Well, I’m mostly back in the saddle after some bout with what seemed a lot like food poisoning. It’s been a slow ramp-up back to almost full speed and I hope. There are a bunch of things happening in the next week, so I really hope, Lord willing, to be fully recuperated by then.
On Tuesday I’m scheduled to do a Google Hangout with Hugh Howey. As soon as I know more details I’ll pass them on to you. Our goal is to discuss the stuff we actually talked about in the NPR interview (most of which never made it into the broadcast) so that authors can have more information and insight into the reality about the growing middle-class of authors who are making a living with their writing these days. That should be fun. And I promise to be nice to Hugh and to not call him names or accuse him of anything untoward.
Later on Tuesday I’ll be doing the launch and promotion philosophy webinar with Tim Grahl. That should be a ton of fun, and there are still some seats left for that one.
I’ll be doing a separate post about my appearance at Dragoncon in Atlanta at the end of this month. I’m scheduled to be on at least one panel and will be doing a book signing as well.
SCATTERSHOOTING: Some Advice on a Few Topics for Aspiring Authors
Here are a few things that may or may not help you as you move forward in your publishing career. Feel free to graze, take what you like, and maybe just store the rest for later reflection or consideration.
#1 Celebrate the Moment
With all of the battles going on in publishing right now, the turmoil can cause a lot of angst. As the titans battle over e-book pricing, discounting, and pre-orders, it might be easy to drift into worry and inordinate negativity. Most of us are voiceless and powerless in the discussion, but what do we have to be negative about? More people are reading than ever before in the history of everything. I realized that again this morning when I was deciding whether to write out this blog post or to just include the same information in another video. Both media forms have their place, but the fact is that more than 10X as many people would read or share this post because it is written, than would watch or share it if I’d just “performed” it in a video. Reading is how we gather information, communicate, and learn in this world today. That’s just a reality, and whether it is good or bad for us that most of our communications (even sometimes between people in the same room or who are nearby one another) happen via texts, emails, posts, or instant messages is something that remains to be seen. I hold out hope that a generation of young people who communicate almost completely through written and published media, will more readily accept printed media (in whatever format) than the generations that have gone before them. More people are reading. More people are paying for written content. More people are making a living writing.
There is a lot to be excited about in that.
Sweating about whether Amazon is going to crush everyone’s dreams and ruin literature forever is just misplaced energy. There is a huge and growing market for the printed word. If Amazon and the other outlets handle that well, authors will benefit in the long run and more of us will be making more money doing what we love. If Amazon or the other outlets mess it up and try to screw authors? Sorry. Too late for that. Communication in this new world has no barrier to entry. Readers will seek out good content and will be willing to pay for it. The market will adapt, but talented content creators are in a good place right now.
Celebrate the fact that it is good to be a writer when more people read.
#2 Not Statistically Significant
Chill Out. Learn these words… “Not Statistically Significant.” These words, if you understand them properly, will get you through most long, dark tea-times of the soul. Most of the angst, anger, distress, and worry I hear coming from new Indies has its root in the fact that when you start out, you are trying to derive facts from data sets that are statistically insignificant. This is a very nice way of saying, “you haven’t sold enough books or garnered enough reviews to draw any real conclusions yet,” which may seem like a smack across the jaw, but it is true. This NSS thing applies to a lot of the issues authors worry about… reviews, sales, spikes, dips, etc.
Having an author email me (or take up bandwidth on a FB author board) because in the last 24 hours they’ve sold 3 books at Barnes and Noble when in the whole past 6 months they’ve sold only 1 (What can it mean! Did I get a mention somewhere?) will only elicit what I call the NSS Blink.
It is great to watch your numbers, to get excited about blips, and to seek out what might have caused someone to buy your book. But make sure you understand that in most cases, when your book is for sale in several venues with millions of possible customers, tiny blips or dips are usually Not Statistically Significant.
If you are still posting good or bad reviews to your Facebook (*hopefully, IF you are doing this, you are ONLY posting these to your own FB and not to FB writer groups or author group pages), then you are probably in need of learning the soothing mantra… “Not Statistically Significant.” Because when you have 7, or 17, or in many cases even 117 reviews on a title, you still need to realize that as a sample of the possible reading market for your book, each review on its own (or in such relatively small numbers) is not statistically significant. Posting a 1 star review to gripe about it or to garner sympathy may make you feel better for a minute, but please don’t think someone telling you “Oh, you just ignore that meanie! Your book doesn’t ‘suck sewage’” has any bearing on whether your book is any good or not. The best books in the world get bad reviews, and the more real reviews they get, the more bad reviews there will be. The only thing I can think of that is as silly as worrying about the negative opinion of some stranger is being happy about the positive opinion of a friend or someone close to you. Both have value in that they are the reflections of humans who themselves have value, but in terms of a single review having any objective commentary representing the mass opinion of your work… both are useless.
