Showing posts with label john locke. Show all posts
Showing posts with label john locke. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 29

Book Promotion: Where's The Line?

Book Promotion: Where's The Line?

Buying Reviews
The world recently learnt that successful indie author John Locke bought reviews for his novels. Locke was confident in his writing ability so he stipulated reviewers were to give their honest opinion, but the fact remains he paid for reviews, something which goes against Amazon policy and at least one law.

A couple months after commissioning the reviews, sales of John Locke's novels took off. Coincidence? Perhaps. It was in December, a time book sales explode, but even so it seems as though Locke's decision to pay for reviews may have been a significant factor in his success.

My first reaction was astonishment. I had read Locke's book, How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks in 5 Months and his emphasis was on building a community and, as any indie author knows, building a community takes time and a lot of hard work. In The New York Times article which exposed Locke's business practises, I read this:
Mr. Locke is unwilling to say that paying for reviews made a big difference. “Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful,” he said. “But it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.” [Emphasis mine]

Then I remembered, indie authors have been offered the opportunity to pay for reviews for a while now, and from no less a name than Kirkus.

Kirkus charges $425 for a standard review, $575 for their express service. They guarantee the review will be approximately 250 to 350 words.

From the Kirkus website:
Kirkus Indie will send you the review via email, at which point you may choose to keep it private or publish it on our website (at no extra charge). If you choose to keep it private, it will never see the light of day. If you decide to publish the review on our site, you may use it any way you choose—on the back cover of your book, in marketing collateral, on your website or in a letter to an agent or publisher.

If you choose to publish your review on our website, we will also distribute it to our licensees, including Google,, Ingram, Baker & Taylor and more. On top of that, our editors will consider it for publication in Kirkus Reviews magazine, which is read by librarians, booksellers, publishers, agents, journalists and entertainment executives. Your review may also be selected to be featured in our email newsletter, which is distributed to more than 50,000 industry professionals and consumers.
So Kirkus gets a minimum of $425 per review and the author has the opportunity to bury the review if they don't like it.

My question: Why is it okay for Kirkus to sell reviews?

Sockpuppet Accounts
Recently Stephen Leather told the Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival, and so the world, that he uses sockpuppet accounts. I'll let wikipedia explain what a sockpuppet account is:
A sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception. The term—a reference to the manipulation of a simple hand puppet made from a sock—originally referred to a false identity assumed by a member of an internet community who spoke to, or about himself while pretending to be another person. The term now includes other uses of misleading online identities, such as those created to praise, defend or support a third party or organization, or to circumvent a suspension or ban from a website. A significant difference between the use of a pseudonym and the creation of a sockpuppet is that the sockpuppet poses as an independent third-party unaffiliated with the puppeteer. (Wikipedia, Sockpuppet (Internet))
For instance, let's say Matilda has published a book--whether herself or through a traditional publisher--Keeping Hummingbirds Happy and she creates an accont on Amazon under an assumed name, Hummingbird1. This is a sockpuppet account. Using this account she will give her book a good review. Of course one positive review is unlikely to make much of a difference so she creates Hummingbird2, Hmmingbird3, and so on.

I would like to stress that Stephen Leather never publicly said he had made a sockpuppet account on Amazon. He admitted to having one on Twitter, which is a very different thing. Stephen Leather is a fellow indie author and I have no wish to attack him.

That said, what startled me about Stephen Leather's admission (well, that he admitted it at a writers' conference in front of dozens of people surprised the heck out of me!) was that he apparently thought everyone had sockpuppet accounts. Here's how it went:
Stephen Leather: I’ll go onto several forums, from the well-known forums, and post there, under my own name and under various other names and various other characters. You build this whole network of characters who talk about your books and sometimes have conversations with yourself. And then I’ve got enough fans…

Steve Mosby: So you use sockpuppet accounts basically?

SL: I think everyone does. Everyone does. Or I have friends who are sockpuppets, who might be real, but they might pick a fight with me.

