Do self help books offer false promise?

My (semi) regular Bookends post is based on an idea from Simon at Stuck in a Book . If you’ve not read his Weekend Miscellany posts take a look at the most recent one.

This week I’m featuring  a new novel from an author in Wales and a blog post addressing a dilemma faced by many bloggers who receive advance copies from publishers: what do you do if you don’t care for the book you’ve committed to review? We end the week with an article about self-help books

Book: Saltwater by Jessica Andrews


This is a debut novel that I saw highlighted as a book to watch out for in May by Susan at A Life in Books. It’s a coming of age novel written from the perspective of a working class girl who hopes university will be her passage to a different kind of life. It sounded so promising I ordered it via the library (amazed to find they had bought it). I didn’t realise at the time it’s told in a series of numbered fragments. I’m really hoping that device works and isn’t just style over substance.

Blogpost:  I never promised you 5 stars


This was the intriguing heading on a recent blog post by Rachel at RachelRead. What do you do when you’re sent a book, asked to review it  and then the book turns out to be “a stinker.” Do you, asks Rachel:

  • A) Shoot yourself in the foot by being honest with your review?
  • B) Get yourself blacklisted by blog tours/publicists/publishing houses?
  • C) LIE?!

Find out what she thinks are the pros and cons of each approach in her post here 

Article: self help books “offer a false promise, like a lotto ticket or an ad for diet pills” 

There are so many self-help books around I’m surprised there isn’t a whole section devoted to them in bookshops. Some are just plain daft; others peddle the same stuff you can easily find via the Internet. Some exist just because the topic is the latest craze (do we really need instructions on how to hygge our homes??). But still people buy them.

Can they help or are they holding out false promises asks Maddie Crum in this article for LitHub. 

Your thoughts???

How do you deal with the question Rachel has been wrestling with? Do you post a review on your site regardless of whether you rated the book or is your policy only to review books you enjoyed/appreciated?


Where do you stand on self help books – love them or loathe them?


Just pop your thoughts into the comments section below and let us know
what you’re thinking.




What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

18 thoughts on “Do self help books offer false promise?

  • I’ll write negative reviews every once in a while, but I try to be constructive about it. I’ve (luckily) never had a publisher drop me due to bad reviews, and if they did, I think that would say more about the books they were publishing and their business ethic! Plenty of more books out there in the sea…

    • It would certainly say a lot about that publishing company if they were to drop bloggers just because they hadn’t written glowing reviews. They wouldn’t dare try that with a large newspaper….

  • I have stopped taking part in blog tours – I don’t like reading lots of reviews of the same book over several days, so when they come up on my feed reader I scroll down without reading them. I try to be honest in my reviews and explain what it was that I liked as well (if there is anything) as what I didn’t like.

    I would like to be able to delete my requests for a book on NetGalley if it looks as though I made a mistake in requesting it. At the moment I have 3 books on my Not Active shelf and I’d like to get rid of them, but haven’t found a way to do that. If anyone does know I’d love to hear from you! Like Cafe Society I’m seriously thinking of not taking anymore review copies. I have too many of my own books to read anyway.

    • I’m not convinced about blog tours for the very reason you mention. I’ve agreed to do one later this year but have asked to be right at the beginning of the sequence (hoping that means people won’t delete). re the review copies you want to remove, try sending an email to netgalley; I’ve found them very responsive when I have had an issue

  • I don’t review books that I really haven’t enjoyed if I think the fault lies with the book rather than with my taste. I do, however, get back to the publishers and tell them why I am not publishing a review. Having said that, I am seriously thinking of not taking anymore review copies. They can start to dictate your reading too much.

    • Differentiating books you didn’t enjoy versus books that were flawed is an interesting approach. Like you I do let the publisher know if I really dislike the book so much I don’t think I can do even a balanced review.

  • I have stopped taking part in blog tours. I got fed up with too many mediocre books wanting me to help promote them to the paying public. I still take individual review requests, but it is much more low key and I don’t promise a 5* review service.
    I now alternate these books with books from my own reading list and I am happy with my decision to withdraw from blog tours.

