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Do You Know This Author?

Amazon’s Heavy handed review Policy and What it Means

Amazon has gotten heavy handed with book reviews in a process that hurts a lot of Indie authors, and damages the very fabric of the initial book marketing push debut authors use.

It is said that the average indie published book only sells 100-150 copies in its lifetime. The reasons for this are many, probably most commonly low quality covers and editing and a lack of marketing. But how does a debut author market their book if they don’t already have an online presence and platform?

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The first step is to tell their friends and family, ask them for reviews, and ask them to help spread the word about their books. Because there isn’t a single Indie author on the planet who can make a living by selling books. They can only make a living if others sell their books as well.

There are a lot of arguments about how good Amazon is for Indie authors and books in general, but as the largest book retailer on the planet, at least at the moment, they and their policies can hardly be ignored by any business savvy author.

So what is the purpose of Amazon’s new policy? As a company, doesn’t it do them some good to have indie authors, with well reviewed books on their site? And how do they know who your friends are anyway? Here’s what is going on, and what you can do about it?

What’s going on? The policy, for those who don’t know, is eliminating reviews from people who “know” each other, in an effort to eliminate review swaps and “fake” reviews from biased friends and family in order to promote a more unbiased system. In other words, they know the review process is broken, and they’re trying to fix it/ But how do they know who knows you?

Goodreads Connection Amazon purchased Goodreads a few years back, and when they did not only did they gain access to cross posted reviews, but they also gained access to a lot more big data, including what people were reading, who their Facebook friends and connections were, and what they were reading, and so in a not so indirect way, who knew who, and what review swaps were going on.

Search-for-talentSome authors have suggested one way to prevent this is to disconnect your Goodreads profile from your Facebook account. This keeps the all powerful Amazon from having access to your friends list and Facebook activity.

Verified Purchase One thing that does seem to help, or at least cut down the number of reviews removed, is for the review to be an Amazon verified purchase. This metric shows Amazon and others that the reviewer purchased the product, in this case a book, from Amazon. While the retail giant is not as strict about this regarding other products, in the book category it is one way they are cracking down.

What can you do about this? Well, a few things. First, if your friends are going to review your books, let them buy them. If they really want to support your career, a few dollars won’t hurt, and keeps their reviews intact. If they won’t, or are just unable to purchase your books, you can give them one as a gift via email, and it will show up as a verified purchase, because you are buying it rather than them.

This also helps your rankings, which helps discoverability on Amazon. Not only does this make money for Amazon and for you, but it also increases how often and how Amazon suggests your book to others.

Change your marketing focus. How do you get others to share about your books? Once you have done your part, with a good cover and good editing, things work the same as any other product. Get people to try your work, and if they like it, get them to share it with their friends. This can be done by guest posting on blogs (you are the world’s leading expert on your book, and probably other subjects too), using social media, and sharing about your book wherever you go. (Business cards, bookmarks, flyers, and simple conversations).

Amazon is big, and there’s not much you can do to change their policies, although you can sign petitions like this one, and email them about your experiences. But along with fighting what is clearly a broken system, you can choose to operate inside the guidelines and make the most of the way things are now.

The one thing we know about Amazon and the digital publishing world is that change is constant. Once we adapt to this challenge, another is sure to be close behind.

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It’s Social Networking not Social Net-Twerking

Stop ‘twerking’ all over social media

Advertisements. We all love to hate them. We Dub Step remix the funny ones, cry at touching ones, and cringe when the ones we hate blast out of our speakers when all we really want to do is keep watching our show. They’re an interruption, but have always tried to be an entertaining one. What better reason to watch the Super Bowl than for the zany commercials?


Social media is different, and there is a reason. We expect advertising in newspapers, magazines, and on the TV and Radio. On a deep level we understand they pay for programming, even if we don’t like it. But social media is just that: a social network for being—well, social. So advertisements are considered interruptions, even rude if improperly done. So how do you cope? Just forsake social media ads? No! Social media, specifically Facebook, drives people to publishers and books more than any other avenue right now.

Stop shaking your stuff all up in our faces. Don’t post drive by ads in groups or on hashtags. First, they don’t do any good. Most of the time, they are just passed over. Look down the feed for two things: first see if there are any likes, shares or comments on posts or favorites and retweets on Twitter. If there aren’t any, you are just posting to a group or #hashtag with a whole bunch of other drive-by-posters. If there is no meaningful interaction, chances are all the real folks have bailed, and you are trying to sell apples to apple growers. Stop the madness. You aren’t doing your book, business, or the social platform any favors.

