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Self-Published Authors Share 5 Things They Learned in 2012 ~ Part 4

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Today’s guest post continues the 12-part series I’ve launched in this new year: asking self-published authors what are the top 5 things they’ve learned in the last year. Last year I featured numerous guest posts from indie authors who’d been successful, and I noted the diversity of reasons for their success—some completely in contradiction to another’s—so I thought it would be helpful to have more authors give their insights into the most valuable lessons they’ve learned. Hopefully it will help you navigate the convoluted and confusing maze of indie publishing and give you ideas on how best to spend your time so that it produces the results you desire in your writing career.

Today’s guest post is from Michael Drakich, and although he shares only 3 things, they’re detailed and insightful:

I’ve been asked to describe some things I’ve learned in the past year as a self-published author. The truth of them is they all involve the school of hard knocks. There is no easy path to success. Here are three major things with a number of other tidbits of advice mingled in.

1. Amazon is the 900-pound gorilla. Everyone knows the joke: Where does a 900-pound gorilla sit? Anywhere he wants to.

The Gorilla in the Room

When it comes to the indie publishing world, Amazon is the 900-pound gorilla. Self published authors have no choice but to accede to the whims of this monster. Because most self-pubs rely on ebook sales only and Amazon has the giant share of that market, they are forced to compete within that marketplace.

What does this mean? On Kindle Select the number of free novels every single day of the week (over 5,000 the day of this post) makes trying to sell your product a challenge. I mean, why should a book buyer look at your reasonably priced product, most ranging from $.99 to $4.99, when they can get a competitor for $0.00!

But it doesn’t end there. Let’s say a buyer decides to actually shop because he wants to search for quality. So they search a category and the default search is by popularity. Well, unless you can generate a lot of sales quickly, your book will be so many pages in, the buyer will never look that far.

Let’s say they change the search to average customer review. Again, unless you have had any luck garnering reviews in a massive amount, your book will be buried deep. What is purportedly happening is authors are buying five-star reviews by the hundreds to give them a high rating. Amazon’s algorithm’s kick in and, voila, a top-rated book. No effective system is in place to stop such abuse.

So how do self-published authors get their books found on Amazon? The simple answer is—they don’t. As long as Amazon is happy with the current system, they will have no motivation to change it. After all, buyers want to find the most popular or the highest rated. Why would they introduce anything that would be counterproductive to that?

The 900-pound gorilla is sitting and you can’t move him.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions . . .

2. What price do I set for my ebook? One of the more difficult decisions I needed to make was what price to set my ebook at. Looking at the market, prices were all over the place. From a vast quantity at $.99 up to paperback prices of $11.00 or $12.00.

The major player, Amazon, with its pricing policy, urges the writer to consider $2.99. But their rating policy pushes you higher because higher priced books, when sold, move you up the rating list faster.

So what is a writer to do? I considered making a dartboard with prices on it but realized that was a bad idea. It came down to asking what am I worth? I opted for $4.99. Not the highest price, but definitely far above the average. It was probably pretty close to the median.

So am I saying my writing is only median? Not exactly. When examining those prices above $4.99, they belonged to writers with a greater established record than mine. Allotting a variance for just such a reason seemed only fair. So when comparing against other first-time self-pubs, I’m right near the top price. After all, I think I’m worth it.

Honestly . . .

3. Is honesty really the best policy? My marketing plan is one of seeking out bloggers to give me honest reviews for my latest novel. Hopes, of course, are to get all five-star reviews. Reality is a bit of a mix. To date I’ve received a combination of five-, four-, and three-star reviews. I think there was one in there that featured an extra half star, but I digress. Now, three stars is still not a bad review, and those reviews did include positives about my book. So, all in all, I’m not too disappointed.

My only disappointment arrives when I stop to examine the reviews and ratings of my fellow authors. Many feature scads of five stars and little else. When one takes the time to examine where those reviews came from, almost exclusively the review is the only one ever posted by that particular individual.

Now I may have been born at night, but I can assure you, it wasn’t last night. Either all these authors are exceedingly lucky that people reading their work post a raving review for their work and no one else’s or it’s fixed. I’m going out on a limb here and will side with the latter. If I’m to guess at what is going on, these authors are convincing friends and family to write glowing reviews. What you usually see is this trend continues for the first ten to twenty and then dies off. It’s the later reviews that tell the true story, whether a five star was deserved.