SM: Are your readers aware of this, or…?

SL: Well, I think that everyone … well, are the readers aware of it? No … But they’re not buying it because of the sockpuppet. What you’re trying to do is create a buzz. And it’s very hard, one person, surrounded by a hundred thousand other writers, to create a buzz. I mean, that’s one of the things that publishers do. They create a buzz. One person on their own, difficult to create a buzz. If you’ve got ten friends, and they’ve got friends, and you can get them all as one creating a buzz, then hopefully you’ll be all right.
If readers aren't buying one's books because of ones sockpuppet account(s), then why go to all the bother of setting them up? Sure, to create buzz, but if there's no connection between 'buzz' and booksales, why do it?

Does it work? Do paid reviews and sockpuppet accounts help sell books?
I would imagine the answer is yes, they do. Or at least the folks who pay for the reviews and spend the time to set up the sockpuppet accounts believe they do.

But I think the real question isn't whether these techniques help sell books, but whether an author's time is best spent buying reviews, setting up sockpuppet accounts or writing new work.

How many books do you think Stephen Leather would have been able to write if he hadn't been busy with sockpuppet accounts? Does the amount of money that SL made due to his sockpuppet accounts exceed the amount of money he would have made on sales of new books?

It is, of course, impossible to know. I think the best way of selling books is to write more books. I know how much time it takes me to maintain my @woodwardkaren Twitter account, I can't imagine maintaining two. I would have no time for writing! If a person has a real twitter account, a couple of fake twitter accounts and three or four fake Amazon accounts, when are they going to find the time to write?

You've heard the old saying: Are you a man or a mouse? Here's mine: Are you a writer or a sockpuppet? We are our choices. Let's write.

Other articles you might like:
- John Locke Paid For Book Reviews
- Fifty Shades of Alice In Wonderland: Sales Peak At $1,000 Per Day
- Hugh Howey, Bestselling Author Of Wool, On The Key To Writing Success

Links to articles (off site):
- Anonymous Author Shares Fiverr Experience
- The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy
- Publishing's Drug Problem
- Fake Reviews: Amazon's Rotten Core

Photo credit: johndal

Monday, August 27

John Locke Paid For Book Reviews

I was surprised when I read that John Locke paid for book reviews. I was even more surprised that he required the reviewers to be honest; if the reviewer wanted to give his book a 1 star review, that was fine.

But why would someone pay for a one star review? A one star review screams at readers: don't buy this book, you won't like it! Here's what Mr. Locke had to say:
“My first marketing goal was to get five five-star reviews,” he [John Locke] writes. “That’s it. But you know what? It took me almost two months!” In the first nine months of his publishing career, he sold only a few thousand e-books. Then, in December 2010, he suddenly caught on and sold 15,000 e-books.

One thing that made a difference is not mentioned in “How I Sold One Million E-Books.” That October, Mr. Locke commissioned Mr. Rutherford to order reviews for him, becoming one of the fledging service’s best customers. “I will start with 50 for $1,000, and if it works and if you feel you have enough readers available, I would be glad to order many more,” he wrote in an Oct. 13 e-mail to Mr. Rutherford. “I’m ready to roll.”

Mr. Locke was secure enough in his talents to say that he did not care what the reviews said. “If someone doesn’t like my book,” he instructed, “they should feel free to say so.” He also asked that the reviewers make their book purchases directly from Amazon, which would then show up as an “Amazon verified purchase” and increase the review’s credibility.

In a phone interview from his office in Louisville, Ky., Mr. Locke confirmed the transaction. “I wouldn’t hesitate to buy reviews from people that were honest,” he said. Even before using, he experimented with buying attention through reviews. “I reached out every way I knew to people to try to get them to read my books.”

Many of the 300 reviews he bought through GettingBookReviews were highly favorable, although it’s impossible to say whether this was because the reviewers genuinely liked the books, or because of their well-developed tendency toward approval, or some combination of the two.

