Beta Readers, Book Reviews, Indie Publishing, Marketing, Publishing

Why Book Reviews Are Important: The Stats

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Image via Pixabay

Recently, there was an article in Publisher’s Weekly, which featured a literary agent giving his opinion on book reviews.  It was called, “Why Most Amazon Reader Reviews Are Worthless” and despite what the title implies, I agreed with some of his views.  In it, he talked about how publishers used to con their way on to the NY Times bestseller’s list by purchasing books at the outlets they knew the NY Times used to gauge their list.  He then compared it to today’s Amazon algorithm which favors quantity over quality and drives some desperate authors to purchase reviews.  Anyway, he’s right the system is corrupt and always has been but reviews still matter when it comes to online marketing.  Let me show you how…

Reviews Aren’t Important, They’re Vital!

Today’s consumer usually does their research before making a purchase and online reviews either motivate them to buy a product or walk away.  Reviews in fact help them learn about your book from people other than you.  According to a 2014 survey by Bright Local, consumers are 84% likely to trust an online review as much as a personal recommendation.

So how many reviews does it take to form a positive or negative opinion in the mind of the consumer?  According to the survey, after ten reviews 88% of customers have already formed an opinion of a product.  So good reviews are important, don’t let anybody tell you anything different.  In fact, I’ve seen several authors incorporating Amazon reviews onto their websites via widgets.  Another technique I noticed is authors building a sales page for their book and including reviews right after the blurb.  Bestselling indie authors Bella Andre has her reviews right under her blurb as does J.F. Penn.

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Faking It Until You Make It Or Social Proof?

It’s been said by some marketers that people are sheep and will follow a crowd and sadly it seems to be true in certain aspects.  An old trick used by new restaurants desperate for buzz, was to hire people to stand in line or sit at tables to make the place appear busy.  Even if an identical restaurant was across the street serving the same food, the one that appeared busy was always chosen by patrons.

The psychology behind social proof is the idea of social influence, people following the crowd in order to avoid ridicule or missing out.  And it’s not limited to restaurants, in October of 2016, talk show host Wendy Williams, admitted to hiring screaming teenagers to stand outside of her studio and sit in the audience for pop star Justin Bieber’s television debut (at the 18:10 mark).  She says, they did it to make him look like a big deal.  This practice is called astroturfing and it’s used by politicians, corporations and yes, even artists.

This type of thing isn’t exclusive to show business, there are authors over the years who have used smoke and mirrors to inflate their image. For example, it’s been alleged that sci-fi author and founder of Scientology, L.Ron Hubbard’s followers purchased his books by the dozens to make him appear like a big deal after his death in 1986.  By the way, this  kind of stuff is considered black hat (unethical) marketing but that doesn’t stop a lot of desperate people who need that fifteen minutes of fame.

Back To The Point…

The reason why celebrities and artists do this is because it works.  I don’t recommend you buy fake reviews and astroturf your Amazon page because with technology today, that can be easily detected.  However I do recommend that you try to get at least ten good reviews in the beginning.  I know of authors who passively solicit for reviews years after their book’s been published.  Imagine if you pitch ten reviewers per week and only half of them respond, you’ll still have five new reviews per week.  That adds up to 260 at the end of the year.  Also, don’t stop at Amazon, try to get good reviews on Goodreads, as well as any other major outlet your book is sold.

In Closing

I know we grew up thinking that books made it to the bestseller’s list based on merit and popularity but that’s not 100% true.  The missing piece to this equation is hard work and smart marketing, you don’t have to be sleazy and trick people into thinking your books are popular.  If you’re in this for the long haul and want a career in publishing, then time is on your side.  I believe people who focus on their fifteen minutes of fame are selling themselves short.  Most readers these days don’t care if a book was a NYT bestseller, that’s been proven, but what does matter is if you connect with readers through your work.  The readers matter the most, not the lists or awards because without our readers all those things are meaningless.  This is the biggest reason why genuine book reviews not only matter but are vital.

