aliciareneekline.com

Official Website for Contemporary Romance Author Alicia Renee Kline

The Sound of Sucking

My Amazon sales rank absolutely, positively sucks.

Let’s just get that out of the way right now.  I won’t sugar coat that, or entertain you with bogus claims that my books are best sellers or that I’m raking in the royalty checks.  I’ve never claimed to be a publishing guru, and those who have stopped by my blog often know I’m my own harshest critic.

Let’s also preface this post with a disclaimer:  I’m not complaining.  In fact, I wonder how much sales rank really even matters.

Gasp.  Yes, I just typed that.

To us author types, sales rank is a metric that we tend to live and die by.  Especially on Amazon, because it’s so readily visible.  We go to our dashboard on a regular basis, checking that damn graph for new sales.  We troll our own book pages, looking for how those elusive sales affect that almighty number.  But in the end, does it really matter?

Back in the olden days, before I tried my hand at publishing, I was just a mere reader and I didn’t give a rat’s ass about what that number was when I scoped out my next read.  Sure, titles that did well were certainly easier to find when I scrolled through the Kindle store.  But if I found an author that I liked, I would search by his or her name and get my fill of their works.  I never continued on down the page to see the sales rank and the publisher.  (Self publishing?  What was that?)  I’m betting that my tactics aren’t that different from most current readers’.

I’ve made my peace with Amazon.  I’m never, ever, going to be one of their featured authors because I detest their practices of handing out perks to those who pledge to be Amazon exclusive.  I’m not; nor will I ever be.  So I’m not allowed to use things like free days or countdown pricing or Kindle Unlimited to my advantage.  That’s fine.  And unless something really major and unexpected happens, I don’t see myself taking the romance world by storm and getting a movie deal or anything.  That’s cool, too.

I won’t lie.  Now that I do this myself, when I download a new book for my Kindle, I do look at the sales rank.  99.9% of the time, it’s way better than mine.  Sometimes, that makes perfect sense, because I enjoy books by majorly popular authors just as much as the next person.  Other times, I shake my head because even though I’m biased, I just don’t get the popularity of some things over my own.

People (authors included) tend to see the ebook market as Amazon dominated.  But a low sales rank on Amazon – or none at all – isn’t necessarily a testament to the quality of the product.  Here’s some food for thought from my personal experiences:

1.  When I sell multiple books in a day, it’s usually spread out among all of the books in my series, not just one title.  So while each book’s individual sales rank climbs, there’s never a boost to one particular novel worth writing home about.

2.  I also sell on other Amazon outlets, usually Canada, UK and Australia.  Those numbers, while making me happy, don’t reflect in the ranking on Amazon.com.

3.  It took me several months to get anyone on Amazon.com to purchase the third book in my series, though it was selling well (by my standards) on other outlets.  That first Amazon sale?  It was returned the same day.

4.  In 2014, I sold more copies through iBooks, B&N, Kobo and Smashwords than I did on Amazon.  I don’t even have a clue how you look at sales rank on iBooks, and they were my personal top performer.

I’m tired of the snobbery that’s found on message boards about books with low sales ranks being pieces of crap and the few copies sold being to family and friends.  Hell, I can’t get the majority of my family and friends to read my books or my blog, or like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.  They don’t give a flying poo about my author life.  And they certainly haven’t written any reviews for me.

Here’s what I see from my perspective as one of those so-called crap authors:  awesome reviews from people I don’t know, a small but growing loyal fan base, people who take the time to post unsolicited plugs for my books on social media, and over twice as many books sold in 2014 as in 2013.

If that’s the sound of sucking, I think I’ll continue doing it.

Stay tuned for 2015; there’s some exciting news coming soon!

 

 

 

 

Us Versus Them

I’m about to go on a rant here.  Hopefully, I won’t come across as an unholy bitch.  That’s not my intention at all.  But seriously, I’m sick and tired of a couple of bad apples ruining things for the entire bunch.

