I’m sitting here enjoying watching an early December snowfall in Portland – and fervently hoping that it ends and melts by tomorrow!
As I mentioned in my last post, I sorta punted on November’s National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to produce 50K words of a novel during the 30 days of November. This works out to 1,667 words per day. This is not an easy task, at least not for me. I know some professional writers who can crank out three or four thousand words a day without breaking a sweat, but for me this sort of output is aspirational.
Last year, I participated in NaNoWriMo in a limited fashion, with a goal of 15K words for the month, or 500 a day. This wasn’t too odious, so I wanted to double the goal for this year. However, my schedule (and inherent laziness) didn’t allow me to participate last month, which was disappointing. I had really wanted to get 30,000 words further down the road in the second draft of my new MS, a novel called Laughingstock.
In order to make up for this deficit, I’m declaring December to be Local Novel Writing Month, or LoNoWriMo. In this case, the locality is limited to my writing space upstairs, or – if it’s snowing – the kitchen table, so I can look out over the backyard. The goal is to have 30K words by the New Year.
So far, so good. In fact, it’s only the 4th, but I’ve got 5,000 words down, so I’m slightly ahead of the game. If I can keep up this pace, I might be in a position to do the full monty of 50,000 words for next November’s NaNoWriMo. First things, first, though – onward to the New Year!
Hola amigos, I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, so I’m going to do so right now, even though I have nothing much to say. To make it more interesting, I’m going to post in the style of the “Bullpen Bulletins” pages from early 80’s Marvel Comics, which I read assiduously right up until I got my learner’s permit.
ITEM! – The work on the second draft of Laughingstock has finally gathered a head of steam. I’ve collated and rewritten some of the chapters that will remain intact, which are of the comedian-protagonists early days of standup whilst in high school. I’m now on to material that will have to be heavily rewritten or composed for the first time. I’ve been doing a lot of research on how TV series are made for the second act of the novel.
ITEM! – I’m seriously considering reworking the cover of Fester to make it more marketable. Ken Huey’s original cover was fabulous, and he provided exactly what I asked for. However, at that point, I really didn’t know what I should be asking for. After a multi-pronged battle with Amazon’s advertising department over whether the cover image is “violent,” I finally gave up on advertising. Since then, I’ve decided to experiment to see if a different cover will make it easier to sell and keep those creeps from Amazon Ads off my back.
ITEM! – One of the reasons for this move towards a new cover was the fact that last month, I received a royalty payment from Amazon of one U.S. penny ($0.01). Of course, this is terribly embarrassing to admit, but since I figure that just about the same number of people read this blog as buy my books, I’m not in any danger om embarrassing myself in front of anyone who doesn’t already know how embarrassing I already am. Or something.
ITEM! – NaNoWriMo starts next month, and I couldn’t be more confused as to what I am going to do with it. A while back, I thought I could try the full 50,000 words in a month challenge. I had a decent outline for a sequel to Fester,and I thought I could use that as a springboard for the 1,667 words a day that would be needed to get the Full Meal Deal for the event. That is not going to happen, at least this year. I intend to plow on with Laughingstock, and perhaps try to write or edit 1,000 words a day for the month of November.
As for the full NaNoWriMo challenge – well, maybe next year.
Before I get on to the main whinging, some good news: I finally finished the first draft of a new novel, tentatively titled Laughingstock. I started writing it in February 2020 (before Covid – remember that?) I’m pretty happy with what I got out of the “shitty first draft,” primarily since I pantsed the whole thing. With some sage advice, I managed to put together a pretty decent ending, which can sometimes be a challenge. As part of my pantsing strategy, I typically drive all of the characters to some oddball locale and see what they do. It worked (kinda) for Fester, and seemed to work pretty well for this story, too.
Now I just have to convert the SFD into a decent manuscript. The problem is that with pantsing, the first draft pretty much amounts to a super-detailed outline. There are major timeline issues and new characters that emerged during the latter part of the SFD that will need to be addressed. So for the second draft, I will essentially re-write the whole MS, occasionally adding pithy sentences or paragraphs from the SFD.
