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Avoid Social Media Time Suck by Frances Caballo

Book Review | Avoid Social Media Time Suck by Frances Caballo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 New social media users won’t know what information is good, what is outdated, and what could get you kicked off Twitter or sent to Facebook jail.

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

The best part was the plan:

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

Daily tasks

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

Weekly Tasks

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

Monthly Tasks

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

Quarterly Tasks

Conduct an author interview/podcast/video

Six-Monthly Tasks

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

Annual Tasks

Teach a webinar

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

About Avoid Social Media Time Suck

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

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

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

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

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

Find Avoid Social Media Time Suck online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended for any author planning a blog tour.

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

About Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour

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

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

Secrets revealed in this quick read include:

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

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

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

Find Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

Don't Sell Me Tell Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Don’t Sell Me, Tell Me

You cannot underestimate the power of a good story.

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

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

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

Also the following insights:

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

PLUS, examples to jumpstart the process!

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

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

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

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

Email Lists Made Easy by Kristen Oliphant

Book Review | Email Lists Made Easy by Kristen Oliphant

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

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

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

One lightbulb moment for me was this quote from ConvertKit:

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

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

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

Kristen Oliphant on social media:

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

Top Tips

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

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

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

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

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

About Email Lists Made Easy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find Email Lists Made Easy online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

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

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

Book Review | Author Branding by Rayne Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I found this approach both refreshing and freeing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement from Carolyn Miller

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.