TV Personality, Cool Words, in Print, at a Bargain, with a Surprise Twist

So, a couple of hours ago, I was walking around Barnes & Noble, as I often do, browsing for books I’d like to buy LATER. Then, before I leave, I check out the “Last Chance” bin, where books that are on the way out are given one last chance for sale at a bargain price. I skim the books, see nothing I want, then, as I’m about to leave for real, I catch a second glance glimmer of a hardcover with a silver spine, and realize that I’m looking at a book I’ve been wanting for a couple of years from a television personality I like watching on a news network that shall not be named (okay, FOX). I think, “Oh, cool,” not to be ironic to the book’s title, and pick up the book to see if I still want it. First thing I notice is that it smells a little funny, a bit like marker. Then, as I’m about to close the book, I flit to the title page where I see something I was not expecting: The author had signed the book.

This wasn’t a stamp, dear readers. The book wasn’t marked on the outside like all of Barnes & Noble’s signed books are. I don’t think they actually knew they had an autographed copy sitting on their clearance shelf, and given how fresh the marker smelled, I’d imagine it was signed in secret, and not too long ago.

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

But I left the book there. I’d forgotten my 20% off coupon at home. I’m not gonna pay full price for a book, even if it’s only $5.98!

Just kidding. I bought it. (Even though I really did leave my coupon at home, dang it.) It’s a good day so far.

Of course, now I have to read it.

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Patience Is a Virtue, but so Is Intelligence (The Marketing Author 001, Part 9)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Patience Is a Virtue, but so Is Intelligence”

At some point, we’re going to send our work to a place where the public eye may see it. It’s inevitable, if we don’t lock our darlings in a file somewhere among the dark recesses of our hard drives first. If we care anything about learning from our own lessons, we’ll share what we’ve learned with complete strangers who have identifiable experiences and compare notes. By that, I mean, we’ll write what’s on our minds, and somebody we don’t know will likely criticize our thoughts in the form of a review on Amazon. It’s all fair in the game of knowledge trade.

But the inevitable has a maturation point, and we shouldn’t rush anything that isn’t ready for show. Just like that green banana that we await for ripeness, we can eat it now, if we really want to, but it won’t quite be full of its expected nutrients, and it certainly won’t taste very good. Likewise, we don’t want to delay something so long that we rob it of its best opportunity to put a strong foot forward. If we wait until the banana is brown and mushy, we, nor anybody, will no longer want to consume it.

When we think of marketing, we think of releasing products at the exact right time when they can gain the best traction in the marketplace, and sometimes that means anticipating what the market will want ahead of time. Major corporations plan for this cycle of desire annually, and create products according to a schedule that will satisfy this expected demand best. For example, if you turn on your TV tonight, you’ll probably see an ad or two for Samsung’s next great invention, the Galaxy S8, and you’ll likely salivate at its exclusive new features, like the expanded window that makes it look like an infinity pool. I know I think it’s cool, and I know I kind of want one. It’s good marketing, for sure. But more importantly, its upcoming release is timely: the Galaxy S7 was released about this time last year, and in the world of cellphones, you better have the next update ready within a year. If Samsung releases the S8 too soon after the S7, its customers will feel cheated. If it waits too long, its customers will buy whatever Apple is releasing this summer. Samsung knows its window for release is narrow, and if it wants to keep its customers happy, it better hit that window, and it better do so with as few snags or misfires as possible.

We can see the same needs and issues in writing. Biopics, for example, are timely if we’re hitting an anniversary of a major event. A year and five days ago, Prince died. Earlier this week, tributes to Prince appeared all over the place. If these tributes had surfaced two months ago, or two months from now, they’d still hold value, but they wouldn’t be as timely, and ultimately not as popular. Magazine sales might not spike as well as the publications might like. Radio stations might not hold a listener’s attention for as long as they could if they were to air a marathon of the artist’s hits on the day of the anniversary. A televised tribute might not have as many viewers if held on any other day. These tributes are all subject to timeliness, and releasing them any other time would yield a lesser result, and, inevitably, a lesser profit.