Mr. Locke is unwilling to say that paying for reviews made a big difference. “Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful,” he said. “But it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.”
John Locke commissioned reviews on October 13th and his book sales took off in December. I imagine it would probably take about a month for the reviews to start coming through, so those paid reviews could have been an important factor in his December success. Of course, that Christmas was coming up wouldn't have hurt.

That John Locke paid for reviews is just one part of an article about Todd Rutherford and his book review site:
The tale of, which commissioned 4,531 reviews in its brief existence, is a story of a vast but hidden corner of the Internet [...].
.  .  .  .
In the fall of 2010, Mr. Rutherford started a Web site, At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50. 

There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm’s-length relationship between reviewer and author. But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month.
.  .  .  .
How little, [Todd Rutherford] wondered, could he pay freelance reviewers and still satisfy the authors? He figured on $15. He advertised on Craigslist and received 75 responses within 24 hours. 

Potential reviewers were told that if they felt they could not give a book a five-star review, they should say so and would still be paid half their fee, Mr. Rutherford said. As you might guess, this hardly ever happened. 

Amazon and other e-commerce sites have policies against paying for reviews. But Mr. Rutherford did not spend much time worrying about that. “I was just a pure capitalist,” he said. Amazon declined to comment. 

Mr. Rutherford’s busiest reviewer was Brittany Walters-Bearden, now 24, a freelancer who had just returned to the United States from a stint in South Africa. She had recently married a former professional wrestler, and the newlyweds had run out of money and were living in a hotel in Las Vegas when she saw the job posting. 

Ms. Walters-Bearden had the energy of youth and an upbeat attitude. “A lot of the books were trying to prove creationism,” she said. “I was like, I don’t know where I stand, but they make a solid case.” 

For a 50-word review, she said she could find “enough information on the Internet so that I didn’t need to read anything, really.” For a 300-word review, she said, “I spent about 15 minutes reading the book.” She wrote three of each every week as well as press releases. In a few months, she earned $12,500. 

“There were books I wished I could have gone back and actually read,” she said. “But I had to produce 70 pieces of content a week to pay my bills.”
In case anyone is thinking, "There should be a law against this!" let me assure you there is.
The Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines stating that all online endorsements need to make clear when there is a financial relationship, but enforcement has been minimal and there has been a lot of confusion in the blogosphere over how this affects traditional book reviews. 
Todd Rutherford's company has been shut down and he now sells recreational vehicles. If you would like to read David Streitfeld's article about Tod Rutherford, click here: The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy.

Book review sites for indie books are desperately needed, but paying for reviews is not the way to go about it.

Other articles you might like:
- Picking Up The Threads: Getting Back Into Your Story
- Hugh Howey, Bestselling Author Of Wool, On The Key To Writing Success
- Creativity: Use It Or Lose It

Photo credit: brewbooks

Wednesday, November 9

Kristen Lamb: 3 kinds of social media platforms for writers

Kristen Lamb a savvy writer on any social media topic, and her latest post is no exception. It is a must read for any writer, whether traditionally or independently published. Even if you're thinking of publishing your work, you'll want to read this article.

First, Kristen Lamb talks about different kinds of platforms:
The Traditional Author

If you are agented and likely to be traditionally published, you have the backing of a publisher, an editor, an agent and people hired to help your books succeed. Thus, the burden of sales and marketing doesn’t rest solely on your shoulders. Focus on writing the best book you can write.

But, is a good book alone enough? No. And it never has been. How can I say this? I like to cite the BEA statistics of 2006. 93% of all books published (traditionally and non-traditionally) sold less than 1000 copies. So, for traditional authors, even with all those people working in your favor, the failure rate can be sobering of you rely solely on a good book alone. Historically, a writer had no control over changing these odds. Now, we have social media so we can help spark word-of-mouth. We are no longer forced to gamble, and that rocks ;) .

Also, what we need to always keep in mind is that social media has changed demands placed on traditionally published writers. Many times the publisher will expect the author to help with her own marketing and promotion. This is easier to do if when your first book is published, you aren’t trying to pull a platform out of the ether.

