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Christian Authors Unite by Antonio L Crawford

Book Review: Christian Authors Unite: Challenging the Way Writers Write, Publish and Think

Christian Authors Unite is a compilation of articles on marketing for Christian authors. There are seven chapters by seven different authors. Each chapter covers points on a specific topic related to writing, publishing, and marketing Christian books. The chapters cover

  1. Building your author platform
  2. Targeting your market
  3. Keeping your writing on track
  4. Writing a book proposal
  5. Automating your author platform
  6. Launching your book
  7. Marketing your book internationally

It’s an eclectic mix of topics.

Topics like writing a book proposal are most relevant to those seeking traditional publication. (Those seeking to self-publish would do themselves a favour by knowing this information). Other topics seem more focused on the self-published author.

Antonio L Crawford comments that most writing conferences fail to offer current training about modern marketing techniques or distribution channels.

(I will say the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference is ahead of the curve in this! But there is another conference where I’ve never even seen the value in buying the session recordings, because so much of it seems to be focused on outdated publishing ideas.)

This is a short book, and isn’t going to give you all the answers about marketing your books.

But it will give you some ideas and inspiration, whether this is the first book you’ve read on marketing or the fiftieth. (I think my number is towards the higher end of that range.) No matter. I’m sure you’ll learn something—I did.

And yes, you will be challenged to think.

Thanks to Antonio L Crawford for providing a free ebook for review. You can read the introduction to Christian Authors Unite below:

Review: The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine

The Fine Print of Self-Publishing should be required reading for anyone considering self-publishing, publishing through a small press, or publishing through a “traditional publisher” which requires the author to contribute to the publishing or marketing, or requires that they purchase books at “cost”. Seriously. Reading this book could save you thousands … if you remember a few things that he doesn’t mention. Like the number one rule of publishing:

Money flows from the publisher to the author.

Now we’ve finished the public service announcement, let’s get back to the review.

The author is the owner of a self-publishing firm, and the book is very much from that perspective. I’m not convinced by his explanation by of the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing, but he defined what he meant, and that was sufficient to give the context for the rest of the book. I’m also not convinced by his underlying belief that authors need outside help in producing a professional product, that they are unable to do it themselves. I agree that everyone needs an external editor and/or proofreader, as no one can fully edit or proofread their own work, and people who aren’t trained graphic designers need to pay for a professional cover design. And an author may well decide to outsource tasks such as formatting.

But I don’t believe that a “self-publisher” is the best place to obtain all these services. I’ve read books from several of the self-publishers referenced in this book, and while the formatting in all of them was professional, the cover designs were of variable quality, as was the editing (one was, in my opinion, 150 pages longer than it needed to be, which priced the book out of the market).

What Levine didn’t do was give an author looking to self-publish any reason to outsource the publishing rather than do it themselves using freelance contractors. He points out that all the self-publishers he refers to (other than CreateSpace and Lulu) outsource the printing to Lightning Source. Yet a savvy self-publisher can deal directly with Lightning Source and avoid the printing markups which seem to be a major way these “self-publishers” make money.

This, for me, was one of the key strengths of  The Fine Print of Self-Publishing: a clear analysis of how “self-publishers” make money not just from being paid to produce the book, but from the ongoing sales. The author also takes readers through the real meaning of standard contract terms, including royalty calculations, and the relationship between printing markups on selling price—and how excessive printing markups produce a book that’s priced too high to sell. He also covers some of the “marketing” activities these organisations offer, with some idea of the relative cost and benefit of each.

One of the disadvantages of any book examining the current state of a market is that is can get outdated quickly. The Fine Print of Self-Publishing is no exception: one of the featured publishers (WinePress) has already gone out of business since the book was published three months ago (there’s probably a lesson in there about the reliability of some of these firms).

