Okay, I admit it, I do get a certain perverse pleasure from writing scathing reviews of books that I find to be utterly terrible. Not just bad, not “Fifty Shades of Grey” bad, but really, really terrible.
A review can be ‘bad’ because the review describes why the book isn’t worth reading, but it can also be bad by being unhelpful. Or, it can be both. It can be hard for authors to see the wood (the quality of the review) for the trees (the reader’s reaction), as I mentioned in an earlier blog post. So, when you don’t like a book, but you’re compelled to write 250 words about it, it’s difficult to stay on the right side of the good/bad review line.
I recently started using Inkspand, a site that will pay you $10 to ‘beta read’ novels. It seems too good to be true: getting paid to review books and you get to choose the books? In some ways it is, the book selection is limited & you generally have to be on your toes to get one of the few available slots, which go exceptionally quickly on the better books. But, if you enjoy inspirational non-fiction, boy have I got a deal for you! There are usually several books with open slots if you’re a How to Win Friends and Influence People meets Chicken Soup for the Soul reader. You could make a mint if you read swiftly.
But I digress.
The catch is two-fold: these books are all self-published & they are all published. Now, before you call my hypocritical – after all, Speak for the Dead is currently on Inkspand being reviewed – this is not an indictment against self publishing. I’ve done it & I’ve read books by other who have done it [more] successfully [than me]. An Inkspand book I read very recently got a glowing review & 5 stars from me (I got a bit carried away with the inspirational theme, despite being written for a teenage audience), so I can say from experience that they are not all bad.
However, the greatest downside to self-publishing is in strong evidence in the books on Inkspand: lack of quality control. It’s moments like these when I try to remind myself to play nice, but it can be hard, incredibly hard. I wrote a book & I edited the same book & I use that as a benchmark of what kind standards I expect as a minimum. How can any author take pride in their work when even I (who is renowned for skimming over typos as I speed read) can find errors on almost every page? Incidentally, I gave that book a fairly positive review, it is within my power to call a book that reads like the author didn’t even give it a once-over a “diamond in the rough”.
On one hand, Inkspand promote themselves as providing beta readers, suggesting that you should post unpublished manuscripts for feedback. On the other hand, you also have the option to post the reviews you’ve paid for to Amazon & Barnes&Noble, for books that are already out there in the wild. Too many of the books I’ve read (depending on the length, I can get through one of these books in as little as 24 hours) are still at the “manuscript in need of feedback” stage, but have been published by their over-eager writers. But, truth be told, I’m no good at reviewing, my only skill seems to lie in picking apart what I see as obvious flaws – if I was able to avoid them, surely all authors should be able to as well.
Worst of all is the ones who pay the $2 fee for DRM. Instead of a PDF download that I can read on my iPad while I wait for the bus, I have to log onto the Inkspand site to read the text online. Because what I really want to do is steal someone’s trite, boring, fanciful, boastful, awkwardly-British sounding, so-called erotica. I’ve written better smut during downtime in my old admin jobs when no one was looking. The author doesn’t even use the right terminology for her predilections, even Fifty Shades of Grey recognised that S&M was not the same thing as sub/dom.
Ugh, now that I’ve got that put of my system, maybe I’ll be able to write a helpful critique for my $10.