I'm guessing all you Select authors out there know exactly what I'm talking about when I mention a downside in listing your ebook for free. What is the downside? I imagine authors and publishers could argue back and forth over all the pros and cons that go with free distribution of a work, but there's one thing - one downside - that I notice every time I do a free giveaway.
The one star review.
Without fail, in the days proceeding thousands of free downloads, someone shows up on Amazon or Goodreads and slams that novel they got for free. Of course, they rarely disclose that they got the book for free. In fact, I had a reviewer once title their review, "A Waste of Money." Ha!
Anyway, after talking with other authors, I learned that this was just par for the course. If you were giving your book away, you could always count on a couple one-star reviews coming in shortly thereafter. Intrigued by this, I began checking out these angry one-star reviewers, peaking at their ratings, the other books they reviewed... Most of these people (that I found) have a helpful rating below 50%, and some of them have only reviewed a few books (or some stuffed animals). But aside from why a person who hated a book would spend more time writing a thesis on how much he or she hates the author and his or her work, there is one thing that I suspect to be the main contributor to this downside of free.
If I'm about to spend upward of five bucks on a story, I want to be as sure as I can be that I'm going to enjoy the book. That means I'm going to put a little effort into finding out about the novel before I buy it. And I think most people would do the same. If I see a book cover that catches my attention, I may check out the book description. Further intrigued, I check out the price. Five bucks. Hmmm... I'm gonna do a little more digging before parting with my bucks. I'm going to read the book reviews. I'm going to read some 5-star reviews to see who loved it and why. Then I'm going to read some 1-star reviews to see who hated it and why. Then I'm gonna try to find a 3-star review that may be more level-headed in their opinions. Once I've gathered this info, I'm sure I'll have a better feel for what to expect out of my purchase. Heck, I'll even try the product tags to see what kind of topics the story touches on... Once I do all this, I can rest assured that I'm making an informed purchase, thus increasing my chance of liking the book.
Because, let's face it, people are different. They like different things. What I enjoy, I know others hate, which means what some of what I write isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea either. But I'm also confident that those who share similar interests should enjoy my stories. That's the good thing about product tags and reviews, it gives the reader the opportunity to weed out the stories that deal with things they don't like and would rather pour bleach into their eyes than read about. That's the nature of the game. People will hate your work, people will love your work. Though why someone who hates your work feels the need to share that hate with the world is something that I find fascinating. When I read a book that I love, I want to share it with the world so that other people can experience the same joy I got from reading it. That's what motivates my book reviews, drawing attention to stories that I like. Why would I write a bad review for a book just because I didn't like it? What's the point? So people that would've never read the book to begin with (even if they had heard of it) can know how much I hated it? Why would I need everyone else to know what I hate so much? Why would I put time and energy into spiteful, hurtful, bitter reviews in an attempt to deter others from reading it - others that may never have even heard of the novel if not for my review? What good is my review (and the time it took to write it)? What purpose does it really serve? The good review I get. Completely. You're sharing a source of joy, of wonder, of happiness because you want other people to experience the same. "Hey, I heard this awesome song the other day. You should listen to it, I think you'd like it too." Rather than, "Hey, I listened to this song the other day...no, you probably never heard of it, but let me just tell you for the next half-hour how much I hated it and what I think of the idiot that wrote it."
I know I'm going on a rant here, but the psychology behind the reviewer is so interesting to me. Sure, there can be objective reviews about a book - ones in which the author doesn't know how to string a sentence together, but I'm talking about the reviews that slam a story because of the "message" the reader didn't like... Enter objective statements concerning subjective ideas and opinions...the ones that state the reviewer's opinion as THE fact and suggesting that any deviation from his or her belief is the product of intellectual depravity unfit for existence within their enlightened society. I know you've seen these reviews...the ones written from a deep and mysterious resentment. Indeed, some of these reviewers seem to believe the author has no right to write anything they won't agree with, when it's really the responsibility of the reader to find out ahead of time whether or not the story they're about to buy will offend them. If someone doesn't like erotica, then what sense does it make to buy erotica and then write a review trashing it for being erotica? Or if someone doesn't like religious fiction and buys a religious fiction book and then rants against it for being religious fiction...what sense does that make? For the most part, I think people understand this and respect the tools of discernment available to them. For example, my novel PROGENY could be considered religious fiction, though not to the extent that I believe most people will be turned off by its religious undertones (would anyone classify The Exorcist as being a religious story?). And indeed, I think the reviews bear that out. Are there some that hate every sentence within the book because of those religious implications? Of course, and they've made their objections loud and clear. But the fact is, if someone wants to buy Progeny, all it takes is two minutes of skimming some reviews to become fully aware that there are people enraged at the "religious" elements of the story. If a person is overly sensitive to religion or conspiracy or whatever, then those reviews should be a red flag for them, letting them know PROGENY is not for them. And so they move on. It would be nice, if these particular reviewers understood that their opinion on these things they don't like are just that - opinions. And thus if their reviews read, "I didn't like this..." Or "this wasn't my type of book..." okay, fine... But we all know that's not what I'm talking about. But I'm getting way off topic...
