SFWC 2018: Getting Book Reviews

Here’s a topic every indie author—and probably traditionally published author, unless they’re already a big name—wants the scoop on: how to get more book reviews. This panel consisted of Stephanie Chandler and Isabella Michon and was moderated by marketing guru Penny Sansevieri.

Isabella stated up front that book marketing is “all about exposure and getting media attention.” She pointed to the Midwest Book Review as a good place to submit for that exposure. Also BookTalk. Giveaways are a good way to get your books under people’s noses, too (though now Goodreads charges for that). And if you do a blog tour, or if a blog posts a review of your book, you should always thank them and ask if they’ll also please publish on Amazon or Goodreads.

Stephanie agreed that you shouldn’t be afraid of giving your book away. She quoted Seth Godin: “Your problem is not piracy, your problem is obscurity.”

She mentioned software called Book Review Targeter that helps authors find Amazon reviewers for their books. She said to get in the habit of asking, even from big-name authors. “Find bloggers who speak to your audience.” Joining online groups and enlisting beta readers who will spread the word about your book is also helpful.

Penny gave a startling statistic: approximately 4500 books are published each day now. That’s a huge amount of content, and it’s difficult to be heard over all that noise. She said to put a letter in the back of each book that asks for a review. Turn those beta readers into superfans by giving them early access to material, or even exclusive material. Do the same for newsletter subscribers. Give them reasons to be fans rather than just readers.

95% of books are sold via word-of-mouth.
Fewer than 3% of readers leave reviews.

Isabella then mentioned the paid reviews you can get from elite outlets like Kirkus, or the paid Facebook ads. Those are fine so long as you’re only paying for honest reviews from known channels. Never pay someone to post a review on Amazon. You have to make sure your reviews are legitimate. (In most cases, people advise authors never to pay for a review regardless of the outlet.)

Someone then asked about Amazon pulling reviews if the book was, say, gifted rather than a verified purchase. Penny said that you can post a review, even if the book was not purchased on Amazon, and that pulled reviews usually have more to do with the reviewer than the book or author. Usually, if a review is pulled, many reviews by that particular reviewer are being pulled rather than the book or author being somehow punished.

So how to find fans? Well, social media is a good start, or maybe creating a private Facebook group where that elite content can be posted. People like to feel like they’re part of a club. Penny points out that the level of engagement is more important that the number of total fans. If you have 10,000 fans who don’t do anything, well . . . How much more valuable are 10 fans who are eager to spread the word about you and your book?

Timing is a final consideration. Major outlets will want your book well ahead of publication. But Amazon reviewers don’t care when the book was published. And readers seldom stop to look at whether the review is recent or not.

As for pre-orders, they’re great, but better to keep the time short. One to two weeks works best. And make sure you have fans and readers ready to post their reviews right away.

What do you think of these tips? Have you tried any? What has worked for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

Dark Dawning by Christine Rains

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this novella, first in a 9-part series. It will be available on Amazon starting October 17.

Ametta Dorn is the youngest of three shifter sisters. When she saves fellow shifter Lucky Osberg from hunters, she gets drawn out of her world of interior decorating and into a dark and dangerous mystery. Who is hunting and killing shifters? And more immediately: Can Ametta stay true to herself and her plans to leave her Alaskan home, or will growing feelings for Lucky anchor her there?

This first in the Totem series sets the stage for an interesting quest. The three Dorn sisters must work to reassemble an ancient totem pole. And of course, because it’s Christine Rains, there will be romance.

I enjoyed the setting and the novelty of having Inuit mythology in this story. It feels like a fresh twist on the shifter mythos. I’m sort of over vampires and werewolves, but this is new and intriguing. The only down side is that it’s a cliffhanger.

I can easily imagine readers trying to decide which Dorn sister they are: Ametta, Kinley, or Saskia. Maybe there should be an online quiz! I look forward to getting to know all of them better over the course of the series.

Blog Tour Continues

. . . with a nice review of Peter.

I do definitely consider character and dialogue to be my main strengths as a writer. And I feel like there are many different kinds of readers, too. Or maybe it depends on your mood. But sometimes you want a meaty, dramatic, character-driven story. Some readers gravitate toward those. And sometimes you just want plot-driven fluff. A lot of readers choose those kinds of stories because they don’t want to work too hard.

