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Another question of quality: self-pub.

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Caged Maiden, Jan 11, 2014.

  1. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Okay, since we're talking about this on multiple threads, I wanted to ask you all for another take on self-published books. Generally, I'm not interested in self-published books, have little faith in the quality, and have never desired to join that party... however good the music sounds from down the hall.

    HOWEVER, those were my opinions based on admittedly little research.

    So... I decided to learn more. I've "looked inside" about three dozen self-published books. Usually, I get about a page in before I begin scanning rather than reading. One book had three pages of exposition where nothing happened except a guy flipping through a book. Another had a completely implausible event right on the first page. Another had the word "wizard" mentioned something like three dozen times and every character was nameless and I guess I was meant to remember the multitude of wizards by hair color alone... Another had a pretentious writing style that was cute in the opening paragraphs but wore me down quickly. Another had misspellings/ typos/ grammar problems about every fifteen words. Another seemed unable to differentiate between "I did" and "he did"... None of these were anything I'd want to commit to for the course of a novel. THIS was my real hesitancy to join the ranks of self-published authors-- people who alone deemed their books "good enough", without what I consider to be the skills necessary to really be "there".

    I understand that sounds bitchy of me, and I can only apologize. For ME... that wouldn't be good enough. Those are silly mistakes that take only a few days to correct. I'd have gone the extra mile. Okay, now on to my reason for writing this post. I then happened upon (by random clicking) this: Amazon.com: Rainbow's End - Wizard eBook: Corrie Mitchell: Kindle Store

    I hope that works. Anyways, I opened it just as I did the others, and instead of being assaulted by rookie mistakes and straining my eyes by rolling, I was really impressed with the flow and especially short, sweet descriptions that painted wonderful images. Okay, I was a little thrown off by the jumping scenes, but I forgave and forgot and I was pulled into the story.

    My point? I'd be proud to stand next to this person and have my book compared to it. It's well-written (though not without minor punctuation flaws), balanced narrative, and just plain quirky and interesting. My question is... WHY DOES THIS BOOK HAVE 4 STARS, JUST LIKE ALL THOSE I MENTIONED ABOVE??? I'm actually offended that this book is rated exactly the same as those others were. I'm verging on livid as I compare the way I felt reading those other introductions. Fatigued, disinterested, conned--in some cases. Then, this delightful little book pops up and I give it a read (though it's material I wouldn't ordinarily enjoy, a sort of chosen one story with a dark lord), and I'm smiling and feel tugged into a story I'd ordinarily reject on theme alone. How in the world of everything that is fair and good, could anyone compare this to that pile of rubbish I just sifted through and call them ALL 4-star books? Yes, offended is the right word.

    So... while I'm glad I searched until finding something I'd be proud to self-publish, I'm totally disenchanted with the rating system. All these books had between 11 and 23 reviews, all were 4-stars... only one was worth the time it took to open.
     
  2. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    I think I forgot my original question... I meant to ask "What can we (if we intend to self-publish) do, to ensure our reputation is high and we float to the top of the (sorry) garbage heap? How do you guys who self-publish, ensure you aren't lost in a sea of crap? I love the idea of rating systems, but this Amazon one appears to be broken... beyond repair. Either brain-damaged monkeys are writing those reviews or something's rotten in the state of Denmark...

    I'm all for asking friends to write a favorable review, but is there no way to check stats on how many books a writer has sold? I'd be really interested in reading a 4-star book from a writer who has sold 6000 of them. Not so much for someone who sold 13--mostly to friends. Okay... rant concluded. I apologize if this material or my opinion offends anyone. I just really respect artists who feel conscientious and wish there was a better way to promote those who turn out quality books. They don't deserve to be the one piece of pork in a can of boring beans. Is there a way to separate those better writers?
     
  3. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    That's not a big enough sample size to consider any average rating. I'd say at least a couple hundred minimum. Often, authors enlist friends and family (or service companies in the case of large numbers) to write these glowing reviews. You'll often see reviewers like this have reviewed no other books at all. They also often come from the same state.

    Reviews that make statements, for self-pubbers authors, like "The Next Tolkein" are laughable at best. I just ignore them outright & shady reviews like those are enough to keep me from purchasing the book. It makes me feel like someone is trying to swindle me.

