Archive for September, 2012

Write What You Don’t Know (… or ‘Why a sales executive wrote a thriller about a serial killer instead of sales budget plans*’).

 I’m learning the e–publishing game on the fly like most of us. In this fast changing world we’re all learning, or making it up as we go along. From research I’ve done, there are four pillars for e-publishing success, only three of which you can do anything about.

1. The book itself

2. Reviews.

3. Promotion

4. Luck. Sometimes you’re just in the right place with the right book at the right time

Today I’m going to deal with the review component and more specifically how to work with our friends the book-bloggers.

With thousands of e-books and legacy books being published every month, how is a lonely debut author going to stand out, get found, find legitimacy, acclaim and fortune outside of friends and family? This is not to discount the importance of friends and family, they can love your book as much as any reader but surely you didn’t put all those hours, weeks, years into your book just to have your loved ones pat you on the back and say good job. That’s nice but there has to be more. 

You need reviews, hopefully positive reviews, from as many readers as possible but also from respected third parties. e-Book authors are NOT going to get reviewed in traditional places like the New York Times – maybe eventually if they hit 50 Shades big, but it’s not happening out of the gate. Having said that, a relatively small percentage of readers actually read the New York Times book reviews anyway outside of the blurbs on book covers.

So how do we get reviews?

Well, contrary to Messrs Lennon and McCartney, money can indeed buy you love, in the form of as many five star reviews as your budget allows. Some well-known authors have paid $15 a pop on Craigslist, or 50 for $999 on Todd Rutherford’s entrepreneurial website, until amazon found out and shut it down. Only after it was earning $28K a month at its peak, mind you, so some authors must have found its services useful. Now this isn’t illegal per se, but bad cricket surely, and it gives the whole reader review based model a black eye, fat lip and a decided limp.

So geunine reviews are important, positive ones are even better. And Five Star reviews rule. I’ll take 5 Star reviews. Any of us are happy to receive them. But be realistic about them and allow yourself some context. Some e-books, while I’m sure quite good, garner almost entirely 5 star reviews from readers. Perhaps they are all genuine.  Perhaps they are THAT GOOD. But for context, it’s interesting to note that two of the greatest pieces of literature of the 20th Century hover around 4 on average:

The Great Gatsby averages 4.2

The Sun Also Rises averages 4.0

Everyone’s favourite mega-selling whipping boy, The DaVinci Code, while surely not sniffing the rarefied air of the aforementioned tomes, averages 3.6. It still did okay in the marketplace. Clearly some books and authors don’t need reviews to garner respect and sales, they have enough inertia already, but the principle still applies.

We all want to be loved, admired, people stricken with awe as they read our wonderful prose, but in the end, your life’s work, your months or years of hard toil is boiled down to a single digit rating.  Deal with it. It’s just a number. Nobody’s perfect, well except maybe Tolstoy. Not everyone will love your work. It could be the style, the topic, or just the ill-defined “meh” reaction. The real question is were they Engaged? Entertained? Did they Enjoy it? Did they talk about it afterwards. Did it generate Word of Mouth. That is the true golden ticket. That’s where the snowball meets the mountain.

Okay, where should we get reviews? First, readers. You may receive emails from your readers extolling the virtues of your book. By all means invite them to translate their thoughts into reviews. Share with others. It’s invaluable. However it doesn’t necessarily get the word of mouth you need.

Who else ? What, in fact, is this rambling blog really about? Book Bloggers. Let me finally begin my thesis by thanking all the powers that be for the very existence of these amazing people. The sound you are about to hear is not me kissing ass. I mean it. These are honest to goodness book lovers who love to read, review, dig into things, support authors, generate that crucial word-of-mouth amongst their followers who wait to read the reviews, comment, engage, perchance to buy. And their followers may include other bloggers in addition to readers who have friends and family around the water coolers of the world.

