Reviews at Any Cost?

Most authors who are either self published or are considering that route understand how important reviews are. The right mention in the right place can drive a lot of people to your book. Once a potential customer finds your book page, the quantity and quality of reviews influence the purchasing decision.

It’s also evident that obtaining reviews is not easy. Book blogs are inundated with requests. A low percentage of people who buy a book, or acquire it through giveaways, leave reviews.

Given the above, that reviews are both important and difficult to obtain, it’s no wonder that some authors pursue practices that other authors feel are morally and/or ethically unacceptable.

Let’s start with providing book bloggers, and other legitimate reviewers, with free copies of the book. I doubt that many of us would question this practice, but there is the point of view that you gave something of value to someone in return for a review. In reality, the “value” of the “gift” is in question. Would the reviewer have ever purchased your book anyway? And, what’s the alternative? Saying to the reviewer, “Hey, can you do me the enormous favor of trying to bring attention to my book and, oh, while you’re at it, pay for the privilege of doing so?”

At the other end of the spectrum lies the concept of fake reviews — creating fake accounts to post glowing reviews of your own book. I think most of us would consider this to be abhorrent behavior.

Where, then, is the line?

Let’s consider a generic review rather than one for Amazon or another particular site so as to avoid the issue of adherence to specific guidelines. At the core, which of the following do you agree or disagree with and why?

Review Trading – You ask an author to review your book, and, in return, you do the same for his. While both of you are planning “honest” reviews, there still exists some degree of social pressure not to trash your acquaintance.

Paying for Reviews –
• “Legitimate” sites like Kirkus that charge money for an honest review from someone who actually reads your book.
• Site where, for a small fee, you can get a great number of reviews from people who probably, at best, only skim your book. While there’s no requirement that the reviews be 5-stars, it’s understood the most of them will be.

Asking Family and Friends – Let’s be honest. Great Aunt Mable probably isn’t going to do anything other than say, “This book was great!!! 5 Stars!!!” Is that really an “honest” review? On the other hand, she bought the book. Why shouldn’t she voice her opinion?

I don’t have all the answers here, though I have opinions. I’d like to hear what you have to say on the matter, and I’ll revisit the subject with my thoughts in a future post.

Why I Plan to Ignore My Marketing Advice

At the moment, I think that my marketing activities are proportional. I spend a bit of time here and there doing research, and I blog for about 3 hours a week. Were I to keep up that rate, I’d say it would be a good balance of producing new work to selling activities.

Instead, I plan to spend an entire month doing nothing but marketing — almost no writing at all.

• April – Work on Daniel Darcy 1: The Exardo Invasion
• Early May – Collect 3rd draft beta reader comments for Power of the Mages and send it to the editor
• June – Finalize Power of the Mages and create review copy (including, ugh, maps)
• July – Besides last minute touches, do marketing
• August – Release Power of the Mages, finish up rough draft of Daniel Darcy 1, and work on compiling blog posts into a nonfiction book

Obviously, this approach does not embrace the balance that I called for in previous posts. Here’s why I made that decision:

1. I fear losing motivation – The vast majority of self published authors sell a few copies to their friends and family, and that’s about it. If I don’t do better than that, I think I’ll get seriously discouraged.

2. The need to swing for the fences is a personal trait – While it’s not likely that a first novel by a self published author is going to be a runaway hit, the possibility exists. I need to give the book that chance of success.

3. It fits my long term plan – Between August 1 of this year and August 1 of 2014, I want to have 5 works on Amazon:

a. Power of the Mages (August 1, 2013)
b. 12 Simple Techniques for Improving Your Fiction Writing: Avoiding the Most Common Mistakes of New Authors (late 2013)
c. Daniel Darcy 1: The Exardo Invasion (Spring 2014)
d. The Slender Man Massacre (Summer 2014)
e. Novelette/novella that comprises the 2nd part of my Dark Power series (Fall 2014)

4. The most effective marketing efforts take time to build –

a. Followers
b. Email list
c. Spreadsheet of bloggers

I don’t know if my first novel is going to sell one copy or a hundred or a thousand in its first year. From the numbers I’ve seen, if it hits 300, I should be happy. My efforts probably aren’t going to take it past that quantity, but I have to try.

