Reviews provide a look into the reader’s mind
Whenever a superb review gets posted to a distribution site where a book of mine is available, after the cartwheels and shouts of glee, I take a couple of immediate actions. First, I thank the reviewer and post that ‘thank you’ on my author Facebook page. Within my photo archives (thanks to my photographer husband), I search out an appropriate photo to include. Next, I post that review on my own website on the Books page under the corresponding book.
All reviews are desirable, Amazon reviews have special clout
For my purposes, I’ve found that having two distribution points works well (More on that in a coming post). Currently, I use Smashwords and Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Here is where things get complicated. When reviewers leave a review on Smashwords, they have an opportunity to rate the book on the Smashwords site with a star-rating system, similar to Amazon. Because Smashwords distributes to a variety of retailers, readers may alternately go directly to the retailer and post there. These can include Barnes & Noble Nook Books, or iTunes or other Apple device outlets, or Kobo, along with Amazon. To complicate matters, reviewers may elect to leave a review at Goodreads.
Amazon posts Amazon reviews only
Highly rated Amazon reviews in volume really help boost an author’s standing. But Amazon only publishes reviews from Amazon customers in good standing. As far as I can discern, the book does not have to be purchased from Amazon. Rather, the review needs to come from someone with an Amazon account who is approved to provide reviews at Amazon. When someone has been kind enough to buy the book, asking them to leave two reviews, one at a different retailer and one at Amazon, seems an imposition. So, I express my gratitude to all who review my books no matter where that review is posted. And if you want to drop in a review at Amazon, that would be doubly appreciated.
Here is a common dilemma for indie authors. Voices all over the independent publishing industry cry out for you to give away a full novel. The rationale is this. When you are an unknown, you need to build reader trust. Readers love to read. They are willing to spend money on high value entertainment. And they are willing to invest their valuable time reading if the read is satisfying.
Smashwords lets indie authors offer a price of $0.00
Enter the indie author, unknown to all. Solution, give away a book. Price it at zero. Let readers decide if you as an author are worth their time and entertainment budget.
I did that with one book. It wrenched my heart to do it. But the book garnered momentum. Thousands of copies of the book were ‘purchased’ for free. Then, I launched a new book with an appropriate ebook price. Suddenly, the free book had a spike in downloads. It was as if prospective readers went to the free ebook first to see if they should buy the new book.
So, would there be a way to do the same on Amazon?
In a great blog for authors, I found a suggestion I’m going to follow.
Indies Unlimited: How to Set Your Book Free on Amazon
The blogger went to his/her Amazon Author Central Page and sent an email to Customer Service. The ask was for Amazon to price-match the ebook that was offered free at other retailers. The author included the URLs for the book at the other sites, so customer service could verify the free pricing on other sites quickly and easily.
Since the price of ‘free’ is in essence a loss leader for an author, it seems wise to at least ask for the price match and appeal to the most readers possible.
In the quest for reviews, a thorough look through Smashwords’ suggestions to authors led me to the following site:
Hundreds of reviewers are listed. Many include specific wants and don’t wants about the subjects and genres of books they will review. Some want only blood curdling mysteries. Others want anything but young adult or romance.
No one said, for example, that they would love to review a clean & sober recent historical (1996, a breakthrough year in mass communications) romantic novel categorizable as Latina fiction, with a strong female lead, around Catholic themes involving family and community, set in a small coastal village in Mexico, with conflict centered around misspent youth, t-boned love and a handful of bad-ass tourists.
Delightfully, interest has been generated. I am in contact with potential reviewers who are industry-recognized, and who are experienced at writing book reviews.
Find Prospective Reviewers
Reviews help authors so much. A strategy I read recently suggested that authors go to retailers such as Amazon and find books similar to their own. Look for same category classifications. Next, make sure the book and its reviews are recent. Then comb through the reviews. If the book has 50 or 100 five star reviews, click on the reviewer name. Some of those reviewers may have a web site, or list an email address, or some way to contact them.
Then, ask. Naturally, you want to pass whatever vetting they desire. So, to build trust, you can add all the ways you can be located online in your email signature. Say what you like about the review that person wrote. Say why your book is similar to the one they reviewed so elegantly. Then ask if they would review your book. Offer to give them a coupon code or other means to download your book at no cost to them.
Follow the Rules, Color Between the Lines
Here is a big caveat. The reviewer may be contactable via Goodreads. Goodreads cautions authors not to hound Goodreads member/contributors about asks for a book review. They say you could get flagged. I’m a writer. I feel flogged already. I certainly don’t want to get flagged.
Does this process work? I will let you know. So far, all I know is that it takes hours and hours.
Friends and family first
One suggestion made to self-publishing authors is to contact friends and family and let them know you have launched or will be launching a book.
I approach such suggestions with caution. Why? Because my friends and family are so treasured. They have my back when life gets gnarly. And I do the same for them. I ask myself if announcing a new book is like inviting them to one too many kitchen ware parties. Is an expectation of them buying something from me just plain tacky?
Discounted or free giveaway
A solution appears. I discovered that on Smashwords, authors can establish a coupon. The book can be discounted or given away for a designated period of time. Amazon offers a similar but not identical opportunity, provided the book is listed with Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDP Select). For friends and family members, offering a book for free or at a discount feels much better to me. And, it gives me an opportunity to ask folks to review the book if they take advantage of the coupon.
My self-publishing journey begins with a few assumptions. First, I’m a fiction writer and I can’t stop. When I have tried to abandon writing, I have found I cannot. I turn into my evil twin who nobody loves.
Next, with the advent of self-publishing distribution avenues such as Amazon and Smashwords, a window of opportunity opened for me along with countless other authors. Thanks to these platforms, I can write what matters to me.
Thirdly, when people who browse books find my work and become readers, I’m thrilled. When a reader expresses angst for or anger at one of my characters, or recognition of a geographic landscape in one of my novels, I experience pure delight. The joys outweigh the frustrations.
So what’s the problem?
A number of authors in the traditional publishing fold enjoy marketing support. As an example, a former writers’ group compadre of mine releases new books regularly through her publisher. Whenever I see her ‘shelf-talker’ cards (those little announcements in the bookstore that hang on the shelf under newly released books) that call attention to her books, I let her know her team is working for her. I don’t have a team working for me. I have me.
Common wisdom has it that to be successful, an author–whether traditionally published or self-published–needs to invest as much time marketing books as writing books. For me and others I know, that has as much appeal as oral surgery. So how to do it?
I’m learning. And as I learn, I will share what I discover with you.