With the growing masses of books hitting virtual shelves, how can the average author hope to get noticed by readers? And likewise, how can readers discover new authors without having to wade through thousands of books?
Writers are trying all kinds of techniques in order to help their books stand out—luring readers with free or cheap books, doing social media blitzkriegs, and desperately trying to find any way to push their book into the spotlight.
Readers are growing frustrated too. They buy cheap e-books only to find them riddled with typos or bizarre stories that aren’t worth their time or money.
Authors and readers alike are struggling through the changes brought about by the growth of e-readers and e-books. Authors who’ve put in the time and effort to learn the craft and perfect their stories don’t want to get lost among the dregs. And readers are looking for ways to find good authors and books without having to sift through the masses of books out there.
So what’s the solution?
Smashwords did a survey back in September of 2011, which netted some interesting results. The questionnaire “challenged readers to select the single most common criterion they follow to discover their next read.”
The most-selected answer was "Recommendations from fellow readers on online message forums, blogs and message boards, with 29% of respondents choosing this.” (Emphasis mine)
The latest Romance Writers Report (RWR) reiterated the growing importance of review sites: “In a blizzard of e-books, readers will look to names they trust for recommendations. Review sites are likely to flourish for the same reason . . . Fewer stores and less shelf space in the big boxes will make online reading recommendations increasingly important.” (Emphasis mine)
In other words, readers are turning to online review sites to help them wade through the flood of books in order to find authors and books they can fall in love with.
What does that mean for authors?
1. Your marketing plan should include book reviews. One of the keys for getting your book to stand out is to get it into the hands (or e-readers) of online reviewers.
2. Look for variety in reviewers. Asking your twenty closest writing friends and family members to write reviews will only “stack the deck.” I continually hear readers say that they don’t trust reviews that are mostly 5-stars and with good reason if we as authors are arm-twisting or enticing friends into writing good reviews for us.
Instead, get to know your audience and target them. In a practical article that outlines his success with blog reviews, Tim Ferriss says: “You are not after the biggest audience possible, you are after the right audience.”
3. Give reviewers permission to be honest. They need the freedom to rate our books with as much subjectivity as they want. If we’re barging in and berating reviewers for less than stellar reviews, then we risk losing the trustworthiness of the review system that readers are looking for.
Remember review sites are for readers. I know that seems like a no-brainer. But if authors jump into review conversations, their presence or comments may prevent readers/reviewers from feeling like they can share openly and truthfully about the book.
4. Maintain a level of professionalism. Yes, this will be hard at times especially when we feel personally or unfairly attacked. But if we want the good part of reviews which can help us stand out in the crowded market, then we also have to be willing to take the more difficult aspects of it as well, including negative feedback. Often the most professional thing we can do is refrain from saying anything altogether and just let reviewers and readers enjoy interacting without our interference.
5. Above all give reviewers a book they will truly WANT to review. Enough said.
6. Finally, authors beware of writing reviews. Authors usually take two extremes—being overly critical or overly praiseworthy. I find that I’m much more critical than the average reader. My internal editor rarely turns off. Thus, my reviews will likely be more picky than most readers—which is why I rarely post public reviews.
On the other hand, in efforts not to hurt our fellow writers, we can move to the other extreme of only posting glowing praise (with the ulterior motive of hoping our fellow authors will do the same for us).
As writers, if we can’t find a middle objective ground, then we should probably shy away from writing reviews and look for other ways to support our fellow writers.
What about you? What’s your preferred mode of finding a new book or author? Do you look to online review sites for help? Or do you look elsewhere?