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Posts tagged ‘author marketing’

Writer, Market, Reader

What makes a writer? it seems obvious that a writer is someone who writes. Which would then follow that a professional writer is someone who is paid to write? But, oh, what is a real writer?

Now there we get into the area some people want to draw lines. Or in other words, the battle between the independent, and the dependents. The dependents would have it that the only real writers are the ones who were chosen to be supported by an entity known as a publisher, acting as a gatekeeper. The independents are less worried about what makes a writer ‘real’ than they are about writing, publishing, and finding that market which will mean they can write the next book in good conscience.

I came across Kristine Kathryn Rusch talking about markets yesterday, and was stuck as always by the clarity of her thoughts on this. You should go read all of it, but pertinent to my point…

There is no market.

There is a marketplace.

A wide-open marketplace that lets readers browse and find whatever is to their tastes. Think of one of those bazaars you find in major cities, the kind of bazaar that goes on for blocks and blocks. Sure, there’s a lot of fresh fruit currently in season, and some lovely woven scarves and some beautiful hand-carved bowls. But there are also one-of-a-kind items, from artists who might not be able to afford to be near the entrances, but you can find them if you look.

That expanded marketplace is new in publishing. Before, the gatekeepers controlled every single stall in that marketplace. You couldn’t find the lovely one-of-a-kind item even if you walked past every stall in every aisle.

Now you can.

What makes a real writer? Sales. Real writers get paid. Real writers don’t subsist on government grants for work they might produce in the nebulous future. Real writers know that they have fans who will happily buy the next book, and the next, and… Now, this takes a while. And it takes a lot of effort. Writing is no sinecure.

I love Kris Rusch’s metaphor of the bazaar. How are you, as a writer, going to stand out to the readers in this new, bustling marketplace? because this is how you will get paid, by attracting the attention of the readers. Now, objectively speaking it doesn’t matter if you’re a ‘bad’ writer in the eyes of the dependents who keep telling the independents (even those who take home six figures in a year) they aren’t ‘real’ writers. If you’re a ‘bad’ writer and people buy your stuff and beg for more, stop fretting over it and keep writing. Note that I am not talking about lack of editing, poor grammar, and plenty of typos. That’s not bad writing, that’s bad editing. That’s why you hire an editor, or at the very least if you’re at the beginning and can’t afford it yet, you find someone in the same boat and swap services with them. Both of you will learn from that process.

In order to stand out in the marketplace to the readers, you have to know the market. This is where many writers balk. They don’t need to know the market. That is what their publisher is for!

Um, no.

No, the writer doesn’t need to ‘write to the market’ but the writer does need to understand what the market is looking for, so the book that is produced can be marketed. I don’t know if that is clear.

evie jones spiritLet’s say, for instance, that I wrote a sweet Western Romance, and put it out there. With no other books under that penname, and no real promotion of that title, in a marketplace that has been conditioned to expect sex and lots of it in a romance title, my book with no sex would sink like a stone (it did). On the other hand I have been watching in delight as a young writer I know has been working diligently at breaking into the market. She’s flying in the face of urban fantasy expectations (and paranormal, which her work tends more toward) by writing sweet stories that aren’t heavy on the sex and who frankly remind me of an up-to-date Nancy Drew dealing with voudon, ghosts, and oh, she’s a witch… But I expect she will do very well, because I know there are those who have given up in disgust with the Urban Fantasy that focuses on sex first, action and story second, or maybe third and fourth after character angst (I’ve just been trying to read an iconic UF series and finally gave up in disgust). She is, really, setting up a booth with her wares in the marketplace and she’s different.

Different is good. But not too different. I’m thinking about craft fairs I worked in, years back. When the shoppers walked into them, they had certain expectations. If you were going to a church bazaar, you expected funny little old ladies with hand-crocheted tissue-box covers. If it was an upscale juried show, they wanted to see fine jewelry and prices that were at least three digits. Which isn’t to say that the grannies were selling bad wares. They were selling to their audience.

And how to do that? I’ll ask you what your thoughts are, and then in the coming week, we’ll take a look at the nuts and bolts of creating a product to sell. I’ll tell you one thing: it’s not all about the writing.

a Pro at a Con

What follows is a guest post from the ever-enthusiastic and energetic James Young. I haven’t done an event of this size as an author, but I have done this sort of thing as an entertainer, and I concur with him on most if not all points – especially being able to accept credit cards, and prepping your load out well beforehand. 

