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Dear Editor: How do you keep God first in marketing?

Dear Editor | How do you keep God first in marketing?

Yes, this is another post taken from a question I saw in a Facebook group:

How do you market your books in a way that shows humility and points to Christ?

The fact you’re asking this question means you’re already well on the way to making sure your marketing is focused on God, not you. That’s great.

But I suspect it also means that you’ve bought into the common lie about what marketing is—that marketing is the annoying and sometimes smarmy push-push-push used to make the sale.

It isn’t.

Making the sale is selling. That’s important, but it’s not marketing. Marketing is about creating a product or service a segment of people will want to buy, then bringing that product or services to the attention of that segment.

Traditional marketing focuses on the four P’s: Product, Place, Price, and Promotion.

Even when I studied marketing, back in the dark ages of the early 1990’s, promotion was merely one aspect of marketing. And that was for traditional consumer goods marketing.

Now I believe there are seven Ps for the Christian author to consider: Prayer, Product, Package, Place, Price, Promotion, and Platform.

Let’s take a brief look at each:

Prayer

As Christians, our marketing should begin in prayer. It should end in prayer. It should be bathed in prayer. We need to be seeking God to know what he wants us to write—what topics, what formats, what word count. We need to know how and when he wants us to publish—publish a physical book or share our writing on a website or blog? Traditional publication or self-publishing?

(The only wrong answer here is vanity publishing; I believe that for 99% of authors or more, a vanity publisher is a bad deal because it’s bad stewardship of our financial resources. Having said that, even the owners and employees of vanity publishers need to hear the gospel, so if that’s the job God has given you, do it and do it well.)

Product

Traditional marketing starts with Product: offering a product (or service) customers will want to buy.

For writers, this means writing the best book or blog post we can write. It means learning to write, and learning to write well. Learning, learning, learning. Then writing, writing, writing. Writing the book or the blog post God calls us to write. It doesn’t matter whether we write fiction or non-fiction, literary or genre. It doesn’t even matter if it’s a book or not. Marketing our writing starts with writing well.

Seek excellence, because excellence honours God.

Package

Package is about taking that product and turning it into something the reader can access.

For a book, this means hiring the best editor we can afford—someone who will take your book apart and put it back together again, only better. Then we hire the best cover designer you can find, someone who will design a cover that appeals to your target reader. Package also includes the formats in which you sell your book: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook, podcast.

But not all writing has to be published in a book. Letters, blog posts, magazine articles, devotionals … all are valid ways of writing in obedience to God’s call. Consider how these shorter offerings can be packaged for the reader.

Place and Price

Traditional marketing then moves onto Place and Price: distributing our Product to our target customers (Place) at a Price they are willing to pay.

For traditionally published authors, the publisher will control Place and Price.

If we self-publish, then our big decisions are Place (sell ebooks exclusively through Amazon or do you go “wide” and sell through other retailers as well) and Price (largely driven by what readers expect to pay, which is related to what other authors in your genre charge). Remember, the worker is worth his or her hire, so there is nothing wrong with charging for our work. Paul supported his missionary journeys by making tents.

We might decide to give our work away, either as a free book or by writing for a blog. That’s a valid decision if we’re writing for God, as “free” removes one of the barriers to making a sale. But making our writing freely available doesn’t mean our writing is read—that’s going to come back to Product and Promotion.

Promotion

Promotion is the final aspect of traditional marketing. Traditional promotion was a combination of push and pull marketing—pushing advertisements out to the world at large, and hoping to Pull customers into the store to buy your product.

Now we’re a little more sophisticated. We can target our advertisements on sites like Amazon and Facebook and Goodreads, to (hopefully) focus only on our target customer. We can cross-promote with other authors in the same genre. And we can promote ourselves and others using our Platform.

Platform

Platform is my preferred method of promotion because it reflects the approach I believe we need to take to marketing: to identify our audience, and seek to serve them.

Platform allows us to emulate Jesus by serving others, not ourselves.

What does this mean? Well, serving ourselves is easy to identify: it’s the author who tweets “buy my book” every six minutes of every hour of every day. It’s the author who constantly pins her own book covers. It’s the author who constantly posts quotes from her own books on Facebook and Instagram. It’s the me-me-me author who never talks about anyone but herself, who never responds to comments or social media mentions because her “marketing” is all on autopilot so she can focus on obsessing about her sales (and grouching because she’s in Facebook jail for self-promoting her book in a hundred Facebook groups in quick succession).

