Showing posts with label advice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label advice. Show all posts

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Indie Author Advice Series #6- How to Make the Most of Read for Review Programs

Every author needs reviews to build up the credibility and buzz for their books. Without reviews, other readers are less likely to take a chance and buy your book. But how do you convince people to read your books before they have very many reviews? And how do you ensure that those who do read your books will leave reviews for them? I’ve found one of the fastest and easiest ways to get early reviews is by using something called “Read For Review”. These are also commonly referred to as “Read to Review”, “RtR”, “R4R”, “Read it and Reap”, and many other creative names thought up by the moderators of Goodreads groups.

In this post I’ll discuss what Read For Review programs are, how they can help you get honest reviews, how to schedule and manage them, and where you can find them!

1) What is a “Read For Review”?

Read For Reviews are programs where you offer free ebook or paperback (I prefer ebook as it’s easier and cheaper) copies of your book to readers in exchange for their honest reviews.

2) How Read For Review programs can help you get honest reviews

Before your book has reviews, most readers are unlikely to take a chance on it. Can you blame them? Do you often buy books that don’t have many reviews? I know I don’t. It’s too easy to waste your money on a poorly written, poorly edited book that some random person has slapped together and self-published. But your book is good, you might say. Your beta readers said so, and maybe your early readers, too. That’s the dilemma many new Indie authors are facing. Unfortunately a well-written synopsis and tempting book cover are usually not enough to attract the attention of the readers who might fall in love with your book. Reviews, however, are the key, and Read For Reviews can help you get them.

I know, I know, giving away free copies of your book doesn’t seem fair. After all, you’ve spent countless hours writing, editing, re-writing, revising, formatting, and publishing your book…and you’re just supposed to give it away?

YES! That’s exactly what you’ve got to do. But it’s not for free—it’s in exchange for a review, which at the early stages of your career are worth much more than the small royalty you’ll get from selling it for $0.99 or $2.99. Trust me, I’ve given away hundreds of ebooks through Read For Review programs, and each review, even the negative ones which I use to improve my books/writing, has really paid off.

And you can even request that the reviewers cross-post their reviews on Amazon, as well as Goodreads, which is HUGE. Amazon reviews are even more elusive than Goodreads ones, so getting early reviews up on Amazon will have an even larger impact on your sales.

3) How to schedule and manage your Read For Reviews

It sounds easy, right? You just offer up some free ebooks and provide them to the readers who sign up. That simple. Not exactly. There are a lot of things to think about when planning and managing your Read For Reviews, things that can have a large impact on how successful they are.

How many copies to give out

I’ve seen most authors give out between 10 and 25 ebooks per Read For Review. Personally, I give out as many copies as I can, so I usually offer 25 ebooks. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to give away 25 copies. It’s harder than you might think to give away books these days. Why? Because there are A LOT of people trying to do just the same thing, and readers know it’s a big responsibility to have to read and review a book within a set timeframe. In some cases, you might have a really successful RtR and get rid of all 25 copies and still have readers requesting to participate. It’s a judgment call, but I usually will increase the number of copies available until everyone’s received one. In one case this meant I gave away 50 ebooks of Fire Country, but it was well worth it for all the reviews!

How many Read For Reviews to sign up for

As many as possible! Honestly, the more reviews the better is my motto. And the buzz created by each one, combined with the resulting reviews, can have a large impact. Remember, you’re looking to get your book out to the potentially thousands of readers in your target market, so giving away a few hundred may just be a drop in the bucket. I’ve offered 25 copies of The Moon Dwellers to 12 different Read For Review programs. Twice. That’s right, I scheduled them when I released the book, and then a year later, I scheduled them all AGAIN. A lot happens in a year, and those who weren’t interested in reading and reviewing your book the first time might have heard good things about it and decide to participate the second time around.

Selecting the Read For Reviews to sign up for

Especially on Goodreads, there are plenty of groups that have Read For Review programs. But that doesn’t mean they’re all the right ones for your book. Choosing groups that focus on your target audience/genre is the way to go. You want the readers that you wrote the book for reading it and writing your early reviews. It doesn’t make sense to join “Mystery Lovers” and sign up for their Read For Review program if your book is a Contemporary Romance. Not only will you not get a great amount of participation, but those who participate are less likely to write you very positive reviews.

Once you find the groups on Goodreads (or the book community of your choice) that fit your book, join the groups, become part of the community, and READ THE RULES for the Read For Review program. I can’t stress this enough. Every group has different rules, and the best way to piss off the group is to break them. So read the rules and follow them, and sign your book up.

Timing

Sometimes you have control over timing, and sometimes not. It just depends, but the earlier you sign up, the more flexibility you usually have. For example, I scheduled my Read For Reviews a month before the release of The Moon Dwellers, and I managed to have 10 of them occur within the first two months after the release date. That’s a lot of healthy buzz. If I had waited until the last minute, most of those Read For Reviews would probably have been full, and I’d have to delay them for a few months.

That being said, it’s not necessarily bad to spread them out a little. It keeps the buzz going longer, and ensures a steady flow of reviews coming in. And for the more popular, established RtR programs, you might just get a spot in line 6 months or even a year down the road.

Formats available

Make ALL formats available! I cannot stress this enough. Not everyone has a Kindle. In fact, not everyone has an e-reader. So how can you expect to get much participation if half of the target readers aren’t even able to sign up because they don’t have the right devices? The easiest way to do this is to publish on Smashwords, which converts your book into ALL popular formats. That way anyone can participate, by downloading formats compatible with Kindle, Nook, iPad, or just their computers. If using Smashwords isn’t an option because you’ve signed up for KDP Select, you can still make all formats available, but you need to create the files yourself, and then e-mail them to the participants. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. There’s plenty of free software out there that can convert your MS Word document into Kindle (mobi), Nook/iPad/Kobo (epub), and pdf format. I personally use the Mobipocket Creator to create my Kindle files, and Caliber to convert to epub. There are also lots of sites that will convert to pdf for you.

Providing the books to participating readers

Most groups give you the option of having the moderator provide the free ebooks to the participants, or for you to do it yourself. Do it yourself! A Read For Review is the PERFECT chance to start connecting with your readers, and if you place a barrier (the moderator, as a  middle person) in the way, then you’ve missed a golden opportunity. Let the moderator set up the thread, notify the group, and provide the platform for participants to sign up (by providing their e-mail addresses), and then you can take it from there.

Okay, so some people have signed up for your Read For Review and provided their e-mail addresses, but what should you send them? Well, besides the book in the format they requested, you should thank them for signing up, give them a little info about you and your books, any links to things like your social networking sites or fan groups, and a REQUEST THAT THEY REVIEW ON AMAZON. In case my bold capital letters didn’t highlight it for you, I can’t stress enough how important this is. It’s great to get reviews on Goodreads, but Amazon reviews are far more important, as that’s where new readers will actually buy your books. So don’t miss this golden opportunity to get some more reviews on Amazon.

Responding to reviews

Once you’ve provided the copies of the books to the participants, the reviews will start pouring in, and generally the participants will provide a link to their reviews in the RtR thread. What do you do for a 5 star review, or for a 1 star review? Or something in the middle? My advice: essentially do the same thing! Thank them for their review and feedback, even if you don’t agree with it. Do not argue with negative comments, nor contact the negative reviewers. It will only make you look bad. Don’t get frustrated with negative reviews; I did this once, and it was a huge mistake, and I was wrong in doing so. Focus on the positive ones, because they’re your future readers.

4) Where you can find Read For Reviews

Now that you’ve got all the information to plan and execute a successful Read For Review, where can you find these magical programs? I’ve only used two sites for these, but I’m sure there are many more.


My personal favorite method of giving away free ebooks in exchange for reviews is through Goodreads groups. You can search for various groups HERE. Remember, after you find a group that fits your book, check to see if they have a Read For Review program, or contact one of the moderators to ask. If they don’t, move on to another group. If they do, read the rules and get your book signed up!

I’ve personally conducted dozens of Read For Reviews for Angel Evolution, The Moon Dwellers, and Fire Country on various Goodreads YA groups, and I’ve had a lot of success in doing so. If your book is for adults, you’ll have to do a bit of searching to find the best groups to choose (as I have no experience with adult groups), but if your book is for young adults, here’s a list of the groups I’ve used in the past:

-David Estes Fans and YA Book Lovers Unite! Yes, this is my official fan group, but it’s also a growing YA group with more than 1,800 members! Our Read to Review program has great participation, and you’ll undoubtedly get some reviews!

-Shut up & Read- 6,500+ members, an adult group that has lots of YA book lovers in it. But beware, the waiting list for this group’s read for review program is exceptionally long!

-We Love YA Books- 5,000+ members, YA only

-The Nexus- 1,000+ members, also an adult group with good YA participation

-Basically Books- 1,500+ members, adult group with lots of YA readers

-Never Too Old for YA/NA Books- 6,000+ members, YA and NA books only

-Making Connections (6,000+ members, an adult group) and Making Connections-YA Edition (1,500+ members, YA only)

-Young Adult Reads- 2,500+ members, YA only

-YA Apocalyptic and Dystopian Fiction- 1,500+ members, YA, only if your book fits these genres

-The YA Dystopian Book Club- 2,000+ members, only if your book fits the genre

These are just the examples of the groups I’ve used for my Read For Reviews, but I’m sure there are many many more you can find!


The LibraryThing.com Member Giveaway program is a place where you can offer up to 100 copies (ebook or paperback) of your book to readers for free. Members sign up with their e-mail address and then you send them the book. When you sign up you can request a review in exchange for the free book, but there is no guarantee you’ll get one for each book you giveaway. But I wouldn’t worry too much about that, the exposure will help you find new readers either way!

I hope you all found this helpful! Happy reading and writing, and always feel free to ask me any specific questions about Read For Reviews or anything at all!
 
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Monday, 9 December 2013

Indie Author Advice Series #5- All About Beta Readers

As any writer knows, you can only improve your work by obtaining constructive and unbiased feedback on your writing. The only problem is that finding the right people to read for you is easier said than done! I talk about my AWESOME beta team (shout out to you ten incredible people, you know who you are!) a lot, and so I regularly get asked by Indie authors how I find my beta readers. Hopefully this post will answer that question and a lot more. Remember, there are a million different ways to constructive a quality beta team, but this is the approach that’s led to my team. I’ll break it down by answering three common questions: 1) How many beta readers should I have? 2) How do I find beta readers? 3) What do I ask my beta readers to do?

1) How many readers should you have?

This is a very personal decision and really depends on the readers. If you can get three or four really amazing, experienced, detail-oriented beta readers, then that might be enough for you. However, for me, I prefer a larger team, eight to ten, for a couple of reasons.

First, people get busy, and they may not always have time to read for you, so it’s good to have backups. Plus, eventually people might just get tired of doing it. Beta reading is exhausting work, especially for my readers, who usually get a new manuscript every two months. Finding replacements is NOT easy, so I like to have plenty of readers available.

Second, I’ve found that even with a team of ten beta readers, everyone brings something different to the table. I’ve got a beta reader who’s extremely logical and is fantastic at poking holes in my plots and the worlds I create. No one else asks the same hard questions as him. Another of my readers sees the big picture really well, and is great at honing in on why a character isn’t as likeable as they should be. A few others push me to the boundaries of my imagination, to develop backstories that reach further back than I ever considered. Everyone has something to offer. I always find it so cool when I get that last piece of beta feedback, the tenth reader, and find a nugget in there that is so mind-blowing that my novel isn’t the same without it. So yeah, more readers works better for me.

That being said, there has to be a limit. At some point the feedback becomes unmanageable and comments start to contradict each other and you end up being more confused than you were before. My limit is ten readers, and I rarely see conflicting comments. Trends always emerge and I know where to focus. It’s my magic number. Yours might be different. Experiment with it. If you try eight readers and it’s too overwhelming, decrease the number of readers the next time. If you use three readers and you don’t feel you get enough constructive feedback or substance to properly revise your manuscript, add a few readers. Your team should be a fluid, changing, always improving creature.

2) How do I find beta readers?

Ah, the question I get the most. Well, it’s not exactly a science, although there are some criteria you absolutely need in your beta readers:

-They need to be honest and unbiased. Does that mean you can’t know them? Not necessarily, as long as they’re willing to give you the hard, honest feedback you need. I’d generally (I say “generally” because my wife, Adele, is one of my best beta readers—she’s brutally honest and saves me from myself all the time!) steer clear of close friends and family members though, there’s something inherently biased about those kinds of relationships.

-They need to have an opinion! Having someone who always says your writing is awesome is a great boost for the self-esteem, but it’s not very helpful and not usually true. All writers need improvement, no matter how good you are (or think you are). I’ve had beta readers who’d tell me every book I gave them was awesome and better than the previous one. Ummm….thanks? If I’d released my first drafts, the general public wouldn’t have been so complimentary, that’s for sure. So look for critical readers.

I know, I know, these types of honest, opinionated, unbiased people sound AWESOME, but where do you find them?

I can only speak for how I found my readers, which is on Goodreads. What I do not recommend is creating a thread that says “Help! Beta Readers Needed for a YA Paranormal Romance Novel!” Why not? You literally have no control over who might answer your call. Yes, they will likely be unbiased, potentially honest, and have very strong opinions, but who knows how reliable they’ll be. Personally, I’ve requested help from people I’ve met on Goodreads in the following three categories:

A) Friends. These are people I’ve chatted with about books and formed a friendly relationship with. There are hundreds of people I’ve met who fall into this category, but what I’m looking for are people who I’ve seen have strong opinions, who read books in my genre, and who seem to read a lot of books. People like that have worked out really well for me. About five out of my ten readers fit into this category.

B) Referrals. Occasionally I get referrals from my other beta readers or from other connections. Usually they’re people who are interested in critical reading, either because they’re English majors and looking to make a career out of it, or they just enjoy it. Either way, the referrals I’ve received have always worked out really well. Two of my ten readers fit into this category.

C) Haters. These are random critical readers who hate my early books. This is also my favorite category! This one is a bit of a wild card, but the three of my ten readers who fall into this category have worked out incredibly well for me. Two of them really disliked my debut novel, Angel Evolution, and one of them didn’t care for the first book in my second series, The Moon Dwellers, which is my most popular book. The thing is, I’ve received plenty of 1 and 2 star reviews, so how did I pick these particular three readers? (Note: I’ve literally only tried this three times, and ALL three accepted my invitation and have been on my team for over a year and read at least SEVEN of my books.)

The answer is I picked them very carefully. You have to be careful whenever you contact negative reviewers for your books. I don’t recommend doing it often, and only if your reason is unrelated to arguing or disputing their review. In this case, it was the complete opposite. I wanted to commend their reviews and offer them a spot on my team. I avoid all 1-star reviewers, because in my opinion, if someone can’t find at least one thing redeeming about my book, then they’re probably not the right reader for me anyway. I want people who are open-minded, but critical. All three of my betas in this category have been two star reviewers. The next thing I looked for were intelligent, thorough, logical reviews that made me say “Good point, I wish I’d had them as a beta for this book.” If I’m saying that while reading their NEGATIVE review (rather than getting all angry and melancholy about the bad review), then the review must be pretty constructive. Finally, I look for negative reviews that give credit to the things they DID like. I want my betas to be somewhat balanced and to tell me the things that they loved about my book as well as what they didn’t like, so that I don’t end up changing their favorite parts. What you don’t change is just as important as what you do.