In the meantime, what has happened? The author, possibly by false pretext, manages to mislead the shopper that the work is quality based on reviews. They garner sales, which improves their ranking, which garners more sales, and so on. So why am I taking the high road? In hindsight, damned if I know. Well, I do, but I’m wondering whether I did the right thing. Does the average consumer out there question the reviews they read? Do they bother to follow a modicum of investigation? Probably not.

Still, I intend to soldier through. There is so much more to bloggers than the review. It’s the word-of-mouth campaign they run for you. I read once somewhere (I can’t recall) that new authors need to be heard of six to ten times before a buyer thinks, hey, I’ve heard of that guy before, so maybe I’ll buy his book.

I hope these stories give an idea of the challenges facing a new writer. To all who try, I wish them the best of success.

Michael Drakich is a writer of speculative fiction. To date, he has two novels released. One is an epic fantasy entitled The Brotherhood of Piaxia. The second is an adventure science fiction entitled Grave Is the Day. He will be releasing an adventure thriller very shortly entitled Lest The Dew Rust Them and is planning a spring release of another science fiction novel entitled The Infinite Within. Michael states that he has always adhered to the motto of the character Captain Taggert from the movie Galaxy Quest: “Never give up! Never surrender!”

 

19 Responses to “Self-Published Authors Share 5 Things They Learned in 2012 ~ Part 4”

  1. Raphyel M. Jordan February 4, 2013 at 8:19 am #

    Great article. It was very informative. I especially liked the area discussing honesty.

    • Michael Drakich February 6, 2013 at 8:00 am #

      I have always considered honesty as one of my most redeeming qualities (I won’t mention my faults!) I live by a simple motto, “Always tell the truth, that way you never need to remember what you said.” At the end of the day I sleep well.

  2. Beth Havey February 4, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    Thanks, Michael. I appreciate your honesty about the pricing and the reviews. Very helpful. I will probably be happy at first that my ebook is out there and then become discouraged, but I have to try.

    • Michael Drakich February 6, 2013 at 8:01 am #

      The thing to remember about being an author is, it’s not a sprint – it’s a marathon. Be ready for the long haul.

  3. Melissa Maygrove February 4, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    Excellent article. Thanks for posting this!
    (And I agree with the issue of honest reviews. I hardly pay attention to 5-stars anymore, unless they are the majority of 75 to 100 or more total reviews.)

    • Michael Drakich February 6, 2013 at 8:03 am #

      I made a suggestion to Amazon to consider adding a new category among their search parameters – RANDOM. The person I spoke with liked the idea but it has been several months since my suggestion and I have yet to see it implemented.

  4. Lee Rawn February 4, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    Thank you. I thoroughly enjoy your Blog, useful information, and wonderful guests. Cheers, Lee

    • Michael Drakich February 6, 2013 at 8:05 am #

      Thanks for the visit. I appreciate the opportunity from Suzanne for the post.

  5. Seeley James February 4, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    Very true, Michael. I think the sock-puppet thing will continue to plague us for the foreseeable future with bizarre results. My wife’s secretary loves thrillers, has 10-15 reviews on Amazon, yet her review of mine does not show. (I did give her the book free but my wife told her that honesty was worth more than brown-nosing. She’d given it 4 stars.) While a friend of mine, who hates fiction, wrote his 1-and-only Amazon review for me, raving madly yet making it obvious he’d not read the book — they posted it. (He meant well.)

    Today, i have two new reviews from people I’ve never met. So I think it works for the most part.

    Peace, Seeley

    • Michael Drakich February 6, 2013 at 8:08 am #

      Getting reviews provides an author with some sense of achievement but unless you get into the hundreds they will have little effect because of the skewed system at Amazon.

  6. KM Logan @lessonsfromivy February 4, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    Another aspect of reviews is that an authors followers are more likely to like a book because they’re already fans of the author. Since they know about it first they’re the first ones to leave reviews.

    • Michael Drakich February 6, 2013 at 8:10 am #

      That is why the number one word of advice to authors is KEEP WRITING. You create what is called a backlist. Once someone likes one of your books they’re sure to consider your others. It becomes a multiplying effect where books push each other in sales.

