Saturday, 6 July 2013

Marketing and Reviews

Marketing and reviews.

 Buy my book – buy my book – pleeeease buy my book!

 When my debut novel was published on Kindle, I immediately hit the writers’ forum, enthusiastic and naïve, eagerly asking questions that I now appreciate  had been asked a thousand times before. I also quickly realised how annoying it was when people constantly deluged the forum with promotions of their new book.

 I suspect most writers have been there, especially when trying to promote their very first book. I remember when the first paperback copies of my debut novel arrived, to be picked up, admired, stroked and generally cooed over. At such times, there is a danger of tunnel vision. Objectivity can very easily take wing and disappear into the blue – all that matters is THE BOOK.

 Very few new, unknown authors will achieve overnight success, although we can always dream. Marketing is hard work and it takes time. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” may sound like a cliché (probably because it is), but when it comes to book marketing it is extremely apt. Without a big organisation behind them, most independent authors have to do their own marketing. For many of us (including me) it is unfamiliar territory. Learning our way around takes time and patience.

 When it comes to reviews, opinions vary as to just how valuable they are to an author. Do would-be readers take notice of how many 5* reviews a book has? Do they actually read them?  I suppose that depends on the reader. I do read reviews – both good and bad – because sometimes it can give me a valuable insight into the book, beyond the blurb and the “look inside.”

 Most authors are understandably keen to get positive reviews. When the book is first published it is natural that friends will want to leave good reviews to help out their mate (a couple of my friends did that). As long as they have actually read the book, that seems fair enough.

 But how far is fair? Is it in order to ask friends to leave a review? I have given this one a lot of thought, and on balance I would say it depends. Putting out a general request on Facebook saying something like ‘hi guys, if you’ve read my book and enjoyed it, I’d be grateful for a review’ seems fine, inasmuch as no-one is put under personal pressure. It would, however, be different to approach an individual and say ‘Hey Bob, will you do me a review on Amazon?’ That can put Bob in a difficult position. He may well have said that he enjoyed the book – he’s your friend. But in reality, he may not have enjoyed it that much. He may not even have read the book.


Some authors have been known to go even further and use “sock puppets” to write their own reviews, under different names.

 Sadly, some of these doubtful tactics probably pay off. Readers who are not also writers may simply take reviews at their face value. Most authors will not. I have heard various estimates as to the relationship between the number of books sold and the number of reviews, one oft quoted figure is around one review per hundred books. In reality, I think that is a meaningless figure, because it will be different for each book. Since publication four months ago, my own book has picked up an average of one review (from strangers) per 40 books sold.

There is nothing more suspicious than a book that is published on the first of July, and has picked up a dozen glowing five star reviews by the second of July (unless, of course, the writer is a J. K. Rowling).