Posts Tagged book reviews

Consumer Power, Author Responsibility & Why Book Reviews MATTER

Too many choices!

Too many choices!

We’ve had an eventful week or so with my last couple of unplanned posts. In all fairness, I did expect to get some knickers in a twist (which I did) with my post Pay the Writer. As a quick recap, I love used bookstores. They get a lot more of my money than I like to admit *looks up number to 12 Step Sponsor*

You don’t understand. Half Price Books has books ZEN DOODLES. No frigging idea what those are…just that I need some.

I’m not against “discovering” an author there.

But writers? If we promote used bookstores, make sure to remind readers you don’t get paid that way. Discovery must serve a purpose. Exposure must have the follow-up to be effective.

Because if you don’t ever make any money, you have to go work retail. If you work retail, one day you will be asked one too many stupid questions. When you’re asked one too many stupid questions you snap. When you snap, you lose your job. When you lose your job, you can’t face your spouse. When you can’t face your spouse, you sell drugs for the cartel. When you sell drugs for the cartel, you get involved in a gunfight.

Don’t get involved in a gunfight for the cartel. Encourage readers to buy new if they LIKED it.

Readers, if you find a book you LOVE at that church thrift sale for 50 cents? ROCK ON! If you want MORE books like it? Try to buy new. That’s how capitalism works.

When no one buys new? Well go peruse pictures of Cuba.

By the way, if we buy NEW, the used bookstores make MONEY when we sell those suckers to fund our addiction. So anyone who is foolish enough to think that me encouraging people to buy new books is going to undermine the used book franchise doesn’t remember what used bookstores sell.

The Truth About Samples

Mmmmm…saaaaamples.

Mmmmm…saaaaamples.

Yes, I get that the used book is a sample. Just like at Costco they give out samples of pizza bites. But if no one ever BUYS pizza bites and instead use Pizza Bite Lady as a free buffet?

Pizza bites go away and tofurkey bites take their place and then the terrorists win.

*runs away from vegan friends*

That was the only point to the post that seemed to cause so much offense. Yes Mr. Konrath, I get NO ONE OWES the Pizza Bite Company writer anything, but still nothing wrong with the Pizza Bite Company writer asking for the sale.

When the Pizza Bite Company asks for a sale after we’ve laid waste to the sample table like an Old Testament plague? They’re selling not whining.

Nothing dirty about it when pizza bites sell stuff. Nothing dirty when writers sell stuff either😉 .

Today we’re going to talk about reviews, because I do think that was the big shocker from my last post. I believe most folks have come to mistakenly assume that reviews are kind of this “extra” nicety that isn’t directly relevant to the author beyond ego and that’s patently false especially in the digital age where we writers live and die by algorithms.

Yes, in the digital age, our biggest challenge is discoverability. The defenders of the used bookstore have an excellent point. Obscurity=DEATH. That IS true. But I still say, discoverability means nothing to writers (or any business) without an eventual sale…somewhere.

And for those of you who are on that limited budget who inhale books by the dozen? You have no idea how much power you wield to truly help the writers you love but hopefully you are about to find out.

***Note I said the writers you love. Not ALL writerKIND. Just because I write a book does not entitle me to any review beyond what I EARN.

Why Reviews Are So Essential

Sheer Visibility

We’re all spoiled by Web 2.0 which is a user-generated web that is the offspring of the implosion of the doc.coms in the early 2000s. If you recall the 90s, web content was static. Content was mostly generated by sweaty geeks living in their grandmother’s basement (Okay, I was in a guest room). Anything Internet-related might as well have been Sanskrit for the average person.

Now? Everyone contributes to the web including  my sidekick Odin the Ridiculously Handsome Cat.

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 7.45.13 PM

This is part of what makes the Internet so damn addictive and fun. Everyone contributes. But, with all this content, the web is a BIG place and it’s very dynamic.

Search engines use algorithms to keep everything organized. Algorithms in turn rely on certain favorable behaviors.

I teach this in my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World. You want a website that gets more traffic? Blog off it! Want a blog that gets more traffic? Do the stuff search engines love. One thing search engines LOVE?

Fresh content.

Would you want a Coke that had been sitting out for days? It’s stagnant, flat…got floaties? Guess what? You and search engines have a lot in common. You like fresh stuff. So do search engines.

This is why regular reviews are very important. If my book hasn’t been reviewed on Amazon since 2013? Algorithms will figure my content is best ignored unless someone actively hunts for that molded cup of forgotten Coca Cola my book.

When a book is reviewed, however, Amazon (or Goodreads or wherever we review because they use the same basic programming) perks to life. Because any site that sells or recommends books wants to help guide customers to good/new content, it’s obviously going to favor the “happening” place.

Think of it this way.

