Promoting your novel, part 2 – Reviews

August 12, 2012 at 10:44 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Come closer. Closer. Listen. I’m going to tell you a secret.

Are you ready?

Nobody really knows how to sell books.

Oh, lots of people will say that they do. Some people have made a living out of claiming to have the secret. Big publishers exist purely to sell books, and make millions, so they must know, right? Wrong. 70 per cent of books make a loss. Think about what that means, especially when the average advance for a first book is $5000. Most books make less than that. And that’s not self-published books, that’s all books published. Seventy per cent. In my non-writing life, I run a pest control company; if 70% of our treatments failed, we’d be out of business in a month.

But if no one knows how to sell books, how are you supposed to sell yours?

If I had the answer to that, I’d be writing this blog from the cabin in the woods I’ve been dreaming of my whole life. Instead, I’m writing it in a basement in a city I barely know. I don’t know how to sell books. But one thing that virtually everyone insists you need to have is reviews.

Book reviews may not be as important to sales as they once were, but they’re still one of the most helpful things you can do to sell your book. Get as many reviews as you can, but know that not all reviews are created equal. Amazon reviews are nice when they’re positive, but everybody knows that they could just be written by supportive friends and family. You can pay people to write positive reviews of your book on Amazon, too, so the credibility is diminished. What helps more is a review from a reputable reviewer.

Now, if you’re not with a major publisher, you’re not going to get reviewed in a major newspaper or magazine. The big publishers buy up ad space in the big papers and ensure that only their own books get reviewed, so unless you have an ‘in’, you can forget about getting a review in The Guardian or the New York Times.

Luckily for us indies, bloggers have become far more important in the last few years, and they’re much more open to reading a book by an unknown . If you’re as small-time as I am, pretty much any blog is good, but here’s a super helpful list of the biggest names in the game:

Remember when querying blogs to choose carefully; don’t ask a site that only reviews sci-fi to take a look at your romance novel. And don’t be formulaic; these bloggers have writers emailing them all day long, begging for some coverage. They can spot a form email a mile away.

I’ve been fortunate to be reviewed in a few different publications, by professionals. This is the value of a publicist; without her help, I’d have maybe one or two of the reviews I currently do. Here’s the list of professional reviews of my novel as of August 2012:

Yeah, six. It took me and a professional publicist six months to get this many, and as you can see, they’re not all positive. One in particular is brutal – more on that in another post.

For all these reviews, how many books do you think I sold? That’s right, none. Not one. As far as I can tell, these reviews have not helped me in the slightest. People have bought my book because they know me, or because a friend recommended it. Some people found it on; some people read an article I wrote and bought a book because of that. But, at least as far as I know, these reviews did nothing whatsoever for my sales.

So are reviews a waste of time? Well, no. I don’t think so. For a start, you didn’t write Scar; you wrote your book, and it’s not mine, and so just because reviews didn’t work for me doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. Secondly, reviews have a purpose beyond selling books. At their best, reviews by professionals can actually help you grow as a writer. An insightful reviewer can reveal weaknesses you didn’t know you had, making the next thing you write stronger. On the other hand, a really negative review, like all of life’s setbacks, at least offers you the opportunity to grow as a person.

My six reviews may not seem like a lot, but I was happy to get them. The most damning criticism of all is silence.

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Getting Publicity for your Novel

July 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Writing a novel is easy compared to selling one. And this is not some dash-it-off-in-three-months, Fifty-Shades-Of-Grey writer telling you this; I spent six years writing Scar. But for all the heartache and hard work that was, trying to get people to buy it is ten times worse.

How do you sell your book, once it’s written? There’s ten thousand articles and blogs out there, giving you helpful tips. But every novel’s unique; what works for one will not work for another.

Personally, I hired a publicist. Right around the time I was promoting Scar, I was also starting a business and moving to a new province, so I simply didn’t have the time to do everything myself. Also, I don’t know a thing about selling books. It’s still a fairly closed-off, insular world, to which I have zero access. I don’t even have friends who read, let alone friends in the book industry. So I decided to pay someone to do it for me.

I worked with Sarah Miniaci (, and I’m thoroughly glad I did. Sarah’s hard work and enthusiasm for the project are admirable, and she got me coverage that I thought would be impossible. Not everything panned out as we had hoped, but that’s a subject for a later post, and in any case, it wasn’t for lack of effort on Sarah’s part.

Should you hire a publicist to promote your book? Depends. If you have a background in sales and marketing, and/or genuinely enjoy chasing reviewers and bloggers to try and get them to cover your book, you may want to do it yourself. A large part of a publicist’s job seems to consist of emailing and phoning people and basically hassling them to get some coverage. It takes a tremendous amount of persistence, and also a fair amount of charm. I have a great deal of the former but next to none of the latter, so I contracted out. You may not have to.

It also depends on the book you’ve written. Some books tap so well into the zeitgeist, or else mysteriously appeal to such a huge number of people, that they don’t take much selling. These are basically lottery winners, though. Very few authors are anything like that lucky.

And of course, it also depends on your budget. I’m not going to tell you what Sarah charges – email her and find out – but I will say that good publicity doesn’t come cheap. Expect to pay in the thousands for a six week campaign. And no legitimate publicist will promise you anything. They will try to get your book covered in various media outlets, but there are simply no guarantees. Anyone who promises you anything is not to be trusted.

How do you choose a publicist? It ain’t easy. When I went looking, I couldn’t find a hell of a lot of reviews of them. It’s a fairly big thing to give a complete stranger a few thousand dollars with no guarantees of them doing anything for you.

My advice would be to talk to a few; that’s what I did. Much as I hate talking on the phone, I phoned a handful of publicists I’d found online, talked to them about my novel and asked what they thought they could do for me. Be careful; a lot of so-called ‘publicists’ will do little more than create a press release that no one will ever read. A good publicist is well-connected in the industry, and will have a plan of how they will get coverage for your book. Don’t be afraid to ask them what their plan is.
And be realistic. Publicists try to get you coverage in the media, but there’s no guarantees that it will happen, or that if it does happen, the coverage will be favourable (more on that later). And even if you do get great interviews and glowing reviews, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll sell books. No one can buy your book if they don’t know it exists, and a publicist works to make sure people do know it exists. What the public do with that knowledge, though, is anyone’s guess.

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