Most of us author types are professionals.  And by professionals, I don’t mean we rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars while practicing our craft.  I mean that we act like adults and are courteous.  We treat others like we want to be treated.  Of course we are also human, so our feelings get hurt.  But by and large, we think before we act, because we all know that in this day and age everything we do is public.  The majority of us do not have online hissy fits on social media or stalk people that give our books 1 star reviews.

But every time an author (self or traditionally published – because it happens in both camps) oversteps their boundaries, the rest of us are made to feel like we should hang our heads in shame, too.

It reminds me of high school, and an online version of us versus them.

So now we have bloggers mad at authors and vice versa.  Lines are drawn in the sand and generalities have been made.  And what everyone seems to forget is that we are all supposed to be on the same side, right?

A recurring theme that I’ve heard from both sides is “they don’t appreciate what we do for them”.  Granted, these are the people whose opinions are at opposite ends of the spectrum and who in turn are the most vocal.

Let’s recap:

Bloggers – read authors’ books on their own time, generally don’t get paid, post honest reviews on many outlets, provide a means of promotion for authors, do their best to pimp out the stuff they like.

Authors – generally provide free copies of books for blogger review, do interviews, write bonus scenes, character interviews, etc. that become content for other people’s blogs, provide prizes for giveaways.

Just like in any relationship, there’s a mutual give and take if this is to work correctly.  And when both sides do their part, it’s beneficial to all involved.  But when hard feelings enter the picture, it’s difficult to have shiny happy people on either side of the fence.

How about we get back to basics and realize that no one owes anyone else anything?

If a blogger doesn’t want to read books and write about them, then they shouldn’t.  If the time that they are devoting to blogging should be spent instead at work or with family or whatever, then that is what should be done.  For most bloggers, this is a hobby and it should be at least halfway enjoyable.  If this starts feeling like work (the dreaded kind) or a chore, then it’s going to come across that way to readers.

If an author doesn’t want to give away books to bloggers for free, then they shouldn’t.  At the same time, they shouldn’t expect a bunch of review coverage for that upcoming release.  And certainly if a review or ten pop up, don’t have a meltdown if they aren’t favorable enough.  Even bad reviews spark interest.  Don’t want to do a giveaway?  Hate writing bonus content for other people?  Fine.  No one is holding a gun to your head and making you do those things.

And while we’re on the subject of criticism (constructive, not the threatening or attacking kind) , here’s my take.  If you can’t handle it, you shouldn’t publish anything in the first place.  Sure, pass your Word doc around to your mom or your friends, who will tell you how awesome it is, then stick it in your closet and forget about it.  If you can’t put on your big girl panties, you have no business selling your writing to the general public.

I’ve had some great interactions with bloggers myself.  I certainly can’t be the only author who has had a blogger (on more than one occasion) actually purchase the next book in my series because they enjoyed the one that I gave them for free.  And goodness, if I would have known that they were that into my writing, I would have handed over coupon codes for all of my releases.

I’m lucky enough to have one blogger who doesn’t even ask for book descriptions anymore – I simply let him know that I’ve got a new novel ready and within five minutes I get an email back saying “send it”.  Those are the relationships we should all strive to have.  And if I, a literary nobody, have already fostered this, then I’m sure there are plenty more instances out there.

But we never hear about the good, which happens a lot more than the bad.

Shouldn’t it be the other way around?  Why are we wasting our efforts on people who are drawing attention to themselves in the wrong way?  Shouldn’t we be ignoring them instead?

 

 

 

Scratch My Back

As most self-pubbed authors will admit, it’s pretty tough to get reviews when you’re first starting out.  Family and friends will only get you so far – and in some cases, nowhere.  In this day and age, publishing a book might be a big accomplishment to you, but unless you’re raking in the cash the other people around you simply don’t care.  Some authors will actually tell you that they don’t want friends and family to review their book.  And I’m sure we’ve all heard examples of reviews being deleted on Amazon because they appear to come from someone closely involved with the author.