Serving others is harder. It requires more up-front thought, and more effort than scheduling the same 1,600 Tweets each week.

Serving others is about:

  • Identifying our target reader.
  • Working out what subjects our target reader is interested in.
  • Serving our current and potential readers by finding and posting content about those subjects.

There is a name for this: content marketing.

The principle of content marketing is that we don’t directly market ourselves. Instead, we share information that serves others, and use that as the way to attract potential readers. It’s about being real and authentic, about engaging with our readers and turning them into fans.

Good content marketing follows the 80:20 rule:

  • 80% of what you share is information (content) that will interest and engage your target reader.
  • Only 20% of what you share is direct self-promotion. And even that should still be designed to interest and engage your target reader.

If we’re actively marketing to a Christian audience, then some of that content will point directly to Christ. For instance, we can share:

  • Bible quote memes.
  • Inspiring Christian quotes.
  • Devotional posts.
  • Deeper thoughts on God and the Bible.

We can still point to Christ even while marketing to a mainstream audience. For example, one Christian author I know who writes general market romance has a link to Bear Grylls advertising the Alpha course on the bottom of her website. Another is a pastor’s wife, and often posts about church services or events. Others are more subtle—you can see their Christian faith come through in their writing. It’s not overtly Christian, but it still points to Christ for those who have ears to hear.

Our focus on on serving your audience.

God has given us a message to share through our writing. He therefore wants us to share that message. To do otherwise would be to hide our light under a bushel.

And we can share that in humility and in a Christ-like manner. Jesus was the Messiah, yet didn’t promote himself. He said very unpromotional things, like the least shall be first. He pointed to His Father in all things. We can do the same.

This method of marketing isn’t going to produce instant results.

It’s playing a long game. So is God. It’s giving without expectation. As Jesus did. It’s about delivering the message God has placed on our hearts, and trusting the Holy Spirit to get it to the people who need it.

At the end of the day, if we are focused on God, if we are writing and publishing what you believe He has called us to write and publish, then we’re going to have to trust Him with the results. Bathe our writing in prayer, sow our seeds, serve others, and trust God to bring His harvest in His time.

Meanwhile, if you’d like help in establishing a Christ-centred Platform, click here to check out the Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge.

What content can you share that will promote your writing and point to Christ?

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?

Reviewing 101: Reviewing, Endorsing, & Influencing: Understanding the Difference

Reviewing 101: Reviewing, Endorsing, & Influencing: Understanding the Difference

Book reviews are for readers. But not all reviews are written with the reader in mind. So when is a book review not a book review? When is it an endorsement? And when is it influencing?

First, let’s define reviewing, endorsing, & influencing.

For our purposes, a book review is just that—a review of a book. It’s usually published, whether in a dead tree newspaper or magazine, or online. Online reviews might be published on a website, a blog, a retail site (e.g. Amazon or Barnes & Noble), a booklover site (e.g. Goodreads or Litsy), or on social media (e.g. Facebook or Instagram). It might be published on one, then promoted on social media. There might be a relationship between the reviewer and the author

An endorsement is usually a comment or review from someone who has a relationship with the author. They might be friends. They might be acquaintances. They might share a publisher or agent. The review might be a full review, or it might be a one-line pull quote that appears on the cover of a book.

Either way it is an endorsement, which is written for the author or publisher to promote the book. It’s not a real book review—because reviews are for readers.

Influencers may or may not have read and reviewed the book, but their primary role is to promote the book for the author.

Reviews are for Readers

Book reviews are written for readers. The purpose of a review is to help readers make good choices about what they read. After all, our time is precious, even more so than our money. I don’t want people to waste money—or time—on book they won’t enjoy, so I try to make clear in my reviews who will (or won’t) enjoy a book.

Authors shouldn’t be afraid of critical reviews. It’s better that a book has one well-written critical review that points out the intrusive omniscient viewpoint and overbearing Christian themes than dozens of reviews from bashers who feel they were tricked into reading Christian fiction when they were looking for a bad boy billionaire romance. (As an aside, if your book is Christian fiction, please categorise it as such to prevent these reviews.)

It’s worth remembering that a review can be positive without being five stars—the star rating is a subjective indication of how much the reviewer liked the book, not an objective rating of how good the book is. There are great works of literature I loathe (*cough* Vanity Fair *cough*). There are badly written novels I’ve enjoyed. Most people agree Twilight is badly written, but the series has done well.

Note also that star ratings vary across sites: “I liked it” is four stars on Amazon, but only three on Goodreads. An a low-star review can still give readers valuable information that might even convince them to buy the book (e.g. “there was no sex”). A review that convinces a reader this won’t be the right book for them is just as valuable as the review that sells a book.

But not all reviews are created equal.

When it comes to online reviews (at Amazon or other sites), it can be hard to know which reviews you can trust. The trick is knowing something about the reviewer’s history. On most sites you can click on the reviewers name and see their profile, which includes their reviews. Goodreads even shows the average rating for a reviewer. I’m looking for reviewers who:

  • Mostly review books (not household appliances or the free app of the day).
  • Review books by a range of authors. I don’t mind if they review in a specific genre (e.g. Christian fiction or cookbooks) as long as they don’t review only a single author.
  • Review the book rather than critiquing the author.
  • Tell me what they like and didn’t like about the book (and don’t just give a plot summary).
  • Review books from a range of publishers.
  • Review both self-published and traditionally published books.
  • Use a range of star ratings in their reviews. A reviewer who gives everything five stars (or one star) doesn’t tell me anything about their reading tastes and whether ‘m going to like the books they like.

I also ignore books that only have five-star reviews from new authors or authors I’m not familiar with. Even the classics have one-star reviews, so lots of five-star reviews is a red flag.

Influencer Reviews

The last few years have seen the rise of the online influencer (thanks, Khardashian family). Big-name influencers have huge followings and can command thousands for a single Tweet or Instagram post (to better understand influencing, click here to check out my review of Influence).

Book reviewers are not in the same league—few receive anything for their work beyond a free copy of the book (regular reviewers often receive free books as well). Some influencer reviews may actually be endorsements, as discussed above.

Street Teams

But I am seeing more and more authors proactively creating influencer teams to help promote their new release books. Sometimes these are called Street Teams or Launch Teams. Basically, a Street Team is a group of readers who are going to read the book and share it with others, promoting it on social media and telling their virtual and real life friends.

My personal standard for being an influencer is that I will only offer to influence if I’ve read and enjoyed the book—which tends to mean something I’ve edited or beta-read. I don’t want to promote a title I didn’t enjoy because that might reflect badly on me. I also review a lot and don’t have much space in my personal or social media schedule to influence. As a result, I’m selective about the titles I choose to influence for.

Being an influencer extends beyond reading and reviewing the book.

Influencing can include:

  • Cover reveal
  • Blog post
  • Social media posts

But the big problem for authors is getting people to join their street team … with a particular focus on people who aren’t already on 20+ other street teams. I can understand the problem—authors

My tips are:

Focus on reviewers who love and regularly promote books in your genre.

The chances are they’ll make more of an effort if your book is in their favourite genre. Even if they don’t, their blog is more likely to attract your target reader, which gives your book visibility with the right audience.

Focus on reviewers who are active on social media (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter).

Readers are unlikely to purchase your book the first time they see it. The more times they see your name and your book cover, the better.

Focus on less well-known reviewers.

They might not have the reach of the bigger reviewers and influencers, but that means they are likely to be pleased to have been chosen, and will have the time to put into promoting your book.

Focus on newer reviewers.

A new reviewer is less likely to be a member of multiple street teams, and will therefore be grateful for the opportunity and will work harder to promote your book than the reviewer who is on all the street teams.

What other hints (or questions) do you have about reviews?

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:
Promotional Content

Reviewing 101: Understanding Promotional Content on Amazon

Last week I introduced the Amazon Community Guidelines and the concept of promotional content. Amazon give examples of what isn’t permitted on their About Customer Reviews page. This week we are going to go through those examples:

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

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

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

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

A customer posts a review in exchange for $5

This specifically refers to reviews from ffiver.com, but $1 or $1000, the amount of the payment isn’t the point. Amazon do not permit paid reviews in the Customer Reviews section, as customers expect these reviews to be from impartial customers.

Amazon expand on this on their About Promotional Content page to veto reviews in exchange for:

  • Cash
  • Free or discounted product
  • A gift certificate
  • Discount off a future purchase
  • Entry into a contest or sweepstake
  • Entry into a membership programme

Why are contest entries not allowed? Because they can be valuable. Karen Kingsbury once offered a free cruise-for-two to the reader whose review most “touches her heart”. As one reviewer commented, that was never going to be a one-star review, was it?

Posted by Karen Kingsbury on Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Note that if you have paid for a review (e.g. from Kirkus Indie), you can quote it in the Editorial Reviews section of the book page.

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

In-game credits have a financial value, so this concept is a variation on a paid review. When Amazon found a puzzle company were sending Amazon gift vouchers to people who had reviewed their games on Amazon, they deleted all reviews for the games in question, and also deleted the entire reviewing history of some reviewers.

Amazon saw the gift cards as compensation. Amazon’s Selling Policies clearly state that sellers cannot offer a refund in exchange for a review:

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

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

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

The key phrase is: “to boost sales”. If your friend or family member is reviewing as a way of encouraging you, they should have no problem acknowledging the relationship in the review.

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

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

This is another variation on a paid review, and is also against the Selling Policies. If Amazon find a reviewer receiving a ‘gift’ from an author (e.g. a 99 cent gift card) after the reviewer has reviewed a book by that author (such as a 99 cent Kindle book), they can and will delete the review.

I’ve seen it “recommended” that authors “thank” their reviewers by gifting a $1.00 gift card for a 99 cent book. This is a deliberate effort to circumvent the Amazon guidelines, and I have trouble believing that suggestion came from a Christian. But it did.

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

A seller posts negative reviews on his competitor’s product

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

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

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

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

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

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

This doesn’t stop authors supporting fellow authors in other ways.

Authors endorse books all the time. They post reviews and recommendations of author friend’s books on their blogs. Great. But these are endorsements, and are better placed in the Editorial Reviews section of the Amazon page.

To summarise, please don’t try and come up with a creative way to get around the rules. It’s not ethical. It’s not honest. At the most basic level, if you are trying to use Amazon reviews to promote your book, it’s likely you are going to fall foul of Amazon’s Community Guidelines or Selling Policies, which could get you banned from Amazon as a customer and as a seller. It’s not worth it.

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?

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?

Do you need to reconfirm your email list for GDPR?

Do You Need to Reconfirm Your Email List for GDPR?

If you’re anything like me, the last few weeks have been full of emails from authors and service providers asking if I want to stay on their email list. I’ve reconfirmed some, deleted some, and ignored most (and now I’m waiting to see if my passive rejection will be seen as rejection or as confirmation).

GDPR, the legislation designed to prevent spam emails, has led to a deluge of spam emails.

One of the big questions authors have had about the introduction of GDPR is whether they need to obtain consent from the people who have previously signed up to their email list. It doesn’t help that the lawyers can’t agree on who does and who doesn’t need to send reconfirmation emails.

GDPR Applies to EU Residents

Note that GDPR only applies to EU residents. If you don’t have a website or an email list, GDPR probably doesn’t affect you. If you’re confident you don’t have any EU residents on your email list (because it’s only 17 people and you know all of them in real life, or because your email service provider can tell where people are from based on their IP address or other data), then GDPR isn’t likely to affect you.

But you still need to work through the process of deciding who is on your email list, and whether you have a lawful basis of processing data of EU residents.

Lawful Basis of Processing Data

There are six different ways we can legally process data under GDPR:

  1. Consent: the individual has consented to be on your email list. This is the most common reason, and has a high standard to prove.
  2. Contract: you have a contract with the individual and need to process their personal data to deliver that contract.
  3. Legal obligation: where you need to process personal data to comply with statute (e.g. you need to keep accurate financial records to satisfy the tax department).
  4. Vital interests: where you need to collect personal data to save someone’s life. Yeah, I don’t think this is going to include any author email lists.
  5. Public task: where you need the data to carry out a task or function set out in law. Another one that’s not going to apply to author email lists.
  6. Legitimate interests: where it is somehow in the individual’s best interest that you process their data. This is broad and flexible, and will cover some marketing activities (e.g. some lawyers argue uploading your email list to Facebook to target advertising towards your subscribers or similar groups would be covered by legitimate interest).

Most author newsletters are going to claim consent as their lawful basis for processing data. Many authors have been sending emails to reconfirm consent, but there is a school of legal thought that considers reconfirming where you can’t already prove consent is sending unsolicited email, and contrary to GDPR and other anti-spam laws.

I have several email lists, and can think of four main ways people signed up:

  1. In person (e.g. at a conference)
  2. Direct website signup
  3. Signed up to an email course
  4. By participating in an online giveaway

The following is my interpretation of how each of those needs to be treated for GDPR, both in terms of past sign-ups, and going forward. If you don’t know what GDPR is, check out my previous posts:

All the usual legal disclaimers apply. I’m not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. This is my interpretation of what I need to do (or not do) for GDPR. My circumstances are different to yours, so my answers may not be right for you.

