Q. How do I get honest reviews?
A. Reaching out to bloggers is a good idea, if you can find some that are not overwhelmed with prior commitments. Be sure to only query bloggers who review your genre. Many bloggers will also have specific guidelines on how to query them. Read these, and follow them with precision.
You can also give your book away to people who will review it. There are groups on Goodreads where you can list your book, and anyone who is interested in reading and reviewing it will reply. Then you email them the book in the format they choose from those you said you have available.
Authors Requesting Reviews
Another Goodreads group has a form of review exchanges, but you do non-reciprocal reviews, so it’s not a tit-for-tat, lacking credibility.
You can also do a giveaway on Goodreads. This isn’t guaranteed to get you reviews, but it might. The more you give away, the better your chances, but be aware that this is an expensive route with no guarantees. It’s especially expensive if you make your giveaway eligible to foreign countries. The slowest shipping isn’t cheap, and you have to fill out a customs form.
Some people believe there is additional value in the exposure your book will receive when hundreds, if not thousands sign up for the giveaway. I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of people who sign up barely glance at the book’s description, but rather, just hit the Enter Giveaway button and go on to what they were doing before they encountered the giveaway. Sure, it might really entice some people, but you have to put yourself on the other side of any marketing you’re thinking of doing. Have you ever entered a giveaway, failed to win, and then gone back to buy that book, or another book by that author?
It’s one thing to want something and learn that you have a chance to win it. It’s another thing to simply learn that something is being given away, so you enter just because you can, because – hey, free stuff.
I would not recommend paying for reviews. Not even Kirkus, or anyone else who sells reviews. I also would not exchange reviews directly with another author. You might not like each other’s books, and yet still be obligated to give a review. Do you give a bad one because you want to maintain your personal integrity? What if they wrote you a good one, genuine or not? It’s just a messy situation that you probably don’t want to find yourself in.
A good way to promote your book is to have it included in a newsletter that is sent out to subscribers who actually want to know about new books. Websites that do this usually specialize in free books, but some also feature low cost books. One such site that has been doing this is now going to try something new. that is like the “read for review” giveaway described above.
For a $20 fee, ChoosyBookworm.com will list your book as being available to readers who would like to read it and review it at no cost to them. (The price has dramatically increased since this was written.) This could be a win for all three parties. The intention is for you to get at least 20 reviews. Initially, the site owner said that he would keep listing your book until you got 20, but I think he’ll be revising that commitment after the first trial in September. I just signed up for the September listing so I can’t say yet how effective it is.
(I got about 18 reviews at the time, but since then, I think the charge for this same service is closer to $80.)
I said that I would not pay for reviews, but in this case, you’re paying for the chance to get reviews from people you don’t know, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get good reviews, or really, any at all. But don’t let the possibility of bad reviews scare you off. Believe it or not, a book with nothing but good reviews is viewed by some people as suspicious. This really sucks if you write something really great and everyone loves it, but you can see where they’re coming from. It’s more realistic that not everyone is going to love a particular book. Some people just have to be unhappy with it.
My latest novel has this problem. Nine 5-stars and one 4-star. I can’t wait till somebody hates it. Or at least has something critical to say about it. Then my good reviews will gain credibility. Somewhat. Maybe.
Q. What’s the best approach to promoting on social media?
A. I think social media is over-rated when it comes to promoting books, but it’s probably something you can’t just ignore either. You want a presence, but don’t use the presence for the purpose of spamming. Read my blog post about The Art of Not Marketing on Social Media for more on this.
Q. What’s better – Amazon or Smashwords (and all the other retailers)?
A. Everyone I’ve ever talked to, or read about has said that they get between 60 and 90 percent of their sales from Amazon. And that’s not just U.S. authors. (Which reminds me, if you’re from another country and will be promoting your book to the U.S., it’s probably a good idea to have your book edited for U.S. English so you don’t confuse some readers. If you’re reading this, and you’re from England, imagine if I said I was going to spank your fanny. That’s an example of how foreign slang can say the totally wrong thing to someone in another country.) My experience matches that of other authors, except in my case, I can say that 100% of my sales is from Amazon. I only gave the other retailers a one month chance to see what would happen, but in that one month I sold a couple hundred on Amazon, and nothing on iBooks, B&N, Smashwords, Kobo, and wherever else. After that, I promptly made my book exclusive to Amazon and instead of doing the free days from KDP Select, I chose Promotional Countdowns, which resulted in an increase in sales.
