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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?

A (not so) Short History of Fake Reviews on Amazon

A (not so) Short History of Fake Reviews on Amazon

When I first started blogging, back in September 2011, there were almost no restrictions to reviewing on Amazon. Someone could create a buyer account on Amazon, buy something, and 24 hours later they could review any product on any Amazon site.

Yes, any product. On any site. Amazon has never placed any restriction on who can review what. You don’t have to have purchased the product on Amazon to review that product—which is good news for book bloggers. Bloggers often receive free copies from authors or publishers, from book tour companies, from reviewing sites such as NetGalley, or from sources such as the library.

Amazon allow customers to review whether or not they have experienced the product (i.e. read the book). However, Amazon also recognise that potential customers place more trust in reviews where the reviewer has experienced the product. Amazon acknowledged this by introducing the Amazon Verified Purchase badge, and AVP reviews are now shown ahead of non-AVP reviews.

But as Amazon gained a reputation as the powerhouse of online shopping, sellers attempted to game the reviewing system by posting fake reviews. Amazon responded by tightening and clarifying the reviewing guidelines—an ongoing process.

In this post, I’m going to highlight some of the background to these changes.

Spoiler: Amazon isn’t out to get honest authors. Only the dishonest ones.

Friends and Family Reviews

Amazon’s fake review problem first came to my attention several years ago. Savvy reviewers noticed an oddity: a self-published book from an unknown author had somehow managed to garner over 350 five-star reviews. It also had a handful of one-star reviews. The five-star reviews were all from new accounts that had only reviewed this one book. The reviews were all short, and expressed similar sentiments: the book was amazing. A must-read thriller.

The one-star reviews told a different story: this was a novel in dire need of editing. They questioned the authenticity of the five-star reviews.

Amazon investigated, and the five-star reviews disappeared.

Amazon tightened their reviewing guidelines to prohibit “promotional” reviews (including reviews from friends and family). A lot of authors have lost reviews in this way, as Amazon has (rightly or wrongly) tied them to a reviewer through common IP addresses or gifted books. There is a concern that Amazon may monitor social media relationships e.g. Facebook friends, although this is merely supposition. Amazon says they do not monitor social media.

The investigation was expanded across the store, and Amazon deleted many reviews. They also introduced a new requirement to the US Amazon Reviewing Guidelines, and clarified their definition of promotional content.

Customers now had to make a minimum purchase of $5 before they could review. But this didn’t stop the fake reviews.

As well as deleting reviews, Amazon began prohibiting reviewers from posting reviews if they believed there was a relationship between the reviewer and the seller. For example, in mid-2017, Amazon Australia refused to allow one of my reviews to post because they had determined I knew the (Australian) author. I did, although I don’t believe that affected my review and I had disclosed I’d received a free book from the author. Ironically, Amazon US posted my review of the same title with no question.

Buying Reviews

Now deceitful sellers looking for fake reviews had to become world-class hackers in order to deceive the hacker hunters at Amazon. Fortunately (or unfortunately), there was an almost endless supply of ethically challenged “reviewers” who would post a fake review in exchange for a buck or five … which was against Amazon’s guidelines. Websites with convenient names like “Buy Amazon Reviews” sprang up to connect the two groups.

Creative sellers could write their own reviews for the company to post on “genuine” accounts, and for a small premium some reviewers would offer to buy the ebook so the review would carry the AVP tag. I guess they forgot that Amazon can and do track our Kindle reading habits, so it wouldn’t have been difficult for them to tell that the writers of these glowing five-star AVP reviews hadn’t even opened the ebook in question.

Amazon soon caught on, and filed suit against the websites in question.

This was followed by additional lawsuits against Fiverr reviewers offering a similar “service”.

Coupon Clubs

Then came the coupon clubs. Sellers would offer product discount coupons to Amazon Prime members, offering them products at a 99% or 100% discounts. Facebook groups sprang up, connecting people who were happy to receive free products through Amazon (with the shipping paid by Amazon through Prime) in exchange for a five-star review. This left Amazon paying to ship hundreds of dollars of free product to customers who didn’t spend any money at Amazon except for their Prime membership.