As a marketing author, we should consider what our product contains, and what type of release schedule would maximize its exposure. Is it better to release a book on a Tuesday or a Saturday? Should a young adult fantasy book come out the same weekend as a major Hollywood movie of a similar theme, or should it be deliberately delayed to capture anyone still champing at the bit for more of the same? Or should it be released ahead of time in anticipation of the movie sucking so badly that it destroys the genre? These are important considerations to make before releasing a title.

But, these considerations are also important for deciding how long it takes us to formulate our ideas and create our products, and even for deciding when to start working on them. If we know we want to release a blockbuster action thriller during the summer beach-reading season (incidentally the same season that Hollywood releases most of its blockbuster action thrillers), then we should probably start writing that book by NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) if we want to ensure that we’ll have a finished product with sound editing and cover art and a decent amount of marketing behind it by May. Or, if we can crank it out faster, then we can start later, but we still need to anticipate those snags that might delay our productivity, so earlier is better. We can always delay release of a finished product until the hour of maturation (when it will perform best), but it’s hard to successfully launch a product that isn’t ready for our discerning and unforgiving readers. Remember, nobody wants to eat a green banana.

When we write something we’re proud of, we want to share it with the world immediately. But pushing it out the door before it has its pants on might not be the best plan. To successfully market anything, we need a schedule, and that means marketing smart. Before we launch anything, we need to remember the old cliché, “Fools rush in.” If we wouldn’t marry somebody we don’t yet know well, then why would we throw our baby into a pool of sharks without first giving it a flashlight and a shotgun, or a party of cool people without some kind of beacon that says, “Hey, I’m cool, too!”? We’d want to give it the best chance against the opposition as we can. Sending our books out unprepared is as bad of an idea as sending them out in a season when nobody is interested in that topic. We don’t need just a schedule; we need smarts to plan effectively.

So, my advice today is to get smart. If you’re not smart, figure out how to become smart. Then use that newfound smartness to plan a properly structured and timed release. And make sure that banana is ripe and ready for consumption before you ask people to eat it.

Next week we’ll go over more planning, so plan to be here! (See what I did there?)

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Tackling the Buffet with a Small Stomach (The Marketing Author 001, Part 8)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Tackling the Buffet with a Small Stomach”

I don’t want to drop names here, but at 8:30 Monday morning, I received a text message from an online marketer about a course (s)he’s pushing, which was to close that night, in the hopes that I would join. A few hours later, I got a voicemail (probably automated) from the same person. The course, as far as I can tell, is not only successful, but valuable, and I’m assuming very helpful to anyone who isn’t fully versed in its strategies. It’s also expensive. If I were to sign on with it, I’d commit about $997 (or $1,997, depending on the package) over the course of just a few months, which is a heavy margin to devote my low income to. Having that kind of sales pitch at 8:30 on a Monday morning through my own phone is alarming, even if the course is probably very good.

Why did I get this sales pitch so early in the morning? No idea, but I got the pitch at all because I signed up for this person’s mailing list. I did that because (s)he was offering free information that I wanted so I could better my marketing skills. Or, I don’t know; maybe I just liked the freebie (s)he was giving away. Could’ve been anything.

One of the components of indie publishing, marketing, authorship, readership, etc. is that entrepreneurs and budding entrepreneurs want people to sign up for their books, courses, etc., so those who do sign will go onto their mailing lists. This is no surprise, as the number one thing they all teach those learning to market effectively is to create a mailing list. Lead by example! But to get the information they’re offering, you have to take this step. Generally that means giving out your email at the bare minimum, or your first name and email on average. This is generally accepted practice, and most people don’t mind signing up for free things if the return investment is no more than basic contact. If most people offer escape clauses (read: the unsubscribe list), then there’s little to no risk in signing up for these things.

But, signing up for these free things means getting the sales pitch, whether you want it or not.

Now, having to submit my phone number as well as name, email, and whatever else I’ve forgotten by now (I don’t have a firstborn yet, so I didn’t have to hand him/her over in exchange for “free” advice or a product) is a rare thing, and I’m legitimately surprised that anyone would actually take advantage of having my number. But that’s what I had to offer to get the free thing (I believe it was a paperback sent to my house—oh, my mailing address was something else I had to offer, yay!), so I went with it. Now I get these sales pitches to my email and phone, and I would no longer be surprised if I started getting fliers in the mail for these same products. Was it worth it?

