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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.

What Makes A Good Book Review?

Following on from my post last week about getting book reviews on Amazon, I thought I’d address a related question: What makes a good book review?

Looking at Amazon, it appears that a lot of authors automatically consider a five-star review to be good and a three-star or lower review to be bad. I disagree. As a reader, a bad review is one that doesn’t give me enough information to make a decision, regardless of the rating. Here are some examples of bad reviews:

I love this book! Even better than Twilight!! Smith is the best author EVA!!! and I could just swoon over Jamie all day!!!!

This book was okay. Amazon makes me write at least twenty words for a review so now I’m done. Yay.

Reviews are for readers.

The objective of a review is to help a potential reader decide whether or not they will like a particular book. Should they spend their hard-earned money buying this book? Is it worth their time to read? My time is valuable. I don’t want to waste hours reading a bad book, even a free book, when I could have been doing something more enjoyable (like scrubbing the toilet, or better still, reading a good book).

Over the years I have come to the conclusion that there are five main aspects that contribute to my enjoyment of a book, and these are the questions I try to address when I write a review:

  • Plot: Does the plot make sense? Is it exciting? Romantic? Do the sub-plots add to the overall story? Is it believable? Is it original, or do I feel I’ve read it before?
  • Characters: Do I like the characters? Are they people I’d want to know and spend time with in real life? Or are they too-stupid-to-live clichés?
  • Genre: Does the book conform to the expectations of the genre? If it’s Christian fiction, does the protagonist show clear progression in their Christian walk? If it’s romance, is there an emotionally satisfying ending? If it’s fantasy or science fiction, has the author succeeded in convincing me the world they have created is real?
  • Writing and editing: With many books, especially those from small publishers or self-published authors problems with the writing or editing take me out of the story (like a heroin wearing a high-wasted dress). Bad writing or insufficient editing makes a book memorable for all the wrong reasons.
  • The Wow! Factor: Some books, very few, have that extra something that makes them memorable for the right reasons. The Wow! factor is usually a combination of a unique plot and setting, likeable and intelligent characters (I loathe stupid characters), and a distinct and readable writing style, or ‘voice’.  This is highly subjective and other readers might not agree with my taste. And that’s okay.

Some reviewers, especially Christian reviewers, are of the view that “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. I disagree. That doesn’t mean I’m going to be cruel, but it does mean I’m going to be honest. Reviews are for readers, and readers deserve honest reviews. They want to know whether a book is worth their money and time—or not.

It’s hard to write a less-than-glowing review. It’s much easier to write a four-star ‘I liked it’ review (and even easier to write a five-star ‘I loved it’ rave). I wish I could write more five-star raves, but a lot of books are missing that Wow! factor, that originality that takes them from a four-star like to a five-star rave.

I will, on rare occasions, not publish a critical review—usually when another review already covers all the points I was going to make. But I publish reviews for around 75% of the books I read—and over 95% of the books I accept as review copies (because this is a condition of accepting a review title with most online book blogger review programmes). If I accept your book for review, I will review it. I might take a while and you might not like the review, but I will read it, and I will review it.

Critical reviews are especially hard to write if the book is from a lesser-known author with fewer reviews. I don’t enjoy writing a review saying a book was full of cliché characters, a predictable plot and editing errors. It’s not my fault I’m the first person to notice a book refers to Barnaby’s Star when it’s actually Barnard’s Star (true story. The author said even his NASA beta-reader didn’t pick that up).

Reviews are not book reports or a critique. They are not a way for authors to get free feedback on the quality of their writing. If you want feedback on your writing, ask an objective reader, find a critique partner, get a free critique through a writing organisation, or get a paid critique from an editor. I provide manuscript assessments as part of my editing services. They are far more detailed than my reviews, and provide concrete advice in how to rectify the weaknesses. I can’t do that in a short online review.

Because reviews are for readers.

 

Book Review: How to Get Good Reviews on Amazon

This is one of those times when I’d like Amazon to have half stars. This is better than 4 – “I liked it”, but I try to reserve 5 “I loved it” to books that are outstanding. I really liked this short guide—it’s a solid 4 ½ stars, but to be outstanding it would have needed to venture outside Amazon. I’d like to have written it myself, but never mind.

Theo Rogers has written a solid summary of Amazon reviewing—an introduction to what motivates people to review, the main methods authors can use in selecting appropriate Amazon reviewers, and advice on approaching reviewers. There is also valuable guidance on the ins and outs of Amazon to help ensure authors don’t get stuck in the minefields of Amazon.

None of this is new information. Any author could learn this by spending a few months lurking in the Amazon discussion forums. But that’s time that could be spent writing—so why not save yourself a few hundred hours and buy this instead? Read it and apply the principles (while Rogers doesn’t mention reader sites like Goodreads or other retail sites, my experience suggests most of the same principles hold true).

I would suggest one correction: Rogers comments on the number of reviews of self-published books that say the book was in desperate need of professional editing and proofreading. I’ve made similar comments myself, and in some cases the author has responded that the book was professionally edited.

If so, I’d prefer their books were competently edited, as it seems that how much an author pays for editing doesn’t necessarily translate into a quality product. In fairness to my editing colleagues, I’d also say that some self-published authors are merely uploaders with no understanding of what makes good writing, let alone good fiction, and no amount of editing will help. What these people need is a competent ghostwriter.

Anyway, back to the topic of Amazon reviewing. At best, reading How To Get Good Reviews on Amazon will help you gain a respectable number of honest reviews. At worst, you will learn how to avoid ruining your writing career before it’s even begun.