Book Advertising for Dummies Named Crawford
Now on to my main grouse-fest: advertising woes. At the beginning of the year, I decided I really wanted to go all-in on advertising for Fester. I had dabbled with Amazon Advertising in the past, and it seemed like the most likely way to get the book into readers’ hands. To that end, I coughed up big bucks for an “advertising for authors” course by a bloke named Mark Dawson.
Dawson is a successful author, with 20 titles published and sales of more than 2 million. In the course of his career, he figured out the best way to navigate the arcane system of self-service advertising on such platforms such as Amazon Ads and Facebook. I’d tried to work with these platforms before, and had limited success. They are very complicated and confusing.
So I ponied up the money and began diligently working through the modules. The course is very well-constructed, and Dawson continually updates the material, so it is always current with the vagaries of the advertising platforms. The lessons are clear and well-explained, and there are a lot of supplemental materials like checklists and cheat sheets. It’s really quite impressive. (Between his books, the courses and his podcasts, I have to wonder when Mr. Dawson finds time to sleep.) The course is solid.
The problem is, it didn’t work – at least not for Fester.
The main issue is that the course works best for authors who write book series and in very well-defined genres with avid readerships, e.g. romance or thriller. I am 0 for 2 in that regard. (To be fair, Dawson is upfront about these limitations.)
First, Fester doesn’t really fit into a neat genre: is it dark humor? Mystery? Paranormal? Young adult? Detective? Suspense? It really has elements of all of these, so it’s not easy to slot into a single genre, which makes identifying a cohesive target market exceedingly difficult.
Also, I can’t really produce a series in the normal sense of the term. I write really slowly (remember: over two years for the SFD of Laughingstock). Granted, there was a prequel to Fester of sorts in Powwows, and I have notes for a sequel but that doesn’t really qualify it as a series, per se.
The Cover of Doom
Then there was the cover. I had all manner of problems with the cover. This is not the fault of the artist; he gave me exactly what I asked for, and made it look awesome. The problem was that I had no idea what I really needed as a cover to help potential readers understand the myriad goofy aspects of the story.
Also, Amazon Advertising had issues with the book cover (see below), which they said was too violent. I’ve been over this in a previous post, so I won’t flog that horse but so much longer. One of the issues may have been that the people who review ads for conformance to advertising standards are in India, so there may have been a cultural issue at play. They may also have interpreted the shadows around the cops and the guy on the ground as pools of blood – although it sure doesn’t look that way to me. After repeated attempts to get someone at Amazon Ads to explain to me exactly what part of the cover constituted “excessive violence or gore, including, characters that have open wounds, are in the act of being attacked with weapons, dismemberment, [or] depictions of cadavers,” I got no response. After five attempts and no clarification, I decided to quit while I was behind and pulled the ads.
At that point, I had spent over $200 on advertising and sold exactly one (1) book. I probably would have been better off just using that money to buy copies of my own book and boosting the sales rank, which may have boosted other sales, via Amazon’s voodooesque algorithms.
All in all, it was an expensive lesson learned. I’ve got enough faith in Dawson’s system to give it a try with Jackrabbit– but not until I’ve retooled the cover. I guess the takeaway is Let the Buyer Beware. There are a lot of scams out there that prey on self-published authors. Mark Dawson’s course is definitely not one of these, but do your homework and make sure the system is right for what you write.
Hola, amigos! I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but things have been muy loco here at Sweet Weasel Words.
First, I’ve been spending the last several months posting a serialized version of a novella, called For They Shall Hurt. It’s a chilling story of friendship, misplaced faith and murder. It was an interesting process, although not without criticism. Some readers didn’t like to have to wait a week to read the next chapter. I like to think that I was imitating other authors who serialized their stories. For example, Stephen King’s The Green Mile was originally published in six serial volumes in 1996. In turn, King references Charles Dickens’ novels, many of which were serially published in magazines or as standalone “chapbooks.”
This is where any resemblance between Your Humble Author and the likes of King and Dickens ends. My decision to publish FTSH in serial form had more to do with the feedback I received from my writers’ group. I actually finished the first draft earlier this year, but I didn’t post the chapters until I had received feedback from my writing peeps at each week’s meeting.
Now that the novella is complete, I’ve turned my efforts to my next novel manuscript, tentatively titled Laughingstock. Right now, the MS is topping 115K words, which is about 25,000 more than I’d like to have for the final product. Also, I still haven’t finished the first draft; another 10,000 words is not out of the question.
