I’m not sure if my husband was surprised or amused to find I’d put Hope last in my writing process. Shouldn’t Hope be first, he wondered? Don’t most good things begin with Hope?
I didn’t list hope first because I’ve gotten past that in my current writing process. I’ve come to a point where I’ve written enough books that I know I can write another one. I don’t know how long it might take, and I don’t know how frustrated I might get. But I believe that, eventually, I’ll get there. My hope now is that the book will be read. Hope is the stage when I release a book, cross my fingers, pray really hard, and wait for people to read the book. There are some people who do read my books. Anyone can look at sales ranks and reviews to see that I’ve had mild success. I Hope for more. As long as I’m writing more books, I’m Hoping for more readers.
Now I don’t just hope. I have done nearly everything I have thought of to get copies in front of readers. Potential readers. And even when the books are free, this is difficult. I’ll be utterly transparent about how difficult it is. Here’s what I’ve done:
1) Digital giveaways – The simplest way to pass out copies of my books is to make them free at one or more ebook sites. The main problem (reason this does little good) is that it’s too simple. Free ebooks are largely ignored or dismissed as not worth the price. As a reader, I know exactly why. I’ve still used this method. I’ve given away thousands of books in the last several years.
2) Goodreads giveaways – The nice thing about these is that it gets people to add books to their “to read” shelves. That makes my book pages look healthier. But it doesn’t mean much beyond window dressing. Most users treat their “to read” shelves as “of the millions of books out there, this looks like something I might read if I suddenly have twenty years of free time” shelves.
Even of the users who have won free copies of my books, only about a third have posted a rating or review. That’s the only way I know the books might have been read, and I cannot overstate how much I appreciate the ones who do write detailed reviews.
3) Advertising – I have paid for a few book ads. What I spend is crystal clear but the payoff is murky at best. Even when you can see the clicks, it’s difficult to measure sales. My budget is so small this is hardly worth mentioning anyway.
4) Review copies – The only socially acceptable way to offer a complete stranger a free book is to call it a review copy. In a perfect world, I would never contact strangers to beg for their opinions. I hate doing it. That’s the truth. I don’t actually beg though. It just feels like begging after all the hoops I jump through to get the contact information in the first place.
To search for reviewers, it is a bad idea to type in “book reviewer” or “book blogger” or anything simple. The top 200 results (at least) will be sites so popular they are no longer accepting requests. Or scams. There are plenty of sites that promise to get reviews from their subscribers (usually for a fee) if you also subscribe. Guess who the subscribers are. Guess how many are actually writing reviews.
It’s marginally more productive to include genre keywords in the search. The first thing I do at each site anyway is find out if the reviewer accepts books like the one I’m pitching. I try very hard not to spam. The next thing is to find out if the site is still active. Many people start a book blog, write a few posts, then abandon the effort. I am not judging these people. Seriously. I only post once a month, and it feels like it’s always time to post again.
After I narrow the field, I narrow it further to rule out contacting anyone who admits to having a significant backlog (because that sounds like someone I don’t want to bother), anyone whose reviews look like reworded summaries (because we all know why), anyone whose own book is prominently displayed on the blog (because that person is likely looking to exchange reviews, only good ones), and anyone who rates romances based on how badly the hero suffers after cheating (because I’m not a psychologist).
I don’t keep stats, but I feel as though I visit dozens of sites for each one where I decide to submit a review request. I’m sure I send out at least five requests for every one that gets a response. (And most of those are “Sorry, I’m too busy.”) When I do finally send out books, I’ll consider myself lucky if half the recipients write reviews. Hello needle! Welcome to my haystack.
5) Shady practices – I said I’d be fully honest. This is the part where I admit I got a few friends to review my first book. I justified it by asking them to only post reviews if they could do so honestly. Yeah, I know how that sounds now. That book has been retired. I’d like to call it a rookie mistake and move on.
I have since tried to avoid anything that moves into gray areas. The temptation is strong though. Other authors offer to swap reviews. All I’d have to do is post a few vague lines next to 5 stars on a book almost no one will ever see – and use a fake name to do it – and one of my books can have a glowing review. Sock puppet accounts are easy to create. I could write believable reviews for my books because I’ve actually read them. I could pay for reviews. I could join online groups and forums only to promote my book. Some things that may not be explicitly wrong still don’t feel right.
Sometimes those things work though. I have seen books amass tons of what I know are phony reviews. (Not because a book doesn’t look deserving, but because I’ve encountered the author publicly trading for those reviews.) It can be difficult not to be jealous. I have to remind myself how unsatisfying an insincere review would feel.
6) Try anything – Desperation may be the mother of creativity. Sometimes it feels as though my books are stranded on a tiny island and potential readers are all in airplanes. I’m slapping at the signal fire with anything that’s free and ethical and hopefully not annoying. I post blogs and reviews to keep content fresh. I’ve made videos. I almost wrote a pirate song. You’d have to read the Coffee and Donuts books to understand the relevance. I’ve dropped vague hints hoping to spark curiosity. You’d have to read the last sentence to understand the relevance.
I wrote a novelty story on an Amazon forum in an attempt to make my other stories stand out. I’ve posted excerpts of my books on goodreads with personal notes attached. I’ve written a blog with the thought in the back of my mind that someone might see how challenging it is to get reviews and spontaneously write one.
That’s not unethical, right? It’s just hopeful. I’m writing about Hope. I know it might sound like I’m whining, like I’m complaining that not enough people read my books. That’s not the point. The point is that I’m willing to do an awful lot to attract readers to my work and after all the struggles, Hope is alive and well. I don’t write books because it’s easy. I don’t write because I think I’ll get rich. There are no delusions here, only Hope. I write because I enjoy the stories, and I want others to enjoy them as well. As many others as possible.
I will carry that Hope as I prepare to release each new book. The next one, Not Complicated, will be available in two weeks. There’s a giveaway on goodreads. The kindle version will be free Sept. 8-10. Book bloggers and even casual reviewers can contact me privately for a copy. I Hope to pass out a lot of copies. I Hope to hear from those who enjoy it. And I Hope to get an excerpt posted soon.