As many of you know, I’ve spent this past year reading and reviewing the works of indie writers. In my initial blog post that outlined my goals and criteria, “Pay It Forward Indie Book Challenge,” I explained that one of the most difficult things for indie authors to accomplish involves getting people to review and rate their books. Reviews are essential, especially on platforms like Amazon, because reviews can boost your rankings and convince people to buy your books. So I decided I would help by reviewing a few indie writers.
This year (2016) I read four works by indie authors. Those works and my ranking for each one are as follows:
Atticus Crayle – The Accidental Spy: 3/5 stars
Revelation Game: 3/5 stars
Summer of the Brother: 2/5 stars
Legacy of the Dragons: 2/5 stars
If you click on any of the above four links, you can see that not only did I give an overall ranking, but I also provided extensive commentary about each book. I organized my comments under the four main criteria categories by which I judged. Those categories included the overall story, character development, grammar and technical issues, and distractions.
What Have I Learned from This Process?
I think the first thing I learned was learned more by accident than by my actual review process. You see, I decided that I would only read works by indie writers who had few published works, few to no reviews, and whose works fell within a few specific genres. Since I was looking for such un-reviewed works, I had to dig through 20+ pages of Amazon just to get to any works that may have met my basic reading criteria.
In other words – I learned that indie writers with no reviews and no star rankings are buried so deep that they are pretty much invisible.
This is why it is so important for people to review products and services. The algorithms used for ranking and organizing products for sale online are highly influenced by customer reviews. Without those reviews, products and services are often moved further down the list. Therefore, if you really love an author, indie or otherwise, HELP THEM OUT BY GIVING THEM REVIEWS!!!
The second thing I learned from this challenge is the importance of a good editing process. Three out of the four books I read had significant grammar and technical problems that could have been easily fixed with a few more rounds of editing. Two out of the four books I read had major problems with flow and story continuity, and an observant editor could have been a big help in fixing those issues.
While many independent writers have to do self-editing, because they can’t afford to pay someone else, I would really encourage people to find the money to hire someone, or, at a bare minimum, find a friend who can do a decent job of reading and responding to your work.
A non-professional editor may not be able to do hard-core grammar and technical editing, true, but an observant reader can at least tell you if the story makes sense. If it doesn’t make sense, you can make changes until everything works. THEN you publish it. Personally, my writing goes through 3-4+ drafts before I publish. I count myself lucky that I have an amazing editor who pushes me to be better in every way, and I am more thankful for my editor now, after completing this challenge, than I ever have been before!
The third thing I learned from this challenge has to do with some of the common practices/tropes of the supernatural/adventure genres. Three out of the four stories I read included an obvious or fairly strong romantic tie between characters. Apparently romantic connections are an all-too-familiar plot device in these genres. Nevertheless, I do not feel that all supernatural fiction must include this element, especially if it is poorly executed.
In the stories I read, the use of romance between characters was hit or miss in terms of execution. In one of the stories, Atticus Crayle, the romance was a minor issue and more of a coming-of-age/teenagers under the control of their hormones type of deal. It made sense in the story and didn’t distract you from the plot. The romance in Summer of the Brother, on the other hand, came off forced, contrived, and absolutely useless to the plot. In Legacy of the Dragons, the romance kind of work, but it was really nothing more than a cheap plot device to explain an unnatural pregnancy that resulted in a human-dragon abomination, of which the abomination baby was stripped of its humanness, making the whole forbidden/unnatural pregnancy, and the romance connected to it, pointless in terms of story and plot.
Final Thoughts on This Challenge
Overall, I’m glad I completed this challenge. I would have liked to have read and reviewed more books, but I think completing four books is respectable. It was also invigorating to have a challenge that kept me going throughout the course of this year. In fact, I am currently brainstorming a new challenge for 2017.
While doing a reading challenge this year certainly rocked, I am thinking of going in a different direction. Now all I have to do is choose, and I am currently torn between two new ideas for next year’s challenge.
Maybe all of you can help me out by posting in the comments about which challenge you prefer.
Here are my ideas:
Food Exploration –I just moved to the Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA region, which means I’m in one of the most foodie-obsessed areas of the country. They’ve got everything here from high-class dining to unusual foods out of food trucks, so it might be fun to find unique places, try them out, and post my reviews here on my blog.
Pacific Northwest Travel Adventures – I am told there are a number of strange and obscure places to visit nearby or within reasonable driving distances. I like exploring. I like adventuring. Ergo, I could challenge myself to go to a number of different places and write about them here for your entertainment.