I wanted to write a bit of a special announcement this week. I have officially signed a contract with eLectio Publishing for my Christian humor/devotional book, John in the John (a daily reader meant to be left in the bathroom.) You can learn more about it at http://johninthejohn.my-free.website/ as well as potentially contribute a piece for the second installment (it was always planned to be a series).
The book should hopefully be out near the end of the year and I’m actively looking for about 30 contributing stories for #2: Gospels in the John (the website has a sample of the kind of writing I’m looking for and other guidelines).
I’ve written before about how critical of a role reviews play for authors—especially on Amazon.com which is responsible for well over half of a typical author’s online sales. That said, it can seem like a devastating blow when a review suddenly disappears. It happens. It happens often enough that there has been much written about it. That doesn’t change that fact that it feels like a kick in the nuts when it happens—especially when you practically had to bleed in order to get a few reviews in the first place (it’s difficult as an indie author—don’t be fooled by all those ads on facebook claiming to make you rich by submitting your unsolicited manuscript).
Tracey Cooper Posey does a pretty good job over at her blog of summarizing the history behind why Amazon enacted some rules to keep the integrity of book reviews relatively intact (http://tracycooperposey.com/amazon-reviews-being-deleted/) as a response to some massive TOS violations (I even remember this happening around the time of my first novel release).
Here are four reasons why your Amazon reviews might get pulled down.
They came from friends and family. You’re not supposed to get biased reviews and so anything obviously coming from a friend or relation will get yanked.
They all came from the same location. Amazon isn’t stupid—if all of your reviews come from the same IP address they are going to jump to conclusions and assume foul play.
They were too vague. Generic or bland reviews are often an indicator of purchased reviews which can be copied and pasted onto literally any book—they don’t really sway opinion and aren’t helpful to customers and so Amazon pulls them.
They were purchased. Straight-up against the rules and unethical… water gets murky when you start asking “what do you consider ‘buying’ a review?”
Perhaps the best course of action is to ensure that you circumvent having your reviews flagged by Skynet’s terminator algorithms. Here are four tips to that effect.
Maintain a line of separation with readers. Authors should get an “author page” for facebook to keep a boundary. Sometimes the amazon death robots troll the waters of social media to see if any of your reviewers like/follow your personal profiles so that they can go and zap reviews and kill your hopes and dreams. (It may be part of a plan to force writers to utilize Amazon Author Central.)
Add a disclaimer to your reviews/make sure your reviewers do as well if they are getting a free copy. It helps point out that this was a requested review and notes that some kind of relationship has occurred in the process of obtaining a review/putting a book in a reviewers hands.
Be careful what you’re linked to (understand what Amazon considers “financial compensation.”) If you’ve purchased a gift card through your account as part of a give-away and the winner buys your book Amazon will take down any resulting reviews assuming it was a kick-back. You can’t buy them a copy of the book for the same reasons.
It has gotten tricky because Amazon is sometimes takes a hard line when it comes to defining “financial compensation.” If you send a copy of a physical book after a review as a thank-you those reviews sometimes come down. If you gave money to a charity to help a blind cat with mange that was featured in an Alanis Morisette television commercial and your reviewer once bought an Alanis album, it might come down. Yes. Sometimes they are that draconian.
Backup your more authoritative reviews (from well-known reviewers/services, etc.) under the editorial review section of your author central profile. This doesn’t necessarily help with your star/review rating but it preserves them and puts it front and center for browsing readers.
For your peace of mind it might be best if you seek reviews as ardently as possible but not read them closely. If you’ve ever gotten a 1 or 2 star review you will know what I’m talking about. From what I’ve gathered online, it may also be wise not to poke a sleeping bear. I’ve read stories from authors who sat through hours with Amazon customer service only to stop after threats of having their books banned and dropped from the site for questioning their authority… kinda like giving an M4 and a license to kill to a power-mad mall security guard. I’ve had my own issues with amazon customer service and would recommend seeking new reviews rather than chasing down old ones that the amazon demons dragged off in the middle of the night—after all, your next biggest fan is right around the corner.