Honestly, if the information I get in return is any good…

And that brings us to the theme of this week’s installment of the Marketing Author 001. When we’re trying to improve our education, especially when we have no prior foundation with the thing we’re trying to improve—in effect learning from scratch—then we seek out those experts who have charted the path before us in an effort to learn what works and what doesn’t so that we don’t have to make the mistakes that they made for us. It’s a bit like a child seeking advice from his parents. Hopefully, the parent has useful advice, and we share the same hope for the experts, or “gurus,” we seek out to answer our questions (in the form of free webinars and ebooks).

When we find these experts, we find free advice attached to their brand messaging, but that free advice comes with a price. In nearly every case I’ve encountered during my year of marketing research, I’ve found that the free advice is merely a taste of the premium advice that comes inside a training package that includes hours of videos that break down concepts, strategies, etc. for maximizing the knowledge housed within the concepts established in the free trainings. For example, Bryan Cohen, a copywriting expert with a stellar track record, has a course called Selling for Authors, which helps writers crack the copywriting code for better sales and marketing of their books, but he doesn’t pitch the course without providing a free webinar that breaks down how to develop the opening hook of the book’s sales page. It’s genius marketing (something I’d expect from a professional copywriter), and it upsets me time and again when I realize I can’t afford the course yet because I usually want to sign up for it. Thanks to his testimonials (something most of these experts have on their course sign-up pages), I’m inclined to believe him when he says his strategies work. I’m sure they do.

But does everyone who offers a course designed to help me, the independent writer and marketing author, have the right stuff to guide me along?

This is where the waters get murky because everyone is offering something for free in an effort to get you to buy something bigger and badder for a heftier price. It’s real easy for any of them to entice a desperate author who just wants to make a friggin’ sale. It’s also real easy to invest hundreds of dollars into a course that provides information that can be found for free if given enough time to research and experiment.

Fortunately, most if not all of the experts admit that the information they provide can be learned for free (through practice, trial and error, etc.). But the tradeoff, they insist, is whether the free money is worth the high cost of time (and the high financial cost of learning through failure) that comes with doing it all yourself. If you do your own thing long enough and calculate the time and energy you’ve spent trying to learn on your own what they offer in their courses, then you might find that they’re speaking truth.

However, the question then comes down to whether or not their advice is consistent for the average author and not just for themselves.

The person I wrote about at the top of this blog had a very successful first attempt at publishing. Most people do not. Does this mean his/her methods were a fluke? Not necessarily, but not unnecessarily, either. I won’t actually know the answer to that question without going through the process myself. But, it seems that many of the people who have gone through the process have found success, so maybe it does work. As I said, it seems like a great course, and I’m generally skeptical when anyone tries to advertise their products to me with such gusto that it makes me wonder if they’re overcompensating for something. I still remember when the distributors of the Super Mario Bros. movie, starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, began marketing on television six weeks out from release when the average movie at the time (in 1993) was waiting until about two or three weeks within release range to begin the television ads. I suspected the movie was awful because they pushed it too dang hard and started too dang early. I don’t generally trust anyone who oversaturates their product with advertising. But, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t give them a chance.

The fact is, if you want free information, you’re going to have to sign up for mailing lists, and if you sign up for mailing lists, you’re going to have to start making decisions to research, accept, or deny the products they want to sell you. There will always be a sales pitch when those freebies start pouring in. Just like a hungry man at a buffet table, you’ll have to decide when you’ve had enough information that you can confidently let future sales pitches fade away. Fortunately, you can unsubscribe as soon as you get the info you want. But, I think it’s useful to keep your subscriptions open because sometimes you’ll want to receive the next free thing they give you, and if you’re really ambitious, you might even want to consider buying the product they’re trying to sell, as it may just be the thing that helps you to tip toward the realm of success.

