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Five Mystical Myths of Amazon Reviews Revealed

Five Mystical Myths of Amazon Reviews Revealed

I see this graphic posted quite frequently, or at least some variation. The image changes, as do the numbers that unlock the hidden wonders of Amazon. At least this one has a coherent theme and a sense of pizzazz. Unfortunately, it’s also hogwash.

Now, the importance of reviews can not be expressed or emphasized enough. Think to how you interact with products you’re about to buy on Amazon. Me personally, I read the 1 Star reviews instantly (even before the product description.) I want to know the worst of the product so I can do a personal risk assessment. Without reviews, we’d be buying blind. Let me repeat this: Reviews ARE important, but let’s dispel some common misconceptions.

Myth: After X number of reviews, Amazon includes your book in “also boughts”…

Reality: No. Wrong. Want proof? I have had books with zero reviews appear on multiple also boughts. The Also bought category is not influenced by reviews (or at least nothing I’ve seen quantified.) It is literally based on people’s purchasing decisions and common themes. Buy my book, then buy Twilight, if this happens enough times, I’ll show up in the also bought for Twilight. Reviews be damned. This is about purchasing history. The proof comes from how we can influence these. My fans buy books in both my series, so I see both series in my also boughts. Now that I’ve started using AMS ads targeting people like Robert Kirkman and Max Brooks with my zombie novels, I see them show up in mine and I even showed up in a Walking Dead also bought (short-lived victory, but I got there!)

Myth: After X number of reviews, Amazon highlights the book for spotlight positions…

Reality: No. Wrong. Amazon is not making marketing decisions based on the quantity of reviews. The almighty algorithm is looking at quantity of books being sold. Perhaps the review rating influences this, but it’s not the sole (or even key) decision. This is a case of fame begets fame. You sell 20,000 copies, Amazon will promote you. You have to sell to sell. Frustrating, I know. Amazon does however alert your followers on Amazon or purchasers of your previous books that you’ve released a new book. It’s erratic, not guaranteed, can be months after the release, so do not depend on this. It is nice however when my mom shoots me an email with a screen shot of my book being listed because she buys everything I write. She thinks I’m famous. I perpetuate this lie.

Myth: Reviews can be short, just say, “I liked it.”

Reality: Eh. Kinda false. When was the last time you bought a book because your friend said, “I liked this book.” If you’re going to be short, at least use better descriptors. “I absolutely loved this book.” Okay, now maybe I’ll look at it and leave it in my Amazon cart for three months. Think back to when you went to Amazon and read dozens of reviews with comments under ten words. I’ll give you a moment. You can’t, can you? Because nobody reads these types of reviews. They’re wasted space. Sure, it might lure somebody in to click on your book, “Wow, 200 reviews, this must be amazing.” You get there only to find dozens of one liners. This is starting to look like owed favors and family members trying to do you a solid. In the wake of numerous scams happening on Amazon with reviews, purchased ranks and even authors buying their way onto the USA Today Best Seller chart, appearances matter. Be persistent, but push readers to leave reactions, feedback, hell, I even promote leaving non-5 star reviews (once in a while) to keep things authentic and truthful. It pays off. Watching you what you pay attention to on products, the same goes for your books.

Myth: You don’t need to buy the book to leave a review…

Reality: True, but similar to short reviews. Yes, you can review anything on Amazon regardless of your purchasing. However, unverified reviews (reviews left by people who have not bought your product) are hidden. Their review shows in the total number of reviews, but the actual verbage is hidden unless the customer goes down, clicks on reviews, and then clicks on unverified. That’s a lot of work. To me, the customer, they didn’t buy the book and left a review. Why would I believe a review of a person who didn’t buy the product? I wouldn’t. Yes, again, it helps snag the attention of the customer, “Ohhh, look at all those reviews!” But when you get onto the product page to find almost no reviews are visible (cause how many people truthfully read unverified reviews?) it’s going to start looking shady.

This happens often at the start of a release. You have given out a thousand ARCs and one hundred people have reviewed it. Many have not bought it (some ARC readers are awesome and will also buy your book) so their reviews are not verified. There is a certain forgiveness during launch time that fades quickly. So make sure you continue to promote leaving reviews, but be honest about why they are needed.

Myth: You need X number of reviews for promotions…

Reality: There are many promotional tools out there and many authors utilize “Author Email Promotions.” These are services that will send out your book to their mailing lists. Bookbub is probably the most well-known and coveted. Some are very specific, you need 10 reviews to be eligible. Others are rather ambiguous at best. I only received my Bookbub after I received 40 reviews. Does that mean it’s the magic number? No, but well reviewed books stand a higher chance. Each promotion will state what their needs are. I believe the most I’ve seen is 10 required to promote your book. Of course, more is always better.

There you have it. The floating images with misinformation have been debunked. I think reviews are extremely important (even bad ones.) They are the digital equivalent of your friend recommending a device you need and they have tested. However, we need to have realistic expectations and not imagine that a magical number will open the doors to Nirvana.

