Guest Post: AUTHORS: DON’T BE A BLOODY STATISTIC

Last week I wrote a post titled 5 self-publishing truths few authors talk about. It caused a bit of a reaction. For most of the following week my blog received 10 times its usual daily traffic and to date the post has received 130 comments. To receive such feedback was wonderful but at the same time there was a problem. My initial reason for writing the post was to let new authors know that self-publishing is difficult and not a guaranteed route to riches, but also to reassure writers that if their book doesn’t take off immediately that they weren’t a failure. However, in some cases the post was interpreted as “this is your fate, accept it.”

Today, Heather Hill, a good writing buddy of mine, wrote a great post about what’s required to be a successful self-published author, which I’ve reproduced with her permission below. I’ve known Heather since before she published, and one of the things that struck me about her (other than she’s very funny) was her determination to succeed. Since first publishing her book, The New Mrs D, Heather’s gone through lots of ups and downs, but for the past few months she’s been riding high in the Amazon charts on both sides of the Atlantic. So, if you are looking to understand what’s required to make a success of your writing career, have a listen to what Heather has to say.

Take it away, Heather…

 

jung quote

There are people that are writing in the hope of getting rich, and there are people that are writing for the love of the craft. I would firmly plant myself between these two extremes.

I suspect that those writers who are most disappointed are in the first category.

I love writing, have reached a point in my life where I recognise I have always loved it, yet was hampered by an inaccurate belief that making a career out of it was out of my reach and capabilities. Today I’m ready to pursue it to the death, only with the hope in my mind that I might make a decent living out of it.

Since the moment I first began working on my book, I knew I’d never stop writing again. I know that even if I never sold another word, I couldn’t stop. I’m forty three years old; that’s how long it has taken me to be in this place

Do I hate the idea of getting rich quick? No. I’ve almost accepted around four email marriage proposals from Nigerian Princes in 2014 alone. Do I care if I don’t make my fortune with writing? No, I do not.

I’m not taking my rejections personally, not watching my sales figures hour by hour asking why the world isn’t recognising my genius and I’m not dying inside every time a fellow author has heaps more success than I do. This is my journey; my dream. I’m not going to dilute it or belittle its significance to my life’s journey by making it all about money or the competition. I wish we could live a little (okay a lot) easier and I do imagine that big cheque landing on my doormat, of course I do. But my ultimate goal is having a better, more fulfilled life experience. It is doing what I think I was supposed to do with my life and being in love with it.

I’m offering you here my best advice on how to overcome your obstacles as a new writer. It is an A for attitude – and the greatest thing about attitude, is you get to choose yours. There are too many articles telling writers to be careful what you wish for and I for one don’t like reading them. It is good to know the pitfalls you might face, but not good to focus on them too much.

Let me break it down in to a simple sentence: Don’t let people tell you can’t do something.

A few months back, I wrote to hundreds of book shops all over the world, asking them to put ‘The New Mrs D’ on their shelves. I emailed scores of book reviewers, joining what I don’t doubt an absolute sea of similar requests they have from other self-published authors just like me. As well as the rejections this book has had, I also have the biggest pile of ‘no thank you’ emails you’ve ever seen. The ‘no reply at all’ pile is so big, I’m considering climbing it for charity. 🙂

The one that sticks in my mind the most is the book I bought and posted, as per the submission guidelines on their website, all the way over to Barnes & Noble in New York asking that they please consider stocking it on their shelves. Their response was (something along the lines of), ‘in our experience, self-published authors only sell on average two hundred copies for the lifetime of the book, many of those to family and friends.’ In case you haven’t guessed where this is going, they declined my request. Yet I had already sold a thousand copies by the time I read their letter, and believe me, I don’t have that many family and friends.

I read this particular line again: ‘Most self-published authors only sell on average 200 copies for the lifetime of their book.’ I’d already proved them wrong in my own case, but instead of internalising this statistic, as some might be inclined to do, I decided to smash it. And no, I haven’t yet. This is not a victorious, ‘I told you so, you short sighted bookshops, agents and publishers’ post. I didn’t sell thousands of copies, but to date over 32,000 people have downloaded ‘The New Mrs D’ and of that 32,000 I gave away just over 29,000 in a free Amazon promotion. It’s not a huge, life-changing income, but it’s a very promising potential readership for book two. Although, in a personal way, it is life-changing. It taught me I’m ever-so-slightly addicted to being read.

I can’t offer advice from the perspective of a long in the tooth, experienced writer who has made it to the top. I can only offer the perspective of a long in the tooth person with years of life experience behind her. And my advice is, if you love it don’t let it lie.

Don’t be a bloody statistic.

Am I selling dreams of writer success to people who can’t write? I don’t think so. If writing is what you truly love and truly believe is inside of you, even if your first attempted sucked you are going to work hard to get better. You’ll spend your last pounds on editing, getting the best cover you can afford and you’ll read your submissions feedback, searching for the common elements and taking at least some of the advice given to make your project shine. You’ll give it all you’ve got and stop wallowing in bitterness and self pity.

