Painful lessons, learned slowly

The reviews are solid as I write this, 11 five-star reviews and a single four-star (didn’t like the format). Fine, I’ll take that – I already knew that some people wouldn’t like it. But if it’s a five-star story, writing, editing, and plot, and only get knocked down a single star because it’s a strange format? I’ll take a hundred more like that in a heartbeat.

So, what have I learned so far about releasing a book, as opposed to just writing it?

To shameless recycle writing from my other post:

After I hit the big PUBLISH button on Amazon, my part is done, right? Of course not. Now I have to publicize it, let people know it’s out there, while at the same time realizing I should have been laying the groundwork and telling a broader range of people earlier. Telling friends is easy. Make a post, done! But what about all those people that don’t know anything about the story, or me, and their eyeballs see it? What will make THEM buy it? Well, that’s the catch-22.

A friend of mine, an author, said the most reliable marketing tool is not simply positive reviews (though obviously those are better than negative), but numerous reviews. If you see something with three 5-star reviews, it carries less weight than a hundred 4-star reviews, because lots of them give an air of demand, respectability. It indicates it isn’t just some guy talking his parents and kid sister into reviewing it.  But most people don’t do reviews, either thinking they are not good enough writers, or there are too many already, and one more won’t get read, or what they have to say has already been said. That’s OK. Say “what he said, and MORE!” It doesn’t have to be perfect, or fine writing. But there needs to be enough that it looks popular; that will generate a much higher conversion rate (people that buy) among people that see it.

So, I should have begged early readers if they will PLEASE post even a short review saying what they liked about THIS book in particular. Saying “awesome” is fine, but what made it awesome? The editing, ending, the twists, the Easter eggs, lack of typos, the writing, the format, a particular variation on some well-worn sci-fi theme, the relatability of the characters, the accurate depiction of gun handling or science or swords-and-sandals combat, the lack of gratuitous sex scenes, or what? Doesn’t have to cover everything, just say “I really liked it because XYV” and give it 6 stars. I know a notorious problem with self-published books is editing and typos, for what that is worth.

I think it will get a few plugs this weekend, so it may have a lot of eyeballs seeing it. The Stars Came Back has 8 10 12 14 wonderful reviews now (thanks guys!). If I can get another twenty or more by the weekend, that will help tremendously. Not glowing and literary, just Larry the Cable Guy quality.

I’m new to it all, and not a master of it by ANY means, but I do know there isn’t any magic. It’s a numbers game that I was vaguely aware of and am now figuring out the details on. To play, you need two things: eyeballs to see your book, and something to hook them well enough for them to hit the BUY button. You are competing with a million other titles, thousands of which have publishing companies with marketing departments behind them. As the drill sergeant said, “what makes YOU so special, buttercup?” As SPQR said, get plugs in any forum, particularly ones that attract the sort of people that might read your book, particularly websites that have regular “book thread” discussions. His idea on that was great.

My plan was to have enough readers following while I posted it as a serial that I’d have enough buyers just after release that it would get pushed up where a lot of people would see it. I thought a hundred sales in a day or two should be good for top 10 in the category. It peaked at #9 in the mil sci-fi category, which is great… as far as it goes.

Now I learn that what I should have done is figured out some way to highly motivate those early buyers to post a quick review, so that while it was still high in the charts it had two or three dozen positive reviews from verified buyers. Maybe I could promise them Boomershoot patches with Minion rockers for the first three-dozen reviews, or something. That would have signaled to people that it was a “real thing,” not just some coordinated buy. It’s the sort of thing where there is a comfort to a lot of people to be part of the crowd. If a thousand other people thought enough of something to write a review, then there were likely 20 or 30 thousand that bought it, maybe hundreds of thousands.

Hey, that IS an idea – folks that have bought the book, if you write a review hit me up at boomershoot for a patch & Minion rocker (send an email or reply here so I know how many to expect). Offer subject to supply, void where prohibited, yadda yadda yadda.

Anyway, back to my stream-of-consciousness blurb… Oh, yes. Two things- eyeballs, conversions. Only three reviews? Looks sketchy, they take a pass, sales fall, it drops off the charts and doesn’t advertise itself with chart position, and you are back to square one on the question of “how to attract eyeballs.” Plugs in appropriate places are vital, but may not be enough. Between here, and plugs on three other sites that collectively get many thousands of eyeballs, I garnered enough sales to put me in the “top 1%” of self-published books, meaning I’m almost half-way to recovering my editing and cover art costs, about as much as I take home from working a week as a substitute teacher.

Hopefully, I can get positive review volume up, then get a good “celebrity review” posted, and get a solid plug somewhere with a lot of eyeballs, and it will be able to start a “virtuous cycle” near the top of the charts. Obviously, I still have a lot to learn. I’ll post more as I learn more.

Lesson so far: build a cadre of interested readers/buyers. When you release, ask some of the highly motivated buyers/readers to post reviews, then after they are up you tell the larger group, so it’s going “on stage” up in the charts with a “track record.” Groupies attract fans, so to speak ;-). At least, I think that’s the plan. To quote somebody famous, “quantity has a quality all it’s own.” I think I’d rather have a hundred reviews that say WHY they are giving the number they are, split evenly between three, four, and five stars, than only four five-star reviews that say nothing about the story and what makes it worthwhile.

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