We want to help other indie authors succeed. What every indie author needs most is reviews, so we were excited to stumble across the various indie review groups on Goodreads.

Here’s what we learned:

Search under “Groups” on Goodreads for review groups. Some are genre-specific, some are anything goes, and some are divided by content rating.  All provide a way for independently published authors to earn those oh-so-important first reviews through non-reciprocal reviews. Reciprocal reviews will get your reviews taken down quickly on Amazon and most sites, so they are a major no-no, as are sock puppet reviews you wrote yourself and reviews by your mother or best friend.

These review groups put group members together who each review several books and receive the same number of reviews back, but without providing reciprocal reviews. Think of a circular firing squad. Others have a sign up sheet and you review the person above you on the list. The genre-based groups are great, because at least you have an idea of the genre you will review, but they are tough to get into at first.

Ting Tang TonyYou want to be careful which group you sign up for, as you can find yourself far from your comfort zone. For instance, we will NOT be signing up for the 18+ erotica/graphic violence/anything goes group. No, no, no. We peeked, and we can only report that the self-publishing world includes some pretty out there stuff.

Religiously themed authors, YA authors and others who would not feel comfortable reviewing or being reviewed by a tougher, more secular and adult crowd in a regular non-erotica adult group can join a “Clean” group. Non-fiction authors may also find the “Clean” general groups a good fit.

We recently completed reviews for a Clean review group, and were delighted at the breadth and quality of the offerings. Indie publishing is alive and flourishing. We would like to take a moment to introduce you to the four indie authors we encountered through the review process and their self-publishing strategies. Aspiring indie authors can find something useful in the examples of all four.

Gloria Ng
Gloria Ng

Non-fiction, children’s and spirituality author Gloria Ng caught our attention for the terrific author’s platform she has built to share her fiction and non-fiction work with readers. She helpfully included links within her book to additional free and relevant works and used other techniques to build a platform for sharing her work and ideas. Gloria’s “mission and expertise is to inspire and create a culture of peace toward self-care, people care and earth care. She supports people fully employing their passion and purpose toward sustainability and thrive-ability.” We review her book here.

Alex Morritt

Author, poet, lyricist, travel writer and indie publisher Alex Morritt and self-described “cultural observer” has solved the problem of marketing short fiction through his self-published short story collection and other works. He’s a minimalist, content to have his work out there and accessible, without burning up too many cycles on marketing and promotion. Reading him, one feels he’d be fun to chat with over coffee, or to invite to your writing group. Our review is here.

Ronesa AveelaRonesa Aveela, which is a pen name for freelance artist and writer Anelia Samovila and writer and baker Rebecca Carter, brings us, of all the startling things, a beautiful book on Bulgarian myths, legends and folk. With recipes! This delightful book, full of hand-drawn colorful images, shows how personal passion and creativity can find their way into the world through independent publishing in a book too esoteric and niche to find a home with a traditional publisher seeking a mass market. Knowing this book exists in the world just makes us happy, and should inspire any other would-be indie authors out there with a heart project they want to share with the world. Review is here.

Tamara Hart HeinerTamara Hart Heiner, the prolific author of favorably reviewed young adult novels, knows her genre and her target audience and focuses like a laser on providing great writing for those young readers. She has written 17 (!!!) short young adult novels over the past five years. A master of both quantity and quality, she’s a great example of what focus, discipline and a few short years can do to build an author brand. She writes with great empathy and insight about the concerns of her young target readers and has clearly built a good and sturdy home in her chosen genre. Our review is here.

Non-fiction. Short stories. Cultural exploration. Young adult. What a varied feast, and how well presented. Each author provided useful information or entertainment, and they all shared their work in clean, well-formatted prose. We truly enjoyed exploring their work and “meeting” these authors we would not otherwise have encountered. Hurray for indie publishing!




The Extraordinary Ordinary Life of Cassandra Jones
Tamara Hart Heiner
72 pages

I was given a free copy in exchange for a fair and honest review of this independently published work.

This first episode in Tamara Hart Heiner’s Walker Wildcats Year 1 series focuses on the trials and tribulations of a fifth grader uprooted from her life in Texas and set down in the Ozarks in Arkansas. This well-written and sensitive portrayal of pre-teen society is engaging and real, capturing all the angst of that first walk down the new school hallway, finding someone to eat lunch with that first day and navigating the perils of making friends and getting in with the right group. Young readers going through a similar experience will find a great example in Cassie’s adventures, whether it is dealing with two best friends who hate each other, or handling unfair grownups who shout too much or being sad when not allowed to bring home a puppy. Great for young readers.


Light Love Rituals

By Ronesa Aveela, 158 pages, $3.99 Kindle

I was given a free copy in exchange for a fair and honest review of this independently published work.

