The biggest upside to Indie publishing is getting your work out there without trying to squeeze through the bottleneck of agents and publishers. The downside is that no one may ever read your work. Hordes of writers have become Indies, a gaggle of writhing hopefuls who fell away from the bottleneck, all wildly optimistic that this one story will be the one that lights a readership fire. They’re tired of waiting, infuriated by the industry profit margin, and disillusioned by the insider game. Most would prefer not to become rich and famous posthumously.
The primary benefit that derives from gaining a publisher—aside from the obvious ego boost—is the possibility of a few ‘mainstream’ reviews. That’s the stamp of ‘legitimacy’ that many readers want. It’s the advantage that Indies can’t get.
Unless they pay for it. One industry staple, Romance Times, dispenses reviews at a cost of $450. Per review. Kirkus Reviews, a longtime respected reviewer, charges $425—if you can wait 7-9 weeks. An expedited review costs more.
Not only are there significant ethical issues in paying for reviews, most authors don’t have that kind of money. To be competitive, ebooks are priced between 2.99 and 3.99. The profit margin is at most $2 per book. The book would have to sell 225 copies just to earn back one review fee.
By necessity, then, authors ‘buy’ reviews in other ways:
- Book giveaways wherein months (even years) of work are handed out like candy at a Christmas parade in the hope that recipients will post a favorable review. Which many don’t.
- Contests, a more costly and time-consuming method of giving away books in hope of gaining attention and reviews.
- Blog tours, a service authors usually pay a promoter to handle and which, in theory, presents the book, excerpts, an author bio, and often the blogger’s review to all the fans and followers of the blogs participating in the tour. Unfortunately, blogs aren’t faithfully attended by their fans and followers so there’s no guarantee that the days a particular book is featured are days that more than a handful of potential readers see it. Worse, popular blogs quickly develop a backlog of review and tour requests. Worse yet is feedback from authors who say they’ve found no measurable increase in sales from blog tours.
- Review tours, similar to blog tours. Either pay a promotions person to handle this or spend countless hours submitting review requests and getting back two responses (if you’re lucky). There is at least the hope of gaining legitimate reviews.
- Goodreads is an important place to set up an author page. But don’t get your hopes up. The site is primarily for readers to discuss and review books. Various discussion groups cater to specific genres/subgenres, but most have a specific thread where authors are allowed to pitch new works, and most readers seem to ignore this thread like the plague. Seeking reviews is mostly a cry in the wilderness.
- Authors must have a marketing platform whether they’re Indie or not. Books and articles abound with advice about how to set up such a platform. The primary objective with a platform is to develop an audience who will purchase and, secondarily, review books. Venues considered critical include Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Goodreads page, Amazon author page, website… In truth, if a writer tended to all these venues as conscientiously as advisers recommend, he/she would have no time left to write.
- Posts to an author’s Facebook page could, in theory, generate an appreciative following willing to read and review a new release. Authors are advised to build a fan base by posting personal bits and fun stuff along with book excerpts and clever visuals alternately called ‘memes’ or ‘teasers’. Authors are advised to post often so that the Facebook algorithms keep you in a high volume category.
- Building a social network smacks of ‘buying’ fans and reviews. When was the last time George R. R. Martin posted to your Facebook page? Or any serious author? It’s potentially counterproductive to ooh and ahh over someone’s cute baby post or rave over her recipes and then hit her up to buy your book.
- Accounts versus pages, a little Facebook 101. A person’s Facebook account allows that person to invite friends and establish a variety of Facebook connections. The account person can join groups and connect to authorish places like Goodreads, which will happily post your most recent book reviews and other Goodreads activities to your account page. If an account person wishes to separate his/her account (with all its friends, relatives, and personal information) from his/her author information and promotions, he/she can set up a separate author page. The author page cannot invite friends, but you as the account person can invite your friends to ‘like’ your author page. Absurdly, the author page cannot connect with Goodreads or join groups. So unless the author sets up a false identity account with Facebook, he/she will be limited to what can be accomplished through an author page. Or suffer through the mingling of personal and author friends, groups, and posts on the main personal account.
- Contrary to logic, Facebook does not share your posts with all your friends, or if you have an author ‘page,’ with all those who ‘liked’ your page. If you fall into a low volume category, as few as five people might see any given post. Even posting multiple times per day to keep your volume high will not assure that everyone on your friend or like list will see your post. Facebook does not fully distribute your posts.
- No one watches Facebook all day. A person’s newsfeed on Facebook scrolls along either in real time (“Most Recent”) or as ‘Top Stories.” Facebook’s default sequencing for the news feed is “Top Stories,” meaning that a post that gains the most comments/traffic gains top placement on the feed. Whether a viewer sets his/her newsfeed to Most Recent or Top Stories, the more Facebook friends and likes that viewer has, the greater the number of items showing up on the newsfeed and the less chance he/she will ever see a particular post.
- Of particular concern to romance authors, Facebook restricts its ‘boost’ options by disallowing ‘adult’ content. A ‘boost’ changes your post into an advertisement. You pay a certain amount and specify how long the ad will run. If you are advertising a spicy romance novel or using any exposed skin in your image, you run the risk of receiving a refusal to your ‘boost,’ as in: “Your ad content violates Facebook Ad Guidelines. Ads are not allowed to promote the sale or use of adult products or services, including toys, videos, publications, live shows or sexual enhancement products.” [You might, however, post a Facebook link to a blog post like this one and thereby put your name out there without violating these Puritanical policies.]
- Facebook groups theoretically offer authors multiple marketing opportunities. Many such groups, such as All About Books, Great Reads, or Book Heaven, enjoy well over 10,000 members. Authors quickly find, however, that posting to such groups yields pretty much nothing. It seems that all 10,000 members are other authors. Some groups might have more potential in connecting potential readers with the author’s works, but these are specialty groups focusing on one particular sub-genre (e.g., Domination Romance, Band of Dystopian Authors & Fans). Often such groups do not allow book promotion posts unless the author is a regular participant in group discussions, if at all. Which again brings up the thorny issue of exactly how many hours there are in a day. Still other groups which potentially attract readers are the discount groups (99¢ Kindle Reads, Free Books or Us) where the author opens a vein in order to gain one purchase.
- For authors of non-romance, forgetaboutit. There are no Facebook groups for promoting biographies, memoirs, history, and other categories. Such works can be advertised on some of the general Facebook groups such as All About Books, but again, posts zoom by fast, about one every three minutes. And it’s preaching to the choir.
While Amazon offers promotional opportunities to authors, like Facebook it refuses ads to authors who write sexual content. [No such restrictions exist for authors of gore, horror, and other bloody narratives. It’s sex that sets their hair on fire.]
Gaining readers and reviewers has always been the challenge for writers, whether aided by a publisher or not. With all the free or 99 cent books out there, it’s a miracle that anything sells for more. At least as frustrated as the authors, however, are the readers who want a good book and can’t find it amid the rabble. Various review scams, paid or not, mean lousy books may gain high reviews and good books never hit the radar.
At the least, authors need to advertise their credentials—so many years studying literature and English, so many years writing, so many publications under their belt, and average review ratings for those publications. For a reader seeking quality, this information along with the book content preview offered on Amazon sale pages may be the most consistent metric by which to judge Indie books.