For the traditionally published author, you don’t need to do as much. If you want to blog and tweet and Facebook, then go for it. I think the stronger your platform, the better. My opinion? Being traditionally published does have advantages.There really isn’t a need to have a social platform the size of a self-pubbed author unless you want one. A great author to follow who has THE BEST advice for the traditionally published author is Jody Hedlund. Another fountain of wisdom in this crazy world? Anne R. Allen. Bookmark their blogs and listen to every word they tell you. These ladies will keep your head straight.

The Hybrid Author

Some of you might fall into the traditional category. Ah, but you have a bit of a wild side that likes to write essays, poetry , short stories, death threats, or manifestos. Now, in the changing paradigm, there is finally a cost-efficient way of getting these types of works to the reader. Ten years ago, no publisher would have taken a second look at a book of poetry because it might only sell 500 copies. It just was a terrible investment with dismal returns for the publisher and even the author.

Now? Just e-publish. Those 500 copies that looked so depressing before, now are darn spiffy sales numbers if you’re keeping 100% and putting out only time, effort, and a minimal cash investment. So, if you are wanting to try your hand at selling some self-published items, you need to have a larger platform and a greater presence to drive those sales. Pay attention to Chuck Wendig. He makes the second-oldest-profession-in-the-world look good and is not above showing a little leg.

The Indie

Yes, for the sake of brevity I am lumping a lot of stuff together. Indie has a lot of different flavors and I highly recommend listening to Bob Mayer and Jen Talty. Take one of their workshops because they are the experts when it comes to all the different publishing options in the new paradigm.

If you are an indie author, you have the backing of a small independent publisher. There is the upside of not being completely all on your own. I am with Who Dares Wins Publishing and I am blessed with a lot of expertise I don’t even know if I have the smarts to learn.

But, we need to point of the pink elephant in the room.

As awesome as indie presses are, logic dictates that most of them won’t have the manpower to help us in promotion and marketing like Random House or Penguin. We don’t get book placement in major chain bookstores or WalMart or Costco. We need a VERY LARGE PLATFORM. Sure, the indie press will help, but the lion’s share of the burden is ours.

Many new writers are carving out a career path by starting indie in hopes it will lead to traditional publication. Yet, here’s the deal. NY will want to see high sales numbers. Our social media platform is critical.

The Self-Published Author

Some of you love being in control of all aspects of your career. Web design, book covers, uploading? No sweat. There have been some tremendous success stories that have come out of the self-publishing world—Amanda Hocking, H.P. Mallory and John Locke are three that come to mind. These folks didn’t already have a name branded by traditional publishing. They rose out of the nothing with their own hard work….but boy did they WORK.

I was blessed enough to meet H.P. Mallory and listen to how she sold a bazillion books in six months and I needed a nap. John Locke? He is a MACHINE. I read his How I Sold a Million Books in Five Months and I thought it could be retitled as How to Kill a Writer in Less than a Year. The amount of work, planning, strategy was incredible (and I say this with the utmost amount of respect awe and yes…jealousy).

Yet, I do need to point out that Hocking, Mallory and Locke have all since signed with traditional/larger publishers. I think there comes a point when the workload is too much to maintain alone and long-term, but that might just be my opinion. Would have to ask them.

Thus, when we start thinking about our writing career, we need to be really honest about how much work we can do. Too many new writers think that self-publishing is a panacea, that all they need to do is upload their genius and people will buy.


If we look at the self-publishing success stories, the harder they worked, the luckier they got. Same with indie. If you are considering any kind of publishing outside of the traditional route, then ask the hard questions.

Can you write and maintain a blog and a social media presence? Can you do guest posts and blog tours and contests and create groups? Can you do all of his without the quality of your books suffering? Can you keep writing more books? In indie publishing and self-publishing, it is becoming clearer and clearer that those writers who can turn out books and quickly create a backlist are the ones that are the most successful.