There are also a couple of areas where I would have liked to have seen more information, specifically with regard to one publisher mentioned in the book. While they don’t charge for publishing, they do require authors to contribute $4,000 towards marketing the book … but don’t say what that $4,000 buys. Personally, I’m not going to even look at spending that much without knowing exactly what I’m getting for the money. In fairness, the company wouldn’t disclose their contract without having a manuscript—something the author couldn’t exactly provide, given the nature of this book—so that’s not the author’s fault. But I’d really like to know what an author gets for that money …

The other thing Levine doesn’t cover are the firms who publish for free, but require authors to purchase a set number of their books. Based on the printing markup figures used in the book, the cost of 1,000 copies could easily exceed $10,000. These companies are, I believe, especially deceptive, as they often claim they aren’t self-publishers or vanity publishers, but traditional royalty-paying publishers (only they don’t pay royalties on the books the author buys, and what’s more “vanity” than requiring the author purchase 1,000 or more copies of their own book?).

Despite what looks here like a laundry list of complaints, I do believe any author considering self-publishing should buy and read this book. While the author never comes out and says “use Company X not Company Y”, the analysis makes it pretty clear who are the best options. It also provides a basis for the savvy author to calculate figures such as print markup for other companies not featured.

Buy the paperback and a new highlighter pen. You’ll need it.

Thanks to the author and StoryCartel for providing a free ebook for review.

Rules of Online Reviewing

This is a special post for the members of the Indie Christian Authors group on Facebook, as we are discussing online reviewing this week. It’s taken from a series I’ll be posting over at Australian Christian Writers in May and June, and it’s actually two posts—so it’s long. Very long. But I do encourage you to read to the end.

Online Reviews: What is permitted? And what isn’t?

There is a lot of confusion regarding what is permitted in terms of online reviewing, not helped by the fact that each site has their own rules, and some enforce them more than others. Today I’m going to take you through the Amazon Reviewing Guidelines. I’ve chosen Amazon because as well as being the site I know best, it’s the biggest online retailer, it has the most reviewers (over 20 million), and the most product reviews.

Amazon has clear Reviewing Guidelines, and will take action to remove reviews that contravene the guidelines. Amazon gets a lot of attention regarding “fake” reviews (which exist in greater numbers than most people realise) and “bully” reviewers (who are far less common than the media implies).

– self-published author Rick Gualtieri

 

Behaviour like “I called his place of volunteer work and made it evident that I was in possession of the email addresses of his friends and extended family members”.

Amazon go into more detail about what’s not allowed than what is allowed. This includes:

Objectionable material

>No swearing, calling people names, using inappropriate language (like calling someone an idiot or a nazi), and no promotion of illegal conduct (I once saw a forum discussion where someone was looking for novels featuring incest. The discussion was promptly deleted).

Inappropriate content

The big one here is links to external websites (including your own). Amazon won’t delete a review with external links, but it will delete the link and replace it with […].

Off-topic information

Information on price, packaging or shipping aren’t relevant to customer reviews, as Amazon has other forums for offering feedback on sellers or packaging.

Promotional content

No:

  • Advertisements, promotional material or repeated posts that make the same point excessively
  • Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product)
  • Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package

If you find reviews which include information like this, you can Report Abuse.

What is Report Abuse?

If you look at the bottom of any Amazon review (except one you’ve written), you will see “Was this review helpful?”, and Yes and No buttons. If you believe a review contravenes Amazon Reviewing Guidelines in some way, click “No”. Amazon will then say “If this review is inappropriate, please let us know”.

Click on the link (“please let us know”), and you will be given the option to say why the review is inappropriate. It’s best if you mention a specific reason that is against the guidelines (e.g. the review is self-promotion, the review is written by the author/editor, the review is about price or delivery and not about the product, spiteful remarks about the author).

This feature can be used by anyone, author or reader. If, as an author, you believe the review is against Amazon’s Reviewing Guidelines or Conditions of Use (often called the Terms of Service, or TOS), this is the responsible and ethical way to report it, rather than leaving a comment on the review. Note that Amazon do not remove reviews simply because they are critical—they must contravene the Reviewing Guidelines in some way.

It usually takes several reports from different people before a review is removed (although I don’t know exactly how many).

Of course, the big question is: What is promotional content? Promotional content is explained in more detail on the FAQ page, where Amazon give some examples of reviews they don’t allow.

Reviews Amazon don’t Allow

 A product manufacturer posts a review of their own product, posing as an unbiased shopper

As discussed previously, this is a sock puppet review. Amazon doesn’t permit reviews of any product you have a financial interest in, which includes books you’ve written, edited or published. Not under your own name, and especially not under a fake name.

