A lot has happened since the release of Gold Fever, and in this post I'd like to detail what I've learned about the post-launch of my book and where I plan on going.
The initial response to Gold Fever's release was exciting. I have a big family who really came through in supporting me. Some friends also contributed by buying it. I am so thankful that they all helped me out! But then came a problem that I believe many self-published writers face: Getting readers they don't personally know.
I already detailed how Amazon was not very helpful in my previous log, and that hurt my chances. Thankfully the situation was fixed (A month later), but it still hurt Gold Fever in the end. The initial listing is the most important time to get your book out there, because it has a temporary visibility. If you don't capitalize fast enough, your author and book rank start to plummet, and visibility becomes non-existent on Amazon. I assume it's similar on the other big sites.
Twitter proved to be completely useless in "Pushing the product", so to speak. Building up to the book release, I managed to double my follower count, but the result made no difference. I got one retweet and one like after doing every hashtag I could think of, and doubling my follower count. The problem? Well, as a friend of mine likes to put it, "On twitter, everyone's selling and no one's buying." - I tend to agree, especially after this. The author community seems to be a bunch of people following each other on twitter, but what incentive do they have to buy other people's products? Think about it. What kind of sense does it make for someone to go and make a twitter account to push their product, only to spend a bunch of time and money on other people's things? It's a silly concept, and counter-productive. I think where twitter really helps is if you already have a big following. That way you can interact with fans and promote to people who actually want what you've created.
From most people's perspectives, I'm a nobody author. I'm not saying this from lack of confidence, I'm just being realistic. I need to turn that image around.
So I set out to get reviews on Amazon. After all, they could be invaluable in getting sales and boosting my visibility, right? My first plan of attack was finding a list of websites that accepted review copies of books in exchange for an honest review. This was a slow process and I only ended up reaching out to six sites. I got one response, which didn't sound like they were too interested in my genre, and they eventually stopped emailing back.
I next tried a site which listed individual blogs that tended to read Fantasy stories and review them honestly in exchange for a free copy. The big difference here was that these were smaller blogs compared to the ones I reached out to before, and the format in which they were listed made it much easier to contact them. From this list, I ended up reaching out to 35 people. I had to cut some out because they either wanted very specific genres (AKA didn't belong on this list), or I didn't get the vibe that they would enjoy my sub genre (Dark Fantasy).
It was quite a long process making these requests believe it or not. It sounds simple, sure, but if you want people to actually read your book, it's my opinion that you should research them a bit before making the request. Each person has their own preferences. For instance, some of the bloggers immediately delete your email if you send the digital file of your book to them before they agree to read it. I thought this was a little silly at first, but one blogger brought up the point that from their perspective, they're receiving an attachment from someone they don't know. They want to be sure you're legit (Through Amazon/B&N etc.) before accepting anything. Makes sense when you think about it.
Of the 35 requests made, I have gotten seven responses. Four bloggers accepted, and three declined. It's been about a week and a half since I made the bulk of my requests. That's a 20% response rate, and 11% success rate. I wasn't that surprised though; in my research of each of these bloggers, I found out that most of them are insanely busy with their backlog of books to read. The world of self-publishing is a crowded one, and everyone wants a review. I should have immediately realized this considering you as the author are expected to give what you worked tirelessly on away for free. I experienced this a lot back when I made video games too. In that industry, it's difficult getting people to even play free games if you're a relative unknown.
Most of the bloggers who were kind enough to respond also informed me that due to their schedule, it would be months, not weeks, before they'd be able to read or post a review. To be clear, I'm just happy to have new readers, but I couldn't just sit around in the meantime. I decided to look further into promotion options.
It was then that I realized the world of book promotion was like one big gamble, where the players are unlikely to win, but it is possible.
Before we get into what I found out, a brief warning: If you have no budget outside of "Free" for post-release of your book, don't bother with anything I discuss here. I found out quickly that not only are getting promotions difficult, they're insanely expensive too!
The first and foremost recommended book promotion site that I came across was BookBub. They have many readers signed up to receive emails promoting bargain or even free books. It may not sound that exciting, but the results are there and almost always reported by authors to increase sales dramatically. So what's the catch? Because I don't know if you noticed yet, but there are no easy ways when it comes to book promotion if your some unknown indie. There are two catches:
1. It's difficult to get accepted by BookBub. They don't generally list how or why they choose certain books, but most believe it's linked to reviews. The rumor going around is that if you don't have at least 20 Amazon reviews, they'll reject you. I have four >___>.
2. It's expensive. Here's a list of prices depending on what you charge for the book promotion and your genre. Unless you've written a very niche book that's free, BookBub is going to cost you big-time.
So hidden behind a large paywall, and they expect you to somehow be well-known (Isn't that a big reason for promotions? To get yourself out there????). I wasn't deterred, though. My goal is to get the 20 reviews needed and get on BookBub. The way I see it, this method is legitimate because of how difficult it is. As most of you probably know, if it were easy, everyone would do it.
I found various other sites like BookGorilla and Fussy Librarian, but they too have minimum standards for reviews. My closest goal is Fussy Librarian, which requires you to reach 10 Amazon reviews before they'll allow you to promote through their site.
So in true "Never ending cycle" form, I came back to my original question: How to I get reviews? Because I need reviews if I want to promote, but if I want to get reviews, I could really use a promotion.
