Documenting a Superhero Series Relaunch

My name is Jeremy Flagg and I’m a superhero author. In 2015 I received a publishing contract and launched my first superhero novel. While I wish I could discuss the wealth and the fame that came immediately after, the reception was less than warm. It was cold, like glacial cold. For the following year I saw low sales, non-existent page reads, and nearly called an end to the series. While sales would eventually increase, the first year netted me almost no income from my writing.

It’s three years later and I am relaunching my series. To help give focus and provide a roadmap for other authors, I plan on documenting the process. These numbers are rough approximations (I’m not the best at tracking my expenses.)

The Numbers

There you have it folks, with my portion of the contract at 40%, my first year I made a grand total of $66.88. The book launched at $3.99. The first month I only saw an income of $23.76 based on 12 eBook sales, 9 physical books, and 2201 page reads. While the launch month was indeed the biggest month of profit, it hardly warranted celebration. This number however, does not show my personal hand sales (it would be in the dozens.)

When I started marketing, I had no followers, no fans, and no connections to the author community. Thankfully because of my day job, I have income to jump start this endeavor. What I quickly learned, throwing money at the problem did not always result in a positive return.

The first two items I purchased to market was a wire service and a blog tour package. The wire service resulted in absolutely no visibility, no coverage, and no promotion. I was able to track which news services picked up my release and I could count on one hand the number of mentions and they were in wildly inappropriate categories (Washington Post Online Business Section?) The blog tour was the next purchase. It not only resulted in no income, but required an uncanny amount of time to fill out questionnaires about mind numbing topics such as my favorite ice cream. Who cares? Who were these blogs? They were nobodies. Waste of money and time and no sales to speak of. I also found the people in charge to be rude, underhanded, and incredibly scammy (this was from an extremely reputable blog tour company as well.)

The rest of the promotional services netted me almost no return. While it didn’t make sense then, it tells me that there is something wrong with the book at this point. Primarily, I believe being in a niche genre reduces the broad appeal, couple this with a cover not depicting the interior and a blurb that confuses the genre, I can understand why there were minimal sales as a result.

Marketing Tactics Prior to Launch

I am roughly two months from when I hope to launch. As of the time I’m writing this, I am waiting to hear back from my cover artist as to when the work will be available. Currently this is the only thing holding up my releases, however it is providing me valuable time to do some behind the scenes work in anticipation of my release.

Newsletter Swaps: I am currently collaborating with authors who I think my books will jive with. I am placing about six authors per newsletter to build up a healthy IOU for my release. I am doing this with authors I’ve connected with within my genre, superhero author groups, and science fiction authors. My goal is to have somewhere in the 15 – 20 newsletters willing to promote my book upon relaunch.

Amazon Giveaway: I am hosting a variety of Amazon Giveaways and requiring entrants to follow my author page. While this tactic has worked extremely well for me in the past, Amazon has drastically changed how they are done. I used two extremely well selling superhero authors (within the top 10 of my category) and was only able to land 67 entries. At this time, I am not currently sure if those who Follow me from a failed giveaway will receive the new release alert. I am currently changing tactics and trying graphic novels with the same tone to see if that will generate more interest.

Mailinglist Building: I’ve resisted building my list for a while. I currently have 2,200 subscribers and have an average open rate of 35% with an additional 10% on campaign resends and a click rate ranging between 4-11%. I have joined six BookFunnel promotions for the month of June including SFF BookBonanza, a Superhero Author Sponsored, NESW Sponsored, and three broader science fiction promotions. I am also participating in a Listbuilder with a fellow superhero author that nets around 6,000 subscribes (about 600 of them will be retained after vetting and scrubbing the list harshly.) My goal is to reach 3,000 subscribers and maintain my open and click rate leading up to my launch.

Costs to Date

Now that I am relaunching I have to start from scratch, which is terrifying, but affords me a new world of opportunities. The first priority is to give my series a fresh edit (not a line edit, but make sure items align to the later novels in the series.) I also need to create new book covers. Thankfully I am a graphic designer by trade so once I have the artwork I can create the jackets and later, the advertisements, for free.

Line Edit: $0
Cover: $250
BookFunnel: $12.50 per month
Mailerlite: $25 per month
Amazon Giveaways: $20
Craig Martelle’s Successful Launch Strategies eBook: $4.99

Points to Ponder & Explore

I am currently exploring the options in front of me for my release. Unlike before I will be doing a rapid release of all the books in the series. This will undoubtedly help with my overall sales. I want to include AMS and Facebook ads into this mix as well as select mail blast promotions. The big question hanging over my head is revolving around pre-order. If I offer a 30 day pre-order, I will have access to Kindle Countdown deals. I will also have time to either migrate my reviews or have my fans post new reviews. However, I don’t want an extended pre-order buying into launch day sales and counting down the clock to the inevitable “cliff” books see on Amazon.