Coooonnnnn!   Cooooooonnnnnn!   Cooooonnnnnn!

(With Apologies to Captain Kirk, the Genesis Scientists, and Ricardo Montalbans Chest)

Is everyone else about ready to take a break from Sad Puppies?  I know I am.  Call me when we WorldCon’s going to put in a cage and spring for Tina Turner to come give that speech.  Until then, I’m here to talk about something near and dear to every author’s heart: The Green Award.  Specifically, as the title suggests, Cedar asked me to do a guest blog to talk about my experiences at the Kansas City Planet Comic Con (13-15 March).  In an attempt to be the most helpful, I’ll divvy this up into preparation and execution.

The first thing a person should do in order to prepare for any event is do some research.  For instance, if you look through previous news clippings, you’ll find that KC Planet Comic Con regularly has 20-30,000 people.  On the other hand, another event my fellow vendors only referred to as “Disaster Con,” promised all of them “over 5,000 attendees” but apparently had less than 200.  Needless to say, no vendor recouped their $150 booth fee, and that’s the kind of thing that gets around.  (I’ll simply say that there are three or four possible culprits for 2014 you can find using Google.)  In addition to making sure you don’t get hosed on vendor fees, finding out things like whether there’s an “artist alley” or “dealer’s room,” the type of tables the con uses, what it’s previous rules have been, etc., etc. should definitely factor into your decision making on what to bring.  For instance, if the Con has some arcane set of rules that makes its relatively low entry fee suddenly balloon to $400 in order for your booth to be in compliance, odds are this may not be the event for you.  Also not helpful is if the Con has all the vendors “in exile” clear across the venue from the celebrity attractions.

The most important thing that should come from this research is having a general idea of how much the Con is going to run you.  This is the point where it’s time to do a cost benefit analysis of how much you expect to make and whether this makes the trip worth it.  First off, there is the problem of where you’re going to sleep.  Unless the Con is in your hometown (i.e., less than 20 minutes away) or you can rely on the kindness of your friends, this is going to add $75 a day to your con fees.  In addition, it’s not the entry fee that will eat you alive, but any of the additional add-ons like power and internet that the venue will charge you for.  In the case of the former, I’ll tell you that there is no, and I do mean no, reason to buy the Con’s electricity.  As I was shown by an old hand (thanks Thaddeus), you can buy various types of battery packs that will allow you to charge your tablet or phone for the 8-12 hours you are at the Con.  As for why you do not need to purchase internet, it seems cell reception seems to have improved at large venues ever since the FCC told folks they will be fined for jamming wireless signals.  While doing sales transaction will eat your data, given what most cons seem to charge for Wifi (it was three figures at KC Comic Con—and this is not abnormal), you will still come out ahead even if you bust your phone’s data plan.  If possible, ask folks who have been there before how their phone reception worked, or do a “site reconnaissance” to see if you have a signal at the venue in question.

Let me be perfectly clear in case the last paragraph befuddled you—it is important, if not critical, to have some sort of data device at the con.  Why?  Because it does not matter how much cash you have if your customer is drooling over you book but just blew their entire budget on that replica Colonial Warrior helmet from the original Battlestar Galactica.  Without getting into details, almost 25% of my sales were by credit card, and the majority of them were folks who were broke at the end of the day.  Yes, be sure to carry enough cash that you can make change (probably $200 in $1, $5, and $10 bills will do it), but also scratch folks’ impulse buying itch by  getting a Square or similar reader on your phone or tablet.  Most of the big reader companies will not only send you a reader for free (although you’ll probably need a headphone extension if your device has an “Otterbox” or similar hard case), but they’ll even help you set up an inventory tracker so that you don’t have to keep a running count of your books or end up selling your last copy.