In any case, I’ll talk more about courses in a future installment. For now, practice devouring free information in moderation. Be wary of samey advice coming from multiple sources. At some point the free info will overlap with other free info you’re getting and you’ll stop learning new things at the freebie level, and that’ll be the point when you’re ready to decide what to do the next time an offer rolls around with that sweet marketing butter sauce drizzled over it.

Next week we’ll focus on the marriage between patience and intelligence. Stay tuned.

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Know Your Platforms (The Marketing Author 001, Part 7)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Know Your Platforms”

What is a platform? Is it something you stand on? Something you wear on your feet to look taller? Some form of plat? Well, yes, clearly.

But it’s more than that. It’s a foundation. A display. It’s something that writers are told they must have by all marketing experts the world over if they wish to ever sell anything with their name on it.

It’s something writers usually balk at, especially if that platform is fiction.

I’m one of them. Platform? Psh. My platform is that I write. Like it!

Okay, you don’t have to like it. Nor do you have to accept platform as an unobtainable force that’s always working against you. Start with the simple ideas and complicate them only as needed. Think of platform as your key to the world.

Nonfiction writers understand this better because they usually have something important to say in order to supplement something important they have to share. For example, the person who designed the Kirby Vacuum Cleaner has a platform as the person who designed the Kirby Vacuum Cleaner. If he writes a book about vacuums called This Sucks, you’ll know he speaks the truth. Likewise, if the inventor of the toilet wrote a book called This Stinks, again, you’ll agree that he knows his stuff and that any book he writes about toilets will tell you all you need to know about toilets. That’s his platform. He knows when something stinks.

Fiction writers don’t have to spend as much time building an information platform because their job is to build a fiction platform. Want people to keep coming back? Want people to take your work seriously in the first place? Write fiction they want to read. Simple!

Well, not simple, because you still have to write the stuff that builds your platform. But the concept is simple. If you’re a person who writes, then your platform is as a writer. If you’re a person who writes mysteries, then your platform is as a mystery writer. If you’re a person who says he writes even though he plays video games every free minute he gets, then your platform is as a gamer. Simple.

But that’s not all that platform entails. You also have your publishing platforms.

If you write a stellar book (or stellar proposal) and want to get it traditionally published, then you must first seek representation from a literary agent (consult the Writer’s Market, Guide to Literary Agents, or visit Agent Query for help in finding the right representative), wow him or her with your amazing idea or storytelling skills, and then do all that you can not to piss him off during the submission process, which can happen if you don’t read and follow his exact instructions for submission. Then you must follow the advice I wrote about rejection and feedback, take your knocks like a man, and then giggle like a schoolgirl when somebody actually accepts your work and agrees to terms you can both benefit from (maybe have a literary lawyer on hand, just in case). Then you must go through the process all over again when that agent (assuming you like the person who accepts you enough to keep him or her) begins the submission process to the publishers. Hopefully you’ve got that manuscript finished and polished, or that proposal fully charted and ready for manuscript development, before you get to the publisher-seeking stage. Having your synopses and other helpful supplements will also be to your advantage (you can research these other supplements—I don’t need to do all the work for you). Once the agent finds a publisher who wants your manuscript or idea for a nonfiction book, prepare for the long road of making deadlines, fighting with procrastination, lying to yourself that everything is perfect, lying to yourself that everything is good enough, rewriting, marketing, pretending you like the cover the publisher’s cover artist designed, resigning yourself to allowing the publisher to market the book a specific way, even if that way means dying an early death, and crossing your fingers that the book will even go to print much less find its way onto the bookshelves at Barnes & Noble, and all that for about a dollar a book in royalties (after the advance is paid off), assuming you’ve survived the gauntlet to the end.

Or, you can skip the agent entirely and self-publish it through Amazon (ebook), Smashwords (ebook/distributor), Draft 2 Digital (distributor), Apple (ebook), Barnes & Noble (ebook), Kobo (ebook), CreateSpace (print), or Ingram Spark (print), or do-it-yourself (electronic file or bulk printing) for higher royalties, no gatekeepers, and higher exposure due to handling marketing and distribution yourself, at the cost of being shunned at the brick and mortar stores (unless you sell a lot of copies and don’t mind adopting a refund policy (which only Ingram Spark allows for at the moment).