1. In Person Sign-Ups

When I speak at a conference, I invite people to sign up for my email list. In-person signups are fine as long as individuals signed themselves (i.e. they weren’t signed up by a friend), and as long as I keep a paper or scanned copy of the signup form as proof. In this case, I’m relying on consent as my legal basis for processing data.

Going forward, we can continue to take in-person signup, but have a copy of your privacy policy available as well, and ensure we keep the paper or scanned copy of the signup (as your email service provider will see it as someone you have manually added to the list).

I don’t consider I need to send reconfirmation emails for this group, as I have their signed consent (besides, I’m confident there are no EU residents in this group!).

2. Direct Website Signup

People can sign up to my email list directly from my website through forms on each page and each blog post. Signups directly through a website may need to be reconfirmed for GDPR if the original sign up was not GDPR compliant (e.g. signing anyone who commented on your site up to your email newsletter). Double opt in doesn’t prove compliance, but single opt in probably isn’t compliant (as someone could be signed up without their knowledge).

The website also needs to have make clear what people were signing up to e.g. a newsletter that will include news about your books (i.e. marketing information). Your email service provider should have a record of how and when everyone signed up.

I don’t consider I need to send reconfirmation emails for this group, as they were each required to positively opt in (and complete a double opt-in) which made clear they were signing up for an email newsletter, and told them they can unsubscribe at any time. In other words, following best practice email marketing principles.

3. Email Course Signup

I have a paid email course, the Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge. I can’t reasonably deliver an email course without holding the email addresses of the participants. This is covered by contract as a lawful basis to process data under GDPR.

4. Giveaway Signup

Online giveaways are where signups get tricky. There are several different ways of running or participating in an online giveaway.

Also, GDPR requires that individuals can refuse consent without detriment i.e. you can’t promise someone a free gift but only give it to those who sign up for your email list. It could be argued that forcing someone to sign up for an email list isn’t GDPR compliant.

I have participated in several types of giveaways:

  1. Self-Hosted (via KingSumo)
  2. Individual Sign Up (via Instafreebie)
  3. Group Sign Up (via Spirit-Filled Kindle)

Self-Hosted via KingSumo

I have used KingSumo for several giveaways. KingSumo uses a double opt in, and adds people directly to my email list. I can therefore show consent if required.

KingSumo allows the giveaway winner to be chosen from:

  • Everyone who provided their email address, or
  • Only from those who completed the double opt in (i.e. consented to sign up for my email list).

Going forward, I will continue to use KingSumo giveaways, as but will ensure there is no detriment to those who don’t complete the double opt in (i.e. they still go in the draw for a prize). I will also ensure I continue to keep a record of the terms and conditions of each individual giveaway, and add a link to my privacy policy.

I don’t consider I need to send reconfirmation emails to this group, as I clearly stated that by completing the double opt in, participants were consenting to receive my email newsletter. While KingSumo does track who enters, only those who completed the double opt in were added to my email list, and they have had the opportunity to unsubscribe.

(Click here to read my blog post introducing KingSumo and two other online giveaway tools.)

Individual Sign Up (via Instafreebie)

There are a range of paid giveaways hosted by an external provider such as Instafreebie or Ryan Zee/Booksweeps.

These giveaways give entrants the option to sign up to all the email lists, none of them, or to pick specific lists. I participated in an Instafreebie giveaway, and around 20% of those participating chose to sign up to my email list to receive a copy of Christian Publishing: A List of Publishers Specializing in Christian Fiction.

Each new subscriber went through a welcome sequence, and about 10% unsubscribed as part of that sequence. I’ve since sent a re-engagement email and bulk unsubscribed everyone who hasn’t opened any of my emails for the last six months, on the rationale that those who have opened my emails have had the option to unsubscribe directly.

I’m of the view that where an individual signed up for a giveaway but had the option of signing up to several email lists including mine, then an individual who has signed up to my email list has consented to be on that list.

If there wasn’t a double opt in, or if individual was required to subscribe in order to receive the gift, or if they weren’t given the option to unsubscribe (e.g. because the giveaway was last month and you haven’t yet emailed them), then it may be necessary to send a reconfirmation email (as if it was double opt in).

I won’t be sending a reconfirmation email to my segment of Instafreebie subscribers, as I have already sent an engagement email and bulk unsubscribed non-openers.

Note that Instafreebie (and similar programmes such as BookFunnel) have changed their systems so individuals can receive the free book without signing up to author’s newsletter, as making the gift dependent on a subscription is against the spirit of GDPR (i.e. the idea of no detriment).