    There are sites out there that offer honorable reviews, like Goodreads. I think they write honest reviews for self-pubbed works but only publish the review with the author's consent. I believe the author actually pays for the review though...can't recall exactly. Once written, the review is property of the author. They can use it, or stick it away in a dark hole somewhere, never again to see the light of day.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2014
  4. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    Amazon reviews are useless these days. Because everyone knows that you have to get a bunch of reviews to get any sales traction, a lot of self-pubbers get everyone they know to write nice reviews, then they pay for more from sites like Fiverr, at $5 a pop. The reviews on Amazon.co.uk are often a better indication, because most of the paid reviewers forget there's anywhere outside Amazon.com :) Goodreads is also a better guide, because that's where the avid readers hang out, and the paid-for reviews are a much smaller proportion there. The Amazon best-sellers list has some reasonable stuff on it, too, because (obviously) they've sold enough to prove they're not complete turkeys.

    I don't know what the answer is. It would be lovely to have some sort of independent quality control, someone who just reads the stuff and says: yes, that's as good as a traditionally published book. But I just don't know how it would work. I read and reviewed around 50 self-pubbed books last year, but that's a miniscule proportion of the total.

    If anyone wants my best-of list for the year, here it is: 5 Self-Published Gems of 2013 | Fantasy Review Barn All of them are professional quality, and I enjoyed them.
     
  5. AnneL

    AnneL Closed Account

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    There was a huge stink a while ago b/c Goodreads removed a lot of reviews that it thought were harassing to the author and out of line, and the writers of those reviews were incensed. Without going into all the mucky details, it seems that the problem was started by self-pubbed authors with no one to advise them otherwise who responded inappropiately to 1 star reviews, the reviewer then responded back, and war breaks out. Now if you get a 1 star review, Goodreads gives you a notification telling authors not to respond.

    As far as I know, the reader reviews are genuine and aren't paid for on or through Goodreads. They do have an advertising program for self-pubbed authors, but it's not paid comments in the reviews. So they are pretty accurate with a large enough sample size. (This is not to say self-pubbed auhtors don't pay people outside of GR.)
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2014
  6. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

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    That is the big conundrum, how to stand out from the squalor works that are self-published.

    Amazon reviews are okay, and they do drive sales, as I've evidenced from my own works (I could go into detail, but that's not the point of the thread). One of the ways to determine the validity of reviews is to simply take a review you think is legitimate and then click on the reviewer's history. That and the verified purchase is some help.

    What you did, Caged Maiden, is what most readers who are willing to take a chance on self-published books. They look at the sample. That's not guaranteed to help.

    One thing that might help a self-published author is to get blurbs from other authors, and the more respected or good-selling, the better it will be. Most authors with any readership are hesitant to write a blurb for a book they don't think is up to snuff. But getting an author to read and offer a blurb can be a challenge.

    Getting reviews on independent review blogs can help a self-published author some, but that really depends on the blog. Large and small are inundated with requests, and many of the major ones don't accept self-published books.

    My 4 books currently have (in order of publication) 32, 12, 5, 25 reviews on Amazon and 8, 4, 1, 1 for review blogs (with some reviews pending). The majority of the amazon are from folks I have no clue who they are. Getting reviews is difficult. I guess I don't press family and friends to review as much as I could. I've had a few crit partners in the review my works on Amazon, or mention them on their blogs, but usually those are writers who've been published. But like PaulineMRoss said, reviews are important for a book to get traction. Readers are more suspect, and like I indicated--they look at the publication and review date (some reviews appear the same day or a day or two after release. Those are discounted by most potential readers. Verified sales, and checking history of the reviewer, those are also good clues.

    The other way to tell if a self-published book is decent is the Amazon rating. Ratings (Kindle for example) between 50,000 and 100,000 means it's selling 1-2 copies a day. 25,000 to 49,000 a few more. 10,000 to 24,000 up to 10 or 12 a day, and it goes up from there. That's a good sign of a quality book. (there are charts that can be found online that approximate sales based on ranks on Amazon).

    But that is mostly for the reader to determine, and not for the self-published author to break out. On other boards, and I think there is merit to this, is for an author to get multiple titles out there. Self-publishing one novel to test the waters isn't always a good way to test the waters because of this.

    I'll add another thing that can help a self-published author get noticed is a professional/well done cover, especially in fantasy.

    Note: I'm published by a small press, which is somewhere between a big publishing house and self-publishing, if you ask me. It does help getting some sales and events, but the lines get further blurred as many self-published authors create their own publishing company which they publish under, which might benefit a self-published author giving it a try.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2014
  7. The Dark One

    The Dark One Maester

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    Sounds like a lot more solid arguments for my independent appraisal and rating system.