Amazon started deleting reviews, and reviewers appeared in the Amazon Discussion Forums.They complained their reviews had disappeared, and that was awful because now they weren’t going to get any more free products (it was apparently a condition of membership to the coupon clubs that reviewers had to post a five-star review within a narrow timeframe to get more products, despite this being against Amazon’s Reviewing Guidelines).

Other reviewers investigated, and called out the coupon club reviewers for their bad behaviour—for knowingly or unknowingly breaking Amazon’s Reviewing Guidelines by posting multiple reviews for products without adequately testing those products. The discussions are gone now, but the ones I remember reading showed wilful ignorance from the coupon club reviewers. They refused to believe what they were doing was in any way misleading or unethical, or that it contravened Amazon’s guidelines.

Amazon Increases the Purchase Requirement

Amazon responded by introducing a $50 purchase requirement.

In order to review products on Amazon, a potential reviewer had to have spent $50 on the site, excluding any Amazon Prime membership.

Initially, the increased purchase requirement only applied at Amazon US. In late 2017, I noticed Amazon had introduced a $50 purchase requirement in in Australia and Canada, and a GBP 40 purchase requirement in the UK. But it appeared that if you were eligible to review on Amazon US (as I am), you were eligible to review on any other Amazon site. The reverse may also have been true.

I have personally purchased dead tree books from Amazon US and UK, and ebooks from Amazon US and Australia (one of the quirks of living in New Zealand is that I must purchase physical products from the US store, but can choose to purchase Kindle books from the US or Australia).

I’ve been actively reviewing since 2011, and have always posted my reviews on Amazon US and UK. When Amazon introduced the Australian store, I started adding my reviews there as well. Anyway, despite the increase in the purchase requirement, I was still able to post reviews at all three Amazon sites. I then tried posting a review at Amazon Canada, a store where I have never spent as much as a cent. My review was accepted. This showed me the $50 purchase requirement was at a single store.

This has now changed:

  • The purchase requirement is now per year, not a once-for-all-time.
  • The purchases must be made at the store in question.

The requirements differ by geography:

  • Amazon US says reviewers must have spent $50 in the last year at Amazon.com.
  • Amazon Canada says reviewers must have spent $50 at Amazon.ca within the last twelve months.
  • Amazon UK says reviewers must have spent GBP 40 at Amazon.co.uk within the last twelve months.
  • Amazon Australia says reviewers have spent $50 at Amazon.com.au, but there is no timeframe mentioned. Yet.

I tested this. My results:

  • I was unable to post a review at Amazon Canada (no purchases ever).
  • I was unable to post a review at Amazon Australia (lifetime purchases: <$20). I am still in the Top 100 Reviewers at Amazon Australia.
  • I was able to post at Amazon UK (no purchases in the last ten years).
  • I was able to post at Amazon US (purchases: >$50 in the last year).

I suspect Amazon UK will catch up with me soon, and veto further reviews. However, the UK site displays the top three or top five reviews from Amazon.com, so some of my reviews will continue to show on the UK site, even though they were posted at the US site.

I don’t know what is behind this latest change. It could be that sites like Buy Amazon Reviews sprang up offshore to sell fake reviews from non-US reviewers who had spent the equivalent of $50 in their home store. Non-US sites are harder for Amazon to track and sue. The easy solution is to only allow US customers to review in the US store.

Update: Amazon Limits non-AVP Reviews

The latest news is that Amazon is limiting the number of non-Amazon Verified Purchase reviews on books. This may extend to other products. There is a view that Amazon Verified Reviews are somehow more reliable than non-AVP reviews. The default is to show AVP reviews, and many Amazon users won’t even know they can adjust their filter to show all reviews. From Amazon’s perspective, it makes sense to attempt to control the ratio of AVP to non-AVP reviews if:

  • They believe their customers place more trust in AVP reviews, or
  • They suspect some non-AVP reviews are flouting their Reviewing Guidelines and are actually Promotional Content.