My Preliminary Marketing Plan for My To-Be Self Published Fiction Book

I’m an engineer, not a marketing guy.  That being said, I understand that, as a future self-published author, I am responsible for my success and that marketing is a huge part of the equation to becoming a professional writer.  I’m treating my first release as an experiment. 

The following is my preliminary marketing plan.  I welcome critiques and comments.

Things to do continuously:

Write – The most important thing I can do to become successful is to continue to roll out new products.  Each release will sell backlist and give me a new revenue stream.

Produce quality product – I think some high profile successes prove that a quality product isn’t necessarily crucial for success.  I do think that an emotionally engaging story is a necessity, but good technique is no surefire path to stardom.  That being said, I can’t stomach the thought of putting complete dreck out there.  I will also hire professional editing services and a graphic artist.

Things to do far in advance of my release date:

Develop my platform – I’m targeting a June 1, 2013 release date.  Sometime near the end of February, I plan to covert my blog ( into a better platform that just links to the blog.  I do not intend to do much else.  I’m just not sure that Twitter is worth the effort.  I’m still on the fence about Facebook.  On one hand, I don’t think it will be that successful in generating new sales.  On the other, I think there’s an expectation that a professional writer has a Facebook page.  I can see someone who buys my book looking to Facebook as a way to follow future releases.

Research categoriesPower of the Mages belongs in epic fantasy.  Epic fantasy is dominated by the big names in fantasy.  Does it make sense, then, for me to put my book in that category if I have no chance of getting a decently high ranking?  I haven’t researched this yet, but my understanding is that fantasy has few subcategories and that all those are somewhat clogged by heavy weights.  Does there exist non-fantasy categories where my book might fit?  I think it’s worth at least investigating.

SEO – I will research phrases readers might use to search for my book.  I’ll then incorporate those phrases into my Amazon book page in the hopes of making my book appear high on the list when that phrase is typed into the Amazon search box.

Publish my novelette – My plan is to make Abuse of Power available for free on my website and encourage anyone downloading it to sign up for my newsletter.  I want to explore the effectiveness of Craigslist ads by using postings in 10 test markets.  If I can’t get people to download a free book, I’ll know it’s not worth the time advertising my real book there.  I also plan to contact book bloggers to try to get them to post a link to it.  If nothing else, it will be a start in building my master blog list for future marketing.

Things to do in the month before release:

Contact 250 bloggers and Amazon reviewers – It’s tough to get reviews nowadays.  Your only shot is a) quantity and b) a professional yet personal approach.

Get 20 commitments from select friends and fellow authors for reviews – I’m going to use the personal connections I’ve made to try to get 20 people to post reviews on my Amazon book page on May 31, 2013.  The hope is that at least half will follow through.

Things to do near the release date:

Send personal emails or Facebook messages to all my friends – Let’s face it, most of the initial surge that a book a first time author releases is due to friends and family buying it.  A Facebook post simply is not guaranteed to reach all of them.  Personal emails will.  In the email, I’ll list all the ways they can help me: buy the book, tell friends, like the Amazon book page, like good reviews of the book on Amazon, and post a review (with guidelines) on Amazon.

Ad Blitz – The more books you sell, the more books Amazon helps you sell.  I want to take advantage of the initial surge from friends and family by using paid advertisements on Adwords and Goodreads, in targeted ezines, etc.

Announce the release on internet forums – There are several forums where I contribute regularly.  It shouldn’t hurt to do a quick announcement on them.

Press releases – I’m not sure of the effectiveness.  It can’t hurt, though, and shouldn’t take a lot of time.

Things to do after release:

Keep contacting book bloggers – A few emails sent a day isn’t going to eat too much into my productivity, and volume is the only way to ensure a lot of exposure.

Experiment with paid advertisements – Once my sales level out, I’ll post an ad with a site and measure the response.  It will be good information for the future.