So what is one of the biggest contributors to the downside of free? Free. The fact that the download requires no commitment from the reader at all. They're not putting anything up for your free story. All they're doing is hitting a button. Because the story is free, there is no need to gauge the wisdom of the purchase. There is no purchase. Whereas spending 5 bucks will ensure that I know what I'm buying, a free book requires no such care. I can afford to download a book I'll hate. I'll take the chance because it doesn't cost me anything. Why read reviews? Why search the product tags? It's free, who cares? If I like it, great! If I hate it, well, then I'll go online and try and get as many people as possible to know how much I hate it! I'll try and ruin the book and its author for "tricking" me into reading something I wouldn't like. How dare an author have views that are not my own! How dare they list it for free and tempt me to read it! I want my money back...or rather, I want my time back! I can't believe I wasted all that time reading a free book that I hate! Who made me keep reading it anyway? The author must have made me finish the horrid thing! And now I must vent my frustration to the world and try to prevent anyone else (for everyone else must think as I do) from making the mistake that I made in downloading this free book that has views I find intolerable.
So...why do those one-star reviews pop up after free days? I think certain people download the book simply because it is free. They start reading it (and for some reason finish it) and discover elements within the story they weren't expecting (though what they were expecting from a free novel they didn't investigate is anyone's guess...). Making someone pay for a story is a sure way of making them really want it before buying it. Listing it for free is to invite people that really have no business reading your novel at all...people that don't like your genre and wouldn't normally pay two cents for it. They take a chance on it, which is fine. What I don't understand is why the chance ends up being a one-star review attacking the author and his or her work. For what purpose? On the other hand, there are many upsides to giving your book away for free. BECAUSE people are different (and if you're writing is good), chances are you will be bringing in many more fans than enemies. Most people won't finish a book they aren't enjoying and won't bother reviewing it. But there are those people out there that you're hoping to connect with...those people that, in taking a chance on a free book, will love it and come back for more. So all in all, I think it's well worth it. Ignore the one-star reviews, everyone knows what they are - which is why most of them get rated as unhelpful. If you read a book you like, share it with the world. We might like it too. If you read a book you hate...I don't think many of us really care.
A MAN OVERBOARD is up in the Kindle Store! Paperback will be available shortly. This is a much different book than my others. It's simple and quick in comparison! I'm also waiting to see what the reaction will be to the alternative epilogue linked to my site. This novel was fun to write. I started out intent on making it a short story, but it kind of took a life of its own. It's a short novel at under 70,000 words, but the paperback is still 328 pages due to its smaller trim size and its easy-to-read spacing. And so now I sit back and nervously await those first few reviews... Or I lose myself in my current WIP (a supernatural suspense novel).
That's right! My new mystery thriller A MAN OVERBOARD is nearing the finish line and will hopefully be published in September. I'm excited about the novel for a couple of reasons. First, it's a new genre for me. It's also a lot shorter than anything I've done so far. Thirdly, it's written for mass market, so I'm hoping to gain more readers through it. I'm waiting on the edit while I add a piece of back story that will better explain one of the recurring themes. I'm also working on an alternate ending. Yup. An alternate ending. I plan on having a link to my website at the end of the book, where people can go and read the alternate ending for free on my site. We'll see how that goes:) No, it's not just a ploy to drive people to my site (though I hope it does:). I simply couldn't decide which ending to go with!
So what is A MAN OVERBOARD anyway? Well, for a little preview (I don't want to give too much away, I love a blind journey and don't want to spoil it for the others that do as well), a man and his wife go on a cruise. In the middle of the night, masked men awaken our POV and toss him into the ocean. Miraculously, he survives the fall and is rescued. But that's about as good as the news in going to get. Because he soon finds out that his wife is missing. And, upon returning home, his mother-in-law and son are gone without a trace as well. And then, of course, someone tries to burn down his house...
Sound interesting? As always, I'll be waiting with fingers crossed for the first reviews to roll in. But in the mean time, I should go finish the back story:)
I decided to go ahead and put my novel Progeny up for free again for a few days after the initial sales boost from the last promo seemed to settle down. This time, however, I posted the news to Facebook pages, book sites, etc (thanks to all those sites...World Literary Cafe, Pixel of Ink, Independent Author Network, All things Kindle, and so many more...and thanks to Doug Dorow for turning me on to them:). Well, by the end of the third day I had acquired the #1 spot in a few of Progeny's genres. And, I figure, once you make the #1 spot, the spot itself starts promoting the book. So I decided to go with it and added another day. The next day I actually got the #1 spot for mystery/thriller and #16 overall in the Kindle store. So I used my last day to ride out that achievement, too.
