Are We Cutting Self-Published Authors Too Much Slack?

Recently, I was given an ARC of a soon-to-be-released self-published novel to read and review. And I was excited to do so. In fact, I was the one who contacted the author asking for the ARC, because the concept seemed interesting and like something I’d love to read. Unfortunately, my experience reading the book was… less than fun. It was so flawed in so many ways that, at fifty percent of the way through my read, I had to stop.

This left me in an uncomfortable position: Should I review the book or not? I felt torn, because the author had been so sweet to me during our few interactions, and because it felt like maybe I was critiquing his book too harshly. After all, it was self-published. That meant he didn’t have a team behind him to help him make his book shine and shimmer. So should I really be holding him and his book to the same standard as I hold traditionally published books and authors?

Then, I stopped and I realized that people like me are part of the problem. I realized that if we let books like this pass without honestly critiquing them, we’re basically ensuring that self-publishing will never be taken seriously. I mean, self-publishing is notorious for half-baked novels getting put out into the world before they’re ready. And if we say, “Oh, well, it’s bad because it’s self-published, so we should be less critical of it”, we’re only making things worse. I mean, Jenna Moreci’s novel The Savior’s Champion is proof that, when done right, a self-published book can be just as well-made as a traditionally-published book.

I’m not saying Moreci’s book is perfect, but neither are most traditionally-published novels. What it is is well-structured and written, with no glaring grammatical flaws, and a well-developed world and characters. It doesn’t feel like an amateur wrote it, or like someone tried to save a buck by foregoing a necessary step of editing. It is, essentially, the same quality as your average traditionally-published novel. And that’s what I want from all of the novels I read.

So, I’ve decided to write a review. I plan to be as nice about it as I can, because I understand that the author is a person and that being rude or mean is completely unnecessary, but I don’t plan on holding back on my critiques. My personal standard for self-published books is for them to feel professionally made, and from now on, that’s the standard I will hold them to. And I encourage all of my fellow book reviewers to do the same.

Don’t give a self-published book four or five stars just because you feel bad and are trying to be nice, or because you think it’s okay that it’s poorly written because it’s self-published. Don’t avoid writing a review at all just because you can’t think of anything positive to say about the book. Not only are you doing the author a disservice by letting them think their book is flawless when it isn’t, but you’re also doing potential readers a disservice by not warning them about what they’re getting themselves into. And you’re doing the self-publishing industry a disservice by letting sub-par novels pass without even a slap on the wrist.

What do you guys think? Does it seem to you like we’re giving self-published authors too much slack? Or do you feel like I’m wrong, and that they shouldn’t be held to the same standard as traditionally-published authors? Let me know in the comments!

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Shelving My Book (And Why It Was A Great Idea)

I wrote a book. It wasn’t the first book I’d ever written, but it was the first book I’d taken seriously. And I didn’t just write it. I wrote it, and then revised it, and revised it again, and then rewrote it, and revised it, and then queried it, and then rewrote it, and then revised it… I did everything I could to get that book onto the shelves, and I was planning to keep doing everything I could to get it onto the shelves. It was my baby, after all. The book of my heart. I knew and loved those characters like the back of my hand.

But then, a few weeks ago, I decided to stop.

Full stop. Dead halt. No more revisions or rewrites. I was actually already five chapters in on another rewrite. But then I decided that wasn’t the right course of action, because it wasn’t getting me anywhere. It was like I was on a hamster wheel, running and running but never making any headway. Sure, my book was getting better… but as my book got better, my relationship with it became strained. I loved it, but the thought of working on it caused me stress and misery, rather than joy. I was drowning in self doubt. I tried working on other, newer projects simultaneously with it, in the hopes of keeping things semi-fresh, but it didn’t work. Instead, I was hit by the hardest bout of writer’s block I’d ever experienced. It was miserable. I was miserable.

That was when I decided I was done. Enough was enough. And I am so glad I made that decision.

It took a little while to get used to. I had to force myself to stop thinking about it, to stop opening the document. But once I finally managed to leave it be, the creative floodgates opened. Suddenly, my writer’s block disappeared. I got a great idea for one of the novels I’d been writing, and I went with it. I sat down and wrote over 3,000 words in two days! 10,000 words in a week! And now I’m almost at 20,000 words! On another novel, which had been stalled at about 27,000 words for months, I’m now at 33,000 words! I mean, holy cow! Now that’s what I call progress.

And I know I wouldn’t be experiencing this kind of success in my writing now if I hadn’t let that first novel go. If I hadn’t put it away and decided to focus on my new projects. Yes, it hurt to do. It felt like a betrayal, and I had a lot of doubts and fears about doing so at first. I’d been so sure that it would be my debut novel, and the idea of letting go of that dream was scary and sad. But now I know, without a doubt, that it was the right choice. Shelving that book gave me the freedom to move on and love my other projects with the same passion as I’d loved that book. To give them the same kind of hope that they might be my debut novels as I’d given it.

This doesn’t mean I’m shelving it forever, though. For those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while, and who have cheered me on through the ups and downs of writing The Caspian Chronicles, I don’t want you to fear that it was all for naught. I will pick that book–that series–up again, and I will publish it if it’s the last thing I do. I love that story so much, and it’s a story I know needs to be told. But for now, I need a break. For now, I need to set it aside.

It wasn’t an easy lesson to learn, but it’s one I’m glad to have learned all the same. And I’d like to know: Have any of you had to shelve a project? How did that make you feel, and how did you deal with doing so? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic!