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Avoid Social Media Time Suck by Frances Caballo

Book Review | Avoid Social Media Time Suck by Frances Caballo

I bought this because it was on sale and I’m a keen reader of Frances Caballo’s blog.

The first part is excellent, as she takes readers through her four-step approach to social media: content curation, scheduling, being social, and analysing your metrics. This is all in the first few pages, so download and read the free Kindle sample.

The middle part contains lots of links to social media apps to help automate content curation and scheduling. Some are free, but others are not (and the prices have increased considerably since Caballo published this book). The end of the book touches on the important topics of planning a blog content calendar (because blogs are also part of social media), and a schedule of daily, weekly, monthly, and annual tasks. This is similar to my own mental list, so it’s good go have the confirmation I’m on the right track!

The problem with Avoid Social Media Time Suck is the publishing date. Caballo says:

“A few years on the Internet is almost equivalent to a millennium.”

Avoid Social Media Time Suck was published in 2014—a millennium ago. While the principles outlined in the first section of the book haven’t changed, a lot of the specific advice in the middle section is now dated. Instagram barely gets a mention, and Tailwind doesn’t exist.

And that’s a potential problem if someone who isn’t social media-savvy reads the book. It’s not recommending the best apps. Some of the advice on the more established social networks is now dated to the point of being against the terms of service. New social media users won’t know what information is good, what is outdated, and what could get you kicked off Twitter or sent to Facebook jail.

Basically, the book has some excellent tips, but needs updating for the new millennium.

The best part was the plan:

(Which, of course, should be adapted to your individual needs.)

Daily tasks

Post to social media channels
Follow new users on Twitter [and Instagram!]
Check responses to blog posts and reply
Thank Tweeps for RTs
Review notifications on other social networks and respond where necessary.

Weekly Tasks

Write a 500-word blog post
Comment on industry blogs
Participate in LinkedIn Groups [I’ve been on LinkedIn for so long that I thought it was a business tool, not a social network … so this isn’t something I’ve ever done]

Monthly Tasks

Write a 1,000-word blog post
Mail a newsletter

Quarterly Tasks

Conduct an author interview/podcast/video

Six-Monthly Tasks

Update website
Create a downloadable white paper from a series of blog posts & offer on Scribd [I think the more contemporary advice would be to offer it as a free download to entice people to sign up for your email newsletter.]

Annual Tasks

Teach a webinar

It’s a lot … but it’s also manageable because

About Avoid Social Media Time Suck

How You Can Avoid Social Media Time Suck and Still Have Time to Write

The question everyone asks is, “Can I really manage my social media in just thirty minutes a day?” My answer is yes, you can. This book explains the four-step process to effective and efficient social media marketing for writers.

  • How to curate content.
  • What and how to schedule your tweets, posts, updates and shares.
  • The importance of scheduling time to be social.
  • Analyzing your metrics.

Social media is no longer an option for writers – it is a required element of every author’s marketing platform. And using social media to market your books doesn’t need to be time-consuming.

Whether you consider yourself a seasoned social media user or you are new to the social web, this book will introduce you to posting schedules, timesaving applications and content-rich websites that will help you to economize your time while using social media to market your books.

Find Avoid Social Media Time Suck online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

You can read the introduction to Avoid Social Media Time Suck below:

Book Review | Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour by Donna Huber

Books on book marketing often date quickly, which is something newbie authors have to watch out for. After all, the rules on sites such as Amazon change, and authors can find themselves reading outdated and bad advice without knowing it’s outdated and bad advice.

Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour was published in 2013, so I was pleasantly surprised not to find any outdated advice.

Instead, it’s jam-packed with excellent advice for any author planning a blog tour as a way of getting the word out about a new release.

The book isn’t long—just 60 pages. But it’s full of useful advice and tips.

As a blogger, I only found one piece of advice that I disagreed with: to use GoogleForms to conduct your tour signup. Yes, GoogleForms is a great way of keeping all your information organised (which is a must). But bloggers are busy, and it has to be a book I *really * want to read before I can be bothered filling out a Google form with three kinds of social media profiles and other proof that I’m a legitimate blogger rather than some fly-by-night free book seeker.

I will admit that blog tours perhaps aren’t the book publicity powerhouse they were in 2013.

Some of the bigger publicity firms offering blog tours have folded, but I suspect that is more about the difficulty in finding reviewers and bloggers, and the fact arranging a blog tour can be a time-heavy exercise (that therefore costs a lot when someone is paying by the hour), but may not deliver an immediate and measurable return.

Bloggers are busy (and unpaid), and none of us have the time to read every book we want to read, let alone every book we’ve promised to review. As a result, many bloggers (me included) are now looking at other ways of featuring books rather than the traditional review, like book blasts and social media takeovers (Instagram is especially popular for this, but is barely mentioned in the book. Well, it wasn’t as big in 2013)

Recommended for any author planning a blog tour.

Especially recommended for any author considering hiring a book tour company or VA. It will be a few dollars well spent to make sure you know what questions to ask a potential tour company, and so you understand what work you’ll still have to do (most of it. After all, a tour company might be able to find you hosts, but you’re still going to have to write the posts).

About Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour

Get the info you need for a successful blog tour in this easy to follow how-to manual for authors.

From the publicist who introduced the world to Fifty Shades of Grey, Donna Huber is now revealing her secrets to successful blog tours. She shares tips and tricks learned through organizing over 30 tours, blasts, and promotional events for nearly 50 independently and traditionally published titles.

