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One Important Way for Authors to Get Discovered by Readers

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

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)

I like what successfully self-published author Joanna Penn said in her article Book Marketing Tips From Amazon’s Bestselling Self-Published E-books Of 2011: “I am personally convinced that book reviews and an accessible price point are the best sales tactics for selling bulk fiction e-books, providing the book and cover are good enough in the first place.” (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?

28 comments:

  1. Great thoughts, Jody :) As a reviewer, your comments are absolutely on the money! I especially like your comment about finding the right audience.

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    1. Hi Rel! I'm sure you've struggled through how to write reviews that can help readers but at the same time support authors. I think that would be a tough balance. I wonder if it's easier for reviewers to be more objective if they don't know the author through social media venues. Because once a reviewer starts to make friends with authors on Twitter or FB or blogging, I can imagine it becomes harder to want to say anything negative about one of their books.

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  2. Great post, Jody. Many times before I read a book, I like to browse the reviews on Goodreads. It doesn't necessarily hinder me from reading that book, but I find them interesting. It will help me decide what to read first on occasion!

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  3. Great post! I especially like this: "They need the freedom to rate our books with as much subjectivity as they want." I couldn't agree more. As much as a bad rating or review can sting, we have to realize that not everyone will like our books. And that's ok. I review books as a freelancer and it's tough sometimes to find a good balance, especially when I didn't enjoy the book. I always try to find the positive and also mention that my personal tastes might not reflect the average reader. That's what it comes down to sometimes. We can't bash a book simply because we don't personally enjoy that type of writing. Other readers may love it. But it's a fine line.

    I do think it's fine for authors to post reviews for their friends - most readers aren't aware that you're a friend (at least on Amazon and other book sites). But I don't think it's right to falsely rave about a book I'm not thrilled about. I don't want my friends taking my suggestion and wondering what I was thinking! :-)

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  4. This sounds like solid advice. Will keep in mind when the "big" day comes. Thanks!!

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  5. Once again, Jody, practical information with a lot of takeaway value. With a debut novel coming out, I'm so thankful you're sharing wisdom.
    My preferred mode for finding a new book or author: personal recommendations. Next: reviews.
    And when I review a friend's book, I always try to find something positive to say -- or I don't review it. Sorry. I just can't be snarky or negative reviewing a friend's or colleague's book. I'm a writer -- I know how hard they've worked, even if I don't agree with how they wrote "The End."

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  6. Since my primary book supplier is the public library, titles and covers are important to me. Other than that,
    personal recommendations make a huge difference followed by online reviews.

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  7. Great advice. I especially found the last part about not writing reviews a blessing. I've felt pressured to read and review books, and actually have not enjoyed it one bit. So thank you!!

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  8. I think #5 is so important - give them a great book! YES, YES< YES!!!!!!!!!!!

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  9. That's exactly how I find most of the books I choose to read. Forums, blogs, review sites. I'll mention another author's book on my blog if I think it's so good I can't shut up about it. Rarely do I do anything like an in-depth review. Just a paragraph or two about why I liked it.

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  10. Oh, I definitely count on book recommendations from trusted bloggers, and strangely, I'd say more so than from friends & family. And I love reading amazon reviews as well as goodreads! It's true that people trust people, rather than some organization when it comes to reviewing products. I'm glad you mentioned the point about reviewing friends' books. I think it all comes down to discernment as a review-reader... I have no problems with friends reviewing friends' books. There's something to be said about loyal support in a world that's often filled with negativity. But I also think as a review-reader, I can sense when a review is just tossed out there with either generic, glowing praise, or generic, scathing criticism. After reading enough reviews, you start to pick up on stuff like that.

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  11. Wonderful and timely post - like so many others out there, I'm in the process of launching a book right now, and reviews are an integral part of my marketing plan. I agree wholeheartedly that strong-arming readers into 5-star reviews is a tactic that ultimately only serves to undermine the value of those reviews in the first place. If we as authors put our time and effort into #5 on your list - giving reviewers a book they WANT to review - it seems intuitive that the rest will follow. Thanks for another great post, Jody!

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  12. Such great insights today, Jody!

    I do tend to evaluate others' reviews, though I wouldn't let a two star review necessarily influence my buying decision if the rest of the reviews were much higher. Perhaps, the reviewer was having an off day or the subject matter just wasn't her taste.

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  13. Nice post, Jody,
    I rely on friends, my local librarians, Goodreads, and reviews. However, with the eclectic taste of readers I will sometimes go out on a limb and find I like something someone else really didn't like. That may be because I'm a fanatic about historicals and some readers just don't enjoy them and therefore don't give them the rating I think they deserve. It really is a subjective world.