So that’s how I recruit my betas! Every time I lose one (for whatever reason), I go to my list of referrals, or to my negative reviews, or to my contacts, and consider who might be the best for my team. You may find your beta readers in a completely different way though, everyone’s a little different!

Recommendation: Be sure to include your beta readers in your acknowledgments and give them credit for the help they gave you! And it’s nice to give them ARCs of your books, too, most of them will usually write you some awesome reviews before your books even hit the shelves!

3) What do I ask my beta readers to do?

Again, this is up to you. I’ve taken a few different approaches, but the longer you’re with the same team, the more it tends to become less formal. For example, at first I provided a list of questions, hitting the key areas (characters, plot, setting, beginning, ending, etc.), and asked them to answer each of my questions. But over time, I’ve essentially just told them to read my book and tell me what they liked and what they didn’t. However, here’s a solid list of the type of feedback your beta readers should be giving you:

-Characters: Is each character's voice strong, distinct, and different than the other characters? Were there any characters you didn't like, annoyed you, or frustrated you. Why? (The quickest way to kill a book is with main characters people don't like, so you want to "fix" them before you go live!)

-Beginning: Did it draw you into the story, catch your attention and make you want to keep reading?

-Pacing: Did the story move too fast, too slow, just right? Any areas you got bogged down?

-Ending: Did you like it, love it, hate it. Why?

-Plot consistency and clarity: Did the plot make sense? Were there any inconsistencies or plot holes?

-Setting: Was the setting of the story clearly described? Did it make sense?

These are several of the areas I expect my beta readers to focus in on, but they are by no means a complete list. And depending on the nature of your project, you may have additional, more specific areas you want your readers to focus on.

One final recommendation is that you ask your beta readers to be as specific as possible, including a quote from the manuscript for which the comment applies. That will make it easier for you to locate the part of the book and consider any changes required.

Thank you all for reading about how I find and work with my beta readers! I hope you found it interesting and/or helpful! Happy reading and writing, and always feel free to ask me any specific questions if you have them!!
 
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Friday, 22 November 2013

Indie Author Advice Series #4- Become an Indie Author and Get Rich Quick!

The following was originally posted on author A.B. Whelan’s blog.

The statement above is a lie, I have to admit. I only used it to get your attention. By rich I really mean relatively poor. And by quick I mean in ten to twenty years if you’re lucky, talented and a hard worker. So why am I being so negative? I’m not really, just being realistic and trying to set the many aspiring Indie writers’ expectations appropriately. Why? Because more and more people are telling me that they wrote a book and self-published in hopes of making some quick cash, becoming a bestseller, and quitting their day job. I’m not here to shatter those dreams, but I do want to put things into perspective. I’m also here to shed a little light on the question: Why is it so hard to get people to buy self-published books? And along with that, hopefully give a few tips on what I’ve done to overcome that challenge. Keep in mind, although my success has been moderate as an Indie author, everyone has a different style and what works for me may not work for you. You have to find your own niche.

Did I have big dreams when I first starting writing and publishing? You betcha! I had “bestseller” bouncing around in my head, dreams of being well known across the industry, of finding a publisher with my first novel, of quitting my job and becoming a career author! Well, three years later I’m a fulltime author, but none of the other dreams have yet to come to pass. But I’m not giving up, because I’ve gained a lot of perspective and really had time to think about why I write in the first place. It’s not for the possibility of riches or of a publishing contract or of book signings or fame or glory…no, it’s simply because I love it! I’d encourage anyone else who’s thinking about writing a book, already writing one, or having already published one, to ask yourself the same question. If your answer is anything other than you love writing, maybe you’re on the wrong track.

So you’ve written and published a book, woohoo! Success! Right? My answer is a resounding YES! You should be extremely happy, writing a novel is challenging and doing so should be considered a HUGE victory. Even if you don’t sell a single copy, you should be proud. If I sell 10 of my books and you only sell 5 of yours, does that mean mine’s better? Maybe, but not necessarily. It simply means I’ve had more success overcoming the stigma that Indie novels have. Namely, that they’re poorly edited crap that isn’t worth the $0.99 or $2.99 or whatever you pay for it. On that note, why is getting people to buy self-published novels so difficult? Here are my thoughts and solutions:

1. Problem: Editing! Everyone finds typos in novels, even big published ones. Some people roll their eyes, some people laugh and joke, others barely notice or ignore it and move on. But most published novels have few, less than a handful in a 300-400 page book. Indie novels, on the other hand, yikes! I’ve read a few that have had in the 50-100 range, sometimes more! That can be excruciatingly painful for a reader. So anytime someone picks up a self-published book somehow, somewhere, begins reading it, and finds tons of typos, there’s a good chance it’ll hurt every Indie author. Because that person’s going to say “Hmm, self-published books are poorly edited. I don’t know if I’ll read anymore.” We all suffer even though you had nothing to do with that book!

Solution: Firstly, edit edit edit…and then edit some more. Have friends read your books and give prizes for finding the most typos. Have friends of friends read them. Hire a professional copyeditor if you can afford it. Read it ten times yourself. Find every last bugger. Do us all a favor and help erase the stigma. Because when someone reads a typo-free self-published novel, they’ll say, “Wow, this had less typos than that big bestselling published book I just read!” And they’ll realize, there’s more out there than just books from the big publishing houses, so much more.

Am I just talking about typos here? Although that’s a huge part, no! There’s so much more to editing. Cleaning up dialogue, reading it out loud, thinking “would someone really say that?” Killing excessive use of adverbs, sentence structure, pacing, the list goes on and on. Edit your book to death until no one can tell it’s a self-published novel. When people start reading your book, they’ll respect you, they’ll appreciate your effort, and they’ll be much more likely to tell other people about it as well as buy your next one.

Secondly, giveaway free copies of your book! I know, I know, you’ve worked so hard and you deserve to be compensated. You just have to bite the bullet on this one. The only way to ensure people will read your book and appreciate all your hard work and your talent and the painstaking time you took to edit your novel, is to force them to read it. And if you offer it for free, it will greatly increase your chances that they will. If you giveaway ebooks it won’t cost you a thing. Maybe they’ll write you a stellar review, maybe they’ll tell a friend, maybe they’ll buy the next one. Every book you giveaway has the potential to result in real sales later on.

2. Problem: The plots of Indie novels don’t make sense! This can definitely be true sometimes. Hell, my first drafts usually have all kinds of problems! Unfortunately, many times the bugs don’t get worked out, because, well, us Indies don’t have a team of eagle-eyed editors to point out the flaws in our stories. But that’s no excuse, because it’s killing our ability to be taken seriously in the industry.

Solution: Use beta readers. Not just anyone, good ones! People you don’t know, or don’t know well. Honest people. People who would rather make you cry than let you publish something that’s not as good as it can be. People who care about your books being awesome. You can have family and friends beta read for you, but they can’t be your only beta readers, because it’s much less likely they’ll be completely honest with you. I recommend having at least ten people, but even five can make a huge difference if they’re very critical and brutally honest. I say ten because I’ve had an instance when my first nine betas had already checked in, I’d rewritten and addressed their comments, and I was just waiting on that tenth reader as a formality. To check the box and say “Yep, I got all your comments covered because the other nine said the same thing!” Guess what? That tenth person saw something that the other nine didn’t see. Something big. Something HUGE. Something that improved the story and set the plot on a path that I never would have planned, that made the series a million, zillion times better! Everyone sees different things, so take every opinion seriously.

