Tuesday, January 10, 2017

My books got great reviews, but lackluster sales. Will an agent care?

Are there any qualifications to the “debut author” issue? Does genre matter? Vehicle of publication? I can see that an agent might be wary if my first novel had received an advance and was published by one of the larger publishers. But what if my novel was published by a small boutique press that offered no advance and helped not a whit with marketing? Or what if it was self-published? In both of those instances, the author is responsible for all the promotion and marketing, with no input or guidance from a vested source.

In my instance, I have a couple of romance novels published through a small press. No advance, and it didn’t cost me anything. They did everything—editing, formatting, distribution (online with on-demand print), etc.—in exchange for part of the royalties. I went for it because: a) I’m an idiot; b) I could put all my money into marketing; and c) I had no clue how hard marketing is when you don’t know what you’re doing and have no one to advise you.

My books have collected over 100 honest reviews with an average Amazon review rating of 4.8, but dismal sales (see above section on marketing and no clue). I’m querying my fourth book and wonder if I'm doomed in terms of finding an agent.

Am I wasting my time querying? Will I be discounted without any of the above being considered? If an agent likes my manuscript will she take me on in spite of the above or send a rejection because despite great reviews poor sales are poor sales no matter the circumstances or genre? And, of course, because of said books, I am no longer a debut author.

You're focused on the wrong thing.
If your books are getting good reviews (and I have no idea what an "honest review" is. Not a dis-honest one?) you should be focused on getting your books into the hands of readers.

I assure you that NO ONE gives a rat's ass if you've published four books if you come equipped with a thousand name email newsletter list and a devoted fan club.

Once you've elected your path, you're better off going down that road instead of trying to reverse and pretend you were never there at all.

To that end, you should be focused on learning to market. It's not rocket science.

Get Dana Kaye's book. 
I bought a copy for every single one of my clients.

Enroll in Dana Kaye's class. 

Go to the conferences that show you how to do this stuff.
(you want the DBW Indie Author Only track for $269, plus you can use this code for $25 off
the registration free: danakaye25)

There are other avenues too. I tend to recommend Dana a lot because after 10+ years in book PR I think she's one of the best I've ever seen.

Your career is in your hands now. Make something happen.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

For me the last two sentences of this post mean everything.

"Your career is in your hands now. Make something happen."

The last three words, a mantra.

If you sit around and wait for Mr.or Ms. 'Write' to show up on a white horse, with a computer and publishing credentials, to build/save your career you're all wrong. That only happens in the books we write.

"Make something happen."
Yup that's my bumpah-sticka today.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I have Dana Kaye's book already because my cart is always way ahead of my horse. I am stll intimidated by the marketing aspects of books regardless of avenue (self, traditional, boutique) so I get it, OP,

Still, do as the shark directs. You've something published, turn your sales up using whatever resources you can find.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

A local writer started with romance novels under one name and now writes mega selling thrillers under another.

AAGreene said...

I purchased Dana's book even though I'm still in the beginning stages of my current WIP and I found it valuable. Focusing on what I want my brand to be has hit me like a lightning bolt. In the beginning of the book she used an example of an author who writes in different genres but stays with her brand with each story. The trajectory is similar to what I want to do with my stories and has let me nail down my target readers as I write. Such a valuable book - I highly recommend it!! Thank you, Janet!

Colin Smith said...

First, thanks for the sub-header nod, Janet! :)

Second, I'm wondering if it really is putting the proverbial cart before the downright legendary horse to want this book when you're still in the throes of writing your novel. Especially given AAGreene's comment. Advice about focusing on brand, even when writing different genres, seems like something I want to hear while I'm working on my novel, not after it's written.

Now I have a mortgage, book buying has become a very selective process. This one is definitely on the list.

DLM said...

The point about honest reviews IS important, actually - and over 100 high-star ratings should be helpful. However, the nomenclature is important. "Honest" is sometimes the descriptor reviewers stipulate when they also have to stipulate that "I got a free whatever for my honest review" (this applies to everything on Amazon from toasters to rice to shoes to books). "Unsolicited" and still 4 or 5 star, though, means nobody got a free copy to come review the book.

For my literal actual money, those "honest" reviewers who got the product without shelling out their literal actual money carry less weight. Compared to readers who are compelled to comment after reading a book, the literal and metaphorical investment doesn't look the same. And so, that spontaneous "I LOVED THIS BOOK!" means more than, "I got this for nothing, it's great though!"

So, OP, if your numerous honest reviews came from readers who found your work and loved it for itself, you really have something going for you there. And I would imagine Ms. Kaye has some words on leveraging this enthusiasm ...

With online reviews undergoing periodic scandals, their nature is relevant. Many people do depend on them in decision-making. Personally, I have a hard time with this for books - reading is such an intimate and subjective thing, other people's opinions, no matter whose, are entirely irrelevant to me. (Same with movies; I LOVED Roger Ebert's writing, but I scarcely ever agreed with his enthusiasms.) But some people can and do factor product reviews in their TBR buying, and so a large number of raves has got to be an asset you can use, somehow.

