Category Archives: publishing

Recovering From a Bad Review – When One Person’s Opinion Hurts Your Sales

TL;DR: One bad review is hurting my book sales. I need to make a comeback, so I’m offering free copies of my novel to anyone who will post an honest review on Amazon. To get your free e-book of my LGBT fantasy novel, click here and submit your request!


“Bad reviews happen to everyone.”

I’ve seen this all the time from writing sites and author blogs that try to offer some comfort to authors who have received negative comments on their work on such sites as Amazon. “Don’t take it personal and just move on.” I’ve even seen a few articles that claim bad reviews can be a good thing–that they might have the curious effect of “boosting sales”, or they could contain good advice about what not to do with your next book. For the obviously trollish reviews, the best advice I’ve seen is “just ignore it.” (Removing an inappropriate review from a site like Amazon is notoriously hard, apparently, even if that review violates guidelines.) Obviously, I’ve received negative and mixed reviews before for my unpublished writing. I took what I could from those and moved on, as all the articles have recommended.

But one thing I don’t see these writing sites discussing is what to do when you get a bad review, and have little to no reviews to balance it out. What do you do when one negative review impacts your sales so severely as to cause a virtual flat line? We’re talking about a kiss of financial death here, not just hurt feelings.

I’m in one such position right now. Currently, Amazon is where I’m selling the most units of my first and latest release, Tributaries, which came out just a short month ago. My planning was a bit rushed. It was one of those live-and-learn experiences. I set aside just one short month for promotion before releasing the book. I sent free copies to dozens of blogs, made announcements on all my personal sites, advertised tirelessly on sites like Twitter and Tumblr, launched a Project Wonderful campaign, entered a Halloween book contest, and gave away ten free copies in a promotional raffle. I did manage to get some pre-orders, but naturally, one month is too short a time to generate any real buzz, so when my book came out, it was basically a blank slate. Anyone buying it was taking a risk on me as an unknown author.

What all that meant was that any reviews I received from the incredible diverse (and often unprofessional) reading masses was going to determine my sales. Scary, right? Especially considering the trolls that haunt the internet. But for the most part, I got a handful of mostly good reviews, with one or two mixed reviews tossed in. The problem? Most of my positive feedback was on Goodreads, where people are known to add books to their lists and virtually forget about them. I’m guilty of this myself, having I think over a hundred books on my “to-read” list. And on Amazon, my primary seller? I managed to snag one glowing 5-star review one month after the book’s release. “That’s great!” I thought. Then three days ago, I got a scathing one-star review from a guy who said my book was “pointless” and who apparently didn’t think too much of my books “rare vocabulary.” He even took a shot at the fact that I have a bachelor’s degree, like I was trying to lord that over everyone. Ouch!

And I could’ve ignored this review for what it was–the spiteful opinion of one guy who wasn’t even part of my targeted demographic. This was written by an older white man who has only bothered to review seven other books aside from mine, and only one out of those seven got four stars from him. A picky reader. Certainly not a crime, and it’s not like his review violated guidelines.

But his scathing comments had a huge impact on my sales. The effect was almost immediate. He posted his review on December 17th. You wanna know what my sale chart looks like on Kindle Direct Publishing now?

salesscreenshotdecember2014

Ouch, ouch, ouch! What happened? Can one man’s negative comments really have such a devastating effect on an author?

In my particular case…yes. You see, when you have such a small pool of reviews and a small publishing history to go with it, the fact of the matter is that unless I’m wowing people with tons of stellar reviews, no one is interested. It’s the insane hurdle that new indie writers have to overcome. This man’s one-star rating dropped my book’s average from five-stars to three. Even if I got another five-star rating, I’d only get half-a-star back of what I’d lost. Hardly the kind of thing that boosts confidence in potential customers, right? It’s particularly frustrating as I have a 4.2 star rating on Goodreads (at the time of this post) based on multiple reviews, but most of those who might actually purchase my book only ever see the feedback on Amazon. Talk about skewed perception!

So the question is: how do I come back from this?

The short answer? I honestly have no idea. Right now, all I can think to do is wait and have faith that someone who has already received the book will be kind enough to post a more positive review. What’s excruciating is that, until I get some better ratings to off-set this one bad rating, my sales will continue to look like the one above. I’ve already sent out free copies to tons of people prior to this latest set-back, specifically requesting a review on Amazon. I’d do a free sale if I was enrolled in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, but I’m not. If this keeps up, I might have to resort to editing the base price to see if I can encourage more people to try the book. Over a hundred people have purchased it since its release, and I have no idea if any of them will bother to say anything about it–good or bad.

And in the meantime? I guess I can just put my head between my knees and try to breathe. Publishing a book is rough, but it can be even rougher when one person sets out to destroy what little chances you already had. I don’t know that reviewers realize the kind of impact their comments have on writers like me. For me, this isn’t a hobby. I’m trying to make this my livelihood. The thing that hurts the most? It’s most likely that this person doesn’t give a damn about any of that.

…All that said, for the next few weeks only, I’m offering my novel for free to anyone who is willing to post a review on Amazon. This is for an HONEST review, and you don’t have to feel pressured to write something positive just because of my woeful tale. I know my book isn’t perfect, I wrote the original manuscript when I was just 19 for heaven’s sake, and it’s my first attempt at writing a major novel. BUT I’ve also made significant improvements since then, and I’m confident my work isn’t a one-star affair. All you need to do to get your free copy of my book is go to the contact page of my book’s site by clicking here, and submit your request for a copy. After that, I’ll personally send you three formats of it: PDF, MOBI, and EPUB. I realize that any reviews posted on Amazon will have to state that you received the book for free, and that it won’t be a “verified purchase”, but anything is better than what I have right now.