Secrets revealed in this quick read include:

  • Planning stage decisions
  • Different types of tours
  • Recruiting bloggers and keeping requests organized
  • Best practice communication tips
  • Tricks to making a great guest appearance
  • How to organize a fun (and legal) giveaway
  • Actions to take during the tour
  • Next steps once the tour is complete
  • Virtual tour and other promotional opportunities
  • When to hire a professional

In this easy to follow manual, Donna does not stop there. She spills even more of her blog tour secrets to help authors get the most out of their events by providing:

  • Tour checklist
  • Tour invite tips
  • Step-by-step guide to creating tour graphics
  • 10 broad guest post topics
  • 25 sample interview questions

Find Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

Don't Sell Me Tell Me

Book Review | Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me by Greg Koorhan

Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me is a short book encouraging business owners to use stories as part of their marketing toolbox. These ideas are reminiscent of what Lisa Cron says in Wired for Story, but reworked for a business audience. Koorhan says:

We are predisposed to learn from stories. “Tell me a story” is a familiar phrase to most parents. “Teach me a lesson” is said by no children.

Avid fiction readers know a lot of this information, either from reading Lisa Cron, or other fiction teachers, or from their own intuition. But there is a large group of people who won’t read fiction, because it’s just stories. And stories aren’t real. That’s true. But it ignores another truth: that we learn better from stories than from bland facts, because stories make us feel.

This is important for anyone who owns a business, or who works in marketing or communication. We can use stories to tell people about our business and our brand. People relate to stories, so we can use our stories as a subtle way of showing our target clients they can relate to us.

There is a lot of good information in Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me.

There are also some exercises to help you find your brand stories and brand voice. Koorhan also touches briefly on Carl Jung’s twelve archetypes (for a more in-depth understanding of how to use archetypes in building your author brand, I recommend Author Branding by Rayne Hall).

Overall, Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me is a short and easy-to-read book which demonstrates the importance of story, and gives some great tips for finding and telling your brand stories.

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

About Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me

You cannot underestimate the power of a good story.

Learn how to apply the fundamentals of storytelling to your business and you can uplift, inspire and connect to the hearts of your audience. You can move them to tears, to laughter, and most important, you can move them to action!

Packed with advice you can put to use right away, you’ll learn how to keep your audience eager and ready to hear from you.

  • What pragmatic and actionable tactics will you learn?
  • How to quickly communicate your unique value.
  • The secret to connecting with the emotions of your desired audience.
  • The foolproof method for standing apart from your competition.
  • The most common marketing mistakes even smart business owners make and how to avoid them.
  • The singular best way to create an authentic, consistent brand.

Also the following insights:

  • The 4 critical elements you must have in place to keep your audience engaged.
  • Six different ways you can use stories in your business.
  • A step-by-step guide for finding your most powerful brand voice.
  • How to structure a story so that your audience feels compelled to listen.

PLUS, examples to jumpstart the process!

Here’s what this book ISN’T: this isn’t about picking new colors, redesigning your logo or developing your website. This is about building a consistent, unique and authentic brand that attracts your most profitable customers.

Find Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

Read the introduction of Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me below:

Email Lists Made Easy by Kristen Oliphant

Book Review | Email Lists Made Easy by Kristen Oliphant

Email Lists Made Easy by Kristen Oliphant is a short and easy to read yet comprehensive introduction to the importance of email lists for authors. In the book, Oliphant takes readers through:

  • Why we should have an email list (because it’s OURS).
  • Choosing an email service. She recommends ConvertKit, but I think MailChimp or MailerLite are sufficient for most authors.
  • Optimizing your signup (give people an incentive to share their email address).
  • Using autoresponders for onboarding.
  • Creating content that will give people a reason to open and read your emails, and getting the timing right (i.e. how often you send emails).
  • Increasing engagement, including learning what not to do.
  • Growing your list by getting traffic to your content.
  • Creating freebies and content upgrades that relate to your other content.
  • Keeping your list clean.
  • Planning autoresponders.

As I write this, I’ve just signed up for a new email list because I was interested in the freebie. They sent me six emails in the first fifteen minutes … including three sales emails. People, that is the wrong way to do onboarding and creating content.

One lightbulb moment for me was this quote from ConvertKit:

All email marketing providers determine opens based on whether or not a 1px transparent image was loaded in the email.

I don’t know about you, but my iPhone doesn’t automatically open images. That means anything I read on the iPhone isn’t tracked as an open unless I also click to download the images. If you’re concerned about your online privacy, then reading on a mobile device might be a good idea.

As a list owner, it does mean that your mailing list provider might be understating your open rate … unless you can persuade readers to click a link or download the images, so their open is tracked.

Kristen Oliphant on social media:

To sum up a social media strategy: Consider what platforms you want to utilize and then rock those platforms. Post new content. Post links to your older content. Share your work. Period. Note: Sharing links to Amazon over and over is not a social media strategy.

Top Tips

  • Make sure the email comes from you (e.g. iola @ iolagoulton.com).
  • Ask questions (and respond).
  • Use a plugin like What Would Seth Godin Do or Bottom of Every Post to add a subscription signup request (I use Bloom from Elegant Themes).
  • Download the CSV file of your email list every month (to provide a backup).
  • Try something new every few months.

Finally, Oliphant points out that people unsubscribing isn’t the worst thing. The worst thing is deleting without reading (or adding your email address to a service like Unroll.me).

The one possible complaint is that this book was published in 2016 (and hasn’t been updated as far as I can tell). That means it doesn’t discuss GDPR, and autoresponders are now free with MailChimp, as are landing pages and signup forms.

If you already have a mailing list, then it’s possible you already know most of what Oliphant covers in this book.

But if the whole ideas of mailing lists is new to you, then Email Lists Made Easy is a great introduction.