So, those are your platforms. I probably forgot a few. But you should honestly be researching this stuff by now. There’s no reason to read the seventh installment of The Marketing Author 001 without having researched the various methods you can get published or noticed first. No reason at all.

But thanks for reading anyway! You’re helping my platform!

Next week we’ll talk about salesmen. Whoo hoo!

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Feedback Is for Winners (The Marketing Author 001, Part 6)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Feedback Is for Winners”

Imagine this: The envelope you’ve been waiting three months to arrive at your house is finally here. You race inside, your heart hammering, not because you’re out of shape, but because you’re terrified with anticipation. You throw all the other mail wherever—you don’t care where any of it lands—and quickly move to your coziest spot in the house, where you try to settle down, even though you can’t. You find your favorite chair, reach for that ice tea you’ve had sitting there beside your lamp since you first anticipated the letter’s arrival, take your sip, and then take your breath. Then you stare at the envelope, close your eyes, and get to work. You begin opening that envelope you’ve been waiting three months for. Your fingers twitch as they slide along the flap. The sweat dripping down to the tips is probably ruining ink inside. But you’re ready for the message it holds. You’ve waited nearly 90 days for it. It didn’t take you that long to even write the manuscript in which this letter addresses. You slip out the paper, unfold it, and open your eyes.

Then you drop the letter to your side and shake your head. Then you toss the letter in that drawer where the others live.

“Thanks for your submission, but this isn’t for us.”
-99% of literary agents you pitch your manuscript to

Well, that’s helpful, you may think in that sarcastic way you address any problem you face. You know sarcasm, that teddy bear you keep with you whenever anyone says something you find offensive, the thing you whip out to cope with stress caused by people who simply don’t understand your genius. We all know that teddy bear because we all carry around the same one. There are so many people who love to step on our dreams without giving a suitable reason that we become reliant on any teddy bear to get us through the nightmare, especially the one that makes us feel good because we think it’s making those who’ve wronged us feel bad. We like our avenging teddy bear more than our comforting bear, even if it doesn’t manage to bring back those people who gave us no helpful advice but a broken heart instead. Commiseration is therapy, up until the point that we give up on writing and become accountants because it’s easier.

But, we don’t really want to give up our dreams, so we pine for anyone who might care about our goals in life and do all they can to support us, just to wash out that sour taste of rejection from our mouths. Our cries for help lead to responses like:

“I don’t read fiction.”
-Your best friend

“I don’t read nonfiction.”
-Your other best friend

“I don’t read books.”
-Everyone else you know

Yet, we know it’s probably futile to get any help when we need it the most. We’re told that we live in a world full of readers, even though we can’t find a single one who wants to read what we’ve written. We fall back into that state of defeat, feeling worse than our protagonist feels the night the bad guy steals his girlfriend away. We poured our hearts and souls into this thing that nobody wants to leave a single comment about, positive or negative, helpful or useless. Nobody wants to give us validation, and it kills us inside.

Well, that’s because we’re asking the wrong people to help us.

First off, New York literary agents don’t know you, so they have no reason to talk to you. Don’t let them become your first line of literary feedback because you’ll be disappointed. They’re too busy sending out a couple hundred other rejection letters to authors just like you to give you any special attention. Granted, if they say anything other than “no thanks,” or really, just anything, then you probably have something special because, even though they may not have room for your work, they probably see enough potential in you to encourage you to keep going on the path you’re going, so that should be compliment enough. But you still won’t know how to improve, so it’s useless feedback.

You don’t want to ask your best friend, either, because even though your best friend cares, he or she won’t necessarily know how to give you feedback if you’re writing in a genre he or she doesn’t read in (if he’s a reader at all). If you’re writing a science fiction business book, and your friend watches a lot of reality television, he or she will probably take several months just to read through your book, and he’ll forget so much about what you’ve written that the only advice he can give you when he’s finished is that, “It’s good,” which isn’t helpful, either. That’s not even a decent ego boost. Anyone can tell you that without reading a word. They don’t even have to look you in the eye. They can be staring at their breakfast, noting how well their eggs were made that morning, and comment “it’s good.” You know they’re talking about the eggs. Don’t wait on your best friend to give you feedback. Keep searching.