All in all, I sold about 24,400 free copies over the five-day promo. For some reason, only about 300 in the UK (last time it was 6,000). So, now I'm set to wait for the aftermath, to see what those free sales would do to my regular sales. Last time, it really sent my sales through the roof (comparatively), but now I've been hearing how Amazon switched up a few things and authors weren't seeing the same boost anymore. Well, it's been over a week since the promo and my regular sales ranking never broke over 1,000. I believe last time it reached low hundreds. But, it's been consistent, hovering back and forth between #1,600 and #3,000. Yes, my sales more that tripled as a result of the promo, and at my highest set price thus far. In fact, the borrows are keeping pace with the sales, and at one point, they were actually tied. I'm also seeing a little pickup in sales for my other novels, which is good. So far, I've gotten three reviews (can't be sure they're from this last promo, though) since, and they've been four and five's, so I haven't gotten that dreaded 1 star promo yet.
With all that good stuff said, however, it seems that the news I was hearing was right. While I'll take an increase in sales (by now it's more like 5x my norm), it isn't anywhere near what it was just a month ago when I last did my promo (selling 24,000 free copies- so the numbers are about the same). And reading other authors' testimonials of the huge success they had in the early days of Select promos, it seems I was too late in getting on that boat. So I'm wondering how many authors now will skip out on the Select program now that the return isn't as good as it once was. In fact, it seems many authors are tired of selling their book for free at all. If the number of borrows go down, I think we'll see a lot of Indies jumping ship. I'm not sure why pubit isn't doing anything to match Amazon, but if there was any kind of format available through Barnesandnoble.com via the Nook, I think many authors would have already elected to return their books to the Nook shelves. We'll see. Seems change is in the air, and everyone's awaiting the next big thing. This time, whatever it is, I want on it in the beginning, not the end.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “The Negative Effects of a Low Average.” It basically showed how a low rating on a book could really hurt its Select promo days, as I believed it did mine. The first time I ran a Select promo was with my novel The Solomon Key. I had it listed on a couple sites and tweeted about it. At this point, it didn’t have any reviews. I sold 1,800 free copies over the two-day sale. With my Select days about to expire, I figured I’d finish them out over a three-day weekend. By now, I had one review on Amazon. 5 stars. Well, don’t you know that the day before the promo, a 1 star review pops up, giving it a 3 star avg. 2 Reviews, 3 stars… not the best. However, I then went over to the Kindle store in the UK and found that it had two ratings. Both 1 star. Grrrr… Well, over those three days, I sold about 400 copies of The Solomon Key, the negative reviews killing my promotion.
Now, my other novel, Progeny, is a different story. This novel has 15 reviews with a 5 star avg. I scheduled Select days to run the 14th-16th and then decided to run a one day primer this past Sunday – Easter. I didn’t schedule it with any sites, didn’t send out any emails, nothing. All I did was tweet. A lot. And with only 1500 followers, there was no guarantee I would have much success. Especially coming off the three-day Solomon Key debacle.
But the power of high averages and good reviews seemed to make all the difference in the world. Whereas my 3-star Solomon Key sold 400 copies over three days, Progeny sold over 1,500 in one. So yeah, it seems that reviewers really do make a difference in the author’s success. Which is why we Indies need the people that like us to review our novels on Amazon in order to counterbalance those that hate us! I’ll let you know how my “primer” impacts my upcoming three-day promo! In the mean time, check out the trailer for Progeny on the front page!
A couple months ago, I used two of my Select days for my newest novel, THE SOLOMON KEY. Over those two days, I sold 1800 free copies, earning me the #4 spot in free action/adventure in the UK. While the 1800 copies was good for me, the promo failed to touch the success other indies typically have on their Select days. Perhaps it was because there were no reviews posted?
Well, I realized last week that my Select days were coming to an end, and I still had three days to use. So I scheduled them over this last weekend. Friday through Sunday. I was going to double or triple the last Select days, I was sure. I scheduled tweets to go out every hour for most of the three days, a practice that I found remarkably effective before (see that blog post). This was it, baby. My sales were going to take off after the free days were over!
A five star review showed up right before I started the promo. That was good. Even though it was a review that would polarize, it was still a nice sign.
