Getting the Word Out - Book Reviews in Self-Publishing

It used to be that the success of a book was dictated by the reviews of newspaper columnists and the attention garnered by placement on prestigious 'top book' lists. A book that climbed the charts of the New York Times Bestseller List had a good shot at monetary success and a book that was mentioned on Oprah's television show was commonly succeeded by massive press and success.

Now, with the internet and the multi-screen world that is a by-product of the proliferation of mobile devices, the attention brought to authors and books is a bit more challenging. Publishing in the last few years is an entirely different animal. While indie authors and self-publishing have an incredibly varied amount of ways to get books printed and delivered, it is still very difficult to get your work reviewed.

Case in point - a week ago, it was revealed that J.K. Rowling had published a novel, Cuckoo's Calling under a pseudonym. While the book received relative positive acclaim, that never translated to sales. Less than a few hundred copies were sold since the book debuted in April.

Last week, the cover was blown, and the media discovered it was Rowling who authored the book, sales helped drive the book to the top of numerous 'best of' lists and brought positive reviews to her exploration of the detective genre that investigates the mysterious death of a supermodel.

The New York Times Bestseller List for August 4, 2013.

Recently, Scribd author and contributor, Sabrina Ricci explored the world of reviews for indie-authors and publishers with an article in Huffington Post.

Turns out, it's a challenging world despite the sheer number of titles that indie writers have published. According to Ricci, most news publications don't review the indie titles. With rare exception, their bandwidth is devoted to major publications and publishing houses even though as early as 2011, 235,000 titles represented self-published books.

This lack of coverage in traditional media outlets, however, has not stopped indies from their rise. To the contrary, according to a recent New York Times article, “Self-published titles made up roughly one-quarter of the top-selling books on Amazon last year.”

While many dream of the success that has been seen by authors like Rowling, or even sci-fi writer, Hugh Howey, most are content to see their book gain traction by a large readership and the numerous methods that today's readers can get copies of books.

We spoke more with Ricci about the new world of self-publishing and reviews:

Q. How did you discover Scribd? How, if at all, do you use our service? How is it represented in the field?

I first heard about Scribd when I was getting my M.S. in publishing at NYU—some of my friends used it regularly. I started using Scribd recently to help promote my self-published book, The 13th Cycle. I uploaded a few sample chapters with links for where readers can purchase the whole book. From what I've seen, several publishers, such as Simon & Schuster, offer similar sample content.

Q. In your search for literary marketplaces or products, what other sites do you rely on using?

It depends on what I'm looking for. If I want to read some short stories, I tend to go to Bookrix and Wattpad. Sometimes I also browse Scribd and IndieReader. If a friend recommends a book to me, I try to find the e-book version first, and I tend to buy from Amazon and Apple. However, if an author or publisher sells the book directly, I try to buy it from them first, especially if it's DRM-free. Lately I've also been using Bookvibe, which finds book recommendations via Twitter, to give me ideas for what to read next.

If I'm looking for sites and products to help me as an author, I also use Bookrix and Wattpad, as well as Book Country, to help me get feedback on my writing. I use Bibliocrunch to find editors who will work on my manuscript for a reasonable price. Once I raised some money through Pubslush, a crowdfunding site specifically for books. And then I convert the work to an e-book myself—I've worked as an e-book developer for Simon & Schuster, NBC Publishing, and The Experiment Publishing—but in the past I've used sites such as Pressbooks. Then I distribute the book through Smashwords, Amazon, Nook, and other channels. And lastly I use sites such as BookPulse, Para Publishing, Freado, Rafflecopter, Scribd, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Bewitching Book Tours, Book Blogger Directory, and The Indie View to help me market (in addition to social media).

Q. In the pantheon of self-publishing, what do you hear about Scribd and the services we offer for creative or independent authors?

A few blogs about self-publishing have cited Scribd as a distribution/sales channel. But mostly I've heard Scribd referred to as good for branding and marketing.

