Scandals

This has been a very strange month in the publishing industry. If you haven’t heard, down below the Mason-Dixon, Baltimore’s mayor, Catherine Pugh, is now on leave from her position due to health reasons. However, she has been embroiled in a self-publishing scandal that sure smells like corruption. Somehow she managed to sell hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of her Healthy Holly series of books to various municipalities and organizations in the DC-Baltimore metro area. It is alleged some of these organizations received favors in exchange. Amazingly, the book series has little action on Amazon or other platforms — mostly available to the mayor’s exclusive clients. We all know how hard it is to sell 1000 copies of a book let alone 100,000 in one deal!
Meanwhile, the New York Times is embroiled in a scandal regarding its bestseller list. How many of us have faithfully believed the New York Times to be the ultimate arbiter regarding which books are worth reading and are selling the best? It has been the goal of many authors just to chart on their Sunday bestseller list. I had recently written about this being a sham — subject to being gamed by shady bulk purchases.
Now we learn former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett’s new book Finding My Voice charted at the NY Times despite very low rankings at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. If you check, you will see only 30 reviews on Amazon, most of them trashing the scandal. Apparently the publisher, Viking, used a third party to game the system by buying a huge quantity of the first print run. I am sure you will find this book in all the bargain piles at the beach this summer. You might buy it just to stomp on it or throw it out. Surely the publisher will lose money on this deal — their scheme backfiring. This hurts all of us in the book trade — especially the authors who really are selling well at independent presses and don’t get the time of day from the NYT. This is a lot like that college admissions scandal …

And one more. You can read the article below about the myriad of scandals on the Amazon platform. There is a lot of graft going on. While we refuse to game their system in any way, once again it is the dishonest perpetrators who are hurting everyone else …

Reviews redux

Last month, I took you on a tour of Fakespot, the online service that spots “fake” reviews. Many of you provided feedback and I am happy to report that the majority of you found your reviews to be in good shape. However, quite a few of you did not — and we agree it is unjust. What to do? Here’s another site that can assist in evaluating reviews: Review Meta. Click on the button below to test it.
This site has a lot more information in its feedback. Give this site a try and let me know how it compares to FakeSpot for your reviews.
So why all this hubbub about reviews? If you are a new author, you’ve missed the back issues where I talk about the importance of 50+ reviews on Amazon — and reviews on other platforms. At 50+ reviews on Amazon, they start cross-promoting your book. I am thinking they also have an algorithm that checks the “quality” of the reviews to make sure they aren’t a bunch of friends and family.
In closing, I’ve learned that Library Journal now deals directly with NetGalley for reviews. Rather than sending print copies to LJ reviewers, they require a NetGalley token! More on this in future issues.

The importance of high-quality reviews

It is so important to accumulate reviews for your books. As I have mentioned several times, we tend to use NetGalley for our fiction and Cision for our nonfiction to attract review opportunities. While we are not always happy about the quality of the reviews from NetGalley, we are finding a good number of the readers come through with something — eventually.
Of course, there are also the Goodreads and Amazon reviews that inevitably happen as the book is sold and read. Some of you also benefit from our opportunities with Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, or Library Journal when we use those channels — usually only when there is enough advance time to do so.
Despite all of these channels for reviews, we have found the number one determinant of sales (besides category) was Amazon reviews — having at least something — and ideally 50+. Because Amazon is the largest bookseller, their reviews count the most. The traditional reviewers now have a lot less pull.
Since our last newsletter, we became aware of a rating service for Amazon reviews, and we were very surprised with the results from this platform. We ran several examples and share two below:
Sherry Knowlton’s Dead of Autumn has 75 Amazon reviews — well beyond our target. I chose Sherry’s book for this reason — and not meaning to pick on Sherry — note that every one of our books that we tried scored very low — an “F” letter grade for quality — here’s why:
Analysis overview
Our engine has analyzed and discovered that 37.3% of the reviews are reliable.
This product had a total of 75 reviews on Aug 18 2018.
Interesting tidbit: the most used word by reviewers is book.
How are reviewers describing this item?
great, dead, down, next and first.
Our engine has profiled the reviewer patterns and has determined that there is high deception involved.
One of my favorite novels, Howard Frank Mosher’s The Fall of the Year, has only 18 reviews. However, it scored at “A”:
Analysis overview
Our engine has discovered that over 90% high quality reviews are present.
This product had a total of 18 reviews on Aug 19 2018.
Our engine has profiled the reviewer patterns and has determined that there is minimal deception involved.
Our engine has determined that the review content quality is high and informative.
Interesting tidbit: the most used word by reviewers is book.
How are reviewers describing this item?
great, frank, wonderful, every and first.
I could go on and on with examples — but I wanted to make you aware of this site. Check your book(s) by copying their Amazon URLs into the analyze box. I have put the link below — just click on FAKESPOT. Let me know your results — this is something we need to further analyze. Obviously, if these kinds of algorithms are going to be utilized more and more, it is VERY important we score average or better …

Hollywood anyone?

