Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “goodreads”

The Changing Significance of Book Reviews

With three epic fantasy novels coming out over a period of 18 months (they were written over the previous three years before you ask), I have become very interested in the issue of reviews and wrote about it a couple of months ago.

I have come to believe that reviews left on a book’s Amazon page are crucial for sales. While you do see the cover on line, it is less visual than in your hand. There is no salesperson vaunting how great the book is, no positioning next to A-list authors, and no cardboard display in the window. On the other hand, when a potential reader looks at your book page on Amazon, there are virtually no distractions: not hundreds of other books surrounding it, or bumping into someone you might know etc.

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So what so you have to look at to help you buy a book? The reviews. 

In response to last week’s post of the acquisition of Goodreads by Amazon.com, a friend suggested that I should be excited that Goodreads members would be putting their reviews up on Amazon, because they are true bookworms and leave considerably more thoughtful reviews.

A person recently gave me a 5-star review for At The Walls Of Galbrieth and I tweeted to see if I could find them to thank them. I was curious because it was short and not well constructed. I discovered (via the father) that it was a young teenager who had read the book and felt moved to write what was, in his mind, a strong recommendation. I was thrilled because so far I am only hearing from adults who have read my novels, despite seeing the Young Adult as my target audience. 

Vancouver-based publishing consultant, Thad McIlroy, summed it up in a Forbes article. When it comes to: “what do I read next, Amazon has become almost the only show in town:

“Despite that Amazon said it would keep Goodreads independent (like IMDB, Zappos and several other Amazon acquisitions), most in the industry will look at it as just Amazon now. Providing that service is a chief concern for booksellers who want to make it as easy as possible for readers to discover their next book purchase. Now, Amazon is the undisputed No. 1 when it comes to book recommendations. Ebook retail sites, like start-up Bookish, have long claimed that readers need a better way than Amazon for finding new books. Those claims now have little teeth; Amazon pretty much has it all right now when it comes to recommendation.”

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What excited me most is that Goodreads will add credibility to a system rocked with controversy of false or paid for reviews. Leslie Kaufman wrote in The New York Times: “Amazon has been wrestling with review fraud in the past year. Because book reviews on Goodreads are identifiable (tied to a social profile), they are harder to manipulate. This may add a new and more credible review source to Amazon’s internal reviews.”

The price for this new credibility (for authors) is a more thorough critique of our books. Goodreads members leave lower average book review scores and deeper in-depth discussion.

While these reviews, undoubtedly more useful to readers, might feel threatening to the author, it reinforces what should be obvious from the start: that the keystone of success is to produce the best possible book in terms of every aspect of our craft. Are you up for the challenge?

Finally, if you have got this far into the post and have read any of my books – fantasy and other – please take a moment to leave a short review on the book you read: an honest critique worthy of Goodreads.  

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Have a great weekend.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

Amazon and Goodreads

The book world (whoever that is these days) was rocked last week when Amazon announced it had acquired Goodreads. Chances are, if you own a credit card, you know who the first is, but you need to be a book lover to know the second.

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Goodreads is no small start-up. It boasts 16 million members who have added more than 530 million books to their ‘shelves’ and generated more than 23 million reviews. Basically, Goodreads has emerged as the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations. There are more than 30,000 book clubs within Goodreads. Founded in 2007, Goodreads is also a place where more than 68,000 authors connect with readers. It is huge. Oh, and it was created and based in San Francisco – not relevant, but I feel a need to boast, though none of the credit is mine.

“Books – and the stories and ideas captured inside them – are part of our social fabric,” said Otis Chandler, Goodreads CEO and co-founder. “People love to talk about ideas and share their passion for the stories they read. I’m incredibly excited about the opportunity to partner with Amazon and Kindle. We’re now going to be able to move faster in bringing the Goodreads experience to millions of readers around the world. We’re looking forward to inspiring greater literary discussion and helping more readers find great books, whether they read in print or digitally.”

“Amazon and Goodreads share a passion for reinventing reading,” said Russ Grandinetti, Amazon Vice President, Kindle Content. “Goodreads has helped change how we discover and discuss books and, with Kindle, Amazon has helped expand reading around the world. In addition, both Amazon and Goodreads have helped thousands of authors reach a wider audience and make a better living at their craft. Together we intend to build many new ways to delight readers and authors alike.”

“I just found out my two favorite people are getting married,” said Hugh Howey, best-selling author of WOOL. “The best place to discuss books is joining up with the best place to buy books – To Be Read piles everywhere must be groaning in anticipation.”

I must admit to being conflicted. Having lived most of my life in two small countries, I believe competitive prices and customer service in the US is so good (generally) because there is healthy competition. If the customer has one bad experience, there are always other companies out there next time.