In a previous post, I discussed the difference between “plotting” and “pantsing” in story construction. I am absolutely a pantser, and have really been pantsing the hell out of this story. Especially as the story approaches its conclusion, I’ve basically been driving all of the characters to the same place and seeing what the heck they end up doing. Now, I think I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can see a clear path to the end of the story.
The question for me is whether I should try to plot or outline that path that I can see through the haze, or just keep pantsing to the end. Doing the former would most likely speed up the writing process, which is a good thing. On the other hand, pantsing has gotten me this far, and I am loathe to abandon it now; similar to the way some baseball players don’t like to change their socks when they’re on a winning streak. (NOTE: I change my socks nearly every day.)
So I guess I’m not going to drop my pantsing for now, seeing as how I’m in the home stretch. I hope to be able to give a definitive report on this approach shortly.
Okay, gang, time for my favorite type of post: whining about book promotion and marketing. (Actually, I’d prefer to be fat and happy and selling a lot of books. It might be a while before I achieve that, so . . .)
As a goal for the new year (I don’t make resolutions), I decided that I was going to kick out the jams on book promotion and really try to do something about Fester‘s lackluster sales. There are different paths to different marketing goals, but as I was interested in boosting sales, it seemed like focusing on Amazon ads would be the best bet. After all, people on Amazon are almost certainly looking to buy something right then and there. For other platforms, such as Facebook, advertising would be more useful to increase brand awareness (whatever that is).
To get a better handle on Amazon’s complex advertising platform, I bought a couple of books and a spendy online course that offered to provide easy-to-follow steps to get a handle on this complicated process. I did my homework, came up with a very basic advertising plan, and eagerly navigated the Amazon ads console to set up four new ads, each of which had slightly different settings. The idea was to gather data to help determine how to better refine my advertising strategy.
The first three ads launched without a problem. However, for the fourth, I got an email from Amazon advertising saying that my ad had been rejected because the ad contained “excessive violence or gore.”
This was patently ridiculous. The ad – which was just the book cover – contained no such violence or gore. (You can see the book cover below.) I checked Amazon’s Creative Acceptance Policies, which admittedly I hadn’t bothered reading before, as the cover seemed pretty anodyne.
I checked the policies about what constitutes “excessive violence or gore.” According to their policies this includes but is not limited to (italics mine):
Brutality, graphic depictions of blood, open or sutured wounds, scenes of torture, dismemberments, or mutilations of bodies (including cadavers).
Overt references to or images implying or depicting rape and sexual molestation.
Clearly, this didn’t apply to the cover of Fester, so I filed an appeal. When the rejection was reviewed, it was upheld. The reviewer said: “When we reviewed the ad, we determined that the ad (Campaign Name: Fester – SP – Manual Category – Down) contained violent content. To ensure a good customer experience, we don’t allow ads containing images of human or animal abuse, mistreatment, or distress.”
I was genuinely nonplussed. The first perplexing thing was that the reason cited for the rejection of the appeal had nothing to do with the “excessive violence or gore.” I re-read the Creative Acceptance Policies, and notices the includes but is not limited to phrase. These are utter weasel words, which you’d think I’d be in favor of, given the name of this publishing company. Weasel words they may have been, but they were certainly not sweet. Basically, Amazon seemed to be saying that they could make the rules up as they went along.
This notion was reinforced when I considered that I had run ads for the same book five times previously (the three new ones plus two experimental ads from last year). All of these were accepted. Amazon was more than glad to take my money to advertise something from which they take a cut. Clearly, the “policies” were not being applied consistently. I figured that the first rejection was an overeager newbie, or an Amazon employee having a bad day. The judgment for the appeal seemed more like summary punishment for having dared question the mighty Bezos Machine.
After some back-and-forth on a FB group, I decided to go ahead and appeal the appeal. I was hesitant, as it seemed risky. I had three other ads running, and I didn’t want them to get yanked. If I kept fussing, I might get the book cover – and myself – on a permanent shitlist. After all, the nail that sticks up gets pounded down.
I also figured that the odds were in my favor: I was batting .833, with five out of six ads being accepted. If I just started over with new ads, I could probably just let them slip by whatever inconsistent scrutiny Amazon might apply.
I eventually decided to appeal the appeal and try to make an argument to Amazon. It seemed like the right thing to do; I will almost certainly be punished for it. If I lose the appeal appeal, I’ll probably just have to get a new book cover. Can’t really afford that right now, as I spent all my money on the fuckin’ advertising course.
At the end of the day, Amazon is the eight-zillion pound gorilla for the indie publishing community. Without Amazon, one’s sales channel options are significantly narrowed. So I will, if necessary, bend the knee to Bezos’ Bozos and offer my heartfelt contrition.
Back in November, I took part (in a limited fashion) in National Novel Writing Month. It was a great experience, and I met with a lot of really cool local authors. I’ve been writing with the same small group for (egad!) 13 years now, and it was great to broaden my local writing network.
One of the many things I learned was that there are two different approaches to writing fiction: “plotting” and “pantsing.” Plotting involves meticulously outlining the story, developing characters’ backstories and motivations, etc. Pantsing – as in “flying by the seat of your pants” – means just sitting down and writing with little or no planning.
I’ve done both. For Jackrabbit, I did a fair amount of plotting, as most of the story (at least the first 2/3rds) was based on historical events. I wanted to get those events right, as I knew that with historical fiction, readers could be especially particular about getting the facts just so. Also, I wanted to soak up as many factual details as I could, as it would inform the tone and story I was trying to establish with the parts of the book that were purely the products of my imagination. I did a lot of research and developed a detailed outline before I started writing the manuscript.
With Fester, it was the exact opposite: I just started writing. It was an interesting process, and it took the characters and the story in unexpected directions. A lot of times I’d sit down to write and thing, “What are these weirdos going to do now?” I really didn’t know the specifics until I was actually writing the scene and the results could sometimes be surprising. Bolly Bollinger ended up being a much more interesting character than I’d initially thought. I’m certain there’s a place for him in the proposed sequel.
I’ve been working on a new novel, working title Laughingstock. It’s about two comedians who grew up together and started performing stand-up as a team. Their lives diverge, and one goes on to comedy fame while the other remains in the stand-up doldrums. At the height of his success, the famous comic suddenly disappears, and his old friend goes in search of him, encountering all manner of ill shit.
I’ve been totally pantsing this story too, but I’ve run into a bottleneck with the antagonist characters. I was able to consistently crank out chapters during NaNoWriMo, but as the New Year turned, it began getting harder and harder. It finally got to the point where I was afraid I’d be writing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over – and then I’d go after Shelley Duvall with an axe. And that poor woman had enough of a time of it from Stanley Kubrick.
To cut Shelley a break, I decided to shift gears, and started working on a short story I’d had kicking around in the attic for a few years. I’m taking a step back from Laughingstock, to let some of the ideas ferment. I’m also going to apply some plotting framework to the pantsing story. I definitely need to work out the timeline better, as I have been taking a lot of liberties with timing and the order of events. I think that will help shake loose some of the antagonist characters – particularly the sociopath studio head and the psychopath director.
I’d really like to have a second draft of this novel done by year’s end. At the very least, I look to have a new short story ready to go. And if all else fails, I can get busy on a sequel to Reset.
Happy New Year, and here’s to hoping for a speedy recovery from the holiday season and maybe a glimmer of hope in the new year. This is a time of reflection and aspiration, where we look back at the mistakes of the past year, and look forward to the mistakes of the upcoming one.
As the Primary Scribe of Sweet Weasel Words, there were many things to celebrate in 2021. Well, by “many,” I mean two: publication of Powwows and the publication of Fester. Being a sole-prop APE (author, publisher, entrepreneur), every new title is an adventure and a learning experience.
Powwows was originally a story line from the monster first draft (~150K words) of Fester that was excised to bring the manuscript down to a tolerable size. I still liked the story quite a bit, so I hit on the idea of editing Powwows as a separate novella that would be released a few months prior to act as an “appetizer” by introducing the reader to the built world of Fester, Pennsylvania and make them eager to read the full-length novel.