A couple of weeks ago, I was able to dedicate eleven consecutive days to the Press. During this time, I cooked up the imprints and thought a lot about improving our marketing. One of my goals was to identify a web portal through which movie and television industry people could review content. I was not able to locate such a site and thought what a good idea it would be for someone to start one. Lo and behold, only two days later, I received a phone call from a group starting such a site. They had reached out online and requested a conversation. This group of entertainment industry agents were starting up and were looking for independent presses with interesting content. They were impressed with our diversity and our breadth — just the kind of thing they were looking for. I told them THEY were just what I was looking for too. We had a good laugh, and I signed us up. The site will be in beta until early 2018. At some point early in the year, they will open up the site to the industry.
How will it work? Those with access to the site can review the books we post and can inquire directly with us about their availability. We will be posting information about the books we wish to promote — but not the book content. Of course, if they request a review copy, we will oblige.
So — what do you have to do as an author? If we are managing your media rights for you, you need to do absolutely nothing. We will be promoting your books. If you withheld these rights and would like to participate, let me know and we will work something out to get you involved.
As I get more information over the following months, I will share it with you.

What Is NetGalley?

Forgive me if I moved a little too quick on this topic. It became clear in recent weeks that many of you were confused about our change in process and the importance of advance reviews. I’ll summarize the FAQs here for everyone:
1. What is a galley?
No, we are not referring to a Viking longship or a kitchen on a boat. We are referring to a “galley proof” which is an old printing term. It is common lingo in the book trade, referring to a version of the book prior being publication-ready, usually given out as advanced reader copies (also known as ARCs.)
2. What is an ARC?
No, we not referring to the large boat allegedly carrying the male and female variety of every species to safety during the deluge. ARCs are Advance Reader Copies — proofs — sent out prior to publication. They are synonymous with galleys.
3. What is NetGalley?
NetGalley is an online service that facilitates the distribution of digital ARCs/galleys to readers of all stripes — media types, reporters, bloggers, journalists, reviewers, etc. The reviewers promise to post a fair review in exchange for a free copy.
4. How do I sign up for NetGalley?
You don’t have to.  We, the publisher, are paying for the service and are submitting your books for you.  We will share the results with you as they develop, including who is downloading your ARCs/galleys. You are always welcome to become a book reviewer yourself and sign up for NetGalley, but there are currently no author-specific benefits or functionality.
5. Is there anything I, the author, must do?
No. But, it is a great way to get a bunch of emails of people who are reading your work. You can add this to your email list and build your platform. It is most beneficial if you send a gentle reminder thanking them for their interest and encouraging them to post a review. You might ask for a link.  If you stumble upon a very positive review, you might ask them for permission to use it.
6. Does this mean you won’t be sending physical copies anymore?
It means we will be sending fewer physical copies. Our policy is still in effect regarding review copies. We will send them to media outlets who promise a review. We also only send these after the book is released, and as we are able. These activities are a lower priority than processing customer orders. If you are an author who wants to send a good number of review copies, and/or do not want to miss any opportunities, we suggest you first point the reviewers to NetGalley while your book is active. We are paying a pretty good sum to do this for you. For those reviewers still wanting a physical copy in a timely manner, we suggest you use your author copies. We’re happy to replace any copies for reviews that appear in major media.