Rae Else’s Descendants was a quality read and I found it intriguing and engaging. It has a Percy Jackson kind of flair (which I noticed especially in the buildup of the main character,) but this world views the gifting of powers as more of a type of curse than a gift (kind of like how Marvel Comics has happy super-powered people like Spiderman but then it’s also got all of the X titles with its signature mutant characters… As much as I love Spidey, I’m more of an X-men fan than any other title, so I may have been genetically predispositioned to like this book.) Within the first few chapters there’s a great scene that drives home the severity of the situation (El is talking to her grandmother who also had a “gift/power” but chose instead to lose her eyes rather than live with it.
Characterization is great and writing is tight. Honestly, one of the things that made me want to review this ARC (it’s not quite out yet) was the cover. It all just seemed right—and when an author has everything coming together like this it’s a book that’s sure to do well. (and it promises to have more future releases by its subtitle: Book one in the Arete Series).
As far as genre goes, this title is urban fantasy which has an ever present and growing demand (think fantastic elements also present, but perhaps hidden from most, within the real world ya silly muggle.) It really does have a Percy Jackson twist, but with a more Twilight tone.
You will have to wait until April 12 to get a copy (but should be able to preorder). I received a prerelease ARC for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. You can get your own copy on Amazon.
Worked pretty hard and hit it hard on Monday… then life wouldn’t seem to ease up and so I didn’t write in my new novel until the weekend. I did, however, manage to take away some time for discussions with a publisher regarding one of my projects (a legit traditional publishing house who is registered through the CSPA). In fact, I had multiple contract offers previously for the manuscript I had pitched… eventually turning those publishers down in favor of waiting for a better one to come along. I’ll make an announcement later when/if I sign the contract. (I’ve written about shady contract protocol before and bad precedents set by publishers in the POD era).
That said, I’d best be cautious not to over-commit my time this week. I’m hoping for another chapter in WotT2, but I may need to spend some time working on readying a manuscript and revising the illustrations for it.
Who Knew is one of those books that intrigued me at concept and kept all its promises. Christine Andola has strong and tight writing and I found it engaging as she mixes anecdotal (and mostly personal) stories in an engaging way to transmit life wisdom. As I read I had a vision of Barney and Ted from How I Met Your Mother… at one point they reach a level of drunkenness where they get super wise but are still very funny—that was my perception. Deep wisdom with humor.
I don’ know how old the author is (at least in her forties), but I can corroborate many of her experiences and takeaways as she communicates these great truths, (like “Not everybody wants to be your friend” and “bonding and bondage sound similar for good reasons.”)
Late in the book she mentions a bit of disdain for self-help style books. This book isn’t one of those. It’s more like a “how not to suck at life” advice manual from someone who ‘s already been there and done that.” It was also an easy read and kind of perfect to leave in a bag and read segments on a commute, etc. I’d recommend this one, even though I’m not a big reader of nonfiction for entertainment purposes. (I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review).
Last week I set a goal of simply writing the next chapter which I had just barely started. I took my laptop with to a few appointments and half of them stood me up giving me some free time to write. I hit my goal and then wrote another chapter over the weekend while my wife was out with friends. Then I just kept going and started a third chapter… a big one. I’m hoping to finish this chapter this week (my new goal) but if I can write two, even better. I think I need to write about a chapter and a half each week to finish it on the timeline I’m hoping for.
I’ve also got pretty good headway on Wolves of the Tesseract: Taking of the Prime, a prequel comic book I’m developing with some talented artists overseas. I still want to have it available in early May for a comicon. We might make it. I’ll have to see. Expect seeing a possible kickstarter to help me defray the costs of having a couple thousand comicbooks printed. I’ve just got one thing to say. It’s. Really. Good.
For all that I do to pitch books to a live studio audience, I have not done much by the way of book signings… primarily because of a lack of success in my early history with it. Most of those were smaller independent stores in non-metropolitan communities (I haven’t always been the font of self-confidence I am today.) I wanted to change that and while I was booking an event late fall in MN’s capital, St. Paul I contacted the local Barnes & Nobles in the hopes that I could possibly get in to double up on my promo travel dollars. No dice… but mainly because of other bookings, a snafu with my publisher’s listings within Ingram that didn’t have my title listed as returnable at that time (even to this day, the monkeys with typewriters have its size listed incorrectly and we can’t seem to get it corrected.)