3. Problem: There are too many Indies out there! How do I stand out? With the creation of ereaders and ebooks, self-publishing has never been easier. In less than an hour, I could create a book that contains just my name spelled backwards and forwards over and over again, publish it in print and ebook, and make it available worldwide. I swear half the people I see joining the YA book groups I’m a member of on Goodreads are new or aspiring Indie authors. I think it’s fantastic! But at the same time, it makes it hard to get noticed. This is a real problem for serious Indies looking to make a career out of writing.

Solution: Don’t be just another Indie author hawking their wares on the street. If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that NO ONE is impressed by Indie authors spamming message boards with rubbish about their books. Become a valuable part of the book community as a READER, not a writer. Show people you care about books, writing yeah, reading more, but NOT SELLING. People will notice and they will respect you, and they might give your books a shot. But if not, who cares? You might make a new lifelong friend in the process.

Don’t compare your books to other bestsellers! Your book might be a cross between The Hunger Games and Lord of the Rings, but don’t say that, please! It’s arrogant and annoying and the few people that fall for it and read your book will hate you for it if they disagree with your bold statement. However, if a major website compares your books to other series, than by all means Facebook and Tweet the links! Just be you! Unique.

The advice from the first point stands here too. If you write well-edited books and giveaway lots of free copies, you’ll start to get noticed, even amongst the crowds.

Be patient! Those who are trying to make quick money will realize how hard and competitive the publishing industry really is and they’ll give up, but if you’re serious and you keep working at it, publishing more and more books, growing your readership slowly over time, you’ll outlast the others. I’m not talking days or months here, I’m talking years. You have to be in it for the long run, looking at success ten years down the road. Every step you take today is a step in the right direction.

4. Problem: Indies can’t handle bad reviews! This is an important and often overlooked stigma. Even I worry about reading Indie novels given to me by the authors, because what if I don’t like it? Can I give my honest feedback? Will I hurt their feelings? Will they get pissed off and write me nasty messages? Sometimes it’s easier just to read the bestsellers because the authors don’t give a crap whether I like their book—there are a million other people who do!

Solution: Don’t react or respond to reviews in a negative fashion whatsoever. Many Indies have gotten themselves into a lot of hot water that way, and once you get a reputation for “reviewer bashing” you’ll never recover. If a review is mean or you think it’s unfair, write it off as bad luck that the wrong person got ahold of your book. Never lash out. If you get a review that’s well-written, balanced, and constructive, read that review ten times over, learn from it, improve from it. Your readers will appreciate that more than you throwing a tantrum.

Wow, I fear I’ve run off the virtual page. If you’ve made it this far, I hope you found my thoughts on the challenges of being a self-published author, and some of my proposed solutions, helpful or at least interesting. I wish you all the best in your writing and publishing endeavors, and remember, never give up!

Happy Reading (and Writing)!

David Estes
 

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Indie Author Advice Series #3- Surviving Negative Reviews (and maybe even learning from them!)

Guest post I wrote was originally posted on Kat Mellon's blog.

I’m a writer. I’m a writer with negative reviews. Gasp! The horror!

Not really.

Negative reviews are NO BIG DEAL. Really. I promise. No one is going to die. No countries will be bombed. No one is going to contract the bird-flu or swine-flu or any-other-animal flu and get very sick as a result of you having received a negative review.

Sounds obvious when I put it that way, but I know as well as anyone else how hard it is to survive negative reviews, particularly early on in your writing career. I used to get VERY depressed from a negative review. My debut novel, Angel Evolution, got LOTS of—let’s stop using the word ‘negative’ and call them what they really are—BAD reviews. They hurt. Each negative review hit me like a punch in the gut, knocked the breath out of me, made me very very sad. My novel was supposed to be a bestseller! I worked WAY too hard for someone to read it and sum it up in a couple of paragraphs that said what rubbish it was! I don’t even know these people and they can just judge me like that?

Pretty much.

Honest reviews are part of the writing gig. Not everyone will like your work, and some people will hate it. The sooner you realize that, the better. The other thing you have to realize is: It’s OK that people don’t like your books! In fact, it’s a good thing! If everyone told you that your books were the best thing since piƱatas all the time, you’d never grow as a writer. I learn a hell of a lot more from the constructive reviews than from the glowing positive ones. Granted, I love the positive ones because they make me happy that people like what I do and validate all my hard work, but I don’t hate the negative reviews like I used to. I accept them, glean what I can from them, and strive to constantly improve my writing.

I know, I know, easier said than done. Let’s try this. Here’s a guide for Surviving Negative (bad, horrible, painful) Reviews:

1. Don’t read them unless you’re in a good mood! If you’re already in a bad mood, and you see a 1 star review pop up, wait until later to read it. Preferably when you’ve just laughed or done something fun. You have to be in the right mindset to receive constructive feedback.

2. It’s OK to rant and rave and get a little frustrated with things that were said in a bad review. Don’t hold it inside. Talk to your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend, mother, father, whoever. Rant and rave about the review just like you would about the other frustrations in your life. It’s good to get these things off your chest.

3. Do NOT respond to the reviewer. Don’t. Just don’t. Not about any aspect of the review. Don’t thank them and say “but…” and then proceed to tell them why they are wrong. Even if you do it politely, it will NOT turn out well. Trust me. I’ve seen it happen to authors with good intentions, and they ALWAYS end up looking like the bad guy/gal.

NOTE: I have broken this rule on four occasions. However, I did it very carefully, in private, and for the right reasons. I contacted four negative reviewers to ask them if they would beta read my next book for me and provide the same critical/constructive feedback that they did in their negative reviews of my already published book. I did NOT challenge any part of their previous review, I did NOT ask them to change their rating/review, I merely said that I thought they had a good eye for detail and would make a good beta reader and that I’d appreciate their help, if they had time. On all four occasions those readers became beta readers and are now fans of mine. They help me hone my books and make them better for the ultimate readers. But the important take away from this story is that there are a lot of reviewers out there who write constructive feedback to HELP the author. Don’t dismiss their opinions so quickly.

4. If you’re really depressed and frustrated about a bad review, go to Goodreads and look at the 1 star reviews for one of your favorite books/authors. There will ALWAYS be 1 star reviews, usually LOTS of them. If even your favorite author gets bad reviews, then you shouldn’t feel bad about getting some too. This REALLY helps me sometimes.

5. Remember that some people who read your book won’t be in your target audience. So if they don’t like your book it makes perfect sense. No biggie. Just move on and seek out the readers who are more likely to enjoy the types of books you write.

6. Ignore the negative reviews with NO SUBSTANTIVE CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK. One of my favorite negative reviews was a 1 star review that said, “I should have spent my $1 on a bag of chips.” That was it. I laughed, got a little angry, laughed again, and then ignored it. There was nothing to glean from that review that would help me in the future, so I just let it go.

7. Once you’re in the right mindset, re-read the negative reviews that you find useful. Focus on the constructive points that tend to come up again and again in reviews. If multiple readers think the same thing, then it’s probably something to work on in your writing. You have some options: you can either try to take the feedback on in your future books. Or you can revise/edit the book and re-release a new edition of it. That’s the beauty of the world we live in today. Nothing ever has to be “final.” I’ve released 4 versions of The Moon Dwellers so far, and now that I’ve landed an agent, we’ll be releasing a 5th version soon. There’s nothing wrong with trying to make your book better for future readers. Each time you’ll find your sales go up and your reviews get better.

