Reviewing the Review
– or what not to do if you want to obtain a good review

As Managing Editor of the Historical Novel Society Indie Review, an on-line review section of the HNS, I am responsible for receiving submissions of indie published historical fiction. This includes all aspects of self-published books, be they entirely D.I.Y. produced or published via a publishing company specialising in assisted publishing.

Basically what this means: if you have had to pay anything towards the cost of producing your novel, be it editing, cover design, or printing (or all of these) then you are an Indie Author.
Mainstream, traditional publishing houses do not expect their authors to pay anything towards the production cost – in fact they should pay you a fee as an advance.

I am also an author of historical fiction and nautical adventure in my own right, being what is now termed a “hybrid author” – which means I am both traditionally and indie published.  I went through a steep learning curve when first going indie, and made lots of mistakes (and I am still making a few and learning by them!)

I am passionate about promoting indie fiction – especially historical novels, and my aim is to raise the respectability status for indie published novels. Many are (being tactful) not very good, most are middle ground – a good read but could do with another edit and final polish, and a few are fabulous. The same, of course, can be said for mainstream books!

Before the rise of the Internet, social media etc., authors hoped for reviews from newspapers and magazines. Usually a local paper would run a story: “local writer receives big advance” was a favourite heading (even though the ‘big advance’ wasn’t usually that big!). There was no obligation for your book to be reviewed, though, and indie books are very rarely even looked at by these professional reviewers.

But there are now respected Bloggers who review books, and we have sites like Goodreads and Shelfari – and Amazon – where readers can leave comments.

These are not always reviews, they are, often literally just a comment; “I liked this fabulous book”, or, “I wish I hadn’t bought it. What a load of rubbish.” Not always helpful, as often neither statement is actually true! The first because family or friends will always put praise, and the latter because there are more than a few people out there who take pleasure in being spiteful and have no interest in the phrase “if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.”

At the Historical Novel Society we do not review an indie published book just on how well (or poor) the story is written. We also look at presentation. Our aim is to prove that Indie Fiction can be every bit as good as mainstream, so this includes how a book looks.

We are, therefore, a bit “picky” while reviewing (i.e. not reviewing books that have been incorrectly formatted or are badly written) because we want all our reviews that are published by the HNS to reflect the quality of indie books – if the HNS has reviewed it, therefore it is a good read.
To that end it is not doing us, or the author, any service to print a good review of a book that is – being blunt – badly presented or badly written.

Submissions will be rejected if:

·       the text is not set properly – i.e. left justified: straight left-hand margin, ragged right-hand, or vice-versa. The text should have a straight margin on both sides.
·       If line breaks are double spaced. Not only does this look clumsy it is also wasting page space, which is important when you consider you usually pay for printing per page!
·       If the font is comic sans. This is a taboo font for adult books, and it is unprofessional to use it.
·       If there is no title on the cover (I have had books submitted like this!)
·       If the text is littered with typos, punctuation errors, incorrect grammar. One or two errors are acceptable. Several on each page are not.
·       If the font is too small to read. (I had one that I needed a magnifying glass to read it!)

The ‘badly written’ ones are more difficult to reject as what makes a ‘good’ book  over a ‘poor’ one can be personal opinion but we must be honest here, if it is badly written then it is badly written!

Everyone can write a book, not everyone can write a readable book.

I only want to print reviews of books that are worth recommending to other readers to buy and read – which might mean a few authors will be disappointed, but there is absolutely no point in saying a book is worth buying and reading if it isn’t!

Having said that, whenever I have to reject a book it is always easier to do so because of typos, grammar errors, incorrect formatting etc.

If you want a good review – first rule is, therefore, ensure your book will pass muster! You wouldn’t attend an important event wearing ragged jeans with holes in the knees, with uncombed hair and in desperate need of a good wash would you? So why send you novel to be reviewed when it is in a similar condition?
Ensure it is presented to a quality standard – it is simple to see how this should be – just look at any professionally produced mainstream book and compare the difference.