Currently I do know that I will be launching the first book of my series at $.99 for maximum exposure and I will be enrolling into Kindle Unlimited to take advantage of page reads. The question will be if I do a pre-order, will I have it at $3.99 and then drop it for the “true” launch or have at $.99 from the get go?

Time & Energy

Currently the majority of my time is being spent editing my books. I have nearly finished the first book. I’m finding that I am not wasting too much time beyond my typical social media habits and writing a new novel. I feel the next stage may require more time as I want to create a few custom graphics to use as teasers leading up to the book. I am discussing graphics and release strategies with my artist and so far things are going extremely well.

I know we don’t talk about energy a lot when it comes to launches, but it is indeed stressful. There is a cloud hanging over my my head and I feel as if there is a lot riding on this to “get it right.” I am stressed with the possibility it may flounder. There is a bit of an emotional toll. Thankfully I have a strong support network and I’m actually doing this release at the same time fellow superhero author Trish Heinrich is doing her relaunch. This is making it much more bearable, however, there is the lingering worry. I know I can make more than $67.00 my first month. But can I make my real goal of $1,000.00 the first month? That’s the big question.

 

Jeremy came to writing late in his professional career. It wasn’t until 2006 that he participated in his first NaNoWriMo, writing an epic science fiction novel. Later he would use the opportunity to write Suburban Zombie High and his first draft of the Children of Nostradamus. He is the Co-Founder of the New England Speculative Writers and partakes in a weekly writing group called the Metrowest Writers where people are flabbergasted by his love of comics and scifi.

Opportunity Within a Tribe

Jeremy Flagg, Trish Heinrich, Chrishaun Keller Hanna

It’s not always what you know, but who you know. This is a line that has stuck in my head since I started my publishing journey. I’m not so much an introvert, but I am a solitary person by nature and prefer my quiet space over interacting with others. The idea of going to conferences is both humbling and exhilarating. For the second year, I’ve gone to Chicago to be part of the Sell More Book Show Summit, a conference designed to focus on networking and marketing for indie authors. For the second year, I’ve walked away with my creative well overflowing and my work ethic realigned. I can not recommend a conference like this enough. You can expect to drop about a thousand dollars between airfare, hotels, registration and food. The focus of networking and bringing together indie authors along with industry big names has has made this conference well worth the expense. The ability to ask professionals questions that pertain to my personal author business is extremely beneficial, to the point where a simple dinner conversation turned marketing helped outline my release schedule for the rest of the year. Tidbits are more like juicy mouthfuls of information I’m still digesting days later. But I could rave all day, so instead, let me punch out what a conference like this can do for you:

  1. Shop Talk – We’re used to Facebook Groups and message boards, but being able to ask questions in a timely conversational manner is amazing. There’s no worry about being misread or hoping they caught the inflection of your email. Conversation jumps from how your revenue has been to what you hope to accomplish to paving a path to reach your goal. There is a candid factor to in person communication that online lacks. This may be partly from the permanence of online chatter, but also because it creates a more intimate affair.
  2. Favor Purchases – “Can I ask a favor,” is not only common, but not perceived as the dirty phrase it comes across online. Once I got the gumption to talk to a well known author (seriously, this happened at least a dozen times) we’d exchange favors. It could be me offering to share something of theirs to the group or with peers, or me asking if they’d read over a blurb. It was so fluid that you had to start writing them down. The benefit of a conference like this, successful authors attend and they’re more than happy to give back to their community. Respect and courtesy are used as currency and more often than not, pooled resources make for a better experience in the professional world.
  3. Synergy – Everybody at these conferences wants to succeed. It’s not about grand standing, throwing out credentials and comparing income from one author to the next. Even the most successful author will talk about their next step. It’s about helping everybody take whatever that next step is for them. It doesn’t matter if it’s publishing a first manuscript or attempting to make your first six-figure year. The energy builds as people realize there is hope, and with that hope comes a push to work harder. Since the conference, I’ve hardly slept, I’m too busy being excited and putting the information to work. Every time I share with the group a new success, it’s like a perpetual party urging to take it one step further.
  4. More than Writing – Sure, we talked everything from marketing to formatting to healthy sustainable habits. However, these conferences are where you can make some amazing connections. The first year, somebody told me, “How bad do you want it?” and when I commented on my day job she replied with, “Sounds like you’re making excuses.” I’ve taken that to heart for a year. Not only has it remained in the back of my head, it has helped fuel my motivation in life. I was able to speak with numerous talents and ask them personal questions about work/life balance, and even techniques to help ease the strain on my hands. Ultimately, I was able to ask half a dozen individuals if they’d be interested in a small conference in Maine (to which several said yes.) Because of this event, I’ve bought good will with large name companies and even had the ability to ask one for a personal favor (see #2.)
  5. Collaboration – I claim to be a hermit, but my best work has been at the pushing of others. This year I had the opportunity to meet my “book wife” for the first time in person. We’ve been collaborating for over a year now and she has been a driving force behind my superhero series. However, it took on a new life when we finally sat down together. From strolling through a freezing city, to mapping out our own series, to creating a consortium for authors, we didn’t have a moment of down time. Could we have gotten there digitally? Perhaps. But the infectious laughter, funny stories, and ultimately, our determination to push back a stampede in the industry left me better than when we started. Without the in person interaction, I’ll be frank, digital people don’t always appear real to me, I’m not sure I would be going so hard to achieve a dream.

