Saturday, May 28, 2016

Why Reviewing Books You Enjoy Is So Important

Being an author is difficult--at any level. Few writers--usually only the big names--are provided marketing by their publishers. Even writers who are signed by the Big Six publishers don't get marketing support. For the small press or self-published writer, any promotions have to be undertaken by the author. 

Some have the finances to buy a marketing company. But those don't always work. When I was at Musa, we hired a marketing firm for a big name author--a NYT Bestselling, Nebula award-winning, made famous by a blockbuster movie author. We invested thousands of dollars in marketing his book, which was a sequel to the book that had made him famous in the first place. 

Didn't pay off. It was like pouring that money down a black hole. And this was a reputable marketing company, one that had a portfolio of success stories longer than the list of books I've edited. 

So what drives book sales for a small-press or self-published author? Reviews. Not just the professional reviews of critics, but the customer reviews on Amazon and other retail sites. Some authors manipulate the reviews by creating sockpuppet accounts and getting friends to do the same. But most--like me--prefer to do things the right way. 

One of the right ways is to do what I did last month. I offered the first book of the series for free for a week upon release. I don't do things like that because I'm a kind person. I do that because I am hoping for reviews. Literally thousands of people downloaded my book for free--enough to catapult it into the top 25 for the genre. And out of those thousands of people, only two have so far left reviews. 


Not a great percentage. 

I posed this question on my Facebook page today, and a good friend of mine commented that he'd grown up when only professionals did book reviews, so he didn't feel qualified. And I thought for several hours on what he'd said. 

I'm an editor. I've left reviews on books many times. And I strive to make those reviews both unbiased and constructive, especially for self-published authors who may not be getting the kind of feedback they need. For example, my Amazon customer review on KM Shea's book Queen of Ice. This young writer has a lot of talent, but her book suffered with issues a strong editor would be able to correct. And so, that's what I told her--not to be a bitch, but to let her know what she needed to do to make her writing career even better. 

But I am an editor. This review is the kind of thing I'd normally include in an editorial letter to an author I am working with--an email that has attached a red-inked document with hundreds of comments and corrections. 

So maybe...just maybe, Ed has a valid point. Maybe, to many readers, writing a review is intimidating. 

See--here's the thing. Not every review needs to be an editorial critique of an author's work. Amazon gives you options--and even if you just RATE a book on their one-to-five star scale, that helps. Because the more ratings a book has, then the higher it's going to show up on the "Avg Customer Review" filter on the sales page, and that's HUGE. For example, today's Fantasy sales page based upon Average Customer Review. Obviously, the more 5 star ratings a book gets, the higher it's going to be on the page. And while the top of the page is predictably JK Rowling, Tolkien, and Diana Gabaldon, look at the bottom of the page. 221 reviews. 191. 106...

These authors are showing up on the same sales page as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Outlander. 

That's where ANY writer wants to be--needs to be in order to generate sales. Look at the second page. By page ten, the bottom book has 18 reviews--all 5 stars. 

Not many customers are going to cruise past page ten. 

Take a look now at the reviews for that last book on page ten. The top review reads as follows

Excellent story with twists and turns you don't see coming. It is hard to put the book down, because you want to see what is going to happen next and how the story ends! Looking forward to buying a hard copy and will be reading this one again!

Here's my point--you don't have to write a huge review, although there's a lot of benefits another reader can get from your extensive and detailed review. You can write a THREE SENTENCE review like this reader did, explaining what you liked about the story and give that author as much benefit as one of my 2000 word critiques. 

And if you really love a book, then help that author out by posting your feelings as a review. You have no idea how much your review is needed by the author, and how many other people will read your words and think, "Hey, maybe I should try this out." 

So review the books you read--on Amazon, or Goodreads, or wherever. Because when you do, somewhere, an author gets her wings. 

You know what I mean.