In fact, it is not hard to put your finger on areas where bad customer service and inflated prices are  prevalent. So I am not sure how, as a consumer, I feel about Amazon and Goodreads getting into bed together.

As an author, though, I am having a problem finding a downside. I have a profile on Goodreads, but have not put any effort into it. But it does seem that participants on Goodreads are more thoughtful and less hype-driven in their recommendations. It is interesting that many authors complain about a lower star ranking offered from Goodreads reviewers. Having read my share of 5 star books that were clearly undeserving of such hype, I have to agree. I have two three-star reviews for At The Walls Of Galbrieth – both with honest and profound observations. I have no doubt they were genuine. In fact, one sought me out to share more feedback and I truly appreciate the care and concern this stranger has for my craft.

New York Times contributor, Leslie Kaufman, writes that Amazon has unearthed a few fraudulent review ‘businesses’, whereby people are making money from offering five-star reviews.  Kaufman notes that book reviewers on Goodreads are clearly identifiable through their Goodreads social profile.

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If you are not comfortable with single industry sources this merger might not seem so exciting. But as Amazon and Goodreads combine their creative energy and synchronize their efforts (Goodreads were still directing you to buy books on Barnes & Nobles nook), I have little doubt the customer and author experience will become a richer experience. 

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

An Imaginary Author’s Co-op

There are a lot of authors out there, a lot of books, and a lot of noise on the Internet. Each author racks his/her brain for an original idea to blaze a trail in one social media or another that will create the elusive momentum that will propel a series of book sales, of movie options, and publicity.

That’s a lot of work for one person, especially one who would prefer to sit behind a computer screen creating new characters, plots and worlds. Even more so, that comes after possibly a full time job, helping the kids with homework, paying the bills, working out…

DSCN1387I believe I spend an hour a day blogging, tweeting, answering emails (as an author). I often do this with ease; either early in the morning, during a lunch break, or after my boys are in bed. But I am giving seven hours a week to promote myself and if I had more time, I would delve into Facebook, Goodreads, redesign my website, participate on other people’s blogs and forums.

What if I spent that time promoting not only myself but also five other authors, all writing within the same genre? What if we parceled out each social media forum, not exclusively, but the person in charge of Twitter, for example, would delve deeper into how best to leverage this medium. We would all tweet, retweet, dm, and build our own twitter following, but the cross-pollination would make it six times as visible.

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And then, we would offer extra time and focus when someone’s new book is published. We would write reviews on Amazon, on their website, interview them on our own blogs, and recommend them to friends. I recently went to a party and could have given my book-loving friend a book. She has read mine, but why not then give a copy from someone in my co-op. 

It demands honesty and trust. We are all desperate to ensure our own success and need to rein in the tempting opportunity to promote ourselves to the detriment of others. A ‘friend’ stood up at a venue where I spoke, told everyone how great The Accidental Activist is, and how it reminds him of his novel… and he then went on to pitch his own.

One of the best events I participated in was a panel set up by the historical fiction author, JoAnn Smith Ainsworth. There were four authors and we all flowed in effortlessly. We had decided that Christine London, a romance author, would be our informal facilitator, and probably no one in the audience noticed as she occasionally directed a question to an author who had been quiet for a while. The audience was considerably bigger than it would have been if it was only me appearing – there were fans of all genres.

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I spent almost half my life on kibbutz and when we all worked for each other the synergy was amazing. Is it possible to replicate such mutual support in the world of promotion, sales, and money?

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

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Reviewing Reviews

I have a friend who is successfully establishing herself as a novelist and doing it by selling books on Amazon.com. Francine Thomas Howard is an Amazon Encore author. This means that her first book, Page from a Tennessee Journal, advanced deep into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and was selected by Amazon to publish. They were sufficiently impressed to take on her second novel, Paris Noir.

imgresFrancine is a wonderfully modest woman who attends the California Writers Club’s Marketing & Success Group to help struggling authors with her experience. She does this in a way that is neither condescending nor arrogant. She cares about other people. I don’t know how many successful authors there are around like her, but I don’t see many attending author events unless they are the main act.

Francine protests that she is not responsible for her success beyond the writing of her novels and gives all the credit to the folks at Amazon Encore. However much time and energy she invests in marketing her own books, Francine has done a great job at garnering reviews – 83 for Page from a Tennessee Journal and almost 50 for Paris Noir.

I am convinced that reviews are crucial in a world where people purchase novels on the Internet, whether e-book or tree book, without the help of a friendly bookseller or extravagant display at the front of a store. Surveying several friends I have come to the conclusion that book reviews are critical to sales on Amazon and other book purchasing websites.

In particular, when it comes to new authors or authors that the reader has not read before, the reviews offered are scrutinized. Interestingly enough, people seemed more apprehensive about investing their precious reading time in a bad novel over the fear of having wasted money.

