On Book Bloggers Who Don’t Recognize That They Are Self-Published Authors Too

Every now and then, I come across a post in which a book blogger explains why they do not review self-published novels. They are entitled to limit their reading material in any way they choose, and I can’t deny that there are reasons to avoid some self-published books.

However, I find it hypocritical when book bloggers have a categorical rule against reading self-published books. Don’t they realize that they are also self-published authors? As one traditionally published author and book reviewer said, books bloggers are “leeches” for whom “the Net has given … a bog to wiggle around in.” That traditionally published book snob bemoaned the proliferation of self-published book blogs, saying that attempting to read a review on one is “identical to seeking relationship advice on the wall of a public restroom.”

If self-published book reviews are so bad, then of course those of us looking for our next read should only consider the opinions of reviewers for the New York Times and other traditional outlets.

That type of unconditional rule would be ridiculous, though. Why would any reasonable person look down on a book reviewer for having the entrepreneurial spirit to set up their own blog through WordPress or Blogspot?

Sure, some self-published book reviews are of poor quality, but many are not. It doesn’t take much effort to figure out which ones are good, and their opinions might better reflect the public’s taste. As I wrote in Do Book Bloggers Need Credentials, linked above, “Book reviewers should be like most readers—normal people who may have a better idea of what the public wants to read than someone who uses words like ‘palaver’ and ‘vulgate’ (as that critic did).”

Personally, I often find the reviews on traditionally published outlets to be unreadable. Remember when Mr. AMB critiqued the traditionally published reviews of Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies?  He felt the New York Times review looked “more like the product of a quick skim of the book than an actual reading.” I have read more than a few reviews in traditionally published outlets that were far less helpful to me as a potential reader than the reviews I found online.

There’s no reason to believe a traditionally published book review is inherently better than a self-published one, and the same is true of books. It isn’t so hard to figure out which self-published books are good when many of those authors write blogs and offer excerpts of their novels for free.

The publishing establishment is a small, elitist set of gatekeepers that promote only a tiny portion of the interesting literary ideas out there. Their preferences tend to be white, male, and heteronormative, and those of us who want to read more diversely should look elsewhere for reading material. Those with an implacable rule against self-published books are missing out.

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Disclosure: I write this post from the perspective of a self-published author. So far, I’ve never written a query letter, but I might do so at some point (never say never, right?).

26 thoughts on “On Book Bloggers Who Don’t Recognize That They Are Self-Published Authors Too

  1. I haven’t read any self published books or any recently written books because I have too many books from my past that I am determined to read before I die. I am sure plenty of good modern novels exist, traditionally published as well as self-published. I have really enjoyed this blogg. I don’t blog, but I am considering trying it out.

  2. My co-blogger and I are happy to read self-published books as long as the premise is something that intrigues us.
    My big thing is that I won’t reviews books that my friends have written, self-published or professional. There is too much conflict of interest.

  3. Jeff

    I should think that a lot of bloggers who have a set rule about self-published books are just conservative in their reading. What’s to condemn about it? Who’s got the time to trawl through so much that’s of no interest? Isn’t that a palaver that the publishing industry helps with? Not that what it puts out is always some canonical septuagint, but, you know, publishing professionals are no more perfect than self-publishers are always amateurish. It’s too easy to take false oppositions seriously. For another example, not realising that blogging is self-publishing is as accurate as saying that blogging is a form of it: blogging is a social media activity motivated by conversing within a like-minded community, whereas publishing implies, even for poorly made e-books, a slower and more considered pace. There are blogs that are from the hip, and there are blogs that are lengthy and highly crafted. If you don’t agree with bloggers whose policy is not to review self-published authors, then you can always exercise your own freedom in not reading them. It’s not as though there’s a shortage to choose from!

    1. “What’s to condemn about it?”

      I don’t condemn them. I’m merely pointing out something I see as a hypocrisy. I have no problem with bloggers who prefer traditionally published books (I read a lot of traditionally published books too), and I recognize that it saves time to limit reading choices to the books that traditional publishing promotes. I’m talking about the readers who won’t read self-published books under *any* circumstances. I’m just suggesting they should keep an open mind (and obviously, they’re free to ignore my perspective!). I continue to read those blogs because I like those blogs and those bloggers, even though I disagree with them on that small point.

