Should indie authors seek reviews from traditional mainstream sources? If we, as writers, opt for the self-published path, should we still consider sending copies of our work to The New York Times or Publishers Weekly?
Roger Sutton, the editor-in-chief of Horn Book magazine, a mainstream book review publication, recently published an open letter to “the indie author feeling dissed.”
In his open letter, Mr. Sutton does make some valid points. He says there are just too many self-published books flooding the market. Some estimates put the number at around 300,000 indie releases per year. To attempt to review even a portion of these works would prove daunting. Imagine being tasked with the responsibility of combing through that many books in search of just a handful of gems or potential gems?
Many self-published works are just plain awful, Mr. Sutton claims. This statement, unfortunately, holds some manner of truth. While he specifically points to children’s books, Mr. Sutton certainly isn’t out of line in stating this as fact. Though I’ve not read many children’s books in recent years, I have come across my fair share of poorly written books in need of serious editorial repair. Some I would even say should never have been written. I won’t post a review—good or bad—of those rare, truly-awful stories.
Sutton also points to the fact that many self-published authors have no sense of audience. Again, I’ve experienced this first hand. I get offers to review books every day. “I’ll send you a free copy in exchange for a review.” I find these requests in my DM box on Twitter, my message box on Goodreads, and in my email accounts pretty much every day. I’ve accepted some, usually those that grab my attention with the blurb. Most, though, are genres I don’t read: Sci Fi, romance, vampire/werewolf/witch stories. A quick perusal of the books/genres a reviewer has read will let an author know if this person might be interested in reading your book. I wrote a historical fiction novel that I would never think to send to a reviewer that specifically targets the science fiction market. This is just a simple common sense move.
Finally, Sutton claims self-published authors don’t know the market. This is true. But does anybody really know the current, ever-changing market that is the publishing world? Many of the articles I’m reading tell of a shrinking market, of book stores closing, and mainstream publishers struggling to maintain the vast kingdoms they spent the past century building. Every one of us that has published a book understands the biggest obstacle we face is in marketing our work to the world. We don’t have a ready-made audience we can tap into with best-seller results. Most of us lack the big budget needed to get our work before the eyes of hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of readers. I can’t afford to advertise my novel in Writers Digest or Publishers Weekly. I can’t even afford to advertise in my local newspaper on a regular basis.
The point is mainstream reviewers don’t care to review indie books. The Washington Post receives about 150 books a day, says Ron Charles, editor of the Post’s Book World. These books have agents and mainstream publishers backing them. They’ve also been professionally edited and marketed. The Washington Post and other mainstreamers won’t even look at an indie book. I learned this the hard way when I wasted money and time in sending over fifty copies of my novel to some of the biggest newspapers and publications in the United States. That was over two years ago. To this date, I have not heard a single word from any of those publications.
My advice in searching for reviews for your work: Be genre specific. Seek out those reviewers that prefer to read the genre in which you write. Forget mainstream reviewers; most are still snobbish when it comes to judging indie books. If you’ve chosen to go the indie route for publishing, follow that same path when marketing your work. There are many amazing indie review sites that have built solid reputations for offering fair and honest opinions of self-published books. As the indie publishing industry grows stronger, so too will indie marketing and reviews. All of us want that mainstream recognition; just don’t lose your sense of worth if it doesn’t come. Write on and have fun!