A shopper, unhappy with her purchase, posts multiple negative reviews for the same product

This is an example of multiple sock puppet reviews. Amazon only allows reviewers to review each product once (so you can’t review the hardcover and the Kindle edition of the same book), so anyone posting multiple reviews must be using sock puppet accounts or circumventing the system in some other way. It is possible. It isn’t permitted.

A customer posts a review in exchange for $5

This specifically refers to reviews from ffiver.com, but $1 or $1000, the amount of the payment isn’t the point. Amazon do not permit paid reviews in the Customer Reviews section, as customers expect these reviews to be from impartial customers. If you have paid for a review (e.g. from Kirkus Indie), you can quote it in the Editorial Reviews section of the book page.

A customer posts a review of a game, in exchange for bonus in-game credits

In-game credits have a financial value, so this concept is a variation on a paid review. There isn’t really an equivalent for books, but I have seen some authors offer a prize or a free short story in exchange for a four-star or five-star review.

One famous Christian author using a variation on this is Karen Kingsbury, who has offered a free cruise-for-two to the reader whose review most “touches her heart”. As one reviewer says, that’s not going to be a one-star review, is it?

Author Kristen Lamb says:

I’d love to offer reviewers sweet prizes for reviewing my book, but it’s just too … what’s the term? Creepy. … It’s a fine line that can get writers in ethical trouble.

A fine line, indeed, and one with consequences. When Amazon found a puzzle company were sending Amazon gift vouchers to people who had reviewed their games on Amazon, they deleted all reviews for the games in question, and also deleted the entire reviewing history of some reviewers. Amazon saw the gift cards as compensation. Amazon’s Selling Policies clearly state that sellers cannot offer a refund in exchange for a review:

you may not provide compensation for a review other than a free copy of the product. If you offer a free product, it must be clear that you are soliciting an unbiased review. The free product must be provided in advance; no refunds are permitted after the review is written. Product review solicitations that ask for only positive reviews or that offer compensation are prohibited. You may not ask buyers to remove negative reviews.”

A family member of the product creator posts a five-star customer review to help boost sales

Amazon prohibits reviews from people with a financial interest in the product, which would include family members like a spouse or dependent children.

My advice for people reviewing books by friends or family members is to be up-front about it. Start the review with “I’m the author’s mother (sister, favourite cousin)” or similar, so readers know to expect glowing praise.

This is one instance where I make an exception to my “Authors should never comment on reviews” rule. If Mum, sister or favourite cousin has written a glowing review and you can’t get them to delete it, add a comment to the review acknowledging the relationship and thanking them for their wonderful, albeit biased, review.

Don’t pretend to be an impartial customer. Someone might get suspicious that you and the author share an unusual surname—the review will be downvoted, reported for abuse, and possibly removed because then it looks as though it’s there to boost sales. That is the key phrase: “to boost sales”. If your friend or family member is reviewing as a way of encouraging you, they should have no problem acknowledging the relationship in the review.

A shopper posts a review of the product, after being promised a refund in exchange

This is another variation on a paid review, and is also against the Selling Policies. If Amazon find a reviewer receiving a ‘gift’ from an author (e.g. a 99 cent gift card) after the reviewer has reviewed a book by that author (such as a 99 cent Kindle book), they can and will delete the review. I’ve seen it “recommended” that authors “thank” their reviewers by gifting a $1.00 gift card for a 99 cent book. Amazon might be wise to this idea, or they might not be. I don’t know. But really? It’s a deliberate effort to circumvent the Amazon guidelines, and I have trouble believing that suggestion came from a Christian. But it did.

Amazon frowns on gifting Kindle copies of books to reviewers, as the reviewer can then either on-gift the gift or refuse the gift and use the credit towards any other Amazon purchase. You are better to either send the reviewer a copy of the book directly (as a mobi, prc or pdf file), or gift a copy through Smashwords.

A seller posts negative reviews on his competitor’s product

This concerns authors, as it gives rise to the myth that authors shouldn’t review. Authors can review, but should be extremely careful about posting critical reviews of books in the same genre, as such reviews can be seen to fall foul of this guideline. For this reason, many authors chose not to review in the genre in which they write, or to only write positive (four-star or five-star reviews).