Amazon also say:

We may restrict the ability to submit a review when we detect unusual reviewing behavior, or to maintain the best possible shopping experience.

My feeling is this may be a result of two separate issues:

  • The growing number of authors with significant and active street teams, all trying to post reviews on or close to release day. If this is the case, I’d suggest authors ask their street teams to stagger their reviews (e.g. by batching the email reminders so different people receive the reminder on different days).
  • Coupon clubs and other ethically challenged sellers are still giving away free products in exchange for reviews (probably five-star reviews).

Either way, we can only hope it will eliminate some of the fake reviews (and sellers) without hurting genuine reviewers (and authors).

Conclusion

I know authors find it hard to get reviews. I know authors find it frustrating when they lose reviews, or when reviewers can’t post for whatever reason. Often, it’s the honest sellers, honest authors, and honest reviewers who miss out.

But I also know Amazon customers need to be able to trust the Amazon review system

Amazon want that as well. Without trustworthy reviews, Amazon is just another online retailer.

Years of observation has shown me that every rule Amazon have introduced, every review they have deleted, has been an attempt (successful or otherwise) to protect their review system.

Amazon could get harsher. They could only allow people to have purchased a product from Amazon to review that product on Amazon. Many other retailers do. They could correlate our Kindle pages read with the books we are permitted to review. After all, they already collect that information.

We don’t want that. So we need to be ethical customers, sellers, and reviewers. And we need to encourage others to be the same. Anything else hurts us all.

This post is the background to a series I’m planning for later in the year. What questions do you have about reviews that you’d like me to address? Let me know in the comments.

Book Review - Book Launch Gladiator by Jordan Ring

Book Review | Book Launch Gladiator by Jordan Ring

Book Launch Gladiator starts by emphasising the importance of building a platform well in advance of launching your first book, with an emphasis on the importance of launching your book with a good number of reviews. He recommends some good tools, and has some good tips particularly around book promotion sites, and the importance of getting reviews early. He also has a Udemy course available free for those who purchase this book (RRP $149).

Ring doesn’t talk about pre-orders at all, which I found odd, as I know a lot of authors use pre-orders to drive early sales and reviews. He also claims reviews help trigger amazon [sic] algorithms to help your book become more visible on Amazon. I’ve never seen any evidence of this: reliable sources such as David Gaughran say sales are what count, not review numbers (although reviews provide consumer proof and may encourage sales).

I also disagreed with this statement:

“it can be very hard to be the first person to review a book.”

As a long-time reviewer (and sad person that I am), I find it’s a small buzz to be the first person to review a book (as long as my review is positive. I loathe being the first reviewer of a book I didn’t like). I would also point out that authors who follow his advice and rely too heavily on reviews from friends and family are going to run into problems with disappearing reviews, as Amazon doesn’t permit reviews from people who have a close personal or financial relationship with the author.

The author provided me with a free copy for review, and the review copy opened at the free bonus (nice) and opening chapter (fine). But the book opened after the part where the author disclosed he is a marketing coach for Archangel Ink, a pay-to-publish press, and the publisher of this book. If the book is meant to be a low-key form of promotion for the publisher, the proofreading errors (e.g. capitalisation errors) are not great advertising.

Overall, this isn’t a bad book. The information and links were relevant and useful, but there were a few too many pseudo-promotional mentions of the publisher for my taste, along with borderline reviewing advice and indifferent proofreading.

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

About Book Launch Gladiator

Welcome to the only guide written by someone on the front lines that will show you how to succeed in the Kindle world. By learning how to become a Book Launch Gladiator you will reign victorious in the Kindle Colosseum, where many others have failed.