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Book Promotion, Book Reviews, Business, Marketing, Networking, Publishing, writing

How To Find Who & What You’re Looking For

 

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Several years ago I wrote an article called, “How to Get Featured or Reviewed on Amazon” and it became very popular.  Recently, it was pointed out that I left out an important fact like names of various departments.  That was my mistake but later on, I encountered another author who was having trouble finding email addresses at a popular P.O.D. company.  It was then I realized there was a much deeper problem and that is, many indie authors can’t do deep research.  Now I come from a freelancing background where finding people who don’t want to be found is just part of the job.  However, we all come from different backgrounds and this kind of stuff isn’t taught in school, even though it really should.  Today, I’m going to help you find people who are hard to track online also, I’m going to go over the fundamentals of sending out an ARC or pitch. So buckle up, because we’re going sleuthing.

Tip #1: Before You Start You Need To Look The Part

When approaching a person like a book reviewer or editor, you must present yourself like a professional.  That means using a professional email address with your domain’s .com such as: JoeShmoe@YourPublishingCompanyName.com.  Most authors have a domain for their pen names but not many have one for their publishing company.  I bring this up because there are still book reviewers and editors who exclusively review trad pub books.  That means no indies allowed.  So like it or not, we need to create a company for our publishing business and that entails building a website and having a professional email address if we want to bypass the snobbery.

Here are the most popular sites for buying a domain and setting up a professional email address for your business:

Tip #2: Don’t Forget To Include A Kit With Your ARCs

Once you’ve gotten passed the gates, you need to bring the goods.  I was amazed at how little authors knew about sending out their work, none of the ones I spoke to ever included a book/press kit or formal letter with their books or ARCs.  How is someone supposed to know who you are let alone where to find you?  Authors can’t assume that a busy professional is going to bother Googling them, many of them just don’t have the time.  You need to introduce yourself and your company then give them what they need whether it be an ARC or a book.  Here’s an article you should read on the topic by Savvy Writers & E-Books Online.

Tip #3:  How to Find Names

Most companies have a corporate website or blog and there, they have listed the names of employees and the departments in which they work.  Also, most magazines and publishers have a page where they list their masthead which is really convenient but not every place is this transparent.

If you can’t find a masthead or corporate website, then you can always check out LinkedIn, there they have a search engine which can help you find your target.  Just enter the name of the company and start filtering the results to reflect certain terms like department and job position.

If that doesn’t work then you can always pick up a phone and call customer service or the information desk and ask them for the info you lack.  But if you’re feeling really bold, you can ask to be connected to the correct department and speak directly to your target.

Tip #4:  How to Find Email Addresses

Before we go any further let’s get one thing clear: You are never to email someone’s personal address.  It makes you look unprofessional not to mention desperate plus, they may report you.  The resources listed here are simply for trying to figure out work email addresses at a large corporation.  Most journalists and freelancers use the following services:

Tip #5:  Always Remember You Are Not Bothering Anyone!

People who work at a company get paid to do certain tasks and unless you’re preventing them from doing that job, you’re probably not annoying them.  If you are professional and courteous to them, then you’ve done your part.  And as an indie author it is your job to promote your books so it makes sense to leave no stone unturned.

Tip #6:  A Warm Introduction Trumps A Cold Pitch Any Day

Despite what many people think, it takes a lot of courage to become an indie author, because we constantly have to put ourselves out there.  Without a middleman, it’s up to us to reach out to the influencers in our industry.  If there is a book blogger or editor at a magazine you want to contact, do it, just be smart about it.  If they have an online community join it, if they have a social media presence, follow them.  Remember a warm email or pitch is always better than a cold one.  I talked about this in a previous article “How to Approach & Pitch Social Media Influencers” and it’s worth giving a read.  Another helpful article is “Before You Pitch a Book Reviewer: 6 Tips Most Authors Ignore” it’s filled with tips that writing professionals need to know.

I hope this helps, and if you have any questions please ask in the comments section.

Book Reviews, Indie Publishing

Booktube for Indie Authors

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Youtube isn’t the first site that comes to mind when authors go looking for reviews but maybe it should be. When I published my book in 2012, there weren’t that many people on Youtube who reviewed books and those that did, didn’t review indie books. In fact, some of them didn’t even know what an indie book was. Ouch! Fast forward to 2015 and Youtubers are a force to be reckoned with, they endorse everything from cosmetics, clothes, and yes, even books. Several Youtubers have even become millionaires and in response Forbes created a list of the wealthiest Youtubers.  Several of these channels have a subscriber base of millions which means they often reach more viewers than some popular television shows!  In fact, corporate America is taking notice and getting their products and services in front of this untapped market.  Sure ads are okay, but to get an influencer to endorse your business is gold and gives your product credibility.

