How to Post a Review (4)

Amazon:

Amazon makes it easy to post reviews. They have numerous ways to submit your review. For starters you can find any product on their site and find a button to submit a review. You don’t have to have bought the book through Amazon to review it on their site. However if you did purchase it on Amazon they will flag your review with “verified purchase” so readers will know. How much weight that carries I couldn’t tell you.

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In their quest to get reviews, Amazon Kindle apps will also prompt you to write a review at the end of each book. It can be convenient but sometimes you aren’t ready to review the book. (You want to think through what you are going to say, like a good reviewer.) Or typing on a device keyboard isn’t ideal. You could always post a short, simple review and then come back later on your home computer and edit it to something more substantial.

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You can also check your order history under the account tab and see a list of all the books you’ve bought from the site. You can add a review from that list as well.

Goodreads:

Search for a book in this box

Search for a book in this box

Once you’ve set up a Goodreads account, search for a book. Once you find the book you are looking for you can click on the box that says “want to read” and edit it to “read.” Or you can simple click on the number of stars you would give the book. Either will add the book to your read shelf. Once you’ve rated a book you will be prompted to “add review.” Click on that and you will be given a text box to write your review. That’s all there is to it.

Add books here

Add books here

A lot of Goodreads veterans get creative with their reviews, adding Gifs and what not. If you are tech savvy, there are plenty of help sites that will tell you how to do that. It’s not necessary.

Other ebook retailers:

While none of the other ebook retailers are invested in reviews the way Amazon is, they all have some sort of button to add a review. And even if the company behind the site doesn’t use the information, they are still valuable to other readers.

Most ebook retailers have some button to make it easy to post a review.

Most ebook retailers have some button to make it easy to post a review.

Book blogging isn’t difficult but setting up a blog is beyond the scope of this article. There are plenty of good resources out there for those that want to set up a blog.

Conclusion

That’s all there is to doing a book review. To recap you should write reviews because it will help you and your fellow readers find the best book. It will also give you a way to contribute to the wider culture of our society.

There are many sites that allow reviews but Goodreads and Amazon are the two that encourage reviews the most, and are the easiest to use. Reviews on other ebook sites are useful and you should consider writing reviews on whatever website that you buy books from.

Writing reviews can be as simple as saying you liked a book or did not. However the most helpful reviews often give some details about why they did or did not like a book. They reference similar books that readers might be familiar with. They help direct other readers towards books they will like and away from ones that they won’t. That means even negative reviews can be helpful, as long as you don’t try to use it as a platform to attack an author you don’t like.

So that’s it. Get out there and write some reviews.

How to Review Books (3)

I am going to break this down into two parts, how to write a review and how to post a review. I will start with how to write a review. If you are new to reviewing and it makes you nervous, feel free to write your review out in Word, OpenOffice or some other text program first and then copy it when you post it. If you are old hat at reviews, you can simply write it into the provided space while posting.

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How to write a review

1. How to write a simple review: Reviews don’t have to be book report. This isn’t high school. Amazon requires a minimum of twenty words. Goodreads doesn’t have any minimum requirement. If you are stressing about what to say a simple “I really liked it” or “it wasn’t for me” on Goodreads is better than nothing.

For Amazon here are several twenty word reviews.

“I liked this book a lot, it held my attention from start to finish. I would recommend it to others.” (20 words)

“It was a really good insert genre and readers who enjoy that genre will probably also enjoy this book. I know I did.” (23 words)

“I usually like science fiction books but I couldn’t buy into the premise of this book and that ruined it for me.” (22 words)

2. How to write positive reviews: One of the things that puts off many would-be reviewers is how to write a positive review. It’s ironic, it’s books we love that make us want to write a review, but figuring out what to say about them is often harder than reviewing a book we are critical of. Writing a positive review is an art form.

Many five star reviews are nothing but vague praise. This isn’t helpful to the next reader and often comes across as fake. You see glowing praise and assume the author got his/her best friend to review the book. What should you do instead?

Take a minute and think about what you loved the most about the book. Then write about that. “I really loved how the main character wasn’t the stereotypical heroine, but felt like an ordinary girl like me.” “I loved the way the author made the setting seem so real, even though this was a fantasy book.”

Mention similar books. Some of the most helpful reviews I’ve read, positive and negative, mention other books. “It was a gritty fantasy in the same vein as Game of Thrones” tells the reader two things. If they liked Game of Thrones, this might be a book they’d like. If they don’t like Game of Thrones, they should maybe pass on this book. When readers get directed to the books they will love, everyone wins.