      As for the comparison between independent bloggers and self-published writers of books, I’m specifically talking about book reviewers, who often produce carefully crafted posts (similar to what you might see on a traditionally published outlet). All I’m saying is that they are both outside of the mainstream and that’s not something that deserves denigration (as sometimes happens when people explain why they have a rule against self-published books). A categorical rule is different from a preference. I have no problem with preferences for traditionally published books.

      Thanks for offering your perspective! It’s certainly given me some food for thought.

      1. Jeff

        I could agree it’s hypocritical if I could agree that posting on social media is the same as self-publishing a book.
        However, anyone who has an absolute rule about never reading something under any circumstances, though I don’t feel it’s my place to say what they should or shouldn’t do, I’d find it hard to take their black-and-white attitude seriously. The trouble is, if I institute a rule not to read them, does this mean I’ve been infected with the very thing I seek to avoid?
        Or maybe it’s my preference? I gravitate where possible towards more nuanced and longer-handed bloggers.
        I’m eternally amazed at how the Internet vs the world type debates continue. In the following oppositional post, somebody quoted in it actually thinks that their subjective tastes make sales statistics meaningless. If online and offline really divided up in this way, then their ignorance of mathematics would automatically mean that everybody online is as ignorant as they are.
        https://ebookloverblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/19/kindle-dwindle-is-a-fantasy-story/
        But I take what you say. You’re annoyed at people writing from outside a mainstream industry exercise a reading policy that if exercised in spirit by us all would mean they’d have no readers themselves. How, I wonder, do such policies relate to reading blogs? My (admittedly alliterative) book blogger bugbear is with the amount of bloggers who are happy to engage in lengthy discussions on their blog while having no apparent interest in other people’s blogs. And then there’s those who don’t reply to people who have taken the time and effort to comment. Grr! Looks like we’ve got each other started!

  4. This is really interesting, a view I hadn’t considered before. I am myself a self-published author (of non-fiction books) and as an editor, I’ve worked with quite a few self-publishers who thankfully realise that there is a need to be edited. So I don’t have a rule that stops me from accepting books to review from self-publishers.

    Two “howevers” to add, though – in my experience, self-publishing does tend to attract the genre-writing novelist and I don’t tend to read sci fi / horror / fantasy / crime / thriller / romance, so there isn’t a huge lot I’d be actually interested in – that’s why I turn such offers down, more often than not. But when there’s one that piques my interest, I’ll read and review it like any other book (I have an example here https://librofulltime.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/book-review-anne-goodwin-sugar-and-snails/ )

    And often I find to my horror that traditionally published books are really, really poorly edited and proofread. Rare is the modern book without an error, in my experience, and I have written at least one review (that I can’t find now!) snarkily listing all the errors on 20 or so pages!

    1. Jeff

      > self-publishing does tend to attract the genre-writing novelist and I don’t tend to read sci fi / horror / fantasy / crime / thriller / romance

      Same here. I keep promising myself to return for a look for something that grabs my interest on Smashwords. It’s hard to keep the interest kindled while it’s dampened by wading through the novel-a-week merchants.

  5. I’ve always been a blogger and writer open to many things. However, in my blogging life I have never had anyone ask me to review a book they have written. Do many self-published authors contact bloggers? Or is there radio silence from both sides that could be better mediated?

    1. “Do many self-published authors contact bloggers? Or is there radio silence from both sides that could be better mediated?”

      Those are good questions. When I wrote more book reviews–and had a policy that welcomed requests for reviews–I heard from many self-published authors and ended up reading many of their books. My policy explicitly welcomed both self-published and traditionally-published authors. I think many self-published authors are reluctant to contact book bloggers because review policies often discourage them (or are silent on the matter).

  6. I Agree! I have had a mixed experience with self-published books, just as I have with traditionally published books. Neither medium is better than the other and neither grantee quality of the work. It is all a matter of taste. I wouldn’t excluded a book just because it was self-published

    1. I’m glad to hear that you wouldn’t exclude a book based on its publishing origin. My experience with self-published books is as mixed as my experience with traditionally published books (and I usually pay much more for the traditionally published ones!).

