Writers Need Reviews
Browsing casually through a bookshop or on Amazon, no one ever pays out hard-earned cash for a book they don’t know by a writer they’ve never heard of.
People buy novels because someone recommends them – whether through reviews, best-seller lists or word of mouth. Books without positive recommendations won’t sell.
When you find a book on Amazon with an eye-catching title in a genre you like and it has, say, 50 or 60 reviews, most very positive (not all because real people have different tastes), you’ll possibly give it some consideration. You might even buy it. Hopefully you like it, then you recommend it to others who in turn recommend…. it’s a snowball effect.
But for a new author getting the ball rolling is a challenge. Yes, you’ll often see books with three or four great reviews, all awarding 5 stars. Everyone is wise to this, one review will be from the author’s best friend, one from their mother, one from their aunt, and the other they probably wrote themselves. A genuine writer needs to get a critical mass (not too critical) of real people talking positively about his book before it will take off, and he needs to achieve that without expecting they’ll volunteer to pay for the privilege.
That’s why writers have free e-book promotions, give-away days when they reduce the price of their work to zero and encourage readers to download. They’re hoping that by getting their book into the hands of enough people they’ll generate a positive buzz that will translate into sales of the full-price paperback, and of the e-book when it returns to normal price. When the give-away is done specifically through the Kindle store they’re hoping for 5 star reviews on Amazon.
That’s the theory anyway, and when I was planning how to market my mystery novel, Watching Marilyn, a free give-away weekend seemed a good way to go. The story is about Hollywood in the 1960’s, the Cuban missile crisis, the dark suspicions surrounding Marilyn Monroe’s death. After launching it in the Kindle store it sold at a steady but slow pace considering it had no great fanfare of publicity associated. It needed a push.
I decided to have the give-away at the start of June – this was the anniversary of Monroe’s birthday, (she’d have been 86) and the hashtag #HappyBirthdayMarilyn was trending on Twitter. I covered the details of how the give-away went in an earlier blog. It seemed pretty successful. Now I want to analyse if the strategy really works.
Sadly the answer seems to be ‘not really.’
Well, I never did expect everyone who downloaded the free book to review it, most readers of books obviously don’t, it’s only a minority of activists who put their opinions out there to inform and educate the public. I’d have been very, very happy if 10% had responded, but expected it would probably be lower, but surely at least 1%. So how many reviews did the promotion generate? None. 0%. Nada. Zilch. There were no reviews. A couple of people did press the ‘Like’ button for the Kindle edition and I’m grateful to them, but what happened to the others?
Well some simply wouldn’t have liked the book, or were indifferent to it, you have to accept different people have different tastes, and for those who can’t stand the sort of book I write I should be happy they didn’t respond, negative reviews never help unless you’re a punk rock star.
I suspect there’s another group who download free books but never get round to actually reading them, like buying inappropriate shoes in a Sale the lure of a bargain is enough in itself.
But at the end of the day it may simply be that far fewer than 1% of people who download a book will respond with a review, and to get a useful marketing result you need to give away thousands rather than the hundreds I stopped at. Well, I’ve just looked at the Amazon page for that publishing sensation Fifty Shades of Grey, alleged to have sold over a million copies – currently it has 7,712 reviews (heavily polarised between 5 stars and 1 star to average 3 stars). I make that 0.8% – so I should have had 3 or 4 reviews at least! Obviously the only safe conclusion from this marketing experiment is that my free book didn’t have enough gratuitous sex.