Reader Debt

Every so often, I see a plot post/meme/tweet/pagan incantation about what readers owe authors- reviews! Word of mouth! – or something along the lines of this:

Which.. no, no that is not. The only way you keep writing is if you keep writing (Note: Tez is quoting from a newsletter there). You may or may not make some/much/any money from it, but that’s the definition, folks.

But let’s be abundantly clear about what a reader owes you: the price of the book. That’s it. If, for example, you wish to read *my* book (which you should- it has been favorably compared to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Firefly and Twilight Zone!), you may purchase it for two dollars and ninety-nine cents, which you should most certainly do. Once you have done that, our transaction is concluded! I hope you enjoy it!


What readers owe authors

And, in the event that a reader does like it, I hope they do leave a pleasant review and tell all their friends that they should purchase said book as well. But they don’t have to. And so many authors see this as a must. But, friends, it is not. Do they help? You bet! I only have 16 reviews on my silly little collection, mostly favorable, and that helps. Is it the end-all, be-all of book selling? It is not. Does it have any bearing on my continuing to write? Certainly not. If everyone in the universe went and bought it and my next royalty check was for some absurd amount of money, or simply had more number to the left of the decimal place rather than the right, it would probably make writing more easier. But it doesn’t determine if I do.


Likewise, if you do not enjoy my book, I hope you keep your pretty little reader mouth shut and not tell everyone what a steaming heap of prequel-level garbage my book is, and leaving a scathing review that makes me want to never even think about words again. But you can do those things if you want! You don’t owe me jack beyond the two dollars and ninety-nine cents you spent on my book. In fact, if you want everyone who reads your book to write a review, you might regret that. I’m sure people didn’t enjoy mine and refrained from saying so. That is probably a good thing.

So authors, please, enough badgering. Market to people in a way that makes them want to buy your book, and write books that people will want to leave (favorable) reviews of. Stop worrying about how each review and each sale affects your career/sales ranking/ego/whatever.


Public Service Announcement

(edit: updated)

Welcome to 2014, where you can directly engage people who express their opinions about your work. I’m here to provide a PSA to all you authors who may be thinking about about engaging those reviewers:


Seriously, stop

Seriously, stop

Did you catch that? Good. Because there is literally no way it ends well. “But Dean,” you say, “They gave me two stars because the battery on their Kindle died*!”


Is that person an idiot? Yup, absolutely. Let them suffer in idiocy. “But it will hurt my sales!” you say. Not as much as you calling a reader an idiot in full view of the internet will. “But Dean,” you say, “I just want to thank that person who wrote the glowing five-star review for me!”


Looking buddy-buddy with reviewers is not a good look for an author.. “Oh look Author X replies with a syrupy thank you to anyone who leaves five stars” looks like you’re trying to bribe people to leave you high marks.

Seriously, leave it alone. Let it sort itself out. Let other people call idiots idiots. Let other people compliment good reviews. Your time is better spent on more constructive things.


*Actually happened (not to me)

Please Review My Book

I don’t mean my book. Well, actually, I’d love it if you reviewed my book. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about are posts like this– posts from book reviewers and bloggers that say, in essence, that most authors approach them with the tact of a pyramid scheme on speed (there is really good advice in that post, BTW). Reviews are, of course, the lifeblood of book sales- we need people to review our books if people are ever going to hear about them (and, hopefully, know the book is good).

My original thought for this post was that I would share some things I’ve done that have been effective, but most of it was covered in that BookSluts post. So here’s what I’ll do: emphasize how easy that is to put into practice. I’m hitting up some new people for reviews today, so I’m going to keep a journal of what I do.

9:30: I put all the links into a document. The way I do it, there’s a lot of copy/paste, so I put all that in one place. Note that this is not the review request, just the links that go into it- the Dropbox (contains mobi, epub, pdf, plus jpg of the cover art), synopsis & buy links, specifically.

9:45: I’ve worked my way through the better part of the original list I complied, so to teh Googles I go. I end up at this list, and start working through after refilling my coffee.

The process: The first thing I do when I go to a new blog is to see when the last post was. If it’s from 2011 or something, sending them a review copy is, at best, not helping either of us. At worst, it simply won’t get there. A lot of blogs just get left to float in the ether, so I make sure I’m sending it to a live blog.

Then I skim a couple posts- see what their tone is, what they like. I might be snobbish, but if someone is going to review my book, I want to make sure they have a solid grasp of English, and that they don’t give five stars to everything that comes across (or worse, one star to everything that isn’t vampire erotica). I know it’s not much, but I am giving away $4 here, so I want it to at least be appreciated (while I am asking for something in return, I want that return to be worthwhile).

After that, I find the ‘about’ page. This is where I really try to pay attention, for a variety of reasons. A lot of these are more than one person writing, so who will my email go to (note: get names right. As someone who constantly has an S put on the end of their name, this is annoying). Get to know them a bit, as best you can from what they provide.

After that, it’s on to the contact page and sending them an email. I write every email individually. Even if they all turn out more or less alike (“here’s my book, pls review”), this gives me opportunity to be warm and conversational and add in a couple details to each one that the others don’t have. They might not know this, but hopefully it comes across in the tone. I hate writing emails with the whole of my being, and it gets tedious, but smile through it and press on.

Back to the journal:

10:00: The first two three four five haven’t been updated in over a year or are defunct. Awesome start.

10:10: A real blog! Praise the lord! The Book Smugglers. Anyone who smuggles books is my kind of people. A quick read of the site & about tells me that they really are. A quick email and it’s on to the next (not before the site is bookmarked, I like it a lot).

10:17: The next one only updates about once a month and has a meager following. I’ll come back to it.

10:20: ‘Dreaming About Other Worlds‘ catches my eye, for obvious reasons. Holy cow does this guy have a book collection. He reads a lot of rare stuff, so it seems a bit of a long shot, but hopefully I can appeal to his sense of quality. Email sent.

(I update this post for a few minutes)

10:40: Next up is SpecFic Romantic. 3024AD might not be for them, as romances in my work generally do not go so well. According to the about page, I’m against two things: 1) she likes romantic/happily ever after. That’s not me, but she does say she likes straight SF, SO. 2) No self-pubbed, with exceptions. I’ve lived my entire life as an exception, so I’ll take a shot, but this email will get a little more detail than others might. I actually forwent the official synopsis in favor of a more personal explanation of why it would appeal to her.


11:00: Eight nine ten a bunch more duds. This list kinda sucks.

11:10: OK, we’re done here. I’ll dig up some more this afternoon. There are tons of lists like that (most I’ve found are more up-to-date, at least). Basically, in an hour and a half, I sent off three review copies and wrote this blog post (~900 words). So maybe 45 minutes of actual work. Obviously, I have no idea if those will pan out, but that’s always the case.

One small aside, in conclusion: I have had nearly as much success just offering it on social media. With digital publishing being what it is, reader reviews carry as much weight as anyone. It’s often worth it just to send out copies to readers who will leave reviews on GoodReads and/or Amazon.