Self-published (indie) fiction books: How to find diamonds in the rough

by Narelle Atkins

A few weeks ago I launched the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance with avid reader and friend Jenny Blake. We decided we would consider high quality self-published (indie) book submissions for blog alliance book tours.

In recent years there has been an explosion in the number of self-published eBooks, and the trend is likely to continue as more readers embrace new technology and purchase eBook readers. But readers have valid concerns regarding the quality of indie books. Traditional publishers have editors who work with authors to turn a good book into an excellent book. There are indie authors who have their books professionally edited prior to publication. The big question is how can we find these diamonds in the rough? Are there steps we can take to help us work out if a book is an excellent indie fiction read?

1. Read Chapter One or a sample of the book

The first step is to read a sample and see if the story grabs you. Years ago, when I first started learning to write fiction, I was surprised to discover that editors and agents could usually judge whether or not they were interested in a book by the end of page one. After judging numerous unpublished fiction writing contests, I have to agree with the industry professionals and I definitely know by the end of Chapter One if I want to read the rest of the book.

If the first chapter is boring, the characters don’t capture your attention or the writing style jolts you out of the story, the odds are the rest of the book will be the same. I no longer read on to see if a story will get better because I’ve learned from experience that it usually doesn’t. But, I’ve also read books where the first three chapters are great and the story falls apart in the middle, so judging the quality of a book by a sample is not foolproof. Which brings me to my next point.

2. Investigate the author

Search online to discover the author’s writing experience and publishing history. Many multi-published authors are self-publishing their out of print backlist titles that were previously published by a traditional publisher.

A lack of online information about an author is a possible red flag. Most fiction authors don’t publish their first manuscript and write numerous books before their writing reaches a high standard. Their writing journey usually leaves an online trail you can follow to investigate if they’ve taken steps to become a professional writer.

3. Investigate the publisher

An indie author may publish under their own name or choose a publisher name for their books. If you can’t find the publisher name in a search engine then it’s likely the book is self-published.

One word of caution: If a publisher website has a submission page, check out the guidelines. If they offer publishing packages that authors can buy, tread warily. Vanity publishers make money from author’s paying them to publish their book rather than from selling books. As a result, books from vanity publishers are often poorly edited and badly written.

4. Investigate book reviews

Book reviews are helpful if the reviewer explains why they have given a book a particular rating. A large number of 5 star reviews on sites where anyone can post a review will not guarantee a book is a good read.

Two and three star reviews can be the most insightful. We all have different reading tastes and an issue that bothered one reviewer may actually be an element you like in a story.

Check out the reviews of books on the indie bestseller lists. If a large number of people have downloaded or purchased a book, it’s statistically likely that some of those readers have posted reviews, both positive and negative.

5. Price does not necessarily equate with quality

Books sold by vanity publishers are sometimes more expensive than traditionally published books.

At the other end of the spectrum, indie authors may price a book at $0.99 or give it away for free as a loss leader. In the same way retailers sell certain items below cost to entice customers into their store, indie authors may provide cheap or free books in the hope readers will take a chance on a new author. Their goal is to gain new fans who will love their writing and buy their higher priced books.

I hope you’ll be able to find the indie fiction gems, those diamonds in the rough and the indie authors who write great books. Good luck!

2 thoughts on “Self-published (indie) fiction books: How to find diamonds in the rough

  1. Thanks for the info Narelle, I actually hadn’t read samples until recently. I normally go by the blurb to see if I would like it but now I know I can read a sample I will do that also.

    • Hi Jenny, I’m glad the info is helpful 🙂 Often with Amazon you can read a sample online without needing to download it – an easy way to quickly browse through a large number of books.

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