Sunday, 8 January 2017

How I choose a good indie author book

Image from Books Direct
This post was inspired by a great question I was asked by DubaiReader on Goodreads a couple of days ago. I started to type a quick reply, but soon realised my indie book choosing process isn't just a snap decision. I've tried to describe below how I think through choosing my books and I'd love for other indie author readers to chip in their ideas too!

If you'd like some Indie book suggestions from me, I blogged my Top Ten for Indie Pride Day in July 2016. You can also see all the Indie books that have been reviewed on Literary Flits and reviewed on Stephanie Jane.

DubaiReader said: "I'm fascinated by your preference for Indie authors and small presses. I also favour global literature, like you. However, I find Indie authors a bit daunting - how do you choose a good one? Often I'm put off by Indie covers too. For obvious reasons they tend to be low budget, but do they have to be quite so obviously Indie? Interested in your thoughts."

Squashed Possums
by Jonathan Tindale
I am lucky to now be offered a lot of review copies of books so my decision of which to read is often down to the initial message I receive. Good spelling and grammar are vitally important and I like to be directed to webspace where I can read reviews of the book in question or, for a brand new book, sample a couple of chapters before committing. Terrible prose in the message, synopsis or first chapter will definitely have me saying 'thanks, but no thanks'!

Other reviews probably have the greatest influence over my decision whether or not to accept a book, however I have learned to be suspicious of books with entirely 5 star reviews. No book is absolutely amazing to everyone so I tend to take more notice of the words used than the rating itself. Seeing a good review by an author whose work I have enjoyed is encouraging as I am likely to appreciate their taste in literature and the same goes for reviews by readers and bloggers whose opinions I respect. For this approach to indie (or any) book finding, Goodreads is a far better search tool than Amazon.

Gulag 101 by Nico Reznick 
When looking to buy books, or when I'm using sites like NetGalley, Smashwords or KindleScout, I approach the process differently. Other reviews are still a good pointer, but they are not always available so I have a couple of rules that generally work for me.
Ever since the Stieg Larsson trilogy and Gone Girl I tend to automatically avoid anything with Girl in the title, especially where similar fonts are used! I steer clear of books claiming to be 'just like' some other book too. If Book B is basically a rehash of Book A, why bother with it? I don't want to read the same story over and over again. Where's the fun in that?!
Generic genre covers are a good avoidance indicator for precisely that reason. If it looks like Mills And Boon romance or fashionista chick-lit, military science fiction, gruesome horror or Game Of Bloody Thrones I click away! There are too many formulaic stories in these genres for my tastes although I accept this is a very personal decision.

My favourite category is usually Literary Fiction and I find the vast majority of my good and great indie books here although I also look through memoirs and poetry. Authors who consider themselves literary tend to take pride in writing stylishly and seem to explore more unusual themes and settings. I am getting to know certain small presses - Guernica Editions, Crime Wave Press - that I know I can trust to put out good books, otherwise I look out for interesting artwork and synopses. Non-English looking names always grab my attention as I love to read global literature. Many turn out to be American, but as the internet becomes more widely available internationally I am finding a higher proportion of global books too. I am limited by my language as I only read fluently in English. Indie authors generally can't afford to have their work translated, however smaller publishers like Gallic Books and Aardvark Bureau offer a good variety of lesser known works.

An Ishmael Of Syria
by Asaad Almohammad
I am swayed by cringingly amateur book covers and think the off-putting effect is usually down to how the text is displayed rather than the image used. Elegant or classic fonts in neutral colours can look classy. Vivid orange Comic Sans does not! The cover doesn't have to look professionally created to catch my eye, but it does need to have a pleasing aesthetic. I can overlook amateur cover art if I think the author and I might have similar tastes.

Trawling thousands of indie author and small press books to find the gems is a real labour of love. I probably read one for every twenty I seriously considered and still then end up with occasional Did Not Finish books. Self-publishing is wonderful in that it does enable amazing books to potentially find an audience, but it must be even more frustrating to be one author trying to be seen through the dross than it is to be a reader trying to find one good book!

If you have read a good indie book, please help the rest of us find it by writing a quick (or long) review. I am happy to publish Guest Reviews of Indie, Small Press and Global Literature over on Literary Flits so do get in touch. My best contact methods are via Goodreadsmy Facebook page or Twitter.

The Lovely Brush by Heather Awad 


  1. This is interesting! I really struggle with indie books. There are so many of them, and most of the ones I’ve read were pretty bad. I’m terrible at finding readable indie books.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. Hopefully my reviews can point you in the direction of some good ones! They definitely are out there :-)

  2. I really love this post! I also do a lot of indie book reviews and normally, I accept most requests that come in just because I know how valuable honest, unbiased feedback is to authors. I definitely agree with you on the covers and the writing. I don't mind if a cover is obviously indie but there should be some effort there. Not everyone has the eye to be a graphics designer but we all know what looks nice. Proper grammar is a must! If their whole craft is writing, I take their submission grammar to be a reflection of the whole book.

    I love reading your indie book reviews as I'm always looking for new obscure books to try! You never know where you might find that gem :)

    Laura @BlueEyeBooks

    1. Thanks Laura! I'll keep searching obscurity for you :-)

  3. I love your thoughts on this! I enjoy indie/self-pub books from time to time, but I admit I have a hard time finding good ones. I would like to read more, but I guess I don't know how to pick them for the most part haha. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. The sheer variety of indie books can often be overwhelming!

  4. As someone who reads indie as well as publishing house published books, I really liked this post! Similarly, I mostly get to indie books through review copies. But Goodreads and prior reviews are my main method of knowing whether it could be one for me or not!

    1. It's a Catch 22 isn't it! The books need reviews to encourage readers to take a punt, but until people read them there aren't enough reviews