Getting harsh, troll reviews is a product of selling books. The more you sell, the more you will get. Getting one (or maybe even a dozen) is Not Statistically Significant. After you get past a couple hundred reviews, and when 75% of those are from strangers who bought your book on their own without any connection to you, THEN you can begin to have a slight inkling about what the masses ON THAT VENUE think about your book. Posting reviews to (hopefully ONLY your own) Facebook page is understandable. It’s like spiking the football or having a fit on the ball field. You are emotional because you are new and you haven’t had enough experience to understand that generally those highs and lows don’t mean much statistically. Hopefully you grow out of it.
And let’s have a little balance.
Not long ago an author took to an author group on FB to complain about a 1 star review. The fact that this is happening in an author forum is disturbing enough, but I’ll leave that complaint alone for a moment. But check this out. Of course everyone who hears the cry of OFFENSE! HAVOC! is expected to go actually read this 1 star review and to be appropriately offended by it. So I did. Read it. I know, I shouldn’t have. I should know better. But I did it. Well, the review was stupid, ignorant, and offensive – sure enough. The author who posted it was right about that. But bad reviews happen if you sell enough books. 1 bad review is not statistically significant when the sample size is too small to draw any conclusions. Heck, even ten bad reviews in a row is not particularly illustrative of anything. One a-hole might have been offended by your book cover and then told all of his friends to flame your reviews. You can’t really tell. But I noticed something interesting with this particular 1 star review. If you went up two reviews from the offensive one (I think there were only 7 on the title,) there was a 5 star review that said something like this:
I haven’t read this book yet, but my friend said she knew the author and it is good.
I don’t remember the exact wording, but it was something like that. And I don’t remember the author squawking that someone dared to review the book having not even read it. You don’t generally get authors complaining publicly about undeserved five star reviews.
Remember, I’m not saying DON’T EVER post a review to your Facebook or blog. Some reviews are unique, funny, interesting, or in some other way significant enough to share. The fact that it is a one or a five star review should not qualify. Also, there is a difference between your Facebook, and a Facebook page that is for a group of authors. Learn the difference (more of this in the next piece of advice.)
And here is why I say those earliest reviews are not statistically significant…
It’s not only because the data set is too small. It is because it is also not representative. Authors start out selling to friends, family, friends of friends, and other authors. There are a ton of nebulous motivations swimming around in the incestuous pool of your first hundred reviews on a title. Peer pressure, fan excitement, jealousy, team spirit, pity, mercy, anger, envy… all of those are there. In fact, those things are MORE present when the author is new due to the way authors first begin to build platform and expand their audience. Hardened veterans with a built in platform of large size rarely spend much time drumming up reviews, so in most cases their first one hundred reviews are more representative of the possible readership of the book.
So new authors start by selling to a very small group. That circle pushes out slightly the longer you are doing this and the more titles you have. But even then you have a non-representative sample. It’s not that those early reviews are faked, or are somehow illegitimate, it’s just that they are not representative of the reading public as a whole. You don’t get a real representative sample until you’ve received hundreds of reviews, and your sales numbers are large enough to have pushed out into the “heavy readers and general book buyers” category (the 2nd reader group.) Then you’ll begin to get an idea of what people really think about your book. And again, the more books you sell, the more bad reviews you will get. That’s just a reality of statistics.
#3 Learn the Difference between A Facebook Page, and YOUR Facebook Page
KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) put out an awesome article the other day on author spam and bad author behavior. So I figured I’d add something here since I have mentioned it a few times above. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE learn the difference between A Facebook Page and YOUR Facebook Page. Listen, I understand that a lot of times bad behavior from authors is motivated not by some deep seated intent to troll, irritate, and manipulate. Usually authors feel powerless to help themselves. They don’t have the information they need to improve their lot so they use whatever resources they have access to. This explains most author spam. And sometimes authors are just confused by the new medium. Since posting to a Facebook page is the same whether it is your page, another person’s timeline, or to a Facebook group page, sometimes authors confuse the fact that any Facebook page is not your Facebook page. If it isn’t your Facebook page, then you post there by permission, and you should behave yourself appropriately.