I believe that reviews are now the second most important marketing tool. The first is a good old-fashioned recommendation from a friend. Word-of-mouth, even in the digital age, remains a powerful influence. I find this strangely comforting.

The issue I want to raise, however, is how ‘kosher’ are these reviews? I recently heard of a man making more than $20,000 a month generating reviews for authors. He was exposed for not having read the books, and accused of offering a five-star review for cash.

I am struggling to get reviews for Unwanted Heroes. I implore anyone who tells me they bought it to post on Amazon but most people, unsurprisingly, don’t generally write reviews. They are too busy devouring the next novel on their towering ‘To Read’ pile.

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18I do not want to pressure friends because they will feel they must leave a 5 star review, otherwise I won’t car pool their son to basketball practice. I want readers to leave an honest review and generate a solid collection on my Amazon page, but I am not sure how to go about it.

Do you have any ideas how I can solicit honest reviews? Oh, and if you have read Unwanted Heroes (or any of my other books), please take five minutes and leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever you hang out.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.com.

The Three R’s – Adopt An Author

‘Tis the season of goodwill and I’m thinking we should share the love. 

In Judaism, the teacher Maimonides offered eight levels of giving – the highest being to help a person find a sustainable way to lift themselves out of poverty. I have written numerous times about micro-lending, which I think is an amazing solution, but I want to focus on the world of writers. There are many new authors out there and they need a lift up to be noticed.

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I want to invite you to adopt the three R’s and adopt an author for a few months. Disclaimer – you are about to discover I am dyslexic!

R – Read the work of the author. There is no bigger compliment for someone who has spent years writing a novel than to have others read it. Believe me – when I receive a tweet or email from someone I don’t know and they tell me they are reading my books, I get so excited. 

R – Rite about the person. No put away that athame (Pagan ritual dagger) away, but make your computer your sacred space. (W)rite to friends recommending the author, blog about her/him, or comment on other people’s blogs, take to the twitterverse – it works!

R – Review. Despite the controversy surrounding paid reviews, it is still one of the most powerful tools that helps a person perusing amazon, smashwords, B&N, goodreads, etc.

 

Here are a few other ways to help a struggling author (I couldn’t find an R to begin the sentence!): 

1.     Buy their book, if not for yourself, then as a gift for a friend’s birthday, or instead of a bottle of wine next time you’re invited for dinner. Maybe as a Xmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa present. Did you know that you can buy an e-book as a gift and send it to your friend’s e-Reader?

2.     Know someone who is in a book club? Suggest that they nominate your friend’s book for the group to read.

3.     Donate a copy of their book in a fundraising raffle or silent auction as a prize. It is great exposure.

4.     Hug an author. It won’t propel them into the New York Times Bestseller list, but it means a lot.

This is my final post for the year. I want to thank each and every one of you for taking a few moments each day and sharing our blog posts, agreeing, disagreeing, laughing and sighing. Thank you to Tom Rossi and Roger Ingalls for offering different voices and enriching the discussion.

Wishing everyone a year of peace and meaning.

Alon 

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

 

Reviewing Reviews and Reviewers

Assuming that most of us are now purchasing novels on the Internet, whether ebook or tree book, the significance of a review is crucial. We are no longer influenced by a staff member’s pick of the week or the paid for book display at the front of the store. I asked several friends (there is not pretense here to being empirical) whether they read reviews that people write on Amazon and other book purchasing websites.

The answers I received were really interesting. When you passionately follow an author, you buy his/her new release without hesitation. In fact, while many people have some form of notification to alert them when an author releases a new piece of work, they are often found and targeted by the creepy Internet spiders. 

This happened to me when I recently saw a Facebook advert for the new Terry Pratchett novel. In the past, I had relied on a friend from Ireland (he attends Discworld conferences all over Europe) sending me a pigeon with a note attached.

When it comes to new authors, or rather authors that the reader has not read before, most of my friends told me that they absolutely read the reviews and these can have a big influence on whether they will try the book. This is not even a question of book price. Most of those I asked, were afraid to invest the small window of time that they have every day to sit and read, spent on something that was not good.

The other answer that I received was from people who only read books that their friends recommend. Word-of-mouth, even in the digital age, remains a powerful influencer. I find this strangely comforting.

No one told me that they bought a book because of a newspaper review or radio interview. I suspect that had this been non-fiction, this answer would have been more prevalent.

The issue I want to raise, however, is how ‘kosher’ are these reviews? I recently heard of a man who was making more than $20,000 a month generating reviews for authors. He was exposed for not having read the books, and accused of offering a five-star review for cash.

I have to admit, I have pondered on a lesser issue. When my next book comes out, I had thought to offer 10 or so ebooks to random people (via twitter) for free, with the understanding that they will leave an honest review and generate a solid collection of reviews on my Amazon page.