Q. Should I be exclusive to Amazon?
A. Considering that most people get the majority of their sales from Amazon, there’s not a huge downside to being exclusive. Granted, I only gave the other retailers a month to compare to Amazon, and that’s insufficient to declare empirical results. If you go exclusive though, that means you cannot even sell your book on your own website. It can’t be sold or given away anywhere else.
I’m leaning heavily toward Amazon exclusivity although my latest novel is currently on Smashwords and the list of retailers they distribute to. I’m trying to give it more than a month this time to see if it’s worth having it with the other retailers. The only problem is, it’s not even selling on Amazon, so it’s impossible to make a comparison this time.
If you’re still not sure which way to go, I’d say go with Amazon, and go exclusive. You can always opt out three months later. And you should also know that those who say they get 10% or more of their sales on iTunes – those people have been selling for years and have developed a fan base. I think it makes more sense to start on Amazon, and if you have a degree of success, then branch out to other retailers once you no longer need the promotional advantages of being exclusive with Amazon.
Q. Should I do paperbacks with CreateSpace or someone else?
A. I have only used CreateSpace after looking at several alternatives. Here’s the first major difference: You can have your book ready for print-on-demand via CS at zero cost. You can upload it today and sell it tomorrow. If your document is properly formatted, you shouldn’t have any problem. If you can follow the instructions for the cover, you might have some problems. But if you’re only a little bit off, CS will adjust it for you, and if you like the way it looks, then you approve it, and your book becomes available immediately.
CS has forums with helpful articles on how to do each step, and there are friendly people there who will usually help. If you’re good with Photoshop (or Gimp, which is free) you’ll be okay. If not, ask your graphic artist friend to help, or hire someone to make the cover-ready image for you. We’re talking about putting your front cover, back cover, and spine into a single, precisely measured template that is sized based on the number of pages in your book. It sounds more complicated than it is.
Q. What price should my book be so it’s not too low or too high?
A. I don’t know if a book can be priced too low. There is an opinion that a low-priced book is an under-valued book. As if you’re telling the world, “My book is only good enough to be worth 99 cents.” I don’t think that holds a lot of water with readers. While it’s true that your book at 99 cents is a clear signal that you’re not a bestselling author, or even a mid-list author, the fact that you’re self-published already gives that away. Combine that with the fact that the reader who’s considering whether to buy your book or not has never heard of you. That’s a big clue that you’re not big and famous. Yet.
Also, flip it around. Have you ever been interested in buying a book that got your attention and curiosity and decided to skip it because the price was too low? That’s never happened, right? You were more likely to be happy that you got it at such a low cost. If it was true that low-priced books communicate lack of quality, then all free books would be considered total crap and no one would download them. But we all do. And we even love some of them. Then we go back and see what else that author wrote, because once we find a good thing, we want more of it. (Which is where the value of KDP Select free days is useful, but don’t assume that 1000 books downloaded means 1000 books read. And it’s also only useful when you have something for that return reader to buy. Only have one book? Publish your best (and longest) short story as an ebook that you give away so readers who come back might buy your novel.)
Pricing your book low doesn’t necessarily mean people will just pick it up and not read it. That’s far more likely to happen when your book is free. I don’t think you can go too low. And if your book starts moving, then bump it up a little. If the sales continue, raise it again. If they stop, put it back down. Find the sweet spot for your book.
The biggest errors people make is over-pricing. I saw a book of poetry priced at $9.99 and it was about 30 pages. The book had no rank. That means no one had ever bought it. And no one will at that price for so few pages from an unknown author. When you’re starting out, don’t even think about money. I’m assuming that’s not why you’re doing this. Quitting your job to write full-time would be a dream come true for any true author, but you’re just starting out. The important thing right now is to get read. Period. You need people to read your book if you’re ever to have any level of success whatsoever. Price it low. Give it away. Hand it out in public. You need readers!
Some authors are concerned about whether they’ll get their full royalty from Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. Unless you’re moving a significant number of books every month – who cares? Will it make a difference to you if you get $2.00 instead of $3.00 on the sale of 5 books? I sure hope not. That brings me back to another argument in favor of being exclusive to Amazon. Now you can get “sales” from people downloading your book for free. As long as they read at least 10% of it, you get paid. If they hate it, you don’t have that awful sight of seeing on your sales stats that you lost a sale because someone got a refund. If they hated it after 10%, you still get paid for the sale. Kindle Unlimited is another thing that is too good to be true and I expect Amazon to change the terms later.
(Kindle Unlimited is another thing that has changed since this article was written. Now you get paid for each page read, rather than getting paid after 10% of the book is read.)