Now for a bit of technical information that I think is important for people to consider. I highly suggest everybody attend a conference, but make sure it serves you. Here are some details for the Sell More Book Show that I had to consider:

  1. Cost – $400 Registration + $350 Flight + $200 Hotel + $25 Ubers + $20 Public Transit + $80 Food + $75 Logan Parking = $1,150.
    1. This is a tax write off and I claim it all.
    2. I had a great conversation with some Erotica authors who gave me a marketing suggestion that I believe will make me back the entire conference cost.
    3. Had it not been for my job, I’d stay for an extra day to enjoy the city.
  2. Timing – This is both literal and journey wise. I would promptly attend 20Booksto50K in Vegas each year, but my day job prevents it. Thankfully I’ll be attending 20Booksto50K in Scotland this summer. I also think you have to be realistic about where you are in your journey. I have a large enough back catalog to utilize many of these suggestions instantly. I can see a return on investment promptly. It could very well be useful to a new author, but the ROI might not be seen simply in $$$.
  3. Need a Game Plan – This is pretty simple. What do you want from the conference? It’s not up to the people at the conference to provide it. You’re an adult, go get it. I sat down and talked to half a dozen potential speakers for Convergence. It was part of my game plan to lock down a few names for 2020. I also needed help with a launch strategy I was struggling with. Over dinner, I laid out my plan and several authors picked it apart and helped me restructure into something much more cohesive. I knew what I needed, I reached out, I received. It was all part of my plan walking into this event.

Whatever your goal for a conference, make it happen. Not every author can afford the luxury and for some people it’s simply not part of their business model. There’s no harm in that, and I’m not suggestion you rework it for a conference. However, if there’s a chance a conference can help you step up and bring your A-Game. Then I absolutely would suggest it. For those interested, the Sell More Book Show Summit is becoming The Career Author Summit held in Nashville and you can now reserve your Early Bird Tickets.

Needing to Shelf Your Author Ego

I’ve been publishing for several years now and had the chance to work with extremely amazing people. The stories have ranged from heartfelt successes to humorous failures. I’ve sat with million dollar earners as well as authors struggling to make a single sale. What I’ve noticed as a big difference between the two, the successful author is able to remove their ego, package it up, set it on the shelf, and shush it when necessary. I admit there is an artistry to the craft we’ve undertaken, but great art does not equate to sales and often times this ego rearing its ugly head is the author’s biggest dilemma. I’m here to drop a truth bomb, your ego, it’s got to go.

Let me amend where I’m going with this statement. This is targeted to the author looking to make a career from writing (which means making $$$.) This is not targeted to the authors who write as a passion project. However, if you hope to have your passion project seen by the world, or at least more than your family, this is very much directed toward you. I wrote for passion for many years (and still do at times) so I never want to discredit or tell an author how their journey should be directed. But herein lies the conflict, when authors, even passion project authors, want their work read by many, but refuse to see their authorship as a career. So let’s start with major mistakes.

Photo by takahiro taguchi on Unsplash

Bookshelves are a thing of the past.

There is this romantic image of an author casually browsing a bookstore and stumbling upon their work. They may ask to sign it, the store rewards them in free lattes and by some bit of magic, throngs of fans arrive demanding story time. Let’s be frank here, this is not the case. Angela Lansbury and Castle are fictional. The romantic image of the writer is 99.9% myth. And I’m not sure about you, but I don’t build a career on the possibility of winning the lottery (which has nearly identical odds.)