Q. How different is the awareness and in particular, the review possibility for self-published books and authors off the radar of major publishers?

Most major media outlets have a policy of not reviewing self-published books. A fair number of blogs also refuse to review self-published books. But, the indie community is growing every day, and there are more and more blogs, and sites that aggregate information on blogs, that do review self-published books. Some are paid, some do it for free. A few of them include IndieReader, The Indie View, idreambooks, Kirkus Indie, PW Select, indieBRAG, We Fancy Books, Maryse, Dear Author, and Chick Lit Central.

Q. Can you shed some light on the review process for self-published authors?

There are a few aspects to it. Most self-published authors have a blog tour as part of their marketing plan. Planning a blog tour is a lot of work, and it involves reviews, interviews, and guest posts, all scheduled in advance.

For the review posts, authors should give bloggers around 2-3 months advance notice, so the bloggers have time to read and write the review. As someone who occasionally reviews self-published books on my blog, I know I personally appreciate having ample time to work with a book, especially since I may be busy working on other stories.

All bloggers have their own set of guidelines for contacting them for reviews. Most of them include submitting a cover image, a brief description of the book, and a book format preference. All authors should carefully read and follow the blogger's directions to improve their chances of getting reviewed. It's also important that authors address the blogger by name, to show they actually read the blog and aren't just mass messaging a bunch of people.

Some bloggers will send authors a link or an email giving them a heads up that they've posted a review. Other bloggers will just give authors a date so they can check the site for the review.

After posting a review, some bloggers start to form a relationship with the author, if they liked the book. But that's not always the case. Each blogger approaches things differently.

Q. There is a fascinating visual breakdown of author critiques based on gender, and while it may be a bit tangential, I am wondering if you have seen it? What are your thoughts?

You can click and read the infographic at this link: | Article Link from The Guardian:

I had not seen it before, but thank you for showing me! My first thought was that gender doesn’t seem to matter as much in self-publishing. A lot of book bloggers are women, and many best selling indie authors are women who write romance. But I don’t have any concrete data to back that up.

Q. A lot of authors seem to dislike the moves by Amazon. What are the opportunities for authors with Amazon being such a force in the publishing landscape? What is missing?

Amazon is a massive search engine and the biggest e-book retailer in the U.S. This means that Amazon can push content to a very large audience, and doing well on Amazon can lead to financial stability. So authors should learn how to adapt their books and metadata to best fit Amazon's algorithms.

But, Amazon is not the only retailer, and it’s not the largest retailer in every country. Apple, Nook, Google, Sony, Smashwords, and Kobo are just a few of the other companies that distribute e-books. Apple has a decent chunk of the market in South America and Kobo is huge in Canada.

Amazon also uses a proprietary format for its e-books. This keeps all its content “locked in” so readers can only see the books on Kindles or Kindle apps. For many people, this is not necessarily a problem. But for readers like me, who own a few different devices and like flexibility, it can be annoying.

Most self-publishers, at least those who write narratives and books that are mostly text, will not have to worry much about Amazon’s file format. It’s fairly easy to convert an epub, the open e-book standard that pretty much all other retailers and devices use, to Amazon’s format. But Amazon’s format has a few quirks to keep in mind, which can make special formatting look different on a Kindle compared to another reading device.

Q. What is your current opinion on the literary marketplace for sites like Scribd and Amazon? Are your seeing places that accommodate an author's work?

I like that authors have so many options, and sites like Scribd and Amazon really help self-publishers fulfill their dreams. But I think there's more that can be done to help. For example, I'm the founder of Write or Read, and one of our objectives is to give authors analytic insight on their books. This includes basic demographic information of their readers, what percentage of their work people finish, and how long people spend reading their books. All this information can help authors learn about their target audience and become more successful.

Q. What do you really enjoy about Scribd and what we offer to authors?

I really like the recommendations based on “Because you read…” as well as the library. And it’s great that anyone can embed a book; that helps authors with branding and marketing.