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  14. I'm with Beth: good old-fashioned word of mouth from friends who like to read similar books. I also have been trying out new authors based on bloggers' recommendations or meet and greets.

    Another extremely helpful post!

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  15. Very nice post. I am often asked to review books on my blog and I have declined. First of all, I do tend to a be a bit more critical because I approach books from a literary standpoint. Secondly, if I dislike a book I will not post a review on Amazon or Goodreads. This is because I know that I don't approach reading in the same way as the average reader. I don't want to discourage them from books that they might find valuable. Instead, in the books I do review on these sites I try to describe what it is about the book that appealed to me. the reason I do this is because the people who read my books often want to know what I'm reading and what I thought about it.

    Amy
    http://neftzger.blogspot.com/

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  16. I find being able to sample (read the first 2 chapters) is helpful not just as a reader but as a writer. If I don't choose to purchase, I ask myself why or why not. The next question is, 'Is my writing like that?' Authors should read the Kindle version or their book or at least skim through it. One of my
    last samples had every other line reduced to one word; the next line was the regular length.
    After 2 pages of this I just couldn't go on.

    One thing that concerns me is the published writing from 'content farms'. That is, magazine articles or on-line articles pasted together without regard for copyright or accuracy. I think short stories should be clearly labelled as such and equivalent pages listed. Some reviews I read are from people offended that the book they bought turned out to have 12 pages and 3 of them were for the next 'book' in the series.

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  17. I don't do many reviews for the same reason. I'm VERY picky and I'd hate to give a bad review to a fellow blogger's book. If I do review a book it's because I really loved it or it was good enough that the few picky "mistakes" I found wouldn't warrant not buying the book. But it's a hard line. As for how I buy, I do check reviews and rely on fellow bloggers I know who like the same sort of books I do. Even so, sometimes I'm still disappointed. Which is why I like my local library. If I don't like it I can return it without feeling Like I wasted any money.

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  18. When I see a book that has all 5 starts, to me that either means it is an incredible book, or that the deck has been stacked. If I get the feeling that it is the latter, then I move on. Everyone won't love a book, and so there should be some less than 5 star reviews. I think that is good for a book.

    If I write a review of a book, I want to be honest, both for the writer and the potential audience. I am free with my 5 starts but at the same time, I am not afraid to be honest if the book is a 3 star. Target markets are not the same. What is a wonderful book for one, is boring for the rest. As it should be!

    Candace Davenport
    www.ourlittlebooks.com ~ Little Books with a Big Message

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  19. LOVE all of your thoughts today, everyone! It's so interesting to see that even the majority of commentors look online for their book reviews. I imagine we are a skewed group since most of us are pretty active online, but still, I think it shows the importance of the review sites!

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  20. Years ago, I had a rule that if I spent money to buy a book I would read it to its conclusion. Having come to my senses, I now realize why some rules are meant to be broken and it's because the words "The End" are much too far away. Maybe if I read book reviews I could've saved a dime or two.

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  21. Honestly, sometimes I skim reviews on blogs or Amazon or wherever. But mostly, I like to read the synopsis and maybe the first page or two. If it grabs my attention, I buy it, whether the reviews are good or bad or in between.

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  22. Sometimes, Jody, there is a tension between a desire to encourage and promote authors and maintaining authentic reviews for review bloggers. That is why I am particular about noting when I am endorsing a book. As you know there is a difference between a review and an endorsement.

    Interestingly, I have found that the closer I am to an author in a sense it is easier to write a negative review. At least the author knows me and hopefully, understands I have reason for my comments and that I am not being spiteful! In fact, I have just posted a less than stellar review for an author I love to read. While I hate doing that, I have an obligation to be honest about my opinion and I have a desire to maintain credibility as a reviewer.

    I also have other avenues on my blog for the author promotion side of what I do - character spotlights, author interviews, preview posts and more. Just because I haven't enjoyed a book it doesn't mean others won't!

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  23. I should add that the overwhelming majority of authors have accepted my 'negative' reviews graciously which only makes me think more highly of them and be willing to readtheir subsequent books :)

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  24. I'm so glad to have read your article and the comments. I must admit, as an author, I do not look forward to receiving poor reviews (fortunately, I haven't - yet!) but I want any reviews of my novels to be honest. How else will I learn to improve my story telling, or know if I have improve?

    I have read the works of other authors and if I feel compelled to write a review, I am honest but not unkind. I can always find something positive to say, although what I don't say is perhaps more significant. If I give a dishonest glowing review to a flawed book, it will affect my credibility as a writer. If I cannot recognize poor writing or plot construction in another writer's work, how can I prevent it from occurring in my own?

    Thank you!

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  25. Almost always I will read a book based on a friend or family member's opinion!

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