Thursday, 25 June 2015

Amazon and reviews

Getting reviews for your book is one of the things which I think everyone agrees is crucial for indie authors. Of course, the subtext is you need to get good reviews, but for that to be even possible you need to get reviews in the first place. So, because all indie authors need reviews, the obvious thing to do is to offer to review someone else's book in return for a review of your own; and since most people are fundamentally good, most people are quite happy to do that.

To state the obvious, there are problems in this: given how many new books are published each year, what's really needed is honest reviews, but a review will hurt if the review is basically negative (or even, just ordinary?). People only have time to read a tiny percentage of those new books, so readers naturally want to just pick the cream of the crop. And if you get a good review, but feel you can't give a good review in return, anyone would feel some pressure to soften their review, and boost the rating, right? So that's one issue.

I would argue, however, that if the book wasn't to your taste, it's fine to say that. Everyone's taste is different. If you say “this book was too violent” - well, for some readers, that's actually a point in the book's favour. Likewise if it was too sexy (or too chaste) – these are very much matters of personal taste, and you're probably helping the author since you're helping readers get an accurate idea of what to expect, so if they do buy the book they're more likely to enjoy it.

If, though, you see actual problems with the book which you feel the author should and could address, that feedback is extremely valuable to the author personally – yet is likely to be quite damaging to their sales. I'd say, at the very least, you should absolutely provide that feedback to the author so they have a chance to fix the problem and release an improved version of their book. For self-publishers, a quick updated-edition is a really simple and effective option. (And not something that can be easily or cheaply done in the traditional publishing model.) But should you post your negative review publicly? Well, if people are reading it, whether or not you post your review, there's a good chance they'll spot the same problems you did, and their enjoyment will suffer. They may even wind up with negative feelings towards the author, and possibly refuse to consider later and improved books. So should you post the review, to set readers' expectations correctly?

Probably not: your review is much shorter than the book, right? So it's much more likely to be read by a lot of people than the book is. So it's likely to sow that negative feeling more widely than would the book itself. In addition, are you going to even notice, if the author fixes all the problems and re-releases? Yet if you don't notice and take the trouble to re-read the book, and then put in the effort to alter your review accordingly, then your review (of the poor version) will remain, standing there as a black mark against the later version, which may have turned into a masterpiece in the meantime. So that's why I say, don't post damaging reviews: just pass the feedback on to the author if humanly possible.

Note that if your objection is to the writing subject, or the beliefs of the author, or to the behaviour of the characters, I do think they're all fair enough to state publicly.

Okay, so that's the easy part of the topic, I feel. What I'm more interested in exploring here is Amazon's policies and processes related to reviews.

Amazon's nuclear option

Amazon do provide information about their policy in their Customer Review Creation Guidelines and their Anti-Manipulation Policy for Customer Reviews.

I think Amazon have to care deeply about the honesty of reviews because reviews form a crucial part of their business model. In my view it's a fundamentally great idea, too: let word of mouth give people honest assessments of the products so potential buyers can make an informed choice. In a way, it almost bypasses the whole advertising industry (that stronghold of honesty renowned for its unwillingness to manipulate, trick, or influence the buying public, right?), and instead give people the truth.

Provided the reviews are honest.

Now my own personal experience indicates that 90-95% of people are honest and good. (I don't think human society would be viable, if the percentage was much higher.) And the majority have developed ways of dealing with the minority who try to trick and deceive and harm the rest of us (with punishment, and payback, and exposure, and so forth). But since there's money to be made, of course that means that 5-10% of people out there will be actively trying to deceive people. And it's a critical issue for Amazon: if people lose confidence in the reviews on Amazon, that would do massive damage to Amazon financially. So it's in their interest, and that of its customers, that Amazon work hard to make sure the reviews are fair and honest. I started thinking about this topic after reading of one person's awful experience with Amazon (see ‘HELLO’ FROM AMAZON – Big Brother style review censorship, which started with a letter that said

“We are writing to inform you that we have removed your review privileges and suppressed all of your reviews. Any new reviews written will automatically be suppressed. We took this action because you have failed to comply with our review guidelines and manipulated product reviews.”

Christoph says he tried to find out more(see here), because he honestly had no idea what they were talking about. But Amazon provided just a link to their general policies, which didn't help. And Amazon has no process for discussing this heavy response; they have no way for you to appeal. So Christoph had 1700 reviews removed, and was banned from posting any more. He's not the only one – I've heard that others have had the same experience. For me, the issue is that Amazon's process is opaque: honest people can't find out what line they've crossed, and if there was an error made by Amazon, there's no means to correct it.

