Books are like trees in a forest. I'll get to why in a second.
Most authors aren't privileged enough to be on The Tonight Show or have their books reviewed by the New York Times. No, the majority of authors, and there are a lot of them, rely on a limited budget from their publisher (if they're published) and/or their own promoting skills if they're self-published.
With enough hard work and determination, an author can convince a few hundred people to buy their book. Would you agree? Think about how many people you tried to convince to order candy bars from your kid's school last time. A few friends, neighbors, coworkers, that's about it, right? A hundred people if you were lucky. Authors are trying to do the same thing in a round about way.
Sure, a break here or there might increase sales of a book, but overall it is very difficult. My publisher once told me that the average sales for any book is 97 sales. That average takes into account the best sellers as well as the non-sellers. That's it. Ninety-seven. That's a pretty small number. About the same number as your candy bar sales, huh?
As an author, where do we go now? For authors, their books quickly become trees in a forest. It might very well be the best tree in that forest, but no one's buying because no one knows to even look for it. I've been fortunate to outsell the average, not bad for a nobody fireman such as myself. But, as with every author, I want to sell tens of thousands, not thousands.
So, how do authors get readers to see their books in the forest and then buy them? Can they get on TV to advertise it? It's tough, but the author might get a local news program to throw them a bone. I did, and it boosted sales for a few days, hardly lighting up the world. If you're published, how about using your publisher's resources? Yep, that'll help. Their reach might only be a little farther than yours though and maybe you'll sell another 1000 or more by using that advantage (small press), but that's probably about it. If publishers had more reach, they would be literally printing their own money. After all, when was the last time you've read a Stephen King book and thought, "I need to go see what other books are at DoubleDay?" Maybe, once in awhile, but I doubt often.
Author marketing requires the author to rely on luck and perseverance if they hope to sell a lot of books. It is about spreading the word to more than just the seven degrees of Douglas Brown's world. It's going to be difficult to say the least. It IS difficult. I mean, after all, how many trees do you think there are in that forest?
So the goal isn't to have your best friend buy 100 copies of your book (that wouldn't work anyway), it's to get your book seen by the largest number of readers. Whether those readers buy the book after they see it will depend on the quality of the book and whether it's something that interests them, but at least they’ve seen it. I know, I know, maybe my books have been seen and just don't interest anyone. I suppose that's possible, but I doubt it. I once saw a book on Amazon's best seller list that was titled, Everything I know about women (or something to that effect), and every page was blank. Funny? Yes. Good book? Hardly.
After telling you how dense the forest is and how impossible it will be to see an author's particular tree, let me tell you how Amazon helps to weed through that forest.
As a reader, how often do you finish a book that you absolutely love and rush to a computer to tell all of your friends on Facebook or twitter? Occasionally, I'm sure. And thanks, because that helps greatly. Now, how many times do you rush to your computer and write a review for that book? I'd bet rarely. I'll admit it, I don't either.
Here's the funny thing though. Because Amazon is overtaking the book selling world, they need a way to promote books. They need a way to guide you through the forest to a tree that might be right for you. One way they guide you is by sending you emails. As a result, obscure authors now have a chance at lighting up the world. It's still a long shot by every definition of the word, but it can be done.
Forget the Tonight Show and the New York Times, there's no shot at getting featured there for anyone not named Kardashian. Sure, getting that exposure would help incredibly, but it isn't likely without thousands of dollars and the proper connections. Here's the cool part. Amazon's metrics don't know if I'm Douglas Brown the firefighter/author or Honey Boo Boo. Amazon doesn't care either. As books sell, the rankings improve and more people buy the books. If my book was in Amazon's top 100, they wouldn't care who I was. Their automatic algorithms would try to sell my book as much as any other book.
So, the question becomes, "Why doesn't Amazon just push every book to their customers?" Well, simple. If you're a reader, how long would it take before you unsubscribed from their email list if they sent constant emails for every book of their millions and millions of books? Exactly.
That means they have to have a way of choosing the books that they promote. They're not going to choose a book that has no momentum because the gains wouldn't be high enough. How would they even know it wasn't a bunch of garbage that they just pushed on their customers anyway? Well, here's what Amazon has decided. They put their marketing muscle behind books that become hot. In order to decide what has become hot, they rely on their ranking and review system.
Book reviews provide exposure for otherwise unknown authors, so the more reviews, the more exposure, and the more books are sold, which leads to more reviews, more exp... Ok, you get the message. Slowly, the forest falls away and your particular tree is standing where everyone else can see.
Have you ever heard of ARC’s? They are advanced review copies of books. Publishers give them away before the book is released to garner interest in the title. Before ebooks, ARC’s cost a fortune and publishers had to be very picky with who they gave their books to. Ebooks and Amazon have leveled the playing field a bit and have allowed smaller publishers to give away more books in hopes that the beneficiaries of those freebies will leave reviews.
A New York Times review will get people to buy books, there is no doubt, but when The New York Times isn't an option, the only option left is a push through Amazon.
I realize if you know an author, you've heard about his/her book until you're ready to vomit. In fact, I probably have a bunch of vomiting friends right now. I get it. I'm also sure you've purchased their books and have tried to help them in any way possible and I can assure you that it has been greatly appreciated. But I ask you, have you left an Amazon review? You don't have to by any means. I'm just telling you how much that could help.
So, if you're reading this, then I've piqued your interest. Whether you're an author, a friend of an author, or just someone who wants to spread the word about your favorite book, here is the point of this blog. Spend a few minutes writing reviews on Amazon (and Goodreads, if you're a member) for books that you've enjoyed in the past. It doesn't have to be my book, just any book that you've enjoyed.
If you're an author, there are sites that can help you achieve the goal of more reviews. Of course, they can be expensive, as everything seems to be, but they might be worth a look. I’m trying Netgalley.com right now. The idea of NetGalley is that their subscribers are there to find books to review on blogs, Goodreads, Amazon, and wherever else they want to leave reviews. In exchange for their reviews, they get to read books on the site for free. (They can be turned down by the publisher if they aren't established enough as a reviewer, but for little guys like us, I don't see any need to restrict.) Tamed is up on NetGalleyas we speak. I can't tell you whether it has generated any reviews yet, because it's only been up for two days, but I will tell you I am nearing 100 downloads of the book already. BTW, it isn't just reviewers, but librarians, educators, and book sellers as well.
I am hesitantly optimistic, as is my publisher, that this generates a lot of Amazon reviews. I'm currently at 38 reviews before this endeavor began and I'm hoping to hit at least 50 once it's over. You can go to Tamed's Amazon page if you'd like to see if it's working, but I'd suggest waiting at least a couple of weeks in order to give the reviewers time to do their thing. If you are a NetGalley subscriber, feel free to download my book on the top, right of this page or click this link. Just remember, please leave me a review when you're done. ;) Everyone else, what are you waiting for? Get to reviewing. Honest reviews are the best, regardless of how many stars you give. Now get out there and help Tamed stand out from the rest of the trees.