If you’ve ever submitted a book to us for review, you’ve seen our handy dandy Request A Review form. We love that form. It takes the guess work out for everyone and it makes it easy for us to zone right in on the important information that helps us decide if we want to accept a title or not (personally, the number one thing I want is a link to your book info, preferably Goodreads, but an author/publisher site is fine too). We still get direct emails (especially if they are from publicists or 3rd party publicity companies), which is fine too as long as they check our Review Policy first.
On our Request Form, Review Policy & Direct Contact page, it states very clearly that we DO NOT accept self-published titles for review or feature, yet we get multiple requests a week to feature/review self-published titles. We understand that some of the e-mails we receive may be from authors who haven’t had the time to explore all the way through our request a review page (when you’re doing it all for your book, we understand that it takes a lot of time and effort), but we put that information out there for everyone’s benefit, and some requests are from authors who politely but explicitly ask us to go against our policy (‘I know you don’t accept self-pub, but…’). We feel bad having to type essentially the same rejection email every day, and we’re sure it’s no picnic for the authors to have to read them either, so we’re hoping that if we explain some of the reasoning behind our no self-pub policy, it might help everyone.
A big thanks to Rachel from Parajunkee’s View for her recent Book Blogging 101 post on why she no longer accepts self-published review requests. Our reasons are slightly different than hers, but it helped us immensely to see another blogger explain her decision so we’re hoping our reasons will be helpful too.
Self-Published Authors Behaving Badly
I’ve had two rather unpleasant experiences with self-pub authors on this blog (one much more glaring than the other). Basically, the first one came about very soon after launching ATUF in 2009. I think it was my third ever ‘I’d love to send you an ARC of…’ email and I was still so unbelievably flattered that someone wanted me to review their book that I didn’t even stop to consider that it was a self-published author. Well, the book arrived, I read it, and I did not like it…at all. Still, I was new to this whole reviewing thing, so I tried to be as diplomatic as possible and painstakingly pointed out the few good things in the book in an effort to balance out the truly terrible. The author, however, took offense and started commenting on my review, arguing with me, and even going so far as to send me several emails accusing me of deliberately trying to ‘damage’ and ‘ruin’ any chance of success for their book. It was awful.
That was when I first decided that I would no longer accept self-published titles for review. Unfortunately, my first experience was far from unique. It happens somewhat regularly that a self-pub author will flip out over a less than favorable review and publically (and privately) attack the reviewer. It’s an ugly situation every time it happens.
My second not-so-good self-pub experience happened just this year when we decided to accept another self-pub title (at the time we didn’t realize it was a self pup—sometimes it can be tricky to tell the small press from the self pub) based on a few positive reviews and an intriguing description (and yes, a pretty cover). The review was not overly negative, it was actually fairly positive, but the author didn’t think it was positive enough and didn’t want it posted. We don’t do that. We don’t even normally send a review to an author before it’s posted, but we made an exception this time. I told the author that we publish all reviews whether they are positive or not. Then the author questioned whether or not we understood what an ARC was because they said that the criticisms regarding the writing quality were to be expected in ARCs…I assured the author that 99% of the books we review on this site were ARCs. The review posted. The author emailed me again asking me not to cross post it on Amazon, Goodreads, and Librarything (which we do for every title we review as stated in our Review Policy). Again, I told the author that we always post our reviews to those sites. It never got ugly, but it was time consuming and, frankly, unprofessional.
That’s not to make a sweeping generalization that all Indie authors are like this, I know they are not, but those are the experiences I’ve had, and it doesn’t make me eager to try again. But, even if you take the author interaction out of the equation (which you can’t), we still have several other reasons for not accepting self-published titles:
Attack of the Terrible Covers
I’m a visual reader. I just am. Pretty covers appeal to me…and ugly covers tend to turn me off. The sad fact is that most indie authors don’t have access to the amazing art departments that big publishing houses have (although of course a pretty cover doesn’t guarantee a good book). We have access to a lot of books, more than we can ever review in a month, so if I’m looking at two vampire PNRs, and one has a gorgeous cover and the other has poorly photoshopped pair of fangs on a stock image I’ve seen on a million other books, I’m going with pretty every time.
Plot Holes, Spelling Mistakes, and Grammatical Errors, Oh My!
And that’s just the covers. As I said, we get tons of self-published title requests, and occasionally I’ll read an excerpt, and more often than not…they are rough, really rough. Poorly written, littered with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.
Again, we get a lot of books to review at ATUF. I know when I get an ARC from say, Ace, it’s going to have been picked over, scrutinized, edited for content and mistakes, and proofread by countless individuals before it comes to me. And as Julia pointed out when we were discussing this post, “knowing a book has been well edited means we can write a review that focuses on the story itself, rather than distracting quality issues.”
Plus, it makes a world of difference knowing that there is an entire publishing house standing behind a books saying, ‘We believe in this book. We believe you’ll like it. We believe it’s worth our substantial investment in it.’ That’s no small thing. With a self-published author, all I really know for sure is that the author likes it. Big difference.
Please don’t misinterpret what we’re saying. NOT ALL self-published authors are going to react the way the two I dealt with did (and conversely I’ve had not-so-great run ins with traditionally published authors before too, but it’s been the exception to the rule). NOT ALL self-published titles are going to be poorly written or designed. In fact, the opposite is true as more and more services are catering to self-pub authors. Even Big Publishers are offering services to self-pub authors. Things are changing.
I’m still not willing to risk another bad experience with a self-published author. I’m not willing to gamble with a potentially poor book when I have so many professionally published titles at my disposal. I’m not saying that will always be the case, but it is for now. I know this isn’t fair to the good ones out there, but until the self-publishing climate changes, our review policy is unfortunately going to exclude them.
That doesn’t mean all review outlets share our policy when it comes to self pub titles. There are countless reviewing outlets available the gladly accept self published titles (and Goodreads is an excellent place to start). Even though ATUF isn’t a good fit for most self-pub books (and they’re not a good fit for us), the internet provides a multitude of viable options for authors to reach their audience.
We’d love your comments on this post and our policy regarding self-published titles. Where do you stand? As a reader, do you like reading about self pub titles? If you’re a reviewer, do you accept self-pub titles? What made you decide one way or the other?