What really happened in Christoph's case? Without Amazon stepping up and providing more information, we can never know.

What we do know, though, is that Amazon receives too many reviews for them to be checked by human beings; yet it is essential for their business to check the reviews. So they have algorithms that do the checking for them.

Now, much like the people who create software to fight spam or viruses, Amazon are effectively fighting a war against the people trying to provide dishonest reviews for their own gain. This means Amazon is in a difficult position: if they reveal the algorithms they use, that may help the people who are trying to defeat those checks. And if Amazon don't explain why they do what they do to the 'offenders', then they run a serious risk of making errors and treating people unfairly, and also run a risk of damaging their brand by appearing as a bully.

A possible solution?

To me, one solution would be if Amazon were to at least internally investigate people who appear to genuinely deserve to have their case heard, and if necessary, even enter into discussion with them. In that way, Amazon can keep their algorithms secret, yet offer some real justice to people who are wrongly accused or mis-detected. It's likely that if it relates to mis-detections, the information they discover through their discussion and investigation would even allow them to improve their algorithms.

So, what actually happened in Christoph's case, and the other similar cases? We can never know, though my guess (in fact my fear), is that Amazon's algorithms simply detect review swaps, or even review chains: if they find Adam, author of book A, has reviewed Bob's book B, and Bob has reviewed book A, then Amazon assume (they perhaps have to assume), that the reviews are dishonest and flag both Adam and Bob as breaking their policies, and ban both and pull their reviews. For the 90-95% of authors giving genuine and honest reviews, this is unfair and wrong, yet Amazon are simply acting to try to maintain the quality and integrity of their reviews overall, protecting both their customers and their business.

They may have other rules in their algorithms, too: too much similarity between reviews, too frequent reviews, reviews that are too short… we can't know. And without action from Amazon, it would require a concerted effort of analysis by many of the honest reviewers affected, to try to spot the patterns and reverse engineer the logic involved.

One technicality I noticed in the Amazon policy which might catch reviewers out: if someone gives you a free copy of their book in return for your review, you must declare that fact in your review (see Why was my review rejected or removed?)

“The sole exception to this rule [No paid reviews] is when a free or discounted copy of a physical product is provided to a customer up front. In this case, if you offer a free or discounted product in exchange for a review, you must clearly state that you welcome both positive and negative feedback. If you receive a free or discounted product in exchange for your review, you must clearly and conspicuously disclose that fact.
[emphasis is mine]

So perhaps the algorithms could also discover that you've received a free copy and not stated that, and maybe that would trigger the Amazon response? That seems less likely to me, but I think it's something worth knowing.

Oh, and if anyone is still reading this probably too-long blog post, and wonders why the delay since my last entry – it's simply that I'm hard at work revising my book to meet my July 6th deadline to provide it to the professional editor to start work. I did think I could spare a couple of hours, though, to put my thoughts on this topic together.

As always, comments are very welcome.

Update, 2015/7/17. I contacted Amazon and voiced my concern. I wrote:

“As a soon-to-be self-published author via KDP, I would like to know if there is a safe or recommended way to give honest reviews of other self-published authors' work?

“I have heard of Amazon deleting all reviews and banning all further reviews of some people.  Is there a safe way, a way that Amazon recommends, for authors like myself to be able to provide honest reviews of others' books?  I have blogged my thoughts and concerns about this issue here:

“I ask, because as far as I know, Amazon has no process to examine cases where an author feels they have given honest reviews but been banned anyway.  So I'm wondering whether I should simply stop reviewing self-published authors, in case one day one of them reviews my work and Amazon's algorithms decide that mutual review means there's been a violation of the terms of service for providing reviews.”

The first response from Amazon appeared not to have understood my concern, and simply pointed me at the Amazon page that describes their review policy. I wrote back, explaining that I understood that, but asked if they could perhaps answer this simpler question instead:

“in the event that Amazon decides someone has not followed the review guidelines, yet the reviewer thinks they have followed them, does Amazon have some process for resolving the difference of opinion, or for explaining the problem?”

Amazon replied that they encourage reviews but remove reviews that don't comply with the guidelines. They also added this more useful info:

“We know reviews are important to both customers and authors. If your review was removed, you can write to We can help you understand exactly why your review was removed, and provide suggestions on how to share feedback while staying within our guidelines.”

Of course, the proof would be in the pudding. If the email address is simply answered with a “you violated the guidelines; see [Amazon's review-policy URL] for details” then it's just an attempt at engineering perceptions, not dealing with the issue. I hope I never have to find out the answer for myself!