NetGalley Update

We’ve now had another month in NetGalley, building up an advanced readership. NetGalley promises about an 80% response rate from their readership. As I’ve said many times, getting to 50 reviews on Amazon is key to triggering the automatic cross-marketing on that site.  So, encouraging reviews is very important — especially advance reviews.
So far, however, we are not seeing anything close to an 80% review rate. It’s more like 5%. Of course, not all of the reviews are positive.  But, that goes with the territory.  What’s difficult is knowing if/when we are going to see reviews posted — and where we will find them.
Fortunately, NetGalley provides detailed information about the people who are downloading copies of your books. We are more than happy to share the names and emails of these potential reviews.  We have heard from NetGalley that it is most effective if authors send a polite personal reminder to please post an honest review.  You can even ask them to share a link with you when done.
We’re committed to using this service for a while longer but will not continue it if we don’t get positive results.  What I would expect is more reviews and discussion about our titles — and ultimately more sales than before. If this doesn’t happen, then it was a waste of time — and we gave away free stuff for nothing.
Here’s a list of titles that have been or are currently in NetGalley.  If your book is among them and you have not reached out to remind your readers, please send me a note and I will be happy to share an email list:
Redemption
Courtney Frey
9781620066584
Seinsoth
Steven K Wagner
9781620067161
Taking Lady Gibraltar
Dick Schwirian
9781620066508
The Journey Called Life
Christina Burns
9781620068519
The Mask of Minos
Robert Walton
9781620066836
American Berserk
Bill Morris
9781620068236
A Second Revolution
C James Gilbert
9781620068281
Chasing Understanding In The Jungles of Vietnam
Douglas Beed
9781620068021
Dead of Spring
Sherry Knowlton
9781620068434
Planet Jesus Trilogy
Douglas Brode & Shaun L Brode
9781620068458
The Silent Woman
Keith Rommel
9781620064412
Tigers by the River
Wylie Graham McLallen
9781620068045
What Waits Beneath
Thomas Malafarina
9781620067888

The Importance of Reviews

A couple of years ago, I did a study of the impact of reviews on our book sales. It turned out that books with at least one review — even a bad one — sold significantly better than books with no reviews at all. There was a strong correlation between the number of reviews and the number of sales.  Obviously, some of this is cart-before-the-horse logic — maybe the better selling books had more reviews because more books were sold!  Yes — this is also true — but it was evident that advance reviews had a significant impact on future sales. They also open the door to more opportunities on the retail sites.
To that end, thanks to the work of author Sherry Knowlton, we have been experimenting with additional avenues for reviews.  As you might know, in the past we were all about speed-to-market — damn the torpedoes and reviews — and just get the book on the market!  We found nonfiction sold very well with this process, but fiction suffered. In order to enhance the prospects of our fiction catalog, it was necessary to build some advance planning into the schedule. This opened doors for some of the larger review sites we were ignoring because they disqualified us due to our fast pace. In other words, they only accept galleys months in advance of release. In the past, we didn’t work that way. Now, we are giving in a bit and getting on board.
First up is Kirkus. You might know Kirkus wants $425 to $575 from you for each title just to read your galley and write a short blurb about your book — positive or negative. As a trade publisher, we are able to access this service at no cost to you. At first, we will be selective about the titles we send to them. We’ll keep you abreast of our progress.
Similarly for Publisher’s Weekly, the leading magazine in the industry. Each issue is chock full of book reviews. We now have the lead time to participate in their galley process and will be testing this with a few titles. Normally, this costs $149 for each title for independent authors. Again, there is no cost to you, the author.
So, all told, we are investing a lot more effort into getting our titles reviewed up front. This would cost you, as an independent author, over $1200 per title to access these services. We believe this is one of the keys to growing unit sales for our upcoming releases. Let’s do it!

NetGalley

NetGalley is the top online service for getting upcoming releases in front of reviewers all over the world. Publishers post ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) to be reviewed. Note that an ARC is not completely edited, but good enough for the reviewer to render an opinion.
Regarding NetGalley, this is expensive if you buy the service on an individual basis — $399 each!  Since we release 50 to 75 books a year, we opted for a subscription service that lets us keep a group of titles active. Individual ARCs remain active for a fixed period, and we are limited to how many concurrent titles we can have.
NetGalley subscribers are some of the key book reviewers in the industry. They will now be able to discover and access our galleys via their account and read (securely) a PDF, ePub, or Mobi version of the file.
Obviously, to implement this, our process must change. We will need to format the galley well in advance of release, perhaps after the first round of edits. Jen, Crystal and I will be discussing the best approach.
We will also need to manage the release schedule better in order to take full advantage of this. We will be working on this over the next month and sharing it in the next newsletter.
Some things to think about:
1) Not every book is suited for this service.
2) We have not tested the results, but so far our trial titles received dozens of review requests in the first three days.
3) We will have to decide the advantages of long lead times to releases versus short lead times.  It would seem we could easily integrate a 60 day window prior to release for most reviews.  However, a 180 day lead may not be possible or desirable.
At this point, there is nothing more for you to do as authors — and Sunbury Press will be paying for the service.