In practice, I suspect I used up all of the goodwill in my friends-and-family fan base with Powwows. I got a fairly decent response from the gang about the ~18K word novella, but when the 90K word Fester hit the shelves, the response was, to coin a word, sub-monktastic. The attitude seemed to be “Oh, Christ, he’s published another one?” Plus, college football season was just starting up, so there was very little time for people to bother reading something I had spent 13 years crafting. OK, well “writing” might be a better word than “crafting,” but still…
So, take that as an object lesson: be careful of how you time your publications, so as to avoid reader burnout.
Looking ahead, what is in store for 2022? Or 2015? Well, I’m about 50K words into a draft of a novel called Laughingstock. It’s about two stand-up comics who get started in show business together as teenagers. As they grow apart, one experiences success in the laugh business while one continues to toil in small-time comedy backwater. As the successful one reaches the apogee of his success, he suddenly disappears. His friend embarks on a quest to find his friend – and take on the sinister Wolff Network.
I’m still not sure where the story is going to go, but I did get in the habit during National Novel Writing Month of seat-of-the-pants writing, which often takes the story in amazing and unexpected directions. I’d like to get the first draft of Laughingstock finished before mid-year.
Waiting in the wings is a sequel to Fester. During a trip to the unusual and interesting town of Astoria, Oregon, I came upon a fascinating story that would serve as a framework for a sequel. I came back from that trip with a 75% complete outline for the story. I was quite eager to get started on it when I returned from Astoria, but decided instead to forge ahead with the Laughingstock MS. I think this will allow the Astoria story to age on the shelf, as it were – and make for a more compelling story when I get down to writing it.
It’s been an interesting 2021; it promises to be an equally interesting 2022. That’s why I’m looking forward to 2015. Have a great year!
I’m still plugging away with my scaled-back version of National Novel Writing Month. So far, I have been able to keep my goal of 500 words per day (with one exception, which was more of a math error). Big thanks to the Willamette Writers writing cohort for keeping me on task. Just cleared 50,000 words on my latest MS.
Sour Grapes for Breakfast
One of the things I like about NaNoWriMo is that it gives me an excuse not to work on sales and marketing my existing titles Jackrabbit, Powwows, and Fester. I may be no great shakes as a writer, but my writing’s positively stunning compared to my salesmanship and marketing skills. I just don’t like it. Yet, I want people to read what I’ve written, of course. I’m not really looking to make a ton of money here, I’d be happy to break even on my out-of-pocket costs for the editor, the cover artist, and other fixed expenses.
So I have succumbed, at what I hope is a tolerable level, to the self-publishing industry’s legion of people, businesses and services who will make your book a “best seller” for the right price. Being naturally suspicious and tight-fisted, I always do a little research before shelling out any money. Scammers abound, and I’ve always know that the quickest way to make big money is to sell other people “secrets” of how to make big money. I recently read an article about a woman who charges $1,111 per hour to “channel” “Jesus” to Hollywood celebs and other rich idjits. If I only had a smidge less morality, I’d be on that action like Paula Deen on a plate of deep-fried Twinkies.
So I always look a little askance at the myriad of opportunities for self-published authors to make a bundle by forking over some program or another. At the same time, I’m completely cognizant of the fact that I need help marketing and selling, so I’m just going to have to suck it hope and hope for the best.
Recently, this has taken the form of paid advertising, which is pretty much a given for any self-published author. I’m a kinda techie guy – or at least I used to be – but the online advertising systems used by the likes of Facebook or Amazon are really complex and not at all intuitive. Early attempts at advertising on these platforms had been unsuccessful, so I started hunting around for some reasonably-priced advice.
In the course of my searches, I stumbled upon a plan that is so simple in its efficacy and audacity that I have to tip my hat to the author. There was a teaser article about this person’s formula for advertising success. The piece of advice given in the article was to essentially ignore the Average Cost of Sale (ACoS) metric on the Amazon Advertising dashboard. I could do this easily, as my ACoS figures are downright depressing. This guy seemed to be on the right track; the hook was set.
Of course, he had plenty more useful advice to offer, and was, in fact, going to write a whole book about his Amazon advertising secrets. The book was still in the process of being written, but if anybody wanted to get in at the ground floor, he had established a Kickstarter campaign. Out of morbid curiosity, I checked out the Kickstarter page and was amazed to see that of his $5,000 goal, he had raised a whopping $16,547!