Friday, 12 June 2015

Change of Plan

I hate doing this, but I think I need to adjust my plan and delay the publishing date.

A while back, I noticed that “” offered, for free, an assessment of the 1st 5,000 words of your manuscript (though recently, due to popularity, they've had to reduce that to the 1st 3,000 words). So I sent off mine – basically, Chapter 1. Just last night I had a reply saying that they'd reviewed it, saw a few problems (the main one being too much use of POV shifting within chapters), but would like to work with me on it. I had an initial follow-up email discussion with Dave at theEditors, who impressed me both with his insight and his advice. One consideration of course is both the length (150,000 words, which I know is long for a 1st novel), and whether I can afford the cost of their professional services. Some options under consideration are breaking the novel into two (there happens to be a pretty suitable point mid-way which might work: I'm not sure at this stage); or for me just to hit the Pause button while I go through it on my own to substantially reduce the POV shifts; or for me to simply dig deep into the piggy bank.

Dave also had other suggestions for ways to strengthen the 1st chapter, all of which made sense to me, so whatever happens, I shall go ahead and apply his advice. I'm still waiting to hear back from him about the various options (I'd particularly value his thoughts about whether the plot would be strong enough for the 1st book, since the grand climax isn't until the end of what would then be the 2nd book). But with the plan for a substantial rework and also the possibility splitting the book into two hanging over the head of its head, I don't think it's fair to ask people to read and provide a review of the manuscript as it stands. As a result I've decided to postpone providing interested readers with the MS for now, while I rework it (maybe with more advice from thEditors), and then re-make the offer. Since I haven't been inundated with requests (only receiving two so far), and I don't think any of my 'exclusive' (prestigious? witty?) group of Twitter followers even noticed my single tweet announcing the offer, I think it makes good sense to beg forgiveness for delaying once again.

Things are still quite up in the air. I think if I work on the MS alone, I will have done all I can within two or three weeks. The book would stay a single work. But if I can afford their services, and thEditors are still happy to assist, then it would take longer while they did their part and I also then made further changes based on their fuller suggestions. If the book does end up getting split in two, then the delay would be even longer if we decide the plot of the 1st book does need something more.

So, a slightly confusing situation for me, but if it makes the book stronger and I learn from the experience, then I think the delay works in everyone's favour. I'll keep you all (you few!) informed as the situation develops.

Okay, the decision has been made to get professional help ("He obviously needs it," I hear you mutter), and some very rough schedules drawn up. If we can stick to the schedules, and if things proceed smoothly, with a little luck the improved book could be ready by the end of August. I'll be working very hard to achieve that. It won't be split into two books.

Finally, thanks to Rachel and Eve who have expressed interest in receiving a free copy of Wild Thing to read for a review – I have you at the top of the list of the 20 people who will receive a copy. Oh: I suppose it makes sense that people can still request a copy: I can simply add you to the list, and email you each to check that that's still okay, say a month before I'll have it ready. I've updated the older blog post to make that clear.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Free PDF in return for honest review

Well, I had promised earlier that I'd be self-publishing my book at the end of June, ready or not, and last night it occurred to me that that's less than three weeks away. This is an update, since I've changed my plan (please see the topic I wrote after this one, where I explain that I'll be getting professional advice, so I need to postpone). I sincerely apologise for this delay. But I'm confident that the book will be (even!) better for it.

It also occurred to me that one thing everyone does agree is important, is having some reviews of your book available for potential readers. [This is still true!]

Since I will be standing by my promise, Although I will probably need to delay the release until the end of August at the earliest, it occurred to me that perhaps I'd better do something about trying to get some pre-release copies of my book out to people to review. So, the obvious thing to do seems to be to simply offer up to say, the first 20 people, a free PDF of the book in return for an honest review (preferably at Amazon, since I'll be publishing it via KDP; but Goodreads would be very nice, too).

The 150,000 word book is sci-fi/fantasy. It's set a few decades into our future, but after magic has mysteriously returned to the world. Here's the blurb:

Leeth wants to belong. But abandoned by her parents due to a prophecy, raised as an experimental test subject at the Institute for Paranormal Dysfunction, then taken by a covert agency to become their assassin, she'll do well just to survive. Now, unknowingly stalked by a magical construct seeking the special victim it needs to 'correct' human nature itself: will Leeth's future be experimental subject, government assassin, or humanity's doom?

Or can a young girl prove strong enough to forge her own Path, instead?