Codeswitching for Queries

Codeswitching for Queries

This is not a post about writing computer code or database queries, for the record. It’s about talking to literary agents.

I was reviewing a query letter this morning, as a favor to someone important to me, not because I’m some kind of expert in writing query letters to agents. The letter was fine in some ways. It was personally directed at the agent and demonstrated that the writer had researched the agent’s specific interests. Good. It connected the dots between the agent’s interests and the book in question. Good. It described the gist of the book coherently. Good. And finally, it explained the writer’s relevant credentials. All good.

The thing is: when I got to the end of the letter, I wasn’t sold. I had to spend some time pondering what wasn’t working for me to realize how on point that description of my reaction was: I WAS NOT SOLD.

The writer had taken the approach of trying to use the letter to demonstrate their narrative style…which happens to be lyrical and indirect in that Jane Austen sort of way that sneaks up on you from behind and smacks you in the back of the funny bone with a killer punchline you weren’t expecting. The style is brilliant for delivering gentle-yet-sharp observations on society, and it’s a gem of a choice for the book in question. A query letter, however, offers neither the space nor the communication objectives for this style to do its best work. The result? The letter was passive and confusing.

The fundamental problem in the way the author was thinking about the letter was that they weren’t focused on the question of selling. I want to reiterate here that I’m not any kind of expert on talking to agents…I’ve been intentionally exploring the indie thing and have literally never queried an agent in my life. I’m a writer, though, with a lot of writer friends and a few agents I pay attention to peripherally, and what has stood out to me from watching the ones who actually make money at it (unlike me) is that the point of a relationship between writers, agents, and publishers is TO SELL BOOKS.

Agents might take on the odd risky passion project when they’ve got time and money to burn, but by and large, when they take on a new client, it’s because they see in that person and their work an opportunity to make money. This is not because they are cynical or hardened or sellouts: making money at selling books is what allows them to continue being employed in their much-loved and extremely competitive field.

What this means to me is that the primary job of a query letter is to make it crystal clear to a prospective agent that your book will be easy to sell. They read huge numbers of these letters: if they have to do the work of extrapolating the quality of your writing style in its best context and then imagine for themselves how they can turn that work into a consumer-friendly pitch, they might just move on. A query letter has to do that work for them.

The other thing I’ve observed is that agents want to see that a new client is going to be a good partner for the time-intensive work of bringing a book to publication and selling it. If a query letter requires an agent to wander a garden maze of misdirection to hunt down the point, it suggests that professional communication with the given writer is going to be time-consuming, exhausting, and full of misunderstandings. In short: it would be a pain in the ass. Your query letter needs to you as a business partner as much as it sells your work.

We must be able to codeswitch with our writing, to use the right words for the right context. If you’re writing poetry, write the best poetry you can. If you’re writing a query letter, get out the scalpel and write a business letter.

Writers at a Comic Con: Make the Most of Your Time

Writers at a Comic Con: Make the Most of Your Time

If you are a comic book writer, you’re obviously in the right place, but what about science fiction and fantasy authors? Can you have success as a vendor at Comic Cons? My experience says yes. But purchasing a table and showing up won’t be enough for a successful weekend. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your Comic Con experience:

  • Create an eye-catching display. You’ll have a good-sized table, so be sure to make it appealing. Put out a bowl of candy. Give away bookmarks. Set up a banner behind you.
  • Interact with the crowd. I attended Cons before I was ever a vendor at one, so I love the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd, and I’m a fan myself. It was easy to talk to the people who stopped by. But I didn’t just wait for them to stop, I stood behind my table, smiled, and said hello to just about everyone. I complimented costumes and asked people if they were having fun. Be approachable.
  • BUT, don’t annoy people with hard sell tactics. I engaged with people as they walked by. I didn’t talk about my books unless someone asked me directly.
  • Have a quick, enticing pitch ready when they do ask. My nineteen-year old son was my table buddy at Boston Comic Con last summer. When he heard me stumbling over my book description to the first few interested people, he said, “Mom, that was terrible. You have got to do better.” We practiced and refined for a few minutes until I had a couple of sentences that captured the essence of the story. Think log line but with a more conversational tone.
  • Use the opportunity to build your mailing list. Have a clipboard with a sign-up sheet for people to leave their names and email addresses. I send out a weekly, very brief communication to my mailing list called “Monday Musings.” Mailing lists are a powerful tool for an author and Cons are a great place to add names. I find that because I’ve met and spoken to these people, they are less likely to unsubscribe, and often will respond to my mailings with personal notes.
  • Be ready to make sales. Have a cash box with change, and make sure your credit card reader is functioning. Keep a supply of extra pens or markers easily accessible for signing your books.
  • Network! Selling books isn’t the only opportunity at Cons. Make new friends. I left every Con with at least one interview booked, stacks of business cards in my bag, and a nice bump in my social media following. And ‘BarCon’ is a thing! Find out where people are congregating after hours and join the fun.
  • Take care of yourself. Cons are fun, but exhausting. Have a bottle of water, some power bars and snacks with you. Wear comfortable shoes.
  • To cosplay or not to cosplay? I choose not to when I’m a vendor. Generally, I break out my Rebel Alliance or Starfleet Academy t-shirts, but I don’t wear a costume. A friend of mine is a fantasy author who writes about deadly mermaids. She rocks ‘aquatic chic’ like nobody’s business at Cons. It totally works for her. But my books don’t easily lend themselves to a costume, and I don’t want my attire to be the focus of conversations. Ask yourself if a costume will help or hinder you.
  • Take Monday off. If possible, give yourself some downtime after a Con. The days are long, and sometimes the nights are even longer! I’m a disaster after a weekend on my feet, and I plan an easy day when I come home.

