Sourcing reviews

I have two reviews for my book on Amazon. Two. That’s probably about 274 less than I hoped I would have by now. And 119 less than I’d have if everyone who bought the book reviewed it on whatever platform they bought it from.

It’s a bit disheartening really. Especially since having reviews can mean the difference between effective promotion and mediocre promotion.  But it’s sourcing reviewers that has become a little problematic for me. A few months ago when I first published, I put out a general (and very polite) call on my personal Facebook profile (where I only have people I know) suggesting that if people would like to review the book, I’d be very happy to provide it to them. Only one person did so. I didn’t push it, or ask again. I don’t want to be one of those annoying ‘friends’ who rabbits on about nothing else but my books all the time.

So I stepped outside of my personal circle and began to investigate options for having eBooks reviewed. And I found some very interesting, and somewhat disturbing, trends.

It’s difficult to get traditional hardcopy book reviewers to look at an eBook. Publishing online is still regarded with somewhat less-than-credible suspicion by the mainstream, particularly here in Australia, where we seem to be a little slower in adapting to a changing industry than in the UK or US. That leaves authors with few options.

There’s a few ‘review’ sites around (for example Authonomy, IWriteReadRate) where you register and upload your book and review and receive reviews. I’ve experimented with some of these sites and found all but one to be quite unpleasant. On Authonomy I was bombarded with tit-for-tat requests for reviews. You know, the ‘I’ll give you a positive review if you give me one’ type arrangement, where quality and content of the manuscript seems to be irrelevant. It might work for some, but it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t think I’m the right personality type for this kind of thing―I’m far too straightforward and honest.

Of the review sites, the one I found to be most beneficial is YouWriteOn, because their review process is far more independent. Authors are assigned random books to review and earn ‘credits’ which then are used to receive reviews that have been randomly assigned to to others. This gives the author a more realistic idea of what readers think of their writing. The drawback is, it’s a development site so you can only upload the first 5000 words of your manuscript, and the reviews are not public. Still, I’d recommend it if you want to get an objective opinion about your writing.

More recently, I’ve noticed a few entrepreneurial reviewing endeavors popping up claiming to be assisting authors to increase their book profiles online. A book is targeted by a series of reviewers, usually other authors, and the reviews are then posted on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and wherever else your book may be. For a price.

The cost varies according to the site you use to source your reviews. Now I’m not suggesting that anything particularly untoward is happening here. I just wonder, if you are paying to have your book reviewed by other authors participating in the program, how objective the reviews could be. Especially when it’s a reciprocal arrangement.

Of course I want people to review my book. But I want honest reviews. Constructive reviews. And I don’t want to pay for them. Or badger people to write them.
I want to know what readers really think. I know that I might not always like what people say. And as every author knows, a bad review is like a kick in the guts. But I’m prepared to take the risk because I want to grow as an author.

I’m serious about making a living out of writing fiction full-time, so I need to deepen my understanding of the market and write accordingly.  Reading, like writing, is a subjective pursuit. And very personal, for both the reader and the writer. I’m not naïve enough to think that everyone is going to love what I write.  But I am realistic enough to know that I need to be conscious of what people want to read, what they enjoy reading, and what they think of my writing. Independently, realistically. After all I can’t support myself with my writing if no-one buys my books. And books are often bought on word-of-mouth recommendations. Or reviews.

Have you had your book reviewed? How did you go about finding a reviewer? What has been your experience of the process?

A contract lost

I lost a publishing contract. The offer of a contract to publish my novel Fake Profile with a traditional publisher was withdrawn. Before it was made. I didn’t even know about it, but I was gutted when I found out. At least, I was until I realised that I was no worse off than if I hadn’t known about it. And really, I can’t be sure I would have accepted the offer of a contract if it had been made.

The contract offer was NOT made,  apparently, because I hold the Digital Management Rights to my own book. Recently the Sydney Morning Herald, the Melbourne Age, and the West Australian, all ran an article about authors who were pursuing publication through electronic means as an alternative to seeking traditional publishing deals. I was featured in the article as an Australian Author who had opted to publish electronically.

The eBook cover for Fake Profile featured prominently in the article and sales have been steadily increasing ever since. Fake Profile is listed on Amazon and is distributed through Smashwords to Apple iBooks on iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Diesel and Kobo. Most of my sales come through Apple AU, followed by Amazon. I’m happy with the way sales are going. I didn’t expect them to be too high in the first months, particularly as I don’t have a publicist and haven’t yet gone into full promotion mode. But I have been pleasantly surprised with sales so far. And I’m very much looking forward to listing my next book in January.

When I began the journey toward publication, I would have loved a traditional publishing contract. And I tried to get one. I queried agents and submitted to those Australian publishers that still accept unsolicited manuscripts, all to no avail. I even pitched the book to a panel of publishers at a NSW Writers’ Centre writers’ festival. By that time I had my author website and blog up and running, I had a Facebook fanpage as an author and a Twitter account. And the beginnings of a marketing plan. Following the pitching session, I received some fabulous feedback, except from the publisher — her response was “If you’ve done all that, what’s left for the publisher to do?” Indeed.

It was then that I decided to pursue the electronic publishing route. However, it seems it was a publisher who was at that festival and had heard my pitch, who intended offering me a contract. Until the article was published.  The article referred to reasonably strong sales and an increasing profile. Seems the publisher was spooked by the fact that my book was already out there, with a variety of retailers in a variety of locations. And its Digital Rights Management (DRM) remained with me.