I'd classify it like so: adult-themes, fantasy, magic, sci-fi, sexual-content, some violence, strong-female lead, urban fantasy, young assassin

If you'd like to check it out before putting your hand up, the 1st chapter is available over at Goodreads, here. Note that I will be updating this draft over the weekend of June 13th-14th, to address some problems.

All I request is that you only ask for a review copy if it sounds like the sort of book you might normally read, and that you think you can read it and write a short review (including a “star” rating between 0 and 5), by the launch date (which hopefully will be E/August). Reviews aren't hard to write, and don't need to be long. When I review books, I usually find 200~300 words generally says enough. Do try to avoid giving away too much (no spoilers, please).

If so, send me your email address, and I'll add your name to a list to email you a PDF of Wild Thing as soon as the revised version is ready. I promise to keep your email address both private and secure. I promise to never share it with anyone.

I will also email you when I launch the book on 30th June, and trust that each of you will post your review (good or bad) on appropriate sites. It's easy to post reviews at Goodreads or at Amazon, if you have an account. For Amazon, they won't be Authenticated Purchaser Reviews, but I don't mind. The review's the thing (wherein we'll catch the interest of the king?)

And the count down re-starts. This is kind of even more exciting!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Marketing Your Book - Early Thoughts

This article is presumptuous, and you should probably ignore it. It's merely my understanding after studying and thinking about the subject of marketing a book – and I haven't released even a single book myself, yet! I'm still in the study/research/homework phase of learning how to do it. So it's rather ridiculous that I'm writing this item at all. No doubt I'll look back at it in years to come, and blush with embarrassment.

So why am I still writing it?

Well, until I self-publish my book (Wild Thing), I won't have any experience in marketing, nor will I know how well the marketing ideas work until long afterwards. So those are good reasons for not writing this article. Doesn't that mean I should wait a few years before writing on this topic?

On the other hand, I am reading and learning about what to do right now, and will be applying what I learn; and the topic perfectly fits this blog. So although I'm in a chicken-and-egg situation, I think I can resolve the dilemma simply by offering this up on an as-is basis, with no pretensions that it's anything more than my best guess.

So that's why I'm writing it.

I was skimming through Rachel Thompson's twitter feed, discovering article after article of good new information (your website, Indie book stores and word of mouth, your expectations, dark side of selling, authors are A**holes, Twitter spam, importance of keywords, 4 effective marketing strategies, ...), and suddenly decided that, yes, I can start working on this piece. Especially on top of lots of other reading (like Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Hurry Up and Wait, Erica Verrillo's Your Ideal Twitter Audience, stuff about “super fans” – Penny C. Sansevieri, Eric R. Hutchins, Jane Davis), and a recent long chat to @Suw. I think it's all helped me form a possibly-reasonable overall picture of how the “new publishing model” works. But these are my own opinions: please don't think any of the above writers and bloggers have endorsed what I say here.

Here are some background facts which I've read and believe to varying degrees, which have fed into this article:

  • Traditional publishers nowadays don't actually do much marketing for authors: they rely on the authors' to use their own social media to promote their own books.
  • Incomes for writers across the board have been in decline for some years; for publishers, profits have been trending gently up.
  • You must promote and market your book so readers can discover it.
  • The best thing you can do to promote your books is to write more books.
  • The best way to promote your new book is with Twitter.
  • The best way to promote your book is to get (good) reviews for it.
  • In recent decades, traditional publishing companies, headed by People Who Love Books, got bought by larger publishing companies, who understood that publishing was really just a business, a way to make money.
  • The traditional publishing industry isn't really all that tech-savvy. They have methods and practices and processes that have worked just fine for over a hundred years. What is the average traditional publishing company's expenditure on R&D, as a percentage of income? [2] (I mean R&D, not development of eReader products.)
  • Enough authors are difficult and prickly, expecting to be treated with the deference due someone who creates whole worlds from nothingness, that agents and publishers have evolved fast-twitch automatic defense systems and thick armour to protect themselves.

Some of those are contradictory, but I think there's a good amount of truth in each of them.

There's also what I think of as the Twitter paradox for writers. First, I should re-state my metaphor for understanding Twitter: it lets you create a river flowing past your door that's full of fascinating, digitally-inexhaustible flotsam and jetsam – nuggets of gold [3] – which have been sifted from the dross of the entire internet for you by the people you follow.