After some pleasant conversation and asking for a referral from one manager at a store I used to frequent in my college days I was talking with the right person (that’s always key) – you want to talk to their Community Business Development Manager, or CRM. I set up a date and time to call her in a month to revisit the conversation and verified with my publisher that the changes were setup within Ingram’s catalogue before calling her back. We set a date for a few months down the road and I did some cross-promotion for the event at local cons and outlets (not many showed up from those efforts, but as a principle I try to interact with genre specific crowds to stay current and relevant—just don’t spam people with advertisements: two people actually recognized me as an upcoming guest from a huge Comicon two months from now, so that was cool.)
I knew I wanted to learn as much as I could to help me secure more bookings for my own success, but also to share with my readers and spread success. I picked the brains of two store managers and asked for honest feedback on what I did during my two hour timeslot in the store. My articles about pitching to buyers and browsers during conventions, festivals, and fairs turned out to all be accurate and relevant. “Basically, everything you did was perfect and the prime example of what we want to see,” the manager told me as I wrapped up my roller bag with promo tools inside. “Too many authors come in and sit at the table expecting people to stop, but they don’t. You engaged our customers and that is the number one thing.”
As I mulled over my thoughts, I was glad that I didn’t appear too ostentatious. My voice travels, especially when I’m adding enthusiasm or excitement to my voice—which I always do when I’m pitching my books. Deep down I was scared that they might prefer authors to remain hands off, but realized after his feedback that they bought a bulk order of my books and now own them. They want my help selling them so that they can make a profit (literally, they get more money per book then I do as the author—that’s how it sometimes works.) It makes sense that they want a free salesman to help move units. I thought the whole experience over on the long drive home and compiled a list of Ten Things to keep in mind when doing a Barnes and Nobles book signing:
DO NOT use your chair. I didn’t sit down one during the signing. I’ve said this a bunch of times before. “Nobody buys books from you if you’re sitting unless it’s in a wheelchair.” The manager agreed my insight.
Everybody eavesdrops. Be excited and boisterous when you explain your book to someone. It may pull in other potential buyers (even if your first customer wanders away.) About a third of my sales were to people who came over because they overheard me describing a book to someone else and it intrigued them.
Be Visual/Be Seen. The manager appreciated the fact that I had professional, quality banners and signage that helped point out the event to customers (remember, THEY WANT YOU TO SELL A TON OF BOOKS!) Marketing materials are worth their weight in coin—and the best part is that they are usually reusable. Invest wisely in this area.
Ask for feedback. Not only does it keep you humble and teachable but it strokes the ego of a manager. Helping make this or her day better is never a bad idea. Remember that you are there to help them sell books, not bolster your own self-worth. It’s a valid trade: you help them with a little slave labor and you receive some platform building/marketing clout in exchange. During your signing, mentally tell yourself that you work for them—so ask them how you can best meet their needs.
Don’t make assumptions about the store or the staff. It should go without saying, but remember, the lesson above. It’s okay to ask for specific boundaries so you don’t accidentally break a local policy, etc.
Don’t MAKE DEMANDS. Manager told me how many authors ask for a different location because they think it will put them in contact with more people/better visibility. Understand that they probably put you somewhere specific for a reason and are likely more familiar with what makes a successful event in their store than you are. Be grateful. They didn’t have to let you come and don’t have to let you return.
Start random conversations! I often look for ways to engage someone. I saw an eleven year old in a Marvel Heroes shirt walking nearby and asked him who his favorite hero was. We bonded, he looked at my books, and became my biggest fan. His dad bought two of my four books. Sometimes I even catcall to people who try not to look at me because they don’t want to engage in conversation, are in a rush, etc. I’ll say “Hey!” and then something weird (but not inappropriate) and say in an awkward voice “Oh no! I was trying not to get suckered into a conversation with that guy by avoiding eye contact and now I’m stuck—somebody help me!” If you make someone laugh, sometimes they come back. Sometimes they even buy books—just don’t be dumb about it. Engage someone like a friend, not a crusty circus carnie. The key word is engage, not alienate.
