Sunday, March 1, 2015

Adventures in Self Publishing - Reviews

There's a prevailing view that you won't sell any books until you have reviews, and it's hard to have reviews if you haven't sold any books.  This stress has tipped some authors over the edge, and lightened quite a few wallets.  What's an author to do?

Here are some legit and semi-legit means of getting reviews:

Waiting for them organically: This may have the best results, but can take time.  Depending on the book, one has to have from 100 to 5000 customers to get one review.  While time consuming, this is the most ethical and perhaps the most effective way.  This is an audience that wanted to read your book so badly they sought it out and paid money for it, and then felt so strongly about it they went out of their way to say something.

Give books away: either free KDP Select days, permafree, or handing them out on the street corner.  This will get more takers, but a much lower percentage of folks will actually read the book, much less review it.  Also, you get folks that don't want to read your book, but downloaded it because it was free.  I've read (and experienced) accounts of reviews garnered from free giveaways that go like: "This isn't my kind of book, but it was free.  I didn't bother reading it.  One star."

Give review copies to bloggers: Find blogs that review books similar to your own and email them, asking if it's ok to send them a review copy and what format they would like.  Keep in mind they have no obligation to give you a good review, any review, or even respond to your email.  You start to get in a grey ethical area with how you do this, as sometimes authors will submit their review copy preloaded on a new iPad or some such shenanigans.

Solicit reviews from existing readers: Here's a method I've tried with no results, but it's worked for some.  At the end of the Kindle file, ask readers to review on Amazon (or Goodreads or wherever) and email you their contact information, offering a free ebook if they do.  Even though you're not specifying that it has to be a positive review, it probably would be - if they think your book sucked, they probably wouldn't want another.  This also gets a titch grey, as you are basically bribing readers for reviews, but it's not the same as flat out buying positive reviews from folks that never looked at it.

Then we have our grey areas:

Professional paid reviews:  These would be like Kirkus Indie and the like.  You pay money (up to $500 or so), and get a review, which is not guaranteed to be positive.  I don't think I've ever run across anyone who was happy with the results here.  Of course, authors that get bad reviews (and paid a premium for it) are going to be very sad.  But even authors that got positive reviews complain that the review just repeated the plot, didn't talk about the actual book much, or was otherwise lazy.

"Honest" review swaps: I've got a zillion offers for these over Facebook and Twitter.  Two authors agree to read each other's work and give an "honest" review on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever.  Sometimes this is baldfaced fraud - neither author really reads the book at all and gives a generic 5 star review ("Couldn't put it down!  The characters and plot were fantastic!").  Even if there isn't the intention of fraud, people are inclined to do nice things for people that do nice things for them.  I would avoid any quid pro quo arrangement.

And then we have full blown fraud: writing your own reviews under sock puppet accounts, paying for positive reviews over fiverr, getting your friends to write them, etc.  Don't do this.  It's transparent, people figure this stuff out, and there are consequences.  I've run across indie books with sales lower than mine that have been out for a month and literally have like 50 five-star reviews.  People see through this kind of stuff, folks at Goodreads will lynch you, and eventually Amazon will start cracking down.

Which brings us to our next topic - what to do about negative reviews?

First and foremost, don't try to respond to them!  I've seen otherwise rational self-publishing blogs explode into insanity as they become convinced that the Illuminati is out to destroy them.  Reviewers get doxxed, flame wars burn across Goodreads - nothing good can come of all this.

Am I being sabotaged?
Probably not.  There are some folks that see publishing as a zero-sum game.  If someone is reading your Tree Elf Dystopian Romance, then they're not reading mine.  It doesn't help that Amazon is giving bonuses to the top 100 sellers in various genres under KDP Select, because that actually does benefit one author to tear another down.  Other than that, it's not really competing.  DC is rubbing their hands together over the success of Marvel films, because they know it means that interest in superheroes in general is going up, which will benefit them.  However, there is no shortage of malicious jerks on the internet, so nothing's impossible.  But more likely, authors are just not dealing well with the fact that somebody doesn't like their books.

One quick note about Amazon's "Verified Purchase" tag.  When one reviews a book, they have the option or not to click this, it's not automatic.  Update: Just tested, and it is automatic.  However, keep in mind, especially with Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime, someone could be reading the book under their spouse's account or something.  Anyway, if you get a quick one-star "Sucks, don't bother" that isn't verified, it could be an honest review by an actual reader that thinks you suck, not a random troll or saboteur.  Free books do count as verified purchases, and I've read conflicting reports of whether you have to actually ready 20% of the book for it to count.

Bad reviews are not the end of the world, and may be beneficial.  When I check reviews, and not just for books, I check the one-star reviews first.  If they're thoughtful with specific gripes spelled out, I'm inclined to think the product sucks.  If they're MISPELED ALL CAPS RANTS or from someone with unreasonable expectations, or if it's clear the reviewer is not in the market for that product, that says good things.  I don't even bother reading five stars reviews for books.

I've bought books because of one-star reviews: "The most disgusting thing I've ever read"  "This gave me nightmares for weeks".  And one-star reviews can produce positive reviews in response: "I don't know what the reviewer below was talking about, these are the best cotton swabs ever."  And I'm not the only one.  Some book bloggers have reported that they get more Amazon Affiliate earnings from their negative reviews than their positive ones.

Overall, be thankful and gracious that someone took the time to read your book at all.  All my negative reviews were by folks that flat out said they didn't read it.  Seeing as how I have a review series titled "Things I Didn't Finish", well, that's just karma.

And reviews may not be all that important after all.  Many authors report an inverse relationship - their bestsellers get worse or fewer reviews out of their titles.

And, yeah, there's also the possibility that you just suck.  But don't let that stop you.

1 comment:

  1. I do book reviews for numerous publishers, as well as individual authors who contact me requesting I review their book. I do get a lot of junk, but there is some gems in the lot too. I promise at least a 3-Star review, or will reject the book if it is worse. So I give 3, 4 & 5 Stars, or none at all. And I critique the book, as to why it gets a low rating, which usually upsets a lot of publishers. They don't want their books critiqued; if it's poorly written, too many four letter words, giving it a grade five school level, they don't want readers aware of it. What I look for in any books is a good plot, good flow, and characterization. I allow for some editing problems, as I see them in books from major publishing houses, but not if there are errors on every page throughout the book. If I tell publishers I don't read horror, erotica, vampires, zombies, etc., and they send them to me, the books are donated or thrown in the trash. I will not read what I have a dislike for from the start. I want to give the books as high a rating as possible, sometimes the book may "suck" as you say.