The independent publishing world is a tough mountain to climb. Even though it is cheap and easy to get a book “published” it is tough to get anyone to actually buy and read the book. Authors struggle for months and months (perhaps years) to write their books. This requires lots of time alone struggling to commit ideas to paper. This requires hours and hours of editing. This requires a great deal of soul searching and hope. All this effort occurs before the author actually “publishes” his book and makes it available to the public. There is a great deal of vulnerability and expectation in this moment. The author is putting his baby out there for the world to judge and of course the baby is a reflection of the author himself. Accordingly any judgment of the book is judgment of the author. But for most authors this can be a moment of great disappointment. Because, I suspect most independently published authors never have their book actually read except by a friend or two. It is even more difficult to get a book reviewed. But if there are numerous independent authors seeking readers and reviewers of their books the obvious solution to this problem is to have this population of independent authors read and review each other’s books.
With this solution in mind, I agreed to read and review “The Child” by James Cates in exchange for him reading my novel “The Book of Bud.” I have heard it said that Amazon frowns on this type of review swapping. After going through this process I now have a better idea as to why Amazon feels this way. The problem with review swaps as I see it is that one or both parties will probably feel obligated to give a good review of the other’s work either because he is afraid of offending the other or he is afraid of a negative review in return. The flipside of this is that a genuinely positive review is automatically suspect. That said, in my initial brief interchange with James Cates we both agreed that we would give honest reviews of each other’s work and that is what I set out to do. I do not think either of us deserve or would benefit from anything less than that.
I will first say that I would never want to disparage someone who wants to create. I think being creative is the joy of life and no one, regardless of skill, should be denied the opportunity to put themselves out there. This is especially true with the rise of the internet and the self publishing industry. As I indicated above, writing a book is no easy task for most people. I know this from person experience. Cates certainly had a vision for a novel and actually performed the hard work of thinking it through and creating a finished product. For that he is to be commended and I mean that sincerely.
However, I ended up giving his book only one star because there were a number of problems. Again, I do not think giving him a false positive review would do him or me any good. But honestly, his book was poorly written. There were too many spelling errors and grammar mistakes. Some of this is forgivable but when there are too many errors of this kind it takes me out of the flow of the narrative and I begin to loose faith in the author. The plot was overly complicated and there were too many undeveloped characters that I did not care about or whose motivation I did not understand. In the actual review I go into the plot a little more deeply and I do not really want to go over that here. Suffice to say, I really did not enjoy reading his book and as a result had to do some real soul searching regarding how I would actually write the review.
The final point I would like to discuss is the Christian theme of the novel. Cates is (I am assuming) an evangelical, protestant Christian. I am a Christian of the Roman Catholic persuasion and I am definitely not an evangelical, protestant Christian. As such, I am obviously not part of Cate’s world. But in a sense this was one aspect that made his book more interesting to me because it offered me a look into the mind of an evangelical protestant Christian. In many ways it seems like a very black and white, us against them type of world. Interestingly there is not so much theology but there is a heaping helping of violence and rape. No one is actually raped in the book but there is a lot of talk about different characters wanting to rape other characters. I could go deeper on that subject but I do not want to. It is not my intent to stand in judgment of Cates. In fact I want to encourage him to keep being creative even if it never results in a single sale because in my experience being creative is one of the greatest joys in life.
James Cates has yet to review my book.