This comprehensive and exhaustively researched book on Bulgarian myths, legends and folklore is a handcrafted labor of love. Organized around the calendar year, the book works its way through the seasons and festivals of each year and shares with the reader the blended pagan and Christian roots of each festival and custom. Using the device of a local family experiencing and learning about each custom, the book also shares local recipes, traditional clothing, tragic love stories and funny bits of folklore with the reader. “Did you know?” inserts share such useful information as the correct wood for driving through the hearts of vampires, the days you really don’t want to die because you will turn into a vampire and other snatches of folk wisdom. Delicate pencil drawings in vibrant colors and ornate designs illustrated nearly every page of the book.
Opening the book was like entering a riotous colorful bazaar of information, all about Bulgarian folklore and myths, going back to the times of the Thracians. The authors deny any claims to scholarly accuracy or academic methods, but the careful and thorough research they did is obvious. They list in the back of the book several pages of links to additional information. I had to chuckle at the line mentioning that the links functioned at the time they did their research, noting that they share with the U.S. Supreme Court the problem of managing “link rot.”

I found the classification as fiction confusing, as this is very much a non-fiction book comprehensively listing and explaining myths, legends and folklore. The authors used the device of a fictional family to illustrate the different customs, but they were clearly embedded in a non-fictional book. For any researcher interested in Bulgarian culture and folklore, this book should be a first step. I was glad to discover the subtitle “Bulgarian Myths, Legends and Folklore” on Amazon when I went to check out the book there, as my free version had only the not-very-descriptive Light Love Rituals title and I worried about discoverability for the book without a clear hook to Bulgarian folklore and culture.

The writing itself was clean and well-edited, and obvious care had been taken in the formatting, with words of the text carefully framing the images and special note sections. The fictional family sections were sometimes a bit stilted, in the way that an “exposition dump” in a novel can feel forced rather than natural, but for the most part, the writing was fluid and had a joyous, light and often humorous tone that was a pleasure to read. There was a home-made quality to some formatting choices, like the insertion of calendar pages to show festival days, but never was there sloppiness or lazy editing.

The recipes for traditional foods looked mouth-watering, with photos of key steps and final presentation to illustrate each recipe.

Review: For travelers, students, mythology and folklore fans who are interested in Bulgarian/Thracian folklore and culture, this is a terrific resource. This book is also a vibrant, joyous example of the wonderful, creative niche offerings from passionate authors that can come into the world through independent publishing, works that would otherwise never make it past gate-keepers looking for the big market opportunity. I had minor issues with a few formatting and writing choices, but overall found the book to be carefully and lovingly crafted, with a vast wealth of interesting information to share.


Impromptu Scribe
Alex Morritt
127 pages, $0.99

This collection of short stories by British author Alex Morritt offers a smorgasbord of delights.

Whistling through each of the thirty or so short stories is the ghost of the author, not mentioned in the text, but present in the viewpoint, the gaze, the objects and people noticed and ignored in each story. I found myself seeing past the characters on the page and wondering about their creator, about this man, a well-traveled wanderer, lonely perhaps, when he finds himself between romantic interludes, with an eye for the elegant, the well-turned out, who notices the magnificent facades of the buildings in the affluent parts of town, the dust in the rural market, the asymmetry in the hang of a perfect rocker’s smoking jacket hidden away in a thrift store.

The stories carry the reader through a dizzying array of locations and characters. Paris in Le Marais, Italy, a courtroom in Hollywood, a fancy restaurant, a rural English village, Milan, a prison cell, a war zone, a Guatemalan marketplace, a truck full of hopeful undocumented immigrants, Mexico City in the nicer parts. The characters are compassionately sketched, even the bad ones. These pages contain the child molester, the ladies’ man in various forms, snappy dressers, a peasant boy, a dishonored daughter killed by her father, a terrorist, an old British veteran visiting the poppy-filled fields of Amiens for the last time, a terminally ill base jumper, a vengeful babysitter, a pair of lovers feasting before the feast, a dog with a discriminating nose and a foot fetish …

The stories are mostly told from a decidedly male viewpoint, an honest and open one, delivered with a sheepish shrug for any sins and a sense that any female outrage is expected and already factored in and accepted as one accepts with stoic calm both sunshine and storm as Heaven shall find it meet to dispense one or the other. The author writes of the transgressions of men, men who are cads, unfaithful men, preying men, men who pray for the empty seat by the pretty girl, men who listen not well to their wives’ instructions, men who like their lady doctors and long for the visits of their nurses, men in love with their cars, men who long for a just-so artisan poncho, men who long for their dead wives, men robbed by thieves and by time, men abandoned by neglected wives, men with guns, men in disguise.

Some favorites from this box of chocolates: “Hubert and Hector,” “Words in the Wind,” “A Silver Lining,” “Poncho Man.”

The editing and formatting are clean and tidy, unmarred by errors, and the writing is poetically beautiful at times. I am not a reader of short fiction—my taste runs more to the epic—but I can well imagine a dozen or more of his vividly drawn characters taking flight and headlining novels of their own should the fancy ever take them. Perhaps this talented traveling writer will tarry somewhere a little longer someday, and stretch out a short story into a longer one, even a novel, perhaps of experimental format where his characters meander in and out of each other’s lives. I am certain this traveler with so keen an eye could construct a worthy journey through a longer story for his readers should he ever choose to do so.