So what to do?  There are plenty of options that are legit that I’ve used with varying degrees of success.  Note that by legit, I mean not going online and paying X amount of dollars for 10 guaranteed 5 star reviews.  I’m against paid reviews of that sort, but I am currently booked with a tour company that facilitates reviews.  They shop your book out to bloggers, then distribute it to whoever is interested.  They don’t guarantee any rating; you get what you get and that’s how it should be.  I’ve also contacted bloggers directly, but as a whole the ones that would be most suitable for me are swamped.  I’m on their TBR list and waiting patiently.

One thing that I’ve noticed is the phenomenon of review swaps popping up amongst authors.  At first, I thought this was a good idea to solve everyone’s problem.  After all, who would better understand an author’s plight in this situation than another author in the same boat?

Then I thought about it.  The answer that I kept coming back to was that this is probably a big mistake, at least for me.  So I won’t do it.

Why?

First off, authors are people, too.  We have varying interests.  For example, even though I write romance, I dislike regencies and won’t read them.  I’m on the fence about erotica – it just depends.  There could very well be someone who writes one of those subcategories who was interested in reading my contemporary romance, while I was kind of “meh” about their book.  Do you think this would lead to me giving them a glowing review?  Probably not.  If you go into the process feeling like it’s a chore, are you really going to look at it the same way as you would if it was something you were dying to read?

Another thing to consider is the possibility that feelings may get hurt.  Let’s say your book earns a 5 star, while you give the other person’s book a 3 star.  Again, this isn’t a bad review (because you did  like it), but it’s not exactly on the same level.   Of course, this scenario could be easily reversed.  While honesty is always the best policy, it’s a little hard to explain that when someone feels slighted.  I don’t want to stomp on people’s egos, but I’m also not going to be shamed into giving a book a higher rating than I think it deserves.

I’ve had one of my books reviewed by an author.  I didn’t personally ask her to do it – her review was part of the blog tour I did.  I’ve not read one of her books yet, but she’s on my radar now.  I’ve thanked her for reading and reviewing and moved on.  If I do in the future buy and review a book written by her, it won’t be because I feel obligated to.

Obviously, my Goodreads profile identifies me as an author as well, but when I leave a rating/review, it’s because I want to.  Not because I promised I would.  True, I’ve interacted with a lot of the authors of books that I’ve reviewed via Twitter or blogs, but none of them have ever asked me to review their book.

I’m all about paying the review love forward and believing in karma never hurts, either.  But I would much rather have a honest review coming from someone who wanted to read my book than from someone who was forced to.  So I’ll keep reading and reviewing the books I want to and hope that everyone else does the same.

So for the authors out there:  have you participated in a review swap?  If so, did you feel like you had to leave a good review?  Would you have read and reviewed the other author’s book anyway?

For readers:  Does a review from another author seem to be more valid than from a regular, non-writing customer?  Or does it seem suspect, especially when it’s really good or really bad?

I’m interested in hearing any and all feedback on this one.

 

 

 

 

Game of Chance

Getting discovered as an author is a little like playing the lottery.

Sure, there are things that can increase your chances of doing that.  Number one is by writing a good book.  Number two is by writing more good books.  Then there are the other oft-suggested things:  marketing yourself on social media, doing blog tours, release day events, building relationships with book bloggers and readers alike.  All good tactics by the way (and things I’ve been trying to put to practice), but at the end of the day, luck also factors into things as well.

I was a little disheartened earlier this week when I was browsing the KDP community and found authors having a sort of pissing contest about how many books they’ve sold.  The heart of the argument settled around how someone’s advice should be taken more seriously than another’s simply  because they’ve sold X amount of books.  It devolved from there and became a bit ugly.