(aside… just because a handful of cohorts think what you are doing is ok, does not make it so.)
Screwing up socially is pretty common in this new social media age. Many people are confused by the rules and so they don’t know that you should act differently when posting a comment or post on someone else’s timeline. It is like being invited into their house. You are usually getting access to their friends and family. You should act more respectfully. It is not just a continuing conversation that floats around the Internet without walls. There should be rules to behavior. One of those rules is that authors should not abuse opt-in relationships by treating any platform like it is a platform they have earned. One of the new laws of social media and Internet marketing is that you want to receive permission from readers to take their time and attention for your propaganda. For example, if you are reading this, it is because I posted it in an “opt in” forum… my blog. I didn’t hammer it into your door, post it on your windshield, or mail it to your house. If someone else stuck it in your inbox or posted it to your wall… your problem is with them, not with me. It would be MORALLY WRONG for me to walk in your front door, sit down next to you on the couch without any permission, and say “read my blog post.” It is just as wrong to kick in the front door of a meeting room full of people who are in the same business as you and interrupt the proceedings to say, “Hey, I got this crappy review would you all go read it and by the way my cat has dyslexia and fell off the sofa reading the Times and oh yeah which of these covers do you like best so go buy my book mkay?”
Just as it is wrong to act this way in person, it is also wrong for authors to take advantage of platforms they do not control or operate, wherein readers or viewers have opted-in for another purpose, and to co-opt that platform (as if it is something they earned) to post author spam, book covers, or other personal materials that are not relevant to the purpose of that platform. MOST author forums are destroyed because just a few authors (usually a small handful) who have little or no platform of their own, steal this group platform to have it serve for something they do not have on their own. Of course if it is generally understood that posting author spam, completely personal bullshit, or endless iterations of book covers is acceptable and expected, than there is no problem (Only show me the door, because I am out of there.) But in most cases, authors engage in this bad behavior because they do not know it is wrong. Hopefully, some of them will stumble on to this little piece of advice and they’ll alter their activities.
So if you have a group of 10 or 12 authors who start a FB group for mutual support and everyone understands that you are going to post your reviews, or your cover ideas, or your brain ejaculations about what your Main Character is doing in the forest at 2. a.m. then have at it. But without that explicit permission, please do not assume that because you have a captive audience of authors, that posting your 1 star review so you can bitch about it is a good idea. Believe me, if you do it, STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT THINGS HAPPEN (this despite the fact that 89.4% of statistics are made up right on the spot.) About 10 percent of the audience will go along with you. That’s what they do. They don’t want to confront you and they don’t want to hurt your feelings. So they’ll let you do personally damaging things (author spam and bad behavior DOES have very real consequences) because they are enablers. They’ll comment, encourage, or do what you ask them to do. And you’ll feel better because no one came out and said, “Erm.. stop doing this.” About 40% of the people will just tune you out. You become an unspoken irritant. They may not even know it yet, but you’re behavior has begun to affect their opinion of you. The rest… at least another 49%, well… it depends. Some are going to become actively hostile to your career goals. This means you cannot count on them to help you in any way. They may not act out their hostility, but you’ve forever lost them as an ally and helper. Some of them could really have helped your career. And if you don’t stop it, you are going to irretrievably alienate them. You may say you don’t care… if you do, then you truly have the dark soul of a spammer… but you should care. Maybe… maybe 1% will care enough about you to hint that what you are doing is not a good career move. And I know… it hurts to find out you’ve been being an asshole. It happens to all of us at some point.
Get to work, fix it, and move on.
Author spam involves all kinds of wrong behavior. I’ve written about it before. And it is only hurting you – the new author.
The best thing to do is to learn to be a good citizen in this new social media world. If you’ve messed up in the past. No worries, just stop it and move on with new understanding.
To end this on a positive note. Hopefully, if you needed it, you just learned something that many authors never learn.
Okay, I had 3 more points but this has gone long and I need to get to work. I’ll get to those later.
Here they are for the future:
#4 Quid Pro Quo Expectations (more authors behaving badly)
#5 Helping Others to Help Yourself
#6 This is a Business
Take home fact: It is a good time to be a writer!
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