You have out of town guests. Are you going to recommend they go hang out at that dive off the highway where the bartender is about to die from loneliness? Or that hot salsa club downtown with a line out the door?

Visibility & One-Click Shopping

When that review improves the algorithms, the algorithm then starts improving that book’s visibility. It shuffles that book out of the dusty back realms of Nowhereville and gets it in the sightline of a possible buyer. Why this is perhaps more valuable on-line is that Amazon (in particular) understands sales.

Why I’m not a fan of the “exposure” alone is that I come from a background in sales.

There’s this thing called inertia and it’s a bugger to overcome. When I worked in jewelry, if I let a person out of the store without making the sale? Odds we’re 99% that sale was as good as lost. It was better to sell something and make the person have to RETURN it because then inertia worked in MY favor.

Same with used books. Great, customer gets a good book, but most of the time? That’s just not going to translate into a new sale unless an outside factor intervenes.

Outside Factor #1—OMG! TAKE MY MONEY!

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

OMG! I SAW ANGELS! I MUST BUY! It happens.

All of us (writers) think we have written this book. Probably not. We keep at it though until we do.

Outside Factor #2—Consumers Voting With Purchases

We vote with consumer dollars all the time and often this is sparked when we are educated that we need to buy differently. Don’t believe me?

I’m highly allergic to gluten and have been all my life. Three years ago most people thought Gluten was a moon orbiting Pluto. Then writers started educating consumers about the food industry. Our food had gotten to where you needed a degree in organic chemistry to know what the hell was in it.

Consumers fought back.

They ignored cheap foods loaded in artificial ingredients and bought non-GMO, organic and gluten-free. As a consequence, prices dropped, selection improved and now General Mills has announced that this year it will be removing artificial ingredients from many of its most popular products.

I can…OMG…eat Cheerios again! *SOBS* Spawn can eat them!

Image vie Cheerios. WE LOVE YOU!!! Even though you are stuck to every piece of furniture I OWN! http://www.cheerios.com/GlutenFree/

Image vie Cheerios. WE LOVE YOU!!! Even though you are stuck to every piece of furniture I OWN!
http://www.cheerios.com/GlutenFree/

THAT is the power of educating consumers. Readers have the exact same power. Now that people know how writers they love make money, buying habits may be altered due to this factor and inertia overcome.

Hooked on a series from a used book? Perhaps buy the next one new.

Outside Factor #3—Our Nemesis, THE IMPULSE BUY

Most of the time price and seeing a new copy while shopping will spark a sale.

The main reason Amazon IS the new SkyNet is they’ve mastered the one-click impulse buy.

So when that algorithm shuffles your favorite author’s book into the sightline of other potential readers? Odds greatly improve that someone will impulse buy. More sales means that author’s odds of continuing to write more books like the one YOU liked have greatly improved.

How Else Do We Authors Improve?

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Peter Dutton

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Peter Dutton

Believe it or not? Writers are omniscient…only in our fictional worlds. We just can’t know unless you tell us.

For the fiction writers, if ten people say our characters need more depth, then we won’t be wasting time doing more world-building. Feedback makes us better and saves us time.

And *draws a breath* I’m again about to possibly be unpopular.

We writers hear that you (readers) want excellent and professional covers, seamless interior design, professional editing, proofing and formatting…but that costs money. Please don’t rant that no one owes us a living and that you refuse to buy new books but then gripe about crappy covers.

We’re going to have to meet halfway.

Writers. We have a responsibility to put out the very BEST product possible. Refer to my post Five Mistakes Killing Self-Published Writers.

Reviewers don’t owe us any review beyond what we earn and they shouldn’t pay for an inferior product.

The Deadly Silence

I think what’s killing many authors is that readers have come to believe that reviews are not important to us in any way beyond our ego or guiding other consumers (like reviewing a toaster).

Either readers will enjoy a book and never say anything, OR often they will say it in the “wrong” place.

I can’t count how many e-mails I get where a reader just gushes how my book changed their life. How awesome my book was. They loved it!

…then never write a review.

😦

Reviewing Tips

Original image via Flickr Commons courtesy of Mark Coggins

Original image via Flickr Commons courtesy of Mark Coggins

It’s OKAY Not To Be a Pro

We’ve all made the book review WAY more complicated than necessary. Readers, you are not professional book reviewers and do NOT NEED TO BE. If a book kept you up until four in the morning and made you hate life as you slogged through your day job? Give it 4 or 5 stars and just write:

“Book kept me up until 4: 00 a.m. Writer is evil stealing sleep from innocent victims.”

If the book kept you interested and was fun and did its JOB? Reward it. Simple.

I know writers freak you out and you think we’re silently judging your prose. We’re actually too busy wetting ourselves that you liked our book and picking out artisan frames to put your review in….typos and all. They just make you extra adorable.