The last part of prep I will talk about is load out, or “Why I will never pack so much crap again.”  While I was fond of my display (see below), going forward I intend to put together a display like Susanne’s (behind Anita C. Young on the right) that will allow me to go vertical, swap out banners as needed, and also is much lighter weight than the two framed pictures and their easels.   Also, rather than using bungee cords, I will use table skirt clips and heavy duty Velcro (again, thanks Thaddeus!) to affix my banner.  Last but not least, I will remember to pack the convertible hand truck and pack everything the week before rather than trying to do so at the last minute.


con setup

Once at the Con, execution was rather simple.  The best weapon for sales will be the so-called “elevator speech,” i.e. a 10-20 second blurb in which you lay out the premise of your work.  When putting this together, remember that it is likely 99% of the people that you will talk to have no idea who you are.  So, best have one of two things to break the ice:

A. The catchy fact about your book that makes it special: “I kill off Adolf Hitler in November 1940 rather than May 1945.  Everyone thinks that’s a good thing, right up until the point London’s on fire and the British are knocked out of the war…”


B. Be able to relate your book to one or more franchises that people have heard of: “Imagine if Robotech and Battlestar Galactica had a one night stand, and the love child was raised by Halo and George R.R. Martin…” or “What if you had Aliens take place on a starliner full of people?”

If your customer is laughing or nodding enthusiastically at the end of your elevator speech you’re already halfway home—and it’s then that you take the opportunity to explain why your book is different yet wonderful in its own way. Another ice breaker is being conversant in multiple universes, especially the major ones like DC, Marvel, Dr. Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, etc..  You don’t have to be a master at character identification, but taking the time to recognize someone’s character that’s 75% there just may get you a fan.

In addition to being able to make a pitch or recognize cosplay, having items (e.g., bookmarks, business cards, etc.) that you can hand out when someone makes eye contact or seems even remotely interested is good for sales.  I probably handed out 3-400 items at the Con and still have an uptick (especially with regards to hard copy) in my sales than I did beforehand.  While sales after or away from the Con are hard to track, they still count.  Moreover, look at it like having a “vector” for disseminating your work: I now know that my bookmarks are going to Nebraska, Arizona, and New Mexico for starters.  Maybe they’ll only be in those states briefly before going to a landfill…or maybe they’ll get lost somewhere and picked up by another curious person who likes the pictures.  At the very least, I didn’t pay to have them shipped to their next location.

The biggest thing I found out by going to a Con, however, is that it’s probably the best networking opportunity you will ever have.  While I had previously met Robert J. Collins (sci-fi) at a local library event, I cannot see how I could have met Susanne Lambdin (zombie fiction), A.R. Crebs (military/fantasy sci-fi), Thaddeus Nowak (fantasy), or Doug Chatman (Christian fiction) given our geographical distances.  Between talking about display tips, finding out about other cons within driving distance, and comparing notes on publishers, the knowledge I gained from these other authors would have made the booth fee worth it in and of itself.  As Anita put it, it was like spending three days “amongst your people,” i.e. folks you don’t have to explain why you’re writing, the pain and joy of pushing your “baby” out into the wild, or having to deal with customers.  Even without the sales, this would have made the time and booth fee worthwhile.

Mud, Glorious Mud…

“Mud, mud, glorious mud,
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.”
Flanders and Swann – The Hippopotamus’s Song
So come let us wallow… Now a few weeks ago I wrote of the poor fellow who decried the terrible tragic sinking into the swamp, the morass of self-published drekk, where jewels (such, naturally, as his own offerings) would be lost. No one would ever sell more than fifty copies. Alas, alack, alackaday-dee…(and various other suitable cries of woe, and occasional alarums).

Let me draw you a picture of a hill to comfort you. Because, you know, if you don’t want to be down in the swamp… what you need is hill. Well, mostly. As a mountaineer I can tell you near-vertical bogs do exist, and many an adventure hangs… or falls, thereby, but that aside water mostly runs downhill. And where there is not more land than water, it becomes very attractive to amorous Hippopotami. If you’re a hippo, it’s a good place to be. This may not be true for aging hipsters bemoaning Indy sales. You’ll have to forgive the hokey pictures – I got coreldraw for my birthday and today I tried to use it. Take the will for the deed – because it makes my point.
mudcurve 1 001

So look, behold, and otherwise espy: A hill. Otherwise known as a normal Gaussian distribution. Stick with ‘hill’. It’s simpler and rhymes with thrill, which is what the author who does not want to be in the swamp gets, when he finds himself on a dry piece of the hill. Now that doesn’t have to be the top of the hill – just a place where there is no rain (books that can soak in there) and thirsty ground (readers who want books that appeal to them). It can be very big hill, so a dry patch can be quite enough to make an author a living.