Approaching a Reviewer.

So you’ve decided to ask one of the respected online Bloggers to review your book. Great. 
  • Study the blogs. It is no good sending your lovingly produced historical novel to a reviewer of crime thrillers or horror. 
  • Have a look to see if there is a Guidelines for Submission page – and if there is do as the guidelines guide! If it says send two chapters, send two chapters, not four. If it says post a hardcopy book, don’t send an e-book.
  • Of course there is nothing stopping you from completely ignoring the guidelines – except I doubt your book will be reviewed!
  • If the blogger has posted his or her name - Book Reviews by Anne Blogger - then don't address your initial enquiry as Dear Sir, or Dear Sarah. (it does happen!)
  • Make sure your enquiry is professionally typed. A message with spelling errors and i instead of I is not going to make a very good first impression of your ability as an author is it?
  • By all means follow up to see if your book has been received, and maybe a month or so later ask if it has been reviewed, but do not pester. It is a very good way of making sure that your book gets put on the back shelf and is left there.
The Blog Tour and Blog Hop.

These are good ways to get a host of reviews. 

What to do if you get a bad review, or bad Amazon Comment.

In a nutshell. Nothing. You can make a polite response: “thank you for your comment, I appreciate the time you took to write it.” Or maybe add something like “I’m sorry you did not like my novel, but it would be a boring world if we all liked the same things.”
And leave it at that.

Do not get into an argument! So this person picked holes in your book. Big ones. Enormous pits in fact. Maybe the person is right! Maybe your book IS riddled with typos, point of view changes, bad grammar and has no concept of continuity. Or maybe this reviewer is just being snotty.
Either way be honest with yourself – is this an honest review? If so take note and do something to correct the errors. If it isn’t honest, if it is senseless sniping – move on. The writer is the one who needs to get a life, not you.

If you do reply huffily to an honest reviewer, arguing a point, or even complaining rudely, I can guarantee you will never get another review from that person.

We do this reviewing voluntarily, and I do not appreciate being shouted at by an irate author who cannot take on-board that his or her book is not up to standard.

Yes it is disappointing, yes it hurts to get a bad review – but it is much more satisfying to know you made errors, have learnt from them and after putting them right, to know you have ended up with a polished, professionally produced novel that is worth writing – and reading!

Finally, if you do get a disappointing review, don't take it to heart. It's funny but writers (and I include myself here) dwell on the poor comments but ignore the good ones.
This is probably because writing is such a solitary occupation.

The other day I had to tell an author his book had been rejected because of incorrect formatting. He was, to say the least, disappointed because, actually, th story is very good.
The following day I had to send him another e-mail telling him his earlier published books had been recommended for shortlisting for a potential award.

Oh the ups and downs of a writer's life! :-) 

For more tips on writing fiction my Discovering the Diamond may be of use and interest.
Written through experience in order to assist new and novice writers avoid the mistakes I made.

Further articles about Reviews and Reviewers
A new sport? Author bashing
The Dilemma of the Common Comma
Reviewing the Reviewers' Reviews
Reviling the Reviewer
An amusing look at some bad reviews!
From the Judges's Point of View - what Judges look for - and what they reject (useful tips especially for Historical Fiction writers)

Also, click here for :


  1. Lots here to help and support authors. Thank you for an interesting and useful article.

  2. A top-class article. Informative, readable and actionable (not in the legal sense!). One issue perhaps worth mentioning is the increasing number of reviewers with a reading list from here to eternity, so are no longer taking any new submissions. As self-publishing grows exponentially is this the future?

  3. Thanks for the comment Alan. I agree a lot of reviewer's lists re full - but there are also new reviewers coming along who very quickly establish themselves as worth-while readers. I can see that many review blogs etc will become more fussy, especially with Indie books. (including myself as Managing Editor at the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews) With increasing submission lists the initial 'quick glance' will weed out many of the not so well produced books - similar to how agents use their slush-piles. So to get your book read, let alone reviewed, writers must produce their books to the best quality possible.


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