8. Finally, for every negative review you read, try to read at least a few positive ones afterwards. That will remind you that, although you’re not a perfect writer (no one is!), that you do have talent that people appreciate. It will remind you that dealing with the negativity is WORTH IT when someone ENJOYS one of your books.

So you might be wondering whether I’ve managed to improve my writing from negative reviews? I think I have, and I’ve received many messages from readers who said they think each of my books is better than the last. And the stats about the first book in each of my YA series don’t lie either:

Angel Evolution- % of 1 and 2 star reviews- 12%
The Moon Dwellers- % of 1 and 2 star reviews- 6%
Fire Country- % of 1 and 2 star reviews- 3% (No 1 star reviews so far!)

See what I mean? Taking ALL reviews seriously works and it will pay off in the long run, so don’t get discouraged or frustrated. Your first book won’t be perfect, nor will your 15th book. The goal is to always improve and try to entertain your readers. Never forget that and you’ll be just fine!

All the best and happy writing!
 

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Indie Author Advice Series #2- Everything I Wish I Knew When I Started Writing

Originally posted on I Read and Tell on April 4th, 2013.
 
When I first started writing I was clueless. Completely. Now I’m slightly better than clueless, but not by much. I’ve picked up some things along the way from struggling Indie to fulltime (still struggling) Indie, but there’s an infinite amount of more stuff to learn. For those of you who are just starting out, or are still in the early days of having published a book or two, if you’re even a little above the clueless level then you’re better off than I was. Even still, everyone needs a little advice sometimes, and I’m more than happy to share a few of the things I’ve picked up along the way, particularly everything I wish I knew when I started writing. I’ve broken it up into three sections, one on Writing, one on Publishing, and one on Promoting, so you can skip to whichever of the three you’re most interested in. I hope you find this useful!

1) Writing Stuff: Strangely enough, most of the questions I get from other Indies are about promoting and publishing books, rather than about writing them. That worries me, as publishing and promoting is far easier than the writing part. There’s a reason that finding a publisher is so competitive and challenging: because writing is extremely hard! Although talent is important, there’s far more to it than just the natural ability to tell a story. Constantly improving one’s writing is far and away the most important thing when starting out, and your readers will love you for it! Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way:

-Read, read, read! Be a reader and a lover of books first. This is not to say to plagiarize and steal ideas; rather, it is to recognize the varying styles of the writers you love, understand how they bring out emotions in you, pay attention to the techniques they use for creating suspense. Be a critical reader, and use the critical comments you have toward other authors’ books to critique your own writing.

-Read books about writing!  Learn how to improve your writing from the experts, the ones who have spent years and years mastering their craft and are now willing to share their secrets. A couple books I recommend for any Indie starting out are On Writing by Stephen King and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. Both will help you far more than I can!

-Dialogue tags! The quickest way to be pegged as an amateur is also one of the simplest things to improve. Do you feel the need to constantly change up your dialogue tags to something other than “she said”? If so, stop! Pay attention to this when you read books by your favorite authors. You’ll find that the vast majority of the time the dialogue tag will be “she said”, rather than something abnormal, like “she noted”, “she shouted” or “she commented”. There’s very little reason to stray from the basic “she said”, except when you really want to draw attention to the manner in which the dialogue is being spoken. In most cases, the way the dialogue is written should clearly show the way in which the speaker said it. In many cases, you don’t even need a tag at all, as long as it’s clear who’s doing the speaking.

-Adverb hunting! Overuse of adverbs is another thing I’ve had to learn the hard way. Using adverbs too much can really dumb down your writing and make you start to tell the reader instead of showing them (more on that later). A good tip is to watch out for them after dialogue tags. Again, they should be used sparingly, and only when emphasizing the manner in which a certain action is undertaken. For example, “she said softly.” Do a search for that one in your manuscript and see how many hits you come up with. Or maybe yours is “she said sarcastically.” In both those instances you’ve just told the reader how the quote was being said, rather than letting them figure it out on their own. The dialogue itself as well as the context should generally show the reader how something is being said. If it’s not, then that’s what you should be working on, rather than taking a shortcut and adding an adverb to the end of every action.

-Show vs. Tell! I’m sure you’ve heard this one a million times. I know I have, and yet I still find myself making the mistake again and again. Why? Because it’s hard and it takes practice! Read as much as you can about this and practice it in your writing. A good way is to write a chapter and then go through it with a fine tooth comb. Am I telling the reader everything, or do they get a chance to feel it, to figure things out on their own. In case you’re still scratching your head, here are some simple examples. “I was scared.” Not very interesting or fun to read. Try this instead: “Sweat trickled from my scalp and down the nape of my neck. With each step, my knees wobbled, as I fought the urge to look down. Under my breath, I whispered, “Pleasegodpleasegodpleasegod,” in time with my racing heart.” Better? I hope you think so. There are a million other ways you could write the same thing, many of which would be much better than what I came up with off the top of my head. Here’s another example I found in my own writing. “The steel, electrified fence surrounded the complex, keeping the riffraff in and the rubberneckers from getting too close.” Terrible? Eh, probably not. But could it be better? I thought so. I can’t remember exactly what I changed it to, but I wanted the electrified fence to come to life, so I put in some additional details like, “The steel fence surrounding the complex buzzed a constant warning to Stay away! both to the riffraff inside and the rubberneckers beyond.” Not a huge change, but do you see the difference? I’m not telling you the fence is electrified, I’m showing you.

-Typos! Personally, I believe that Indies should be held to the same standards as traditionally published books. This is hard! You might not be able to afford a copyeditor, but there are still other ways to limit your typos to the bare minimum. 5 or less in a full length novel is a good goal and few enough that your readers will likely miss them too. 2 or less is even better. Much more than that and it gets distracting and frustrating to the reader, who took a risk on reading your book and has the right to expect a certain level of quality. If you can’t afford a copyeditor, read your final manuscript at least 5 times (which you should do regardless), and ask at least 5 friends to proofread for typos. That will go A LONG way toward reducing your typos to a reasonable level.

These are just a few of the many tips I could give you about writing, I encourage you to read more about it from true experts on the subject, it will be well worth your time.

2) Publishing Stuff: Ugh. Publishing. Painful? Yes. Less painful than it was ten years ago? YES! So be happy that you live in a day and age where you can publish your ebooks with just a click of a button, make changes to books quite easily, and even publish print-on-demand books! Here are a few things I wish I knew when I started:

-The broader the distribution the better: Do NOT enroll in KDP Select by Amazon Kindle. I can’t stress this enough. It sounds like a good deal in a lot of ways, but it will alienate your readers who don’t have Kindles, many of whom might actually be quite anti-Kindle. There are so many types of ereaders out there that you want to allow every single reader to get their hands on your books. There are many ways to accomplish this, but here’s my approach to ebook distribution: Publish on Kindle, publish on Nook, publish on Smashwords.com, which will then distribute to Apple iBooks, Sony, Kobo, Diesel and a bunch of others. Keep in mind, the more places you publish on your own (by setting up an account with them and going through the process, rather than letting Smashwords distribute to them), the less money you’ll lose. Smashwords takes 15% of all sales through their distribution network, so you effectively pay them for their help in distributing. That’s why I publish to Kindle and Nook on my own, because I sell most of my books there. Kobo and Apple iBooks are a close third and fourth, but I just don’t have the time or energy to do those myself, but I’d encourage you to do it if you can.

