HOW TO BUY A GOOD SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK
By Sandy Nathan
Talk to readers about self-published books and eBooks and you’ll often hear the same thing: Their quality sucks. (I’m including books/eBooks produced by independent presses in the same category.) From the story to the writing, editing, proofreading, interior and cover design, someone (and often many someones) will find them lacking. Me, for instance. I’ve bought some real turkeys.
Here are a few evaluations of self-pubbed books from the Net:
- Nathan Bransford’s Blog: Have You Ever Read a Self-published Book? Nathan conducts a survey in the article. The 285 comments on this blog article say pretty much everything there is to say about self-pubbed and independently published books.
- Here’s a great article on self-pubbing from 3AM Magazine. The magazine whose motto is: “Whatever it is, we’re against it.” This is a critical an article as you can get. And informative.
- And another piece from Novel Rocket: Self publishing vs. Traditional Publishing.Don’t stop there, Google the subject yourself. Lots of people agree that self-pubbed books are a waste of money.
We’ve all bought them: abominable self-published books. We can complain about them forever. But how can we guard against them?
I have two ideas that may separate the cream from the dreck: contest wins and star ratings on major review sites.
Contest wins. Here I’m talking about contests for independent presses, not the Pulitzer Prize, the Booker Award, the Nobel Prize, the Nebula Award and all the other big “official” contests. You can read books that have won the prime-time awards and be pretty assured of getting a good read. Or not. The most boring book I’ve ever read was a Pulitzer Prize winner. Exquisite words. No action. I developed a rule for judging my reading material: A book should show some movement by the 50% point. Some small sign of life. Anything.
Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could. This book won five national awards and has a very high review rating on Amazon. It is published by an independent press.
OK. We’re talking about self-published and independently published books, so we’ll look at their contests. Here’s an article (by me) about how to win a book contest. I’ve won 22 awards in national book contests at this point in my career. (They’re listed here somewhere, except for the last four, which haven’t been posted yet. I am an author (self-published) and owner of an independent press, just to stay honest.)
When you read the article about what it takes to win an indie book contest, I think you’ll realize that books that win contests have been screened for quality. I doubt the major publishers do anything like what I describe in producing their books.
I have been involved in the judging of one contest and I will say that YOU CANNOT BELIEVE HOW GOOD THE BOOKS PRODUCED AT THE TOP END OF THE INDIE PUBLISHING WORLD ARE. They are amazing. Indie publishers will go far beyond what the majors do if they’re really committed to a book.
And the low end, even in contests, the books are awful. But those books don’t win.
So, as a consumer, you should feel somewhat confident in buying prize winners. Just as you should in buying Nobel or Pulitzer Prize winners. There’s the rub: It’s a matter of taste. If you buy the wrong book in the wrong genre, it’s a bad book for you, no matter what it’s won. I can’t read Cormac McCarthy’s bloody tomes, though they’re critically acclaimed.
These links list few contests for independent publishers that I like:
You might want to check out the winners of the contests listed there. My recommendation is not a guarantee that you’ll like the books. A contest win is a screening device.
Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money. This book won 6 national awards, has a 4 star Amazon review rating. It was #1 rated in three types of mysticism for almost a year. This is an indie book.
Star Ratings on Amazon and the Other Review Sites
“Oh, Amazon reviews don’t mean anything. They’re rigged. The authors get their friends and family to review their books,” says almost everyone who’s never tried to get a review.
Hah! Maybe I’ve got the wrong friends and family, but that just ain’t true. It’s hard to get reviews. We sent out 100 copies of my children’s picture book, Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could. It’s got a five star average with ten reviews on Amazon, very few of themfrom folks who got review copies. I’ve been in a book group for fifteen (15!) years. I used my book The Angel & the Brown Eyed Boy for my selection of the month when it came out. I made two personal appeals for reviews and three emailed ones. Nada.
I didn’t get a single review from my best buddies. Even more: I handed out a bunch of copies of both books at my church group, asking my friends to read and review them. They all raved about the books after reading them and said they would write reviews right away. Six months later, not a single review has shown up from that group.
Know John Locke? He’s the self published author who broke history by selling more than one million books earlier this year. He published his marketing plan as an aid to other authors and independent presses. Do you know what he said was one of the most difficult things to accomplish? Getting five 5-star reviews to start out with. Took him two months of work, and he’s a marketing master.
So, if you know someone with lots of friends who are rigging their Amazon reviews, send them to me. I wouldn’t mind a little help. My books’ mostly 5 star average reviews were earned.
