Why Reviews Aren’t Everything

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The Silent Majority: Or, A Story About Reviews

So I wrote this book a while back (you may have heard of it. It’s called Aurian and Jin). Since its publication in November last year, I’ve sold, given away, lent out, etc. about two thousand copies of it.

That’s not a big number, compared to the number of people in the world–or the number of bacteria colonizing the screen of your phone, even. But it’s pretty sizeable. It’s consideration worthy. Two thousand people out there (more, if they lent it out) have at least heard of my book, probably read it, probably had an opinion on it one way or the other. I regularly hear things like this, day-to-day: ‘my cousin loved your book! She’s like your biggest fan now.’ ‘Grandpa’s been recommending your book to his coworkers. They have some suggestions’. ‘I left a copy of your novel in the bathroom at the strip club, and now the girls can’t stop talking about it.’ (Okay. Maybe not so much that last one. Though, now that I think about it, gratis copies to strippers might not be a bad policy.).

My point is–even if my friends and coworkers and family are just being nice to me, a lot of people have read this book, and said something good about it. And yet, when I look at my Amazon listing, I’ve only got sixteen reviews.

Now, I could get all chappy-assed about it. I could recommend (read: demand) that people write a review when they finish the book. But here’s the thing about that, kids:

The vast majority of people, even people who really loved your novel, aren’t going to leave a review at all.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

I mean, think about it for a few seconds. Before you got all involved with indie authorship, when was the last time you left a review for something on Amazon? If you’re like me at all, the answer to that is, well, never. Even books you really liked, products you really used. It never occurred to me to do it. I would see the reviews up there, read a few of them maybe, buy or not buy (usually regardless of reviews). In fact, I was more likely to consider writing a review if I was dissatisfied with something–because, in my mind, a review existed to let other buyers know what sort of experience I’d had. I couldn’t tell you at this point whether or not I realized the maker of the product might actually see that review, and it certainly never occurred to me to take their feelings into account when I wrote it. The internet, after all, is a very big place–bigger, in some ways, than the physical world–and I’m a very small person in the scheme of things.

People see your book. They don’t see the praise-hungry author hunched over a keyboard behind it, dreaming of row after row of five solid stars. They don’t see your desire for validation, your need for emotional support, the bragging rights (or causes for shame!) inherent in your Amazon rankings. They don’t know what it’s like, being an indie author with no publishing support system or nice fat advance to live on. Most of them don’t know about your Twitter or your blog or where you’ll be next signing books, and they don’t care. If your editing’s decent, they might not even know you’re indie. They might not even remember your name.

Your book was something to read at the beach, something to read at the dentist’s office, something gotten for free, something lent out by a friend. It wasn’t graven in gold and presented by a burning bush on a mountaintop. In the 100,000 or so words of your story, if you’ve got any sort of pride and decency, your hunger for approval and tacit support wasn’t mentioned once. The support of your readers comes to you in the form of money, which gets you things like cheeseburgers and another month of power, and is about as tacit as support gets, unless you’re the government.

Much as small pub might feel like a validation game sometimes–especially when you aren’t making the millions you anticipated–you made a product and now you’re selling it. Praise isn’t the endgame–it’s more like a happy side effect. You want to make people happy, and you probably have. The written proof of respect your ego so desperately craves is optional stuff.

And, hard as it is to swallow, dealing with that is your business, not the reader’s. You sold your damn book, and that’s what you’ve got to worry about. Somewhere out there, a buyer you don’t know is either happy or sad about it. How happy or sad they are, and whether or not they choose to inform you through the Great Equalizer of Amazon, is their deal. Not yours.

So let’s get Nixonic about this. There is a silent majority of readers–silent, at least, on the interwebs–who probably loved what you have to say. You’ll never hear from them, unless your guys happens to know a guy who knows a guy. But they’re out there.

I’m NOT encouraging you to badger people harder about leaving reviews. That’s not what this post is about, and, frankly, I’ve always found it a little off-putting when people do that to me. Too much of your voice, especially your desperate, pleading voice, detracts from the story you have to tell.

What I’m trying to say–even though you don’t know for sure what these people think, be grateful for them. After all, they bought your book.

And there’s all sorts of life going on in this world that isn’t reflected through the internet or Amazon reviews. You might be famous somewhere in Guatemala right now, where a teacher just loaned a thrift store copy of your book to a kid and made his day. You might never know–but you still, indirectly, made that kid’s day.

So step back, smile, and thank your readers. Not just your reviewers.

Why I Won’t Buy Your Novel

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Five Reasons I Won’t Buy Your Novel

I give you guys a lot of writing advice. It’s heartfelt. Some of it might even be good (hell if I know, right?).

But it occurred to me the other day, as I was out buying YET ANOTHER bookshelf, since my most recent one was slowly sagging under the weight of three different layers of trade paperbacks–it occurred to me that, you know, some of the best advice I can give you has very little to do with me putting my pen to paper.

It has a lot to do with the fact that I read. An assload. Possibly, if the academy will pardon my French, a metric fuckton. If my library were leatherbound and perched on mahogany shelves, Garden and Gun would do a four page spread on it and toss me a free whiskey decanter into the bargain. (As it is, it’s in a two bedroom apartment, piled ass-deep on the cheapest shelving units Target can mass-manufacture. Maybe if I tape a cutout of Hemingway to it and poop out a few Audubon prints…how about that, Garden and Gun? Eh? EH?)

At any rate, I think I know a lot about writing, but the messy fact of the matter is, I know even more about reading. Why would that interest you, you ask? Eh?

Well, let’s fill in the blank. Work with me here:

I am a writer, and I want people to ____ my book.
A) slather whipped cream on
B) read
C) ,in zero G, have a lot of difficulty closing
D) All of the above.