In this book you will learn:

  • How to make decisions on KDP Select, pricing, and most importantly, launch timing
  • How to set up your book for marketing success through crafting the perfect book description, book title, and making sure you have a great book cover
  • How to get the bare minimum of reviews for your book (and more if you want them) complete with tools and recommendations
  • What to do during launch week instead of just incessantly checking sales numbers
  • A guide to continued marketing success in your writing career

Jordan wants you to succeed as a new author, and the process packed within these pages will lead you towards your goal. It isn’t an easy journey, and this book doesn’t pull its punches, but by the end you will have a much better grasp on the process as a whole.

Learn how to do book marketing the right way, without loads of money or time. Becoming a book launch gladiator requires careful planning, and this book will be your guide to meet that end.

You can find Book Launch Gladiator online at:

Amazon | Goodreads

About Jordan Ring

Jordan is the marketing and book launch guru at Archangel Ink. He has discovered the ins and outs of launching books by writing, publishing, and launching three of his own in a short time span. He currently enjoys working closely with authors to help them find success with their own books. During the day he is a freelancing authorpreneur and at night he runs a podcast with his wife called Freedom-Cast: Leaving Normal Behind.

Book Review | How to Best Optimize Blog Posts for SEO

Book Review | How to Best Optimize Blog Posts for SEO

How to Best Optimize Blog Posts for SEO used to be a blog post, although the blog post had 20 tips and the book has 25. It is very short, and the actual content ends shortly after the halfway point (there is then a sample of the author’s 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge).

Thompson starts by explaining what SEO is and why it is important to bloggers and authors. I had read (and reread) the older blog post several times, but I still found several areas in which I can improve. What’s especially good is that the author provides links as well e.g. she says it’s important to have a great headline, then links to the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer.

Yes, SEO experts will know all this stuff. But I’ve read blog posts by some of these experts, and they are borderline unintelligible, or go into a lot of detail about things that aren’t relevant to book bloggers. I like Rachel Thompson’s simple, no-nonsense style, which is easy to understand and implement. It’s a short book but not expensive, and definitely worth the small investment.

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

About How to Best Optimize Blog Posts for SEO

Are you unsure how generate more traffic to your blog? Do you feel overwhelmed by all the SEO articles out there (or not even sure what the term means)? Do you wish someone could break it down for you in simple steps?

Then this is the book for you!

Rachel provides you her top 25 tips laid out in easy to understand language gleaned from her own ten years of successful blogging as well as optimizing and managing countless client blogs. Containing a wealth of information, these tips will help you increase traffic to your site!

Topics include:
· SEO terms defined
· Specific ways to increase traffic to your blog right now
· How to optimize each post for maximum exposure on Google
· Ways to connect with readers
· How to integrate your blog posts on the various social media sites

If SEO confuses you, this is a great beginner breakdown for any new blogger, writer, veteran author, and even small businesses.

Find the book online at:

Amazon | Goodreads

About Rachel Thompson

Rachel Thompson is the author of Broken Places (one of IndieReader’s “Best of 2015” top books and 2015 Honorable Mention Winner in the San Francisco Book Festival and Los Angeles Book Festival and 5/5 Readers Favorite), and the multi award-winning and best-selling Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed.

Rachel founded BadRedhead Media in 2011, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, IndieReader, FeminineCollective, BookMachine, BlueInk Review, and TransformationIsReal.

Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the blog-sharing hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs, the weekly live Twitter chat #SexAbuseChat, (Tuesdays, 6pm pst), and #BookMarketingChat (Wednesdays 6pm pst) to help writers learn how to market their work.

She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. A single mom, Rachel lives in California (with her two kids and two cats) where she daydreams about Thor. And sleep.

Book Review | Market Like a Boss by Honoree Corder and Ben Hale

Marketing is a huge topic, and a short book like this can only ever scratch the surface even when dealing with the niche of online book marketing. That can be seen as both a weakness as a strength—a weakness in that there is so much How to Market Like a Boss! doesn’t say, but a strength in that it does provide to a quick and easy-to-read introduction to the subject.