Other sites, Goodreads for instance, and Barnes & Noble.com, provide reviews. I don’t have much experience with them, though I can say that the ratings on Goodreads tend to be lower than on Amazon and often have a cavalier quality. Readers can just punch a button to give a book a star rating. They don’t have to say anything about why they gave the rating or even if they read the book. But that star rating is permanent and can lower a book’s standing.
Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice. This highly rated book won six national awards. It was a Finalist in the Benjamin Franklin Awards in Spirituality. This was the first book of an indie press.
Reviews go two ways, too. I like the way John Locke looks at his reviews in terms of his market segment. When analyzing his reviews, John regards the people giving his books 4 and 5 stars as people in is market segment. Those are the people for whom he writes the books. He tosses out all the 3-star reviews, as being neither good nor bad. The people who give his books 1 or 2-star reviews are those who have mistakenly bought a book that’s not for them. His books are self-screening; those that like them buy more, those that don’t, don’t buy more. His review averages are rising over time.
There is another side of reviewing: Authors can get slammed with bad reviews that really indicate the purchaser bought a book in the wrong genre. I guess we publishers should make sure the book covers, flaps, and marketing materials convey the book’s content. Authors can also be attacked by rivals in organized campaigns of negative reviews and have their books saleability destroyed. It’s true.
Life is risky and so are on-line reviews.
Here’s an interesting idea: Here are a couple of sites where all the books listed must have a minimum rating of four stars on at least 10 reviews by different reviewers.
Four Stars and Up: Kindle Books Loved by Readers Lots of good reading there. You can download the books onto your Kindle, or use the recommended books to buy print or eBooks for other formats.
Facebook Group: 4 Stars & Up This is an Open Group on Facebook that requires authors to meet the 10 book/4 star minimum review to participate. This is a great place for readers to interact with independent press owners and self publishers. You may find they and their books are way higher quality than you thought.
Remember the genre issue: If you buy a book and hate it, it doesn’t mean it’s a terrible book. It may mean that you don’t like horror, chick-lit, or cozy-mysteries and that’s what you’ve bought.
OK. You should be armed and ready to take on the self-publishing universe.
About Sandy Nathan:
Sandy Nathan writes to amaze and delight, uplift and inspire, as well as thrill and occasionally terrify. She is known for creating unforgettable characters and putting them in do or die situations. She writes in genres ranging from science fiction, fantasy, and visionary fiction to juvenile nonfiction to spirituality and memoir.
“I write for people who like challenging, original work. My reader isn’t satisfied by a worn-out story or predictable plot. I do my best to give my readers what they want.”
Mrs. Nathan’s books have won twenty-two national awards, including multiple awards from oldest, largest, and most prestigious contests for independent publishers. Her books have earned rave critical reviews and customer reviews of close to five-star averages on Amazon. Most are Amazon bestsellers.
Sandy was born in San Francisco, California. She grew up in the hard-driving, achievement orientated corporate culture of Silicon Valley. Sandy holds Master’s Degrees in Economics and Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling. She was a doctoral student at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and has been an economic analyst, businesswoman, and negotiation coach, as well as author.
Mrs. Nathan lives with her husband on their California ranch. They bred Peruvian Paso horses for almost twenty years. She has three grown children and two grandchildren.
Her latest books are The Angel & the Brown-Eyed Boy, Lady Grace: A Thrilling Adventure Wrapped in the Embrace of Epic Love and Sam & Emily: A Love Story from the Underground, which are all part of the Tales from Earth’s End series.
You can visit her website at www.sandynathan.com.
Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sandyonathan
About The Angel and the Brown-eyed Boy:
Tomorrow morning, a nuclear holocaust will destroy the planet. Two people carry the keys to survival: A teenage boy and an intergalactic traveler.
By the late 22nd century, the Great Recession of the early 2000s has lead to a worldwide police state. A ruined United States barely functions. Government control masks chaos, dissenters are sent to camps, and technology is outlawed. War rages while the authorities proclaim the Great Peace.
Finally it all breaks down. We’re in New York City on the eve of nuclear Armageddon. In the morning, ultimate destructive forces will wipe out all life on earth. Only Jeremy Edgarton, a 16-year-old, tech genius and revolutionary; and Eliana, the angelic, off-world traveler sent to Earth on a mission to prevent her planet’s death, can save the world. Join Eliana and Jeremy as they begin a quest to save two doomed planets … and find each other.
Winner of Four National Awards:
● 2011 IPPY (Independent Press) Award Gold Medal in Visionary Fiction.
● 2011 Indie Excellence Award in Visionary Fiction (Winner of Catergory)
● Best Books of 2011, USA Book News:
- Winner, New Age Fiction
- Finalist Fantasy/Sci-Fi