About Email Lists Made Easy

Email is the most powerful tool authors and bloggers can use. Period. This is THE book that authors and bloggers need to make the most of email marketing.
Email Lists Made Easy for Writers and Bloggers is the missing piece to get your list on lock. Far from a boring read on “email marketing,” it will speak in terms that writers and bloggers understand.

Personal Connection – Email is far more personal that any other social connection you can have with your followers. Learn to harness that power.
Permanent Connection – You can literally download your subscribers’ emails and hold them in your hand. Try doing that with Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Powerful Connection – The ROI of email beats the pants off anything else you’ll try. A 2016 study from Campaign Monitor found that for every $1 you spend, you’ll get $44 back.

Get specific training on how to create and grow an effective list, from that very first signup form to more advanced tools like autoresponders series. With a free workbook you can download upon purchase, this book will be more than just ideas. It will be a practical guide that will help you learn to love (and get the most from) your email list.

Plus, you’ll also get a glossary of terms you need to know and a section with the most frequently asked questions about email lists. The accompanying workbook also includes a checklist for setting up your list so that you won’t miss an important piece.

No one ever says they are glad they waited to start their list. Let your email list work for you. Starting … NOW.

Find Email Lists Made Easy online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

You can read the opening to Email Lists Made Easy below:

Author Branding: Win Your Readers' Loyalty and Promote Your Books by Rayne Hall

Book Review | Author Branding by Rayne Hall

If you read my post last week, you’ll know that on Monday 4 March 2019 I’ll kick off my annual March Marketing Challenge: Kick-Start Your Author Platform. This is the third year I’ve run the challenge, and it’s been great to see writers take their first steps to building an online platform.

As part of my preparation I’m reviewing and updating the challenge, removing references to Google+ (yay! One less social media network to worry about!), and adding information about GDPR and Gutenberg.

(If you can’t join us on Monday or if you’re reading this post after Monday, don’t worry. The challenge is available throughout the year. The only difference is we won’t all be working through it together. Click here to find out more and sign up.)

I’m also reading a bunch of books about marketing to see what else I can or should add to the Challenge, and I’ll be posting several reviews over the next few weeks.

For this reason, I was thrilled to be asked to beta read Rayne Hall’s newest craft book: Author Branding: Win Your Readers’ Loyalty and Promote Your Books.

Understanding author branding is the beginning of creating your author platform.

Author Branding by @RayneHall is a must-read for authors looking to build an authentic and manageable author platform #AuthorPlatform #BookReview Click To Tweet

I read a lot of writing craft books, and I’m always impressed by Rayne Hall’s way of giving readers a step-by-step approach to an issues, whether it’s writing, editing, or something broader like using Twitter as a writer. Her book on author branding is no different.

Hall explains the importance of consistent author branding, then takes readers through twelve archetypes. These form the basis of her approach to branding—we should each pick one archetype and develop our brand around that. Just as we should pick a target reader, we should pick a single archetype and “be” that person when marketing, whether online or in person.

I found this approach both refreshing and freeing.

Refreshing, because there were enough archetypes that I could “find” myself (unlike other books I’ve read, where I was supposed to choose from five), but not so many that the decision was difficult. And freeing, because it gives us permission to ignore what others are doing.

Once you’ve identified your archetype, Hall takes you though how that might apply in different areas of branding e.g. how we present ourselves online, and what we might choose to share on social media (yes, she states we don’t have to share everything on social media. We get to choose).

Freeing, because Hall points out that we should only share material that’s consistent with our archetype. We don’t have to be everything to everyone. We don’t even have to be everything to our target reader. So I don’t have to share what authors A and B and C are sharing if they’re obviously a different archetype.

Instead, I can focus on sharing what fits my archetype and do that well.

(Which is what I’ve been trying to do, but it’s great to have someone else validate my approach and give a solid rationale for it).

The Kindle version of Author Branding by Rayne Hall is currently on a pre-order sale–just 99 cents (click here to buy).

It’s a bargain and a must-read. It’s also a quick read, so you have time to buy it now, read it over the weekend, and use that new knowledge as you develop your author platform.

And if you don’t have an author platform yet, maybe now is the time to start. Click here to check out the March Marketing Challenge, and I’ll look forward to helping you kick-start your author platform!

Endorsement from Carolyn Miller

Common Author Questions about Reviewing

Reviewing 101 | Common Author Questions about Reviewing

Today I’m answering three questions I often get asked in relation to reviewing:

  • Should I recommend books I haven’t read?
  • Can I copy my reviews?
  • What can I do if my reviews are deleted?

Should I Recommend Books I Haven’t Read?

Can you review books you haven’t read on Amazon?

Yes—just look at all the people who’ve reviewed Three Wolf Moon T-Shirts or Bic For Her ballpoint pens (I only wish I was joking). I’m sure they haven’t all bought the shirt or used the pen. And that’s okay. Amazon doesn’t require people to have experienced a product or read a book in order to review.

But should you review a book you haven’t read? I think that depends. If you started the book and didn’t finish it for valid reasons (e.g. the “Christian” novel has a sex scene in the first chapter), then it might be good to write a review explaining why you didn’t finish the book so other people don’t have the same problem.

But if you’re wanting to use Amazon’s book review space to vent about the latest Clinton or Trump biography or memoir, then you might consider venting on a blog post instead. Or going to the gym and venting in a boxing class. It’s healthier, and your words won’t come back to bite you.

Should you recommend books you haven’t read to your readers?

Many authors use their newsletters to recommend books by other authors. These are often part of a “newsletter swap”, a marketing technique used by many authors to grow their mailing list. They dont’ actually swap email lists (that would be illegal). Instead, they cross-promote their books: Author A recommends This Book by Author B in his newsletter, and Author B recommends That Book by Author A in her newsletter.