An artist posts a positive review on a peer’s album in exchange for receiving a positive review from them

I have seen review swaps offered on Facebook and Goodreads. Authors mean well, but review swaps are explicitly prohibited by Amazon, and are frowned upon by readers—because we don’t trust the reviews. Think about it:

We agree to swap books and honestly review each other’s books. I read yours and hate it. It’s not just that the main character is too stupid to live, it’s that it’s supposed to be a romance but they don’t meet until Chapter 38, and it’s full of spelling mistakes (the heroin lives in Sidney, New South Whales, and wheres a high-wasted dress). Do I:

a) review honestly, knowing the other author is going to be reviewing my book and might take this as an excuse to drag me and my book through the mud; or

b) lie.

That’s not a decision you want to make. So stay away from review swaps and reviewing circles (where several authors agree to review each other’s books).

This doesn’t stop authors supporting fellow authors in other ways. Authors endorse books all the time. They post reviews and recommendations of author friend’s books on their blogs. The problem is these influencing reviews often read more like an endorsement, and therefore might be better placed in the Editorial Reviews section of the Amazon page.

To summarise, please don’t try and come up with a creative way to get around the rules. It’s not ethical. It’s not honest. At the most basic level, if you are trying to use Amazon reviews to promote your book, it’s likely you are going to fall foul of Amazon’s Reviewing Guidelines or the Selling Policies, and you need to think again.

Marketing 101: Recommended Reading

Popular Author Marketing Books Reviewed

If you follow my blog through email, you’ll have noticed I’ve been posting reviews of marketing books over the last three months. This post is a brief summary of all those reviews (with links), along with my recommendation of the two books any savvy author should buy and read (and why):

Recommended Reading

How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn

The best book I’ve found on the basics of marketing as applied to books, and includes dozens of useful web links. It can be read at any stage of the writing and publishing journey, but the earlier you read the book and apply the lessons, the better. Applicable for self-published and trade published authors. Click here to read my review.

Let’s Get Visible by David Gaughran

Explains the Amazon algorithms (the way the computer programmes select what goes on the best-seller list and what books are recommended to customers). Understandable and actionable. Best for self-published authors who are about to publish on Amazon, or those who are already self-published through Amazon. Small publishers will also benefit from reading this, as they too need to maximise their exposure on Amazon. Click here to read my review.

Suggested Reading

How to Get Good Reviews on Amazon by Theo Rogers

For those who are about to publish or who have published. My only complaint with this book is that I didn’t think to write it myself. A solid batch of Amazon reviews is seen as an essential part of the marketing plan, and this book will show you the best ways to get reviews. Click here to read my review.

Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran

Some of the information is outdated (even though it was only published in 2011), but still provides an excellent introduction to why authors should consider self-publishing, and how. An introduction to Let’s Get Visible. Click here to read my review.

The Extroverted Writer by Amanda Luedeke

Written by a literary agent, so useful for that perspective, and targeted towards the almost-published author. I found the most useful information was in the Kindle sample—the rest of the information is available free on her blog. Click here to read my review.

10 Keys to ebook Marketing Success by Karen Baney

Good, apart from the awkward spelling mistake on the first page (just before she starts talking about the importance of good editing and proofreading). She has some good tips on promoting and pricing a series, but despite having an MBA, she doesn’t seem to understand that there’s more to marketing than promotion (a mistake I see with a lot of self-published authors). Click here to read my review.

Is $.99 the New Free? by Steve Scott

Short and to the point. The information is good, but nothing new. Click here to read my review.

Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl

Good information, but seemed to focus on non-fiction authors who already have at least a couple of books on sale. I see this as being of limited use for first-time fiction authors. Click here to read my review.

Not Recommended

The Book Publishers Toolkit

A series of essays from members of the Independent Book Publishers Association. Interesting enough, but the articles are fairly broad-brush and in some cases contradict each other. Only worth reading as a free download. Click here to read my review.

How to Build a Powerful Writer’s Platform in 90 Days by Austin Briggs

A step-by-step process to build a writers platform in the 90 days before your book launch. Unfortunately, the editing and reviewing processes are cramped into too short a timescale, which makes me question the whole concept. Click here to read my review.