Honestly, I don’t care if you sell twenty books a day or if you haven’t yet sold twenty period.  If you have some words of wisdom that will help me out, I’m all for listening.  Sales are not the end all determination of quality of work or professionalism.  I seem to think I have a pretty good bullshit detector; I can tell when someone knows what they are talking about.  Besides, there are so many people out there who can (rightfully) call themselves an Amazon bestselling author because their book hit the top ten in some category for a split second that the terminology means nothing.  If I ever get lucky enough to be included in that rank, I won’t be touting it.  I’ll still be same old me.  But if I hit New York Times, then watch out!  Just kidding.

The reality of the matter is that for every successful author out there who is making a living solely on their writing, there are so many more who are not.  They may be just as talented, just as dedicated to their craft, but they are virtual unknowns.  For every “overnight” success, there are loads of people who slave away at their passion waiting for their big break.  For most of us, that time will never come.

I’m not trying to be depressing here; I’m just being realistic.  I’ve read plenty of articles that state that 80% of books never sell (or in the case of free – are downloaded) more than 100 copies.  Ever.  Does this mean that 80% of the books published are crap?  Not at all.  There could be some real gems in there that everyone is missing.  And that remaining 20% includes a lot of titles that may get 105 downloads, but never hit it big.

Like with most things in life, a small percentage of titles receive the bulk of the attention, and therefore the majority of the glory.  And these titles and authors are glaringly obvious to us when we open up our bookstores at whatever retailer we choose.  They are the books that everyone is talking about, the group that you want to be a part of.  They are the lucky few.  Sure, they now have name recognition, but at one point they started out like all aspiring authors – waiting for their first sale.

So how do you get there?  You keep doing what you are doing.  You keep trying to push the odds in your favor by using the tactics above.  You try to ignore the critics who tell you that your opinion doesn’t matter because you haven’t sold enough books to be vetted.  You stop focusing on numbers and rankings and comparing yourself to the book with an overall two star rating who is way ahead of you in the sales race.  You work on putting out the best product that you can.

Most importantly, you don’t ever give up.

Because, just like the lottery, you have to play to win.

Three Stars

I’m sure that by now most of us are familiar with the 1-5 star ranking system for books.  It’s pretty much the same for whichever retailer or social site you’re on.  Amazon’s is a little less optimistic than the one I’ve detailed below, what with 1 being “hated it” and 5 being “loved it”, but you get the picture.  In case you’re not well-versed on where things lie, I’ve pulled the following straight from Goodreads:

1 – did not like it

2 – it was okay

3 – liked it

4 – really liked it

5 – it was amazing

Seems simple, right?  Like most people who dabble in reviewing, I toss out 1 and 2.  I don’t want to crush people’s hopes and dreams.  If I feel a 1 or 2 star review is warranted, I will keep it to myself.  Then there’s the other end of the spectrum.  Just on general principles, I dislike the word “amazing” because I think it’s one of the most over-utilized words on the planet.  Very few things in life are truly amazing.  But “really, really good” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.  Here’s where I like Amazon’s take better.  I love a lot of things:  sunshine, Vanilla Coke, sea salt and vinegar potato chips; I could totally see myself loving the right book.

Given my personal idiosyncrasies, that leaves most of the reviews I would write (on Goodreads at least) somewhere between the 3 and 4 star range.  I have given a 5 star review before, but I don’t hand them out like candy.  Maybe that comes from having a boss years ago in the banking world who would never give any employee the best score on an evaluation, as there was always room for improvement.  Or I’m a hard-ass.  You take your pick.

Goodreads seems to agree with me.  The average rating of the books that I have on my shelf is – you guessed it – between 3 and 4.  This seems reasonable.  Lingering between “liked it” and “really liked it” doesn’t seem such a bad place to be.

Any self-pubbed author will tell you that reviews are like tiny treasures.  I still remember the night I stumbled across the first Amazon review I ever got.  It was a 4 star, unsolicited review and I may have gotten a little misty-eyed.  They were tears of joy, mind you.