Now the hill can ‘describe’ all sorts of things, from an interest in gay romance, or how readers feel about a particular author, to the IQ of a country. The high point of the hill compared to the high point hill that is the demographic of the whole body of possible readers isn’t the same, and, duh, obviously, the biggest hill possible matches the demographic of the possible reading populace precisely. That’s a big hill, if we just talk English first language and an IQ of over 90… say 200 million strong. Some of those will read very little. Some of those will consume a lot of books. Again you can draw a hill for consumption, and the ‘sweet spot’ highest of that hill is not with the few reading 5 books a day (like me, on a reading jag) nor with the one book in ten years, or with the very bright, or the stupid. It’s probably with the medium-bright, and 2-3 books a month people.

Once upon a time, when the world was so very new and all, men wrote books for men.
A little bit of that leaked into the female half of the possible reader population, but really, it made their heads overheat and explode and there was no point in doing something that might appeal to them.
mud2 001

As time moved on and the world was slightly more shop-soiled and worldly-wise, publishing began to realize that women spent money and really, no one knew or cared what sex the money had come from. And the books, and writers (the lady novelist…) began to cater for both genders. And the Bronte’s and Austen’s found a ready audience, and some of it wasn’t female (the area under the curve represents buyers.) And so, gradually, the publishing industry and writers adapted to pleasing and, not surprisingly, representing their audience. Of course there were bits on the edges, or out of socio-political favor who were ignored. But, in general, this was not a huge part of the curve.

mudcurve 1 003

And, let us be real here, most of the readers didn’t care if the 0.1% – or (5 or 10%) the possible reading population – be these the worshipers of the sky-spaghetti-monster, or gay, or ex-Lithuanians didn’t get books that appealed. There was a small but real market for these people, just as there was a small (maybe not as small) market for sf or fantasy. Let someone who is interested in it, who fits there him/herself, write it. For a few writers it can be a good niche.

The problem of course is when you have too many writers in one niche, especially if that’s a small niche. Which cuts to core of what this blog post is about (and mud, of course)

It’s no secret that the bulk of the NY Traditional publishing establishment has steadily moved leftwards, and nowhere more so than in sf-fantasy, which has been more accepting of the left and quite open to the avant garde for their time, for the better part of seventy years – in other words, the claim that sf/fantasy ever was a right-wing, sexist, racist etc etc totally fails to hold water. Taken in a direct comparison to other genres of the same time, sf always was more wide open to the entire spectrum than any other section of literature. That, for a genre that sold to a part of the demographic (those prepared to read sf) was its strength. It’s a strength which has gone to the opposite in the last thirty odd years.
First you had this

mud4 002
Which when the publishing establishment controlled the rainfall (books that could naturally soak in there) … meant that the rest of the hill could go dry or take the run-off, but they weren’t interested (especially in sf/fantasy, in appealing to those sectors. They could like or be educated by it. There were aspects to those authors that might appeal to some readers. And when you controlled access to retail (which is what tradpub did) You could dictate what was available.
So they pushed it to this.
mud5 001

And then of course… it got far more doctrinaire. You had people like Orson Scott Card tossed from the fold because while the rest of his tenets might be ‘progressive’, he didn’t approve of gay marriage. And Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg daring to call a woman a lady… OUT, unclean unclean and so on, narrowing down on PC tenets, producing this.
mud6 001
And then this.
mud7 001
Which is far too much for the tiny part of the reading population in that part of the curve. It exists only because the dry hill is supposed to take it, and as declining sales of sf from tradpub (IIRC they’re down another 6% this year) many people either go dry or go indy. The result is the swamp. And it’s all mud, all the way down. Which if you happen to like mud flavor and color… there’s no shortage. In fact 50 books might be a good sale. Meanwhile the hill is dry.