Enter: Paid Reviews
Oi, this is bound to make some authors angry, just mentioning it. The thing is, this market I'm in is so incredibly over saturated that there are sites that say not only do you need to give a free copy of your blood, sweat, and tears work, but you also need to pay them. Based on this principle alone, I've seen many authors get up in arms about the idea, and I can certainly understand why.
Yet, I don't care how obnoxious it is. I want Gold Fever to succeed, and reviews are in short supply. As long as it's an honest review, I don't necessarily care if I had to pay just to get someone to consider reading it. That's where you really enter a gray area, though. If I'm paying a person to read my book, is it an illegitimate review by default? I think the answer varies depending on the site you use. Here are my experiences:
One site I would constantly hear about when researching potential bloggers to read my book was NetGalley. This site specializes in getting ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) to reviewers before a book's launch. It also specializes in recently released books. Gold Fever falls under the latter category, so I decided to check it out. I found out that there was a high cost for the opportunity to list your book on their site. Their cheapest option is $450, which is steep. I decided to check around and see what people's experiences were with it. The results, to say the least, were mixed. One man got all the bells and whistles (Paid over $1,000) and ended up getting 250(!) reviews. But for every story like that, I'd hear one about how for their high investment, the author would be greeted with only a couple of reviews by the end of the promotion, and some of them negative too.
The biggest problem with Netgalley that I could find was that readers on there tend to take too much on their plate. They'll select too many books to read, then don't end up reviewing some. For this reason, author's hopes can be raised by seeing a high download count, only to have them dashed by no reviews to come.
For something so uncertain, I didn't want to spend $450. It is probably the most legitimate paid review site out there, because the fee is just to list your book. You're not paying anyone directly to read/review it. There are also a few other options to potentially get on Netgalley for cheaper. This is done through co-ops: IBPA, which charges a membership fee, then charges you $199 to list on Netgalley (Shakes out to over $320). There's also Xpresso Book Tour, which focuses on marketing your book for you, and includes a listing on Netgalley as a bonus. The drawback to these two co-op methods is that you have a lot less control and visibility than doing it through Netgalley directly. So far, I've opted not to list on Netgalley, but I'm still considering. If you're ready to make a pricey gamble, it could end up being worthwhile for you, though.
Through my research, I ended up finding some alternatives to Netgalley. One that I ended up trying is called Reading Deals. For $79-129, the site guarantees at least 10 Amazon reviews. Like Netgalley, you don't pay them to review directly, but rather for the opportunity to reach their reviewers/readers. If I don't receive 10 reviews, I get my money back. I only signed up for this last week, so I have no idea if it's any good or not. Searching around, I found that although the results aren't speedy, they are there. I'll have to update on this one later, but in an effort to reach my 10 review minimum (To get on Fussy Librarian), I really hope this one comes through.
I also came across some other paid review sites:
1. USA Book Reviewers - I'm not sure if these guys are legit or not. It's tough searching some of these sites out. What's interesting about them is that they offer a free review option. It doesn't guarantee anything like the paid option of course, but according to them, they have 150+ reviewers ready to read a book, and at a minimum, four of them will pick the book up to read if you pay. I am not sure what the legitimacy of this is. Technically, it sounds like you're paying them to read, not review the book. The site claims that whether the readers leave an Amazon review is up to the individual. An interesting caveat. I'm close to trying these guys. Will update with more info later on.
2. SPR (Self-Publishing Reviews) - This one is interesting. All options are pricey, but it appears to be a combination of promotion and reviews. Depending on your payment amount, they guarantee a certain amount of reviews and tout that they'll increase your seller's rank as long as you listen to their advice. This can include changing the blurb of the book and even what genre you post it in. They make it sound like they have access to Amazon's algorithms, and that it plays a big factor, so that's interesting. I've heard mixed things about these guys, but it's difficult to find a lot of info. They have a generic sounding name, so googling is practically useless. Seeing as the minimum price is over $200, I wasn't excited at first, but the prospect of promotion and reviews, while also a guarantee that they'll come in within a month is pretty exciting. They even have their reviewers buy your book, rather than giving it to them for free... although I'm not sure how I feel about paying someone to buy my book...
3. Big List of Reviewer/Promotion sites - So obviously I haven't researched everything just yet. There's so much out there, and I have to be careful of scams. What's nice is that some authors have done a lot of research on this themselves. The above link will give you many ideas, but no definite answers. I encourage everyone to do their own research on whether these things work.
In the meantime, I found another list of reviewers who claimed to enjoy fantasy. I've started to go through it, but cross-referencing previous bloggers that I've already asked is really slowing things down. I've already accidentally asked someone a second time if they'd be interested in my book! Oh well, at least there's another 300 or so blogs to look through additionally.
Going forward, I'll give strong consideration to some of these paid sites before I try any promotions. Most have me blocked out anyway, but there are some other options. I recently found out that there are many folks ready to promote for cheap on fiverr. It's a long shot, but I've seen a few promising ideas, and they don't cost much. One popular podcast is even offering an ad spot for $25. I may go with them because they have hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
I'll continue to reach out to bloggers in the hopes that I can get some new readers/reviewers. Even though a lot of this post made it sound hopeless, believe it or not, I find the marketing of books to be a more hopeful crusade than it was when I tried video games. It feels like I'm getting close to the answers I need, and once I clear that hurdle, my momentum will keep me going.
So here's to 10 reviews!
Next time I'll post a log about Gold Fever's upcoming sequel, which I'm 14 chapters into. Lots to talk about there!