So I implore you. If you like independent books and/or LGBT fiction, then please consider reading my work and posting your feedback on Amazon! Don’t let this one person have the final say on what has taken over six years for me to accomplish!

I’ll be doing this until the end of the first full week of January. (That’s the 10th.) Spread the word about this, even if you feel you can’t read the work yourself! Every little bit helps.

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Let’s Get Together! – The Unfortunate Disconnection in the LGBT Fiction World

Since opening up my fantasy novel, Tributaries, to pre-orders, I’ve noticed something that both surprises me and disheartens me at the same time. When I made the decision to write for the LGBT community and its allies, I realized that I would have to face the challenge of connecting with a very niche and (at times) remote audience. In the super-abundant world we live in now, where getting your voice heard is hard enough in a cishet market, I’ve learned that LGBT fiction just plain has it rough. Marketers still have no idea what to do with these kinds of stories. Do you lump them all together under romance? But then what about those stories that are more fantasy/adventure/thriller/sci-fi/etc? Do you list those under the specific genres without mentioning the LGBT aspects? Ah, but the reviewers! What if they complain on their blogs and customer reviews that they felt tricked when the protagonist fell in love with someone of the same sex? Well what about just attaching ‘romance’ to the primary genre, and hoping for the best?

It’s all just one hot mess.

It isn’t unusual for brick-and-mortar stores to lack any self-identifying LGBT work, either. A sad fact, as I’ve read a number of LGBT books that are every bit as good as some of the nonsense that gets on the best seller lists.

But this isn’t the disheartening surprise I alluded to earlier. I’ve known the reality of scarce LGBT outlets for years. No, what surprised me was specifically the lack of support and structure for lesbian fiction. Over the last few weeks, I’ve tried hunting down LGBT blogs who I hope could connect me with my target audience, only to find myself disappointed when the site clarifies that they are actually only interested in m/m fiction. Uh, say what? Why the heck would you use the full acronym if you’re only interested in a single aspect of it?? You see, the fact is that m/m fiction has a much bigger community of support than f/f. (Don’t even get me started on bi and trans…)

It’s not that I haven’t found lesbian sites dedicated to writing or reviewing lesbian fiction. I have. But half of the sites I found were defunct. Then the remaining active sites were sadly narrow in scope (i.e. erotica only, print books only, fan fiction only, paranormal romance only, books with positive reviews of 2 or more only, etc…) And on social networks? I primarily use Twitter for my social marketing (it’s about all I have energy for–though I dabble in Tumblr) and I can’t seem to find any of the les fic authors anywhere. A quick google search also proved that there doesn’t seem to be an LGBT group of writers out there interested in supporting and signal boosting each other. You’d think the LGBT community of readers would have come up with a hashtag or a retweet group to help promote what is already a neglected corner of the market. Something like #LGBTrds or #LGBTbks. Something! Anything! Erotica, paranormal romance, dark fantasy, and horror fiction are doing it, why the hell can’t we? I even tried searching blog hops (which are basically author events on blogs featuring interviews, free books, cover reveals, etc.) and the last LGBT blog hops were last summer! That was over a year ago now! The one LGBT fiction blog hop that I could find that was held this year was actually ended prematurely and shut down for good. Yeah. It apparently went down for lack of participation. Not encouraging.

Now I know what you might be thinking: But Illise, if you hate it so much, why don’t you do something to change it? MarkTheShaw did it with #IndieBooksBeSeen on Twitter and Tumblr, didn’t he?

Simply put, no one gives a fuck about me. I don’t have the status or the connections to set something like this in motion. I suppose I could try to contact someone who DOES have these things to help me, but let’s just all refer back to my first point regarding the lack of fucks people give me, then infer what the result would be.

Okay. I had my little tantrum. I can’t have been the first LGBT writer to have thought along these lines, and I bet those who came before just learned to deal with it. You find a way to make it work, or you don’t. I’ve been promoting my work on a number of Indie Author hashtag communities, and it’s not like I’m not getting some help. The people on #IAN1, #IARTG, #IndieBooksBeSeen, #IndieAuthor, and #ASMSG are wonderful folks! But the point isn’t just to blast your work out to a random audience. It’s to target your efforts so that the people most likely to want to read your work hear about it at all. That’s really the major issue. LGBT fiction feels like a grain of sand lost in an indifferent ocean when marketing to a general audience. You can’t use #LGBT on Twitter either, because dear god, that stream moves waaaay too fast and is inundated with LGBT political and entertainment news.

As LGBT authors, our little slice of the literary world is tough and challenging in a market that already has plenty of obstacles to overcome. But it could be so much better if we could pool our readers together and support one another, especially since most LGBT authors are signed with small press or are self-publishers. It isn’t as if anyone is looking out for us little guys.

If, after reading this post, you feel that I am in error, then please enlighten me! I want to be proven wrong, even a tiny bit. But if you’re in agreement, why not share your thoughts on why the LGBT author community is so disconnected. Do you agree that lesbian fiction is not as well off as gay fiction? Just to be clear, a lack of readers is not the issue. That’s more a marketing challenge, anyway. But why do LGBT authors seem so disinterested in connecting with each other?

Oh, and if you ARE a LGBT author, please please please connect with me. I love RTing LGBT fiction on Twitter! I’m @cajeck. Send me a DM and I’ll add you to the LGBT author list I’m trying to form. 🙂

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