Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Take my book--please! (a.k.a., the review conundrum)

There's a distinct Catch-22 when it comes to promoting a new book. You need reviews in order to run most promotions, but you can't get reviews if you haven't promoted the book. This leads many desperate authors to harangue their family and friends into reviewing their latest release, and some unscrupulous ones into buying reviews, a practice that Amazon has banned, though it's practically impossible to stamp out.

For those who want to play it straight, the options are limited. It would be great to have a big enough mailing list to shoot an email to your followers and simply offer review copies to anyone willing to write an honest review. At the pace I'm building mine, I might get there by 2050. (This is the part where I include a link so you can join my mailing list. Please.) Failing that, you're left to try some of the sites that offer ARCs (Advance Review Copes) to willing readers. The largest of these is probably NetGalley, though there's another called Hidden Gems that may rival or exceed it.

I only recently learned of Hidden Gems, and while I'd love to try giving away review copies there, they're booked through December, so I'd need a time machine in order to set something up. NetGalley is easier to get into, at least if you use the side entrance. For an independent author like myself, the way in is through a co-op, which buys up ARC slots in bulk and resells them to individual authors. This actually puts indie authors on even footing with big publishing houses, because reviewers who use NetGalley will see your book listed among the big press titles. I had good success with NetGalley when I released Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed back in 2015. It was reviewed by a number of book bloggers, who had at least enough of a following that their reviews reached people I couldn't myself.

Unfortunately, I had less success with The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo when I tried NetGalley last October. I got two reviews on Amazon and a couple more on Goodreads. And that was it. Boo.

When BookSends, a smallish site I've run a few promos with over the past few years, announced they were starting an ARC service in December, I signed right up. My ARC offering ran in early January, and I got three Amazon reviews out of it (including a 1-star job titled "Boring," that said, "I received this book as a downloadable ebook through book arcs. I did not enjoy this book. There did not seem to be a big plot and the entire book was told through emails, no real dialogue."). So, safe to say they didn't really get what I was doing, but what are you going to do, right?

There have been no new reviews over the past two months. I'm stuck in limbo. Most of the decent promo sites require either more reviews or a higher average rating. BookSends asks for a minimum of 5 reviews, with a "high overall average." Is 3.5 a high overall average? Maybe, but I'd like it to be at least a 4 before I feel comfortable submitting it. (Thanks again for that 1-star review, buddy!) The Fussy Librarian wants at least 10 reviews, with a minimum average of 4.0. Book Gorilla sets their threshold at 4 stars and 5 reviews. EReader News Today doesn't specify a minium number of reviews, but it's competitive to get in there and I'd be more confident with a higher number of reviews and better sales ranking.

In the past couple of weeks I've been hunting for more sites that offer ARCs to interested reviewers. While I'm willing to pay, the two most attractive I found were free. I submitted to BookSprout a week and a half ago, and have had one request thus far. I tried Library Thing yesterday and have had one copy claimed. Note that someone claiming a copy does not necessarily equal a review. They must also read it and take the time to write something and post it. The ratio of books claimed to reviews written is probably 1 in 3 or 1 in 4. Maybe lower.

So here I sit, waiting to achieve the critical mass necessary to clear the minimum thresholds on the various promo sites. And now that the next book in the series, Dispatches from a Tourist Trap, is nearly ready to go, I really need to get the first one off the ground, because who's going to buy Book 2 when they haven't read Book 1? Oh, the dilemmas of an author. Jason isn't the only one facing first world problems.

How about you, dear reader of this blog? Have you read The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo yet? Fancy a free copy in exchange for an honest, thoughtful review? If you're interested, shoot me an email to, and I'll send you a link to a site called Book Funnel, where you can download the book in any format you desire. (If you're not familiar with it, I'll refer you to the Amazon page, where you can see what it's all about, and read the other reviews that have already been posted.

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