Thursday, September 30, 2010

Amazon Reviews - An Ethical and Practical Quandary

One of the most powerful parts of the Amazon software that helps to move a given book up the list when a search done is a large number of positive reader reviews. There is not doubt that potential customers read reviews and it influences buying decisions. I know it has influenced mine.

As a self-publishing author I really want, in fact, need customer reviews and I want and need them to be positive. I want my books to come up higher in customer searches and I want potential customers to be positively influenced by the 5-star reviews they read! One or two 3-star reviews would not hurt my feelings if they were counter-balanced by 15 or 16 5-star reviews. In fact, I think it would lend more credibility to the positive reviews.

There is no doubt that negative reviews, particularly early in the life of a book, can kill any chance for success the book has. Amazon insists on allowing this practice and for the most part, I agree with Amazon's theory that for reviews to have value they have to be real. This means letting customer's give poor reviews. My issue is when the reviews are a hatchet job. I have one book, that contains lots of excellent ideas an information but is contrary to a lot of the current thinking of basketball coaches. Two coaches who disagree with my thinking gave the book 1-star reviews. Have not sold a copy on Amazon since the reviews were posted. 

My two best selling books all have positive reviews but not enough of them to influence where they come up in the Amazon searches - assuming the assumption that the total number of reviews does have any influence in the search process. Part of me thinks if you have lots of positive reviews, that really means you have had a lot of sales and that is what causes the book to be listed high on a search list. 

So the question begs to be asked, "How do you obtain positive reviews on Amazon?" It is clearly unethical to ghost write your own. Besides, you'll probably eventually be discovered doing so and I would imagine the resulting damage from that fact being disclosed would kill any sales of any book you have for sale on Amazon.

I am certain trust is a factor in a potential reader's decision to purchase a book from an author. The reader trusts the author to be ethical just as any customer trusts any businessman to be ethical. Violate that trust a single time and you will never make another sale to that customer again and nor should you. Thus, the quandary over how does one generate positive customer reviews on Amazon.

Is it unethical to send review copies to individuals and solicit reviews? I don't think so, provided you don't ask for a positive review and leave it to the reviewer to be honest. But is this a cost effective approach? How many books will you have to send to get 15-20 reviews? It is probably safe to assume that many of the books you send out with the request to be reviewed will never be read. How many do you have to send in order to generate the desired number of reviews? 

Will the reviews generated through this approach be timely enough to help engage the long tail of Amazon? Will the cost of generating reviews using this approach generate enough sales to recoup the expense? Is there a way to even measure the cost/benefit ratio of this approach?

This is a topic I shall be revisiting over the next few months as I ponder ways to boost my sales on Amazon.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Consider Smashwords in addition to Kindle

For many self-publishing authors Amazon is their best friend in the world of self-publishing. Amazon has leveled the playing field and given authors access to readers and with CreateSpace allows the author to physically publish their own paper books at affordable prices using the print-on-demand business model. Given the prominence of Amazon in the self-publishing world, it is no wonder that Kindle books are prominent in many authors minds when considering entering the world of e-books.

I urge authors to look into Smashwords as well if considering an e-book version of a title. Kindle is Amazon's proprietary e-book reading system. Smashwords is a company that allows authors to publish e-books in ePub and a variety of other formats. Just as CreateSpace grants its authors direct access to the marketing and distribution of Amazon, Smashwords provides that access to a wide range of other distribution points, such as Apple, to the e-books sold through Smashwords.

Better yet, for those interested in learning more about Smashwords, the company's site is very user friendly! Also, the royalties paid by Smashwords are excellent and in some cases as high as 85%, better even than the 70% offered by Amazon for titles that meet Amazon's requirements for a 70% author royalty.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Latest Book, 301 Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Publishing, to be available soon on Amazon

It took a bit longer than I had hoped it would, but my 15th book, 301 Frequently Asked Questions About Self-publishing will be available soon on Amazon. The complete title of the book, 301 Frequently Asked Questions About Self-publishing:  Answers to Common Questions About Self-publishing, Print-on-demand, Book Marketing, Using CreateSpace and More has been a good bit more work than I thought it would be when I started the project.

It is meant to be a starter guide for authors who are just considering self-publishing and know very little about the process. It is also going to be a continuing research project for me as I try some new marketing ideas in building a base of interest and demand for this book, the results of which I will share from time-to-time on this blog.

At the moment, the book is going through the review process at CreateSpace but should be done no later than Monday. Then it is time to order the proof copies, examine them carefully upon arrival, and then give the final approval. Within the next two weeks 301 Frequently Asked Questions About Self-publishing should become available on Amazon and within the month it should become available on Barnes and Noble as well through CreateSpace's expanded distribution program.

One of the concepts I am interested in testing, or observing, is Aaron Shepard's premise that it takes a full year for sales to mount for a POD book on Amazon. This has proven to be true for two of my books that are selling well but not true for others which sell in a very seasonal pattern. I am not sure why, but in an effort to boost sales for the seasonal selling books into year round sellers, I would really like to gain some insight into how this mysterious process seems to work.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Marketing Really Does Pay Off

The past two months have been the most successful months financially since I entered the realm of self-publishing. Given the current state of the national economy I am really pleased with these results.

Since I want to replicate and improve on these results, I have spent a good bit of time in the last few days thinking about my good fortune as a self-publishing author.

The first cause I will attribute to a principle advocated by Aaron Shepard. He states in his book Aiming for Amazon that it will take a year for a book to mature and hit its stride on Amazon. The two books that resulted in the bulk of the sales have been on sale for 15 and 14 months respectively.

The second reason is one of these books peaks in sales seasonally. The book in question, Game Strategy and Tactics for Basketball, does well in the fall when school starts as basketball coaches begin to prepare for the coming season. The other season or month when sales for this title peak is during the NCAA Basketball Tournament in March and April when interest in basketball peaks.

The third reason is better marketing efforts on my part. Having recognized the fact that sales for this book are seasonal, I have done a much better job focusing my marketing efforts to the months prior to the start of the seasonal sales peak. While I promote the book year round, recognizing that there will be periods of time when interest and demand for the book will be higher has been valuable. As far as I can tell focusing my efforts during a specific time period has paid dividends.

How does this translate for a book that should sell year round? My guess at this stage is that focused year round marketing should result into improved sales on an annual basis.