3. How to write a negative review: Yes, I am going to tell you how to write a negative review. I am going to give you permission to write negative reviews, even if they are about my books. Because I believe negative reviews can be as helpful, or more so, then positive reviews. I’ve often been swayed to buy a book by a negative review, because the reviewer was angry about something that I personally like. Negative reviews direct the wrong readers (meaning readers that won’t like it anyway) away from a book, and that’s as critical to success as finding the right readers.

When writing a negative review it’s helpful to keep a couple things in mind, the first and most important is that it ideally shouldn’t be about the author. It’s about the book. Be clear about that. If you feel that the author is advocating something immoral or is offensive because of something they said or believe, it can be hard to separate that out. But if you use the review button to unleash personal attacks you will likely find your review flagged and removed. Instead focus on the book and why you didn’t like it.

We don’t all like the same thing. No book is going to be universally praised. And that’s okay. You didn’t like this book, but someone else might. The more specific you are, the more this will come through. A lot of readers don’t like first person narratives, but then again, a lot of best sellers have been told through that point of view. So if that was what turned you off to the book, say so. Different readers have different tolerances for sex, violence, controversy, cliches or mediocre writing. Comments like “too much sex” will warn some reader away while bringing others to the table.

How to post a Review

Where to write a review (2)

There are lots of places that you can review books. The most obvious is Goodreads. Goodreads is a social media site designed around books. You can rate, review and list books. You can see what friends have read and compare your taste in books. You can start discussions about book related topics or about individual books. It integrates easily with Facebook if you want to share your latest discovery with your Facebook friends.

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The other obvious place to review books is the site where you bought the book. Amazon is the biggest retailer at this point and many people review books on Amazon. But the Nook, Kobo, iBooks and other ebook retailers all have reviews as well.

If you want to take your reviewing to the next level, there are hundreds of sites that will allow you to host a blog about books. Checkout websites like WordPress or Blogger if you are interested in posting your reviews to a standalone site.

How to Review Books

How to Write Reviews

When I talk to readers about reviews I often hear that they would like to write a review for their favorite author, but aren’t sure how to go about it. So here is your complete guide to why, where and how to write book reviews.

Why write a review?

When asked why reviews are important, a lot of authors tell you how reviews help them. I’m going to tell you how writing reviews helps you, the reader.

1. You get more books from your favorite authors

Being an author is a long, often frustrating process. Most writers don’t earn a living from their novels. They squeeze writing time in between paying jobs, family obligations and that thing we call life. It’s not always easy.

What keeps us going? The dream of someday making a living at writing. The goal of connecting to readers through our stories. The desire to share something with the world for yet other writers.

The first dream requires a combination of talent, luck and hard work. Many of the things that lead to success are out of the writer’s control. One of them is social proof, proof that people are reading the book and enjoying it. One of the main examples of this social proof is reviews. That is how reviews lead to sales, when people see that others are reading a book, they get curious as to why and they check out the book.

But reviews also let the author know if their writing is connecting with readers in a meaningful way. They tells us if the stories we are creating are reverberating with the rest of the world.

Giving an author those things keeps them motivated. That means they will produce the next book that much faster, let you know what happens to the characters you’ve grown to love. So write a review.

2. Reviews gets you better books from Amazon.

The secret to Amazon’s success is that they aren’t focussed on making a sale, they are focussed on making the next sale. They are constantly updating their search algorithms and advertising to show you want book you want to read next. They can do this through demographics, previous searches and similar searches, but to get pinpoint accuracy they need to know what you liked or didn’t like. That’s why they are so big on consumer reviews. When you give a book a positive review on Amazon, they will show you similar books. When you give a book a bad review, they will show fewer books like that. The more you review, the better the search results will be.

3. You get to be part of the conversation.

Critics will tell you that public book culture is dying. We used to carry our favorite books as badges of honor. We saw somebody reading the latest thriller and we had a conversation starter. Now people increasingly read on electronic devices. They do their socializing there, too.

Book culture is not dying, it’s just moved online. Sites like Goodreads allow us to rate our favorite books, review them, talk about them and share them. We can see what friends are reading and how they are reacting.

And this new book culture is far more democratic. Publishers choose only a fraction of stories to publish. It used to be that a few magazine reviewers got to tell us if a book was good or bad. Certain stories were seen as having “literary merit” and others not.