As someone who puts their work on display for others to judge, you have to develop a thick skin.  Not all authors have learned this, though, and their feelings get hurt if they get anything less than a 5 star review.  Some authors have gone as far as to badmouth or even threaten those individuals who give less than perfect reviews.  Sure, we all want people to appreciate our work, but does it have to be at an “amazing” level all of the time?  Since when is liking something not good enough?

I don’t write hoping that other people will see the end result and give it a 5 star review.  I write the story that I want to and have faith that it will resonate with someone else the way it has with me.  I realize when I let my work fly off on its own that some people will like it and others won’t.  That’s just the nature of the game.

If I wanted an ego boost and a string of 5 star reviews, I’d email a copy to my friends and family and be done with it.  (And I’d choose those people wisely).  I wouldn’t send it out into the real world and let it fight on its own.  But since I’m comfortable with who I am and what I’ve done, I’ll march bravely out into the big electronic bookstore and take what comes.

I’m talking about honest, thoughtful reviews here, of course.  Reviews that back up what they’re saying with examples.  Reviews that are written respectfully.  Not the petty, bullying reviews that pop up from time to time.  Thankfully, I’m not considered a threat on anyone’s radar, so I don’t get attacked with 1 and 2 star reviews in retaliation.  And I try not to be a polarizing figure so that people won’t judge my books solely on who I am.  That really shouldn’t ever be part of the equation anyway.  Sure, I get the point that the author is part of the brand, but if someone is rating my novels based on the fact that I have a nose piercing and I’m a huge Red Wings fan, then I’m probably doing something wrong.

Allowing the voice of the general public to be heard is one of the big reasons that self-pubbed authors are experiencing success.  Authors need to accept the fact that we won’t always agree with what those voices have to say.  We need to check our egos at the door and accept criticism graciously.  After all, if we bite the hand that feeds us, eventually that well will dry up.

I, for one, want to hear what readers think.  Even if they only liked it.

 

 

 

Eggs in One Basket

I debated whether or not to write this post, knowing that many other self-published authors have been far more affected than myself by the events of the past few days.  I won’t go into the backstory of what has now been referred to as Kobogeddon.  Others have done that in great detail.  Petitions have been started and rumors are flying as to what retailer will target indie authors next.

Yes, my books have been removed from a couple of websites that are powered by Kobo.  This has happened in the UK and in Canada, though there may be other places that I’m not aware of yet.  As of this posting, they were still available through the US Kobo website and one that I believe is out of Brazil.

Full disclosure here:  I have never, ever, sold a book on Kobo.  My first book has always been available there, but I’ve not seen a single sale.  I hesitate to say that I don’t have any pending preorders there, because I think that I might.  I noticed something weird when I clicked on the link to book two to make sure it was still there:  it has a much higher sales rank than book one.   This shouldn’t be the case, since all preorder sales should post on release day.  For this reason, I don’t technically have any sales of book two yet.  The sales rank for book one and two used to be exactly the same – the bottom of the barrel.  Now they are not.

In any case, I’m not personally losing any sleep over missed opportunities for selling my book there.  Don’t get me wrong; I don’t agree with their drastic decision to pull all self-published books because there may be some that are erotica lurking right next to the children’s picture books.  It seems as though there should have been a better way to deal with making these corrections than to initiate sweeping removals.  But the impact on my individual bottom line is minimal at worst.

So why post this?  Because it got me thinking about the way that I conduct myself as a self-published author.  And it furthered my stance that it’s not a good idea to be exclusive to one retailer.  Let’s pretend for a moment that I published only with Kobo, like many do solely with Amazon.  The Kobogeddon fiasco would take on a whole new meaning for me.  Suddenly, my books would be gone from the majority of the sites that they were posted on, with no definitive answer on when they would return.  I wouldn’t have the option of referring people instead to Amazon or B&N or iTunes or Smashwords.  I may be scrambling to publish with one or all of those sources, but the result would be that I’d be one pissed off author.