I’ve come across situations where an author I know of recommends an author whose work I’ve read and consider sub-par. I’m left wondering if the author didn’t read it, or (worse) if they did read it and didn’t notice the issues. If so, what does that say about their writing? I’m also left wondering about the quality of the books by the authors I don’t know of. Are they as bad?

Personally, I’d rarely recommend a book I haven’t read. If I did, I’d say why I haven’t read it, and why I still think it’s worth checking out. However, I know not all authors hold this view. They say they can’t possibly read all the books. I agree that we can’t read all the books … but surely we can at least crack open the Kindle sample of books we’re effectively advertising to our readers?

Yes, you can review and recommend books you haven’t read. But should you?

Can I Copy My Reviews?

Yes. When you post a review online, you give that website (e.g. Amazon) a non-exclusive licence to use your review, but you retain the copyright to the review. Here’s the exact wording from Amazon:

If you do post content or submit material, and unless we indicate otherwise, you grant Amazon a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, and fully sublicensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, and display such content throughout the world in any media. You grant Amazon and sublicensees the right to use the name that you submit in connection with such content, if they choose.

This legalese essentially confirms that you retain copyright to your reviews, but give Amazon permission to use your reviews, for example, to cross-post a review from Amazon US to international Amazon sites, which have fewer reviews. This can lead to the situation where my review is featured twice on an Amazon UK book page.

You can also post your review on as many other websites as you like, as long as their terms are similar to Amazon’s. You shouldn’t post reviews to any website that claims ownership of your copyright.

Some people read these Conditions of Use as meaning Amazon owns the copyright on your review:

Copyright
All content included in or made available through any Amazon Service, such as text, graphics, logos, button icons, images, audio clips, digital downloads, and data compilations is the property of Amazon or its content suppliers and protected by United States and international copyright laws.

This is incorrect. The statement must be read in full: “Amazon or its content suppliers”. By writing a review on Amazon, you become a content supplier in the same way as an author or publisher is a content supplier (if this wasn’t the case, no one would sell books though Amazon. No publisher is going to allow a retailer to claim copyright).

But I didn’t mean reviews I wrote. I meant reviews on my book.

This is often what authors mean when they ask if they can copy ‘their’ reviews. The answer is straightforward:

No.

You can’t copy reviews of your book, because they are not ‘your’ reviews. They belong to the reviewer. They are the intellectual property of the reviewer, in the same way as your book is your intellectual property.

You might argue that their review is only 300 words, while your book is 80,000 words, and surely it’s okay to copy 300 words?

No.

What’s important isn’t how many words are copied, but what proportion those words comprise of the full work. Copying a 300-word review is copying 100% of the entire work. The reviewer quoting 300 words out of your 80,000-word novel is 0.4% of the entire work—which is allowable under the doctrine of Fair Use.

You can’t copy a review in its entirety without the permission of the reviewer. Ever. You can’t copy a critical review to your blog and refute it point-by-point. In doing this, not only have you breached the reviewer’s copyright, you have made yourself look petty. Yes, I’ve seen that blog post.

You can’t copy passages from the review without permission or attribution. Ever. Not to use the review to brag on your Facebook page, and certainly not to criticise the reviewer in your next edition of the book.

So what can I do?

What you can do is name the reviewer, copy the first line or two of the review, then link back to the full review on the reviewer’s own website, or on Amazon. As a reviewer, I’d like you to link to my blog site to improve my traffic and possibly get another subscriber. As an author, you might be better linking to Amazon, so if the reader is impressed they can purchase your book immediately. For example:

“Falling for the Farmer is just perfect” – click here to read a new five-star review on Amazon!

Or go one better and create a meme you can share on social media.

Besides, linking looks more professional. It shows an unknown person wrote the glowing review, and that you haven’t just quoted your mother, sister or BFF (or made the review up yourself).

What can I do if my reviews are deleted?

Reviews can be deleted in two ways, by Amazon, or by the reviewer. Amazon can—and will—delete reviews which fall outside their reviewing guidelines in some way:

  • Paid reviews
  • Reviews written by someone with a financial interest in the book
  • ARC reviews where the free book has not been disclosed
  • Reviews where the author has gifted the book to the reviewer and this hasn’t been disclosed.

A review may also be deleted if it includes specific words (e.g. ‘nazi’) which Amazon does not permit to be used on the site. This might be difficult to avoid if you were reviewing a book about, say, politics in Germany in the 1930’s. In some cases these reviews will be deleted automatically, in others they will be deleted if enough customers Report Abuse on the review.

Amazon will edit but not delete reviews where the review links to an external website, or where the reviewer has linked to their own book (which is seen as promotional, and therefore against the Reviewing Guidelines).

Review deleted without reason

If you believe a review has been deleted without reason, you can contact Amazon and ask them to review their decision. This usually results in a standard email saying the review was deleted because it was against the Amazon Community Guidelines. No, they don’t tell you which guideline.

The other way reviews can get deleted is if the reviewer deletes them (e.g. because they are closing their Amazon account).

I didn’t mean reviews I wrote. I meant reviews on my book.

There’s nothing you can do about reviews written by other people. They are not your reviews, so you can’t ask Amazon why they have been deleted. If you remember the reviewer name and have their contact details (e.g. if it’s a review you solicited), you could ask the reviewer to ask Amazon, but they’ll probably just get the standard email (and may be threatened with having their review privileges revoked if they keep asking).