Of course, that is over-simplifying it. There is no reason a hard-core left-winger can’t write books that appeal to readers elsewhere on the political front. It gets a lot harder when the ‘message’ trumps and invades every bit of story. It gets a lot harder when the villain is always the fellow outside your doctrinaire clique – and you still expect that outsider to buy it and enjoy identifying with the bad guy and being vilified – and knowing that the author obviously is applying a false stereotype. Try and imagine being a black reader, where any black character spend their time either apologizing for sins of all black folk, as if they were his own, or being the vilest of nasty people… I don’t see you buying another book by the author, especially if there is something else on offer, which, um, is the situation now starting to happen.

The big tag of course for indy writers is identifying the empty/under-served niches, and identifying the short medium and long term trends there. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of data available. And yes, it’s common sense – write about subjects and in genres and subgenres that interest you, which you know about, but you’d have to be a very mono-focus fellow to have that making your life easy. I write high fantasy, low fantasy, hard sf, soft sf… Steam punk (well, coal-punk) Alt history, humor, I’ve just finished a cozy whodunit, and realistically that’s just scratching the surface. They’re definitely not PC because the PC swamp couldn’t get any fuller (why do people write this? Is this really how they see the world with token minorities and prescribed attitudes? Or is this because they assume this works because there is so much of it?)

I think the only clues to take is 1) Is there a lot of the particular type of relatively generic stuff? 2) If so does it match the interests of a large demographic segment of the market?
If 1) is true, and 2) is false, don’t go there for ever-so-much, unless you have a new trick.
If 1) is false and 2) is true, you’re golden (I suspect this held true for the early adopters of indy Mil sf. It will probably change if too many suddenly try to write something they have no background in.)
If both are false or true, well, you could do okay.

A curious twist on another popular myth (at least with many trad sf/fantasy writers in their 30’s and 40’s) is that sf was a right wing bastion (false) until they stormed it, but now the future is solidly ‘progressive’, and it’s just old privileged white men (curiously many of these old white men seem to be female) yearning for their lost bastion, gnawing away at the wonderful Hugo awards. Oddly just as many of these new writers are rapidly heading into becoming old privileged white… and quite a lot of them loudly feminist men. But they are convinced that socially and politically their views are what sf/fantasy will be now and forever, once these old people die off, and will we hurry up about it.

Only… um. I had an interesting read of some UK stats that showed 20-30’s… drink less often, and use drugs less often, and are more conservative about money, than either of the previous two generations at that age. They’re also much more likely (in the UK) to vote conservative, than their predecessors. Partly this is rebellion, and partly circumstance, IMO. Socially yes, they are more ‘liberal’ about issues like homosexuality or race. But… well, three little observations here. The first is everything follows the money. The second is that this money reaction is a in itself a sign that things are tougher and more uncertain for young folk than they were when the previous cohorts were making their way through their 20’s. And nothing is more likely to turn those feeling the pinch against any group they feel are getting it easier than them. That has been the product of a PC culture – special perks for special groups. I think it’ll start with being sick of the smallest and most vocal groups and work its way up. Thirdly – people become more conservative as they get older – this is a fair well known and documented fact. So… if this lot are already more conservative… what are their tastes in sf going to be like when they’re fifty? And given that the next generation of the current 30-40’s kids are likely to rebel too… and there is only one way that can go.

And no I am not trying to put you off faithfully cloning whatever ‘new and unique’ thing trad pub is claiming is new and unique – just like its predecessor. But that is the swamp.

Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.

And now for the obligatory advertising (which pays for the sand in the Arena). Yonder picture is a link to book of mine. Dive in with an ear-splitting splosh

while I work on some more.

Public Face

This is Cedar, posting for Kate. Kate staggered into the Mad Genius Club yesterday evening, looked around and asked for help – she’d had a rough day at work and her brain was fried. I looked around, Sarah and Amanda were busy elsewhere, Dave is incommunicado… so I volunteered. You know what they say about volunteering. I don’t have Kate’s knack with snark, although I’m taking lessons. But I can try to be informative, if nothing else!


Cedar Sanderson

Headshot: In this case, just a nice snapshot. It doesn’t have to be an expensive pro shot, but for heaven’s sakes don’t use a photo that is obviously very old, badly scanned, or a pet. Good, or not at all! 

As an author, you need to have a public face. Whether you are indie, self, or traditionally published, you are still the biggest promoter of your own work. So how do people find you? If you are out and about and someone wants to learn more about your book, what do you do? Finally, and perhaps most important, do you present a dirty face, or a clean one to the internet audience?