Colin Smith said...

Oh yes, I was going to say something about "honest reviews"--but Diane beat me to it. So, what she said. This is why I note on my blog when a review is based on a copy of the book I was sent, either as a gift or a prize. Not that these reviews aren't valuable. But I want to be clear and up-front that even though I was given the book, I wasn't obliged to write a review, and certainly not obliged to give a favorable review.

Opie uses the qualifier "honest" to say that the reviews were unsolicited, and in good faith, not in return for copies of the book. And given not all the reviews on Amazon are "honest" it's an important qualifier.

AAGreene said...

Hi Colin -

Obviously, some of the information in Dana's book will only be applicable after the book is published (or in the process of doing so), but knowing what is ahead can only help the writer. It definitely dives into the BUSINESS aspect of being an author. From the stories I've read and heard about, that aspect seems to be what a lot of aspiring authors don't understand. They don't know what they don't know. It can be information overload, but if it helps me to be prepared for the (very) long road ahead, I can only learn more.

On another note, one thing that never ceases to amaze me about Janet's blog is the shear number of situations that I have never thought of and would have never imagined could even occur. Seriously, this blog is an endless cycle of learning. Thank you, everyone, for sharing questions and learned experiences. You may not know how much that helps writers like me!

Elissa M said...

It seems to me the OP is under the misapprehension that an agent and big publisher will relieve him/her of the onus of marketing.

OP, please note that Janet sent Dana Kaye's book to "every single one" of her clients. In other words, even Janet doesn't believe her fabulous clients are off the hook for marketing no matter how many books they've sold already.

You've got three books published. Wow! That's really great. Even better than great. The more books you have out there, the more chances you have to snag a reader's eye and make them a fan. Don't you dare think you've failed because your sales are low. Follow Janet's advice. You can make this happen.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

To piggyback off what Colin and DLM said:

I'm kind of intrigued that a traditional agent has never heard the term "honest review." I hear it a hundred times a day when I'm soliciting bloggers. Partially it's because there are so many scammers offering 100 5-star reviews for $20 from a Filipino click farm that genuine bloggers have to clarify they're not. It's also, I think, a way of fending off the sort of lunatic authors who will come bash your head in with a wine bottle if you give them a 2-star. And lots of bloggers decline to leave bad reviews altogether for fear of flamewars or physical violence.

It must just be a culture thing. I suppose Kirkus and the NYT have no need to clarify that their reviews will be honest, whether scathing or kind. But in the small pub/indie community bloggers have to clarify that they're not selling 5-stars and don't want to get in trouble for leaving an honest negative review.

Craig F said...

I have one little quibble here. Instead of 'make something happen' it should be 'make IT happen'.

Make IT the object of your attention. A marketing plan does not just happen. It has to be schemed, planned and plotted. It takes focus and dedication.

Even if you end up with a publisher with a nice budget marked with your name it, you have to have direction. Reading marketing books will help give you that direction. I have not read YOUR BOOK, YOUR BRAND but my Queen's word holds credence for me.

Lennon Faris said...

Practical and encouraging, as always.

Comments were also informative, as always. I've never even heard of a click farm before; that's terrible but makes sense that they exist, I suppose.

It's windy and cold and gray here, just right for writing. Here's to a happy writing day for everyone!

Nom de plume said...

Elissa M's comment reinforced my dawning awareness that writers with trad pub deals are still responsible for a portion of their own marketing. A blog post I read by a new author explained how her publisher collected information on all the community resources and connections she had to help promote the book.

AAGreene makes a great point about cultivating your brand even before you are published. The last workshop I attended stressed that a consistent social media presence on a few platforms could help an unpublished writer build their brand and find potential readers.

Cyn said...

There is always so much to learn here.

Your Book, Your Brand is now on my Wish List.

(Heart palpitating now).

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Opie, you and I are paddling the same boat. I am also published with a small press, though I do get some marketing support from them. Still, onus tests with me and I need to market.

I network with other authors from random penguins to indies. I ask them what works for them:
1. Mailing list (this is the golden snitch)
2. Book bargain newsletters like BookBub
3. One-on-one interaction.

Now, different things work at different levels for different people, but certain things tend to have greater success than others.

Definitely schmooze worth your peers. Listen to their anecdotes of how a Fussy Librarian promo spiked their sales or a Facebook advert offering a free e-copy of a novel increased their mailing list sign-ups.

Tap into others' experience and gives their successes a go.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

...and typing on a phone with auto-correct will lead to tyops.

Laina said...

"(and I have no idea what an "honest review" is. Not a dis-honest one?)"

Oh, yeah, you can totally buy fake 5 star reviews. That's actually why I'm more skeptical of reading a book rated 5 stars across the board than one that hangs out around 3.5 ish.

Also I think at this point I'm harder on review books than I am on books I get from the library. But maybe that's just me, lol.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the shout out, Janet, and I hope to see some of you at DBW next week!