Before the pandemic, I was seated on a panel with a bunch of colleagues speaking to an audience of about 200 savvy genre readers. As often happens at the end of such events, the organizers took questions from the audience who good-naturedly kept the conversation going and flowing. Naturally, someone asked the authors, “What are you each reading right now?”
This week I thought I’d talk about the process of soliciting reviews. As periodicals have begun to falter and media noise begun to outweigh signal, the power of reviews is shifting. The online vendor economy encourages every consumer to rank a title and lard those stars with opinions about a book’s relative value. That’s a great and terrible both, but it means that the only thing worse than a negative review is no review at all. Every author and publisher has to develop a healthy professional relationship with reviewers who know how to do their job right.
When I published my first novel, I made the common mistake of assuming my work was done. The logic was reasonable: A publisher had just paid me real, actual money for the right to sell my book, surely they would support that investment by aggressively promoting and marketing it. I could pour myself a drink and get to work on my next novel while I waited for the fat royalty checks to roll in (sadly, I’ve since come to realize that any strategy that begins with pouring a drink and waiting for money inevitably ends in tears).
Titles seem to get short shrift in marketing discussions, and small wonder. They’re complex. They’re compressed. And they are sometimes completely out of an author’s control.
I don’t know about other authors, but one of the main motivations behind my efforts at publishing my work is the fact that I want people to remember my name. While I’m locally famous in my neighborhood as a gadfly and bon vivant (also for being “the guy who sometimes forgets to wear pants when he answers the door,” which is fair, but hurtful), those legends won’t go far after I’m gone. I want to be a well-known, oft-quoted author like Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, or George Orwell.
Discoverability is a marketing concept that’s gained a lot of traction in recent years. As publishing mutates and bookshelves groan under tottering mountains of new titles, authors scramble for ways to boost their signal above the noise. For readers to buy our books, they must first know that our books exist.
When you share information online, graphics and color can bring your words to life. Adding images to text can improve a reader’s recall of what you wrote by up to 65%. Most people have a limited attention span for online content, but the right combination of visuals will help you break through and keep them engaged.
In our business, endorsements pack a distinct wallop. If you haven’t already, one day soon you will be asked to blurb books by other folks.
There’s a legit craft to giving good quote. When I first started writing fiction I was surprised at how few reviews provided clear pull quotes. These are critical in promo campaigns and presumably anyone wanting to help a book find its audience would be larding their blogs with them. In old-school showbiz, one of the classic traditions is the moment when the whole production team meets around a conference table to pick through the reviews messengered over from the newspaper offices and loading docks to find the zowie-wowie snippets around which to build an ad campaign.
Growing up, I was something of a “free-range” kid. That means my parents weren’t terribly concerned where I was at all hours of the day, and I was given a lot of freedom to go anywhere I wanted, including riding public transportation into nearby New York City. This might have been the beginning of a worrying downward spiral for some kids, who would have used this power to get into all sorts of trouble, but I was a glasses-wearing nerd. I used this power to go to bookstores.
Just between us, I’ve never been a fan of official street teams. I love my fans deeply, and I’ve had loads of active, chatty gaggles of gung-ho readers advocating for my work on- and offline. I’ve had lots of book clubs undertake self-directed projects on my behalf. Frankly, I’ll support any folks that want to find ways to put my books in more of the right hands. That’s just good business.