You can take some proactive steps to ensure reviews of your book aren’t removed by Amazon:

  • Don’t review your own book
  • Don’t ask/allow family members to review your book
  • Don’t ask/allow editors or your publisher to review your book
  • Don’t gift your book to potential reviewers through Amazon (this proves to Amazon that you have a relationship, which Amazon might interpret as you being friends). Post them a hard copy, or email the pdf or mobi file.
  • If you do give a copy to a reviewer, ask that they include an appropriate disclosure statement (e.g. “Thanks to the author for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes”).
  • Ensure reviewers don’t use their review of your book as a platform for promoting their own book, either in their reviewer name, through links, or by mentioning their own book in the review.

Finally, ensure reviewers don’t say they received a free copy of the book “in exchange” for a review. That’s against the Amazon Community Guidelines, and will trigger a deletion (and reviewers can no longer edit and repost reviews of the same book or product).

What is the most useful thing you’ve learned from this series? Is there anything else you’d like to know about reviews and online reviewing?

Should Authors Review?

Should Authors Review? (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

This week I’m addressing a question many authors ask: should authors review? First, let’s back up to a more important question:

Should authors read?

Yes!

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” (Stephen King, On Writing)

My personal view is that authors should read both inside and outside their genre. The odd writing craft book doesn’t hurt either!

  • Authors should read inside their genre to understand current trends in subject and voice.
  • Authors should read outside their genre to get ideas and inspiration for their own books.
  • Authors should read writing craft books, because we all need to be teachable.

But should authors review?

Yes.

Well-written reviews influence sales, so writing reviews blesses authors you enjoy reading, and influences others to try their work.

Do authors have to review?

No.

Reviewing a book is one way of blessing the author. But it’s not the only way. There are other ways, tangible and intangible. Pray for them. Buy their books. Recommend their books to friends. Comment on their blog posts. Follow their blog. Sign up for their email list. Like them on Facebook and Amazon. Follow and Fan them on Goodreads. Like their reviews on Goodreads. Tweet their new release. Tweet helpful reviews.

Should authors review everything they read?

No.

You don’t have to review everything you read, and you don’t have to publish your reviews on commercial sites. Most websites have a clear set of reviewing guidelines, and authors need to bear these in mind when deciding what to review—and what not to review. We discussed the Amazon Community Guidelines in this post.

I believe that as Christians, we absolutely need to adhere to the rules of each website. In fact, I believe we should hold ourselves to higher standards, not just to abstain from unethical behaviour, but to abstain from the appearance of unethical behaviour.

For example, I’m a book reviewer and a freelance editor. While I have an obligation to review books I obtain from book blogger programmes (e.g. NetGalley), I can’t review any book by clients on a commercial site such as Amazon.

So where can authors review?

Commercial sites

Commercial sites are any sites which sell books to readers. These include Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookDespository, ChristianBook, and Koorong.

But just because you can review doesn’t mean you should. When reviewing on commerical sites (especially Amazon), ensure you only review within the sites reviewing guidelines. If you choose to review on Amazon, review a wide range of titles. Don’t only review books by friends or authors from your publisher, as that will look like a reviewing circle.

As a guide:

  • Don’t publish reviews which could be seen as promotional
  • Don’t denigrate books in the same category (books which could be seen as competing with yours).
  • Review under your author name, not a pseudonym
  • Don’t include the word ‘Author’ in your Amazon reviewer name
  • Don’t include ‘Author of …’ or refer to your own books in your reviews

Some authors do choose to review under a pseudonym (e.g. under their real name if they write under a pen name). If you do, you need to act as a regular customer, not an author. This means:

  • Review everything under the same pseudonym
  • If you copy reviews across sites (e.g. reviewing on Amazon and Goodreads), use the same pseudonym across all those sites (that’s good branding).
  • Never mention your own books in reviews or discussions
  • Never comment on reviews of your books. This catches a lot of authors out.
  • Always remain within the reviewing guidelines. Your real name might not be visible to customers, but the retailer has your real name and address. And someone with better Google-fu than you will work out your true identity.

Overall, I think it’s easier to use your own name.

Reader Sites

Reader sites don’t sell books directly (although they might link to retail sites, and they might earn an affiliate commission from those links). Reader sites include BookLikes, Goodreads (owned by Amazon), Library Thing, Litsy, and Riffle.

Reader sites are a more problematic than retail sites for author/reviewers. If you’ve been using a site like Goodreads for a while (months, if not years), and are a member of different discussion groups, then it might appear strange to change the way you use the site simply because you are now a published author. So continue using the site as you have done in the past.

If you are a published author and you’ve never used Goodreads, I suggest you set up an author page, perhaps link your blog, and then sign out. Do nothing. Observe for a period (perhaps months) before deciding if this is a community you want to be part of. Goodreads is a complex site with its own culture, and a lot of author-vs-reviewer angst could have been prevented if authors made the effort to get to know the site and its users before jumping in.

If you decide to participate in the Goodreads community, participate as a reader.

Don’t mention your books, or the fact you are an author. If people are interested, they will view your profile, see you are an author, and may be interested enough to try one of your books.

I think the major thing to know about Goodreads is that members use the rating system in a variety of ways. One star often means “I don’t want to read this book”. They might not like the cover. They might not like the blurb. They might object to the way the author behaves online. They might not like Christian fiction (in which case, it might be an example of Christian persecution, which calls to mind Paul’s pesky injunction from Romans 12:14, to bless those who persecute you).

I understand this behaviour annoys authors, who see it dragging down their average rating. But Goodreads is for readers.

Personal Website or Blog

This is your personal space, so review away. Host blog tours. Endorse. Influence. Interview authors. Guest post on other blogs. Gush about everyone and everything. Blog readers want to connect with the author, so give them the opportunity to connect with as many of your author friends as you want.