Now, one thing that authors, agents and publishers seem to agree on regarding Twitter: you need thousands of followers – many thousands – to form the marketing platform for your book. [ I am so screwed. :-) ] Furthermore, unless you're famous, people won't follow you without some reciprocity. Yet the more people you follow, the faster the river flows and the more stuff that gets tossed into it for you to see, and the river is suddenly in flood. Ideally, if you chose exactly the right people, you could follow a really small number, and your gentle river would be full of precious gems, each one especially valuable to you. But that means Twitter is providing you, as a writer, only a tiny market for your book.

On the other hand, there are just as many people saying that the way you should market your book is by writing more good books, and allowing time for your readership to grow. Now, that idea appeals to me, because frankly I'd much rather be writing fiction than working on marketing. I'm a story-teller at heart, not a salesman. And although this blogging is kind of fun – since I'm learning lots, and maybe what I'm writing will help other people (so it's worthwhile) – I'd still rather be writing my books.

Partly for that reason, I'm struggling with the general advice about tweeting about buying my book, and running contests and all that sort of stuff. I have neither skills nor interest in marketing. I also believe I can accept that my book will get whatever success it deserves. I don't think clever marketing will make much difference to that; nor am I expecting overnight success. I'm keen to write, so I don't mind putting in the hard but enjoyable effort to create a good number of books. I don't know how my Wild Thing series will go, but I have ideas for at least five books as Leeth grows and develops and faces bigger challenges. And ideas for at least two unrelated books which I think have a lot of potential, too. Somehow it seems more honest to just let my body of work speak for itself, and do (just?) enough marketing and promotion to give it a chance for word of mouth to have its effect over the years.

I'm also an avid reader, and a fast reader. And I'm comfortable reviewing, and voicing my opinion. On top of that, contributing a review helps other writers, and helps readers, since it spreads knowledge of the existence of good books. And once you've written a review, it doesn't take long to post it on Goodreads, Amazon, or other places. Likewise, I'm kind of enjoying the blogging, and if I stop learning much about self-publishing (and so, stop writing about it), then maybe there are still some related topics which I could write about, either on this site or on a new one.

So I'm starting to get a sense of a marketing strategy that may work for me, by playing to what I think are my strengths. And it even includes a possible solution to the Twitter paradox.

See, if I'm careful about who I follow, and pick people who are interested in stuff that really interests me (and who tweet about the cool stuff they find), and if I do the same thing: tweet interesting stuff I find, or insights I feel are worth sharing (or even silly jokes), then I'll be doing my share, and also letting people see what sort of person I am. They'll come to know what kind of stuff I care about. So they'll get an idea of what I might put into a book I'd write. Sure, I'll only be following a small number of people, so I'll have only a very cosy and intimate circle of people who might like my book. And of those, probably only a few will buy it and like it. But if I'm lucky, each of those may recommend it to their friends, and it could in principle snowball. So I can at least see that there's a possibility of the network effect kicking in, and many of my potential readers actually hearing about it. The Twitter 'curation' of the internet might work for me: I picture Wild Thing bobbing along in other people's Twitter-rivers, and possibly being seen as 'gold' that can be plucked from the river and enjoyed.

I'm dreaming, aren't I? :-) Maybe it's just my laziness at work; just me rationalising why I shouldn't put in a big marketing effort. But hey, this plan will certainly give me more time to write! And social media now really does allow anyone to have a reach or influence on hundreds of people; and they can sometimes all multiply together in a ripple effect. That's what going viral is. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

And it means I can continue simply being authentic on Twitter, just tweeting about stuff which I genuinely find interesting or useful or touching; and that means I'm being a constructive member of the massive crowd-source who use Twitter to curate the internet to find good stuff for other people, for an arbitrarily-varying and individual definition of 'good'.

My marketing strategy has been evolving as I learn. I only joined Twitter four weeks ago (8th of May), and really knew nothing about it before then. But I've taken to heart the idea that if I self-publish, then I need to do everything a traditional publisher would have done – and that definitely includes marketing. Lots of people are writing books, and the self-publishing industry is growing enormously, without the traditional gatekeepers/guardians (or curators) sorting the gold from the dross. So the problem of finding good stuff to read is getting harder because of that. But lots of people seem very sure that Twitter was the key – and as I come to understand it, I'm coming to agree with that more and more. It's not the whole answer, but it may be the most important single piece of the puzzle.

Luck has always played a part in getting published. Different kind of luck is needed now: anyone can publish themselves. So it's more democratic, but luck is still involved, just a different kind. Now, luck is needed just to be noticed in the ocean of books.

The publishing environment is changing. It's still changing a lot. My guess is that we're less than half way through a seismic shift. Frankly, I'll be surprised if the large traditional publishers still hold the major share of the 'market' when the change is over.