Much of the information can be found in other books on book marketing and in greater depth. But there were a few comments and tips I haven’t seen in other books, such as the calculation of the lifetime value of a fiction series reader, or the description of different types of email lists.

One point the authors make strongly which bears repetition is this:

Marketing is highly specific to the brand and the products. What works for one will not necessarily work for another. In short, there is no “one size fits all”.

This, I think, is a mistake many authors make—believing there is only one way to sell books. This is demonstrated y the number of books and training courses from authors proclaiming their way as the one true way with disclaimers in the small print that there is no guarantee of success). It’s refreshing to find two authors who don’t buy into the myth.

This short book is packed with useful advice, and offers a solid end to the series (the previous books were Write Like a Boss! and Publish Like a Boss!). It’s not the most comprehensive book on marketing, but it is worth the investment.

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

Publish Like a Boss

Book Review | Publish Like a Boss! by Honoree Corder and Ben Hale

Publish Like a Boss! by Honoree Corder and Ben Hale is the second book in their joint three-book series.

I read and reviewed the excellent Write Like a Boss! a couple of months ago, and wrote a post sharing Ben Hale’s fascinating (and detailed) editing process. After reading Write Like a Boss!, I was keen to read the rest of the series

Publish Like a Boss! starts by taking readers through the different types of publishing.

They avoid using the pejorative term “vanity publishing”, and instead refer to this as self-publishing. They then use the phrase “indie publishing” to refer to what I (and many others) call self-publishing. This doesn’t necessarily matter, but it is important to understand what they mean by the terms so you don’t get confused.

They go on to share their C’s and Q’s of successful indie publishing (Conistency, Company, Quality, and Quantity). They then provide tips on publishing fiction, publishing non-fiction, and useful resources.

I haven’t yet published a book, but I have spent the last few years observing and educating myself on the changes in the publishing industry, both for my own benefit and for the benefit of my editing clients. Some of the content covered topics I already knew, but which would be useful for someone new to publishing. However, I still picked up several useful tips.

The part I found most helpful was their list of mistakes new author-publishers make:

  • Being cheap
  • Rushing
  • Having no long-term vision
  • Failing to establish a brand
  • Not creating a long-term business plan

I’m guilty of not thinking long-term, so that’s something I need to work on.

It’s a short book and easy to read, but packed full of great advice for the first-time author, like:

If you want professional work, you can either pay with cash or pay with time. Either way, it’s going to cost you.

Overall, a short but useful book, and I’m looking forward to reading the final book in the series: Market Like a Boss!

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

Write Like a Boss

Book Review | Write Like a Boss by Honoree Corder and B Hale

I’m in Sydney this weekend, attending the annual Omega Writer’s Conference. Our venue has wifi, but it’s not great, which means I’m not going to be able to research and post my usual Saturday Best of the Blogs post. Never fear! I’ll be back next week with a double dose of blog links (or you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook—Buffer will kindly be tweeting and posting on my behalf).

Instead of a Best of the Blogs post, I’m sharing a book review, for Write Like a Boss by Honoree Corder and Ben Hale.

Write like a boss? What does that even mean?

Writing like a boss is about being smart.

Write Like a Boss is a short book about what it takes to be a successful writer. It’s got content, but also some great tips for actually doing it—writing, publishing, and marketing. Ben Hale writes fantasy novels, while Honoree Corder writes non-fiction (including books for writers, and books on productivity). This combination works in Write Like a Boss, because they are both able to bring their own particular expertise in writing to the table.

The authors say:

The biggest hallmark of professional writers is not marketing skills or business knowledge, it is consistency … keeping your writing commitment is about threading it into your life.

Easier said than done, which is why Write Like a Boss includes some tips to building that consistency. And doing it today, not tomorrow. They cover mindset, treating writing like a business, and learning the principles of marketing, then move into more detail on actually writing fiction and non-fiction.