Consumers are steadily growing, but they’re not growing in the bookstore sector. We can see this with the demise of Borders and the frequent profit loss reports of Barnes & Noble (which is kicking and screaming to its grave.) If you do out the math of what is selling in bookstores, you’ll find most often it’s only the .1% that is making sales worth it. I’ve met multiple authors who have gone to bookstores and set up sales channels only to find the books do not fly on the shelves like they imagined. I write superhero novels, and I thought putting them in comic shops would be a great market plan. After countless hours, I managed to get them into several stores where almost none sell. If I did the sales and divided by the time spent, I probably made about $.10 an hour.

Remove the romance of writing from your business model. Push to where the market is strongest, and for many, this is online. This goes with the determination of selling physical books in online stores. Do not ignore them by any means, but also realize an ebook sale is often easier, faster, and selling in bulk can be more profitable in the long run. Don’t let your ego get in the way of letting go of outdated mentalities.

Book signing events

This is where I admit my ego often rears its ugly head. I’m an introvert by choice, but every now and then, I want to go out and bask in the glow of my admiring fans. I set up a book signing event and expect the line down the street, where people will let me sign their chests (it’s happened!) and kiss their babies. To my amazement I’m sitting alone gabbing with employees basking in the smell of fresh books. Poor.

We all have our vices, this one is mine. The reality of the matter is, unless you’re well-known, you’re not going to have people showing up to your signings. Or if you do, it’s people who would have bought your books without needing a hand sale.Most bookstores do not have the budget to advertise more than a social media post or a sandwich sign out front. The four hours I spend at a bookstore, is time lost doing something else, like selling books or writing. When I factor in the payout at the end of my last couple author events, I probably made nearly $.25 an hour and maybe met six people, five of who just know me and want to hang out. My ego is burning money, creating anxiety, and ultimately, disappointing me. But let’s be honest, this is where my vice will probably never let up.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Libraries can be a time suck.

I am the son of a librarian. I support libraries. Librarians are some of the most underrated superheroes in the universe and should be sung about. With that being said, getting your book onto library shelves can be tedious, a waste of time if you over invest, and ultimately, not reward anything other than your ego. I have sent mailer cards to every library in the state (multiple states even.) My sales from this? Of over six hundred libraries, I sold three books. That didn’t cover the shipment or hours wasted sending release notices to librarians.

Do not discount libraries as part of your marketing plan, just make sure you’re investing a reasonable amount of time and money. My new strategy to help myself and still reach these golden bastions of information is to reach out to my newsletter and ask my fans to inquire about my book at their libraries. It takes a few minutes of my time, my fans do the leg work, the library sees interest in my title, and ultimately, I’m helping support libraries. This level of time commitment, it’s a smart business decision. Losing hundreds of dollars pushing your books onto librarians, not so much.

Industry reviews are not reader reviews.

So you’ve decided your ego needs a huge boost or a huge slam. You’re ready to go for one of those fabled, massive, professional recognized reviews. It’ll cost you an arm and a leg, and you’re hoping they like your book and give it a positive review. You’re gambling. You’re gambling your reputation and your money. Your ego has reared its ugly head and it demands that you be recognized for your hard work. But when was the last time, a reader went to read these reviews? Sure you can add it to your Amazon product description that you received the golden star of the BigCompanyReview.

Honestly, when was the last time you, as a reader paid attention to that? I go to book pages because I either like the author and buy everything they write, or I browse and look at people reviews. I don’t care what some big company said about your book, I want to know what fans, people like me, have to say about your book. I want social proof that I won’t be let down.

These big review sites, they’re for professional ego stroking. Would I like to have BigCompanyReview tell me how much they love my work? Sure. But not for the money it requires and not at the risk of a bad review. The worst part, of the people I know who have received glowing recommendations, nearly all of them agree, the reviews have not made them sales. So then why get them? The determination for peer acceptance? Or is it our ugly friend again, the ego?

Books alone are not always viable.

This is aimed at the authors looking to make writing their full-time career. It’s a hard pill to swallow. My personal dream is to live in a remote cabin, write manuscript after manuscript and roll around in my money. Truth is, my writing alone isn’t going to cut it. I’m doing well, and reaching my personal goals, but the big goal is to be a career author. I’m finding my revenue is starting to shift from writing of books and now includes audio and boxsets. It’s still my writing, but it’s not solely books.

You may find that a combination of writing and patreon is your solution. It could be speaking engagements and writing are your thing. You as an author may write books, but that is not your only marketable skill. Diversifying your revenue streams to include a little here and there will eventually add up. I’ll keep praying that I land a movie deal, but I can’t put all my chips on a long shot.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

A business requires goals.