Much as I like to imagine you’re creative and the answer is D, it’s probably B, right?

Well. As a reader–who also knows a little bit about indie pub and What You’re Going Through–I am going to straight up no frills TELL you the reasons I don’t buy books. Because I can’t imagine I’m so different from the mainstream reader that most of these don’t apply across the board.

1) YOU PASTE IT 24/7 ACROSS MY TWITTER FEED.

You know what this behavior is? It’s motherfucking ANNOYING. It is SO, SO annoying. And if my feed is drowning in your book advertisements–if I can’t see one person’s two-part tweet because your fifteen mass-released twitbominations come between the two parts–I will go to desperate, unheard-of lengths to NOT purchase your product. I won’t mute you, because I want to REMEMBER YOUR NAME. I want to remember it so, when the book comes up in my list of Amazon recommendations, I’ll go ‘oh, that asshole’, and IGNORE IT. And I do buy books. Indie books. Just not yours.

A note–posting about it once or twice a day won’t bother me. After all, you wrote something and you’re proud of it. I’ve picked up a few books after seeing seemly and interesting tweets about them. The writer Twitter accounts I follow and remember aren’t spammy or even advertisey, but teach me a little bit about the writer in question or the craft. So please, for the love of JESUS, stop spamming up my goddamn feed with posts like this:

**FREE**TODAY**
#mustread#fantasy#romance#amazon#advertise#advertise#advertise
YOU’LL LOVE IT!!!!
REALLY!!!
**AMAZONBESTSELLEROMG**
(Include picture of unreadable book cover with half-naked girl on front, with or without vampire.)

If you must spam on Twitter–if you absolutely must–have the tact to pay someone else to do it for you. Go through one of the multi-tweet accounts that offer this service (and good luck with that, by the fucking way). Or join IAN, or use #iartg. Because if I follow you, in the naive idea that you sound like a real person and not a mindless spam-spewing automaton, and you spurt your advertisements all over my feed, I will personally become VERY unfond of you, and this lack of fondness will be expressed by not buying your product.

Got it? Good.

2) YOUR BLURB IS POORLY WRITTEN.

This, after tweetspam, is my number two turnoff. Seriously, you couldn’t get through two hundred words without slathering crap all over your own project? After this behavior, I have no hope whatsoever for the 90,000 or so words that make up your novel.

Please, when you hit that publish button, make sure your blurb is typo-free, the grammar is good, and you’ve considered your words carefully. I don’t know how important your first sentence is, but your blurb is literally the FIRST TASTE people get of your writing, with no commitment whatsoever already made, so make it count. Most of the books I buy, I buy because the blurb itself sounds like a cut above the rest.

3) PRICE.

I’m sorry, but this is just too true. If I’ve never heard of you and you’re charging $9.99 for an e-book, I better love that sample so much I name my firstborn after it.

People are less willing to pay ‘big’ money for something virtual, folks. After all, they get no physical object to look at, hang on to, pet covetously, etc. Much as I’d like to pretend I’m loaded, there are times I simply can’t afford to pay the five bucks you’re asking for. Or, more accurately–would rather use it for lunch one day. Does this make me a traitor to bookdom? Maybe. But unless you can sell me on it, convince me in a blurb, cover, and sample that I’m about to discover my new favorite book, I’m spending that fiver on a cheeseburger.

I think just about everyone’s heard this by now, but you should probably looking at $2.99 or under for pricing your self-pubbed novel. I stick with the $2.99, myself–anything less feels like giving my work away (which, I may add, I’m not too proud to do semi-frequently), and anything more is unlikely to find an impulse buyer.

And that’s another thing. Your $2.99 indie novel on Amazon? That’s someone’s impulse buy. No one’s plotting that purchase out, saving up the money for it. So keep that in mind as well, when pricing and advertising–what makes this book worth three bucks right the hell now?

4) NOT IN MY GENRE.

Admittedly, there’s not a lot a writer can do about this–but for the record, I’m a pretty dedicated genre reader, and someone working outside of F/SF or the occasional historical fiction is going to have trouble getting my attention.

So make it easy on your readers to classify you. If your book is fantasy, it should look like a fantasy novel. If it’s SF, it should look SF. If it has romance tinges, give me a girl in a corset or whatever sells romance novels. Same with your blurb.

A quick note about covers–contrary to popular wisdom, a bad cover won’t necessarily keep me from reading something–not like a bad blurb will. So, while I recommend a nice looking cover, as should be blatantly obvious to you anyway, I’d pay more attention to the fact that your cover needs to encapsulate what your book is about. Got it? Pretty half-naked people won’t necessarily sell your fantasy novel to someone not looking for a romance read, and the nicest castle at sunset in the world won’t sell it to someone who is.

5) TITLE.

I share a vital fact with you: there are times when I can tell, just from the title, whether or not I’m going to like something. Am I occasionally wrong? Sure. But by that point, the purchase has already been made or not made, and unless that book comes up in my aimless internet wanderings again, I’m unlikely to think twice about it.

The titles that grab my attention most, actually, are short and original, but still understandable– J. Zachary Pike’s Orconomics (which is an awesome book, by the way, and one you should read if you’re a fan of fantasy satire) got me on title alone. I mean, what a great title. It suggests the fantasy nature of the book, hints at humor, lets me know up front that this author can at least come up with some on point compound words.

A title should, in VERY few words, let me know what it is I’m going to read. Think about that, when naming your work–is the very TITLE of your book advertising to the people you want reading it?

So there you go. A brief look at what makes me buy things. Really, the long and short of this post is: is the small amount of explanation you’re allowed to do on your book’s Amazon page reaching out to the people you want to buy that book? Maybe that’s people like me–I hope it is, I need some new reads–and maybe it’s not. At any rate, market it to your intended audience. Don’t just blather it out into the ether.