In Chapter Four, Ben shares his ten rules of fiction, and his revision process. Each of Ben’s novels currently goes through thirteen drafts (he used to have twenty-four). I found his explanation of each draft hugely helpful, and it’s something I can see myself pointing editing clients towards. Hale uses four sets of outside readers—an alpha reader (for plot and characterisation), a paid editor, beta readers, and a final beta reader.

As a freelance fiction editor, I found it interesting to see where Ben’s paid editor fit in the process.

His editor sees the fifth draft of the book—he goes though the full book another eight times after getting the edited version back. I suspect some of my clients think they’ll be able to get my copyedit back and publish within a couple of weeks. Ben’s process shows why that’s not realistic. It sounds daunting, but I’m sure his process results in a much better book than if he’d skipped some of these steps.

Note that these are Ben’s tips. He’s a multi-published fiction author with a solid writing, revision, and editing process. He’s learned the craft. What he’s sharing here are tips, not a substitute for learning for ourselves (Honoree points out she invested four years in learning before she launched her writing career).

Chapter Five is from Honoree, and she shares her process on writing a non-fiction book. She shares four kinds of non-fiction writer, and four key questions that every non-fiction writer must answer for each book. It’s great stuff.

Write Like a Boss is the first in a series

Publishing Like a Boss and Marketing Like a Boss are both in the works. If they are anything like Write Like a Boss, they will be well worth reading. Recommended for pre-published writers, and those looking for ideas to improve their discipline, motivation, and productivity.

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

Sell More Books With Less Marketing

Book Review | Sell More Books With Less Marketing by Chris Syme

Chris Syme is rapidly becoming one of my go-to sources for up-to-date information on book marketing.

Many of the other experts excel in saying what’s worked for them, and don’t realise why that can’t or won’t work for everyone. Sell More Books With Less Marketing starts with a hard truth many book marketing experts gloss over:

You must write a good book. This means beta readers, editors, and good covers for a start … you must do the work … all the work.

Chris Syme doesn’t have a gazillion book sales of her own. But she does have her daughter, Becca, a NYT Bestselling author who writes in a couple of different genres (and is a guest lecturer at Lawson Writer’s Academy, which means she knows her stuff). Chris and Becca co-host The Smarty Pants Book Marketing Podcast, and Chris has her own Facebook group.

Some of the material in this book is repeated from her earlier book, The Newbies Guide to Selling More Books with Less Social Media. This includes her explanation of the sales funnel, and her stage of a published writer. This was the lightbulb moment for me in regard to her first book, as it illustrates why so much of the marketing information out there doesn’t work.

Because it’s not written for newbie authors.

This book is.

If you haven’t read any books on book marketing, this is an excellent one to start with. It covers the basics in a straightforward way, so a new author won’t get lost in book marketing jargon that’s years ahead of where they need to be.

It’s aimed at authors with fewer than three books published, and little in the way of an online platform.

This means readers can focus on what’s important now, rather than wasting time chasing the next must-do strategy that only works effectively for authors with multiple books published, ideally in a series.

Sell More Books with Less Marketing covers the sales funnel, the three-must have marketing tools all authors need, and each chapter has actionable steps to take. Chris Syme also provides readers with access to her exclusive Facebook group, and access to a free email marketing course.

Syme asks readers to make three commitments:

  • A commitment to consistency
  • A commitment to perseverance
  • A commitment to excellence

Like most professional marketers, Syme subscribes to permission-based marketing rather than the old interruption marketing. This is intelligent marketing, because it’s marketing to people who’ve asked to be marketed to e.g. via an email list.

She like threes: she has her three commitments, her Big Three Goals (discoverability, sales, loyalty), and the Big Three Components you’ll need to succeed (website, email newsletter, Facebook page).

Syme cuts through the plethora of advice on book marketing to deliver three threes that will form the basis for a solid marketing platform, with no slimy selling involved.

Recommended.

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

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.