How to Launch A Christian Best Seller Book by Lorilyn Roberts

Only useful if you are considering joining the John 3:16 Marketing Network, in which case it’s an essential read. Just be aware that the advice isn’t always good, and in some cases actually goes against the rules and guidelines of online communities such as Amazon and Goodreads. Click here to read my review.

Advanced Book Marketing by EJ Thornton

In fairness, I didn’t actually read this (which is why I haven’t written a full review). It was recommended in a blog post I read, so I downloaded the Kindle sample which was rather too self-congratulatory for my tastes. However, my major issue was that it was it was published in 2009, before the advent of Kindle Direct Publishing, which means any information about publishing is so outdated it is useless. The rise of social media will have rendered much of the information on marketing equally outdated. This was also the most expensive book I looked at. I’m happy to spend $3.99 or less and risk a dud, but not $9.99.

This is my final post in this current series on marketing, but I will be back later in the year with a series on building your platform.

In the meantime, what is your favourite marketing book? Why would you recommend I read it? And what books on marketing have you read that weren’t helpful? Why not? Would you like to review it for us?

 

Next week, I start looking at Plot. Sign up to follow my blog by email to ensure you don’t miss any posts.

Book Review: Your First 1000 Copies by David Grahl

I liked Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book because I liked Tim Grahl’s marketing ethic: creating lasting connections though a focus on being “relentlessly helpful” (a tactic which works, as I’m much more likely to buy a book from an author whose blog I follow. However, it’s possibly a tactic that’s going to work better for the non-fiction author than the novelist who might not have so much relentlessly helpful information to share with readers).

There was some good information here that I plan to implement, including a pop-up invitation to subscribe to my mailing list (with a useful incentive!). He emphasises the importance of creating content that can be reimagined (so can be used in multiple ways) and that stays current over time (which he refers to as ‘evergreen content’).

I also liked the way he referred readers back to his website in several instances, particularly where information changes regularly. This serves two purposes: it ensures the book doesn’t date as quickly, and it drives traffic to the website (where, presumably, visitors are invited to join his email list). Clever.

As with several other book marketing books I’ve read, Grahl focuses on the importance of developing a strong mailing list, and using that list properly. There is one fault: despite the title, Your First 1000 Copies is geared towards authors with one or more titles on sale already, not those releasing their first book and looking for their first 1000 sales. I also suspect the tactics will work better for non-fiction authors than for novelists.

Nevertheless, Your First 1000 Copies is still worth reading, as it offers some ideas I’ve not seen in the other marketing books I’ve read.

Marketing 101: Five Ways Not to Promote

I hope the last few posts have given you some ideas about how to determine and manage your author brand, how to ensure you have a quality product (book), and answered some questions about price, distribution and promotion.

Today’s post is taking a different slant. It’s focusing on mistakes I’ve seen newbie authors make (or ones I’ve heard about). It’s what not to do.

Don’t comment on reviews (better still, don’t read reviews)

Don’t comment on reviews on retailer sites (e.g. Amazon) or booklover sites (e.g. Goodreads). Ever.

Commenting on critical reviews can end in a flame war with the reviewer, and the author always comes off looking bad. Don’t comment about a critical review on the review, on your blog, on your website, on Twitter, on Facebook or on any other social network. And don’t allow your spouse, parent or child to comment either.

Commenting on positive reviews looks needy and stalkerish, even if it’s just a thank you. Think about it: are you going to thank every single reviewer? Even if you get more reviews than Karen Kingsbury? If you must thank the reviewer, see if they have an email address listed in their profile. If so, it’s perfectly acceptable to drop them a short email thanking them for their kind review.

If you truly think the review is inappropriate, then you can Report Abuse (on Amazon) or flag the review (on Goodreads) and say why the review is inappropriate according to the reviewing guidelines of that website. For example, on Amazon, reviews commenting on the price or the speed of delivery are inappropriate, so you can legitimately ask for them to be removed.

You can comment on a review on a blog, especially if your book has been reviewed as part of a blog tour, or after you’ve contacted the blog and requested a review. In this case, it’s polite to visit the blog, thank the blogger, and respond to comments. However, don’t challenge any aspect of the review, for the reasons outlined above.