Also, some Indies are steering away from Smashwords because they don’t have DRM (digital rights management), which means that once a reader buys your book, they can then download it in any format and share it all over the internet or e-mail it to friends, etc etc. That’s a real risk, but I’m telling you not to fear it. Piracy will happen. You can try to control it, but I urge you not to overly concern yourself with it, because the people who would download your book illegally probably would never pay for it in the first place. Smashwords is a great resource and will really help with your INTERNATIONAL book sales. Most of the domestic platforms have limited distribution internationally, whereas anyone in the world can buy your book on Smashwords. At least 50% of my international sales come from Smashwords, a significant chunk.

-Get your formatting right! A poorly formatted book, both in ebook and print form, will frustrate and turn off a reader pretty quickly. Test your formatting on as many of your distribution platforms as possible. If it don’t look pretty, don’t publish it! Most distribution platforms will have handbooks on how to format appropriately, most of the time just using MS word.

-The price is right! How much are you charging for your books? This is a huge decision, one that can make or break your sales. I strongly urge that you price your debut novel at $.99. I know, I know, you make almost nothing for all your hard work, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You are looking for lifelong readers, who will tell their friends, and buy every other book you publish from this point on. So yes, you have to practically give your books away (and actually give your books away, more on this later) at this point. Just bite the bullet and do it. If you’ve written an awesome book, you’ll get yourself a lot of new fans. For sequels of your debut series, I recommend $2.99 so you get higher royalty rates and make a little money from sales to your now-loyal fans. Once you’ve established yourself a little and have written subsequent books/series, considering bumping your pricing up to $3.99 or $4.99. Personally, I don’t plan on going higher than $3.99 in the foreseeable future. Remember why we’re Indies, we have low overhead and are able to give our readers a better price for their entertainment! Be proud of that and don’t take advantage of their loyalty by trying to price like you’re a bestseller!

Spend time on the extras! By extras I mean the stuff other than the actual book. The dedication, the About the Author, the Acknowledgements. And be sure to list your other books or Coming Soon! books , as well as a sneak peek of your next book if you have one. People DO read this stuff and they actually care about it, so make it count! Oh, and also include links to your social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and your blog.

That’s it for publishing, on to everyone’s favorite, promoting!

3) Promoting Stuff: I have to admit, I’m stealing this section from a blog I did a while back, but it really did have all my tricks on how I’ve been able to effectively promote my books. I’ve set it up as a list of Dos and Don’ts:

Don’ts!!!
1. DON’T join book groups or chat sites with the intention of gaining new readers! Book lovers don’t join groups on sites such as Goodreads to have authors barraging them with advertising for their new “5 star YA paranormal romance novel.” Time and time again I see Indie authors join a new group, introduce themselves as I.L. Ikebooks, author of The Hideous Transformation of Zod, and then proceed to dump links to their blog, Facebook page, Amazon, etc, asking readers to check out their book “if interested.” Sorry, but even as an Indie author myself, those types of introductions annoy me! I will never react well to that method and I believe most other readers would agree. Look, I’m going to belabor this first point because it’s an important one. This method does NOT work. It makes you look like a spammer who’s only joining the group to promote yourself. Of course you’re proud that you wrote and published a book, and you’re desperate to attract new readers (I am too!), but this is simply not the way to go about it. The couple of readers who might take the bait and read your book is not worth the number who will be annoyed by your shameless self-promotion and avoid your books. Becoming a successful Indie is a marathon not a sprint. Join groups that are about the type of books you like to read (and probably write too), and become part of the community, as a reader!! Over time, you’ll make friends by adding value to the group through your recommendations and comments, and people will click on you and check out your books. I repeat, do NOT post anything about your book unless it has gone through a formal program in the group (more on this in DOS 1 and 3 below).

2. This one goes hand in hand with the first point on self-promoting, but DON’T recommend your own books either in chat rooms or via Goodreads Book Recommendation function. Recommending books is what people who read your books do. Even if you really believe someone will like your book because you see a reader is looking for a “YA dystopian book with lots of action and romance” and your book fits that mold perfectly, you’ve simply got to avoid the temptation. Instead, recommend another book that you like that fits the type they’re looking for. The goodwill will go a long way, they will appreciate it, maybe click on you, maybe buy your book. It might take weeks or months or even years, but each little bit of goodwill adds up over time. And please, please, please, DON’T create alter ego accounts to self-promote your books. Not only is it unethical, but it’s downright wrong. The bad karma will get you eventually!

3. DON’T overreact to negative reviews. This is one of the hardest ones for me, especially when the negative review contains lies or misleading information about my book. My first reaction is always to scream “Foul!” and message the reviewer right away to point out the errors in their review. A few months ago I received a 2-star review (one of the few I’ve received for The Moon Dwellers), and it mentioned that there were a number of distracting typos in the book. I was livid! Not only for me, because I’m completely OCD about typos and even my early drafts have very few, but because my incredible copyeditor, Christine LePorte, has such an eye for detail that my books rarely have typos, and if they do, they’re limited to one or two at the most. This particular review was also fairly mean spirited, but it also had some really good factual points. In the end, I left it alone, moved on with my life, and focused on the fair and honest reviews that I was getting on a daily basis, most of which were positive. If I had responded to that particular reviewer, they might have ignored me and that would be the end of it. OR, they might have posted something about what a jerk I was on their blog, Facebook page, or Twitter. The reputational damage could have been irreparable as the book community labeled me as a close-minded bully. My advice: try to glean what constructive criticism and positive feedback you can from every review, but do not throw a hissy fit if you read something you don’t like. Not everyone will like your books! That’s a fact that you have to get used to sooner or later. (TIP: Read some of the negative reviews of a book you really like. Even the best books get negative reviews.)

4. DON’T expect your first book to be a bestseller! I did, and I was sorely disappointed. And then I realized how many flaws it had, how much I still had to learn, that becoming a really, truly fantastic writer—the kind who writes bestsellers—meant a lot of work and practice and commitment. I took what I learned from my first trilogy and wrote a better series the second time around. And my third series will be even better still. It’s all about improving with each and every go around, showing your readers that you’re committed to giving them the best possible reading experience whenever they pick up one of your books.

Dos!!
1. DO giveaway as many free ebooks (and print copies when a good opportunity arises) as possible in the early stages, particularly with your first book and for any first books in your next series. Remember, the goal early on is not to make money, there are very few Amanda Hocking stories out there. Most authors build up fans over time. The goal is to give yourself as many opportunities to capture the precious time of the millions of readers out there, who have millions of choices in what they read. Offering free books is a great way to do that. I’ve found the quickest way to DO that is by enrolling in Read to Review (RtR) programs in the many groups on Goodreads. Join the groups that are in your books’ genre (for example I’m a committed member in many Goodreads YA paranormal and dystopian groups), and enroll your book in the groups’ Read to Review program. You set how many books to giveaway to members in the group, and in exchange, they give you reviews. (I gave away 50 e-copies of The Moon Dwellers to 10 different groups on Goodreads as part of the launch. The reviews I got from those giveaways solidified it early on as a good book. Then I gave away 50 more to my fan group) It’s an awesome way to get new fans and also start to build up credibility. I don’t know about you, but I’m much more likely to read a 4-star book with 200 reviews than a 5-star book with 6 reviews that are probably friends and family.