As a sci-fi/fantasy writer, I feel right at home at Comic Cons, and I’m as excited to be there as any of the attendees. Enjoy the experience and energy, and most importantly have fun!

Mailing Lists 103: Instafreebie Grows Your Mailing List

Mailing Lists 103: Instafreebie Grows Your Mailing List

We’re all looking for ways to grow our mailing lists. More often than not, services promising subscribers either turn out to be a waste of money or provide subscribers that want little more than to grab your free “stuff.” I’ve been using Instafreebie for six months now, and I’m convinced it’s a service that brings fans to writers. With Instafreebie, fans of a particular genre have a way to try freebies or just samples to get a flavor of an author before they commit to a purchase. While they’re testing the waters, you can snag their emails and through your charming personality, win them over on your mailing list.

Some quick tips:

  • Cover: Your cover matters more than ever. With the way Instafreebie is used, the cover is what makes or breaks your book. It’s often the only aspect shown to lure in a reader. This is where I’ve seen authors with horrible covers fall short. Instafreebie can’t cure the lackluster.
  • Call-to-Action: At the end of your freebie, make sure you give the reader directions on how to continue. If they loved your sample, make it easy for them to click a link and buy the whole book. Let them know how many books are in the series. You don’t need to include your mailing list here, because they’ve already joined through Instafreebie. So make sure you’re cashing in on fans who love your work.
  • Freebie-Grabbers: There is no easy way to combat the user who only wants free stuff and will never pay. Instafreebie does a good job of making an “optional” opt-in button. This means only people who WANT to join your list can. This combined with some mailing list management tricks can help avoid those freebie grabbers. However, every now and then, a grabber becomes a fan!
  • Promote Instafreebie: The best thing about Instafreebie is their commitment to not only the readers, but the authors. Promote other books being hosted by Instafreebie and group giveaways and every now and then, Instafreebie does you a solid and promotes back. It’s a great way to help build a partnership and with a single Instafreebie tweet, you can watch your numbers skyrocket!
Mailing Lists 102: Where to Find Your Subscribers

Mailing Lists 102: Where to Find Your Subscribers

Get InstafreebieGet Mailerlite

When building a list, there is always the question, “Where do we find our subscribers?” And even if you’re getting subscribers, the question becomes, “How do I get quality subscribers?” Thankfully, I’ve started venturing into this as a primary method of communicating with my fans. I make it a point to cultivate relationships and engage my readership using my newsletter. The results over the past year have gone to a list that served no purpose other than aggravation to a list that helps my career and provides me with great connections to readers.

During this video, we talk about how to increase your subscribers. It’s not easy, and it will require work. There is no fast method. Prepare to invest your time into it. Like all other marketing, what works is not quick or easy (and sometimes not free.) The reason social media has become a black hole is because any person can create a page and shout from the rooftops.

Want homework to start moving in the right direction?

  • Go to your website and make sure your viewers can quickly get to your mailing list at least two different ways. Make sure they understand what they’re getting.
  • Add a signup on your Facebook page and send out a Facebook post and tweet on how people can join. Make sure they know the benefits and rewards. Tackle the simple and easy first.
  • Include a Call-To-Action in the back of your novels. Give them the link to your website sign up (it’ll mean they’re visiting your website AND signing up.) Do this for all the books you have the ability to change.
Mailing Lists 101: Our Most Important Marketing Tool

Mailing Lists 101: Our Most Important Marketing Tool

It is without a doubt that an author’s mailing list is one of the most important marketing tools at our disposal. It has the ability to connect fans to authors, provide new insight into the author’s world and allow fans to learn more about their literary crushes. The upsides are plentiful, and because of that, we will be spending several videos on how to begin, cultivate, grow, manage and connect with your subscribers.

If you are looking for a service to help grow your mailing list, there are many out there, however, for the sake of this series we will be using Mailerlite. I have used several but without a doubt, Mailerlite has provided me the most straight-forward user experience and saved me countless hours while managing my lists.

Your homework after this video? Start your first mailing list. Reach out to your friends and family and ask if they would like to join. Send out some Facebook posts and Tweets. Within a week, you’ll have your first fifty fans. Don’t worry if you only get one or two, we’ll be continuing this series with methods to help you grow, expand, and manage that list. Ultimately, we want your mailing list making sales and growing your fanbase!