  7. Janice Lesly February 4, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

    Hello Michael,

    I really appreciate your honesty!!! I have been studying the publishing industry for awhile now and like that you are saying it the way it is.
    It is The Wild Wild West out there right now!!
    I can add that I have also heard that some ebook authors have found out that friends/family/fans have bought their book, but there is no record of those sales showing up for the author. Then I read somewhere on line that is because staff or ?? of the “Gorilla” are starting their own ma&pa publishing houses (so to speak) and are selling new books as second hand or ebooks cheaper than the author originally was, on line. Ergo the author is not ‘selling’ the book and so does not make a cent. Very confusing.
    I have a book to publish and one day I will, but right now I’m not sure if I want to offer it up so that complete strangers can steal it and make money from my work. I’m hoping soon, there will be another way :) !!!
    ps: I still buy books, but I tend to only buy books that offer me a glance ‘inside’ and then I know by the writing and chapter headings if it something I want to buy. Or if I have read legitmate reviews from key readers that I know of.
    Yet, in the end a writer has to write – creative energy expressed is good for us :) Best of luck with your books!

    • Michael Drakich February 6, 2013 at 8:13 am #

      Don’t let the fear mongering that exists delay you from going forward. The types of theft you mention are small and limited in scope. Saying that, make sure your work is absolutely ready – edited, proofed, and good cover.

  8. Roxanne Winkler February 6, 2013 at 5:02 am #

    I appreciate the info. My self-published novel, ADMISSIONS OF GUILT went live on Amazon on Dec. 8th. I sold it for $2.99 and sales were slow. A couple of weeks ago, I put it up for a free promo and got over 43,000 downloads. My book moved up the ladder quickly and hit #4 on the free downloads list. I then started getting 1 star sloppily written spoiler reviews that knocked me down to #18. I was told by other authors that this sometimes happen if your book goes up in ranks quickly and that other new authors will give you one star reviews to knock your book back down. I’d really hate to believe that that is true. When the promo was off, I put a new price of $.99 on it and it is selling much better at that price especially after the free promo exposure. When I want to purchase a book, free or not, I don’t pay attention to the ratings. I read the “Look Inside” to see if the writer’s style and storyline appeals to me. I can usually tell in the first few pages if I am going to like the book. That way I am rarely disappointed. I will definitely use different techniques when marketing my next book that will come out the end of this year.

    • Michael Drakich February 6, 2013 at 8:16 am #

      There is no exact science in selling books. If there was, we’d all be using it. But I like your assertiveness. Be confident and keep writing.

  9. Jan Arzooman February 10, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    I can’t put very much credence into reviews, so I’d say keep sticking to your principles about being honest. I’m not that upset that people ask their friends to write reviews (although it is kind of crappy that other writers post negative reviews to knock people down). A reader can generally tell when a review is BS. I tend to skim reviews, unless there’s one from a notable source like the NY Times, and even then I might just read it quickly. I’ll look at the book’s description first (poorly written ones with typos get ignored) and I might check the inside of the book. The cover and title matter, too. If a cover looks slapped together I doubt the seriousness of the author.

  10. Kandy Kay Scaramuzzo February 26, 2013 at 8:29 am #

    Hey There! I am a new author and am muddling through the promoting part of all of this. I kind of put the cart before the horse and published with no clue about promotion. Here is what I noticed, it was rather disturbing actually, that you could purchase 20 reviews all five stars to be placed on all the major sights. So what you are saying is true. The reviews are rather pricey and for those doing them, I think they have found an easy way to make money. So much for free enterprise, heh? I have just thrown my little book out there to the wolves and he seems to be getting good reviews and has been posted on several international blogs. I just can’t bring myself to buy a review. Another way they are doing it is to tell you if you want it early you can pay a rather large fee. Ah, the creativity of some people! It’s pretty bad when a newbie like me can see through the shenanigans. Just wanted to weigh in on what you said.
    It is a bit disturbing, but I love the fact that my book is out there and would not trade that feeling for the world. So what if he has to navigate around a gorilla and all the sharks out there? He is mine and I am proud of him. Happy Trails To You!

  11. Amber Lea Starfire February 27, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

    Michael, thank you for the informative and down-to-earth article. The bottom line: Keep on keepin’ on. Keep writing, keep learning, and remain in integrity with yourself. In light of the recent article in the Wall Street Journal about authors buying their way into the Best Seller lists, that last point is especially important.

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