What is your background and what do you bring to the table? Do you already possess a lot of technical expertise? H.P. Mallory left a career in Internet sales. She built her own website and uploaded, formatted and designed covers for all of her own books. If you don’t have the tech savvy, do you have money to hire people to do it for you? John Locke did. What is your background? Both Mallory and Locke came from a background in sales. That is a driven and fearless personality.

If you are writing under three pen names because you fear your family will find out you want to be a writer, then this might not be the best path. Things like time, money, background and personality all need to be considered when it comes to tailoring the right platform to the right publishing choice.

It is a wonderful time to be a writer and the sky is the limit. There are all kinds of generous people willing to offer time, help and expertise. My favorites are Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, and Bob Mayer. And if you are an unpublished writer?

Feel free to start with the Snuggie, but eventually? Yeah, you will have to hand it over lest it become your Lazy Blanket.
The above is only a part of Kristen Lamb's excellent article, I would encourage you to read the entire thing. You can find it here: Beware the Social Media Snuggie -- One Size Does NOT Fit All.

Wednesday, August 3

Selling A Book: Getting Noticed

When Walter Ellis told his brother-in-law he was going to publish his book, London Eye, on Amazon, he said: "Make sure you price it at 99p like that fella who sold a million."

Yes, John Locke has definitely raised the bar for what self published writers can accomplish. Walter Ellis, though -- like many of us -- is far from the million book mark. It is comforting to reflect that John Locke too started off with a dribble rather than a bang.

Ellis calls for:

... a proper grown-up site, possibly run by Amazon, in which hot new arrivals, bestsellers and chart climbers are featured as if they mattered, and not as if they were the products of small-time eccentrics who really out to get out more.

Personally I think we need a site for big-time eccentrics, forget all that penny ante stuff.

Thanks to Roy Greenslade over at the Guardian for bringing my attention to Ellis's article.

Tuesday, July 19

Lawrence Block has a blog!

The first book I read by Lawrence Block was, "Telling Lies for Fun and Profit."  It was great!  I highly recommend it, not only for writing tips but because it is a pleasure to read.

Now, thanks to John Locke, LB has his own blog! He writes:

... John Locke got a ton of press for selling his one millionth Kindle book. And, as soon as he did, he released a book he’d had waiting in the wings all along. He called it How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months, and offered it not at his usual price of 99¢ but $4.99 (or $9.99 in paperback).

Yeah, right, said the snarky voice that lives inside my head. Who could resist paying five bucks to learn how to write mediocre fiction?

I told the voice Thanks for sharing and ordered the book. This was on June 21, and I started reading it on my Kindle that night. I read the rest of it the following day, and started re–reading it the day after that. And the next day was June 24, my birthday, and I started the day doing something I’d been absolutely certain I would never do. But what the hell, I figured I was finally old enough. So I joined Twitter.

Because John Locke told me to.

That day or the next, I asked my web guy to set me up with a blog. Five years ago I was on a book tour in aid of The Burglar on the Prowl, and each night I made myself write a newsy paragraph on the day’s events, and emailed it for him to post on my website. It was a pain in the ass, and it didn’t accomplish anything, and that was the end of my blogging. But now I wanted a real blog, one I could manage myself, and that’s what I asked for.

Because John Locke told me to.
John Locke’s background is in sales, and he blogs and tweets with the aim of increasing his own sales. He wants you not only to buy his books, but to help him get others to buy them. As he explains, the actions he takes online are frankly manipulative; he outlines a method of gaining a reader’s allegiance and illustrates it with a blog about Joe Paterno and his mother that leaves one gaping. The damn thing seems so calculating. . .

But here’s the thing. It’s not cold and calculating. It’s warm and calculating.

Read the entire blog post here.

I had been wondering if I should buy John Locke's book; after reading LB talk about Locke I don't see how I can not buy it.

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit
Block's Amazon Author Page
Lawrence Block's Blog
Thanks to Dean Wesley Smith and @PassiveVoiceBlg for spreading the news about LB's blog.
How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months