Reviewing ‘Indie’ E-books and Goodreads

Since starting my own adventures in e-publishing I’ve started reading more self-published e-books. I’ve been doing this for two reasons:

  • I want to see what types of thing people are publishing
  • I want to support other writers in the same way that I’ve been supported

Taking the second point – the best way to support self-published authors is to give them a review. It doesn’t have to be a full-on 5 star rave about the book – just a few words to show that the book has been read and enjoyed (if you have enjoyed it, obviously).

A while ago I read and reviewed something which I enjoyed. The book had held my attention from beginning to end and I looked forward to picking up again each night (I generally only read at bedtime). There were some formatting errors in the text but they didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the narrative. So, when I left my review I didn’t mention these errors, I concentrated on the book’s literary content.

Now a comment has been added to my review, indicating that I should have pointed out the formatting problems and downgraded my star rating accordingly.

My first reaction to this was anger that someone had dared to criticise my opinion and I had to restrain myself from commenting back and thus getting into a public argument.

Now that I’ve had chance to calm down and think about it, I realise that I was probably wrong not to mention the formatting issues. However, my review was the first one for that book and I didn’t want to give it the kiss of death – but I did want to leave a comment to say that I’d enjoyed it.

What would you have done?

I’ve recently tried another book and found it contains several punctuation mistakes. So, I’m not going to leave a review at all, regardless of the quality of the story, because I don’t want to get a reputation for dishonest reviews.

I’ve learned a lesson from all this – ‘Look Inside’ or download a sample of the book before buying to ensure that formatting, punctuation etc. is up to scratch.

Talking of books and reviews, My two short story anthologies and I are now enrolled in Goodreads. You can see us here.

Any tips on getting the most out of Goodreads, either as an author or a reader, would be gratefully received.

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  1. #1 by blogaboutwriting on April 16, 2013 - 9:56 am

    Sally, not surprised you were annoyed – that seems very odd behaviour. And how can someone change the star ratings you’ve given the book?

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on April 16, 2013 - 1:06 pm

      Helen – they didn’t change the star ratings, just insinuated that I’d been too generous with my rating – sorry if I didn’t make that clear. But until then I hadn’t realised that it was possible to comment on someone else’s review.

  2. #3 by ian smith on April 16, 2013 - 10:03 am

    I don’t think that this should be a problem.

    You can review it as a piece of writing and comment on it as such, then add a last line along the lines of “pity about the formatting errors, but they didn’t spoil my enjoyment”. You could add variations like “occasional”, “few”, “random” or “overwhelming numbers of” as appropriate.

    I wouldn’t automatically deduct stars for errors, unless it’s full of basic typos and quote-mark errors the author really shouldn’t have allowed past an early draft.

    I download lots of free books onto my kindle, and the usual things with these are the indents on the first line of a new paragraph, variations in font size and odd blank spaces. But until I can produce an e-book I’m proud of, I don’t think I can be too hard on others!

    • #4 by Sally Jenkins on April 16, 2013 - 1:08 pm

      Good points, Ian! I suppose just one little sentence, without making a big thing about it, would do the trick.

  3. #5 by Debbie on April 16, 2013 - 10:10 am

    What would I have done? Given the book a thumbs up if I enjoyed it yet also make a small note there were formatting errors which did not spoil the enjoyment of it. I’d emphasise the positive at the same time make a tiny reference to anything negative.

    I don’t see why a review can’t be honest, provided the majority of it is positive and so long as the book deserves it.

    As for punctuation errors, there will always be a possibility of some such errors in publications whether ebooks or the traditional printed paper version. This possibilty can be reduced if the writer is either a skilled proofreader, and allows a writing buddy to be a second pair of eyes for them, or the writer pays for the skill of a trained/experienced proofreader to do the deed for them.

    I wouldn’t rely on simply a publisher to do the job unless I was convinced they had the right staff on hand to do the job.

    Debbie W

    • #6 by Sally Jenkins on April 16, 2013 - 1:09 pm

      Thanks, Debbie. It seems like a tiny reference to the bad, is the way to go.

  4. #7 by Linda on April 16, 2013 - 10:58 am

    I recently downloaded an e-book of writing tips and was surprised (to put it mildly!) to find a spelling mistake on the introduction page. If it had been a book on some other subject it wouldn’t have been so important, but this author was describing herself as a professional writer and telling other people how to write! The book was free so I had only wasted some of my time by looking at it, and I didn’t waste any more by writing a review. But I think if I’d paid for it I might have contacted the author to point out the mistake.
    I’m pleased you’re on Goodreads now. I’ve only joined it recently but I’m enjoying finding my way around on there.

    • #8 by Sally Jenkins on April 16, 2013 - 1:11 pm

      Hi Linda. Good point – contacting the author, and thus giving them the chance to put things right, is another option. Maybe I’ll bump into you on Goodreads!

  5. #9 by Writer / Mummy on April 16, 2013 - 12:14 pm

    Wow I can’t believe someone would criticise your review. You might not have noticed the formatting errors (unless they were HUGE) especially if you were caught up in the story. I don’t think I would comment on punctuation or anything like that (personally) unless it had detracted from the flow of the story. I only started noticing stuff like that when I began writing anyway. I remember re-reading a Barbara Hamley book I loved as a teenager and finding it really hard going because a lot of the sentences were the same structure so it settled into a sing-song flow in my mind. I can’t imagine that even occurred to me when I first read it!