Also, see if your post from the day before is just a few spots below the one you are posting now. If if is, don’t post. Nothing is worse than seeing a group filled with posts only by one person.  Well, maybe a stick in the eye is worse, but it is pretty bad.

Talk to me Goose! Advertising on social media is not about being intrusive, or even an entertaining interruption, but starting or joining a conversation. You need to look for places that are discussing either reading, the subject of your book, or something related to you and what you do. React to relevance, do not try to force your way in. If you do advertise, say something relevant to the conversation or the group about your work. Don’t just post links and disappear. You will be ignored, banned, perhaps even hated. In social media, not all publicity is good publicity.  Talk, converse, and realize that sometimes, less is more.

Don’t lick a hammer to get attention. If you dedicated a six months to a year of your life and over 60K words to talk about something, the likelihood is you had a story to tell and you told it. Now convince us we need to read it because it matters or should matter to us. Be visible, but don’t draw attention to yourself through foolish antics. Let your work speak for you, but be ready if someone wants to reach out.

Sounds simple right? It is and it isn’t. The social media world is one where the rules are ever changing, and the herd is migratory. Traditional marketing media is not dead either, just gasping for breath and struggling to adapt and survive. So think about the message you are sending next time you are about to flex your advertising thighs, bend your advertising knees, stick your groove thing out there and shake it baby, shake it. You may draw the wrong crowd, or you may chase all of them away, frightened and looking for an eyewash station.

Now back t’work. Until next time.

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A Peek at my TBR List: Lessons Learned

handinjuryI’m sitting here, typing with a rather sore hand, and so last night I decided that today might be a good time to catch up on video edits (that I can do with one hand) and on my To Be Read list. In the middle of the night, while waiting for more ibuprofen to kick in, I mentally wnet through the list and discovered something amazing.

I have to preface this by saying I am not a genius. Recently I’ve been reading Rise of the Machines by Kristen Lamb. It outlines what kind of marketing works for books, and why traditional methods don’t work. Why am I reading Kristen’s book, and not one of the dozens of others out there on the subject? Because I “know” Kristen from her Facebook page and her blog, which attracted my attention with its very practical and practicable writing and marketing tips. Hmm. let’s look at the rest of the list, and see what we can learn from it.

Every writer with priority on my TBR list is a friend on Facebook or Away from Keyboard. (We used to say In Real Life, but social media IS real life any more). Okay, not everyone. I am reading The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and I don’t “know” him, although I have seen his image on meme’s several times. Here’s a list of authors:

Vincent Zandri, Hugh Howey, Allan Leverone, Heath Lowrance, Poppet, Karen Vaughn, Dellani Oakes, Brid Wade, David Toft, Paul Keene, Madison Johns, Alan Jankowski and Stephen King. Maybe I don’t “know” that last one, but I once nearly met him at a book signing years ago, so he probably barely remembers me. I’m sure he’s read my work though. Amazing list, right? And I’m sure I am leaving someone out. Here’s something else about my list.

meeteauthorI’ve paid for every book on the list. Okay, there are two exceptions to this. Vincent Zandri sent me a copy of one of his, and I traded Paul Keene a signed copy of Redemption for his book Among the Jimson Weeds. Other than that, I buy the author’s work. There is a reason for this. First, it helps support the author. We all love free books, but we authors also like to eat. I give away some of my books, but most I sell. Therefore I don’t ask other authors for free books, and when I buy them as I can.

Also, then if I don’t like the book, I don’t feel obligated to leave a review or even give feedback to the author. Now, to be fair, I vet books pretty well before I buy them. I read excerpts and select reviews, ignoring the ones that offer too high of praise or too much criticism. I try to review, even briefly, as often as I can.

What does “know” mean on social media? These are not folks who spammed me with links until I gave in and bought their books. No. I’ve interacted with them. Kristen Lamb and I both like to cook and fire weaponry. Another friend (I highly recommend her romances to those who read that genre) Debbie Robbins and I talk scotch and travel. The rest of us all talk books, what it means to be an author, and about our families, our jobs, and our lives. Paul lives nearby, and he and I are pioneering a local writer’s group.

BookshelfThese writers have offered me nothing for their mention here, and they haven’t all read and reviewed my work. This is not a quid pro quo post. You do for me, I do for you, or vice versa. I read what I like. I have been offered free books, even sent free books by other authors (unsolicited) that I have not read or read and/or not reviewed. If you send me something without asking, this will likely be the result. I read these authors because I like them, and as an extension I find I like their work.