(Okay, give yourself an hour on this last one, then move on) 😉

You won’t spend your precious writing time emailing the agents that reject you with a stream of profanities telling him/her they have missed a golden opportunity and don’t know what their talking about. You are writing all of the time and reading about writing all the time.

So I guess I’m talking to YOU.

new-mrs-d-cover-design-smallerIf you enjoyed this post, I would recommend you follow Heather’s blog, hell4heather.

I would also recommend her book, the New Mrs D, which I enjoyed very much. You can read my review here or can buy it using the following links:

To buy The New Mrs D from amazon.co.uk click here
To buy The New Mrs D from amazon.com click here

I’d also recommend you follow Heather Hill on twitter @Hell4Heather. She’s very funny.

 

 

 

The problem with reviews

5-star-reputation

I was having a Twitter chat yesterday with a good blogging friend about the recent controversy surrounding the author Kathleen Hale. Before you switch off, this post isn’t about the controversy itself (although if you want to know more, you can find a link to the original article here and an excellent response here) but a comment made during the discussion. We were talking about reviews in general and my friend said:

“As a reader and an observer of the self-publishing phenomenon: I don’t trust ratings of self-published authors.”

Unsurprisingly, the comment annoyed me, but as she explained her reasons it made me realise there is a problem with the review system, at least for new or first time authors (especially if they are self-published) of which we should all be aware.

Red Herrings

The issue is around the trustworthiness of reviews but not in the way you may think. I’ve read a lot of articles on self-publishing and many talk about authors trying to “game” the system; generating unwarranted reviews wither through the use of reciprocal reviews, paying for good reviews or even creating multiple accounts to award bogus reviews. I don’t doubt this happens (although I don’t believe this behaviour is restricted to self-published authors). However, the vast majority of authors I’ve befriended since I published my novels have been honest professionals working hard to build their careers as writers. I was approached once, many months ago, to do a reciprocal review (which I declined). To date this has been the only time it’s happened.

This doesn’t mean authors don’t, or shouldn’t promote other author’s work. I certainly do (via my Recommended Reads). I know some of these authors have read and liked my work in return. A cynic may view this as a reciprocal agreement, either by intention or through social convention, but I stand by every recommendation I’ve made. It’s not unusual to find a group of friends having a similar outlook, shared values and shared interests, especially if they me through a social media platform. I’ve once had a person – who had given  my book a great rating – upset with me because I didn’t like their book, but that could have been more to do with the clumsy way I approached the situation than with me not giving a review.

I don’t believe the majority of self-published authors, or even a significant minority, are trying to “game” the review system. I do, however, believe the majority of us are doing things, quite innocently, that are skewing the review system to the point where readers don’t trust it any more.

Proportionality

The issue has nothing to do with false reviews but whether the number of high-rated reviews truly reflect a book’s quality in the eyes of a regular reader. Let’s me use my book, Second Chance, as an example.

On Amazon UK, Second Chance has 30 reviews with a 4.8-star average. This is something of which I’m very proud. As with most first-time authors, the early reviews came from people I know personally.  Because of this, you might infer this personal relationship led to my book receiving higher ratings than it would otherwise have received. Knowing my friends, I would say this is highly unlikely. However, there is one level distortion I’m sure has happened. More of my friends bought my book than reviewed it. The reasons for this may vary (not read the book, not had time, forgotten) but for some it’s because they read it, didn’t like it but are too polite to say.

This isn’t just true of your friends. People in general dislike giving one-star reviews. I do. I know how much work goes into writing a book so if I don’t like it, I won’t leave a review (this is also why I call my reviews ‘Recommendations’ as opposed to reviews). It’s also becoming common for book bloggers to behave the same way, whether for the same reasons I don’t leave one-star reviews, or more worryingly because of fear of retribution. In my opinion this would be a bad thing, because if the review system loses some form of proportionality, us indie writers lose our greatest path to visibility.

The problem is this causes the review system to be skewed towards good ratings, especially so for newly released books and particularly so for newly released books by self-published authors. For many of us this is a nice little springboard to gain neutral readers and true reviews. What this also leads to is very poor books being rated highly, causing readers (like my blogging friend) to feel conned.

What’s the solution?

The simple answer is I don’t have one, at least not something that will fix the system, completely. I know Amazon are doing a great job in stamping down hard on those trying to “game” the system. At the same time, there are things we can do to help mitigate this effect. When you ask people to leave a review, always ask for an honest review. It doesn’t mean your friends are likely to pan your book, but it shows you are serious about understanding how good it is, or not. Send your book to bloggers for review. Don’t just send it to those you know, send it to complete strangers. For myself, it was only once I’d received my first independent review from somebody with whom I’d had no previous contact (thanks, Dave, I will always be in your debt), that I truly believed people might like my book as opposed to them just being kind. Also, be nice to book reviewers, even if they don’t like your book. Not liking something is just as natural response as liking something. It is not personal.

So what do you think? Do you trust the review system? Do you choose books based on reviews and if so, what is the deciding factor? I’d love to hear from you.