One of the pieces of advice I've seen is to try to interest people in your book by talking about what went into it: how I wrote it, what inspired me, what I learned. So I'm wondering whether I should talk about Wild Thing in a future post. Would anyone be interested?

I think a sensible thing to do is assume no one would be, unless enough people somehow find this blog and then contact me somehow saying, “Yes, I'd be interested.” I'll simply say the book is sci-fi/fantasy, set in 2060, after magic has returned; and the main character is a 17-year old girl. It's basically the story of how she becomes an assassin, and about the anti-human magic stalking her. Personally I think that although it's a little dark, the main character shines like a small but fiery star. And I think it's moving, dramatic, and uplifting – but hey, I'm the author. Hmm, they say people like images. Since I was lucky enough to find a suitable model/situation that I thought very nicely matched Leeth and the mood of the 1st book, I may as well finish this shameless attempt to pique people's interest by including the cover here. (Maybe one day I'll even reveal the true story behind how the whole thing came about.)

So what is my marketing plan?

  • Be myself.
  • Use my blog to write stuff which is hopefully worthwhile.
  • Open up about myself a little so potential readers can get to know me.
  • Read, and review what I read.
  • Use Twitter to share stuff I think is important and useful, and to follow a few dozen people who tweet stuff I find interesting.
  • Publish Wild Thing at the end of June.
  • Continue participating in writing forums (like SIA at Goodreads).
  • But mainly, continue writing the next book, work-shopping it and improving my writing skills. Right now, that's Lost Girl, and I'm eager to discover what's going to happen.

That plan doesn't sound too onerous. So I'll see how it goes.

Some late breaking news: Just Publishing tweeted this article - 10 Book Marketing Mistakes New Authors Make - by Derek Haines in 2014. IMHO, it's full of gems!

[2] I don't know. My “Google-fu” powers aren't strong enough. Have you ever heard of any R&D lab associated with any traditional publisher? Or read any famous research paper issued by one? If you have any evidence it's something they even think of doing, please let me know.

[3] Floating gold, yes – thanks to the weird science of the digital world!

Monday, 1 June 2015

Launching Your eBook

Last week I attended another of Ms Lama Jabr's Kindle Direct Publishing workshops for authors and publishers in Sydney.  The meeting was titled eBook Marketing Strategies: Amazon Kindle Select Book Launch.  Lama runs small workshop sessions covering many related areas.  I met more nice people, and learned a lot: I do highly recommend her workshops if you're in Sydney. (This posting is a bit delayed because I came down with a cold on Friday evening. Almost better now, though.)

“Launching your book” is just one part of the larger topic of marketing, and I plan to write something about that in a future post. Since I'm on the subject of future topics, here are some that occurred to me:

  • Marketing your book
  • Piracy and self-publishers
  • The Twitter paradox: panning the internet for gold vs promoting yourself
  • Online writer workshops
  • Quality of your work
  • What I've learned about writing
  • Preparing your ebook for a printed edition

If anyone has an idea for a topic they'd like to see covered, I'm very open to suggestions.

Although Lama's workshop focused on Kindle Select (which I talk about in other posts, and especially in A Piece of Luck), most of the information applies to any book launch, not just a Kindle Direct Publishing launch (whether the “Select” option or not).

Preparing for launch...

Originally I'd written this section as a dense paragraph, but I think it's more helpful as a list. When I say “you've prepared your book”, I mean you've actually done a lot more than “just” writing it, even though that's far and away the biggest and most important step. I mean your book is ready to release, since you've:

  • Finalised the title
  • Revised it (probably many times)
  • Obtained detailed editor-style reviews (chapter by chapter, page by page, and ideally even line by line)
  • Generally polished it until it's the best you can make it.
  • Written a tight, compelling and informative blurb
  • Written a ten second “elevator pitch” encapsulation of your book
  • Prepared the cover, with properly-licensed artwork
  • Chosen how to (self)publish it
  • Converted it into the appropriate electronic format (.mobi or .epub)
    • Obtained an ISBN and tagged your book with the right metadata (genre, etc.)
    • Checked each page of the eBook version in some eReader simulator on your PC
    • Loaded it up on at least one actual eReader device and checked each page
    • (The above two points are apparently because eReaders' compliance to standards is not what it should be, even today: especially if you have illustrations)
  • Organised a print version

Launching your book...

Okay, on to the topic for today. So you've prepared your book for launch – what exactly do you do to launch it? How will people learn that your book even exists?