I know that people cheat the system.  I’d like to think that those types are few and far between – the authors that would knowingly distribute their books in categories where they don’t belong simply because they will get more views that way.  The people who select tags and keywords to make their book appear something that it’s not.  Most authors of erotica would probably agree with me that they don’t want their works to show up in a search for a children’s book.

So instead of punishing all self-published authors by removing all of their books – whether they’re anywhere close to erotica or not – why don’t we look at ways of improving the system?  Why don’t we try our best to make sure that books only show up where they are supposed to?  Mistakes can be made on both sides: for instance, my book two used to show up on the UK website in their non-fiction category.  I sure didn’t put it there.  I use a distributor; there was nothing in my metadata to suggest this was anything but a work of fiction.  It has showed up on all other websites correctly (including Kobo US).  Human error happens even when you’re a retailer.  Isn’t there the distinct possibility that the issues in question were in fact on their end and not the authors’?

I keep coming back to the iTunes approach of manually reviewing each book before it’s offered for sale.  Maybe they have the right idea after all.  Notice that authors are worried about Amazon and B&N being next – places where your books are available very shortly after they are uploaded.  I haven’t heard of the same fears regarding iTunes.  Why?  Because they know exactly what is posted on their site.  I’m not sure what all they check for, but I do know that it takes a while to see your work show up there.  With book one, I complained about that slightly.  In retrospect, I realize that I would rather have my book release delayed upfront rather than having it pulled from the shelves after it had already been available for sale.  And a small note on that:  book two was approved much quicker than book one.  I’m not sure if that’s because it was a lucky time to submit it, or if they somehow fast track those authors who already have books available on their store.

What I do know is that Kobo now has a tough road ahead of them to get back in the good graces of the self-published authors who have been affected by their knee-jerk reaction.  I hope that they have some kind of plan in place to get this issue remedied as soon as possible and to smooth things over with the very vocal people out there who have been upset by this.  It’s not just the author community that is up in arms.

I’m interested to see how this plays out.  And I’m not banking on seeing any of those possible preorders until I get a deposit in my account.  Because you never know, my book may not be there tomorrow.  But it will be somewhere – I’ll make damn sure of that.

 

 

 

Embracing the Obscurity

It’s a vicious cycle.

In order for people to find out about your book, you talk about it on your website.  But how do you get people to your website if they don’t know about your book?

Like most creative types who write, I am undoubtedly introverted.  I’m not the kind to tell everyone who will listen “Hey, I wrote a book!”  I don’t want to be overbearing – you know how you cringe when certain people enter a room?  I never want to be that person.

So, it is with a little bit of trepidation that I have joined the realm of social media (read Twitter) as my author self.  I am actually more excited that I figured out how to add the “Follow me” button to this site than anything else!  Right now, there’s absolutely nothing to follow, but it will get there.  Ultimately, once my book is published, it will lead people back here and to Twitter if they want to know more about me or if they like what I’ve written.  And vice versa.

As I told my husband today, lots of people dream of writing books.  A small percentage of those people actually sit down and do it.  But even that small percentage amounts to a lot of authors who have books available to read at any given time.  Trust me, I have about 600 books on my Kindle currently.  I’d say of that collection, I am looking at about 550 unique authors.

By virtue of the sheer quanity of authors out there; I am obscure.  I need all of the help that I can get from my readers to spread the word.  At the same time, there is a great opportunity in this for me to reach new people.  The sky really is the limit here.

I love writing and I could talk about it for hours.  That’s what is so great about this site: anyone who comes here becomes part of my captive audience.  People can browse as they please and spend as much time as they want here.  I can hop on my soapbox and “sell, sell, sell” and you can take it or leave it.

This is assuming that anyone is actually reading this.