2. DO contact book bloggers! There are hundreds of book bloggers out there, some big, some small, some new, some established, but all looking to read quality books and blog about them to their readers. With my first book, Angel Evolution, I contacted over 200 book bloggers, many of whom accepted a free ebook in exchange for a review on their blog. That was the single most crucial thing I did to get started. Most all book bloggers have review policies, read them before you contact them. If their policies say they don’t accept Indie authors then don’t contact them. If they say they only accept print copies then don’t offer them an ebook. Save your print copy budget for the biggest bloggers if you can get them. Giveaway free ebooks to any other blogger who agrees to read it. The more copies you get out there in the early stages, the better chances you have of getting positive reviews and some buzz going. Book bloggers can also host giveaways, do author interviews, or let you come on their blog and do a guest post. I’ve done over 100 giveaways, more than 75 interviews, and probably 20 guest posts on various blogs. These are all fantastic ways to get your name out there. As part of the giveaways, request that those entering the giveaway Like your Facebook page.

3. DO become part of the book community. I joined Goodreads when I first started writing. I was somewhat active, but not extremely active (I was too busy wasting my time playing Angry Birds. OK, OK, I still waste a fair amount of time playing AB). I kind of flew under the radar for a while. I made a few friends, but mostly just acquaintances. Thankfully, I didn’t try to push my books so I didn’t get a reputation as a spammer. But I didn’t really take advantage of the awesomeness of Goodreads until April of this year. I realized then that the little time I was spending on Goodreads was one of my favorite times of the day. So I started spending more time commenting in the groups I was in. I wanted to keep conversations going, talk about the books I love, meet new people, establish relationships, be a valuable part of the book community. I became one of the more active people in many of the YA groups I was in, and people started to notice. I befriended many moderators who helped set up my books in RTR programs or even as a Chapter a Day read in the groups. I didn’t promote my books AT ALL in these groups. I just participated. In less than a month my sales had tripled. Some people started calling me a Goodreads Ninja LOL! I love the nickname because I think it shows how committed I am to being everywhere readers are on Goodreads, because I’m a reader too. Do it. It will be time well spent.

4. DO set up a fan page. The key is when to set it up. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend setting it up too early on in your career. The last thing you want is for the group to be tiny, less than 50 members, with very little participation or interest. If you wait until you’ve published a couple of books, have built up some readers, and then ask some of your bigger fans to help set up and moderate a fan group, it will go over much better. This is just my opinion, although others might argue it’s good to set one up as soon as possible. My marketing team and fans set up my fan group just before the release of my 4th book, The Moon Dwellers. It debuted with just over 300 members and continues to climb.

5. DO get your books on relevant Listopia lists. I’ve added my own books to lists, but it’s definitely better if some of your readers do it for you. Moderators of your fan group or your biggest fans are good candidates. You want your book on lists that are extremely relevant to your book, so the people reading them are the target audience. For example, because The Moon Dwellers is YA dystopian, it’s been added to a number of YA dystopian lists, as well as several Books Similar to The Hunger Games lists. The Moon Dwellers is in the top twenty in most of these lists, and has even risen into the top five or to the number one spot in several, sitting with company such as Divergent, Delirium, and The Maze Runner. I’ve had a few people tell me that they found my book because they typed in The Hunger Games on Listopia and when they clicked on a few of the lists, they saw The Moon Dwellers. It was the cheapest option near the top of the list so they bought it and loved it. Then they voted for it on the list, which keeps it near the top. This works!

6. DO give your fans the chance to buy signed copies of your books from you. People LOVE signed books for their collections. Don’t try to make much (if any) money off of these. Do it because you care about your readers. Just charge them the wholesale price of your book (the price you can buy it for on Createspace or wherever you print from) plus the cost of shipping to you and shipping to them. If you want to make a small profit on these books, add a dollar or two but no more. Have your fans pay you via Paypal or whatever method is easiest for you. I’ve sold dozens of copies of my books in recent months, making minimal profits but establishing a lot of lifelong fans and friends. Oh, and remember to personalize those books! It will mean a lot more to whomever you’re giving it to if you call them by name and write a short message that includes something personal if you can, like where you met them (Goodreads, etc) or something you know about them. This is a lot of work, but the rewards are priceless.

Wow! I knew this would be a long post, because there was SO MUCH I wish I’d known when I started out. If you made it to the end, yay!!! You deserve a medal or something. And if I haven’t answered a burning question that’s been on your mind, please please please feel free to contact me using one of social networking handles included in this post, I love getting questions and meeting new people and I ALWAYS respond.

A special thanks to Reem at I Read and Tell for suggesting the topic! And as always, HAPPY READING!

David Estes

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Indie Author Advice Series #1- My Dos and Don'ts for Attracting New Readers

As I’ve moved from being an Indie author writing on the side and holding down a full time office job to an Indie author writing full time, I’ve been getting more and more questions from other Indie authors asking me for tips on how I go about attracting new readers to my growing list of books. I don’t claim to be an expert and I most certainly am still learning new things about the world of books and publishing every day, but I have learned a lot from experience that I want to share with other Indie writers who are either just starting out or who haven’t had much success attracting new readers in the past. I’m sure others will have many other ideas, but here are a few basic Dos and Don’ts that I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way!) I’ll start with the Don’ts because sometimes avoiding doing things is as important as doing things:

Don’ts!!!

1. DON’T join book groups or chat sites with the intention of gaining new readers! Book lovers don’t join groups on sites such as Goodreads to have authors barraging them with advertising for their new “5 star YA paranormal romance novel.” Time and time again I see Indie authors join a new group, introduce themselves as I.L. Ikebooks, author of The Hideous Transformation of Zod, and then proceed to dump links to their blog, Facebook page, Amazon, etc, asking readers to check out their book “if interested.” Sorry, but even as an Indie author myself, those types of introductions annoy me! I will never react well to that method and I believe most other readers would agree. Look, I’m going to belabor this first point because it’s an important one. This method does NOT work. It makes you look like a spammer who’s only joining the group to promote yourself. Of course you’re proud that you wrote and published a book, and you’re desperate to attract new readers (I am too!), but this is simply not the way to go about it. The couple of readers who might take the bait and read your book is not worth the number who will be annoyed by your shameless self-promotion and avoid your books. Becoming a successful Indie is a marathon not a sprint. Join groups that are about the type of books you like to read (and probably write too), and become part of the community, as a reader!! Over time, you’ll make friends by adding value to the group through your recommendations and comments, and people will click on you and check out your books. I repeat, do NOT post anything about your book unless it has gone through a formal program in the group (more on this in DOS 1 and 3 below).

2. This one goes hand in hand with the first point on self-promoting, but DON’T recommend your own books either in chat rooms or via Goodreads Book Recommendation function. Recommending books is what people who read your books do. Even if you really believe someone will like your book because you see a reader is looking for a “YA dystopian book with lots of action and romance” and your book fits that mold perfectly, you’ve simply got to avoid the temptation. Instead, recommend another book that you like that fits the type they’re looking for. The goodwill will go a long way, they will appreciate it, maybe click on you, maybe buy your book. It might take weeks or months or even years, but each little bit of goodwill adds up over time. And please, please, please, DON’T create alter ego accounts to self-promote your books. Not only is it unethical, but it’s downright wrong. The bad karma will get you eventually!