    A review should be your opinion and yours alone. I admit I have occasionally decided not to review books from self-published authors when I thought they were awful (I haven’t read yours yet, btw, before you think that’s why I haven’t reviewed it! I don’t get much chance to read at present). Sometimes it’s because the book I read wasn’t a genre I would normally write in and I just couldn’t get into the story. It wouldn’t be fair to leave a poor review, because I wasn’t target market and only read it because I followed the blog.

    It’s a tough area and I’m even less inclined to leave reviews now after your experience! I’ve never been one for leaving reviews because I find it hard to present my own opinion confidentially without worrying someone else will contradict me. That fact that someone actually might do it there on the review! *shudders*

    • #10 by Sally Jenkins on April 16, 2013 - 1:16 pm

      You are right, Writer Mummy, a review is a subjective personal opinion but I suppose formatting/punctuation errors are the same for whoever reads the book. I’ve also tried reading genres that aren’t normally my ‘thing’ and then not left a review because I wasn’t the target market anyway – but at least we’ve tried to broaden our outlook!
      Please don’t be totally put off leaving reviews – I think comments on reviews are rare.

      • #11 by Writer / Mummy on April 16, 2013 - 2:11 pm

        I won’t! The more I get involved in self-publishing the more I realise reviews are the lifeblood of the new indie author. My first review was only 3 stars and even though it was entirely positive in terms of what was written I still see those three stars dragging my average down and wonder what the person didn’t like!

  6. #12 by aliceinwritingland on April 16, 2013 - 1:50 pm

    I can’t help but think that if this person was so concerned about the formatting errors, then why didn’t they just write their own review?! I would have been annoyed too and I think it was very thoughtful of you to consider that yours was the first review and therefore stay positive about the book, given that you’d found the story to be so enjoyable (which is surely the most important thing!).

    • #13 by Sally Jenkins on April 16, 2013 - 3:13 pm

      Alice, in their comment, the person did say that they hadn’t bought the book, they’d just used the ‘Look Inside’ feature and were commenting on that basis. So I suppose that’s why they didn’t review it.

  7. #14 by Debbie Young on April 16, 2013 - 4:33 pm

    Hi Sally, I love writing book reviews and, like you, am trying hard to support and fly the flag for the indie sector by reviewing self-published books not only on Amazon (and GoodReads when I have time) but also on my Off The Shelf Book Promotions website, with links to sites where people can buy the books.
    I try to be only positive – e.g. if I hate a book, I won’t review it all – and to make any criticism constructive, e.g. “this book would be even better if…” If there were loads of typos, I would mention it, but nicely. For example I once reviewed a book with a terrible cover and said something along the lines of “the fab content deserves a much smarter cover” – and the author did load up a much better cover after that! Same thing with typos – I’d give the author a chance to fix the problem, but as others suggest, with a note that it didn’t diminish the content of the book. I don’t think it’s dishonest not to mention flaws in the book – it probably just means you’re a cheery glass-half-full sort of person!
    The director of a highly regarded assisted publishing service company recently said to consider anything of 3* and above to be positive, and I generally only give 4* or 5* reviews (but I am an optimistic, cheery type!) You should never feel guilty about giving less than 5* because any book with ONLY 5* reviews looks suspicious – they have probably all been written by friends and relations.
    There are also crazy people out there who will give a poor review because they didn’t order the right book, or didn’t read the blurb properly, expecting a novel to be non-fiction, for example, and then blame the author!! It’s an entertaining minefield if you’re not on the receiving end of it!

  8. #15 by Debbie Young on April 16, 2013 - 4:34 pm

    By the way, I’ve written a blog post about GoodReads for authors which you might find useful: You should definitely enter your books for the GoodReads Giveaways – it’s a great way to raise awareness before a global audience and to get on people’s “to read” list for next to no cost!

    • #16 by Sally Jenkins on April 16, 2013 - 7:56 pm

      Debbie, thanks very much for the comments and advice – as usual all sensible, positive stuff! I’ve just had a quick look at your Goodreads post and I can definitely see the advantage of using the Giveaways scheme, but unfortunately it’s only for print books. So that rules me out. But it’s certainly something to bear in mind should I ever actually have a physical book – or for anyone else out there that does.

  9. #17 by Morton Gray on April 16, 2013 - 7:29 pm

    I must admit Sally – I am careful about reviews. I only comment if I genuinely like everything about the book. I’ve just read an indy book – I loved the story but it was peppered with mistakes – she cannot have read it back. So I am reluctant to review it. At least you know my review of your short stories was genuine! Mx

    • #18 by Sally Jenkins on April 16, 2013 - 7:58 pm

      Thanks, Morton! You are probably taking a wise approach and writing trustworthy stuff when you do find a book worth reviewing.

  10. #19 by Keith Havers on April 17, 2013 - 7:19 am

    If you didn’t feel it worth mentioning the errors then you’re entitled to do that. I thought the review system was there to review books, not review the reviews. If someone has a different opinion they can leave their own assessment. Don’t stay angry and don’t worry about it.

  11. #21 by susan jones on April 23, 2013 - 6:00 pm

    Sounds like someone stalking the person you reviewed and they were jealous Sally. What a lot of idiots there are. I think we need to be as honest as we can as others have said, point out the good stuff first then I’d say, ‘The only thing that slightly let your work down is…. such and such……’ certainly carry on as you are I’d say.

    • #22 by Sally Jenkins on April 24, 2013 - 6:24 am

      Thanks, Susan. As you say, diplomacy is the name of the game.

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