My only proviso with promoting other authors through your blog is that readers will judge your writing based on the writing of those authors you choose to endorse and influence. If you write Christian romance, you probably don’t want to be endorsing an author who specialises in erotica. If you review a book with obvious writing or editing issues and don’t mention them in your review, I’m going to think you didn’t notice them—which makes me wonder about the quality of your own writing.

Should Authors Review?

I hope I’ve convinced you that authors should review. Do you review everything, or do you only review titles you can recommend and endorse? This is something you will ultimately have to decide for yourself, but I hope I’ve given you some food for thought.

This post is part of the monthly Author ToolBox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant. We now have over 40 blogs participating. To find more Blog Hop posts:
Understanding Amazon Community Guidelines

Reviewing 101: Understanding Amazon Community Guidelines

There is a lot of confusion regarding what is permitted in terms of online reviewing. This isn’t 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 Community Guidelines, which cover writing reviews. I’ve chosen Amazon because for several reasons:

  • Amazon is the biggest online retail site.
  • Amazon is the site authors most want (and need reviews on).
  • Amazon has the most reviewers (over 20 million).
  • Amazon has the most product reviews.
  • It’s also the site I know best.

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).

Amazon’s focus used to be on what was not allowed, including:

  • Objectionable material
  • Inappropriate content
  • Off-topic information
  • Promotional material.

Amazon have now rephrased their rules to focus on the positive. The Amazon Community Guidelines say:

Eligibility

Only customers can review. An Amazon.com customer is (currently) defined as someone who has spent $50 on Amazon.com in the last year. Other Amazon sites have similar spending requirements. This isn’t to deter honest reviewers, but to make it harder for fake reviewers to set up multiple reviewing accounts.

Be Helpful and Relevant

That should be obvious! It means reviewers should focus their reviews on the product. Information on price, packaging, shipping or the seller aren’t considered relevant to customer reviews, as Amazon has other forums for offering feedback on sellers or packaging.

Amazon Community Guidelines don’t permit 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 […].

Respect Others

Amazon do not permit swearing, calling people names, using inappropriate language (like calling someone an idiot or a nazi), or promotion of illegal conduct.

Customers are also not permitted to post from multiple accounts, or to coordinate with others. This means sellers (including authors) can’t ask their fans to upvote or downvote specific reviews, or report them for abuse in an effort to get the review deleted.

Customers can disagree with others as long as it’s done respectfully, without name-calling, without attacking the other person, and without posting content that invades someone’s privacy.

Promotional and Commercial Solicitations

Customer reviews are meant to be just that: customer reviews. They are not meant to be a way for sellers (including authors) to promote their products. Amazon will therefore delete reviews they consider promotional.

This specifically includes posting content (i.e. reviewing) your own products (books), or those of a close family member, friend, or business associate. There is ongoing debate as to how Amazon decides a reviewer is “close” to a seller, but here are my views:

  • Reviewer and author use the same IP address.
  • Author has gifted the book to the reviewer via Amazon.
  • Author quotes the reviewer in Editorial Reviews.
  • Author thanks the reviewer in the Acknowledgements to their book.
  • Author identifies the reviewer as their editor, cover designer, or other business associate.

Amazon say they do not track users social media connections (e.g. Facebook friends), but Amazon owns Goodreads which does allow linking to your Facebook account.

Amazon also does not allow:

  • Reviews of competitor’s books (although “competitor is not defined. Does this mean authors can’t review? We’ll discuss that in a future post).
  • Reviews in exchange for compensation of any kind (i.e. paid reviews).

Authors may provide reviewers with a free copy of the book (paperback or ebook), but the book must be freely given without any expectation of a review. This isn’t actually a bad thing: if you offer a reviewer a book and they don’t review it, it’s probably because they either haven’t read it or didn’t like it.

If you find reviews which include inappropriate information (e.g. saying the book is too expensive, or saying it arrived damaged), 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 three options: Helpful, Comment, and Report Abuse. If you believe a review contravenes the Amazon Community Guidelines in some way, click Report Abuse. You used to be able to give a reason, but Amazon now currently doesn’t give this option.

If you are 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, the review includes 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 the Amazon Community Guidelines or Conditions of Use (often referred to as 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 Community Guidelines.

It usually takes several reports from different people before a review is removed (although I don’t know exactly how many). However, sometimes the response is extremely fast: I once reported a review for soliciting helpful votes (which is against the guidelines), and the review had been edited by Amazon within half an hour to remove the promotional content.

Of course, the big question is: What is promotional content?

We will look at that in more detail next week.

Meanwhile, are you aware of the Amazon Community Guidelines? What do you consider promotional content?

Book Reviewing 101 | How to Ask Bloggers for Book Reviews

Book Reviewing 101 | How to Ask Bloggers for Book Reviews

My previous post discussed how to get honest book reviews (answer: Ask). This week I’m looking at some of the finer points of how to approach potential book reviewers, especially bloggers.

First, and most important …

Don’t ask them to review something completely inappropriate

Please don’t waste the reviewer’s time by asking them to review something completely inappropriate.

If their Amazon profile says they don’t accept book review requests, don’t ask. If their blog page says no vanity publishers and your publisher is Tate or WestBow Press, don’t ask.

And only pitch your book to a reviewer who reviews in the same genre: as a reviewer of Christian fiction, I’m definitely not interested in your polytheistic inspirational, or your raunchy erotica (yes, I’ve been offered both). I’m not interested in your non-fiction, and probably not interested in your picture book.