3. DON’T overreact to negative reviews. This is one of the hardest ones for me, especially when the negative review contains lies or misleading information about my book. My first reaction is always to scream “Foul!” and message the reviewer right away to point out the errors in their review. A few months ago I received a 2-star review (one of the few I’ve received for The Moon Dwellers), and it mentioned that there were a number of distracting typos in the book. I was livid! Not only for me, because I’m completely OCD about typos and even my early drafts have very few, but because my incredible copyeditor, Christine LePorte, has such an eye for detail that my books rarely have typos, and if they do, they’re limited to one or two at the most. This particular review was also fairly mean spirited, but it also had some really good factual points. In the end, I left it alone, moved on with my life, and focused on the fair and honest reviews that I was getting on a daily basis, most of which were positive. If I had responded to that particular reviewer, they might have ignored me and that would be the end of it. OR, they might have posted something about what a jerk I was on their blog, Facebook page, or Twitter. The reputational damage could have been irreparable as the book community labeled me as a close-minded bully. My advice: try to glean what constructive criticism and positive feedback you can from every review, but do not throw a hissy fit if you read something you don’t like. Not everyone will like your books! That’s a fact that you have to get used to sooner or later. (TIP: Read some of the negative reviews of a book you really like. Even the best books get negative reviews.)

4. DON’T expect your first book to be a bestseller! I did, and I was sorely disappointed. And then I realized how many flaws it had, how much I still had to learn, that becoming a really, truly fantastic writer—the kind who writes bestsellers—meant a lot of work and practice and commitment. I took what I learned from my first trilogy and wrote a better series the second time around. And my third series will be even better still. It’s all about improving with each and every go around, showing your readers that you’re committed to giving them the best possible reading experience whenever they pick up one of your books.

5. DON’T get greedy! Even when you do start to build up a fan base, remember that without them you’re back to square one, so keep your books priced as low as you can afford. Remember that you’re an Indie and you don’t have a publisher to pay and in many cases are probably earning more per book than big published authors. From experience, I’d recommend pricing the first book in your first series at $.99 and charging no more than $2.99 for subsequent books in your first series. Once you’ve established yourself, subsequent series could be priced moderately higher, perhaps, $2.99 for the first book and $3.99 for subsequent books (I wouldn’t go higher than that), but make sure it’s your best work, properly copy edited, and worth the price you’re charging. You’ll lose readers pretty quick if you raise prices while quality drops.

Dos!!

1. DO giveaway as many free ebooks (and print copies when a good opportunity arises) as possible in the early stages, particularly with your first book and for any first books in your next series. Remember, the goal early on is not to make money, there are very few Amanda Hocking stories out there. Most authors build up fans over time. The goal is to give yourself as many opportunities to capture the precious time of the millions of readers out there, who have millions of choices in what they read. Offering free books is a great way to do that. I’ve found the quickest way to DO that is by enrolling in Read to Review (RtR) programs in the many groups on Goodreads. Join the groups that are in your books’ genre (for example I’m a committed member in many Goodreads YA paranormal and dystopian groups), and enroll your book in the groups’ Read to Review program. You set how many books to giveaway to members in the group, and in exchange, they give you reviews. (I gave away 50 e-copies of The Moon Dwellers to 10 different groups on Goodreads as part of the launch. The reviews I got from those giveaways solidified it early on as a good book. Then I gave away 50 more to my fan group) It’s an awesome way to get new fans and also start to build up credibility. I don’t know about you, but I’m much more likely to read a 4-star book with 200 reviews than a 5-star book with 6 reviews that are probably friends and family.

2. DO contact book bloggers! There are hundreds of book bloggers out there, some big, some small, some new, some established, but all looking to read quality books and blog about them to their readers. With my first book, Angel Evolution, I contacted over 200 book bloggers, many of whom accepted a free ebook in exchange for a review on their blog. That was the single most crucial thing I did to get started. Most all book bloggers have review policies, read them before you contact them. If their policies say they don’t accept Indie authors then don’t contact them. If they say they only accept print copies then don’t offer them an ebook. Save your print copy budget for the biggest bloggers if you can get them. Giveaway free ebooks to any other blogger who agrees to read it. The more copies you get out there in the early stages, the better chances you have of getting positive reviews and some buzz going. Book bloggers can also host giveaways, do author interviews, or let you come on their blog and do a guest post. I’ve done over 100 giveaways, more than 75 interviews, and probably 20 guest posts on various blogs. These are all fantastic ways to get your name out there. As part of the giveaways, request that those entering the giveaway Like your Facebook page.

3. DO become part of the book community. I joined Goodreads when I first started writing. I was somewhat active, but not extremely active (I was too busy wasting my time playing Angry Birds. OK, OK, I still waste a fair amount of time playing AB). I kind of flew under the radar for a while. I made a few friends, but mostly just acquaintances. Thankfully, I didn’t try to push my books so I didn’t get a reputation as a spammer. But I didn’t really take advantage of the awesomeness of Goodreads until April of this year. I realized then that the little time I was spending on Goodreads was one of my favorite times of the day. So I started spending more time commenting in the groups I was in. I wanted to keep conversations going, talk about the books I love, meet new people, establish relationships, be a valuable part of the book community. I became one of the more active people in many of the YA groups I was in, and people started to notice. I befriended many moderators who helped set up my books in RTR programs or even as a Chapter a Day read in the groups. I didn’t promote my books AT ALL in these groups. I just participated. In less than a month my sales had tripled. Some people started calling me a Goodreads Ninja LOL! I love the nickname because I think it shows how committed I am to being everywhere readers are on Goodreads, because I’m a reader too. Do it. It will be time well spent.

4. DO set up a fan page. The key is when to set it up. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend setting it up too early on in your career. The last thing you want is for the group to be tiny, less than 50 members, with very little participation or interest. If you wait until you’ve published a couple of books, have built up some readers, and then ask some of your bigger fans to help set up and moderate a fan group, it will go over much better. This is just my opinion, although others might argue it’s good to set one up as soon as possible. My marketing team and fans set up my fan group just before the release of my 4th book, The Moon Dwellers. It debuted with just over 300 members and continues to climb.

5. DO get your books on relevant Listopia lists. I’ve added my own books to lists, but it’s definitely better if some of your readers do it for you. Moderators of your fan group or your biggest fans are good candidates. You want your book on lists that are extremely relevant to your book, so the people reading them are the target audience. For example, because The Moon Dwellers is YA dystopian, it’s been added to a number of YA dystopian lists, as well as several Books Similar to The Hunger Games lists. The Moon Dwellers is in the top twenty in most of these lists, and has even risen into the top five or to the number one spot in several, sitting with company such as Divergent, Delirium, and The Maze Runner. I’ve had a few people tell me that they found my book because they typed in The Hunger Games on Listopia and when they clicked on a few of the lists, they saw The Moon Dwellers. It was the cheapest option near the top of the list so they bought it and loved it. Then they voted for it on the list, which keeps it near the top. This works!

6. DO give your fans the chance to buy signed copies of your books from you. People LOVE signed books for their collections. Don’t try to make much (if any) money off of these. Do it because you care about your readers. Just charge them the wholesale price of your book (the price you can buy it for on Createspace or wherever you print from) plus the cost of shipping to you and shipping to them. If you want to make a small profit on these books, add a dollar or two but no more. Have your fans pay you via Paypal or whatever method is easiest for you. I’ve sold dozens of copies of my books in recent months, making minimal profits but establishing a lot of lifelong fans and friends. Oh, and remember to personalize those books! It will mean a lot more to whomever you’re giving it to if you call them by name and write a short message that includes something personal if you can, like where you met them (Goodreads, etc) or something you know about them. This is a lot of work, but the rewards are priceless.

Whew! I’m sure there’s another ten things I’ll think of as soon as I post this, but that’s it for now. I hope this helps Indie authors come up with some new creative ideas for getting themselves out there, or give readers an inside look at all the work that goes into being an Indie author in this day and age. As always, I love getting comments and questions and I respond to every single one, so message me on Goodreads, Facebook, or add a comment below, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible!

All the best and happy reading!
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