Group Sign Up (via Spirit-Filled Kindle)

Another form of group giveaway is where all entrants are added to a master email list which is forwarded to all participating authors. These giveaways are often run through software such as Gleam or KingSumo. These tools don’t allow entrants to sign up to individual email lists.

I participated in a giveaway with Spirit Filled Kindle which used this approach. All entrants went through a double opt in. This make it clear they would be added to the email lists of all participating authors.

I emailed this group three times, then deleted anyone who didn’t opened at least one of those emails. Anyone who opened one or more emails had the opportunity to unsubscribe, so I kept them on my email list without sending a formal reconfirmation request. As always, they have the option to unsubscribe at any time.

Spirit Filled Kindle have now changed their approach. My understanding is that entrants will be emailed the individual email list links. This means they can choose which lists to sign up to.

What’s Your Approach?

However, my answer shouldn’t necessarily be your answer. Your answer will depend on:

  • How you collected the email addresses (and was that consistent with GDPR).
  • When you collected the email addresses.
  • How many times you’ve contacted your subscribers.
  • When you last contacted your subscribers.
  • Whether you make it easy for subscribers to unsubscribe or update their details.
  • Whether you have “cleaned” your list to remove those who don’t open your emails.

At the very least, take the introduction of GDPR as an opportunity to re-engage with those who haven’t opened your emails for a while, and deleting those who haven’t. It will improve your open rates, which helps make future emails more deliverable.

I hope the information and options I’ve provided help those of you who are still puzzling over your email list.

 

Introducing NetGalley

Introducing NetGalley

This is a revised and updated version of a post that originally appeared at Australasian Christian Writers on 6 February 2015.

One of the big challenges facing new authors—especially self-published authors—is how to get book reviews. I’m working on a longer series on book reviews for later in the year, but today I’m going to introduce NetGalley, which is where I get most of the books I review.

What is NetGalley?

NetGalley is a service to provide “professional readers”, including book bloggers like me, with electronic versions of upcoming releases. Trade publishers have produced paper Advance Review Copies (ARCs) for years, mailing them to newspapers, magazines and key review sites and influencers in the hope of gaining favourable pre-publication reviews. Amazon led the rise of the customer reviewer, and the Kindle made expensive paper versions even more of a luxury. Why mail paper, when you can email a file?

This is where services like NetGalley come in, providing secure electronic ARCs to over 370,000 booksellers, media, librarians, educators and reviewers who use NetGalley. Around 50% of users visiting the site more than nine times a month (I admit: I am one of those).

How Does NetGalley Work for Authors?

Publishers list titles with NetGalley and provide an electronic version of the book, the cover image, book description, and details such as price and release date. They also have the option of uploading social media links, a marketing plan, and advance praise (although most don’t. That’s why they’re on NetGalley: to garner advance praise).

Publishers pay an initial set-up fee plus a monthly fee depending on the number of titles they offer. Each title gets its own page:

NetGalley page of Where Hope Begins by Catherine West

What Does It Cost?

Self-published authors can also list through NetGalley, either individually or through a co-operative. An individual listing is $450 for six months for one book. A co-op listing will depend on the terms of the cooperative, but can be as little as $50 for a one-month listing for a single book, to an annual membership which allows for multiple books for around $350. Twenty authors are needed to form a co-op, with one person responsible for setup and administration.

Authors who are members of the Independent Book Publishers Association can get a $50 discount on either the basic six-month listing, or Marketing-plus-Title listing. This includes a single listing in any scheduled NetGalley newsletter.

I suspect the additional fee might not represent good value for money—personally, I’ve opted out of the ‘push’ email list, as it was mostly advertising general market titles I wasn’t interested in. Before signing up for this additional service, I’d want to how many of the 370,000 users have opted in to receiving the relevant newsletter, and how many of those regularly request Christian books.

In either case, publishers can choose whether to make their book available to anyone who requests it, or to screen requests. NetGalley shows publishers how many requests, downloads and reviews a title has, and publishers can vet each review request before making a decision (for example, to weed out reviewers who have a low average review rating, who have a low review-to-request ratio, or who don’t typically review in that genre). Authors can do this by checking out individual reviewer profiles:

NetGalley Profile

How Does NetGalley Work for Reviewers?

I’ve been a NetGalley reviewer since late 2011, and have so far requested over 650 titles and provided feedback on over 90% of them (NetGalley keep good statistics!). I can search for books by title or author (for example, when I hear about a new release from one of my favourite authors), by publisher, or by genre (e.g. Christian). I can also select my “Favourite Publishers”, or “Auto-Approvals”, which is a list of publishers who have checked me out and now allow me to read any of their titles.

