Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Notes from *far* outside my comfort zone

I will explain, in the (way) longer-than-usual post to follow, but here's the substance: One of the best ways to support an author is to write an honest review of his book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or other etail site. (Not to knock buying, reading, and recommending the book.) Reviews don't need to be long -- two or three clear sentences giving an opinion, and a reason to back it up -- to do the trick.

Read on to see how and why a review will help. A lot. And I will also explain -- cringing with each keystroke -- what's driven me to being so very forward as to ask my readers for reviews ...

In a beginning ...
If you've stopped by this blog even once over the past several weeks, you've likely noticed that I've been focused on the launch of my latest novel, InterstellarNet: Enigma. You've likely also noticed that this novel's launch is markedly different from earlier debuts. This novel began its roll-out in ebook serial form, a process that's ongoing. This week's release of the entire novel was only in ebook formats. The novel won't come out in print format until June 30.

A not so brave new world
Why the new approach? Because the world of publishing has changed. Seismic shifts from print to ebook markets. Lots of new small publishing houses. Lots and lots of self-publishing. Fewer bookstore chains than ever. Independent bookstores gone away, too, while Amazon garners an ever-larger share of the book market. Bottom line: it becomes harder by the day for any one title or author to stand out. Amazon now offers more than six million titles! If a reader doesn't already know about a particular title, how would he or she ever run across it to even consider?

Promotion -- including self-promotion -- is more essential than ever. That's the idea behind much of what you've been encountering recently on this blog: the new novel's slow-motion launch. The idea is to create some visibility, and some buzz, even before advance copies of the book reach reviewers.

Not how it's done anymore
Hence, I've posted. Guest posted. Shared posts to Facebook and LinkedIn. Asked colleagues to consider the new novel for a possible quote -- and been delighted with their positive comments. All that said, I've shied away from the one step that has the greatest potential to benefit InterstellarNet: Enigma -- and my publisher has called me on it.

Which is cause and which effect isn't clear -- most likely, there is synergy between the two -- but it is demonstrably the case that books with many reader reviews sell better than books with few or no such reviews.

Why? Because ratings affect the results returned on etail-site searches. Because Amazon searches and Amazon author pages alike support "most reviews" and "average customer review" options as display sort orders. Because the average rating and the number of reviews feature prominently on every Amazon book page, immediately after author and title. Clearly Amazon believes reader reviews are important -- no etailer lightly assigns the limited space visible in mobile browsers without scrolling.

The more-reviews/more-sales pattern certainly holds true among my titles, for which the number of Amazon reviews ranges (as I type) from none to 130. The number of reader reviews is a much better sales indicator than the average reader rating, as counterintuitive as that seems.

A knotty problem
Then there's the latest book-marketing twist. One of the newer ways to help a book emerge from among those millions of titles is the third-party mass-emailing campaign. And I mean mass. Some of these book-promoting services enroll readers by the hundreds of thousands. The readers subscribe according to their interests -- say, SF -- and get a weekly email with a list of that week's promoted titles, where promoted means for a brief time heavily discounted.

To take advantage of such an offer, one clicks through to (typically) Amazon. Here's the kicker: these promotional services offer only the books they expect their referral can move en masse -- and (you guessed it) that means accepting only books that already have a nontrivial number of Amazon reviews.

These shouldn't be for sale!
It appalls me to report that services exist to buy Amazon reviews. In bulk. Assured four- and five-star reviews. (And you wondered how some books have hundreds of glowing reviews on their release date.)

Will I buy reviews? No way. No how. Never. Uh-uh. Absolutely not. Nor has my publisher suggested that. If it's possible, he's more vocal than I on the topic. But (and this is a hell of a thing to ask of any introvert) my publisher is encouraging me to encourage you, the visitors to my blog -- many of you long-time readers of my books -- to consider writing reviews of my InterstellarNet titles. He points out that:
  • InterstellarNet is a long-running series, with appearances in three separate magazines.
  • InterstellarNet stories have collected many great reviews; they've found their way into a year's best anthology and Tangent Online recommended reading lists.
  • "Championship B'tok," the most recent InterstellarNet story (become a key part of InterstellarNet: Enigma), is on this year’s Hugo Awards final ballot.
  • InterstellarNet novelizations have had great reviews from Analog and SFscope, and great quotes from such hard SF luminaries as (alphabetically) Gregory Benford, Ben Bova, Mike Brotherton, Robert J. Sawyer, and Stanley Schmidt.
That is, said the publisher: These are good stories and good books, and that if I want InterstellarNet to get the audience we both feel it merits, I have to step outside of my comfort zone. And, he reminded me, that (per this recent survey) more than 93 percent of visitors to SF and Nonsense stop by for news and commentary about my fiction.

And so, here I am -- so far outside my comfort zone that I can scarcely see it from here. But as I've discussed, the market is changing. Authors must change with it. I must change with it. You can see where this is going ...

So: I respectfully request your consideration for reviewing a book(s) of mine on Amazon or other etailer. If you have read said book. If you're comfortable doing a review. If you'll give it an honest review. If we aren’t related. I'll certainly never ask anyone if they did, or why they did (or didn't), or why they wrote what they wrote. Such questions would be grossly impolite -- and, anyway, reviewers can generally -- and often do -- post reviews under pseudonyms.

But if you are open to this idea? All reviews will be appreciated. That said, amid the current book launch, the most immediately helpful reviews would be of my solo novels -- especially any of the InterstellarNet titles, including installments of InterstellarNet: Enigma in its serial form.

You can read a bit about the InterstellarNet series (and, should you be so inclined, find links to purchase any of the InterstellarNet titles) at:
Phew! It seems I had a lot to get off my chest. Whatever you decide, thanks for hearing me out.


Anonymous said...

Yes, but this is the worst of all possible years to be nominated for a Hugo. My advice would be to withdraw graciously.

Edward M. Lerner said...

This isn't the year I would have chosen to get a Hugo nomination, but neither am I inclined to withdraw. (In any event, the time to withdraw is past. The ballot at this point is final.)