      Thanks for stopping by!

  7. I recently amended my review policy. It used to say that I wouldn’t review self pubs, but that I reserved the right to break my own rules. It was a short sighted move on my part, particularly since while I had that in my review policy I did read and review some self published books by bloggers that I sought out myself. I think I’d read too many horror stories of Goodreads author backlash and it scared me, plus I had a terrible (and mistaken) impression that the vast majority of self published books were in genres I wouldn’t ordinarily read. I guess pulling one’s head out of one’s ass is progress, at least?

  8. Jillian

    Eh, all good points! I hadn’t thought of it this way. Some of the great classic writers were self-published. Ahem, Whitman. And The Martian was self-published. That worked out fine…

  9. I’m going to start going around telling everyone who asks what I do for a living that I’m an author now. 😉 I don’t think of myself as a self-published author, but if you break it down by definition, it technically is true. I’m also a poet. And a singer. My resume is looking better and better. Or at least more diverse. 🙂

    By far I read more blog reviews of books than I do traditionally published reviews. I find I agree more with bloggers than I do with professional reviewers more often than not. But really, for me, it isn’t so much about the review itself–or even agreeing on a book–it’s the interpersonal relationship I have with my fellow book blogger (however superficial that may actually be in some cases).

    A blog post is generally short and doesn’t take a lot of time to read. A book, however, takes hours of my time. I also don’t spend time writing a review of a blog post I read. Therefore, I’m a lot more picky about which books I read than I might be over which blogs I choose to read. I admit I do have some snobbish tendencies when it comes to reading self-published books. It comes from bad experiences in terms of poorly edited books and pushy and rude authors who felt entitled and could not take criticism (you know me–so you know I’m not intentionally mean to anyone. I really do try to be fair. And honestly, I’m not that hard to please). It seems like there has been a definite change in the self-publishing world in recent years though. Editing has become more of a focus. My more recent experiences with self-published books (and authors) have been very positive. And I think that is in part because I am so picky and because there are more quality options out there. I still read and review more traditionally published works, but I don’t outright dismiss work by a self-published or indie author.

    Which reminds me, I’m still a little confused by the difference between a self-published author and an indie author. It just comes down to whether the author forms a company to publish it herself or uses an established platform? Or is it more than that?

    1. Hi Wendy! If I were still solely a book blogger (without any books of my own out), I’d certainly prefer to say I’m a self-published author than to say I’m a “leech” (as William Giraldi thinks of us!). The point I was trying to make is that book bloggers are outside of the mainstream and shouldn’t automatically reject other types of authors simply because they are also outside of the mainstream. A book is a time commitment, but that’s why there are free excerpts available, and it might be easier to make a decision about a self-published book if the author has a decent blog. I still read more traditionally published books than self-published ones (the balance varies), but I give many self-published books a chance if the book sounds interesting, the author’s blog looks good, and the excerpt is well written.

      1. PS. I’m not really sure what the difference is between self-published books and indie books. You may be right that it has to do with whether an independent press is involved.

  10. Yes, that is a good point. The biggest difference though is book bloggers do not charge people to read their reviews. If someone is charging money for a product they need to ensure that there is some quality control and sadly many self-published authors don’t have the resources for quality control because that really is expensive. From my own experience with reading both pro-published and self-published works is I am more likely to enjoy a book from a pro-published 70% of the time. With self published it is about 30% of the time. So for me the there is less risk choosing a traditional published work. I don’t outright dismiss self-published authors, I actually don’t accept submissions from anyone, traditional or self published. I find it is better for me to investigate books I might actually enjoy to choose what to read next. That’s just me though. *shrugs*

    1. “I don’t outright dismiss self-published authors, I actually don’t accept submissions from anyone, traditional or self published.” That makes sense. The bloggers I was writing about are the ones who categorically refuse to read self-published books. Books are both a time and financial investment, but self-published books tend to be far less expensive and free excerpts are usually available. My hope is that fewer bloggers will outright refuse to read something that looks interesting just because it doesn’t have a traditional publishing house behind it.

I appreciate your comments (respectful dissent is welcome)!

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