I’d not really thought too much about DRM when I published Fake Profile. It’s my book, why wouldn’t they stay with me. But apparently, DRM is a sticking point with traditional publishers. They want exclusive rights—total control—over your book. It means that they would get to say where the eBook is listed for sale and how your royalties are paid, (50% net seems to be shaping up as the norm for eBooks, though there are some publishers that are still vying for much more than this in contracts offered to authors). And you couldn’t sell your own book from your own website. Seems a little counter-productive to me.

A non-exclusive DRM contract would be far more reasonable, and I think, acceptable to authors. I want to have some control over my books. If only so that I could continue to promote them and sell them from my website (once I get my eShop up and running).

I’ve written before about the need for publishers to adapt their practise in this changing environment, or risk losing relevance. The news that I lost a contract because I decided to publish electronically was hard to take at first, but I’ve since realised that it is indicative of the turmoil in which the industry finds itself.

Authors are no longer reliant on publishers. We are not restricted to the Australian marketplace; we can choose who sells our books, we can experiment with price, and we can earn between 35% and 60% royalties. And if we want to see our books in hardcopy, Print-on-demand is free and easy and accessible to everyone.

If I’d been offered a traditional publishing contract for Fake Profile in the first instance, I would’ve jumped at the chance to be published in hardcopy. Would I have the same enthusiasm for a traditional contract now? I don’t know. Maybe. But I’m pretty happy with things as they are. My book Fake Profile is selling well; my new one, Say Nothing, will be out soon, and I probably won’t waste time trying to pitch it to nervous publishers while it could already be earning me money online.

I’m not aiming to be a best-seller just yet. I’m happy having the time to write. I’m refining my craft, experimenting with the market, and enjoying my writer-in-residence job. And I’m very happy heading toward being a mid-lister while I do it.

Social Media ― do authors really need it?

There is much said about the necessity for authors to use social media to increase their profiles, but is it really necessary? Most authors understand the changing role they are expected to play in the publicity and promotion of their work. And many realise that social media is pivotal to doing this. But what many authors don’t realise, particularly those new to social media, is that unless it is used properly, social media can do more harm than good.

Before an author jumps into the cyber cesspit that social media can sometimes be, they really need to spend as much time as they can becoming familiar with its protocol. And there is a protocol. Though common sense might suggest that social media etiquette is not so different to that of face-to-face interaction, it’s amazing what some people think is okay just because it’s online.

There is a fine line between self-promotion for the purpose of increasing your author profile, and blatant rudeness. I’m constantly surprised at how many authors cross this line, though I prefer to think it is more likely to be out of ignorance than intention. I can’t imagine authors intentionally setting out to alienate potential readers. But this is exactly what they are doing.

Twitter is a good example. The micro-blogging site is a great resource for authors. It’s versatile, effective, easy to use, and a great way to get your name out there — if you know how to use it properly. Otherwise, it can be a fast track to reputation ruin.

The first thing you want to do with Twitter is to find followers— people who will read your tweets. To do this you need to find people to follow and follow them back. It’s pretty simple really. Like most aspects of social media, it’s about connecting with people, a give and take thing. After all, that’s what makes it social.

The other day someone I followed on twitter sent me a direct message, and while I don’t particularly like the automated DMs some people send, I generally tolerate them. But this particular message went something like this: Hello CHECK OUT MY NEW BOOK NOW (book link inserted here). Um, no, I don’t think I will. I unfollowed them instead.

You wouldn’t walk up to someone on the street with your paperback book, wave it in his or her face and yell at them to check it out, would you? Nope, normal people would not dream of doing this, it’s rude and intimidating. So why I ask, do people think it’s okay to do it online? The use of capital letters in any online forum is akin to yelling at someone. Don’t do it. Unless of course, you intend to yell. People do not take kindly to someone screaming at them, and ignorance of online etiquette is not really a justifiable excuse.

The other common mistake authors (and I’m sure others) make on Twitter is to tweet links to their books. Nothing else, just a link. When you have hundreds of tweets a minute coming through the twittersphere, it is highly unlikely that you’d bother to click on an unidentified link. I certainly wouldn’t! Apart from being a cybersafety issue, it’s boring. Particularly when there are so many conversations going on that you can join in, or at least observe.

I see the same thing happening on Facebook. Many authors have Facebook Fan Pages (as they should) and there are a few sites around (Women’s Literary Cafe on Facebook, Authors Assisting Authors LinkedIn Group, et al) where authors visit fan pages to ‘like’ and interact. It can be a good way to support each other in raising your author profile. But again, there are people who just don’t seem to understand the social nature of social media. They add their twitter and facebook details to the lists expecting others to ‘follow’ and ‘like’ but never actually do so themselves.

By its very nature Social Media is social. It’s about meeting new people and having a conversation. For authors it’s about reaching out to readers, many of which are other authors. Think of it as you would if you attended a party. You meet someone new and typically you ask about them, they tell you a little about themselves and ask you about yourself. You chat. You interact in a balanced and pleasant manner. You don’t yell at them. You don’t tell them all about yourself and your book and then walk off to do the same to someone else. This type of narcissistic behaviour is off-putting. So too, is it on facebook and twitter.

Twitter has #hashtags and @mentions that allow you to join in a conversation, or start one. Using an @mention and replying to someone else’s tweet tells them (and your followers as well as theirs) that you are listening. It’s the best way to make friends. People are going to be much more receptive to potentially retweeting your tweets if they value you as an equal participant, particularly when you are first starting out. And retweets are gold!

Listening and conversation skills are just as valuable in social media as they are in face-to-face communication. Don’t underestimate their importance in building a solid foundation for your author profile. Join in the conversation.