The key thing about self-publishing is that you're on your own. You have near-complete control over the book and the whole publishing process. Of course, the other side of that coin is that you have to do everything yourself, including all the stuff that an agent and publisher traditionally1 do:

  • setting the price
  • deciding special deals
  • arranging promotions
  • getting the word out (promoting)
  • getting reviews
  • engaging with readers…

So how do you do all that? How do you get the word out and publicise your book? The consensus is that the critically important thing is to get good reviews for your book. By “good,” I mean that the reviewers like it. I think there are two aspects to this, both of which you have some influence on, but no actual control over. The first and most obvious aspect is just how good your book is, and that depends entirely on you. The second is getting appropriate readers, and that is influenced by how you've promoted and described your book. The last thing you want is someone who hates horror stories reviewing your dark masterpiece, or a prude reviewing your erotic romance, or an aficionado of thrillers reading your book on cultivating orchids. Do some homework to target appropriate reviewers; and also make sure your blurb isn't ambiguous or misleading. If it's erotica, or challenging in some sense, give your potential readers fair warning.

Fundamentally, though, the ratings your reviewers give your book depend on how good it is. No amount of marketing will make it successful if your writing itself is of a poor standard in some sense.

Now, getting on the specifics of the Kindle Select launch, much of what I say is my interpretation of what I learned at Lama's seminar. So any errors or misunderstandings are my own. If you want to contact Lama to find out more, she can be reached via Xana Digital Publishing.

First, work out your goal: is it just to get published? To make the book available? To make a living?

Second, consider the foundation of the launch: the author, and the reader.

If your goal is to make a living from writing, then you as the author need to build an awareness of your books, which means an awareness of you as an author. In effect, you are the brand, and you're trying to build brand awareness. You can break this process down into offline and online strategies. Offline strategies include things like organising author talks and book signings (e.g. at a local library or school or book club), or interesting a local community radio station, even things like printed copies and display stands in local newsagents (this is one of the things Matthew Reilly initially did). Try to form alliances with other writers: attend writing and publishing conferences. Network with industry professionals: editors, formatting specialists, cover artists, independent publishers, convention organises. Provide information to relevant newspapers and magazines.

In all this, keep one thing firmly in mind: you need to behave very professionally at all times. This means treating others with respect, and certainly not assuming that your book is important or valuable to them. Maybe it is, but that's for them to decide, not you. If you experience rejection, accept it with good grace. Never lose your cool.

For online strategies, there are many avenues for promotion, and it's easy to reach a global audience. First, you should do some homework. Study your competitors: which means, have a look at similar books. Then, start studying them – e.g. do a search on Amazon for your genre, and then perhaps look at just the top 10 in your genre on Amazon. See what sort of price they charge – this is invaluable information for you to decide what price to set for your book. Also, see what sort of covers they've designed, study their blurbs, and check out the “author pages”. See if any of this inspires you to improve your own book.

When you finally launch your book, the first thing you do is to provide your book to the publisher (whether that be Amazon – in your country or in the US – or Lulu, or Smashwords, or many others, or an independent publisher). This typically requires you to upload it in the right format to their web site and filling out the necessary online forms (especially the tax information: if you're launching your book in the US, you can reduce the taxation to 5% if you're in a country with a mutual taxation agreement. Otherwise, you'll be taxed in the US at about 30% and again in your own country.)

If you've chosen the Kindle Select program and it's your first book, the very next thing you should do is to go and set up your “Amazon Author Central” account. If you wish, you can simply rely on that to be your web platform for your brand. You can link it to social media if you're active (as you should be) on at least one or two of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, … Don't try to be active on all of them, or you'll find you have no time for actually writing new books!

On Author Central, you can provide a little bio (try to make it interesting and appealing), up to six photos, and even a video or two. You could arrange a short interview, or develop a “book trailer”. Apparently you can source people to help you with both those things through Fiverr; but use common business sense.

After creating your AC account, you should search for your (newly-uploaded) book on Amazon and then link it to your Author Central account. Incidentally, the main reason for choosing Kindle Select is because you gain the option of several days of reduced (even zero) pricing to drive interest and make it easy to provide free copies to people. The downside is that for the (renewable) 90 day period, your book must only be available exclusively through Amazon. Your book will also be available for borrowing by people signed up to the Kindle Unlimited subscription service in those countries in which it is available (and you'll be paid a percentage of the KU pool for that month based on sales, provided the reader reads more than 10% of your book). But do note Kindle Unlimited’s Two-Tier System Makes Some Authors Second-Class Citizens.