    My three books have hardly any reviews on amazon, but a handful on goodreads. I have never chased anyone to put ratings or reviews up (which is probably why I don't have many), but I'd guess I'd know about a third of the reviewers/raters. Good consistency among the raters though, with no qualitative difference between those who know me and those who don't. If anything the better reviews are from strangers as my friends are not the sort of people to get too excited about anything.
     
  8. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    Just to throw one more iron into the fire - getting reviews is hard. Damned hard. I don't solicit them, don't approach book bloggers mostly, and I don't get family and friends to write them. On average I would guess I get one review per hundred to one hundred and fifty sales of a book. That's a very wild estimate by the way. So if say you take Maverick where I have 24 reviews that would equate to somewhere between 2,400 and 3,600 sales - which is somewhere in the ballpark. I actually don't know the true number.

    However, I see other books by other authors out there with hundreds of reviews, and really terrible rankings, and each time I think to myself, did they really have tens of thousands of sales? Or is something else going on?

    At the end of the day the only way to be sure of a book's quality is to "look inside". But this is no different to going to a physical bookstore and browsing.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  9. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    One self-pubbed author who keeps very accurate statistics reckoned she got 1 review per 187 sales, so I'd say your number is a good guess. Bear in mind also that there's a lag in reviews. Especially if a book is cheap or by an unknown author, readers can take months or even years to get round to reading it. I've got stuff on my Kindle I bought two years ago that I'm only just now posting reviews for.

    Be very wary of an unknown author with a recently published book with hundreds of reviews. I once tracked this in detail for an author I was suspicious of. He published his sales figures (big mistake) so I was able to see that the bump in sales *followed* the bump in reviews. That means paid for reviews.
     
  10. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I sometimes compare self-published works to local bands. When I was a teenager, I would go see local bands. Some were pretty awesome for what they had, but some were absolutely horrible. There were honestly people who thought their local band was as good as most stuff on the radio. That's fine I think. I even thought that at times. However, if you put them on the main stage opening for the Rolling Stones, most people may not like them so much. Some might of course. Not to say all traditional published work is better than self-published work, because it isn't.

    Self-pubbed works are only going to swell and swell I believe. This isn't going away. So how do we save time by not reading the really bad books out there (which IS totally subjective in my opinion)? (If Caged Maiden said she didn't like some of the books she read, I may still like them for different reasons. Not to say this would be true in every case, but it might be.)

    Read samples. If the sample does nothing for you, move on. If reviews can't be trusted, I still think the best method is word of mouth or recommendations from people you trust. Any old faceless review on the internet may not be enough. Find reviewers who you trust and follow what they say. I truly think reviewers are going to be the beacon in the darkness when it comes to finding the diamonds in the rough so to speak. By reviewers, I mean people who have websites or blogs (like Pauline), not just people who review things on Amazon.

    Another way to compare is to look at Youtube. There are videos that become viral because of something that is awesome, shocking, stupid, whatever. Readers have to attempt to make self-pubbed books go viral. Anthony Ryan is a good example in the fantasy community as of late (look him up).

    I will say Dark One's idea of a service is a good one, but yeah, it's one of those things that is going to take people who have a reputation in the industry to pull it off I believe.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2014
  11. C Hollis

    C Hollis Troubadour

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    I think my numbers were about 1 in 220. These numbers just illustrate how hard actual reader reviews are hard to come by. One other thing to keep in mind, if a self-pubbed author doesn't like a review, more times than not he can get Amazon to remove it for a number of reasons (even made up). I have seen several complaints about this practice, as well as the review buying services available.

    I had a review for one of my stories on Goodreads that had been there for a couple of months before I was even aware of it, so I would say author consent is not required.

    This works, and it doesn't. If your somewhere in the sweet spot of the the books sales, you can get an idea of its popularity at the time, but if you catch the title in the early stages of that bell curve, or at the end (say a year and a half after release), then your aren't seeing a true representation of how the book did, or is going to do. I'm not arguing the numbers, because they are close to accurate (Amazons ranking system is about as broke as its rating system).
    I will say that if a book has been out for better than a year and it still ranks in the top 100,000, then the author is doing something right, but that still doesn't mean the title is great. I picked up one that was very well ranked, (I believe it was like 15,000 something) and it was so bad I was tempted to hunt down the author and ask him his secret on getting such good sales.