Don’t vote on reviews

Some authors upvote positive reviews and downvote negative reviews (to hide them from the front page), or encourage their fans to vote like this through social media venues like Twitter or Facebook. Again, this behaviour looks needy and stalkerish and can have a huge backlash if you are found out (e.g. if someone screencaps your Tweets—and someone will). Besides, if the review is unfair, it will quickly drop out of sight. If it raises valid points, you don’t want to draw attention to it by voting one way or the other.

If someone has read your book, they have the right to express their opinion through a review (and if they got your book through a blogging programme, they are obliged to write a review, positive or not). The review is the subjective opinion of one person. Nothing more.

Don’t copy or quote from reviews

Reviews of your book are not yours. Reviews are copyright to the reviewer, who grants Amazon, Goodreads and other sites a royalty-free licence to publish that review. Copying whole reviews (or even just extracts from reviews) without written permission is a violation of copyright. (Copying an entire review, then rebutting it point-by-point on your website is violation of copyright and … words fail me. But I’ve seen it done.)

Don’t review your own books

Some authors review their own books under their own name. While that’s against the terms and conditions of almost every online site, it’s pretty obvious and readers will know to ignore it (but not before they’ve reported the review for abuse).

Don’t create fake accounts to review or rave about your books. If you do this on a website, you’ll probably get lucky and be let off with a warning from a moderator. If you are caught doing it on a site like Amazon, you run the risk of your account being deleted (meaning you won’t be able to buy, sell or review). All your fake reviews will also be deleted.

Don’t spam

Each website, forum and group defines spam differently. The general rule on social media is to mention your book no more than 20% of the time (even on your own Twitter account). In forums and groups, observe for a while, find out what the rules and expectations are for that particular forum, then follow them. If it’s ok to mention your book, then mention it where relevant. If it’s not … then don’t, because your post will be deleted, and you may be banned from the group.

Book Review: How to Launch a Christian Bestseller Book by Lorilyn Roberts

I read and reviewed the first edition of this book. Roberts has since updated the information and issued it as a new book (thus ‘washing’ all previous Amazon reviews, including mine), so I paid for, downloaded and read this updated edition. I applaud the idea of the John 3:16 Marketing Network. It’s a great idea: Christians joining together to support and promote books that share the gospel message.

However, first impressions are not good, as Roberts doesn’t appear to understand the difference between a biography and a memoir. That’s not necessarily relevant to marketing, but it does show a lack of understanding of genre (which is central to book marketing) and it does show a potentially disturbing lack of research. This lack of research became more and more apparent as I read.

How to Launch a Best-Selling Christian Book is less an instruction manual and more a compilation of blog posts encouraging Christian writers to join the John 3:16 Marketing Network managed by the author, Lorilyn Roberts. The writing style is open and conversational, but it’s not well structured, there is a lot of repetition, and much of the information is only relevant to members of the Network.

In addition, the title is potentially misleading as there’s no guarantee that following these principles will make your book a bestseller:

While there may have been a time I would have said the network alone could help authors to reach best-seller status on Amazon, I no longer believe that to be true.

Note that the Network’s focus is getting your book to the Top 10 of an Amazon sub-category (e.g. Christian Fiction – Historical – WWII), not the coveted Amazon Top 100 Paid list. And it’s here where the lack of research again begins to show. Roberts says the network “totally revamped” how they do launches in March 2013, after noticing their previous method wasn’t gaining the results it used to. That’s not a surprise—Amazon revamped their search algorithms in March 2012 and again in May 2012, and those changes (described in Let’s Get Visible) totally changed the Amazon landscape.

(It has to be added that the Network’s change in approach isn’t exactly working. Their December launch included seven authors, only one of whom made it to bestseller in their category. As a result, Lorilyn Roberts and the John 3:16 Marketing Network will not be hosting any more book launches, which calls this entire book into question. If she’s admitted the method isn’t working …). 

What, perhaps, is a surprise is how long it took Roberts and the Network to notice: a full year. In an industry changing as fast as online publishing, that’s the equivalent of a decade. It’s worth commenting that other advisors (e.g. David Gaughran) specifically advise against the “standard launch procedure of seeking to push your book as high as possible on the first day”, which is still pretty much the John 3:16 approach, as outlined in this book.