Anyway, with your book available electronically now, you've laid the foundation for a good book launch. The next step, the key step, is to reach your potential readers. The most important thing is to get reviews for your book.

Getting reviews...

The more reviews your book receives, the more confidence your readers will have that they're getting a fair assessment of your book, and can make an informed decision about buying it. Four reviews is a rough minimum – with four, you should sell many more copies than if you have none. Ideally, the reviews will be strongly positive. I've seen authors requesting reviews “but only if they'll be 4 or 5 stars”. This seems to me somewhat dishonest – an attempt to skew the statistics by selecting only the glowing reviews. If that practice became common, it would undermine the whole value of book reviews. It's not the same as what traditional publishers do in providing a selection of short comments of praise: that's clearly advertising; nor are they in-depth reviews. And for me, personally, when I review a book, I first read it. I don't just skim it. So if I'm going to invest six hours to read it and then the time to review it, I'm not willing to invest that time if I know the author will throw my work in the bin if I don't like theirs enough. (That said, nor would I post a terrible review: instead, I'd bail out of reading the book early, and provide some constructive criticism privately to the author.)

Fundamentally, though, how the reviewer works and what they say are beyond your control, which is exactly the way it should be.

So this begs the question, how do you get reviews? The general approach is to provide a free (electronic) copy of your book in return for (or in the hope of) an honest review. The top sites for readers to find reviews are Goodreads 1st, and Amazon 2nd. There are discussion groups on Goodreads, and in those there are often offers of “review swaps” - but be careful not to do this in a way that could even seem like a “you give me 5 stars and I'll give you 5 stars” way: Amazon actively looks for and disqualifies such reviews, as they should. (For example, if you visit a friend and help them set up an Amazon account to buy s copy of your book to review, do not login to your own Amazon account there: Amazon will note that your friend's IP address is associated with your account, and disqualify any review they write for your book.)

Another approach is to search Amazon's top reviewers, and approach some of the relevant ones (who review in your genre) to see if they would review your book, for a free copy. Unfortunately, I don't know an easy way to find just book reviewers.

Another way is to use Facebook's groups of people who review books. You do this by going to Facebook, entering book review in the search field, and then make sure you click on the Groups tab (you may need to select the More tab and choose the Groups entry on its drop-down list). You'll then see a list of groups who do book reviews. Browse around and choose one or more groups that look suitable for your book, and go ahead and ask. Some of the groups you need to join, first. Some of them require you to review books yourself (which seems fair enough, to me!) You probably want to choose a public group.

I just read a great-sounding tip over on the Goodreads Support for Indie Authors group from Jordaina regarding FaceBook reviews: "I heard a great tip that if you publically thank those who left you a review and tag them in the post on FB it reminds/spurs others on to review so they can get the same type of public recognition. Just an idea."

And another good tip from the same Goodreads SIA group, from Helen on the Introductions forum there: There is a website called, '' which has a list of book reviewers willing to read and review books for free. (Look under the 'Free Reviews' tab) The readers then tweet about the book/review (using the @TweetYourBooks handle). @TweetYourBooks currently has 82.9K followers.

Anything else?

A little, yes. If you're using Kindle Select, then the key advantage is the ability to choose one of the two promotional tools: Kindle Countdown Deals (time-bound promotional discounts for your book, available on and, while earning royalties); or Free Book Promotion, where readers can get your book free for a limited time (five days in every 90-day Kindle Select period).

If you choose the latter, one tip from Lama was to choose either the 5-day bloc, or else first a 3-day block then later, a 2-day bloc. It seems that if you choose 1-day periods, people are likely to find out about it only after the free day has ended, and have that frustrating experience repeat on each free day!

Any other tips?

Here are some other possibly-useful resources;


Originally, I set myself a deadline of self-publishing at the end of May. The astute reader of this blog (possibly both of them) may notice that it's either the end of May already; or even later. So where's the book?

Well, it's still safe and sound and snug on my hard drive, with several backups. Unfortunately, there's been more to know about self-publishing than I could learn during May, so I've graciously allowed the author one more month (gee, thanks, me!). But after that, I'll consider further reasons for delay as mere excuses. So, even if that means the launch won't be as perfect as I can make it, it will launch by end of June at the latest.

I promise.

You can take a look at the 1st chapter of Wild Thing over on Goodreads, if you're really keen. And if it sounds like your cup of tea and you feel you may like to review it: please, drop me a line!

1Though I've heard it said that things have changed a lot in recent years, and publishers often do little or nothing to promote your book these days: the author is expected to do it.