  • I have a love-hate relationship with self-help books. While most are rubbish and all should be treated with scepticism, the fact that some contain ideas that can’t be dismissed so easily, combined with the fear/temptation that they might contain something that can change your life, means they can draw you in. I think it is best to take an empirical approach. If all it took for ideas to work was that they made sense or appealed to intuition, there would be no need for science – we could just rely on philosophy and maths. I have a notebook I use as a self-help journal. If I come across an idea I think is worth trying, I make a note of it and note the results. Often it does not work for me or, even if it does, the improvement is not worth the time and effort. But some are useful and at least you now know.

  • I get around this dilemma by never promising a review/ never asking for arcs. So I get very few, and those I do get I accept “for consideration”, not “in exchange for an honest review”.

  • I’ve been over to Rachel Reads and left my thoughts there, (which all of you who read my blog know anyway so I won’t repeat them here).
    But Kim, I think two things are going on: one is that bloggers worrying about being honest are thinking too much about the publicist’s ‘rules’ and not enough about their own. Bloggers as you say are not an unpaid part of the industry and they are entitled to set their own rules, publish them so everyone knows what they are, and give them priority.
    But the other thing is just a suspicion of mine. I think what Rachel calls FOMO is actually something different (though it may not be the case for her in particular). We all know that women are not very good at putting their own needs first, and when the family budget is tight a woman will be the first to forego buying a book (or whatever other hobby she has). For women like this, free books are a lifeline to being able to keep up with what’s new so being dropped off a list is a disaster.

  • I’m staring at a book on the floor that I ASKED to review. It was so bad i didn’t get past the first 1/4, I read other reviews hoping for inspiration. None. They loved it. They had to be friends, staffers etc.. no one who read what I read could say those things. Ugh.

  • People getting their knickers in a knot over wether to post honest reviews really annoys me. This issues comes up time and time and time again. Just be honest! You’re not a publicist. You’re not there to do unpaid marketing for a publisher. Write about the book as you find it. At the end of the day your readers will respect you for your trusted opinions.

  • I have written reviews of books I didn’t like. I ALWAYS give very clear reasons for why I didn’t like it, and if it’s a style thing, specific examples. If I get blacklisted by that publisher, so be it – I don’t blog for money, ARCs are a nice bonus, but I’d still be blogging without them (all that said, I don’t accept any unsolicited ARCs).

    Self help books… I think it’s mostly about reading the right book at the right time. Full disclosure: I’m a therapist, so I’ll occasionally dip into self help, to see what’s currently appealing to people (eg. recent trend has been ‘do what you like! Out with the old! Don’t give a f***!) but ultimately these books don’t replace talking to someone and being heard. Being heard is the important bit.

    Also on self help, I often think memoir is more useful – finding commonality in someone else’s experience. That can be more insightful than a self help author ‘telling’ you what you should do.

  • Interesting… With the review books, it probably depends if I’ve asked for them or not. I tend to try to only request books I think I’ll enjoy – and I would probably be honest, if diplomatic, if I didn’t like them, only I actually don’t think that’s ever happened. If a book was really bad, I wouldn’t finish it and wouldn’t review it. But if a book is an unsolicited review copy I don’t think I’d even feel obliged to read and review unless it really appealed.

  • I loathe self-help books and never read them!

    The review copy question is more complicated though. I try never to be dishonest in my review, but I have found myself looking harder for nice things to say if it’s a paper book I’ve specifically requested from a publisher. Oddly, being blunt about NetGalley books doesn’t bother me at all and I’ve never noticed it having an impact on whether publishers approve me for future books. As far as paper copies go, though, I have definitely been dropped by one publisher who clearly felt I wasn’t glowing enough about the books they sent me. But I didn’t really mind, since I’d also come to the conclusion their choices weren’t working for me anyway. Very occasionally I’ve emailed a publisher to say I really hated a book and won’t be reviewing it, and they’ve always seemed OK with that, although I suppose they’d get fed up if it happened too often…

  • Looking forward to seeing what you think of Saltwater, Karen. My answer to the review conundrum is that I’ve make it clear on my blog and to publishers that I only review books I’d recommend to a friend.


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