This isn’t to say a plot-driven story can’t have great character and dialogue, or that a character-driven story can’t have a driving plot. But I think many books lean one way or another.

I like both kinds. As I mentioned, it depends on my mood. I mean, I remember reading The DaVinci Code. Very plot heavy, even though the characters were meant to be engaging as well. I went through a Michael Crichton phase in middle school where I devoured all his books, which again revolve largely around plot. But when I read Tana French or Kate Morton, though I know there will be a fair plot, I’m not looking for or expecting a light, speedy read. With books like theirs, I’m anticipating investing some time and thought.

Anyway, Peter is a character book. If you’d like to take a look for yourself, you can find all e-formats linked on the publisher’s site.

Regency Romance & the 10th Review

So Peter had a little bit of an uptick on Amazon this weekend. But it’s stuck at only nine reviews, so I’m looking for someone to please, please, please go write that golden #10. Yes, I’m not above begging. And to those who have written reviews, thank you!!!

Meanwhile, I was trying to write some new Sherlock Holmes stories, but . . . It was like trudging through mud. I couldn’t write more than a couple sentences at a time. I realized I needed something lighter. Coming off stuff like Peter, and even my YA fantasy is a bit heavy, I really just needed something playful. So I dug out an old Regency romance I’d started writing some years ago. I hadn’t realized I’d gotten as far as 11,000 words, but apparently I had. I’ve dusted it off and begun playing with it again, and it’s great fun. A nice, light break (in the same way my novel The K-Pro is lighter). Hopefully it will be a relatively quick project as well. I find it’s faster to write the fun stuff.

The Great Unknown

I’ll admit I had my doubts. I wasn’t wowed by “Trust You,” was moderately more pleased with “Hold On Forever,” and by the time he was giving out “I Think We’d Feel Good Together,” I was already suffering fatigue and thinking, Geez, I’ll just wait for the album. Which came out today. And still I hesitated, but curiosity and my love for Rob won out, and I “completed the album” on iTunes.

And . . . I really like it.

Okay, well, I took it with me on a walk. And I haven’t had a nice solo walk in a while, so my general pleasure at being able to get a walk in might have colored my feelings about the music. But still. When heard cohesively, The Great Unknown is pretty catchy. There’s a lot to dance to, if you like that kind of thing. Club mixes, anyone?

My problem with “Trust You” had been that it didn’t really sound like Rob to me, and there are songs on this album where I was definitely thinking, “Reminds me of Jason Mraz” and “Oh, how American Authors,” but at least vocally it sounded like Rob. And I like Jason Mraz and American Authors. ::shrug:: Anyway, “Trust You” has grown on me over time.

Also, while I’d sort of cringed at a live video of “I Think We’d Feel Good Together” (studio acoustics often suck, so I’ll handily blame that), the album version is better. It would have to be. I can’t imagine anything worse.

The upshot is, there wasn’t any song I felt the urge to skip. I always listen to the whole album a few times before deciding which songs I can live without, but I can usually tell right away if there’s one I’m not going to want on my permanent playlist. That hasn’t happened [yet]. Yes, even “Trust You” will stay on my iPod.

Nice work again, Mr. Tumnus Thomas.

And Finally . . .

Not to belabor my points or anything, and I will say “The Empty Hearse” played slightly better on a second viewing, but there are still a few things . . .

1. Surely Mary has seen pictures of Sherlock? So why did it take her so long to recognize him at the restaurant? Or was that an act?

2. I don’t get why the train enthusiast didn’t immediately know about and/or think of the siding where the bomb carriage (car) was parked.

3. No, Sherlock, bombs do not always have an off switch. Many terrorists aren’t all that concerned about finding themselves in trouble. Many would be more concerned that someone might switch off their bomb. So this is lazy writing, really. Better to have come up with a way to put the bomb in a vacuum; an ignitor needs oxygen to detonate.

A nice touch I noticed last night but had missed the first time was Sherlock’s startled moment when John says, “You love it.” For a second there, Sherlock was worried John had figured it out.

P.S. Interesting that Mary tells John he should have something on a t-shirt. Watch for that to come up again in “His Last Vow.” Is there a deeper link between Mary and Magnuson (that is, deeper than the one revealed in “His Last Vow”)? Or is this just an attempt at a running joke?