It’s all good.

Review According to the Book’s FUNCTION

Did the author do his/her job? If yes, great! Why was it great? If not? Why not?

If it’s brain candy then say, “Hey, great brain candy. Fun Saturday afternoon read.” Not all books are supposed to be contenders for the Pulitzer.

Recently I gave a good review to a NF but also left a criticism. The author had mission drift. He never delivered what the book promised (the THESIS). Now, I gave him four stars because I still got a lot out of it, learned a lot and enjoyed the writing…but he didn’t do his job. At least not all the way and he can’t do better unless I give feedback.

And I have the attention span of a meth-addicted ferret so if I finish a book? You get 4 stars just for that alone.

Kristen's Brain as acted by Spiffy the Hamster Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons

Kristen’s Brain as acted by Spiffy the Hamster
Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons

NEVER Put Your Name on What You Don’t Believe In

This is to offer relief to reviewers. Don’t let writers guilt you and if they insist on guilting you, tell them you’re going to tell me *stern Mama face*.

You beloved reader, don’t owe us anything we don’t earn.

Yes, I want you to support writers with good reviews only because I do think a lot of you have enjoyed books and have never taken time to write a review because you simply didn’t understand how much they mattered. Beyond that?

You’re in the clear.

If you don’t want to write a review? Don’t. You don’t owe us anything.

If you’re a reader and choose to leave a bad review? All I ask is you remember a real breathing human is on the other side of that. A human who sacrificed many hours of free time for the sole purpose of wanting to bring YOU joy. 

If we failed, we failed. That’s fair. But, there’s a difference between giving us something we can work with to improve versus prompting us to contemplate suicide.

Writers, don’t guilt others into giving good reviews.

This is a big reason that it’s tough to get reviews. I hate to say it, but I’ve lost many “friendships” because I refused to write a stellar review on a piece that had not earned it. Pouting isn’t professional.

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

If you want to be paid, then you’re a pro but that comes with some hard knocks and sometimes that hard knock is the book sucked. I’m your colleague and will tell you in private.

Readers don’t owe you (or me) that courtesy.

Tips for Shopping

This is mainly for the readers.

Take One Star Reviews With a Grain of Salt

One of the reasons I am not a huge fan of Goodreads is that trolls tend to hang out there and GR has not done a lot protect authors from being abused. So, if you spot a book that suddenly has a weird cluster of one and two-star reviews and there is NO explanation? Could be troll-sign. Trolls also like to hide behind cutesy monikers and avatars (btw sock puppets do too).

Do NOT Be Spooked By All Good Reviews

I also heard a lot of people say they were suspicious if a book got all good reviews, but be careful.

If you see a gathering of all 4 & 5 stars and NO commentary, THEN be wary. That’s a good sign you have a cluster of sock puppets (fake reviews).

But if you’re looking at a book that’s getting mostly 4 and 5 stars and readers are detailing WHY, the book might just be THAT good and the writer earned those high marks. Don’t punish excellence.

For the writers.

DO NOT PAY FOR REVIEWS & DOWN WITH SOCK PUPPETS

Anyone who has a financial interest in reviewing our book already has a conflict of interest as far as I am concerned. Save your money.

One thing that has really burned my @$$ is authors banding together and reviewing each other’s books and that is all well and good if the reviews are genuine reviews. Sadly this has not always been the case. Being a sock puppet doesn’t help anyone.

It will wreck your friend’s brand and your brand because readers will lose confidence and colleagues will lose respect. I refuse to put my name on anything I don’t believe in. If I give a book a five star glowing review? It earned it.

Being a real friend is not easy. But I’d rather someone no longer hang out with me than I serve them up to the wolves on a platter with dipping sauce. In the digital age, we writers live and die by the value of our name.

Don’t let friends guilt you into reviews they haven’t earned. If they’re a real friend and a pro, they’ll  get over the hurt and thank you later.

I hope this has helped all of you better understand how reviews work in the digital age and maybe even taken some of the pressure to write The Great American Literary Review off your shoulders. Don’t let other writers give you a guilt trip. As I said, you can tattle on them to me😛 . I’ll set them straight.

Does this help? Writers, don’t let anyone make you feel ashamed to ask for a sale. Now if you ask and they say no? Don’t be a pest.

Readers. Feel free to buy books any way and anywhere you want to, but please remember that we do vote with our dollars. That holds true for cars, pizza rolls, gluten-free bread and it holds true for good books.

For the savvy reviewers out there, are there any tips you’d like to add to help us out? Writers, I hope this is something you can reblog and share so your readers know how to help and support you if they so choose.

What are your thoughts? Feelings? Are your eyes wide open? Would you like to add anything?

I love hearing from you!