    I'm just taking the patience approach.
    Look, my first book was good, but it had some editing issues that would likely get some people on these boards fired up and throwing stones. Perhaps that first book deserves to be lost in a sea of crap. One day I will go back and fix it up, but it sold well (much better than I expected), and its life cycle is at the wrong side of the bell-curve for an author with one title. My second title is better, but it won't sell much better than the first. My third title will be an improvement again, and it will be the last of the series, which will drive the sales of one and two back up, since many readers wait for an entire series to come out before buying (especially with indies).
    My fourth title will be a stand-alone. By that time (another 2 years away), I will have four titles on Amazon, and I believe my work will begin to float to the top of the cesspool.
    I don't concern myself with other peoples tripe that sells well because of bogus reviews and get-rich-quick schemes (writing a new title every couple of months). I focus on my work, and make every effort to release quality titles. I have a strong belief that if I write quality it will eventually float to the top.

    But, again, I think I've mentioned this before; I'm in no hurry. I don't write to be rich. I write because the characters in my head won't shut their traps.
     
  12. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I'd like to add that I've met quite a few self-published authors who are actually very good. These weren't picked out of a hat randomly, but met in other writing communities and here at Mythic Scribes. One way to avoid "crap" so to speak, is seek out self-published authors on social media and such and see how they interact with others. I've found that the more engaging and interesting people tend to, lo and behold, be great writers. That's how I discovered Chuck Wendig's writing was by reading his posts on his blog. He's a hybrid author (which I aspire to be one of these days, a mix of traditional and self-published) and his posts tend to be well-written and funny. I've found his books to be the same. I know some people don't care about social media or how engaging someone is, but there are some people who care or it wouldn't be a thing that existed. You could put me in that camp. I want to support cool writers who also happen to be cool people. So when I go shopping for self-published books, I find that meeting people on forums and social media can help weed out a lot of the crap if you're perceptive.
     
  13. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I'm referring to a service offered by Goodreads, not reader reviews.
     
  14. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Okay, so another question, then.

    If you self-publish, with no previous experience or network or fan base... how do people even see your book?
     
  15. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    You have to create a network. There's no other way. "If you post it, they will come." I wish it worked that way, but it doesn't.
     
  16. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi Caged Maiden,

    In my case they mostly don't. My sales aren't that great and I have absolutely no marketing strategy save to write more books. Still I have a few fans and bring in enough to keep the cats in style and I'm happy with that.

    C. Hollis, yeah there is a facility to remove reviews for certain reasons, but Amazon is quite strict with them as I understand it. (I haven't applied to have any of the reviews on my books removed even though some of them are completely unfair - and one is more than a little disturbing.) The main reason they remove reviews is actually that the reviewer is another author. It's the main reason I don't write reviews for books. The other reason being that it looks bad - one author back slapping another. It's a lose lose for me.

    Cheers, Greg.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  17. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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  18. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    There are success stories in both traditional and self-publishing honestly. Hocking even says this herself:

    I guess what I'm saying is that just because I sell a million books self-publishing, it doesn't mean everybody will. In fact, more people will sell less than 100 copies of their books self-publishing than will sell 10,000 books. I don't mean that to be mean, and just because a book doesn't sell well doesn't mean it's a bad book. It's just the nature of the business.

    I could be wrong, but Hocking did this with a very strong network. I think it's good to study writers like this and see what they're doing. Don't necessarily copy it, but see what kind of genre, audience, writing style, etc. they utilize. Marketing experts can tell you what to do all day,but studying the people who are successful is one of the best ways to learn how to do something.
     
  19. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    That's true, but there's a couple of challenges to that which shouldn't be overlooked.

    For instance, if you visit an author's webpage, you see what it's like today, but not what it was like as they were growing. You don't get to see the private messages behind the scenes that created connections and opened up doors. And it's a pretty common phenomenon in marketing for people to have no idea or to be all wrong about what actually worked or didn't work or why. So you will probably see some misleading or contradictory ideas.

    It's important to bear those concepts in mind while you study what other authors have done if you want to come away with an objective perspective about what you should be doing yourself.
     
  20. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I have read that Ms. Hocking did use social media to advertise her books. But what I think benefited her was that she had several books to offer when she self-published. I think she had something like 17 books written (not sure if that's how many she published), which speaks to her dedication to the craft. She kept writing.
     
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