Same thing goes with a book, if you can get a Booktuber (a person who reviews books on Youtube) to give the thumbs up on your book, that can be a powerful endorsement.  But before I go on, I should give a few facts…

The Rundown On Youtube

Youtube claims over 1 billion users reaching more young people (18-49 year olds) than cable television. Also, the hours spent on the site has gone up 60% in the past 2 years.  Youtube is so powerful that many book marketers have recommended authors create their own channels or the very least, create a book trailer for promotional purposes.

An author who took the plunge and created his own channel was bestselling author John Green, who along with his brother Hank, created Vlog Brothers, a channel where they discuss all things nerdy.  Since its launch in 2007, Vlog Brothers has amassed 2.6 million subscribers.  Not bad for an author, and his brother, huh?

¿BookTube en Español?

For those who doubt that Youtube could provide any opportunity for the indie book movement, doubt no more. The Booktuber phenomenon has gotten so strong that it’s gone global for instance, while I was researching for this post, I stumbled across several Booktube channels in Spanish. Amazingly, I got to watch John Green being interviewed in Spanglish. (Spanish & English) I loved it!

In case you have a book in Spanish and you’d like to get it reviewed, here are a few channels to check out:

Booktubers Who Review Indie Books

Before I go on, I need to give the disclaimer and remind you that many of these vloggers are busy, and have normal lives so they can’t review ever single book that is pitched to them. Also keep in mind, you are competing with other authors so if they say no, don’t take it personally.

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t state the obvious, but be sure to read the guidelines in a Booktuber’s “about” tab before pitching. Trust me there’s nothing worse than getting an unsolicited email from someone who never bothered to learn your name or the genre you review.

How To Find More BookTubers

If you want to find someone on Youtube who reviews books in your genre, it’s best to use the search engine. Try to use key phrases like; reviews, book recommendations, book hauls, book swag and of course, your genre. Use them in combination for maximum results:

  • YA Book Reviews
  • Book Hauls
  • Book Swag
  • Romance Novel Recommendation
  • Booktube

Helpful Tip: Many of the top Booktubers are inundated with requests so try to target a Booktuber with a smaller audience.

In Closing

I believe the Booktuber phenomenon will evolve giving indie authors a greater chance at exposure. Who knows, maybe you will be the one who builds the Youtube channel solely for indie books? As far as I can tell there isn’t anyone doing that right now and that’s a shame but that’s another post for another day.

Advertising, Book Promotion, Book Reviews, Indie Publishing, Marketing, Publishing

How to Increase Your Book’s Odds at BookBub

HomepageScreenMany indie authors call Bookbub the golden standard of online book advertising and I can’t say I disagree. Over the years their competitors like Pixel of Ink have either stopped accepting submissions or have gone under. Meanwhile Bookbub has only continued to grow with no signs of slowing down.  In fact just two weeks ago, Bookbub announced they’ve secured seven million dollars in funding to take their company global. This is great news for indie authors who want to reach more readers and make more money from advertising.

Facts You Need to Know

  • BookBub has a subscriber base of over 5 million members
  • BookBub subscribers are spenders.
  • BookBub has strict standards accepting only 10-20% of submissions
  • They are not the most expensive place to advertise
  • Most indie authors who use their services get an ROI (Return on investment)
  • Even indie authors who don’t get an ROI, report a small boost in sales

Reviews Are Critical?

Author Brian Cohen, from the Sell More Books Show wanted to get his YA book, Ted Saves the World a Boobkbub ad however, that proved to be more difficult than expected. After several rejections, he wanted to know what the problem was.  Determined to get answers, he studied BookBub and particularly, their YA list then noticed that many of the books in his genre had over 130 reviews, at the time, his book only had 115.  Meanwhile, the bestsellers had anywhere between 200-300 reviews.  He’s not the only author to notice this, many indie authors have also had to secure more reviews before Bookbub gave them the nod. However Bookbub claims  reviews aren’t a deal breaker but I doubt they hurt your odds.

