Now, before anyone goes off on a tangent and tries to bite my head off, please read the whole article. This is based on my own ideas as an author AND a consumer.
For the last year, I have been working on the promotion of my books hard. This has not been limited to any one single thing either. I have had interviews, book tours, blog posts, promotions, and I have been trying to get reviews. All of this has been in an attempt to create “buzz”. Some of it did work. During my book tour in July, my free book Athine Verses: The Beginning was in the top 10 of two of the genre categories for almost two months. It just recently “fell”. (However, I think that might be more of Amazon’s tweaking b/c for a few days there was no ranking information at all and now once again I am unable to find the “free” list for any category). Regardless, this boost in visibility was a direct and measurable effect of my book tour plus 1 or 2 “freebie” listings I applied for right after the tour. The downloads still equal out to several times a month….unlike before where it was downloaded maybe 1 or 2 times a week or not at all. However, for all that hard work, I have gained zero reviews on my freebie. Yet, it keeps being downloaded and not just on Amazon but Barnes & Noble, Sony, Smashwords, etc.
What about my “paid” titles? Yes, I did get reviews on my paid titles recently. However, these were more due to networking with book bloggers and having a book tour. I have yet to have that random review from someone that has purchased and left a review on my Verses of Athine. Yet, I am still enjoying an occasional sale. No, I will not be leaving my day job just yet. The reviews I have gathered are all very good and from “strangers” I have networked with to do the reviews. I even have a few “star only” ratings on Good Reads from random folk. In fact, ninety some odd percent of all my reviews are “like” or better!
So, what am I bemoaning you ask? Well, the whole system. Whose brilliant idea was it to tell independent authors, or any author, that they HAVE to have reviews? Please tell me, because right now I am thinking that it was all a ploy by some magic eight ball to push this idea to indie authors to keep them frustrated. Alternatively, maybe just some misguided judgment has come into play. No, I am not saying reviews are not important, nor am I saying that book reviewers are unimportant. But, I am beginning to wonder if this rat race to collect all these reviews is a little over pushed. I am starting to feel that it is not the actual reviews that gain sales, but rather the EXPOSURE the book gets from the reviewer. Obviously, when I wrote reviews, they were all very much appreciated, but did it have a huge impact on well anyone? Did people run out to buy the book I wrote about? Probably not. However, there are several book bloggers and reviewers that DO have that power.
How can I prove this theory? I can’t. Just like you can’t prove that reviews alone make a book sell. Yet, what I do know is my history of being a book consumer. Before eBooks, all I ever read freely were Anne Rice books. I didn’t need to read a review to figure out I liked the books or that I was going to buy ANY Vampire book that lady cranked out. When she was finished with my beloved series, I saw her son had written a book. I don’t remember where, but I was like the son of Anne Rice. I will go to the bookstore and look at this. (Yes, before eBooks we would drive to the bookstore or library to see the actual book before a purchase). I got his first book, after reading a few parts of it in a major bookstore, it was decent and I enjoyed it. Then a long drought in reading happened for me. I was no longer in college where I had to read books. I didn’t see anything I wanted to read and this was before the invent of eBooks. We had lost the local bookshop to the economy; so, I turned to comic books. It was not until I started hanging out with people at work a few years later that I started reading again. You know what I read? My friend’s books. I read what she told me I might like. Why? Because it was there in her office and I could look through it and take it home with no risk. That is how I come to read the Twilight Series and The Drowning City.
Then something magical happened…I had a friend publish an eBook. Whaaaaa? That was the rabbit hole of my introduction into eBooks. As time marched on, I got a tablet, and I found out you could check out eBooks on it from the library. Oh and Amazon had books I wanted to read suddenly in eBook format. Moreover, they had books they would recommend to me based on my previous purchases. I didn’t have to go to the store to read books anymore. I could shop from my bed!
When I ran out of things to read from the library and titles to purchase I began looking for titles I could buy at a local chain store. I saw a magazine that had the top 10 YA books of the year in it. I purchased it and thumbed through the glitz and glamour. Then, do you know what I did? I went to Amazon and got a sample of EACH book. I didn’t read the reviews or anything and I only knew the 10 titles to look for. You know what I found? They all sucked. Horribly. They made my eyes bleed. Do you think it mattered to me how many 5 star reviews the books had or who published them? Nope. How many lists the books were on or what bestseller list they had been at the top of? Negatory. You know why? Because the samples were DREADFUL. You remember 50 Shades. I saw it on the news. You know what I did. I got the sample. I didn’t run out and buy the book because they told me to on the six o’clock news. Boy, am I glad I did not. I couldn’t even finish the sample.
My point? In a world where money drives decisions, free books will always be downloaded if they look interesting because it is just as quick to get the whole book as the free sample. What are you out if you do not like it? Disc space is only a button click away. It may or may not propel an author to fame or at least sales of subsequent books. Conversely, if you are asking me to pony up 8-30 bucks for an eBook or paperback, then I am going to see if I like a sample of the book. If I do, I am going to first check the library to see if I can read it free. Then and only then will I consider pushing the “purchase” button. How can I be so certain of this trend? Because this is exactly how I shop and always have. Before “look inside” and “samples”, there were bookstores. I went there often to scan through books to see if I would like them. Today, it is a little easier to accomplish this, but I still get the samples and often ignore the reviews. I know, that is like blasphemy from a former book reviewer and author. However, I don’t shop with those hats on…I shop with the consumer hat firmly placed on my brow.
What are reviews good for then, you may ask. Feedback for you as an author. Search engine optimization. Website algorithms. You want reviews on certain sites with certain magic, unknown qualities so the little bots that push things will send your book to someone’s “suggested” area/email/page. Do you know what this is the same as in the real world? Word of Mouth. Seriously. Just now instead of trusting a friend, you trust a bot to show you what you might like 🙂 Think about it. If you had no idea what author or book you wanted to read at 3 in the morning wouldn’t you go to Amazon or Good Reads and see what it might suggest for you? I guess some of you could text a friend…..but I bet you don’t get a book recommendation in your reply text 🙂
What’s an author to do then? Pursue your reviews, but don’t beat yourself up over getting them. Appreciate the ones you do receive. Reach out to bloggers, but also try to reach out to real, live humans in your area. Word of mouth is powerful and in my opinion that is all you are gathering when you get a blogger or website review…it just is in a new format for the changing world. You will get double bonus points if you find a live human that will tell their friends about you AND write a Good Reads review.
As always, your mileage may vary and you are free to think I’m just a crazy lady 🙂