Should You Review Self-Published Books Differently than Traditionally Published Books?

Since I’ve started book blogging, I’ve started reading more books by self-published authors. These authors do the writing, editing, publishing, and marketing by themselves – or they hire others to help them with the process.

Because self-published authors have access to different resources than traditionally published authors, I’ve seen some people argue that their books should be reviewed differently. The basic argument is those differences should be taken into account when writing a review and giving a star rating, and ultimately one should be more lenient towards the self-published author because of their situation.

However, I don’t agree with that. I think that self-published books should be reviewed the same as traditionally published books, for a few reasons.

Reviews are for other readers

It’s unfair for me to expect absolute perfection from any book, no matter how they’re published. And it’s true that many self-published authors face challenges because of their decision to self-publish. For example, an author might lack the money to hire an editor or to commission a stunning custom cover.

I do try to keep these limitations in mind when I’m reviewing. However, it doesn’t mean that I’m less honest about the book itself. I can understand why a self-published author might not have an editor, but if I think the book would benefit from editing, I’ll mention that.

Reviews are for readers who are looking for information about a book and I feel like I would be doing readers a disservice if I wasn’t honest about the book. Going too easy (or too hard) on a self-published book makes the review itself less useful.

Reviews aren’t written specifically for authors, but if an author were to read my review, being honest would hopefully help them too. Reviews are a marketing tool for them, and I’d think that having an honest review (whether positive or negative) would be more useful than one that’s dishonest.

Combatting the stigma against self-published books

By being more lenient on self-published books, it can create the impression that leniency is required because self-published books are inherently inferior, or because self-published authors need all the help they can get. Conversely, being tougher on self-published books than their traditionally published counterparts could also reinforce the idea that self-published books are inherently inferior.

Self-published books still face difficulty in getting talked about and purchased because of their self-published nature, and I don’t think that giving them special treatment helps to address this issue.

After all, self-published books are sold right alongside the traditionally published stuff. I think it makes sense to hold both types of books to the same standard – while being aware of the potential limitations that authors in both categories may face. At the end of the day, a book is a book no matter where it comes from.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this topic. Do you review self-published books and if so, what is your approach when reviewing them?

12 thoughts on “Should You Review Self-Published Books Differently than Traditionally Published Books?

  1. Krysta August 29, 2022 / 3:53 pm

    I was going to say much the same thing! I don’t think it makes sense to go easier on self-published books because reviews are for consumers, to let them know if a product is worth spending time or money on. It’s not fair to readers to suggest that a book is better than you really think it is. Also, it does seem a bit condescending to suggest that self-published authors NEED more lenient reviews. That’s like suggesting everyone thinks they’re just not as good, and we need to account for it, when that’s not the case! There are plenty of very talent authors who are self-published!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mint September 2, 2022 / 11:10 pm

      Right? It feels like assigning a line in a sand between self-published books and ‘the rest’ before starting when the metrics are different, and I feel that doesn’t help advance the idea that self-publishing is an absolutely valid form of publication with many talented authors!

      If anything, I think that an honest review is even more important with a self-published author as there was no publisher or agent which the book went through, no one who can mediate the book beyond the author.


      • Krysta September 5, 2022 / 11:11 am

        Yeah, I just don’t like the idea of saying all self-published authors need readers to take it easy on them. It’s not true and it just perpetuates the myth that self-published books aren’t worth readers’ time. It would be better to do honest reviews to help readers find the titles they’ll connect with.

        And that’s a good point! Self-published authors are really relying on reviews. They deserve enthusiastic reviews from real fans so people know that they can trust the reviews and will take a chance on the books. If I knew every review was puffed up to be nice, I wouldn’t even know where to start to find something I’d actually enjoy.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. FangirlFlax August 30, 2022 / 2:33 pm

    This is an interesting question! I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with reviews being for readers, not authors, though it still feels safer for me to only review five star reads. I’d feel even guiltier saying negative things about an author without the backing of a huge publisher, aha! Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mint September 2, 2022 / 11:08 pm

      This is one of the things that worries me, is writing a negative review that could really tank the sales of a book by someone who’s working on their own. I’ve also heard some horror stories about rude self-published authors harassing people who leave negative reviews. With a traditionally published author, at least there can be people to turn to should they start doing this (like their agent or publisher).

      But I would also feel guilty about misleading readers too, and even misleading the author about the quality of the book if I lie about it if they chose to read the reviews. Being respectful and mindful of the author’s hard work is important! Honest criticism shouldn’t be mean in any case.


      • FangirlFlax September 3, 2022 / 6:39 am

        I think you’ve made a really important point there with criticism not being mean–the key is balance and critique rather than negativity. Not that that balance is very easily achieved on the internet, haha! But at least you’re going in with good intentions, and that’s half the battle.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Davida Chazan August 31, 2022 / 12:30 am

    Personally, I don’t think we should review them any differently than we do with books published by small indie presses, mid-sized houses, or even the big 4/5 publishers. Especially today when some authors are moving over from traditional publishing to self-publishing. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t judge every book by its quality, and not pay attention to how it was published.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mint September 2, 2022 / 11:06 pm

      Absolutely, Davida! I feel like judging a self-published book on a different metric because it’s self-published only draws more negative attention to the label. Self-published books can absolutely stand up to traditionally published ones, especially if it was by a former traditionally published author, but a differentiation automatically sets a line in the sand between the two.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Davida Chazan September 2, 2022 / 11:47 pm

        Well, that can’t be helped, but we, as reviewers can help make it more positive for others.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. abookowlscorner August 31, 2022 / 12:32 am

    I don’t have much to add, since I agree with everything you wrote here – when I review a book, what I’m looking at is the finished product, not the path it took for the book to get to that point! Saying I should cut self-published authors some slack for not having the same resources makes about as much sense to me as rating a book more harshly just because an author spent more time writing it than another author who publishes two books a year, and therefore had more time to perfect their work… Sure, of course resources can influence the quality of a book, but as a reviewer, it’s not my job to make excuses on behalf of the author. If I don’t like something, I won’t like it, regardless of why it’s there, and I will tell people about it!

    And, like you, I also think it’s doing self-published books a disservice to rate them more leniently just because they’re self-published. That’s basically like saying I already expected the book to be sub-par to anything traditionally published – and there are so many great self-published books out there that that is absolutely not the case!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mint September 2, 2022 / 11:05 pm

      I feel like a reviewer’s duty is to be honest to other potential buyers, and they just can’t do that if they’re not honestly reviewing the finished product! It’s also hard to know what that path to publication looked like. For example, even an author who’s hired a bunch of editors can end up with a book with many grammatical errors and typos, depending on the competency of the editors.

      Liked by 1 person

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