Tip: In February, BookBub held a discussion on the Kboards and answered many questions for indie authors.  It’s very informative for those considering buying an ad.

Blurb

Next to editing, writing a blurb is the most hated of tasks according to most authors. In fact, there are books and online courses devoted solely to helping authors nail this craft. However your blurb is not only important for your book’s Amazon sales page but also to BookBub.  If your book sounds boring, why would they want to promote it? This would hurt their reputation with their subscribers. You have to remember this site is oriented toward readers, not authors. They don’t just take anything that comes in the door.

Your Cover

Many authors believe that they need to like their book cover but that couldn’t be farthest from the truth. This year at IndieRecon, bestselling author H.M. Ward, talked about how she didn’t necessary like all her book covers. In the beginning of her career, when her romance novels weren’t selling, she did some careful investigation and realized none of her book covers matched those on the market. Hers were more artsy and whimsical, while the books that were selling had pictures of attractive people in sexy poses.

It was a harsh lesson in marketing but she learned, romance readers expect a certain type of product.  BookBub is no different, they expect your book to look a certain way whether it’s a sci-fi novel, or an erotic book.  If the cover looks bland or weird, they may just pass it up.  Remember presentation matters in this industry.

Price

Price is a big deal on BookBub, if you read the page written exclusively for their subscribers, you’ll see they promise free and deeply discounted books.  This means you have to compete and either go low, or even free.  For those of you who are concerned about going too low, BookBub claims that 65% of their readers have reported recommending books they got for free on the site. Who knew?

Be Flexible

Some authors have been willing to forgo advertising on major holidays and weekends in order to get their book in BookBub. There is a comment section of the application that allows you to alert them to the fact that you are not particular about dates. P.S. This didn’t work with our friend Brian Cohen. 😦

Study BookBub’s Patterns

In every genre there is a pattern or theme that BookBub is favoring at any given time. Now ask yourself, does your book even come near that? For example, if you’re looking to advertise your romance novel, are they favoring historical romances or contemporary ones? It would be wise to sign up for their newsletter (for readers) and see if you can find patterns.  Also, don’t forget to sign up for their blog as well.

Alternatives

If you’ve done all that you can and BookBub is still not accepting your submission, then try going to their competitor like Ereader News Today, another site that indie authors rave about.  You can also check out a post I wrote last year: Cheap Advertising for Indie Authors for more alternatives.

 

Book Reviews, Marketing, Networking, Social Media

Where to Share Your ARCs For Free

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Last week, I shared a post about NetGalley where I talked about ARCs (advance reader copies) also known as galleys or proofs. Today, I want to give you an alternative to spending hundreds by giving your galleys away in the right places, and they’re all free.

The point of any ARC or galley, is to create buzz before the official launch of a book.  Galleys are in essence a soft push for a book before going to mass publication.

Reviews are the core of a legacy publisher’s marketing strategy.  The idea being the more positive reviews a book has, the more popular it looks, and the more likely someone is to buy it.  For years the mantra has always been: readers love what other readers love.

It’s no secret indie authors need to work harder in this area because of the simple fact, that we’re virtual unknowns.  Many indies don’t understand that readers feel like they’re taking a risk when they buy a book from an unknown author.  It’s a book’s reviews that make these risks feel smaller.  This was one of the areas I failed to promote my book.

One Very Important Issue You Must Address

Before you proceed, you have to convert your MS Word document or Mac Pages file to PDF, EPUB or Mobi files so readers can download it on their ereaders and phones.

The Obvious Places To Share Your ARC/Galley 

Book Bloggers & Book Clubs

I know you’re saying well, duh!  But seriously, there are some newbies that don’t know this.  There are bloggers and book clubs that will take a digital galley instead of physical book.  Find them and email them. ASAP!

Your Own Website

It would be wise to create a page on your blog or website letting visitors know that you are giving away ARCs.  However, instead of just posting the entire file on your page so they can download it, make them opt into your email list.  You do have one right? If not, read this step by step article by The Alliance of Independent Authors.

For those of you who do, put a link to your sign up page and then give that person a free ARC.  This way when your next book comes along, you won’t have to start all over again.

Here’s a tip: Make sure to include a field where you ask for a reader’s Amazon or Goodreads profile, this way you cut down on freebie fiends.   I did that in my signup  form here.