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International. Your friends and family can get you something you need for Christmas. Social Media for Writers, Blogging for Writers, and Branding for Authors. 

Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

Enough of that…

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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How to Win Some Blogger Love–Scoring the Book Review, Guest Post or Interview

Image via J. Kaczorowski WANA Commons

The world is changing faster than any of us can keep up, and publishing is certainly not immune. Yet, one constant remains. There are only two ways to sell lots of books—good book and word of mouth. Period. Book trailer, bookmarks, giveaways, and flare are fun, but are certainly not major drivers of book sales. If you want to know why, take a few minutes to check out one of my earlier posts that explains why books are not tubes of toothpaste and writers are not tacos.

One of the best ways to generate word of mouth for our books is to enlist the help of bloggers who have large followings. Ah, but be careful. There is a TON of bad advice floating around out there about how to approach bloggers to review a book, give you an interview or allow you to guest post.

I know when I was speaking over the summer, a PR expert spouted off (with great authority) her “helpful tips” to get writers hunted down and tarred and feathered . Um, I meant, tips to make bloggers want to talk about you and your books.

Um…so does this mean you WON’T be reviewing my epic fantasy?

Normally, I ignore anything I don’t happen to agree with, but this bad advice is just far too pervasive and it can land a lot of well meaning authors in deep *cough* yeah, that stuff. Many marketing people believe (quite mistakenly) that what works in the world of business works in publishing, and that just ain’t so.

So, let’s just take a look at some of the ways to make bloggers craft a voodoo doll of our likeness:

Bad Tip #1—Send Out Mass E-Mails

Yes, said marketing expert actually recommended that writers make a master list of all the big bloggers and send them an e-mail request for an interview, book review or guest spot.

No. For the love of all that is chocolate….NO.

One surefire way to make any blogger hate you is to send us a nice form letter that is clearly part of a mass e-mail list. I can’t tell you guys how special I feel when I see:

Dear Madam,

Wow! Whoa! Okay, I often argue that storytelling (writing) is really the oldest profession in the world, but Madam? Seriously? No wonder I suddenly feel the need for a feather boa and a chaise lounge. I just thought it was my normal weirdness.

Let’s just apply a smidge of common sense. The last time you went to your mail and some cable company sent you a form letter, did you get chills? Did you get ooey gooey feelings of super-specialness? No. Okay, so here’s a clue. No matter how “thoughtful” the form letter…it isn’t.

When this expert recommended mass e-mailing all the top bloggers, I just kinda wanted to punch her.

And don’t think bloggers will fall for….

Bad Tip #2—“Personalized” Form Letters

Yeah, I am not mentioning any names, but this advice really gives me an eye twitch. “You can send a form letter if you just make sure to personalize the first paragraph with tidbits about the other person.” I just love it when people fake interest in me, don’t you?

I love Dale Carnegie, and I read How to Win Friends and Influence Enemies People about once a year. But, here’s the thing. Dale was trying to teach people how to actually CARE about other people FIRST. His tactics were not meant to be some phoney-boloney schtick to get people to lower their guard so they could be more easily manipulated.

We are not idiots, and we spot a form letter when we see one.

At least once a month, I get something akin to:

Dear Ms. Lamb,

Wow. I see that you like training sea monkeys for world domination. But have you ever thought, “Gee, New York just doesn’t publish anything good anymore”? Critics are hailing The Chiropractor’s Assistant—A Tale of Love, Betrayal, and Orthotics as the best thing since Snookie’s unauthorized biography. I know your blog is top-notch and that’s why I am offering you a rare chance to interview me before I’m too famous to be reachable…

Yeah…I’m right on that. Right after I organize my liquor cabinet.

I know it is tempting to take short-cuts. I’ve listened to the fancy Power Point presentations at writing conferences, too. But, what might work in Corporate America can make us a digital leper in the writing world.

Bad Tip #3—Faking Fandom

This should fall under the “No, Duh” category. Don’t tell a blogger that you are a fan of the blog unless, well…you are.

Okay, now that I have talked about all the BAD advice, how do you really get a blogger to review your book?

Smart Tip #1—We Should Never Ask for What We Are Unwilling to Give

When a writer is asking a blogger to review a book, that is a HUGE time and energy commitment on the part of the blogger. It takes an average of 10-12 hours to read a book. Then the blogger needs to think, make notes and write a post. You could easily be asking for 20 hours the blogger might not even have.

Interviews are also tough. We need to read writing samples, research your background and even come up with witty and thought-provoking questions. I, personally, have to get my creepy panel van detailed and buy fresh candy. Interviews are A LOT of work.

So, before you e-mail a blogger asking for something, take a gut check. How much have you given?

