November is National Novel Writing Month, and I thought I’d post some experiences I’ve had as an author forging his way through the wilderness of self publishing.
One thing that I’ve seen a lot of, and I’m sure you have too, are the scores and scores of books available online that have just one or two reviews despite being available for months or even years. It’s something writers need to take into consideration well before they ever publish their book, but far too often they are focused solely on the writing process and not on the release. Let me tell you, if you spent so much time and effort creating your work, you should be more than willing to delay releasing it until you can give it a fighting chance in the competitive landscape of Amazon and other sales channels.
Consider this. To gain visibility on Amazon (which is the main source of sales for most indie authors), you need consistent sales. They reward a steady purchase history more than a one-day spike, but what helps people discover and eventually decide to read your book? Ratings and reviews. They give credibility, and help draw eyes to your work. How many times have you personally been influenced by a star rating on Amazon? I know I am far more likely to take a gamble on an unknown if it has many positive reviews, and most readers are the same.
Okay, so we’re on the same page now, but the question people ask is, “How do I get reviews?” Amazon often filters out your family and friends by comparing your social media accounts. They don’t catch them all, but be aware that Mom and Cousin Joe’s glowing reviews might not stick on your page. There are some sites that sell reviews, but not only can you typically spot those reviews a mile away, Amazon is also actively removing them and punishing authors trying to game the system that way. So what’s an author without a massive mailing list to do?
Advanced Copy Reviews.
ARCs are a fantastic tool if you’re willing to put the time and effort in to getting them to the right readers. The book doesn’t even need to be in its finished form or have the final cover. ARC readers realize they are seeing a work before the final proof. It’s a special thing to be one of the first to lay eyes on someone’s work, and the ARC readers I’ve met have almost all been a joy to interact with. So how do you find people willing to read your book? It’s not a simple/easy process, but neither is it incredibly difficult.
- Book Bloggers. Spend a few hours and search for bloggers who read books in your genre. Really dig in and look through their sites. Do you like their writing style? Is their content good? Do they post timely reviews and interesting pictures? How is their interaction with their readers? You want to reach out to these voracious readers months before your release and offer them your book for free. Most will have a submissions policy listed on their website. Follow it and do not spam them with repeated requests. I sent out dozens of requests after reviewing literally hundreds of blogs. Of those select ones I found exceptional, only a handful wound up reviewing my book, but those reviews were fantastic (even the critical ones) and meeting a blogger whose work is that quality is well-worth the effort. If you reach out to just five blogs a day for a month, that’s one-hundred-fifty contacted by the end of the month. Not so daunting when you break it up like that.
- Blog tours and aggregators. Some services, such as Xpresso book tours, have a huge number of bloggers in their network. These people are looking for good content for their sites, and by providing them with quality reads, you are helping fill that need. An announcement will be sent to them or posted on the main site informing them of the available book. An advantage of this is you have a bit of one-stop-shopping this way and can reach a lot of people. It costs money, but it is quite reasonable, especially if you want your book to launch well. It only launches once, after all, so do it right.
- Free giveaways. Goodreads, Library Thing, Instafreebie, Bookfetti, all are sites that you can promote your book via giveaways. While Goodreads requires print copies for their giveaways, you can go into the groups on the site dedicated to ARC readers. I’ve personally reached many excited bookworms there, and best of all, they are actively replying to your post, which indicates a high likelihood they’ll read the book. Library Thing is a bit hit or miss, but it’s an eBook, so it’s free to send anyway. Do a giveaway and ask for a review. Even if you get just a few out of fifty or a hundred sent out, that still builds your book’s credibility. Just make sure to keep track of your pre-release reviews (Amazon won’t let them post on the site until the book releases) so you can email reviewers a thank you and ask that they post on Amazon when it finally releases.
If this seems like a lot of work, just remember that so was writing your book. If you want your brain-baby to be seen, you have to put in the post-writing effort. Furthermore, if you want to use a promotion site for a giveaway or discount offer, most of them have a minimum review threshold–put in place to ensure they are sending their readers quality deals.
A final note before I return to my own NaNoWriMo work for the day: Hire a professional editor if you can. While your cousin the teacher or buddy the avid reader might catch most mistakes, an experienced editor will make your book read like a professional book, not an indie. Make it look professional. Also along those lines, if you can’t afford a cover designer, there are some great tools and advice at your disposal. I recommend looking at Derek Murphy’s CreativIndie site. He’s a successful author and cover designer who provides huge amounts of information on his site.
Good luck building your list of ARC readers. Put the time and effort in, and you should see the positive results.