And then came a one star review. Ouch. Now my average was three stars. And just in time for my Select weekend. Perfect. Unfortunately, neither review touched the plotline of the story in any way. One loved it, one hated it. One thought it was written well, the other thought it was written poorly. One loves end times reads, the other “A tired, old plot. Armageddon? Again?” If this person - who judging from the three other books they rated (and the stuffed animals) is way outside their genre to begin with - read the book description before downloading, I don’t know why they even bothered to read it. Even though “Armageddon” isn’t part of the story, it could share the same genre. So if this person thought that the plot was tired and old, why would they get it to begin with? And then write a review like they were shocked that I wrote about something they thought was tired and old. “Really?” Yeah, “really.” So they spent the .99 or 2.99 which they stated was, “A waste of money” – though because this obviously wasn’t this person’s genre to begin with, I suspect they grabbed it during the first two Select days and didn’t pay a cent for it – but that’s just a hunch Anyway, the two reviews couldn’t have been composed of more opposite opinions. They canceled each other out, giving the prospective reader no clue what they would really get. Of course, you got the people saying that the negative review was “helpful” to them. Yeah, thanks.
But I was still hopeful.
Until I checked the Amazon UK site.
Two reviews. Both one star. My average rating? Yeah, one star. “Badly written. Tries to emulate Mattew Rielly and Wilbur Smith and fails miserable.” Is it possible to try emulating someone you’ve never read? Anyway, the other review stated that it was “total rubbish and poorly written.” Dear reviewers that feel the need to tell the world how much you hate things, have the common courtesy to spell check your review before telling the world a book you read is written poorly. I’m pretty sure that even in the UK “pf” is not a word, and there is something within the English language known as “punctuation.” I’m sorry my book “gave you a headache.” And I’m sorry that such a headache wasted more of your time by making you write about it.
So here I go, jumping into my Select days with a five star rating and three ones – the majority of reviews by nice people telling the world not to read my trash.
The result? Only 46 copies given away in the UK, 362 in the US. Yeah, the power of negative reviews. However, as I was walking around sure that these kind people had it right, that I do in fact suck as a writer and should be marched before a firing squad for my crime against humanity, I happened to get a review on Goodreads. And it could not have come at a better time. A five star review that started out: “This is not a book for casual readers who don't want a lot of deep and historical facts and information in their story.” And then she goes on to actually talk about the story! (THANK YOU!) And she ends with “While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, I would highly recommend it as a must read for those who love history, and are hoping for a better world tomorrow. Not to mention this adventure makes 'The Davinci Code' look like a walk in the park.”
So I thought, yeah, this book isn’t for everyone. And I’m okay with that. Now if only the people it was written for would review it as much as the people who hate it…I might be okay!
So, a big thank you to the kind people out there who destroyed my Select days and would destroy me, too, if they could. Again, I apologize for writing a book that you didn’t like. And I’m sorry you may have spent 2.99 on it, though you probably got it for free, didn’t you? I hope the world produces more writers that think exactly as you do so that you can write more positive reviews in the future.
On a brighter note, my novel PROGENY has a collective 30 ratings with a 5 star average! And the second edition just came out, and there’s a trailer up! And the Select days are coming for that, too… which I’m sure will drop the average down some… but what else can you expect from angry people reading free books?
So, I have this website, right? Yeah, no one really knows about it, just like no one really knows about me. I mean, I have 200 Facebook fans, about 1450 followers on Twitter, 600 friends on Goodreads, etc. You get the idea... I'm getting there, but still near the bottom of the pack in terms of my numbers. So anyway, I've been hosting this event on my website that I'm calling The Magnificent 7 Interview Event. What it is is an author interview featuring 7 different authors all at once. And some pretty heavy rollers in the indie world as well as a couple in the traditional market as well. Two of these guys alone have a combined 30,000 followers on Twitter! I figured that it was a way to bring a lot of their fan base to my site as well as to get them supporting each other. I'm introducing Jeremy Robinson's fan base to Ryne Douglas Pearson, etc. As an incentive to get people involved, there are prizes! After the interview, there is a short quiz. Whoever sends in the answers automatically gets a copy of one of my novels and gets to include their own question for the authors that will be featured in the following week's interview (yes, it is an ongoing thing... part five is coming up soon). However, if the participants get all the questions right (it's easy, no one should get anything wrong if they actually take the time to read it) then they are entered into a drawing. The winner gets a copy of one of the author's books, mostly any one they want. But I digress, the point is, I've been hosting this event and have been trying to get the word out there.
Enter my Twitter and Hootesuite revelations.
In the beginning of certain days over the last three weeks, I've scheduled tweets to go out throughout the day. Usually one an hour. Doing this nets me about 500 hits on those days. When I haven't scheduled tweets to go out, I get about 30-50 hits per day. So Hootesuite definitely helped bring traffic to the event and to the site. However, yesterday I decided to try something a bit more extreme. I noticed that most of my views come after 4 o clock, so I didn't even start scheduling tweets until 1 pm. And this time I wrote out about five different tweets and had each one going out per hour. The result? 1200 hits between 1 pm and 11pm, obliterating my prior record. Of course, it might help that I had an exclusive interview posted, but still... So, no tweets- 30 views. 5 tweets per hour- 1200 views. I guess it does work!
Now check out the interviews and win books!