Follow their review policy

As a general guide, it’s best to send a query first and follow that up with the ebook if the reviewer agrees to review your title. Don’t just send your book and then complain the reviewer never reviewed it. An unsolicited book is like the flyers in your letterbox from the supermarket you never visit: it gets deleted, unread.

I’ve come across authors who say it’s too much trouble to read every book blogger’s review policy and follow it. They’re too busy, and it’s much easier to send a template email. That’s their right. But I’m also busy, and it’s much easier to say no to those requests than to follow up with a request for the information they’d have sent if they’d done a little research.

And on a related note …

Follow the law

Don’t add the blogger to an email list without their consent.

Really.

Don’t.

If you’re stupid enough to do that (or stupid enough to hire a PR company that does), please don’t add to the stupid by having an “unsubscribe” option that requires the blogger to add five different personal details in order to unsubscribe from a mailing list they (I) never signed up for in the first place.

(Yes, I had this happen last week. Twice. It won’t happen again, because I blocked the email address and reported it as spam. No, I didn’t unsubscribe. I’m not giving them unnecessary personal details.)

Offer a free copy of the book

… and state whether your version is mobi (for Kindle), epub (for Kobo, Nook, Sony etc), or pdf (which can be read on any device, although Kindle users are advised to email the file to their Kindle with “convert” in the subject line, to get a readable mobi file).

Ask for an honest review

Remember you are asking for an honest book review, not a positive review (and certainly not a five-star review). And don’t require a review “in exchange” for the free book—all those things are against Amazon’s reviewing guidelines (which I’ll discuss in a later post).

Email the book

Don’t gift your book via Amazon in order to get the Amazon Verified Purchase tag—Amazon may see the gift as financial compensation, and may delete the review (because the reviewer can decline the gift and spend the money on something else). Yes, an Amazon rep might have told you it’s okay to gift a review copy. But ask another rep, and you’ll get a different answer. Don’t risk it.

You can gift copies via retailers like Smashwords (if your book is available there) or use services like BookFunnel, which allows the reviewer to download in their choice of formats. Or just email the mobi or pdf file. Trustworthy bloggers won’t pirate your book (and you’re checking out the bloggers to avoid the dodgy ones, aren’t you?)

What if no one agrees to review my book?

If you find you’re asking a lot of bloggers for reviews but no one is interested, here are a few things to check:

  • Are you targeting the right reviewers? Have they reviewed books like yours before?
  • Do you have a great cover? Does it look professional?
  • Is your book description gripping?
  • Do your opening pages have a compelling hook?
  • Has your book been professionally edited?
  • Is there something about your presentation which is driving potential reviewers away?

These are the main issues that lead to me turning down review requests. Most often, the opening pages of the novel simply don’t grip me. They might be all telling, not showing. They might use too many creative dialogue tags. They might be writing in omniscient point of view and headhopping. These issues show me the book needs more work, and will mean I choose not to review it. Other reviewers will have their own criteria.

If you can’t convince reviewers to read your book, you’re going to have trouble convincing paying customers.

I sent my book, but it hasn’t been reviewed yet.

Some book reviewers agree to review your book, while others only promise to look at it. If they decide not to review it, don’t push. The chances are they didn’t like the book.

If a reviewer agreed to review your book within a specific timeframe and doesn’t, it could be because they’ve forgotten (so one gentle reminder may well be appropriate). However, it could be they didn’t like it. Some reviewers prefer to only review books they like, so don’t push the issue if they don’t review it.

It’s a lot of work!

Yes, which is why it is important to keep track of everything:

  • The reviewers you found who accept review requests (whether you contacted them or not).
  • The reviewers you contacted who didn’t respond to your email.
  • The reviewers you contacted who responded but declined.
  • The reviewers you contacted who said no, but to keep them informed of future books.
  • The reviewers who agreed to review your books and didn’t.
  • The reviewers who agreed to review your books and did.

When a review you’ve requested appears on a blog, it’s polite to visit the blog, thank the reviewer, and respond to any comments. However, I don’t recommend responding to book reviews (positive or negative) on retail sites (e.g. Amazon) or reader communities (e.g. Goodreads), as it can come across as needy and stalkerish.

However, you can like book reviews on BookBub—it’s a newer site which is actively trying to encourage readers to review (to take over from Amazon, perhaps?). Bookbub email authors to tell them when a reviewer has recommended their book, which means you don’t have to stalk the site.

(Authors should be writing their next book, not stalking social media to search for reviews).

Finally, keep special note of those reviewers who enjoyed your book: these are the people you will contact again when your next book releases, which will make this process much easier.

Do you have any reviewing questions I haven’t answered?

How to Get Book Reviews

How to Get (Honest) Book Reviews (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

This post is part of the monthly Author ToolBox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant. We now have over 40 blogs participating. To find more Blog Hop posts:

How to Get Honest Book Reviews

I often see authors online asking either how to get more book reviews, or how many book reviews can they expect.

My (unstatistical) research suggest authors can expect around one review for every 1,000 copies sold. That’s just 0.1%. Even a bestseller might not do much better: John Green has reportedly sold nine million copies of The Fault in Our Stars and has almost 30,000 reviews on Amazon—a review rate of less than 0.4%.

Yet some authors seem to have dozens, even hundreds, of reviews, out of all proportion to sales. Is there some secret?

How do these authors manage to get so many reviews?

It’s easy enough to get dishonest reviews. We all know them: buying reviews, reviewing your own books, asking family members to give your book a five-star review, swapping reviews with other authors, offering reviewers a gift or an entry into a prize draw.

But these reviews are all against Amazon’s reviewing guidelines. These reviews are why Amazon keep updating their reviewing guidelines, as I discussed in A (Not So) Short History of Fake Reviews on Amazon.