Trust me when I tell you that we pay attention to people who take time to leave comments regularly. If a blogger gets a request from a REAL fan who has been leaving comments for months? Often it is a no-brainer. Bloggers are people and if you sow kindness and generosity, most bloggers will respond favorably.

Smart Tip #2—Make Sure the Blogger Actually Does Book Reviews or Interviews or Allows Guest Posts

I don’t do book reviews, so to ask me is kind of a waste of time. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to ask me anyway. Years ago, back when she was squeaky new, Piper Bayard hired me to edit her first 100 pages…and then promptly named me The Death Star. Yeah, so asking me to review your book is kinda like asking Ice Pick Vinnie to babysit your kids.

You need some wet work? Some little darlings that need to disappear? I am the right gal. Reviews? Eh, not so much.

But, there are bloggers out there who do review books. Seek them out. Follow their blogs and leave comments. Then, when your book is to a point it needs a review, you will have an established relationship and getting a review will be far easier.

I rarely do interviews. In fact, in three years I have done…TWO. So again, I am not a great choice when it comes to soliciting an interview. My blog is primarily a teaching blog and a formal environment for my general goofing off. Interviews are not my specialty.

If you have a blogger you like, just take some time to see if they even are open to reviews or interviews. This is just common sense. If you need to buy new shoes, don’t go to a florist. Check the blogger’s About Me section and many bloggers will say if they do reviews, interviews, allow guest posts, etc.

Smart Tip #3—Ask the Blogger What You Can Give TO Them

Present yourself as a solution to a problem. Many bloggers are short on TIME. Hey, we’re writers, too. If you want to do a guest post, have some written ahead of time and allow us a choice. If you desire an interview, have a nice bio handy and prepared. You might even have a list of questions to help us out. We might not use your questions, but they can at least help us get us focused and give us a place to start.

This is all just common sense. Serve people first. Be kind and authentic. I know it seems like it takes more time than e-mailing 50 bloggers and hoping a couple will bite. But, if you work to forge relationships FIRST, I promise that your time will be far better spent.

A really great way to meet bloggers is to learn to blog. There are few tools more powerful for creating an author platform. For those interested:

Starting a Successful Blog

Time is running out to sign up! A lot of blogs fail simply because writers take off with no instruction, and, because of this, they are left to learn by painful trial and error. If you believe you would like to blog, but you’re uncertain, I’m doing something new. To accommodate those who are still on the fence, I’m now running a Basic level for my upcoming blogging class that starts next week (and it is only $50 for TWO MONTHS).

In the Basic class, you get to be part of the WANA1012 team and receive all the forum lessons (none of the live webinars are included). This is a really great place to learn if blogging is right for you (Blogging Training Wheels).

If you’re ready to skip the training wheels and get started blogging, then get your spot NOW. My classes have a history of selling out. I offer a Blogging Bronze, Silver, Gold, and even Diamond, for those who are ready to go all the way.

This is a TWO MONTH class—one month for lessons and one for launch—that you can do in your own time, at your own speed and from home. And since you will be part of a WANA team, you won’t have to do this blogging thing alone, so your odds of success are MUCH higher. For those who want to do NaNoWriMo, we can extend the two months if we have to. That’s one of the benefits of being the owner of the interface :D .

So whether you start your own blog or just get out there and read a few, getting in the mix and forging relationships is more critical than ever. Have I missed anything? For you bloggers out there, what makes you feel warm and fuzzy? What can writers do to get your attention that isn’t illegal in all Southern states?

I LOVE hearing from you.

To prove it and show my love, for the month of October, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Will announce September’s winner on Friday. Been out of town and need to catch up.

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of October I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

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66 Comments

Bookstores are Closing & Amazon is Expanding–Want a Sure Bet in an Uncertain Future?

As many of you already know, historically, novelists have endured a mind-numbing failure rate. Even up to 2007, traditionally published novelists only had a 1 in 9 chance of ever seeing a second book in print. Most writers failed to sell through their print run (per BEA statistics) and had to return to the day job to pay the bills. Ah, but the times, they are a changin’ and it is a WONDERFUL time to be a writer.

As many of you already know (especially the WANAlums), I happen to be a HUGE proponent of writers having a blog. A GOOD blog that people actually want to read. But, I get it. Some of you might not believe you have time or perhaps you aren’t ready to start a blog. Okay. Fair enough. Today’s advice is for you. Oh, and it is also for ALL writers, even those who have a blog.

Yeah, and you thought you’d sneak out the back of the HTML. Nope. Grab a seat.

How many of you have blogs that could use more traffic? Yeah, that’s pretty much all of us. How many of you have a book coming out one day and it would help to get a review or do a blog tour to promote? Um…everyone should have a hand raised right now. How many of you LOVE randomly e-mailing total strangers and asking for big favors?

Exactly.