Would you be influenced by the fact that the author had given you the book? Certainly, I would expect my friends and family to feel the pressure. When a friend left a so-so review for A Gardener’s Tale, I was upset. Among multiple 4 and 5-star reviews, she alone had given me 3-stars. She takes herself very seriously and I don’t think for one minute that there was anything vindictive in her grading (what she wrote was fine).

Personally, I have never given a bad review. But I have, more than a few times, not left a review because I didn’t enjoy the book, or more likely put it down after a few chapters.

So, I will leave you with a couple of questions. Answer as many or few as you want.

1) Do you read customer reviews before purchasing a book?

2) What is your main resource for reviews? (word-of-mouth, Amazon, b&n, Smashwords etc.).

3) If an author gives you a copy of his/her novel, will you write an objective review?

4) Do you use websites that specifically offer book reviews such as Goodreads?

5) Why are there so many letters in the word – abbreviation? Just wondering if you read this far).

By the way – if you ever read A Gardener’s Tale or The Accidental Activist – please consider leaving a review!

I would love to hear from you. Have a great day,

Alon

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

An Author’s Secret Santa

Just before Thanksgiving I wrote a post suggesting that the holidays were an opportunity to help a struggling author. I suggested giving their book as a gift and when small talk is required, promoting it (“Hey. Read any good books lately?”).

I was delighted to hear from a couple of authors who each said that they experienced sales thanks to friends either giving their books as gifts or through word-of-mouth. With all the sophisticated techniques available to market products, I find a certain smug satisfaction that experts acknowledge word-of-mouth to be such an effective tool.

So with the next set of holidays upon us, why not pitch the idea again? In addition, here are a couple of other simple ways to help your friend, the struggling author.

1. Write a brief review of the book. It doesn’t have to be more than 1-2 paragraphs. I’m certain the author would appreciate if it is posted on Amazon.com or the B&N.com website. There are other important sites such as Goodreads and Shelfari. If you know of other good sources, please leave a message in the comments below. Where do you look for information on books? Post it there.

2. Create a Wikipedia page for your friend. While authors can’t create their own Wikipedia page (without getting a “conflict of interest” badge of shame), other people can. You can.

Every author deserves a Wikipedia page, since a published book grants the author at least a modicum of fame. On the Wikipedia page, feature a short bio, a bibliography, a link to the author’s website. How encouraging for an author to discover a spike in his/her search engine traffic due to a link posted on Wikipedia. It’s kind of like having a secret Santa!

3. Recommend your friend’s website online. Link from your website, blog, Facebook page, etc. Tweet about it. When your friend writes a blog post that moves you, link to it. If your friend tweets something great, retweet it. Feature a quote from your friend’s book on your website. Or tweet the quote.

Remember when you throw a stone into a lake, it hits the water in only one place, but its waves can spread a considerable distance. I realize that many of you are living near frozen lakes right now, sorry. But maybe you can throw a stone online and give your friend, the struggling author, an extra present for the festive season.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

Authors Helping Authors

Yesterday I participated in the first marketing meeting for members of the California Writers Club, Berkeley Branch. At the end of the meeting, we all passed around bookmarks, postcards and other such promotional materials. The idea, based upon the Business Network & Referrals (BNI) model, was for each of us to get acquainted with each other’s work, and pass on the literature to someone we think might be interested.

During the meeting, many of us had to fight the urge not to promote our own work or share pitches. It was quite challenging. After all, we were all there because we are highly motivated to promote our books.

I hope we can create a culture within the group of giving time to helping other authors within the group. This sounds obvious, but we never seem to have enough time in the day to promote ourselves, let alone others.

There are, however, a number of ways in which to do this. If every member of the group did one small thing each day to help promote another group member, then we would discover we are each receiving a lot of help.

Authors generally, if they are not on the A-list, need help from others. So let’s try and create a culture of helping each other. Here is a list of 10 ways we can do this.

1. Post a review of someone’s book on Amazon.
2. Buy their book, if not for yourself, then as a gift for a friend’s birthday, or instead of a bottle of wine next time you’re invited for dinner.
3. Mention their website or blog on whatever social networking site you are active.
4. Go to the public library. If their book isn’t there, request it.
5. Mention their book on Goodreads.
6. Again on Amazon – add some helpful tags or add them to your listamania.
7. Spotlight them on your blog.
8. Attend their book readings. Ask questions that make them look good and/or authoritative. Answering questions from someone you know helps the author relax and build confidence.
9. Link your website and their website.
10. Enter their book into a fundraising raffle as a prize.

This list took me less than 10 minutes (and it’s almost midnight – not when I am thinking clearest). If you can think of additional ways, please let me know and I will add them to the list. This is all about win:win. In the middle of a recession, and a ruthless industry that is in involuntary transformation, win:win is something we could all do with.

Good Writing,
Alon

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