magnifyngglassBook Riot’s A.J. O’Connell writes about the nerves she’s had around the Goodreads site these days. She used to review every title she read. But now that she’s reading more self-published books, she feels conflicted. From the essay:

“I have absolutely no compunctions about giving something published by a major publishing house one star and a scorching review. It’s not because I think that an author who has an agent and goes through publishing house doesn’t have feelings and won’t be hurt by my review. It’s because traditionally-published books go through so many layers of scrutiny—readers, agents, editors—that if I dislike one, I feel like have a really good reason to leave a poor review. Either the content repels me or that team has failed the book…”

Her concern with self-published books, in contrast, is that many of these authors are not professionals. She worries about “crushing the writer’s soul” if she leaves them negative feedback, and feels that even if her comments are constructive, they won’t be taken that way.

I feel her argument on this one. I have written on TeleRead already about the rise of the non-pro author and have self-published a little myself. I share O’Connell’s belief that, in spite of a partially deserved reputation for lower-quality control on these titles, the marketplace needs them. We benefit from a diversity of voices, even if those voices are not to our liking or if they fail to match our personal standards and preferences.

But—and this is a big but—I think that if you are going to play ball on the big court, even as a little guy, then you have to accept the house rules. And in Amazon’s world, that means you are going to be reviewed. I think reviews serve an important function, to guide customers toward titles which interest them, and to warn them away from titles which don’t. In short, I think they are there for the customer, not the author.

If you truly have such a thin skin that a bad review will crush your soul, I humbly submit that you are not ready to self-publish, even as a hobbyist amateur. Keep your writing in a drawer, the way Emily Dickinson did. But if you put it out there in the marketplace, I think the marketplace deserves to have their say on it. The review is not for you. It’s for your buyers.

Image credit: Here.

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. A few years ago I was a member of a science fiction book club on a popular social site. A self published novel was on the nomination list one month. A surge of new members pushed the voting over the top in favor of the self published book. The author joined the group.

    When it came time to read the book many long time members utterly blasted – BLASTED! – the book for sheer incompetence. The author got so upset; he said the negative comments made his wife cry; he accused the group of the personal attacks against him. It also turned out that the some of the surge in new members who voted for the book were friends of the author and maybe – never proved – sock puppets. It was a sour experience.

    A year or so later, the group again selected a self published novel that had some glowing five star reviews. But most members of the group, when they tried reading it, said the book was really bad and didn’t finish it. The glowing five star reviews were, on close inspection, mostly from other self published authors. Go figure.

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