Now anyone can have a say, even you. Culture is nothing more than the shared beliefs and experiences of those in that culture, and you can help influence and shape where our culture is going. Think there aren’t enough women/minority/diverse writers in a certain genre? You can use your Goodreads account to talk about women or minority writers you’ve read, or to search out more.

Where to write a review?

The Real Cost of Self-Publishing (Or How Not to Get Scammed.)

This landed in my inbox today and for some reason it really got under my skin.

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I get emails just like this almost every day. I usually just delete them and move on. But today I just want to pull on my ranty-pants, pull them up well past my belly button like some demented grandma and rant.

It does not cost three thousand dollars to publish a book!

If anyone tries to convince that you need to pay them 1500 dollars to self publish your book, that’s pretty high, but okay. If they try to convince you this is half price, they are scammers. Don’t pay these kinds of fees. It’s insane.

And it just gets worse. I’ve heard of people spending tens of thousands on “deluxe” publishing and promotions packages that do nothing other than take your money.

What does it really cost to self publish a book?

One of the beauties of self publishing is that a lot of the costs are up to you. There is a simple formula for most things in life:

Knowledge + Time + Money = Results

The great thing about this formula is that you need a certain amount of knowledge, time and money, but any of these things can be substituted for the others. Knowledge is power, if you are knowledgeable you can produce good results quickly for very little money. If you don’t have the knowledge but are willing to spend some time learning, you can do most of the steps of self publishing yourself and eventually get good results. If you have neither the knowledge or time, you can spend the money to pay a pro. It all comes down to choices.

Let’s break publishing down into five component parts and lay out the real costs for each. Publishing book requires editing the manuscript, formatting it, getting a cover, the actual publishing it and then promoting it.

Editing

You do need to edit your manuscript. In fact, you need a professional editor. A lot of writers resist this, put off by the cost or unwilling to admit they can’t do it themselves. The problem is that you can’t see your own mistakes. You need a second set of eyes, good professional eyes that know what they are looking for.

A professional editor requires money. There is no way around that, but the above formula still works for editing. Most editors offer at three different types of editing, content, line editing and proofreading. Which is right for you? If you have spent time learning your craft, if you understand story structure and are competent in basic grammar, you can get away with line editing or proofreading. If you have the time to let a manuscript sit and come back to it with new eyes, you can find more of your own mistakes. If you have taken the time to build a decent network of beta-readers, they will help you with content.

I still strongly recommend a good profession editor before you publish, no matter how many times you’ve been through the piece or how many beta-readers you use. A professional editor will almost always find things that could be improved.

How much does that cost? I hear quotes all over the place and it makes me think that all too many writers are being taken to the cleaners by unscrupulous editors. I’ve personally paid as much as a thousand dollars or more. Other writers tell me they are regularly quoted prices in the three to five thousand dollars range.

My editor, Janet Fix at the Wordverve offers several packages ranging from a half penny a word to a 1.25 cents per word, depending on the level of editing. A penny a word means that a sixty thousand word novel will cost in the neighborhood of 600 dollars. Expensive, but well shy of the thousands that some people are quoted.

Another important caveat, always ask about what the packages include. I used a professional editing service once, early in my career. Not only was it one of the most expensive edit jobs I’ve had, if I wanted to re-submit my changes or to work with the editor to finalize the document I would have had to pay for another edit, at the same price. Don’t fall for that. Find a good editor that is willing to do at least couple passes, until you both agree on the final manuscript.

Formatting

Formatting really isn’t that hard. This one area where I recommend knowledge and time replacing most or all the money investment. Formatting typically means making two versions of the manuscript, a print ready pdf for the printer and a file that can be converted to an ebook. Neither is particularly hard to do.

I have one huge bias when it comes to formatting, and while I admit it’s a bias it has worked so consistently for me that I use it as a rule. Don’t use Word. Whatever you think of Microsoft’s Word as a word processor or a writing program (it seems that most writers either love it or hate it), it’s not good for formatting.

If you are a Scrivener user, Scrivener does a great job on ebooks and a passable job for print. (Check out my tutorial on compiling in Scrivener here.) Free tools like Calibre can also be used to create ebooks. A workable print ready pdf can be created with open source software like OpenOffice or the way pros do, with InDesign. InDesign is more expensive and has a much steeper learning curve, but if you publish a lot or are planning a career, it might be worth learning. OpenOffice can make a decent looking book for the average indie author.