It’s easy to use: I request a title, and if I’m auto-approved, I’m immediately given the option to Send to Kindle, or download to another ereader (NetGalley supports all major ereaders). If I’m not auto-approved, the book goes to my “Pending” list, and I’ll get an email to advise me whether my request has been accepted or rejected. The longer I’m a reliable NetGalley reviewer, the more titles I am approved to read.

Publishers can also create a widget to send to potential reviewers e.g. reviewers participating in an online blog tour.

And we get badges.

500 Book ReviewsReviews PublishedFrequently Auto-Approved80%Professional Reader

What Else do I Need to Know?

Getting your genre right is important:

I search exclusively on my favourite publishers, and on “Christian” (which includes fiction and non-fiction). Authors can include more than one genre, so a Christian Romance should be categorised under both.

Listing with NetGalley isn’t paying for reviews:

NetGalley doesn’t pay reviewers. What your fee is paying for is the online system which provides direct access to over 210,000 reviewers for a specified period of time.

NetGalley doesn’t guarantee results:

It doesn’t (and can’t) guarantee a certain number of reviews, nor does it guarantee positive reviews. NetGalley acts as an intermediary between the author/publisher and reviewer, which means reviewers are less likely to sugarcoat their review of a book.

Authors have different experiences of NetGalley:

Keary Taylor had over 1,200 requests for her novel, The Bane. This lead to over 400 reviews posted through NetGalley, and more posted on blogs, retail sites such as Amazon, and reader sites such as Goodreads. All reviews posted through NetGalley are also posted online in at least one other location (personally, I post reviews to between five and ten separate sites, if the book is listed on those sites).

Susan Quinn had equally impressive results for the romance co-operative she organised. She uploaded eleven titles when the co-op first went live, and within the first day had 446 approved requests, 286 downloads and one review. After a week, they had nineteen titles uploaded, 2,216 approved requests and 36 reviews.

In contrast, Heather Day Gilbert didn’t find it useful. She only got a few reviews, perhaps because she listed through a co-op that primarily offers romance novel (she describes God’s Daughter as a love story rather than a romance). Melissa Pearl had a similar experience, with only four reviews from 200 approvals.

Reviews won’t come in immediately:

It can take me anything between one and four months to post a review, depending on my blogging schedule (and some have taken me much longer, for various reasons). I believe authors should list their book three months before release, as this maximises the chance of getting reviews at or around release date.

Overall, NetGalley is about getting reviews, not selling books.

However, getting reviews is an important aspect of a marketing strategy, especially for ebooks. Amazon users are more likely to purchase books with significant numbers of reviews, especially when they can see a range of reviews, including some with low star ratings. It’s not cheap and the results can vary, but it is a marketing tactic worth considering.

For readers, it’s great. Most of my favourite publishers are on NetGalley, which means I get first look at their new books, and am able to find and recommend new books and new authors.

Using BookFunnel, Instafreebie, or MyBookCave to Build Your Email List

Using BookFunnel, Instafreebie, or MyBookCave to Build Your Email List

Over the last three weeks I’ve covered various ways to build your email list:

There are two main kinds of giveaway tools. Last week’s post looks at contest-type tools. These are used when running a giveaway that selects one (or more) winners from the eligible entrants.

The other kind of online giveaway is where everyone receives a free ebook in exchange for signing up for an email list.

I’ve found three tools which facilitate building your author email list:

  • BookFunnel
  • Instafreebie
  • MyBookCave

Let’s look at each in turn.

BookFunnel

A growing number of self-published authors using BookFunnel to build their email lists. It’s a great service: you upload your book files, create a download page, and BookFunnel gives people the option of how they want to download the book. They then provide detailed instructions (right down to the Kindle version), an email-my-book option, and online support so you’re not having to deal with readers who can’t work out how to sideload a mobi file onto their Kindle.

BookFunnel has a $20/year option which allows one pen name, and up to 500 downloads. This is useful if you’re using BookFunnel to deliver advance review copies (ARCs) to potential reviewers, but not useful if you’re trying to build your email list as it doesn’t collect email addresses.

If you’re wanting to collect email addresses, you’ll need at least the Mid-List plan ($10/month, or $100/year).