As for those reviewers who carp that he has bundled up his writing group stories and made a book of them, I can only reply that they should go forth and do the same if they have even a handful of stories as fine as the best of these. Would you not buy a man a cup of coffee in thanks if he told you a charming tale and made you laugh?


Birth Formations: What Multiple Home Births Teach about Living, Laboring and Mothering in the Now (New Moms, New Families Book 2)

by Gloria Ng  (Author) $2.99

I was given a free copy in exchange for a fair and honest review of this independently published work.

This 74 page volume is the third book in healing arts practitioner, writer and mother of three children Gloria Ng’s “New Moms, New Families” series. As the author describes her book, it is “a nuts-and-bolts approach on how to actualize the New Age concept of living in the present moment before conception, during pregnancy, throughout delivery and in the midst of postpartum motherhood for the busy woman who desires to do and have it all.”

The author brings all three of her identities—healer, writer, mother—to every page of her book with passion, intelligence and eloquence. She is a clear and articulate writer, and the book is well edited and well-formatted. She begins by recounting some of her healing background before heading into the heart of her discussion, the labor, delivery and mothering experiences and ideas she wishes to share with other mothers-to-be. She ends with an open call to live a fulfilling life in each moment, integrating mothering with all the rest that life has to offer. She also generously shares her poetry and smaller essays with the reader through links embedded in her book and on her website.

I struggled a bit to review this book, not due to any jarring defect, but rather due to its unclassifiable nature. It is part memoir of her years birthing and mothering her three children, laced with insights into her struggles and joys in that role and her personal discoveries about her own cultural background, growth and history. It is a bit like a “The Mother’s Way,”  a la Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way,” a structured book of exercises  for probing one’s life through meditations, writing exercises and daily practices in order to unleash the blocks that hold us back as writers or mothers. Every now and then it is a practical guide to the modern first world woman’s birth experience, with the hospital five minutes away, the midwife on speed-dial, the birthing tub fired up and ready, hubby well-trained on where to massage and when. Then there are the New Age incense-scented passages that glide in and out of the text. My tension over how to classify the work eased somewhat when she used the word “experimental” to describe her writing. “Aha!” I thought. “So this is what ‘experimental’ writing is.”

The label does not help me much though, as I still grapple with how to evaluate the work. As mentioned above, it is well-written, lucid and intelligent. As a reader, and perhaps one who is overly fond of knowing what I am reading and what to expect, I found myself confused and caught off balance at times by the shift from memoir to breathing exercises to in-depth practical discussions of when is labor going badly enough that you must bail and head for the hospital. I believe Ms. Ng is capable of writing an excellent memoir, an excellent New Age guide to labor and birthing exercises and practices for body and soul, and a practical “what to do when you are expecting”-type guide. I’m just not entirely sure that all these things belong in the same volume.

One other concern is the possibly polarizing way Ms. Ng chose to open her book, spending several chapters on the New Age ideas and practices of rebirthing to resolve past traumas, the importance of affirmations and other New Age ideas. She boldly outlines core premises like the idea that we must resolve past birth trauma in order to live free of the shadows it casts on our lives. Some readers who do not accept that premise and others in the same vein may be turned away at the gates of her book before it really gets rolling. On the other hand, those who do hold to such ideas will feel very comfortable and press forward.

The author then in her own words negates the need to resolve past trauma through these practices by discovering that such practices are irrelevant to the mission at hand, that of actually birthing a baby. “In other words, I can choose how I deliver my baby no matter whether I needed to complete birth traumas or not…the act of birthing seemed to be completely independent of one’s psychosocial and emotional past. Everything started from now, as if the past didn’t matter at all. Only the future mattered.” This I find to be an eminently sensible observation, and an excellent place to begin the book without running the risk of driving off the non-New Age adherents who might otherwise get a lot out of the rest of the book. This is of course the author’s choice, to be more or less inclusive and approachable versus quite clear in her viewpoint, but I found her choice to risk excluding the non-New Age reader interesting as she dwells somewhat in the memoir sections on her own struggles with cultural inclusion/exclusion.

Review: I believe the book will connect best with first time mothers-to-be who are open to New Age thinking and who wish to know vicariously as much as they can about the realities of laboring, birthing and new mothering. Ms. Ng is generous and open with her struggles and setbacks and inspirational and caring in how she shares the path forward that worked for her. The book shines brightest for me in the memoir-like sections where she shares these struggles and joys.

A star score is an irrelevant measure applied to a highly personal multi-faceted account of an individual’s felt experience. But a score I must give, and so I offer a blended score of 4, attempting to capture the experience of admiring the writing, the intelligence, the passion and the honesty (5); feeling confused at the kaleidoscope of genres vying for my attention (3); and finding much sensible and inspirational advice in the mix useful to new mothers (4).