Here is the bottom line: be real and be connected on social media. Those you connect with will buy your work, read it, sometimes review it, or sometimes not. Not everyone will buy, but then that shouldn’t be your goal. Social media is about being social. So go ahead. Look at your To Be Read list, and see what you can learn. Chances are you “know” a lot of people on it.

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George and the Achievers Part 2:

What Authors (and others) Can Learn About Marketing from the Achievers and George Takei

Part 2: Make the Connection

lost puzzle pieceIn part one of this series we introduced The Achievers and George Takei, two completely different types of internet phenomena. We looked at their core audience. You can read that post here.

So they had a solid fan base: core fans. You have them too, whether you are an author, or a business. How do you connect them? They may be scattered all over the world. What tools do you use to bring them together?

Internet Forums. The achievers used the birth of social media: an internet forum to share the word about their passion. Fans gathered around a little known film released in the late 1990’s, and found they had more in common then they at first realized. Some even made love connections in the group. More modern forms of these include Goodreads, Kindle Discussion Boards, and Facebook Groups.

Facebook. Originally a social media outlet similar to MySpace, Facebook took off and became an advertisers dream: millions of reachable customers and fans all gathered in one giant stadium. The problem is, you are one hot dog vendor among thousands, and your customers are scattered throughout the seats. How do you get them to come to you, to “sit” in your section? Once they sit there, how do you make them all want to buy your hot dogs? George has used this with amazing success. He has over 3.8 million “likes” and 3.5 million of those talking about and sharing his posts!

Twitter. In 140 characters or less, you need to get a message out there. A message that compels, that speaks to a specific group, and a message that they will see and share. George has over 600,000 followers. And those who say you have to follow to get followers? Look at George’s balance here: 622,000 followers, he follows 57. He may be the exception to the rule, but you don’t have to follow those you don’t want to follow to glean followers.

These are the tools: Now how do you use them? In part three we will discuss this, but here is the basic premise, and therefore your homework. Have a message. Every day have something new to say. Pretty tough? Yes, tougher than it looks.

Last week, you started to follow George on Facebook if you weren’t already doing it. You were supposed to pay attention to what he posted and when. This week? Do the same with Twitter. Follow George here and just observe: What does he post? When? What gets Retweeted? Favorited?  Let’s see what we can learn from those who are already doing something well.

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George and the Achievers

What Authors (and others) Can Learn About Marketing from the Achievers and George Takei

Part 1: Your Core Audience

ent37How does a star of a television program that aired in the late 1960’s rise in social media to have 3.8 million followers, sell out a musical performed at the Globe in San Francisco about Japanese citizen interment in the United States during World War II, and influence opinion nationwide about marriage equality and LBGT rights?

How do Will Russell and Scott Shuffitt go from tattoo vendors at a convention in 2002 to international sensations by 2009, hosting conventions centered around a movie released in March of 1998 with minimal success and a small cult following?

You’ve written a great book. The people who have read it that are not your

 mother, father,

 brother, sister, cousin . . . you get the idea, have told you so. Not enough of them have read it though. How do you get it noticed? How do you go from a small book with a

small cult following to an international sensation? What can we learn from the two examp

les above?

 

Disclaimer: I am not a master marketer. I am just learning some of these things myself. I don’t have 3.8 million followers, and I haven’t filled a convention center in Las Vegas with 4,000 people to watch an old movie together and quote movie lines. I’m just a writer like you, trying to tap into the mystery.

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What George and the Achievers have in common:  Both started with a core group of fans, gathered around a single idea. George started with Trekkies. Basically a core group of geeks who followed one television series. (Yes, I am one. So what?)

The Achievers began as two guys who loved the movie The Big Lebowski and started quoting movie lines back and forth at a tattoo convention. They noticed they weren’t the only ones quoting lines, and decided to have a party at a local bowling alley, where fans could bowl and watch the movie while drinking White Russians. By 2009 there were gatherings around the world, and fans were traveling thousands of miles to “official” conventions.

The secret? They both started with a core group of fans, centered around one thing they had in common. When those people gathered, they found they had other things in common. George expanded his audience by embracing one of his passions. It may have alienated some, but it gained him a great following.

So how do you do the same thing? Ask yourself: what do all of your fans have in common? What is a passion they all share, that would also appeal to other people and draw them to your work?

A hint: the common factor is not your book. Not yet. What’s the theme of your book, the central idea, that would draw people to read it? Why did you write your story, and why does it resonate with others?

Of course, this is only the first step that both George and the Achievers took to build a fan base. We will look at the next step next week. Until then, you have homework. Follow George on Facebook if you don’t already, and watch what he posts and when. Second, watch the documentary The Achievers and watch their idea take off. Here’s a link to the trailer. Now write on!

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