Most authors are aware, in this day and age, of the need for some sort of online presence. It might seem daunting at first, but there are a lot of options, and many of them cost nothing but some time. Websites, blogs, facebook pages, and other options like Amazon’s author pages, or Goodreads authors… there are so many things you can do. One of the first things to keep in mind is that whatever you create, it will be public. I know that seems obvious, but sometimes we forget that the internet sees all, and never forgets. If I search for myself, I can still find results from a now-defunct mommy blog I kept.

Blogs are a good way to interact with your readers, but unless you have the time and energy to spare on updating them regularly – say, one day a week – then don’t bother. I found that upping my blogging from weekly, to three times a week, and finally to a daily update, has had a huge impact on the number of readers who come to me on a daily basis, and by watching where they come from, and what searches bring them to me, I can know both what content works, and that I am indeed putting my blog in front of people who don’t know me otherwise. It’s a huge investment in time and energy, however, to commit to a daily blog. Most of you don’t want to get into that. What may be a better option for you is to set up a website, which can be updated periodically with interesting events and news, but not a commitment to regularity.

A website of some kind, whether static or blog, is essential for sending new readers to. If you are at, say, a con, or even just going through your daily life and you want to talk about your book, what are you going to do? Say, hey, google me? Or look me up on Amazon? A much better option is to be able to hand your new friend a bookmark or business card with your web address and other information on it. I use a business card, full color, front and back. I have them done along with my other business card, and they cost me three cents a peice. I can afford to hand them out like candy, and I do. One one side I have the front cover of Vulcan’s Kittens (I’ll do another batch soon with Pixie Noir), and on the other I have my name, web address, a qr code that can be scanned to send them immediately to my blog on their phone, and a tiny blurb about the book. I may have a bookmark made up at some point, as well.

On my blog, I have an “about me” page, a buy my books page, and the blog posts themselves. Because I’m an avid amateur photographer and an artist, I can create my own visual interest on the page. If you are setting up your own site, and you can’t do that yourself, be sure that the images you use are not copyrighted elsewhere, and if you use creative commons images, credit them properly. Don’t be like this, um, person (I have not yet confirmed what lies behind the stolen images… Like the man behind the curtain, I’m not sure I want to know).

In that case, an image search led to the discovery that far more was wrong with the public face than a simple desire to appear more attractive than reality. In any and all dealings online, consider yourself in public, and keep your face clean. When you search for your work, or even just your own name, on a regular basis (what, you don’t? But how will you know if someone pirates your work, whether that is text or for us artists, images?) take note of what you find. Blog comments, facebook conversations… it’s all out there, mined by google and turned up on the trash heaps of the world for anyone to see. You might think it’s a flippant remark, but someone else may not.

Above all, never make fun of  your readers. Look at the example of literary agents, who decided a couple of years ago to publicly mock their aspiring authors. In an appalling display of arrogance and cruelty, they laid bare the private failings that they perceived in their potential clients. Seriously, your readers are who give you money, just as authors are how agents make money, and if you make them unhappy with you, they will complain, and your public face will have mud all over it. Unless your readers are all masochists, treat them with respect in public, keep your dealings with them professional, and above all, don’t fling mud. It splashes back as you throw.

Bought and Paid For

Sometimes I see a review on Amazon that makes me do the puppy thing – you know, cock my head and make that little “baroo?” noise. Amanda shared a link to a book with an improbably high original price (marked down to free, for now, though) and seriously questionable antecedents, and after I laughed at it, I read the reviews. When I found this: “exelene article Delivery time is punctual and responsible for everything that is recommended to all is the best way to shop …” I sat back and thought that’s the first spam comment review I have ever seen. But then again, reviews are becoming suspect.

I do read reviews on books I’m thinking about buying (other products, too) on Amazon. I’ll hunt down reviews outside Amazon from time to time, but they are handy right there, so that is usually what I look at first. But I do this with an awareness that I cannot always trust what they say. I hear from people outside the industry that they no longer trust reviews, either, because they keep hearing about the reviews being paid for, to give a book lots of nice boost.