The idea that you are a writer is a glamorous life filled with Starbucks, late night inspirations, and falling in love with fictional people. It is also a job, and at times, your boss will be the biggest pain in the ass. But that boss is pushing your business toward a goal. These goals do not need to be large and mighty. Most often the best business plan has small steps. These small achievable goals push us toward the greater goal, no matter where you define success.

I’m going to give you a small exercise, and I think it’s important, so be a trooper and join me.

  1. Take a sheet of paper and at the top, write and finish the statement: My goal as an author is… Make it a single overarching goal. Perhaps look at it as your ten-year goal.
  2. Make three columns
  3. In the left column, take ten minutes and write down every thing you do as a writer. Include your writing habits, your marketing, your events. Literally try to write as many things as you can think that you’ve done in your author career journey. For me, it might be: attend cons, ams ads, facebook ads, writer conference X, attend author expo, manage NESW, boxset promotion, audio books….
  4. In the center column, this is where it gets a bit difficult. You need to write how each item in the left column achieves your greater goal. You need to be honest here. No inflating the purpose. Some of these you might not know if you haven’t done them yet. This is where you can ask people who have. Never attended a convention to sell books, ask veteran sellers, they’ll be honest about their goals. Never done a book signing event and not sure how it might achieve your goal, ask.
  5. Now here’s the part I find authors have the most difficulty doing. Tape that paper somewhere in your office. Each time you execute one of the items on the left column, write the result in the right column. If it does not achieve that goal in the center, kill it. If it does, then make notes. If it did something unexpected, it’s time to rewrite how it’s achieving your greater goal.
  6. Stick with it. You’ve just unknowingly created a business plan. It might be loose, it might be incomplete, but you’ve started. This works for authors seeking a career, hobbyist, and even the causal, “I do it for the love.”

I will bluntly say, all the above advice should be taken with a grain of salt, a lot of scrutiny, and raked over with your personal and business goals in mind. No person’s career is identical to another and there are numerous paths to be taken. But the one thing I stand by, and I urge people to conquer for the sake of sound decision-making to advance your goals, your ego.

Author Website Critiques

In the digital age, every author needs an online presence. This can manifest in a multitude of ways from social media, to simple newsletter landing pages to full websites. While not many websites offer discoverability for an author, it does offer fans a one-stop-shop for all things related to the author. These digital business cards can also serve a multitude of other purposes such as blogs, online retail, or additional book related content. But what is most important? With nearly twenty years of web design experience and two degrees in graphic design, I decided to the website of several authors at different spots in their authoring journey.

http://www.remyflagg.com

Pros: Straight forward goal to get visitor emails. Streamlined method to see books and buy on third party websites.

Cons: Some additional bells and whistles that serve no purpose. Overkill with the pop up. Merchandise link takes visitor offsite.

http://www.ljcohen.net/

Pros: Great visuals on front page. Books are easy to discover. All essential information is easy to find.

Cons: Wasted space and required scrolling. Some information that doesn’t serve business goals. Blog link takes visitor offsite.

http://authorjenniferallisprovost.com/

Pros: All relevant book information is discoverable.

Cons: Ads. Links take up 1/3 of the real estate. Unnecessary information on sidebar. Links aren’t easily identifiable. Books need buy links. Serves two audiences: authors & readers.

http://www.anovelfriend.com/

Pros: Books are listed along with buy links.

Cons: Uses non-standard HTML.Blog link takes visitor offsite. Serves two audiences: authors & readers. Uses iframes for blog.

http://morgansylvia.wordpress.com/

Pros: Gives a good personality of author. Social media is easy to find.

Cons: Cluttered navigation column. Links are “out of reach” at top. Ads. Not providing “conversion” to purchase books.

http://www.odinsmusings.com/

Pros: All relevant information is available. Fast options for website conversions. Book content comes before author content for increased conversion.

Cons: Each page has too many call to actions. Colors could be jazzed up for more of a website identity.

The biggest question to ask when critiquing the website is “What is the purpose?” For many people, the ego is standing in the way of their website being an effective marketing tool. What is your traffic? Where are people clicking? Quickly it becomes apparent that blogs and reviews of other books which were once the bread and butter of interactivity on a website have gone by the wayside. Using the website as a marketing tool requires a call-to-action, either converting into sales or obtaining information such as an email for continued connection to your patrons. When examining, take off the creative hat, and put on the business hat, because ultimately it is a business tool.

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

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.