote the story about the “lonely women writing to imprisoned criminals who shot down their beautiful old school friend’s husband” – read the anthology for free here). And she writes about Frank Daniels’ futureproof by saying:

So we have N Frank Daniels, one of those guys who think the world needs another story of some white guy who battled drug addiction and triumphed, and his book was picked up by Harper in what is pretty much a POD Idol contest where you get your friends and families, oops, fans to vote for you as the winner.

Which is a pretty grave oversimplification of Frank Daniels’ story.  There’s no such thing as “another story of some white guy…” if that story is told well, which futureproof is.  So this indirect criticism of SPR (she never calls out SPR directly) is just one person’s opinion, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about.

Bards and Sages, a site that has a stellar list of venues that review self-published books, criticizes Self-Publishing Review by saying,

Reviews are lengthy and thoughtful, but sometimes focus on issues that are important to self-publishers and not readers.  Discussions of printing problems with printers probably shouldn’t appear in reviews, as the information won’t mean a thing to a customer.  If the reviews can keep the reader’s needs, not the author’s concerns, in mind, the site could prove to be a useful tool for readers to sort through and find gems among self-published titles.

I could be wrong, but I imagine more writers come here than pure readers.  So I think talking about problems with margins, cover design, etc. is important – especially to help improve the overall quality of self-published work.  So in general this site is more author-centered than reader-centered.  Feel free to leave a comment if you think SPR should head in another direction.

  • No Henry, I don’t think you need to change direction. That will all depend on what your goals are. What was your intent with this site in the first place? I always saw it as a place for Indie authors. An Advocate, if you will, which means not only reviews but also articles, commentary, and opinions on the industry. You have reviews for service providers, Indie centric interviews, and some advertising on your site. Advocacy to this degree is often misconstrued as bias. It happens. If you are happy with the site and your readers are happy with the site, then a bad review of the site is just something to consider. It happens, just like with a bad book a review.

    Reader-centric sites are just that, by readers for readers. They want the smack-down on a book so they can determine whether or not to part with their hard earned cash. It’s really that simple.

    Now there are hybrids out there like Podbram and Podpeople and Odyssey and many many others who take a very strong reader-centric view. Yes, they post columns on the art of writing and relevant industry news. Some post nothing at all but reviews … it’s just at a different angle. They key is the same whether it be blogging or writing fiction: Know your reader, which equates to knowing your intent. If there is glory in reviewing, I haven’t found it yet.

    So, if you come in top 10 as an Indie Author Advocate and that was your intent, Indies being your primary readership, then you have done well.

    If you come in top 10 as an Indie Author Advocate and your intent was to attract Mr. or Mrs. Hardcore reader and bookbuyer, then maybe you haven’t done well.

    Me — and I am speaking for me, not the rest of the podpeeps — I never know if I am doing well or not. I just do what feels right to me and hope for the best, bad reviews and all.

  • And further proof that Frank Daniels is the possibly the most honest writer working today, read this:


  • Dont change a thing about this site. That Giggles bitch doesn’t have a clue. Further point made in the comments section under her worthless article.

    Thanks for the props H.

  • I would have to say that – like anyone – I would LOVE a great review, but that I would also appreciate having negative things pointed out, too. It makes the review more trustworthy, and therefore more credible (to me).

    P.S. Great post by Daniels you link to. Horribly unfortunate, but good.

  • Totally agree Kristen. I have had great reviews, negative reviews, mixed ones, and have been totally ignored. I think the totally ignored was the worst, and the mixed was the best. If I even review a book that means I found some merit in it. Someone, a few someones actually, found merit in my work and were nice enough to point out the glaring flaws when I first started out. When I joined The Podpeople, I wanted to pay it forward to use the cliche.

    Even mainstream review sites like Kirkus and PW rarely give glowing reviews, most are mixed, and these are for vetted books. I have read a few self-pub books that were damn near perfect. Lord knows, my own are, no doubt, far from perfect. Certainly not in my own eyes, as I hate everything I write. But some like my work and some don’t. I think a mixed review is the best thing an author can get — worth is weight in gold. I have bought books the Podler has reviewed; I have bought books Odyssey and the Lulu Book review have reviewed, and I have turned around and reviewed some of them myself. I don’t comment on books I haven’t read thoroughly. I haven’t read Frank’s Book, but I do read frequently in that genre, hell, I read Trainspotting, and I am reading a self-pub one now.

    We want to offer self-pub authors a place to go, but we also don’t want to set them up with any delusions. The mainstream reviewers will be merciless, and it doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong, they are mainstream reviewers and they have the street cred. Unfortunately, glowing reviews don’t get street cred. When something is too good, people think it’s suspect. Human nature, I suppose.

  • Randall Radic

    I enjoy SPR, Henry. Just the way it is. Honest, objective criticism is wonderful. Dishonest, subjective criticism that is driven by a hidden agenda is deplorable. Too many book review sites are the latter. Happily, SPR isn’t one of ‘those’ sites.