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.
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?).