If you are technically challenged and the mere thought of learning to format a book makes you break out in hives, hire a professional formatter. My editor has one in her network. He runs a couple hundred dollars, which I find a bit high but he’s a professional graphic designer with years experience. Shopping around you can find formatters who will work for anywhere from fifty dollars to low hundreds, depending on what you want/need done. Again, I have had naive authors tell me they paid thousands for formatting and I shudder. Shop around, ask fellow authors for recommendations or check in with a local writer’s group about whether a quote sounds fair to them before you shell out thousands of dollars for anything.

Cover

A good cover is vital if you want your book to sell. It’s one of the areas where many writers are most willing to spend. There are two reasons for that, they acknowledge how important a good cover is and they know they don’t have the knowledge to do it themselves.

There are many reasons why it’s worth getting the knowledge, even if you continue to hire this task out. Knowing how to use a graphics program can save you a bunch of time and money on promotions. Having a basic understanding of design will help you know if a particular cover artist is worth the fee or not.

It does take time, though. There are two graphics program commonly used by the pros, Photoshop and GIMP. Neither are particularly user friendly and it takes hours of watching tutorials and trying things out to get a real sense of either program. Graphic design is an art form and you won’t develop an understanding overnight.

So this is one area where you are likely to going to spend money to have someone else create your cover. How much is that going to cost? Unfortunately, there are a number of factors and the legitimate cost of cover art can span twenty dollar premade covers to several hundred dollars. I’ve spent anywhere from seven hundred and fifty dollars for custom artwork to ten bucks for stock photos that I turned into a cover myself.

The biggest factor, in my opinion, is your genre. From a sales point of view, it’s more important that your cover show an understanding of the genre expectations than being an artistic masterpiece. Your target readers need to see your cover and know instantly that this is a book they might be interested in.

Erotica often features a scantily clad women on the cover. Erotic romance might have a hunky bare chested man. The “scary silhouette man” is so common on thrillers that it’s something of a cliche, but unlike writing cliches, cover cliches work.

What does this have to do with cost? Writers in certain genres can find stock photos and make their own covers pretty easily. The Best Boy Ever Made is YA with a large romance element. It has a simple stock photo cover and it one of my most consistent sellers. Other genres will require more work. Fantasy books often have illustrations, which is why I spent seven hundred and fifty dollars on commissioned art work for The Mage Chronicles.

This was one of my simplest covers, and yet it sells well month and month.

This was one of my simplest covers, and yet it sells well month and month.

Fantasy novels typically have illustrations. This is my most expensive cover, but I don't regret the cost one bit. It's gorgeous.

Fantasy novels typically have illustrations. This is my most expensive cover, but I don’t regret the cost one bit. It’s gorgeous.

Whether you are working with a designer that is using stock photos or directly with an artist, they should sell you the cover outright. I’ve talked to a few authors that were offered licensing deals instead. The result was that they had to go back to the artist and pay more money if they want to create merchandise based on the cover, or publish a new edition. Make sure you own the cover.

Publishing

Amazon and other ebook retailers have made publishing so easy it’s almost sad to see authors pay someone else to do it for them. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows you to upload your own ebook and see it on the kindle in a matter of hours. Createspace, Lulu.com and Ingram Spark make creating a print on demand book so easy that creating the print ready pdf is really the hardest step. There are many tutorial online to walk you through the process.

Even if you are not tech savvy, you really need to learn this step. Think about this, if you pay someone else to upload your book to Amazon for you, you will have to continue to rely on them to make changes and run promotions. You also have to trust them to report your sales truthfully and pay your royalties. Do you really want to put all those tasks into the hands of some company that sent you an email that one time? More than anything else, this is what makes me so angry about those spam emails.

The only potential cost for publishing is the ISBN and more than a few indie authors are on the fence about whether they matter. Some sources insist that if you let Amazon or Createspace give you a free ISBN, then they are the publisher of record and you won’t be able to get into bookstores. Other sources say that isn’t true.

The biggest argument people give in favor of buying your own ISBN is that then you are the publisher of record and you can take that book and ISBN anywhere. This is a myth. Say you buy an ISBN and publish your book to Createspace. Later you decide to switch to Lulu.com. You must unpublish the Createspace book and reissue your book as a new edition, which requires a new ISBN.

