Hello, we’re lucky enough to have a guest post from one of my close friends, Carmen Fox. Carmen just had her debut book, DIVIDE AND CONQUER, released by Champagne Books in early March. She’s offered to write a blog entry about her experience with obtaining online book reviews. Being freshly released, she can speak to the topic better than anyone. Take it away, Carmen!
Please Review My Book
… is a sentence I used to selectively overlook, much in the way many of us avert our eyes away from the homeless. In fact, our first reaction to someone ‘begging’ for our time or our money is basically to shut the door and draw the curtains. Back when I read a lot, I reviewed books sporadically. Now that I spend most of my free time writing, I find myself at the other end of that attitude.
Most writers set out to write for themselves. It’s a hobby that makes your mind soar and your heart sing. You get lost in your worlds or work through your problems by giving them to someone else. No other pastime affords you the same benefits.
But once your book is out, all this is forgotten. You’re ready for glory. So how do you trigger the adulation you’re undoubtedly due?
Some realities set in even before the release day. Agents no longer accept certain popular genres. You commit one, two or more years to writing the book, let alone the hundreds or thousands of dollars self-publishing authors spend on editing, book covers and incidentals, and you sell fifty copies if you’re lucky. Competition is mind-bogglingly huge. You’re competing against writers who think it’s okay to give their work away for free. Promotion is almost entirely up to you. And there’s every chance your book won’t make millions. Except, your book is different. It’s good. Really good. Everyone says so. You should be able to sell more than fifty copies, right?
As an author desperate for recognition, legitimate reviews are your priority.
In fact, getting reviews is easy, you’re told. You could:
- Contact the top 100 Amazon reviewers (who won’t reply, will turn you down, and are already stretched too thin),
- Ask a review blog (which, in an astonishing lack of understanding of the reality of publishing, requires you to send in your review copy, book cover and buy links two months in advance),
- Round up friends and family (who will buy, but not review your book, or at least not within the first year of its release),
- Plead with your Facebook friends (who are either other authors hoping YOU are going to buy THEIR book, or are readers who devote their time to established authors), or
- Engage a legitimate review service that promises an honest review (but charges you $60).
But nothing prepares you for the Amazon desert, that place where glowing reviews were supposed to blossom and multiply magically into a lush, fertile landscape.
Some people offer to leave a review in return for a free copy, but only one out of ten actually rouse themselves and keep their promise. And the many guides for author-related promotional strategies on the market today are aimed at non-fiction books and prove to be entirely irrelevant.
So what’s the honest author to do?
Long-established authors claim that if your book is good enough, it will stand out, and the reviews will come flooding in. Erm. No, they won’t. If you want Amazon, the market leader in book sales, to suggest your masterpiece to readers, reviews are vital. No reviews, no exposure. No exposure, no one will ever find out if your book is indeed any good.
Instead, you helplessly watch your life’s work slide further and further down the sales ranks. Then someone asks how many books you’ve sold, and you might just want to punch them.
Luckily I’m a realist. I do not write for profit and expected my books to languish in the Amazon sales rank dungeons. That’s not to say the lack of reviews isn’t depressing. It is. Totally. Their absence rips open your chest and sucks out your lungs, then your stomach, until you feel empty and hollow inside. But on those rare occasions when someone pays you a compliment, or you receive an unexpected positive review or even a kind word in passing on Facebook, your sour mood dissipates and you’re soaring. These moments remind you why publishing is so much better than not publishing.
Most new authors, even die-hard realists, will experience these ups and downs. But don’t let your emotions cloud your successes. As for reviews, I believe beta readers who truly enjoy your work have earned advanced reading copies of your future works. Offer review copies to those blog owners who wish to feature you, but accept that they might not actually review your book. That’s it. Don’t waste your time sending emails or messages to beg for reviews. Instead write more books.
My advice goes against the grain, I know. Sales are the result of word of mouth campaigns, and for that you need readers. But you cannot force people to write reviews, no more than you can convince Amazon to change their algorithm in your favor. Success finds you often through sheer luck, and you cannot manufacture luck. What you can control is your work. Go back to what truly makes you happy.
Writing for yourself.