I was awestruck. He had already cleared five figures and he hadn’t even written the book! I did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation, and came up with the number 3,100. Based on the price point of similar book of his, and the typical 80/20 ratio of paperback to eBook sales, along with Amazon’s cut – his Kickstarter campaign had raised the equivalent of the sales of 3,100 copies of his book, which, I hasten to repeat, hasn’t even been written yet. Of course, he’s going to have to come through on the promises he made to the Kickstarter funders, and that’s not peanuts. Still, he’s basically got the equivalent of 3,100 copies of the unwritten book out the door. Sure, that’s chickenfeed to a lot of authors – but not me. I’d be over the moon to sell 3,100 copies of a book.
Truly, this guy has it dialed in when it comes to selling self-published books about self-publishing. And as sour-grapesy as this post sounds, I will buy a copy of the book when it’s finally released, just out of respect for this guy’s sales acumen.
Makes me think I should go into writing books about self-publishing. However, on the whole, I think I’d rather just be a spiritual adviser to the rich and unfulfilled. I will call myself “Brother Mysterioso,” and charge rich idjits $1,112 an hour to channel the spirit of Rip Taylor.
In general, I’m not a huge fan of November. The last vestiges of summer are long gone, the tress are bare and here in Portland we can look forward to another eighteen months or so of continuous rain and gloom. (But on the bright side, it’s still better than Buffalo!) Also, there’s the downside of the Holiday Spirit being rammed down our throats like the force-feeding of a paté goose . Bah, humbug.
When I got the opportunity to join a Willamette Writers writing Cohort, I decided to take advantage of it and signed on. In a previous post, I mentioned that I had stumbled on a story that would be an excellent framework for a sequel to Fester, and had be vacillating on whether or not to pursue that, or continue on with a new novel MS with which I had been struggling. I decided to eat my vegetables before going after dessert, and that I would finish the current MS before starting on the Fester sequel. The Cohort seemed like a good way to provide the new story with some momentum.
The Cohort meets several times a week for support and “write-ins.” At the first check-in meeting, I felt a bit intimidated. A lot of the Willamette Writers seem a lot more put together and organized than I am. A couple had whiteboards with outlines of works in progress, plot points, notes etc. (I typically don’t write that way: I just kinda wind up the characters and see what they do, then write it down.) There was also talk of a writing tool called Scrivener which seemed interesting, but since I have an actual legit copy of MS Word, I figured I’d just stick with that.
Immediately on the heels of the Scrivener discussion, a couple of folks started talking about what sounded like “Nano Rhyme-O,” which I figured was some sort of lightweight writing app for poets. Actually, it was shorthand for National Novel Writing Month; i.e. NaNoWriMo, which happens every November.
NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit dedicated to encouraging people to write. The primary goal is to write a 50,000-word novel (or the equivalent beginning of a novel) during the course of November. You “win” NanNoWriMo by reaching this goal; it’s on the honor system – the primary reward is the satisfaction of cranking out a lot of words in a short amount of time. I think you may also get a pumpkin sticker.
To achieve 50,000 words in a 30-day period requires writing an average of 1,667 words per day – no mean feat, especially for someone who is A) employed full-time, and B) fundamentally lazy, like me. I decided to shoot for a more reasonable goal of 500 words a day, which I could pull off in a reasonably focused hour of writing. Unfortunately, I blew that goal on the second day of the month, due to a math error (I prematurely carried the 1). Nonetheless, I’m plugging away and getting the word count up. I’d actually like to be done with the current project this time next year, and take an honest whack at the 2022 NaNoWriMo with the Fester sequel. Ersten dingen zuerst, as the Germans say. So pleases excuse me, I have some storytelling to do.
Well, my latest novel, Fester, is as published as it’s going to get. That means that I now have to go out and actually sell the sumbitch.
This, for me, is not fun. Some people love being a sales-entity*, but not me. For me, it’s like pulling teeth. However, as a one-entity operation, I have to be the author, the publisher and the sales-entity. As the philosopher Meatloaf pointed out, two outta three ain’t bad. Regardless, slacking on marketing is not going to get my book in front of readers, which is the object of the exercise.