Then there is the whole question of whether or not ebooks even need an ISBN. Amazon allows you to publish without one. ISBN numbers are used to catalog books in libraries and collections and it’s uncertain whether or not there is any advantage to having one on your ebook, especially if you also have a print book which will have an ISBN by default.

Assuming you do want an ISBN, how much does that cost? ISBN’s are sold by Bowker. The more you buy, the cheaper. Currently its one hundred twenty five dollars for one ISBN or two hundred ninety five dollars for ten. A hundred go for around five hundred and some dollars. If you intend to publish and intend to use your own ISBN it really pays to save up and buy a package. It cuts your cost to less than thirty dollars each.

The bottom line is that paying someone hundreds or thousand of dollars to publish your book for you isn’t just a waste of money, it’s a dangerous business move. It puts the control of your book into someone else’s hands. It they are trustworthy, it’s a hassle. If they aren’t, you’re screwed.

Promotions

Promotions are the most difficult part of being an author. Or perhaps more to the point, it’s the vaguest part. What works and what doesn’t? How should you promote and what should you avoid? No one seems to have any solid answers.

Part of the problem is that it’s nearly impossible to make a definite correlation between our actions and the sales we see. If I ended this post with a link to my book, ten people read this post and one clicks through and buys the book, I could quantify my efforts. I’ve yet to see that sort of correlation pop up. You blog. You post on social media. You run promotions. Somewhere down the line you see sales. Whether those sales happened because of your effort or would have happened anyway is anyone’s guess.

It’s no wonder that so many writers would be happy to pay a promoter to take of that hassle for them, if only they could afford it. But they can’t. Promotional services are some of the most expensive packages offered by these snake oil salesman. For just a few thousand dollars they will make sure your book is plastered everywhere. They will put a team of Keebler Elves to work around the clock promoting and promoting.

I will say two things about these services. I have yet to talk to a single writer in person who paid out from some promotional service and was happy with the results. I’ve also noticed over and over that the glowing testimonials I see online have one common feature; they are authors who are new to the program and can’t wait to see the results. I’ve never read a testimonial that said, “I spend three thousand with Company A three years ago, and I’ve been a full time writer ever since, thanks to them.” Instead they trick writer who have just shelled out for the service to write them a testimonial, knowing that a few months down the road those writers will be disappointed and cynical.

 

So that’s my rundown of the real cost of self publishing. My most expensive book so far has clocked in just shy of what the above company is calling half price, and I paid for a professional photo shoot for that cover. My average, even with a professional editor onboard, is under a thousand.  

Spend time networking online with fellow writers before putting any money down for any service. Find out what a reasonable price is, what results you should expect and be sure you can’t do it yourself. I really hate to see any writer scammed out of thousands of dollars by some unscrupulous publishing company.

 

The one place I would never skimp on is knowledge itself. Luckily indie authors are a great bunch of people who are happy to share their knowledge. Here a few books to get you started:

 

The Indie Author Survival Guide

 

Write. Publish. Repeat.

 

Think Like a Publisher.

Your First 1,000 Copies

 

Let’s get Digital

 

Let Them Read Indies

The blogosphere is abuzz with news that ebooks sales are declining and print is surging again. Traditional publishing is safe from the ebook revolution and the self published hordes.

There are just two little problems with this. Traditional publishers seem to have forgotten their other recent victory. They’ve mostly won back the right to set the price they want from Amazon. So they have, increasing ebook prices to match print. Since both Amazon and bookstores still discount print, that means print books are now cheaper than ebooks in many cases. No wonder ebook sales are dropping and print is surging.

The other fact they fail to mention is that indie authors aren’t seeing the same effect, because most haven’t raised their prices. In fact the latest Author Earnings report shows that indies continue to gain ground in the marketplace.

So, I think it’s time.

Traditional publishing wants higher ebook prices?

Clears throat

Speaks in high, noble voice with French Accent

Lethemreadindies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Original Image Via Wiki-Commons

P.S. A shout out to all the small presses out there that aren’t jacking up their ebook prices to force readers back into an outdated pricing structure. This isn’t all about trad vs. indie.

5 reasons that Twitter power users hate DM

I see it all the time, twitter power users with a little message in their profile, “No DMs.” These users won’t respond to direct messages, they don’t read them and woe to the user who tries to DM them. Why do so many power users seem to hate Twitter’s direct message feature? Here are five reasons:

  1. Hi! Generic greeting – via thirdparty app.

Nothing says engagement like using a third party app to auto message people. I understand that social media takes time. I schedule posts and automate some things as well, but not DMs.