Now, at this point you might be wondering why you should bother with feedback. If no one in your circle is willing to give you a serious answer, then why keep pounding at a broken drum? Well, the reason is because feedback, honest feedback, gives us an opportunity to become better writers. Feedback is that element in the writing process that alerts us to the problems that still linger in our text, even when we think we’ve addressed everything we can. Without feedback, our writing is blind. We need feedback, even if we can’t get it easily.

So, how do we get it if the people we care about won’t help us?

This is where we begin to search for online reader groups to give us those coveted responses.

Let’s look at four of them. I’ve provided links, so be sure to check them out once you’ve finished reading this article.

Wattpad

Perhaps the most popular among young adult readers, Wattpad is, in my opinion, the most sophisticatedly designed of the online writing forums, if not the hardest to get any attention for, as its popular writers suck up most of the readership. If you write anything other than young adult romance or fanfiction, you might have a difficult time making headway. But it integrates well with social media and looks really nice, and it gives you readership stats, which is helpful. It also lets you “like” each story and leave a comment below each chapter. So, even though I don’t care for it for my own works, as I don’t seem to write the kind of fiction its readers like (maybe that’s a clue that I need to start writing for new audiences), I still think it’s a good site worth visiting. You might even find your next favorite author there. You might even become someone’s next favorite author there.

FictionPress

FictionPress is an older, yet less sophisticated cousin to Wattpad (if they’re related, which I don’t think they are), in that it has similar analytics for detecting which types of readers are visiting your stories. I think the reviewer community is a little more active here, as well, based on what I’ve seen, but you’ll want to experience the differences for yourself. The design of the site is crude, but it’s functional. I also think it’s a better site for cultivating new fans, as authors here are more willing to help each other (again, based on my experience). Wattpad has the tech on its side, and I also like that Wattpad will let you use your real name (FictionPress requires a screen name, and doesn’t want your real identity seeping through—no idea why), but FictionPress has a higher likelihood for feedback, which is what this article is about, and why I prefer it to Wattpad. Both are worth trying out, but FictionPress has a wider participation rate for genres outside of young adult romance, which is also a plus.

Zoetrope

Zoetrope (part of American Zoetrope) is one of the granddaddies of the online writing forums, and one of the only forums I know of to invite artists of any genre, including and especially screenwriting, to participate. I haven’t been here in about twelve years, and I have no idea if my stories are even still on here. But a recent visit shows me that the place is greatly updated to match with today’s social media needs and I’m tempted to come back. The great things about this site are 1.) You can’t submit a story until you’ve reviewed five others, so reviews are the driving force for this site, 2.) You can submit pretty much anything here, including song lyrics, 3.) You can participate in sponsored contests, 4.) You have a shot at making into Zoetrope: All Story, a prestigious literary magazine moderated by intelligent people, and 5.) The person responsible for this site is Francis Ford Coppola, the award-winning director of the Godfather movies and Apocalypse Now, the latter film which now apparently has a crowdfunding campaign for a video game version. The things you learn when you explore. Anyway, I had a lot of fun with this site back in the day, and I highly recommend putting it on your list of places to test, especially if you write anything other than novels.

Scribophile

I have an account here, but I confess I haven’t used it yet. Of the four sites I’ve listed, this is the only one that has a payment plan, which I’m okay with, but not eager to use at the moment. My understanding is that readers on this site are more serious about feedback than the other sites, so the pricing plan is probably justified. But, like Zoetrope, the service is fueled by reviews, which means you need to be ready to dish it out more often than you expect to take it. Last I checked, you get two free postings and unlimited opportunities to read and review other people’s works. The paid plans increase your submission limit. Again, I wouldn’t list it in this article if I didn’t think it was worth checking out, so you should definitely check it out. But I’m putting it last because it’s the only one that requires money to get the most out of it, and I’d rather show you the free sites first.

Even though each site has its own rules and methodologies, the one thing you can be sure of is that readers use them, and you want to go anywhere where readers hang out.