The Rapid Changes in Our Marketplace

Most of us cringe at the idea of self-promotion, but as we careen into the 21st century, the Digital Age Author has more responsibility than ever before. If we self-publish or go indie, our social platform means life or death, and traditionally published authors no longer get a pass. Sorry.While it might be a fantastic time to be a writer, I imagine those working in publishing remember fonder days.

Amazon has really been putting the hurt on NY Publishing. The future of Barnes & Noble, the largest book retailer in the world, is largely uncertain, and William J. Lynch Jr, CEO of Barnes & Noble, admits that there is a lot riding on the future of the Nook. Independent bookstores? Yep. Magic Eight Ball says, *shakes vigorously*, yep, “Future uncertain.” If you don’t want to trust my Magic Eight Ball, you can read more about it here in the New York Times article, The Book Store’s Last Stand.

So why am I taking time to mention the uncertain future of book retailers? So you stop depending on them to get your books in front of readers. From this point on, any shelf space is gravy and awesome, but it cannot be trusted to be there for good.

Traditional methods of getting an author’s wares (books) in front of a customer (reader) are shrinking and going away. It is highly likely that most books will be digital within less than ten years. I am not here to debate whether this is good or bad, but I AM here to help prepare ALL authors for a brilliant future, no matter what your preferred choice of publication might happen to be.

May I remind you, it is a fantastic time to be a writer! Yes, things are changing, but not all change is bad. But some changes require…um, change. Writers need to be on social media. All writers. And if you don’t have a lot of time, I am here to help all writers work smarter not harder.

Agencies now want authors who come with a platform, and few things make agents feel all warm and fuzzy like a writer who has loads of blogger pals. Since traditional means of showcasing books (bookstores) are diminishing, writers need a digital support network now more than ever. Bloggers can be a writer’s best friend and a HUGE time-saver when it comes to social media.

One of the best things we writers can do on social media is to become a Blogger Booster.

The cool thing about bloggers is we are attention whores friendly, and many of us like people. We are like a faithful dog, and, if you give us a scratch in that place that makes our digital legs go a thumpin’? We will be a loyal pal.

How Can You Be a Blogger Booster?

Comment on Blogs and Repost to Your Networks

Really. That’s all. Ideally, comment on blogs with large followings. Many people go to the more popular blogs for more than the posted content. Hey, check out my comments section. Sometimes I think my posts are just an excuse for all of you to have a party, and often you guys are WAY more interesting than I am.

If you run across blogs that have a healthy comments section, that is a clue that this is an established and even growing community. Commenters befriend each other and hang out. I know because I have met many friends this way. They were regular at commenting on my blog (or other fave blogs where I was the commenter) and I went to their blog and on and on.

In fact, it is very common to see the same people congregating on each other’s blogs. It is a huge…are you ready for this? NETWORK.

Even if you don’t have time to blog, at least take time to read blogs and leave thoughtful comments. People will see you are vested and have something worthwhile to say. They will get to know you and hopefully like and support you, especially if you have a presence on Twitter.

The more people you get to know, the better. When it comes time to plan your book launch, you won’t be tossing form letters into the ether hoping something sticks. You will have awesome pals who are clearly active on-line. Additionally, bloggers will know you, recognize you and, if you support us enough, we will LIKE you…a lot.

Last April, when I taught in L.A. at the RT Book Lovers’ Conference, one of the PR “experts” recommended that an author with a book about to be released needed to sit down and e-mail as many bloggers as possible and see if they would do a review.

Um…no. For the love of all that is chocolate, NO.

In fact, I raised my hand on that one. There are few things that will annoy bloggers more than unsolicited spam asking for us to put out effort for someone we don’t know from a hole in the ground.

Yeah, sure. I will read your indie published 110,000 word high fantasy in my infinite free time, and write a favorable review, even though I have never talked to you or so much as seen a “Great blog” from you in my comments section. Yeah…I am right on that, right after I organize my sock drawer.

Bloggers are always looking for stuff to talk about. Many will even do reviews. I do them on rare occasions, but not for random people who e-mail me a form letter. One of the best ways to get on a blogger’s good side is to regularly comment on her blog and even repost on Twitter and Facebook.

If you do all these things then, LATER, when you are staring down the barrel of needing your new book reviewed? It will feel a heck of a lot less weird asking for a favor. A blogger, particularly a book blogger, will be far more inclined to help you out if you have been giving in the relationship for a while.

Commenting on blogs can build rapport with key influencers with large followings, and it only takes a few minutes a day. Maybe you don’t have time to blog, but you can make time to comment and RT or post a link on your FB, G+ or whatever. Just those two activities can plug you into communities that number in the tens of thousands.