I don’t expect every follower to interact with me personally, but getting hundreds of DM’s from autoresponders wastes my time and it looks tacky. If you use an auto-messaging app, you might want to rethink it. It won’t make me unfollow you, but it does make me tune out DMs.

 

  1. Hi! Thanks for following me. Want to follow me on Facebook here?

Yeah, I get this one daily. You follow someone and they send you a dm requesting you like their facebook page as well. You know what? I followed you on Twitter. If I wanted to follow you on Facebook I would have done that instead. Twitter is an actual social media in its own right, not Facebook’s recruitment app, so stop treating it as such.

 

  1. Thanks for following me! Want to buy my book now?

This one is often followed by the little via third party app tag, making it a double whammy. I love connecting with authors, but if I wanted to buy your book I would have looked you up on Amazon, not Twitter. DMing your book link is spam, pure and simple.

 

  1. DM’s from people who don’t follow you.

Yes, it happens. Why is that a problem? Because Twitter won’t allow you to respond if you don’t have a mutual follow relationship. Obviously you didn’t know that, or you wouldn’t have wasted both our times with this message that I can’t reply to even if I wanted to. Stop it.

 

  1. It’s called social media for a reason.

People forget what social media is all about, being social. I can understand people being more hesitant on Facebook. You have personal pictures, you’ve friended family and close personal friends. You want to share with them, not the world.

But Twitter is an entirely different beast. Everything you do on Twitter is public. That can be a downside as many of the conservatives that treated the president’s arrival on Twitter with racist scorn may soon find out.

But that’s also the beauty of Twitter. Twitter is the cocktail party of social media sites. It’s all short conversations held in a public forum. Twitter power users get that. They are on Twitter to promote themselves, not by constantly spamming people with buy my books links, but also not to spend most of their time in private conversation. They want to mingle, to share tweets with followers and talk to each other in a semi-public forum.

The @ mention is the secret to being a Twitter power user, not DM. @ mentions are seen by both your followers and theirs. Public interaction with the right fellow authors can increase your visibility and announce, in a not so spammy way, that you, too, are an author.

As a bonus: One reason I personally dislike all of the social media messaging features, be it Twitter, Facebook or wherever:

I have an email.

I get plenty of emails. It’s hard enough to keep track of everything when it’s one place. (Two places, actually. I have a second email I use specifically for newsletters, or websites where I have to sign in.)

What’s worse is trying to keep track of hundreds of contacts and messages across a half dozen platforms. To keep things simple, I keep Facebook chat off and redirect any important contacts to my email address. Otherwise things get lost in the shuffle.
That’s my take on why Twitter power users don’t use direct messages. What is your take? Any issues I missed?

Amazon’s BS Machine

I absolutely adore Ursula K. Lequin. I want you to know that right up front. She’s one of my favorite writers of all time. I love how passionate and outspoken she is about many issues, ranging from books to feminism. However her latest post on Bookview Cafe missed the mark on a number of levels. The post, title Up the Amazon with the BS Machine, takes Amazon to task for creating a system where the latest best seller drives out better books.

 

Her argument in a nutshell is that Amazon has an obscure algorithm for determining best sellers. It focus on selling books fast and cheap, favoring the quick pop success of fad titles and then burying books that have ran their course into obscurity.

I see three big issues with what’s she’s saying. The BS machine (best seller machine) predates Amazon’s rise and dominance by many years. Amazon’s admittedly murky algorithm actually works against the BS machine and Amazon doesn’t condemn any book to obscurity, quite the opposite.

The BS Machine

Let’s start with the rise of the BS machine. It didn’t happen overnight. It rose in large part due to the same market forces that slowly turned hundreds of medium sized presses into the big five corporate publishers we have today. You can glimpse the same complaints in books on publishing that were themselves published as far back as the 1980’s.

It goes like this, as publishing becomes more and more driven by corporate bottom line, publishers natural focus on “marketable” or “commercial” fiction. i.e. books that sell well enough to make the company a big profit. The hunt for the next big thing soon trumps keeping a stable of moderately successful writers happy.

The rise of big box stores and discount sellers in the nineties drove this to new heights. Suddenly books didn’t just have to sell enough copies at regular price to be profitable, they had to sell at a sharp discount and still be profitable.

Amazon came along in the mid-nineties and has slowly gained a greater and greater market share, eclipsing Barnes and Nobles and driving Borders out of business. Lequin is right to say that they have continued to force the trend towards highly discounted books, but wrong to say they are responsible for the best seller mentality, which came from publishers and big box stores.