Goodreads

Goodreads is the perfect place to giveaway ARCs, it has a giveaway program called First Reads which is essentially a giveaway where most authors can list their galleys.  P.S. it has to be a print not digital ARC.

Another Goodreads feature to consider are events which you can create and invite all your followers and fans.

But that’s not all, another place to look are groups.  Yes, GR has groups of readers dedicated to reviewing ARCs.  I even caught a St Martin’s Press employee requesting reviews in exchange for an ARC.

Library Thing

Library Thing has a feature called Member Giveaways for self-published authors.  Don’t forget, you have to be clear that you’re offering a digital copy and not a print one.

Author Link

Is also a site where authors can upload their galleys and even review one another’s books for free.  It claims to have a readership of 80,000 so it’s worth the try.

Social Media Events

Don’t forget to hit up your social media contacts, Facebook and Google allow you to create events where you can invite all of your followers and friends to get a copy of your new book.  Also, don’t forget to reach out to book bloggers on Facebook and Google via direct message.

A Final Note

ARCs are best given out a few months before the launch of your book.  You need to give people time to read as well as review the book.  You have to assume these people are busy and have other books, jobs and responsibilities outside of reviewing your book.

Another thing I’d like to share is that when offering anything for free you shouldn’t expect too much.  From what I noticed, when writers give away free books whether they are digital or print, the average response rate is 50% if you’re lucky.  Also, you need to be warned that you may not get a review, but a simple rating, that was my experience with my KDP Select giveaway.  Out of hundreds of downloads, I ended up with only a handful of ratings on Goodreads and not a single review.  I know it’s better than nothing, but let’s just say that wasn’t what I was expecting.

Okay, now I’m handing you the mic, where do you go to give away your galleys?  Do you pay a service or go the free route?

Book Reviews

Is NetGalley Worth It?

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In a recent conversation in my authors group, the question of NetGalley came up. One author wanted to know was it effective in securing reviews?  Soon, other questions arose like; how much does it cost and how do you use it?  I was curious too, so I did a little digging and this is what I came up with.

NetGalley is a site for librarians, reviewers and journalists looking for book galleys.  Its purpose is to help publishers and authors secure buzz before launching their books.  The price for a membership ranges from $399 for a six month subscription, to $599 for a year subscription.  They also offer marketing services which includes being featured in a catalog that is sent out to libraries and reviewers all over the country.  However, I’ve found authors who’ve paid premium prices and have gotten very little in return.

Most Common complaints:

  • It’s expensive.
  • The reviews don’t always end up on Amazon (prime real estate).
  • Less than half of the people who download galleys actually end up reviewing them. You can literally give away hundreds of galleys like this author and wind up with only a handful of reviews.
  • Many librarians and teachers are looking for galleys as a try before they buy tactic.

NetGalley is not for Everyone

This site is not for those wanting specific media coverage or reviews.  This does not take the place of querying podcasters, bloggers and reviewers.

Also, one important thing to consider is that you’ll be competing with many legacy publishers who are also on the site pushing their galleys.  So if there is a new Hunger Games book, guess whose galley is getting passed up?

Alternatives to NetGalley

Instead of spending $399-$599 just do a BookBub ad if all you’re looking for is buzz.  Another way to create hype is to do a prelaunch event on Facebook or Google+ to find beta readers or bloggers looking to help you promote your book.

The Takeaway

I don’t recommend paying for GN because you can end up getting burned rather easily.  You can literally spend hundreds and wind up with a ton of negative reviews which will leave you feeling like a complete fool.

For those looking to sell your books to libraries or get big media coverage this probably isn’t the route to go.  You’ll still have to hire a PR professional or book shepherd to do that.  For $599, many of them will at least do a basic phone consultation.

Okay, now it’s your turn, have you used NetGalley and if so, what was your experience?

Book Reviews, Business, Marketing, Writing Business

Manipulating Amazon’s Algorithms to Boost Book Sales?

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Last weekend, I was introduced to a new service called Author Trade which claims it can boost your book sales.  Now, I’m no rookie, I know  how hard it is to sell a book.  I know there’s no hocus pocus or pixie dust that can magically make your book sell.  I’ve read all the blogs, books and even attended webinars only to be disappointed.