If you have a good story in a popular genre, and a good-sized book, I’d start with $2.99 and see how it goes. Amazon has a beta program that will suggest a price to you. Notice when you get to that step in the publishing process that it’s recommending a price based on making the most money per unit. In the fainter line, you can see which price point resulted in the most sales. That’s the one you want. Forget the profit. You’d probably rather have more sales at a lower profit, (which is how Sam Walton built the WalMart empire) than high profit on few sales.
Q. Should I hire a marketing agency or PR firm?
A. I definitely do not recommend using a marketing agency – at least not the type that will promise to promote your book on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc., and send out X number press releases. I don’t care how many followers they have. When is the last time you bought anything from a Facebook ad? How about the last time you bought a book from a Facebook ad? Tweet 100,000 people, and how many are sitting at their computers at the exact moment your tweet comes flying by? How often are you sitting at your computer reading all of the incoming tweets? I don’t know anyone who does that. We’re usually either tweeting, or reading a specific person’s tweets – not looking at the endless stream of incoming.
When did you last buy a book because you read a press release? I never have. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a press release about a new book coming out. Who does that? If you’re small, no one would read it, and no one will publish it. If you’re big – there will be plenty of buzz before the book hits the shelves, making a press release superfluous.
Q. Isn’t it amazing? I already received an offer from a publishing company!
A. If you received a letter in the mail, or an email from a publishing company telling you that they’re interested in your book – throw it away. If they call you, politely hang up. These are companies who will charge you a fee to publish your book for you. Tate Publishing for example will require a $4,000 investment from you to “co-pay your marketing expenses.” They of course will be paying the lion’s share, and you only need to pay this small percentage.
Such “publishers” are only publishers to the extent that they will help you put your book together, and then they’ll make it available on Amazon and possibly other retailers, and they’ll put it on CreateSpace, or maybe a different print-on-demand company, and then they’ll price your book way too high to sell, and they won’t do anything substantial to promote it.
Vanity e-publishers only accomplish a few things for those who can’t figure out how to do them, like making your Word document into an epub for Smashwords or Kobo. Uploading your document to Amazon for you. Formatting your document so it looks like an actual book. These are good things to have done, but not at the cost of your rights to your own book, and a good percentage of your royalties – if you even get any at the inflated price.
Once you’re in with these companies, you’re in for the duration unless you prevail in a lawsuit for breach of contract. You are far better off hiring out these tasks, or learning to do them yourself. There are books on how to publish on Kindle.
Here’s one that’s free. I think it’s the one I read before I published my first book.
Building Your Book for Kindle
E-publishers will also make your cover. This is one of two things you might need to spend some money on. Look for a pre-made cover that fits your book well, or if money is no object, hire an artist to custom create your cover. Don’t be lured by the lullaby of an e-publisher promising to do all of the things you couldn’t do yourself. You can buy a cover. You can pay someone to convert your books. You can learn to upload them. But if you let an e-publisher do it all for you, the one thing you need the most is the one thing you’ll still be left having to do for yourself – and that’s promoting and marketing your book and getting it in front of readers.
Q. How do I promote my book if social media is out, and marketing firms are a waste?
A. There are readers who subscribe to newsletters about books that are on sale, or that are in the genre they like, etc. Places where readers go to find out about new books is a great place for your book to be. Not in a press release or a YouTube trailer. (Have you gone to YouTube to find out if there are any new books coming out?)
Places like bookbub.com, bookdaily, choosybookworm, and those types of sites. Some of them have free promotion options and some will sell promo spots.
I did ebooksoda.com when it first launched and was free. I got 7 sales that day. It’s hard to say if I got them because of the promo or not. I think it costs $5 now for a promo there. It might even be more effective now that they’ve had time to grow. I’ll try it again and find out. It’s cheap and worth trying.
In addition to getting on these promotional emails, whether you have to pay or not, there are other things you can do. Include a link to your book or your website in your email signature. Reply to every email you receive, even if it’s from a stranger by accident. 🙂
Put your book cover on whatever social media you use. It’s not just to advertise to the same people who will see it everyday, but it’s also to have it in more places on the internet. It helps make you more discoverable. And you never know who’s going to see it.
All it takes is one person to turn you into a success. Literally – but slowly. If you’ve written something that is truly great and one person reads it and loves it so much, they’ll tell other people about it. Some of them will tell others. And so on. Think of your book going viral as being akin to a forest fire. Every person that reads your book is a match that could start that fire. So bring up your book or the fact that you’re an author whenever and wherever you can that is appropriate. Be proud of yourself for having written *and* published a book. Lots of people say they’re going to “some day” but you actually did it.
