Guest post by Chandler McGrew
The ebook Revolution is just beginning to shake out, and everyone seems to have a theory on how to make it big. Being anal about researching anything I do (and then doing it wholeheartedly) I’ve read most of the bestselling how to be bestselling on Amazon etc. ebooks now. One of the favorite theories seems to be the Freebie. Giveaway as many of one book as you can, hook the readers, then get them to come back for more paid. While I don’t totally discount the wisdom (after all major publishers have been giving away thousands of review books for at least decades) I’m not sure it’s as applicable in the digital world for several reasons, some of which Beth Lynne touches on in her well-written post here.
Simply put there are a growing number of people who monitor Twitter and other social venues for anything free. These are not necessarily readers of my genre. In fact they may not be readers at all but digital hoarders. There are also people who are readers and see the giveaways as a means of building a digital ‘library’ for nothing. Will they read my book? Possibly? Will they buy my next one? Doubtful. Will they help me out by taking the time to post a review? Probably not. And that brings me to reviews.
Having written untold numbers of unpublished novels before getting four published I can tell you what it means to get a review, any review. But those are reviews by critics who–whether or not you agree with them–are not only voracious readers but in most cases at least schooled somewhat in writing. Even before delving into self-publishing myself I had begun to wonder about the quality or trustworthiness of Amazon reviews of other self-published works. Then, when I finally broke down and bought my Kindle Fire and began downloading some of the Five Star novels I really began to wonder.
When I visited Random House for the first time my new editor introduced me to what she called her Door of Shame. This was back in the day of hard-copy queries, when we prospective writers busted our humps as much on crafting those queries as we did perfecting the fifty pages of manuscript we sent along with them. Upon the door were taped clippings from queries and sample pages that would have made a fourth grader shake her head. Infantile prose. Grammar skills of an orangutan. Typos a blind man could have spotted. I laughed at first. Then as I continued to read down the door I found it lost its humor. These were people who had the same dream I had. Some probably did not have the talent and could not be blamed for that, but the vast majority simply had not put in the work required to polish their craft, reading AND writing. Hemingway said that writing was an art which could not be taught, it could, however, be learned. These people had not paid their dues and learned it yet. Some still might. I hope some did.
That’s all leading up to the fact that any of them can today publish the novel that Random House would not look at, and they’re doing it. Every day. Hundreds, perhaps thousands a day. And the vast majority seem to be marketing using the prevailing theory. Go free first. So now we have an Amazon of Shame.
This is not to say there are not self-published novels out there worth reading and buying. The exact opposite is true. It’s just that as Beth mentions, they are being buried under an avalanche of Shame, but eventually eReaders are going to find ways to pick the wheat from the chaff. Reading the two and one star reviews first. Always reading a selection from the book before purchase (but the reviews will have more weight, because eventually if you have more than one really bad one they probably won’t bother to go to step two). Traditionally editors did everything they could to keep their writers from shaming themselves (not always successfully and less with each passing year, I give you Fifty Shades of Gray), but I would be surprised if one out of one hundred epublished writers has their work edited. Those of us who have worked with editors know better, which is why I hired Beth in the first place. Having written over twenty novels I can tell you that I know my best work, and Crossroads is cream, but it will be even better for Beth’s hand.
And I’ve about decided that going free is not going to help me (although I’ve already promised one more day and will likely do a handful more in the future)as much as finding critical readers willing to mention it on Facebook and Twitter, etc. People trust their friends even when they are digital. Think about it. Will you buy my book because of some anonymous Amazon review, or because someone with a face on FB mentioned it was a great read? What do you think?