Now, when using these sites, it’s important to realize that there are two types of feedback, and you can use both to your advantage.

  1. Reader reviews are the more obvious forms of feedback because these will be more likely to tell you what works and what doesn’t. A good reviewer will highlight anything important (on a per chapter basis) that you should know. These same reviewers are speaking not to you, but to the community, so, while you’re learning about what’s wrong with your story, your other potential readers are learning about it, too. That can be a positive or a negative, depending on how many people are harsh reviewers, but because it’s honest feedback, it’s fine. Most of the people who read your work on these free reader sites aren’t going to remember you when they find you on Amazon sometime later, and even if they do, they’ll hopefully assume that you’ve fixed the problems that were addressed on the reader site, and won’t intentionally troll your hard work with one-star reviews. Anything’s possible, of course, but highly unlikely. If you want any kind of feedback, these sites are great places to start.

Note: Readers on these free sites are a lot like readers on Amazon. They’ll consume without talking about the product or acknowledging who they are. To ensure that you get reviewers for your stories on these free sites, you’ll need to give some reviews of your own. A large percentage of authors you review will offer you a review in return as a courtesy. Some of the above sites, like Scribophile and Zoetrope require you give reviews if you expect to get any. These reader sites are very karma-centric in that way. I’d advise reviewing many other people’s works before posting your own (or post your own, and then review a bunch right away). Bank your reputation and your readership early.

  1. You may only get a handful of people to review your stories, but you’ll get plenty more to read them, if you market them well enough—even the free reader sites need some marketing love if you want to stand out among the thousands of other options that readers have. Fortunately, most (if not all) of these sites give you readership statistics, including how many have looked at your story and how many have gotten past chapter 1, 2, etc. Even if no one speaks up, you can still use these tools to get an idea on conversion rates for your story. So, if you have seven readers for Chapter 1 and no readers for Chapter 2 (which is the case for my story When Cellphones Go Crazy on FictionPress), then you know something is preventing them from moving on (my guess regarding my story is that the sections are too long). It’s not nearly as good as getting actual handwritten feedback, but it’s better than nothing.

Clearly these are geared more toward fiction writers, but you can still find online resources for getting nonfiction feedback. The most obvious place is a blog where your topic is also the central focus. You can also look for communities of people who are interested in your topic and solicit them for feedback. This is where sites like Reddit might come in handy. Reddit is pretty finicky about its social rules, but it’s a good place to research what people are interested in. If your nonfiction work answers the questions they have, then you know you’re on to something.

Now, at some point you’re going to release your book, and at some point you’re going to get reviews from your buyers (or downloaders, if your book is free). Just as I tell the college students I tutor prior to them turning in their essays, negative feedback from the instructor is still feedback. Learn from everything. If someone rates your book poorly, then learn why (don’t ask them though—there’s still a form of writer-reader etiquette you need to adopt that says never to complain about any review you’re given, at least not in public, and especially not online), then fix it, or do a better job with the next book. You can take everything you learn and apply it to your wheelhouse of knowledge. As the old saying goes, whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, but if it does kill you, you probably won’t remember it anyway. Okay, I might’ve made up that second part.

As I discussed in Part 4, rejection is probable, but don’t let it scare you out of putting your work on display. When you write in a bubble, you are only good until it pops. Ask for feedback from people who want to read, and you’ll want to find those people in the places where readers dwell. If you don’t want to sign up for an online reader site like those mentioned above (or the many that I haven’t mentioned), then maybe you can find readers at your local library. Maybe your library hosts a readers’ group. I have reservations about readers who don’t understand what makes a novel or nonfiction book work giving feedback to writers who also don’t understand how to make these things work. But, I do think that everyone knows what they like and what they don’t like, and if you’re writing in the hopes of building a readership, then it’s important to know whether you have something people want to read.

At the end of the day, feedback is for winners, not quitters. Don’t give up, even if your sarcastic teddy bear speaks the sweetest kinds of lies in your ears. It’s not worth it. You’ve got plenty to offer the world. Just get it out there.

Next week we’ll talk about platforms. Yay. Boo. Take your pick.

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