But, what about the time-honored practice of giving away copies of books in return for a review? Isn’t that the same as say, this? When you can buy five book reviews for only $30, why worry about what the unwashed public has to say about your book? The service even guarantees you won’t get a harsh review, saying “we can’t guarantee all bloggers will love your book but we do ask bloggers to only post fair and professional reviews. If a blogger really can’t get into your book we ask them to refrain from posting anything too harsh as reviews can make or break an authors career! It should also be noted we don’t believe it is ethical to pay bloggers for ‘good’ reviews.”

Maybe this is why we find reviews on the book with, I kid you not, the World’s Worst Cover, praising it to the heavens. Midwest Book Review wrote this: “Ancient curses can be quite the ruiner of one’s day. “The Mystery of the Mummy” is another novel from Roger D. Grubbs following the continuing adventures of Andrew Rogers and Kathleen McGregor as they are tasked with stopping a millennia old curse from consuming the world around them. If they don’t act quickly, the mummy will be more than some ancient sack of bones, but the death of us all. “The Mystery of the Mummy” is a top pick for suspense fans, highly recommended.” In fact, all six reviews on this book are in the 5 star range, leaving me wondering what lies beneath that truly horrifying cover photo. After having peeked inside, I am disinclined to plunk down the money to endure the rest of it. It’s just as bad as the cover.

No wonder then that book reviews are losing ground as trustworthy indicators of a book’s merit. I can generally tell if an Amazon review is sincere – for one thing, any negative comments without being all negative are likely an honest appraisal. Not every reader will like every book. I have a few blogs I read reviews on and trust. I myself review books on my blog every Friday, mostly Indie authors, trying to give an authentic review when I do so. But the concept of shelling out money for reviews strikes me as wrong. What do you, kind readers, think? marketing is hard for us authors, requiring a lot of our time and effort. Reviewers obviously need some reward for their efforts in reading, but is a free book enough? Is even that too much? I’m not a proponent of making anyone work for nothing. But I look at my reviews as a tip after having bought the books and already spent something, the review is worth perhaps more to the author than that money. I’ve accepted some books for review on my blog, but I am wary of doing so, as I feel that by doing that, I’m obligating myself to that author.

Which, as it turns out, there are regulations about (I should have known… aren’t there regs about everything these days?). Shiny Book Review, a site I know and trust (full disclosure, they reviewed Vulcan’s Kittens, giving it a B- for editing problems. Which led to me having a professional editor go over it, but I digress.) has a whole section on the ethics of how they handle reviews. And they have made my mind easier about the whole obligation thing. “One more thing: the FCC now requires that a disclaimer be made regarding books sent to Shiny Book Review and/or any book review sites.   That disclaimer is as follows: we at SBR are often sent free books, but are under no obligation — none whatsoever — to give anything except our opinion, freely stated.

And this led me to do a little more poking. I found a well-written article at a food blog, of all places, which normally I wouldn’t cite, but she does it so well. Included are links back to the regulations themselves, so you can explore to your heart’s content if you so choose. I just don’t have time, a house to clean, homework, and all that jazz. Which means that most people probably don’t bother to look at them, either, and accepting paid reviews might not be a good idea if anyone ever comes looking closely at the sites you are reviewed on. Not a scandal you want your book tarred with. So in the end, trust no one, er, walk with caution, and if you do reviews, make it clear how you were compensated, even if only with a free book.

In the end, after asking around, I’m not sure random reviews are even given any weight by consumers any longer. Goodreads has been plagued by scandal, Amazon has too many sock-puppets, other mass review sites like Library Thing are just too obscure for the general public. As a reader, I have people I trust to review a book which I will buy on their recommendation. Most of them are not in the business of giving out reviews, it’s just a whole-hearted “oh, this one is good!” Larry Correia’s book bombs, Howard Tayler’s blogunderschlock, David Pascoe’s random reviews… those are the books that grab my attention and get me to hunt them down and buy them. I’ve rarely been disappointed that way.

As an author, I’m still mulling over what this means, other than the oft-repeated ‘word-of-mouth’ is the best marketing of all. You can’t beg, buy, or steal publicity like those spontaneous reviews. When you get one, it’s like a standing ovation, and the three I have gotten I am more grateful for than I can express. Buying reviews would only cheapen that, for me.