Bloggers like many authors, come from all walks of life, from all around the world, have day jobs, families, mortgages. They may be retired librarians, retired professional book reviewers, lawyers, corporate hacks, mom’s, dad’s, college students, you name it, yet they still pursue their dream of blogging about books. I am honestly blown away by these people. And yet there are those authors who think it’s okay to abuse the process. Whoever you are – STOP IT !

Some authors expect only positive reviews or none at all. I talked about that ad nauseum above. The book bloggers put the effort into reading your book, why shouldn’t they review it and say what they thought?

Some authors have actually ripped into bloggers who don’t want to review self published books. One author in particular, frustrated by bloggers whose policy was to only review traditionally published books, had the startling idea to castigate all bloggers in an open letter. What’s worse, she actually posted it. Thankfully, enough bloggers saw it as a one-off. I get the author’s frustration, it’s not easy to get bloggers to review your book – they’re busy people who get inundated with requests. But wow, talk about misguided.

Please, people, do not alienate the best friends e-book authors have! Book bloggers are our friends! I mean, maybe not all of them are Your friend or My friend, but as an entity, they are to be supported, cherished, or at least dealt with in a professional manner.

So I’m proposing Ten Rules to Live By in Dealing with Our Friends the Book Bloggers, based on my personal experience and observations.

  1. Read the review policy. Almost all bloggers have one. Do they accept self-published books? Do they accept e-books? Do they accept books at all? It’s their blog, they make the rules. Deal with it.
  2. Respect the genre they are interested in. First, be clear on that yourself. The blogger may read only literary works. Or romance. Or horror. Or Young Adult. Meanwhile you’ve written a political thriller, and it’s character-driven so it’s kind of literary; and there’s a love interest so it’s kind of romance; and it’s about politics so it’s kind of childish and a horror. Define your genre and therefore your target. There are plenty of people and bloggers who love thrillers and would be open to it. Approach them instead.
  3. Don’t carpet-bomb. Personalize. But for God’s sake don’t get over-personalized and creepy and cyber-stalk, like you know all their cats’ names and stuff. Ick. More like “Hey (Actual Name) – I read your blog, saw that you liked XYZ, my book is a similar genre – here’s the synopsis, you may be interested, look forward to hearing from you etc.”
  4. Be patient. Some bloggers are inundated with requests. They have busy lives outside of the blog. Others would rather say nothing than say no. Respect that some won’t respond at all.
  5. If they say they aren’t taking any more requests, that doesn’t always mean they aren’t taking more requests. This is a Touchy Area. I don’t like to go where I’m not wanted. But if you’re polite about it and you know from their policy and other reviews they’ve done that your book is right up their alley, ask. They may so no or nothing at all. Or they may make an exception. Just give them an easy way out and don’t paint them in a corner, nobody likes that.
  6. Support them in return. Read their blogs. Comment – appropriately. Not to use as a platform to promote your book though. As a reader, a fellow traveller on this journey of life.
  7. Respect the timeline. In my experience most reviews will take a few months. Ideally request them 2-3 months prior to your publication. Then it’s news, and you can launch with, hopefully, credible positive reviews and “buzz”
  8. Respect the review and rating. Some bloggers won’t finish reading a book they don’t enjoy in the first 50 pages or so, and therefore won’t post a review. Some charge ahead. Raving or Retching, it’s their sandbox, that’s the game. If you don’t want to play, don’t submit.
  9. Big or small, they’re all good. Some have thousands of followers. Others are measured in the dozens. Maybe they’ve been around for years, or just a few weeks. It’s all good. It gives a platform to generate word of mouth, an opportunity to get more readers engaged and talking about your book
  10. Proximity means very little. The World is getting smaller all the time. My book is a crime thriller based in British Columbia, and I have bloggers from Australia to India to England to Florida who are interested in reading it. Meanwhile I have bloggers in my own city who’ve said no thanks. No problem, it’s all good.

I’m sure I’ve missed some points. If so, please share your thoughts.