Bookvetter: an interesting website for self-publishers?

May 18, 2014 Writing musings 2

Self-publishers have many hurdles to overcome along the way, but two of the biggest problems are getting the book up to professional writing standards, and attracting the attention of book bloggers. BookVetter is a new site which attempts to address both these issues.

For the first, Bookvetter allows writers to post their finished books for review by other authors. Naturally, this isn’t a no-work affair; before you can see reviews of your own work, you have to review other people’s books on a one-for-one basis. Reading and reviewing entire first draft books in order to have your own book reviewed is very time-consuming, so it’s not going to be an option for everyone. If an author already has a tranche of beta readers lined up, then Bookvetter is not going to add much, if anything.

However, for anyone who has no reliable source of beta readers, this might be a good alternative. I’m a big fan of online critique sites where authors comment on other author’s work on a chapter by chapter basis, and this could be the ideal extension of that, encompassing the whole book. You can start at the ‘draft’ level, requesting from one to five reviews. Then you can revise and resubmit, however, for each review you request, you have to review a book yourself, so it’s not a process to be undertaken lightly.

The second stage of the process is the ‘vetting’ part. Once your ‘draft’ reviews are positive, you can request ‘published’ reviews. If your book achieves six of this type of review saying it meets quality standards, it is declared as ‘vetted’ and then becomes available for book bloggers to read and review. The advantage of this for the blogger is a guaranteed source of free, quality material to review. For the author, it’s a potentially useful way to achieve blog reviews.

The books are very finely categorised by genre, so you can choose to review some very specific sub-genres. Once you have your own work posted, you won’t be able to review anything in your own sub-genres, and there’s a very limited list of possible books for review (only three options at a time, currently). All reviews are posted anonymously, too. The system is designed to make it impossible for authors to get together into a tit-for-tat review group.

There are a few questions in my mind about the effectiveness of the system. One is the timeliness of getting reviews: once you get to the beta reading stage, the sooner you get feedback the better, and having to wait months for reviews to trickle in might not be helpful. At the moment, the books offered for review are those which have been waiting longest, and as the site expands its membership, the time lag will improve.

The other issue is the sort of book bloggers who might be attracted to the site. Any established blogger already has piles of free books waiting to be read, they’re very rarely going to be actively looking for new material, so this is more likely to attract new bloggers or authors who already have a review blog.

Then there’s the question of money. Everything is free at the moment, but inevitably it will start charging eventually (the site owners have already ruled out advertising). Given the amount of time required to participate, users may resent also paying money to join.

The aspect most likely to put users off is the amount of time it takes to complete the entire process. At the very least, it requires six reviews to make it through the system, and it could be many more. The process is complicated by separating reviews into ‘draft’ type or ‘published’ type, where only the ‘published’ type count for vetted status. Things would be far simpler if these were combined, and the only requirement is to achieve six positive reviews. However, there may be good reasons for this.

At the moment the website is far from fully functional, and there are a few typos and technical glitches which don’t inspire confidence. It remains to be seen how things improve over time, and whether the site scales up satisfactorily with increased user numbers.

I confess I like the idea very much. As I’m not likely to be publishing more than a couple of books a year, at most, it won’t be a great deal of extra work for me to do the requisite reviewing so it might work out well. I don’t want to post ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ there as I’ve already got several beta readers for that, but when I start editing ‘The Fire Mages’, I might well post that for review.

In the meantime, I’ll build up some credit by doing a few reviews. I’ve already downloaded the first book. I had the option of epub or pdf format, but Calibre converted it to mobi for me. None of the books have DRM on them. Curiously, the book is one which is already published, the first part of a series, so I’m not sure why the author is participating on Bookvetter at all. Another oddity: after downloading the first books, my three choices still include the two rejected choices, not a completely fresh selection. This makes the options very limited indeed.

The review form has a few ‘tick the box’ options, covering formatting, grammar and typos, and the plot and reading experience generally. There are freeform sections to explain what you liked, what you disliked, and an overall review, each section to be at least 250 words. Then there’s a question on publishability, and a few yes/no questions specific to this book: such as, was there enough romance. Reviews have to be approved by the author concerned and by the site’s management before they are accepted, and therefore count towards that book’s quota. There’s a nice touch to ensure reviewers really have read the book: the author posts three questions for the reviewer to answer on plot details.

For anyone concerned about rights, Bookvetter is a private, password-protected site, and downloads are strictly controlled, so posting your book there doesn’t affect your first publishing rights, and you retain copyright. All author-generated reviews become copyright of the site itself, but bloggers retain all rights to their reviews. I’m going to give it a shot, and I’ll report back how things go.

Here’s a more detailed description of Bookvetter from Indies Unlimited.

And here’s the Bookvetter site itself.

2 Responses to “Bookvetter: an interesting website for self-publishers?”

  1. Marc

    Hi Pauline,

    Thank you for such a balanced piece explaining the good and bad regarding Bookvetter. I think you have very accurately captured the concept and areas we need to work on improving.

    There was how we envisioned members using the site and then there is reality. Like the reviews being provided here, feedback is an essential part of improving things. We all to often become very blind to our own flaws and it requires others to point them out.

    One of our core concepts we feel authors can benefit from is “Team Publishing” versus “Self-Publishing.” Great books as a general rule are the end product of a large number of talented people working together. From improving a plot to developing characters that readers want to engage with we feel an authors peers have a lot to offer.

    One of the unexpected benefits from this peer assistance, has been the claim by many authors that reading less than perfect works has improved their own writing.

    We see a lot of promise in the Bookvetter Community, it’s going to take time and patience as we work to finish building the site and tweaking the process to better match the needs of members but the initial results are promising.

    • PaulineMRoss

      Thanks for responding. I do feel that the site needs a little work to make it a truly powerful tool, but I love the idea. I’m sure you are right that writers benefit from reviewing other less than perfect works. I’ve been involved with an online critique group for some time, working on individual chapters, and it’s improved my writing no end – not just from the critiques on my own work, but in critiquing the work of others. Analysing what works and what doesn’t, especially when you can be emotionally detached, is an invaluable learning experience. I have every confidence that Bookvetter will achieve the same effect for complete books.

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