And sure, the future of the bookstore is uncertain…okay, bleak. That’s life. But the cool thing is that while markets change and technology changes…humans are timeless. We will always want community, love, support and friendship and investing in relationships is ALWAYS a good idea, regardless of what is happening on Wall Street.

What are some other ways you guys can think of to be a blogger booster? Do some of you blog and have a cool reader story you would love to share? What are some of your favorite types of blogs? Why do you like them? What makes you guys subscribe to a blog? If you happen to be a book blogger, what steps would you recommend a writer take to improve her chances of landing a review?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will announce last week’s winner on Friday.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of February I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck! 

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness

I am a HUGE fan of Porter Anderson’s Writing on the Ether. It is just crammed full of the best information to stay on top of all the changes in our industry.

4 Ways to Find the Right Freelance Editor by C.S.Lakin.

Need More Cowbell? Hop on over the Jenny Hansen’s Blog. She is doing a really neat series asking Why Do You Blog?

Are Book Covers Important in the Digital Age? by the AWESOME Jody Hedlund. Her blog has been named one of Writer’s Digest’s Best Blogs of 2012 and I AGREE! Just to say…I found her first😉.

What’s So Funny? by Tawna Fenske

What Makes a Book Magical? over at Writer Unboxed

The amazing Anne R. Allen is running a series about How to Blog. Seriously, check it out here.

Need a good laugh? Who doesn’t these days? Make sure you follow Natalie Hartford’s blog. This week? The iFinger.

NYTBSA Bob Mayer has an interesting post, The SDSU Writing Conference, FREE Books, the Self-Publishing Bubble and Zombies. Yeah, he had me at zombies, too.

Pipe down! Will ya? Ever wonder about where these idioms come from? Check out Barbara Forte Abate’s Blog.

Ellen Gregory has a really lovely post Let’s Talk About Choices.

Want more laughs? Marriage Proposals and Bass Boats by Piper Bayard.

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170 Comments

How to Win the Hearts of Bloggers–Scoring the Book Review, Guest Post or Interview

The world is changing faster than any of us can keep up, and publishing is certainly not immune. Yet, one constant remains. There are only two ways to sell lots of books–good book and word of mouth. Period. Book trailer, bookmarks, giveaways, and flare are fun, but are certainly not major drivers of book sales. If you want to know why, take a few minutes to check out one of my earlier posts that explains why books are not tubes of toothpaste and writers are not tacos.

One of the best ways to generate word of mouth for our books is to enlist the help of bloggers who have large followings. Ah, but be careful. There is a TON of bad advice floating around out there about how to approach bloggers to review a book, give you an interview or allow you to guest post.

I know when I was in Los Angeles earlier this year, a representative from a large PR firm spouted off (with great authority) her “helpful tips” to get writers hunted down and tarred and feathered . Um, I meant, tips to make bloggers want to talk about you and your books.

Um…so does this mean you WON’T be reviewing my epic fantasy?

Normally, I ignore anything negative and, if this bad advice weren’t so pervasive, I’d ignore it, too. But, many social media people believe (quite mistakenly) that what works in the world of business works in publishing, and that just ain’t so.

So, let’s just take a look at some of the ways to make bloggers buy a voodoo doll of our likeness:

Bad Tip #1– Send Out Mass E-Mails

Yes, said PR “expert” in L.A. actually recommended that writers make a master list of all the big bloggers and send them an e-mail request for an interview, book review or guest spot.

No. For the love of all that is chocolate….NO.

One surefire way to make any blogger hate you is to send us a nice form letter that is clearly part of a mass e-mail list. I can’t tell you guys how special I feel when I see:

Dear Madam,

Wow! Whoa! Okay, I often argue that writing is really the oldest profession in the world, but Madam? Seriously? No wonder I suddenly feel the need for a feather boa and a chaise lounge. I just thought it was my normal weirdness.

Let’s just apply a smidge of common sense. The last time you went to your mail and some cable company sent you a form letter, did you get chills? Did you get ooey gooey feelings of super-specialness? No. Okay, so here’s a clue. No matter how “thoughtful” the form letter….it isn’t.

When this PR “expert” recommended mass e-mailing all the top bloggers…I just kinda wanted to punch her.

And don’t think bloggers will fall for….

Bad Tip #2–“Personalized” Form Letters

Yeah, I am not mentioning any names, but this advice really gives me an eye twitch. “You can send a form letter if you just make sure to personalize the first paragraph with tidbits about the other person.” I just love it when people fake interest in me, don’t you?

I love Dale Carnegie and I read How to Win Friends and Influence Enemies People about once a year. But, here’s the thing. Dale was trying to teach people how to actually CARE about other people FIRST. His tactics were not meant to be some phoney-boloney schtick to get people to lower their guard so they could be more easily manipulated.