Amazon’s Sales Rank

The way Amazon determines sales rank for books, and therefore best sellers, is indeed a murky business. They are notoriously secretive about their algorithm. But what we do know about the process actually works against the BS machine, not for it.

First off, the reason Amazon is so secretive is that they fear publishers or indie writers will game the system if the system is too well understood. After all, it happens all the time. Every time the algorithm becomes too clear, someone figures a way to make it work for them.

The best example is free. It’s also the best example of how the current system works against the BS machine.

Back in the early days of KIndle Direct Publishing, Amazon counted any download equally. Authors figured out that they could make their book free for a short time and shoot to the top of the bestsellers list. Once they put the book back to regular price it would slowly drop off the list. In the meantime, they would be on Amazon’s front page, getting a huge boost in publicity. This would result in a huge number of sales for the author, enough to justify the free promotions.

Problems abound for Amazon and for author’s in general. The value of being a best seller was watered down. Bad books often did come to the top. Clever marketers succeeded while good writers failed.

So, Amazon started changing their system. They no longer count free downloads towards sales rank. Free giveaways still have value for some writers but they aren’t a quick way to game the system anymore.

The murkiest part of Amazon’s algorithm is “stickiness.” What exactly counts as stickiness is uncertain, nor how they measure it or how much weight they give it. In general terms what it means is this, Amazon weighs consistent long term sales more than short term ups and downs.

For example another way to game the system was to get all of your fans to buy a book on a certain day. Authors did this through email lists, twitter or other social media. By micromanaging their sales they hoped to get enough downloads within a given period to push their sales rank up into the bestseller list. Like other ways of gaming the system, it worked for a time.

Then Amazon changed the system. They started updating the sales rank more often. That had the result that sales all in one day would boost your rank, but it would drop the next day, back to what it was. The benefits of gaming the system became short lived.

Now many indie authors have noticed they’ve taken it a step further. If your book has been selling at a certain rate and had a certain sales rank for several weeks, small bumps in sales have little effect on that rank. So do small dips in sales. Sales ranks have become “sticky.”

Amazon has done this to prevent gaming the system, but it also works against the BS machine. Stickiness means that books that sell reasonably well will be kept around and will keep selling reasonably well, while fad books rise and fall in the background.

“But you can’t buy and read a book that hasn’t been kept in print.”

Of all the arguments Lequin makes, this one is just plain wrong. Amazon had no mechanism to force publishers to take a book out of print and two important mechanisms in place to prevent it.

Amazon doesn’t want books to go out of print to make way for the next big thing. Publishers do. They can make more money off one title if they get the competition off the shelf. The generous return policies they offer retailers is in part aimed at that. Can’t sell title A? No worries, we will credit you for it and send you title B.

Digital shelf space is unlimited and Amazon makes far more money by selling a few copies of title A and a few copies of title B then they do by concentrating their efforts on a best seller. In fact they’ve driven Borders out of business, not by having more copies of one book but by having an enormous selection of books on sale, a selection no physical retailer could match.

How does Amazon preserve books? The most direct way is their own Kindle Direct Publishing. Digital books never go out of the print. Many authors have created large side incomes by taking older titles that went out of print and republishing themselves on KDP. Newer indie books are never in danger of being taken out of print by the vagaries of a traditional publisher.

The second way that Amazon keeps books in circulation, if not print, is through a vast collection of associate sellers. Anyone can start an online store through Amazon’s associate program. Used bookstores and book collectors run lucrative businesses reselling older titles.

I resisted online book buying for many years, preferring to shop at a local bookstore. But time and again, I couldn’t find the title I was looking for. Meanwhile, I’ve found hundreds of great out of print books on Amazon. I’ve been able to access some great books that publishers would have let die long ago, if not for Amazon.

 

I am no Amazon fangirl. You can criticize many of their business practices and I will be on board with you. They are a huge corporation. If you believe you can trust any corporation to serve anything other than it’s own best interests, you are dangerously naive. Publishers and authors should always keep one eye open to what Amazon is up to.

Amazon is also an online platform. That’s a big part of why I am not afraid of them.  Like Facebook and Google, they have a good side and a bad side. They have value to both consumers and publishers alike. In the future that might change, and we will all have to roll with it.

