Friday, March 21, 2014

How I Spent My First Week After Publishing My First Novel, Part One

When I worked with authors during my time in publishing, I pointed out that one of the great benefits of going with a traditional, established publisher was that the publisher took on most of the expenses (and effort) of selling and marketing the authors' hard work.  Authors frequently marketed their own titles within our catalog, which invariably helped sales, but the publisher crafted magazine ads, created email blasts to potential buyers, sent out physical mailings, and built the product's online presence.  It's a great deal, I told the authors.  You get our four decades of market presence and selling expertise; all you have to do is create the content.

That's not the case with self-publishers.  In addition to writing, and writing well (it's my contention that writers of self-published books have an extra responsibility to produce quality content because we have to overcome the long-held belief that people go into self-publishing because their work wouldn't make the cut at Simon & Schuster), a self-publisher has to create a market presence for himself from scratch.  People who tout the benefits of self-publishing often like to say that if your work is good, it'll sell.  That's true, but it's not the whole story.  We've all seen books with plenty of rave reviews on Amazon or Smashwords that are so objectively bad (terrible grammar, amateurish writing) that their popularity is inexplicable.  So the axiom of "if it's good, it'll sell" doesn't have a flip side: "if it's not good, it won't sell."  Because we've all seen not-good books sell.  

No matter how good your book is, it needs a boost.  It could be the best book ever written, but if nobody ever heard of it, nobody will buy it.  That boost has to come from the author.  The author has to put himself out there twice: first through publishing his hard work, and second by telling the world how great it is.  One of the best ways to make your book attractive to buyers is by getting reviews of your book displayed in the places people can buy it.  It's tough enough to get a stranger to buy a self-published novel written by someone he's never even heard of, but to get him to do it without the advice of other people who've already read (and liked) it is nearly monumental.  

So like everybody, I did a Google search on getting your book reviewed on Amazon, and learned that there's a not-so-secret list of Top 1000 Amazon Reviewers who have the Reviewing Power of Hercules.  Get a good review from just one of them, and your success is, if not assured, certainly within your grasp.

The problem is that, like I said, everybody's done it already.  It took me a half a day's worth of going through the list before I discovered the following things:
  1. Most of the people on the Top 1000 Amazon Reviewers list are aware that this list is made public, and have taken their email addresses off of their respective Amazon profiles.
  2. Many of these reviewers don't review books, or don't seem to.
  3. Many of the reviewers who do review books wouldn't want to review my book.
  4. The email addresses of the few people who do review books and might possibly review my book no longer work.
Next week, I'll tell you what I did once I discovered that the Top 1000 Amazon Reviewers list had questionable utility.  It doesn't involve explicit profanity, which is good.

TL;DR: Self-publishers have to work hard to market their own books, because nobody will do that for them.  Reviews are a good away to market your book.  Amazon's Top 1000 Reviewers list is a waste of time for self-publishers.

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