We are not idiots and we spot a form letter when we see one.

At least once a month, I get something akin to:

Dear Ms. Lamb,

Wow. I see that you like training sea monkeys for world domination. But have you ever thought, “Gee, New York just doesn’t publish anything good anymore”? Critics are hailing The Chiropractor’s Assistant–A Tale of Love, Betrayal, and Orthotics as the best thing since Snookie’s unauthorized biography. I know your blog is top-notch and that’s why I am offering you a rare chance to interview me before I’m too famous to be reachable…

Yeah…I’m right on that. Right after I organize my liquor cabinet.

I know it is tempting to take short-cuts. I’ve listened to the fancy Power Point presentations at writing conferences, too. But, what might work in Corporate America can make us a digital leper in the writing world.

Bad Tip #3–Faking Fandom

This should fall under the “No, Duh” category. Don’t tell a blogger that you are a fan of the blog unless, well…you are.

Okay, now that I have talked about all the BAD advice, how do you really get a blogger to review your book?

Good Tip #1–We Should Never Ask for What We Are Unwilling to Give

When a writer is asking a blogger to review a book, that is a HUGE time and energy commitment on the part of the blogger. It takes an average of 10-12 hours to read a book. Then the blogger needs to think, make notes and write a post. You could easily be asking for 20 hours the blogger might not even have.

Interviews are also tough. We need to read writing samples, research your background and even come up with witty and thought-provoking questions. I, personally, have to get my creepy panel van detailed and buy fresh candy. Interviews are A LOT of work.

So, before you e-mail a blogger asking for something, take a gut check. How much have you given?

Trust me when I tell you that we pay attention to people who take time to leave comments regularly. If a blogger gets a request from a REAL fan who has been leaving comments for months? Often it is a no-brainer. Bloggers are people and if you sow kindness and generosity, most bloggers will respond favorably.

Tip #2–Make Sure the Blogger Does Book Reviews or Interviews or Allows Guest Posts

I don’t do book reviews, so to ask me is kind of a waste of time. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to ask me anyway. My fellow members of my critique group call me The Death Star. Yeah, that’s like asking Ice Pick Vinnie to babysit your kids.

But, there are bloggers out there who do review books. Seek them out. Follow their blogs and leave comments. Then, when your book is to a point it needs a review, you will have an established relationship and getting a review will be far easier.

I rarely do interviews. In fact, in three years I have done…TWO. So again, I am not a great choice when it comes to soliciting an interview. My blog is primarily a teaching blog. Interviews are not my specialty. In fact, I have to get my assistant to help me with the questions because I kinda go all stupid and my mind draws a blank.

If you have a blogger you like, just take some time to see if they even are open to reviews or interviews. This is just common sense. If you need to buy screws and bolts, don’t go to a florist. Check the About Me section and many bloggers will say if they do reviews, interviews, allow guest posts, etc.

Tip #3 Ask the Blogger What You Can Give TO Them

Present yourself as a solution to a problem. Many bloggers are short on TIME. Hey, we’re writers, too. If you want to do a guest post, have some written ahead of time and allow us a choice. If you desire an interview, have a nice bio handy and prepared. You might even have a list of questions to help us out. We might not use your questions, but they can at least help us get us focused and give us a place to start.

One great way to promote your fiction is to offer posts that teach. I know Maria Zannini did a guest post for me earlier in the year. Her post taught writers ways to make an outstanding cover (and there was information about her fiction in her bio). She GAVE FIRST.

This is all just common sense. Serve people first. Be kind and authentic. I know it seems like it takes more time than e-mailing 50 bloggers and hoping a couple will bite. But, if you work to forge relationships FIRST, I promise that your time will be far better spent.

So have I missed anything? For you bloggers out there, what makes you feel warm and fuzzy? What can writers do to get your attention that isn’t illegal in all Southern states?

I do want to hear from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of November, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of October I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

Mash Up of Awesomeness

BEST BLOG EVER!!! By Roni Loren The Life Cycle of a Blogger

NYTBSA Bob Mayer talks about transmedia. Yes, it is very interesting.

Self-Published Authors Have Great Powers, but Are They Taking Responsibility? by Jane Friedman

Characters and Plot: Can’t We All Just Get Along? by the awesome-sauce Roni Loren

E-Publishers versus Agents by Jami Gold

Social Media Ennui by Kait Nolan

25 Things You Should Know About Writing Advice by MY FAVE BLOGGER Chuck Wendig

Having a tough time keeping up with all the industry changes? Make sure you follow the amazing Porter Anderson’s Writing on the Ether every Thursday for the best information about the industry.

How Do You Get Over a Guy? Even If You’re Not a Kardashian by Emma Burcart

How Our Almost Wastes Our Now vlog by Lisa Whittle

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