However, this doesn’t integrate with your mailing list provider—you’ll have to download the CSV file after the giveaway and upload that to your email list. Email list integration costs an additional $5/month, or $50/year. Or you can subscribe to the Professional plan, which also offers an additional pen name, priority support, and unlimited monthly downloads.

I haven’t used BookFunnel as an author, but I have used it as a reader and reviewer. A lot of the authors I review for use BookFunnel to deliver their ARCs. If you’re on the MidList plan or above, BookFunnel will watermark the file and only allow one download per code. These measures help prevent online privacy. It also means if the BookFunnel version of your book shows up on a pirate site, it’s obvious where the file came from.

One of the advantages of using a paid service is they help you keep on top of changes in national and international legislation.

For example, the implementation of the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (or GDPR, which I’ll talk about in a future post).

For example, if an author was on the Mid-List plan or above, BookFunnel used to automatically collect and pass on the email address. Now the person downloading the book has to actively opt in to having their email address shared with the author, although authors have the option of not permitting readers to download the book until they have opted in to the mailing list. This helps authors ensure they are complying with GDPR and other anti-spam legislation.

Instafreebie

Instafreebie also offers a way to give books away. Their basic plan is free, and includes unlimited downloads and free delivery to readers in their choice of format. However, the basic plan doesn’t add entrants to an email list. The Plus plan is $20 per month, and includes integration with MailChimp or MailerLite (users of other email programs can download the CSV file).

Instafreebie offers a free 30-day trial, and allows authors to subscribe by the month. This means an author can upgrade from Basic to Plus in any month they are promoting their lead magnet, then downgrade again at the conclusion of the giveaway.

I participated in an Instafreebie group promotion in early 2017. This added around 400 people to my email list. I didn’t give away a published book, as I don’t have any books published. Instead, I offered Christian Publishers: A Guide to Publishers Specializing in Christian Fiction, which is the incentive I offer everyone who signs up to my email list.

The advantage of an Instafreebie giveaway is that entrants choose which email lists to sign up for.

This means the giveaway was compliant with the GDPR, and meant I didn’t have a huge number of entrants unsubscribing.

The disadvantage was that not all entrants knew how to get their downloaded book/s from their PC over to their ereader. Fortunately, the giveaway host had a Youtube video demonstrating how to sideload an ebook, so was able to forward that link to those who had trouble.

I participated in another group giveaway on Instafreebie later in 2017. This only netted me 40 subscribers, because the group was not nearly as active when it came to promoting the giveaway.

MyBookCave

MyBookCave is similar to BookBub and other online ebook promotion companies, in that it sends daily emails to subscribers, sharing a collated list of sale and free ebooks.

MyBookCave’s unique angle is that books are rated in the same way as movies or games are rated (well, it’s an almost-unique idea. Review website More Than a Review also rates books for language, violence, and sexual content). MyBookCave gives an overall rating which combines all these factors and more:

  • All Ages
  • Mild (and Mild+)
  • Moderate (and Moderate+)
  • Adult (and Adult+)

MyBookCave offers two kinds of promotional opportunities for authors:

  • Promoting your sale book
  • Gaining Newsletter subscribers

Gaining Newsletter Subscribers

This is currently a free service (although I’m sure that will change). All books are rated by content level, and classified according to genre. There is a Christian fiction genre, Authors upload their lead magnet, and MyBookCave includes this on their Book Cave Direct page. Readers can then download the book in exchange for providing their email address (necessary for MyBookCave to send them the download link!). Readers can opt out, as required by anti-spam laws.

MyBookCave supports readers to transfer their downloaded files onto their Kindles. They have an app for Kindle Fire and Android users. Other users are taken through a sequence of menus to get their book (similar to the BookFunnel menus). Users also have the option of having the mobi or epub file emailed directly to them, or downloading the file to their computer (which is what I ended up doing, as the download link didn’t work, and the email took a while to arrive).

MyBookCave also has a Facebook group where authors can join together for group promotions. Group promotions are then promoted by MyBookCave, which should help them get more visibility (and you more downloads). Authors can also use MyBookCave to provide readers with review copies (ARCs), to reward current newsletter subscribers with a subscriber-only link, or to pass their work in progress to beta readers.

The only disadvantage is that MyBookCave doesn’t automatically add people to your email list.

Users have to download the CSV file from MyBookCave, then upload it to their own email list provider. I suspect this will need to be done at least a couple of times a month so new subscribers are added to your list and welcomed in a timely manner (i.e. before they forget they signed up!).

Do you use any online tools to build your email list? Which tool do you use, and what success have you seen?