The Care And Feeding of Readers - Indie Pub It
Now That Reviews Are Off the Table
The lack of gatekeepers such as editors and agents means that readers themselves are the new frontier’s version of acquisition editors. They decide with their wallets, not who gets published, but who gets to thrive.
Therefore, readers telling each other who is a great story-teller and who sucks becomes not just one tool in a publicist’s media kit, but the essential nervous system of indie publishing.
Word-of-mouth used to be the original form of readers telling other readers they knew, at water coolers, book groups, on the bus, at work, and always face-to-face, about the latest and greatest books.
Amazon high-tech’d word of mouth, and turned it into Reader Reviews, and nearly every on-line publisher, book retailer and social networking site related to books has since followed suit with some sort of rating or review system that allows the reader to tell other readers that they don’t know what they thought of the book.
It was a great idea in concept and it’s still working after a fashion, but like all systems that rely on massive public input and numbers to work, it has been exploited by greedy, dishonest and plain nasty individuals who have bent its weaknesses to their own use.
John Locke is an indie author who sold a million copies in fiction, then sold nearly a million more copies of his how-to book to indie authors, on how to sell a million copies. What he left out of his how-to book was that he had paid for many of his glowing, five star reviews that helped raise his profile on Amazon. Lock was not the first to admit this in public, but he was certainly the most high profile indie author.
Among e-published authors, especially legacy authors in the genre fiction fields, it is a rarely acknowledged fact that authors will review-bomb other authors, anonymously, with one and two star disparaging reviews, in order to lower their book’s ranking and hopefully discourage sales.
Both these tactics were opening referred to in an On Fiction Writing post last October, “Indie or Mainstream – Judging Quality By the Wrong Title” where they said: “We once believed that reader reviews and such would sort out the slush of the self-published pile, but recent headlines have since slapped those illusions upside the head. We’ve got self-published authors paying for glowing reviews, and mainstream authors targeting each other with negative reviews. This is not sorting the good from the bad. It’s confusing the issue even more.”
To which I have to add that the author targeting author phenomenon is not restricted purely to the ranks of the “mainstream” author. It is an industry-wide guerrilla tactic that no one likes to admit is used as much as it is.
Amazon attempted to address both these issues by deleting any review they considered not Kosher (that is, no traceable sales record, or a discernable relationship exists between the author and the reviewer), all reviews written by authors, and quite a few studied, legitimate reviews into the bargain, but it is a stop-gap, highly inefficient method at best. No other site polices their review or rating system in any way.
If you as an indie author were relying on reviews to build your word-of-mouth, you need to change your focus. While any review at all is a great tool for measuring the reception of your book among your readers, do not make the cultivating and gathering of reviews one of the primary promotion tools in your arsenal as did some indie authors (me, for instance) beginning their careers a few years ago. Reviews are an impersonal and secondary form of word of mouth.
You are going to have to take a deep breath, grip the nettle, and cultivate your readers directly, up close and personal, face-to-face.
Over the internet, that means engaging in one-on-one interactions whenever possible. Building relationships. For many authors, the time and effort this sort of relationship building involves makes them turn white around the gills. We writers are by nature the sort that likes to cling to the edge of the room, observe and take mental notes for the current manuscript. That’s why fishing for reviews looked more appealing – it distances you from people by half-a-step and puts your book between you and them.
Stop chasing reviews, and start wooing your readers directly.
Your primary promotion tool should always (always!) be getting the next book published. But if you focus on coaxing people to sign up for your newsletter, or blog, or to just stay in contact with you in whatever ways you leave dangling for them (your Facebook fan page, for instance) then, when you do release a book, you’ll have so many more people to tell that it’s out there.
That will get real word of mouth rolling, because you know all these people and they know you.
Next month: Some specific ways to engage readers directly and build your community.
Columnist: Tracy Cooper-Posey writes erotic vampire romance series and hot romantic suspense. She has been nominated for five CAPAs including Favourite Author, and won the Emma Darcy Award. She published 35 titles via legacy publishers before switching to indie publishing in March 2011. She has published 23 indie titles to date. Her indie books have made her an Amazon #1 Best Selling Author and have been nominated four times for Book Of The Year. Byzantine Heartbreak won the title in 2012. Tracy has been a national magazine editor and for a decade she taught romance writing at MacEwan University. An Australian, she lives in Edmonton, Canada with her husband, a former professional wrestler, where she moved in 1996 after meeting him on-line. Her website can be found at http://TracyCooperPosey.com