And when you tell someone you have a book out and they ask with that look, “Self-published?” Smile and say, “Hell, yeah! Just like Mark Twain!”
Read The Storytellers and embrace your identity as an author. You have a special place in the world.
Now you just have to do the non-writing work of getting your book out there in the public eye. I’ve given you some suggestions. Come back and give me some when you learn more than you know today. You’ll find that most indie authors are very supportive. We’re all in the same underdog boat, if you don’t mind a mixed metaphor.
Don’t spend all of your time promoting though. The most important thing is to be working on your next book. You’re a much better writer now than you were before you wrote the first one. So it’s just bound to be a better book.
If you have multiple ideas for your next book, take a look at what’s really popular right now. You might need to rearrange the order in which you had planned to write your next books. If you’re thinking of a historical whodunit first, then a post-apocalypse novel later, reverse that order. I would never say to just write what the market wants with no regard for what is inside you bursting to get out, but if you want to sell books, then you do have to look at the business of bookselling and not be blind to reality.
The thing that worked best for me was writing a post-apocalypse story apparently. That book sells itself. I wrote a novella about a demon-like spirit who ruins people’s lives to try to turn them to the dark side, and that book will not sell. People who read it, say it’s great. But people who just see it, pass right on by. I don’t know how to sell it. It might be that it’s in a genre that isn’t doing well currently. I wrote a sci-fi short story, just to get the idea down on paper. I didn’t plan on publishing it. It was almost like a narrative outline for a novel I wanted to write later. That ended up being my bestseller until I wrote my post-apocalypse. And even that was just a short story I had sitting around. But then I wrote a sequel, then another. And then I put the three parts into one novel, and it sells almost every day. It’s nothing more than a combination of a unique entry into a popular genre. I’ve never promoted it. So definitely consider the genre you’ve written in, and the one you’ll write in next. It can play a huge part in your book’s success.
Q. Is Goodreads the number one place I need to promote my book?
A. The least effective thing I ever did was buy advertising on Goodreads. You know, the place with millions of readers that everyone says you just have to be a part of, as if it was the Shangri-La for authors? I spent a hundred dollars on an ad that was to be displayed on genre-appropriate pages. According to the stats, I had thousands of “views.” That doesn’t mean actual views, but it was there to be seen if anyone looked at it. Out of thousands of views, I think I had one actual click from a user. I asked for and received a refund from Goodreads.
Goodreads is an interesting website. There are alleged to be between 7 and 15 million members. That sounds like an author’s utopia. All of those readers concentrated in one place. It’s nothing of the sort. Yes, there are readers there, but they are there to keep track of the books they read, to share their reviews and read others, and primarily to hang out with reader friends.
Imagine what it must’ve been like there once upon a time when an AUTHOR blessed them with his or her presence. It would have been a big deal. A celebrity they could rub virtual skin with. But then Amazon went and made it possible for any schmuck to publish anything and call it a book. And even worse, to call himself an author. You have to admit, there’s a lot of crap that is self-published. Now imagine these newly dubbed “authors” rushing in droves to Goodreads and spamming the holy crap out of every group they could get into. Every conversation could be interrupted at any time by a stranger busting in and shouting, “I just published a book. Go check it out! And like my Facebook page too!!”
Readers have their favorite authors and they have lists of books that they intend to read. They also have recommendations that come to them from friends, which is about the best promotion a book can get. No one needs or wants an author shouting at them their big announcement they, who no one has ever heard of, has published a book. Don’t be one of those authors on Goodreads.
There are very specific places where book promotion is welcome. Outside of those places, do not promote your book there. In some places you shouldn’t even mention that you’re an author. Don’t be surprised if you encounter a mysteriously antagonistic attitude after mentioning that you’re an author. Wear your reader hat when you’re in a reader’s forum. Be a living advertisement for your book. Let people who are interested in you find out for themselves that you’re an author. They’ve been through self-promotion hell there and some people view every new author to arrive as another likely annoyance and disruption to what was once their haven.
I hope these tips from my year of experience as a self-published author are helpful to some extent. Try not to get bogged down in any one thing. Don’t let your first negative review depress you. Consider what you can learn from it – but also, don’t go changing your book to please one person who criticized one thing. Remember that being an author is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re in this for the long haul.
You’re also leaving something behind for your children and grandchildren, and so on – forever. How cool is that?