But I can’t resist a publishing hack, so I clicked on the ad and was taken to a site where I saw the slogan, “Bringing Authors Together with Other Authors!” spelled out in bold letters.  Already, I didn’t like the sound of this.

How it all Works

Author Trade is a collective of authors buying and reviewing each others books to drive up their Amazon rankings.  Yes, they buy each other’s books!  The concept being, when anyone buys your book on Amazon, it immediately goes up the sales ranking giving it higher visibility.  Books with good sales are put on Amazon lists such as; Hot New Releases, Movers & Shakers, Top Rated and Most Wished For, just to name a few.  The idea being, more visibility, equals more sales.  In essence, this service can and will work but there’s more to the story…

As I investigated, I learned that in order to qualify for this service, your book must be priced at $0.99.  But that’s not all, there’s also a monthly $9.99 fee, after a free trial.  After you pay, you’ll be matched with authors in a similar niche but there’s no guarantee that anyone will purchase or review your book.

It Only Gets Worse

If you scroll to the bottom of the page, you’ll see they’re an Amazon Affliate, which has some authors believing that Amazon is somehow involved.  Just check out this thread on Absolute Write.  However the reality is, anyone with a website can open an affiliate account on Amazon.

Checking out the pages of the website, I saw testimonials from authors with no apparent last names.  Either these people don’t exist, or they’re too embarrassed to be associated with the company.  The first of many red flags.

As if that weren’t bad enough, here’s a direct quote from the site: AuthorTrade.com’s involvement is completely unknown to the public. Only you, your publisher (if you have one), and the author you’re trading with will know the secret to your marketing genius.

Hear that?  You’re not desperate, you’re a marketing genius!

Unlearned Lessons

Trying to manipulate Amazon’s algorithm isn’t anything new, in 2009, an author claimed he bought his way up the Amazon bestseller list by purchasing his book once a day.  He also rated and reviewed his own book as well.  Shockingly enough, he wrote a book about the whole experience, which was quickly removed by Amazon after the story got a little media attention.  He was also penalized by Amazon and all his fake reviews were eventually deleted.

Author Trade seems to be taking a page out this guy’s book.  Manipulating a website’s algorithm whether it be Amazon, Google or B&N has serious consequences, just read their TOS and Community Guidelines.

Why You Shouldn’t do it: An Opinion

Needless to say, if Amazon finds out what you’re up to, your book can and will be pulled from their site and you can even find yourself banned.  They don’t want blind quid pro quo on their site.  Many authors are already finding their book reviews on Amazon being deleted with little or no warning whatsoever.

There is a reason why Author Trade promises secrecy, because once readers find out there was a circle of authors buying and reviewing each other’s book, there will be a backlash.  Remember when John Locke wrote a how to book on self-publishing?  It was touted by many as the Bible of indie-publishing.  However, when it was discovered he was paying for reviews, several authors demanded their money back.  What he did was small potatoes compared to what Author Trade is doing.

Going Over to the Dark Side?

In several of my marketing groups, I’ve noticed the gradual acceptance of paid reviews and even paying for fake social media fans.  In fact, just several days ago, an indie author recommended a reviewer on Fiverr who promised to leave reviews wherever you needed them.  That wasn’t surprising, what I found shocking were the dozens of people thanking her and promising to check it out.

Number one, this is wrong and illegal!  If you pay for a review, you and the reviewer MUST give a disclaimer.  Why?  Because in the U.S. there’s a law about transparency.  However with AT, there are no disclaimers here, because technically, the reviewer purchased the book seeking a return on the favor.  Since no cash was exchanged, there’s no need for the disclaimer.  It’s a loophole that customers of Author Trade use to their advantage.

Secondly, what will happen when you stop using this program?  I’m gonna guess that your book falls right back down the rankings.  So what’s the point?  I don’t see this method being any better than the KDP Select program.  Sure it’ll get you visibility but then what?

Look, I know the Dark Side has cookies and all, but remember in the end, they always lose!

I’ve said enough, now it’s your turn, have you ever been tempted to do something questionable in order to get ahead in publishing?  Better yet, do you know of someone who has?  Dish in the comments section.

 

Update: Author Trade is now defunct but there are other people offering these types of services so I’ll leave this post up for future authors.