This isn’t the only time when her examples or methods are outdated. She mentions tags, which haven’t been used on Amazon in almost two years. She comments that only around ten of her 1600 Facebook followers see each post—perhaps because too many of them have reported her posts as spam? Because that’s certainly what clutters up her Twitter feed.

She gifted Kindle copies to newspaper editors without contacting them first—they probably either deleted the email or exchanged the gift for a book they actually wanted to read (which Amazon permits). She ran a Goodreads giveaway, then contacted everyone who didn’t win to invite them to download an audiobook from her website (where she added them to her mailing list). Some might see that as savvy marketing. Patrick, Director, Author Marketing at Goodreads, says:

Contacting all of the people who entered your giveaway is definitely not allowed, and should anybody get an unwanted message like that, they should flag it. I wish authors would stop recommending this, as it is not a best practice.

In other words, it’s spam.

In commenting on reviewing, she says “don’t write something that would hurt you if someone were to write it about your book” and  “in the John 3:16 Marketing Network we have some very specific rules about how to do book reviews. You will be provided that information when you join.”

This, to me, is a red light that says that reviews by members of the Network are not impartial, as they are effectively being asked only to write nice things about the Network books they review. Such ‘shill’ reviews are often identified and publicised in the Amazon discussion forums, and I’ve lurked in enough of those discussions to know the author never wins. And I don’t think it’s honest, unless there is some way of marking the books you’ve read and chosen not to review.

Roberts requires authors to have at least ten reviews with an average 4.2 star rating before beginning a launch through the Network, but gives insufficient advice on how authors should obtain those reviews. She also quotes my comments above (which were in my review of the earlier edition of this book) without attribution and without permission.

Again, this demonstrates a lack of knowledge or a lack of research. Although it’s a review of the book she wrote, Amazon, Goodreads and all other online retailers are clear that copyright in reviews is owned by the reviewer, not the author and not the website. The author of a book being reviewed has no right to copy or quote a reviewer without permission (note that copyright law does permit limited quotations in book reviews such as this one, under the principle of ‘fair use’. So while I can quote an author without permission in a review, they can’t legally quote my review without attribution and permission).

Personally, I think five-star reviews are actually of little promotional value without a ‘critical’ review, as savvy Amazon users are getting wise to shill and sock puppet reviews (not to mention those at ffiver.com from “reviewers” like Sohan Kowsar).

ffiver

Of course, that only applies to those who read and appreciate unbiased reviews. This author has her own way of dealing with reviews she doesn’t like:

I will admit, if someone writes a “not so nice review,” I will vote “no, this review is not helpful.” I would prefer to have less glamorous reviews that are fair ranked above those that are not, so I vote against those that are not useful as a deterrent to unfair reviewers.

Yes, you could argue that she’s only going to downvote ‘unfair’ reviews, not necessarily critical reviews. But she doesn’t make that clear, and I don’t plan on finding out. I’ll post this review on Goodreads (where users can only Like reviews, not downvote them), but not on Amazon.

Roberts requires that anyone interested in joining the John 3:16 Marketing Network buy and read How to Launch a Best-Selling Christian Book. If that’s something you’re interested in, go ahead. But please don’t expect it to be anything more than an introduction to a community of like-minded Christian authors. As marketing advice, it is lacking.

Review: The Book Publishers Toolkit by IBPA

This isn’t as much a book as a compilation of articles that were previously published in Independent, the monthly member magazine of the not-for-profit Independent Book Publishers Association. The Book Publishers Toolkit is very short, and took less than an hour to read.

The articles are:

  • Getting and Using Awards by Kate Bandos
  • Tapping Into Twitter Expertise by Kimberly A. Edwards
  • Let’s Hear It for the Long Tail by Joel Friedlander
  • Acquiring the Right Rights: Will Your Contract Keep Up with the Markets for Your Books? by Steve Gillen
  • A Librarian Talks About Choosing Books to Buy by Abigail Goben
  • Build a Powerful Platform with a Simple Brand Audit by Tanya Hall
  • Marketing Plans for First Books by Brian Jud
  • Why Authors Hate Social Networking, and How to Get Them to Promote Books Online Anyway by Stacey J. Miller
  • Growing Connections That Count by Kathleen Welton
  • E-book Conversions: Ten Pointers to Ensure Reader Enjoyment (and Minimize E-book Returns) by David Wogahn

Overall, the articles are pretty broad-brush, and probably don’t contain anything an astute small press or self-publisher hasn’t already have read before. Some are focused on authors who are self-publishing (e.g. the e-book conversion article), others are focused on traditional publishers (e.g. the article on rights, which has some interesting sample contract clauses).

