We all know about indie authors who made it big. Writers like John Grisham, William P. Young, and Amanda Hocking believed in themselves, and their books are now wildly popular. And we all know about indie authors who haven’t put in the time and effort to develop their craft, but decide to publish anyway. And their books suck.
Indie books don’t always suck, of course. Some talented authors self-publish to keep control of their work, or because they write books that don’t fit a specific genre, or like Grisham, have been rejected by mainstream publishers. But isn’t that a fluke? Don’t mainstream publishers usually put out books that are better than the ones they reject? Sometimes. Sometimes not.
Here’s a cold, hard fact about publishing: Publishers don’t buy books they think are good; they buy books they think will sell. How else can you explain Kim Kardashian’s book that is literally just a collection of her own selfies?
Just because a book is offered by a major publishing house or was written by a popular author doesn’t mean it’s well written or will suit your taste. Remember American Notesfor General Circulation by Charles Dickens? No? Well… By the same token, don’t rule out an indie book just because it’s self-published.
JUDGING A BOOK BY ITS COVER
All books contain errors, but when readers pick up a book by a known author and publisher, they tend to trust, relax, and settle into the story. Readers either don’t notice the errors, or they shrug them off as typos or poetic license.
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Because of the self-published books out there that suck, readers tend to read indie books with a critical eye, worrying about getting disappointed instead of allowing themselves to get lost in the story. That fear becomes self-fulfilling as the reader notices every mistake, real or imagined. That doesn’t make for enjoyable reading.
HOW TO TELL IF AN INDIE BOOK IS FOR YOU
The next time you see an intriguing book, but you’re hesitant to buy it because it’s independently published, take some precautions, so you don’t end up with a book that sucks.
Look for ‘tells’ in the book’s description. How is the description language written? Is it full of errors? What is its tone (e.g., humorous, mysterious, dark, romantic)? Does the description talk about religion, sexuality, strong language, spirituality, or violence? Those can be clues as to whether or not the book suits your reading preferences.
Read a page before you buy. Back in the day, before e-books, I purchased several self-published books via snail mail, that I would not have purchased if I’d only had an opportunity to read a page or two first. Today’s readers can be choosier with indie books. Amazon allows members to peek inside a book and read a page or two to try it out before buying.
Read comments by verified purchasers only. Look for the tag ‘verified purchaser’ when reading reviews on Amazon. That is the only way to ensure that the reviewer actually had access to the book, and isn’t just the author’s aunt trying to boost sales or a troll trying to hurt sales.
Forget about Goodreads. Goodreads has a reputation for trolls targeting authors with vicious attacks, without ever reading their books.
Check out the author’s website. Does the author have a blog? Is the blog interesting and well written, or is it unstructured and full of errors? Does the author offer a free, first chapter or a snippet of the book to sample from the website?
Purchase one book at a time. Or one installment at a time, if that’s how it’s marketed. You’ll multiply your disappointment if you purchase a trilogy or set, only to find out that they suck.
If you’ve done your homework and know what you’re getting before buying an indie book, you can relax and enjoy the story without fear.
Do you have any other tips for choosing good indie books? Please share them in the comment section.
If you’re an indie writer in need of a copy editor, I’m here for you. 🙂
Kathryn A. Frazier is a freelance copyeditor, proofreader, and writer. She lives in Tampa, Florida with her beloved family, Scruffy Dog and Valentino the Ridiculously Tiny Dog. It's hot there. And swampy. With gators. She's really brave.
Good advice for finding good books. Personally, I also like to see if that author has a short story available. That’s particularly handy if you have a Kindle Unlimited account and that author happens to have their short stories in the program. Then it’s free to read something short and know if the longer stuff is for you.
And definitely agree about avoiding Goodreads. So many reviews on there are about being funny at the expense of a book, not saying whether it was actually god or not.
*good or not. Ack.
LOL. Yeah. Not too many books are god. 🙂
S. Hunter Nisbet- That’s an excellent tip! I didn’t even think of that.