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 Reviews, Indie Publishing

Booktube for Indie Authors

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Pic via Pixabay

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.

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, Marketing

Secrets About Book Reviews & Your Book Sales

It’s been preached that indie authors need reviews to sell books.  It’s even been coined, the social proof for authors.  After all, we need to control our rankings and open a dialog with our readers like this author, who offers refunds and responds kindly to people who hate her work.

The day I released my YA novel, one author congratulated me then, told me I need way more reviews on my Amazon page.  I did what I could, I bugged people on Facebook and Twitter all the while, feeling like a beggar and wondering, do the NY big 5 have to go through this?

But instead of reviews, I would get emails, or direct messages where people would compliment me on my book.  That was nice but not what I wanted.  Lowering my standards, I asked them to review it anywhere they wanted whether it be; Goodreads, Shelfari, Library Thing, or Barnes & Noble and still, nothing!

I figured, well maybe people are BSing me and don’t really like my book, so I went back and looked at all the people who purchased my book and told me they liked it.  I carefully explained my predicament, and they made it up to me big time by giving my book a huge “like” or a 5 star rating, but still no reviews!

Book Reviews

The Real Reason Nobody is Leaving Reviews

  •       Some readers don’t write or spell well and don’t want to be embarrassed.  Damn you Grammar Nazis, damn you to hell!
  •       They’re lazy and just don’t care about YOUR reviews.
  •       They only leave reviews when something is wrong.
  •       They hate your book.  (Obviously!)

Reviews Losing Their Importance?

I’m probably putting my book in severe danger by saying this but here it goes, I’ve noticed that reviews really aren’t helping authors sell their books.  In fact, Penny Sansevieri book marketer and author changed her marketing services  which now focus less on reviews because according to her, “Reviews are great but do they drive traffic and sell books? We haven’t seen the return on investment in that regard.”

Yay!  I think.

Bad Means Good, WTH?

Back in the 80’s if someone said you were bad, that was a compliment and today, the same seems to hold true for book reviews.  According to one author in my Facebook writer’s group, bad reviews seem to drive his sales.  It sounds strange but think about, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James has tons of negative reviews, most of them on the first few pages, ditto for Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling which roughly has 805 one star ratings.  However, both books sold millions worldwide.

Final Thoughts

So the good news is, we don’t have to stress over getting tons of reviews to show people our book’s worthiness though, that doesn’t exempt us from not trying to get at least a few.  It also tells us that paying for reviews from places like Publisher’s Weekly’s Select or Kirkus aren’t economically wise because even these authors didn’t see any difference in their sales.

The key to book marketing seems to be getting in front of a large audience of readers whether that be a blog, podcast or magazine because book reviews alone are not enough, at least, not anymore.

Now it’s time for you to sound off, I’m curious to know: do reviews equal more book sales for you?  And do negative reviews hold more sway than positive ones?

Book Reviews, Marketing

What to Expect From a Paid Review

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I’ve been fascinated with this subject, and even wrote a little about it but I’ve never met an author who paid for a book review.  Well, not one that would actually admit to it!  So I went to the internet to find out what you really get when you pay a reviewer.  Investigating the most legitimate (popular) paid services Publisher’s Weekly Select and Kirkus, I tried to find out the truth.

What surprised me about this investigation was the belief that some authors had about paid reviewers.  Some believed that these reviewers were somehow more “qualified” to judge their work.  But nowhere have I seen any resumes or qualifications listed on the reviewers.  In fact, most of these reviewers are forced, by the company, to remain anonymous.  So honestly, you have no idea who’s reviewing your book.

Another shocking belief:  all publishing companies pay for reviews.  Honestly, that’s unknown, though it’s been alleged for years.  The rumor being that big media outlets like the New York Times won’t review books by publishing companies that haven’t purchased advertising.  By the way, it’s very expensive to advertise in NYT just check out their ad rates in PDF here.

Kirkus Confessions

It was the confession of a Kirkus reviewer who talked about how difficult it was to fulfill his assignments which got me thinking.  If they’re having issues with meeting assignments/quotas how on earth are these books getting reviewed?

According to a few dissatisfied authors, they’re not!  One author I found in a chat room, claimed that Kirkus simply skimmed her submission and gave an incorrect review of her book.  In her complaint, the author alleges that the reviewer didn’t get the arc of the story right and didn’t seem to even know what the book was about.  That’s bad, considering they charge around $425 to review a book, not to skim one.

Publisher’s Weekly (Select)

It gets no better with Publisher’s Weekly Select program.  Again, a few authors discussed the merits or lack thereof on the Kindle Boards.  Some cited that the reviews are necessary if you want your books in libraries and book stores.  The logic being since Kirkus and PW are marketed to book stores, libraries and the publishing industry, your book will get in front of the eyeballs of the right people.  However I don’t agree, you need an ISBN as well as expanded distribution through places like Amazon, Ingram, or Baker and Taylor not reviews from PW or Kirkus.  Oh yeah, and let’s not forget, you need big sales numbers!

As I read on, things got worse, one person claiming to be an agent said, that several of his clients paid for reviews only to have them put in a newsletter squished between 50 other reviews.  Another author said it was a waste of money and that their book was never reviewed.  While another person alleged that PW only chooses poorly edited books to slam.

The Inherent Problem

The problem with the review business is there’s no real way to manage it.  How would a supervisor or managing editor know for certain a job is being done unless they read every book themselves to make sure details are not skipped or forgotten.

Another problem is lack of understanding, how can someone review book on World War 2 when they don’t have a firm grasp on that time period?  And how can a suburban middle-aged soccer mom review a book about a YA urban romance?  See how this is all subjective?  Indie authors are paying real money for an opinion that may or may not be relevant, let alone, intelligent.

I would be remiss in not mentioning that it’s considered unethical to pay anyone for a review.

This is the Part Where I Tell You How Get Free Book Reviews

There are sites that indie authors can submit their books for free, or only for the cost of shipping, to get an honest review.   Hopefully, you’ve built a network on social media of fellow authors who review books in your genre.  You can even solicit reviews on your blog or newsletter remember last week?

Library Thing “Member Giveaways”: http://www.librarything.com/er/giveaway/list

Libboo: https://www.libboo.com/

BookSneeze: http://www.booksneeze.com/

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show_tag/reviews

World Lit Cafe: http://www.worldliterarycafe.com/forum/167

A Twitter List I Put Together of 75 Reviewers:   https://twitter.com/WritingPants/reviewers-on-twitter/members

Articles That You Need to Check Out:

How to Get Reviews via The Creative Penn

The Top 25 Reviewers on Goodreads via Forbes

How to Find Readers on Facebook via Yours Truly!

If you know of more reviewers list them in the comments section.