I have been researching how to maximize book sales for indie authors**, and the bottom line is that you can’t really get anywhere with sales without spending on advertising. OK, I can get behind that; it takes money to make money. But here’s the rub: you shouldn’t really be spending money on ads unless you have a minimum number of Amazon reviews in place (~10). There’s no point in driving people to a point of sale without them seeing a number of (presumably positive) reviews once they get there.
Now I am in the uncomfortable position of trying to wheedle Amazon reviews out of my friends and family. This is, to me, odious – I feel like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel. I had some issues with this when I was promoting the Fester prequel, Powwows. I offered free copies of the eBook ( Powwows was eBook only) in return for an honest Amazon review. This met with limited success. I think the issue in this case was that people downloaded the book and then forgot about it. Or maybe I’m just an impatient asshat. Probably both.
Regardless, I thought I’d try the same thing with Fester. At first, I offered a free digital copy for an Amazon review. Then, when my author copies finally arrived, I began offering a free hard copy for a review. When I made that offer, a relative who has also self-published books via Amazon suggested that I crank it up a notch, in order to make sure these were verified purchase reviews.
To that end, I decided to offer a $10 Amazon gift card to anyone who bought the book on Amazon, left a review and sent a screen shot confirming this. This seemed a little ethically mushy, but it’s a cutthroat environment out there for self-published and indie authors. I figured what was the harm? I’d get my number of reviews up to double digits, discontinue the offer and proceed with my advertising campaign.
The problems started when I unwisely cross-posted the offer to a FB indie author group that I had signed on with. The moderator of this group is a harridan – y’know the type: they’ve got a tiny chunk of the web they control, so they control it with an iron fist. This moderator saw my offer and went ballistic. Soon, I was getting nastygrams about how people like me were why the indie publishing world had a “bad reputation.” (This was news to me.) The moderator and a number of like-minded pedants were stalking my Twitter feed, and leaving nasty comments on unrelated posts on FB, etc. One of them even ratted me out to Amazon, claiming that I was “…abusing [the] system by offering incentivized reviews, incentivized purchases, sales manipulation, ranks manipulation, etc.”
This abuse seemed a little over-the-top for what I regard as a noob mistake. So I deleted the posts that had so offended the indie author pedants. Then, I checked the official rules*** and discovered that “incentivized reviews” used to be kosher, but they changed the rules a few years back. That’s the problem with Amazon: indie authors are pretty much at Amazon’s mercy if they want to sell book one, so they get to change the rules whenever they like. Also, it seems like there are underhanded ways to abuse the system on a large scale, which was a far cry from what I was attempting to do. Certainly, it seemed like overkill for my misguided attempt at book promotion to compel a complete stranger to act as a corporate snitch for Jeff Bezos.
I looked at some of the other rules regarding book promotion and Amazon reviews. They’ve got all sorts of rules, some of which border on the ridiculous. For example, it is OK to offer a free copy in exchange for an unbiased review – which is absolutely what I was doing. However, the reviewer is supposed to divulge that fact in the review.
Other rules regarding submission of Amazon reviews are a little more Orwellian. Technically, you are not supposed to get reviews from any friends or family. OK, I can (barely) understand rejecting reviews from the same household, but the whole friends and family group? Fuck that noise. Are we supposed to submit a list to Amazon or something? Bullshit. That company has too much of our personal information as it is.
So that’s where I’m at now – still pissy and frustrated. I’ll try to be cognizant of Amazon’s ever-shifting rules going forward, and avoid indie author groups in general. Fthang!
* I started to go with “salesman,” but realized that was sexist. I then thought about “salesperson,” but realized that term was prejudicial against non-humans and ghosts. “Sales-entity” seemed like the most inclusive term for this situation. Also, if anyone knows of a ghost who is looking for a sales position, please let me know.
**There are yea number of places that will , for the proper fee, provide instruction on how to maximize indie book sales. In fact, I was all ready to put my cash down on one of the more reputable courses, but then the radiator in the car blew up, so that was that. So it’s just muggins here who gets to work it out on his own.
*** Which, in retrospect, I should have done first. Eh, I’ve always leaned towards the “salt before tasting” philosophy., anyway