I think the chapter order was wrong. I would have thought it more logical to start with the high level branding advice and then move into the specifics of, how to use Twitter or how to get libraries to buy your book (and it was slightly awkward when the advice from one expert contradicts another, as happened regarding the idea of donating books to the library).

One noticeable omission in the chapter on awards was a reference to Writer Beware, who maintains a list of awards and contests to watch out for (because they charge excessive fees and generally only have one entrant in each category. A contest in which everyone is a winner isn’t a contest that is going to help your marketing effort).

If it’s free on Kindle, it’s probably worth downloading just to see if there’s anything new for you. Otherwise, I’ve seen most of the other information before on industry and agent blogs (e.g. Smashwords, Passive Guy, Seth Godin, Author Marketing Experts or Joe Konrath).

Review: Is $.99 the New Free? by Steve Scott

As most authors know, making Kindle books available free through KDP Select no longer has the powerful marketing effect it did a year ago. In Is $.99 the New Free? The Truth About Launching and Pricing Your Kindle Books, Scott explores whether free still has a place in a marketing plan, or whether pricing books at 99 cents is a better strategy.

He starts by examining the four essential metrics he believes all authors should track (including sales and reviews), then discusses five pricing strategies:

#1 – Free Book Launch
#2 – $.99 Book Launch
#3 – Free Pulse
#4 – $.99 Pulse
#5 – Perma-Free

Scott then offers an eight-point strategy to developing an author platform and marketing ebooks. This isn’t new information, but it’s presented well and appears accurate (which is more than I can say for some of the marketing books I’ve read). Useful information, but covered in more depth in other books.

Is $.99 the New Free? iss around fifty pages, and currently costs less than a dollar. For that price, I think Is $.99 the New Free? represents good value for money, and is worth reading.

Review: How to Build a Powerful Writer’s Platform in 90 Days by Austin Briggs and Max Candee

There’s a saying in marketing that we know 50% of marketing activities work—we just don’t know which 50%. The same could be said for How to Build a Powerful Writer’s Platform in 90 Days. It includes what looks like some excellent information and advice—but that advice is wrapped up with advice that is incorrect, and it worries me because someone reading only this book won’t know what is good advice and what isn’t. Even I don’t know. I may praise something as being good advice and find it’s totally wrong.

I’m a book reviewer and freelance editor, so those are two subjects I know a lot about. I know less about building and maintaining a writing platform—while I have a degree in marketing, it dates from the dark ages before the intrusion of the web into every area of our lives. So while the principles of marketing are the same, the internet and social media have changed the practice of marketing.

That’s why I’m reading books like this: to understand how to do it now. And I think How to Build a Powerful Writer’s Platform in 90 Days does that well. But I can’t be certain. Because there are some elementary mistakes around how Briggs and Candee integrate editing and reviews into their 90-day timetable, so I’m not convinced they are accurate and believable in their claims in the areas I know less about.

The book starts by saying that before you begin this 90-day journey, you’ll need the final draft of the best book you can write, and a website. But the discussion on editing makes it clear that this ‘final draft’ hasn’t been edited. The authors then proceed to confuse beta-readers with editors (which is ironic, as one of them offers manuscript assessment services on his website).

Then there’s the editing. The schedule doesn’t allow nearly enough time to get the work professionally edited (which will take at least two weeks, and may take months if your preferred editor has a queue of books—as many good editors will have). Given most books need to go through at least two editing passes and two rounds of proofreading, I think this needs to be completed before the 90 days begin, not as a part of the 90 day launch project.

The timing of reviews is equally ridiculous. Most book bloggers have a two to three month waiting list, so sending them a book on day 76 and expecting the review on day 77 is unrealistic, to say the least (not to mention the advice to copy their review to your website: a copyright violation if the reviewer hasn’t specifically given you permission).

Overall, while there might be some good ideas in How to Build a Powerful Writer’s Platform in 90 Days, they are outweighed by the bad advice. Not recommended.