“His Last Vow”: Another Thing

As cute as the post-credit sequence in the drug den was (and yes, it feels weird to write “cute” and “drug den”)—and this was lifted from Doyle, too; note that the best of the program adheres mostly to Doyle’s original work—I feel Sherlock would have known that by addressing John he was inviting having his cover blown. He knows John and so should be able to reasonably predict John’s reaction, which would certainly involve Sherlock’s name being shouted. So . . . Are we supposed to believe Sherlock had a momentary lapse in judgement in drawing John’s attention (maybe couldn’t help himself because he so misses having John’s attention, though the delivery of “Did you come to fetch me too?” doesn’t quite give that impression), or that he really wanted to have his cover blown, or that he wasn’t actually undercover at all?

Sherlock: “His Last Vow” (Initial Thoughts)

This was better than the first two. There’s that at least.

An adaptation of “Charles Augustus Milverton,” here changed to Magnuson—a most reviled blackmailer in the Doyle story and equally nastily portrayed in this take. In the original tale, Sherlock Holmes’s revulsion and frustration are palpable, and this did a decent job of pulling that through. And yes, Doyle’s Holmes does court a member of Milverton’s staff in order to gain access to his home, so I saw that bit coming.

There were little things, like the fact that if Sherlock is holding John’s coat he should be able to tell John’s gun is in it without having to ask. Stuff like that.

I enjoyed the passing reference to Sherriford. And the way Billy was introduced. I liked Sherlock’s sincere affection for John, which came through quite nicely this episode. I realize it was the through line of the plot, but really there were just lovely moments that highlighted this aspect, particularly at the end when Sherlock is on the plane and so heartbroken (as much as ever Sherlock can be) to have to leave.

I don’t know if I’m sold on the whole “three amigos” aspect of bringing Mary into things as an ex government assassin. Though I’m sure they’ll try and make her useful. (And oooh, her last initial is “A.” Could she be an Adler? Or is that stretching?)

And are we sure Moriarty’s actually alive? Just about anyone can throw an animated image together. Just curious. (Though I’ve been told Molly telegraphs that Moriarty IS alive with her “not like in the movies” bit. Are we supposed to then believe Sherlock was taken in? That he was in enough of a state that he didn’t notice it was all staged . . . Because he was too busy staging his own? Hmm. I don’t entirely buy it. Unless the gimmick is that Sherlock secretly doesn’t want Moriarty to be dead because that means he loses a playmate. But seems like if he spent two years clearing Moriarty’s network, he’d have heard something about Moriarty still being alive.)

Again, I’ll probably have to think about it some more, but . . . I’m mostly relieved it wasn’t as awful as the previous ones. Well, when you set the bar low, it isn’t difficult to jump over. That was the difficulty coming off the first series; how does one maintain such quality? Nothing is perfect, nor is perfection a sustainable state of being. Perfection is something that comes only in brief moments. Still, one should strive for it, or at least to do as best as one can.

But that’s another lecture for another time.

I’ll sleep on it. And come up with more thoughts. Or not. ::shrug:: ::yawn::

ETA: Another thought here.

Additional Thoughts on “The Sign of Three”

The way they shot the uniforms/belts, and then later the photographer, gave the game away a bit. The key is to shoot it all like none of it matters. Because it doesn’t until the moment Sherlock realizes it does. And if the audience is ahead of Sherlock, that defeats the purpose of the show.

Speaking of being ahead, why did it take so long for Sherlock to zero in on Sholto? When the rest of us are sitting there going, “Um, what about the recluse everyone wants to kill?” In fact, all the personal drama seems to be turning Sherlock into a bit of a slowtop; in “The Empty Hearse” my first question after hearing about the train was, “Well, was there any time lost between the stations?” But Sherlock didn’t get around to that until much later. What’s that about?

And how coincidental that the unsolved Bainbridge case is the one Sherlock decides to mention in The World’s Longest Best Man Speech, and then just happens to be the key to figuring out the Sholto case? What do we say to coincidences? “Not today!” Or any day, really, so this is just terrible plotting.

More clumsy writing: having Tessa throw out John’s middle name for no apparent reason. Though of course John and Sherlock were too drunk to notice. But the audience did.

Where was Harry, btw? Or maybe she was there and I totally missed it.

Also, did we just set up a “Dancing Man” episode? (Maybe “The Dancing Detective” . . .)

And btw, Happy [traditionally celebrated] Birthday to Mr. Holmes. Though I see him more as a Capricorn-Aquarius cusper myself.