It’s important to be objective, to not blame them for every ill of modern publishing, or for market forces beyond their control. They have their good and bad side, but this one is not on them, in my opinion.

What is your opinion? I would glad to hear it in the comments below.

Why Give Books Away for Free?

I just wrapped up a big free giveaway of my latest novel Children of a New Earth. Why giveaway books? Some indie authors and a lot of traditional publishers, hate free giveaways. They argue that a writer works hard and shouldn’t devalue their work by giving it away free. They argue that free and bargain books are creating a glut and a race to the bottom, where the only way to succeed is to give things away.

Other indie authors were happy to use free promotions, a couple of years ago. Free is dead, they say. Amazon algorithms once favored free. A free giveaway still counted as a sale and a big free promotion could drive up your sales rank significantly. Now the algorithm has changed and that no longer works.

I am sensitive to all these arguments, but free remains an important part of my marketing strategy and here’s why.

One of the best books I’ve read on marketing is Write. Publish. Repeat. One of the most important things I learned from the books is that you have to have a marketing strategy. A marketing strategy means an overall philosophy about how to market yourself and your books.

Without a strategy all you have is a collection of techniques. Some techniques work some of the time but not others. Some work for awhile until something changes. Other techniques work, but may work against each other if not guided by one philosophy.

Free promotions are a great example. They used to work great, propelling some indie to renown. Now they work less well. Amazon will change its algorithm again and we’ll see, they might work well again or they might work against the author.

Free compliments certain techniques but works against others. Imagine that an author uses any sort of hard sell technique to create a sense of urgency about buying their book. You hand over your money. Next weekend the same book is free. I’d be pissed.

According to the Write. Publish. Repeat. guys any artist in any medium can support themselves doing their work if they have one thousand true fans. True fans will buy your book as soon as it’s released. That alone makes them a valuable resource. Imagine getting a thousand sales the day you release. Imagine if one in ten wrote a review. That would be over a hundred reviews on your book.

But true fans will do more than that, they’ll talk about your book. They’ll share your message. They’ll come to your events and build buzz around you. Basically they’ll do all those things that authors attempt to fake with social media buzz and “street teams.”

One of the marketing strategies they talk about a lot in that book is finding your tribe. Finding your tribe means finding those thousand fans, those people who will love what you write, talk about what you write and share your message. To say that these fans are worth their weight in gold might be an exaggeration, but they are certainly worth the cost of one book, especially in the digital age.

My marketing strategy is heavily based on the notion of finding my tribe. I will bend over backwards to give you, or anyone, a chance to read my work, no strings attached. I have a couple free stories on Wattpad. I have a couple on my website as well. If you sign up for my newsletter I will give you a free book. I also run free promotions regularly. I do this because I have confidence that at least some of you will come back and join the tribe.

Join my email list right here:

Free when you sign up for my newsletter.

Free when you sign up for my newsletter.

Marketing in this way means I also measure success a bit differently. I like sales. Everyone likes making money and I do have the dream of doing this fulltime someday. But right now sales aren’t the only or even primary means that I measure success. I measure success in many milestones, followers on various social media, reads on my wattpad site, reviews on my published books. The one I love the best is personal feedback, of course. There is no greater thrill for an author than a letter or email from a reader who was touched by something you wrote.

However I choose to measure success on any given day, the point is to build a tribe around my work. That’s why I run free promotions of my books. Maybe someday, when I have more than a thousand true fans, I will reconsider my strategy, but I doubt it. This is the author I want to be, one who is known for being generous with her work and her time. One who values her fans as much as they value her.

And by the way, it’s not just indies that think this way. I would like to end off with an interesting interview with Neil Gaiman about putting his novel American Gods out for free.

 

Help me with this Blurb, Please

My next release, Children of a New Earth, is with my editor as I write this. Meanwhile I am working on the blurb and cover. I hope to have a cover ready to show soon. For the moment I could use some honest opinions about this blurb:

For nearly thirty years, since the collapse of society, Freedom Ranch has been self sufficient, hidden deep in the Rocky Mountains. Amy Beland has grown up hating the small valley settlement and the survivalist that run it. Now it will be up to her to save them all.

Journeying out of the mountains and into what is left of civilization, they discover that much of what they’ve been taught about the collapse is wrong. They don’t find the enemy they expect on the plains beneath their home, which is good because Amy suspects they may have brought a couple with them.

I know it’s not quite ready for print, but I am not sure what to do with it. Any comments or suggestions would be welcomed. Please and thank you.