Come closer. Closer. Listen. I’m going to tell you a secret.
Are you ready?
Nobody really knows how to sell books.
Oh, lots of people will say that they do. Some people have made a living out of claiming to have the secret. Big publishers exist purely to sell books, and make millions, so they must know, right? Wrong. 70 per cent of books make a loss. Think about what that means, especially when the average advance for a first book is $5000. Most books make less than that. And that’s not self-published books, that’s all books published. Seventy per cent. In my non-writing life, I run a pest control company; if 70% of our treatments failed, we’d be out of business in a month.
But if no one knows how to sell books, how are you supposed to sell yours?
If I had the answer to that, I’d be writing this blog from the cabin in the woods I’ve been dreaming of my whole life. Instead, I’m writing it in a basement in a city I barely know. I don’t know how to sell books. But one thing that virtually everyone insists you need to have is reviews.
Book reviews may not be as important to sales as they once were, but they’re still one of the most helpful things you can do to sell your book. Get as many reviews as you can, but know that not all reviews are created equal. Amazon reviews are nice when they’re positive, but everybody knows that they could just be written by supportive friends and family. You can pay people to write positive reviews of your book on Amazon, too, so the credibility is diminished. What helps more is a review from a reputable reviewer.
Now, if you’re not with a major publisher, you’re not going to get reviewed in a major newspaper or magazine. The big publishers buy up ad space in the big papers and ensure that only their own books get reviewed, so unless you have an ‘in’, you can forget about getting a review in The Guardian or the New York Times.
Luckily for us indies, bloggers have become far more important in the last few years, and they’re much more open to reading a book by an unknown . If you’re as small-time as I am, pretty much any blog is good, but here’s a super helpful list of the biggest names in the game: http://www.invesp.com/blog-rank/Books#visit.
Remember when querying blogs to choose carefully; don’t ask a site that only reviews sci-fi to take a look at your romance novel. And don’t be formulaic; these bloggers have writers emailing them all day long, begging for some coverage. They can spot a form email a mile away.
I’ve been fortunate to be reviewed in a few different publications, by professionals. This is the value of a publicist; without her help, I’d have maybe one or two of the reviews I currently do. Here’s the list of professional reviews of my novel as of August 2012:
Yeah, six. It took me and a professional publicist six months to get this many, and as you can see, they’re not all positive. One in particular is brutal – more on that in another post.
For all these reviews, how many books do you think I sold? That’s right, none. Not one. As far as I can tell, these reviews have not helped me in the slightest. People have bought my book because they know me, or because a friend recommended it. Some people found it on goodreads.com; some people read an article I wrote and bought a book because of that. But, at least as far as I know, these reviews did nothing whatsoever for my sales.
So are reviews a waste of time? Well, no. I don’t think so. For a start, you didn’t write Scar; you wrote your book, and it’s not mine, and so just because reviews didn’t work for me doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. Secondly, reviews have a purpose beyond selling books. At their best, reviews by professionals can actually help you grow as a writer. An insightful reviewer can reveal weaknesses you didn’t know you had, making the next thing you write stronger. On the other hand, a really negative review, like all of life’s setbacks, at least offers you the opportunity to grow as a person.
My six reviews may not seem like a lot, but I was happy to get them. The most damning criticism of all is silence.