So How do you Get Honest Reviews?

Ask.

Yes, ask for reviews. Many readers don’t realise the importance authors place on reviews. Positive reviews provide social proof for potential customers, they influence Amazon’s book popularity ratings, and a certain number of reviews are required in order for authors to advertise on sites like Bookbub. Yet most readers don’t know or understand how useful reviews are, to authors and other readers.

Amazon now restricts reviews to customers i.e. people who have spent $50 in the last year. The spending requirement is per site, so someone who has spent the equivalent of $50 in a foreign store (say, India) can’t then review on the US site.

So if you’re looking for reviews on Amazon.com, you need to find reviewers who shop at Amazon.com.

Who do I Ask?

Ask your readers

Marketing advisors such as David Gaughran advise authors to ask for reviews at the back of the book, and that’s something David does himself: “Word-of-mouth is cruicial for any author to succeed. If you enjoyed the book, please consider leaving a review at Amazon.”

When I first researched this topic in 2014, asking for reviews was a tactic only indie authors used. Now I often see review requests in the back of books from mainstream publishers.

Does this work? In July 2014, Tim Grahl shared on his blog that he had just sold the 10,000th copy of his book, Your First 1000 Copies (including one copy to me). Those 10,000 sales have netted him over 180 reviews—a 1.8% review rate, which is still low, but is almost twenty times more reviews than my unstatistical ‘normal’.

The other thing to do at the end of your book is ask readers to sign up for your email list, so you can let them know when your next book is due to be published (and perhaps even offer your email subscribers a discount, or ask if anyone would like a free review copy …).

Ask Amazon reviewers

While many Amazon reviewers are simply providing random reviews on books or products they’ve used and liked (or not), a growing number are reviewing books or products they’ve been provided with in exchange for a review. Note that reviewers are required to disclose they have received a free copy of the book for review (as per Federal Trade Commission regulations). Not all do, but they are supposed to.

How do you find Amazon reviewers?

It’s time-consuming, but worthwhile. Some people recommend starting with the Amazon Top 10,000 Reviewers list, as these are the most prolific and helpful reviewers and are therefore most likely to accept review requests.

However, I believe this is a waste of time for most authors, and especially for authors writing in a niche genre like Christian fiction. Why? Because many of those reviewers either don’t review books, or don’t read Christian fiction. (The easiest way to become a Top 10,000 Reviewer is to review the Free App of the Day, as it’s guaranteed to get you a lot of votes, and votes are more important than total number of reviews in improving reviewer ranking.)

Rather than focusing on Top Reviewers, focus on people who have reviewed books similar to yours, especially if they have also reviewed self-published books. Click on the reviewer name, and see if they have a website address or email address on their profile. If they have an email address, it’s safe to assume they are open to receiving requests via email. If they only have a website address, check that out to see if they are open to review requests.

Many Amazon reviewers also have book blogs, which is even better: the more sites a review is posted on, the better for your book. To find out if an Amazon reviewer will accept requests for reviews, simply click on their name, which will bring up their personal profile. If you find an Amazon reviewer who agrees to review your book, you’ve got a 50% or better chance of getting a review (personally, I review over 95% of the titles I accept for review, but I know some bloggers review as few as 30%. However, they make it clear that sending them a book doesn’t guarantee a review).

However, many Amazon reviewers already have all the books they can read through sources such as NetGalley or publisher blogging programmes.

You can use a similar technique to find Goodreads reviewers.

What about paid services?

There are paid tools which can do this job for you. I tried one as a free trial, using a book I’d reviewed as the test book. The list didn’t return me as a potential reviewer, which I found odd. I also receive a lot of template requests that I suspect have come from a service such as this. Fewer than 10% are actually requests to review Christian fiction—which is all I review on my blog. As such, I suggest anyone considering a paid tool do their research. There is no point in paying for a tool that doesn’t deliver actionable results.

Ask Bloggers

There are a number of blog tour companies out there, and many specialise by genre (e.g. romance or Christian fiction).

Visit the tour company’s website, find some books similar to yours, see which reviewers have reviewed them positively, visit those reviewer websites, check out their reviewing guidelines, and contact those who are open to unsolicited requests.

The advantage of using bloggers from these networks is that you already know they are open to reading and reviewing books in your genre. If they have a review policy or similar on their blog, you will know they are open to receiving review requests, so go ahead! As with Amazon reviewers, if you find a blogger who will read your book, you have an excellent chance of getting a review.

Ask in a Reader Community

Sites such as Facebook and Goodreads have groups for people seeking reviews. However, some of these offer unethical review swaps. Check out any potential reviewers before sending your book off to them, to ensure they are the right reviewer for your book. You can also check out sites like Story Cartel, which offers your book free to readers who promise to review.

Ask Social Media Followers

Rayne Hall recommends asking social media followers for reviews in her book, Twitter for Writers, by tweeting that your book is available for review. She asks every eight weeks, with a post like this:
“Would anyone like one of my ebooks for free for posting a review at Amazon?”

Hall likes these reviews, as she finds they are honest reviews from people who are interested in her and her books, and she reports that most people who request a review copy via Twitter do follow up with a review. Note that she is staunchly against automated DM tweets, such as those some people use for new followers: “Thanks for following! Please download a free review copy of my book here: xxx.com”.

I’d add one proviso: don’t ask for reviews on your regular Facebook page, as your objective is obtaining reviews from people you don’t know in real life, not an Amazon page full of “friends and family” reviews.

So that’s who to ask for reviews. I’ll be back next week with some tips on how to ask for a review.

Meanwhile, what questions do you have about book reviews?