DO MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT CUSTOMERS (but don’t ever, ever, ever tell them that.) When someone is carrying a similar genre title in the store it gives you a hint about their preferences (It’s not always right—it could be a gift—but hedge your bet it’s for them). The same goes for dress and appearance. People usually have a type. We’re all walking billboards for personal preferences—we just need to learn how to read them. Are they wearing a Final Fantasy T-shirt or have a Pikachu tattoo on their neck or sport an Ash Ketchum hat? Your historical fiction book may not be the best fit and if he is about to walk by at the same time as an older woman with bifocals who is carrying Killing Lincoln, I know who I’m going to try to engage. If you turn out to be wrong in your guesses, it’s usually enough to backtrack and take a new angle.
Connect with people. People are only half-buying your book because they think it will be good. The other 50% is because they are sold on you. They are literally paying for this hunk of ink and paper because they met you and felt that an interaction with the author was worth an added value. Don’t discount the relationship opportunities! It’s why you’re in the store so make every effort to connect with people. Give them reasons to become fans instead of customers.
Believe in yourself. Don’t be timid. The store CRM probably vetted you and your book at least to some degree… they went as far as to purchase some books, so they’ve invested in this thing because they believe in you. All those people coming through the doors? most of them came with money and the intent to buy a good read. Is your book good? Then sell it! It’s got to be good or you wouldn’t be at the store trying to pimp your story for nickels and 5-star reviews. If you’re afraid it’s sub-par then it was never ready for release and you need to pull it from the shelves, go back to editing, and not let it back into the wild until it’s got teeth. You need believe this book is the story that these people need to read. It’s your story. It’s the best story. They came to buy—so make sure you don’t deprive them of the greatest thing they’re going to read this year. You got this.
A few bonus ideas for the uninitiated.
– Have the customer purchase the book before you sign it. I learned the hard way that sometimes people will bail at the register or will have forgotten their wallet and then you have a personalized piece of merchandise that will never sell.
-Whatever you do, own it… just don’t be cocky, though. You’re probably doing these events because you’re not making six digits off your writing right now. If you did make a killing last year, feel free to disregard everything here and do your own thing. That’s cool… and email me what you’re doing so I can learn.
-Send a thank you to follow up.
At the end of my slot the manager told me I was welcome back any time. I also asked him for any outlets, stores, or people I ought to contact next. Don’t underestimate name-dropping or honest advice. I hope this article helps you. If you have any other insights, please leave them in the comments!
Adam takes place in a not-too distant world full of androids, FTL travel, and teenage bullies. Adam is unlike the other boys and the story is one of self-discovery as he travels beyond the orphanage he’s grown up within only to discover that there is a power within that is not common to mankind.
I did feel like Adam was pretty mopey at times. But I suppose I would be too if I grew up in an orphanage and accidentally killed people more often than I wanted (even if they maybe have it coming.) The artificially intelligent androids were perhaps the best part, in my opinion. They were decidedly less asmovian and perhaps a more humanized version of ST:TNG’s Lt. Data (not necessarily in appearance, but in the way they think and “feel”… it was nuanced well.)
Some of the existing reviews indicate it is an adult fiction book but it has a distinctly YA feel to the voicing and it felt one part A.I. and one part Ender’s Game.
Success! I hit my goals (but not my secret goal which was to actually write an extra chapter atop of my normal goal.) I got halfway through the next chapter. Finishing that chapter will by goal again this week as a minimum and we’ll see how far I get.
Beyond that I’m working on an audio recording for another novelist at the request of my publisher. It has many German words and lots of pronunciations to keep straight. I ought to try and get two more chapters out of that this week, too. Plus my article for the paper.
I received some great sample pages from my artists, too. A good chunk of the work is done on Wolves of the Tesseract: Taking of the Prime. The comic ought to be done in time for WizardWorld Comicon, but I’m not certain I’ll have copies printed and in hand, yet, but the art is amazing.