It looked innocent enough—a request from a debut author for me to review her book. My website said I wasn’t currently accepting review requests, but that’s only kind of true. I still look at each request I receive and consider it, as I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to read and review a great book.
So I read her email instead of just sending my standard “I’m not currently accepting books for review” response.
I chose to publish [book title] independently to retain control over my book.That’s fine. I have no issue with whether a book is traditionally published or independently published, as long as it’s good, and in a genre I like.
My book is considered to be Christian Romance.Christian romance? Excellent—it's one of my favourite genres. She continues:
There is love in the book … but I don’t feel it overwhelms with Romance. I would rather it be called Historical Fiction …Well, I like historical fiction as well, so that’s not a sticking point. But what she said next got me worried:
but alas … I don’t have that much control over it.That’s a red flag. You, the self-published author, don’t have control over your book’s genre? And this seems to contradict her choosing to publish “independently to retain control over my book”.
This made me curious about the book, probably for all the wrong reasons. I then read the book description from the back of the book, which was rather meh. It didn’t really describe anything—certainly nothing to grab my attention as a reader. However, she’d also included her own synopsis of the book, which definitely described a historical fiction novel, not a romance (hint: in a romance, the couple get together at the end of the book. It’s not about their marriage).
At this point, I wasn’t sure what to think, so I clicked on the link to the Amazon book page.
The first thing I saw was a cover that is best described as average. A stock photo featuring purple flowers on a nondescript green background, with the book title and author name written in an ubiquitous and boring script font. There was nothing about the cover to show the reader what kind of book they were reading, and it smacked of the worst kind of amateur self-publishing.
Then I checked the book description. Sure enough, it’s the completely unengaging one. Next I checked the publisher, where I wasn’t surprised to find the book was from a notorious vanity press (which explained why the author didn’t have control over the book’s genre even though she’d supposedly published “independently”).
Then I looked at the reviews. Six, all five stars, and one of them from a reviewer with the same last name as the author. While it’s not an uncommon last name (like, say, Goulton), it’s not Jones either. The review is almost certainly from a family member, which suggests the other reviews are from personal friends: hardly reliable. Two of the reviewers have only ever reviewed this book (one reviewed this book twice, so that’s two of the six reviews). One has reviewed three other items, but this is the only book.
None of the reviewers have the Amazon Verified Purchase tag (which can be faked, so having the AVP tag doesn’t really prove anything), yet none of them acknowledged they’d received a free book in exchange for review (as required by Amazon Reviewing Guidelines and the FTC).
I clicked on “Look Inside”. A quick read of the first page of the prologue showed the book either hadn’t been edited, or had been edited by someone who doesn’t know anything about modern fiction. There was dialect. There were adverbs. There were creative dialogue tags. The proofreading was also substandard, with apostrophes that faced the wrong way, missing punctuation, and commas where there should have been full stops (or periods, for American readers). There was also a language glitch that distracted me: if she’s going into town with her brother, surely the reference should be to “their father”, not “his father”. And this is me reading with reader brain: editor brain would be far more harsh.
I feel sorry for this author, because she’s poured her heart and soul into this book (that much was obvious from her email), but she’s been shortchanged by a publisher who has given her a dirt-cheap cover that tells the reader nothing about the book. They’ve offered little or no editing, then slapped the book up on Amazon where it’s not categorised properly. To use my daughter’s current pet phrase, it’s nasty.
And she’s paid for this. That’s what almost made me cry. This book is her dream, and the publisher she has trusted to nurture it and bring it to fruition has sacrificed her dream at the altar of the almighty dollar. Their website claims they have “editorial standards”. This book proves they don’t.
I don’t know how much she paid for her publishing package: it could be as little as $999 to as much as $6,499 (neither of which includes editing). I suspect this author paid for one of the mid-level packages, but didn’t opt for the additional editing (although the book sorely needs it). I guess after paying an estimated $2,999 for the publishing package, she didn’t have another $2,450 for their line editing.
I’m not going to review the book. I don’t want to give anyone the idea that this is a valid path to publishing, and I don’t want to be the person who breaks her author heart by telling her book isn’t good, and her publisher has wasted her money. Put simply, I don’t want to be the person who makes her cry.
But I’m upset. I’m upset that her publishing dream isn’t going to have the happy ending she’s hoped and prayed for. But most of all, I’m upset that a Christian author with good intentions and a story to tell has been financially and emotionally ripped off by a “Christian publisher”.
If you’ve ever wondered why Australasian Christian Writers does not feature or promote books from vanity presses, this is why.
About Iola Goulton
I am a married mother-of-two, living in the sunny Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. I play the tenor horn in the local Brass Band, do scrapbooking and cardmaking as hobbies.
I blog at Iola's Christian Reads, and I work as a self-employed fiction editor via Christian Editing Services. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.