Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Self-published = Salesperson, That’s Crazy Talk!

Hi All,

I’ve been in deep lurk mode as I work on the sequel to THE HALO CHRONICLES: THE KEEPER (sequel to THE GUARDIAN). But as indie-related business articles or posts catch my eye, I’ll try to pass them on.

Back in March, Courtney Milan did an interesting blog post about review ethics and specifically The Ask.
“But I have seen a handful of self-published books, where at the end of the book, there is a brief note that says something like this: If you enjoyed this book, please consider leaving a review on Read post here. (Be sure to peruse the comments.)

As I started to comment, I realized I had a post worthy of sharing. So here are my thoughts:

My indie books do have a gentle ask at the end. Honest reviews are critical to an indie's credibility, brand building, and self-owned business. As self-published authors, we are entrepreneurs/small-business owners. And we have to act accordingly. In this brave, new publishing world, not only do authors have to think and act like marketers, they have to be savvy salespeople.

If you think about it from a sales perspective, books = products, readers = consumers. So what do we know about the average consumer and their product experiences?

Sales: Studies show that dissatisfied customers will tell more people (8-10) about their experience with a product than happy customers (2-3 people). Read more here and here (or just Google “dissatisfied customers”).

“About13 percent of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people.” (White House Office of Consumer Affairs, Washington, DC) eCommerce is a game of statistics and the global potential for disgruntled readers to rant is exponential. The first place they go—you guessed it—on line. Here’s a great article from MediaSpace to illustrate the point.

Even more compelling, perhaps, is the data that comes from science:

Science: Psychologically and physiologically, human beings are hardwired to focus on the negative (NY Times article: Praise is Fleeting, but Brick Bats We Recall). "Bad is Stronger than Good."
This data has 2 primary implications: 1) readers are more likely to review books that have made some sort of negative impact on them, and 2) prospective readers are likely to weigh negative reviews stronger than positive ones.

That brings us to The Ask:

If you enjoyed this book, please consider leaving a review on” 

The Ask helps level the playing field. It equates a positive reader/consumer experience with a call to action in a very non-threatening way. Genuine, positive reviews build product confidence for potential readers. Think about it for a second…Have you ever looked at the reviews for a product you were considering on Amazon prior to purchasing? Have the rating/reviews ever swayed your decision to buy or not buy? Have you ever looked at reviews for a book that you were considering? What are people saying about this? is a question most consumers are curious to answer, and the greater the risk, the more we want reassurance before a purchase commitment. So why wouldn’t you, as an indie author, do everything within the boundaries of your principles and ethics to get the reviews needed to grow your business?*

It is my theory that so many authors are uncomfortable with The Ask for the same reason they would never consider a career in sales. They lack the constitution/principles/desire needed to succeed as a salesperson. I get that (really, I do). But just about every successful business on the planet has a sales department—even the big six publishers. So who is the sales force behind the self-published author?  * pause for dramatic emphasis* That’s right. I am/you are. So don’t neglect your sales plan. 

It’s like I always tell my kids: “How am I supposed to know if you don't (respectfully) tell me what you need? After all, I’m not a mind reader”—and neither are my potential consumers. 

Happy sales!

(Who may, or may not, work in the Marketing & Sales division of a global, publicly traded Fortune 500 company which happens to be the largest consumer packaged goods company in the world.)

*To clarify, I’m not suggesting that if you have sketchy ethics that it’s okay to solicit false or overly positive reviews from friends and family. Reviews do need to be authentic and honest.  I am merely suggesting there are a broad spectrum of principles and ethics in the field of sales that may govern what you are, or are not, willing to do. Don’t confuse this with comfort level. Think of how uncomfortable marketing can be—but we all agree it has value and needs to be done.

 Difference between ethics and comfort zone: 

Example 1: Is asking for reviews from readers at the end of my book out of my comfort zone? Yes. But is it unethical? No. Does is make sense from a sales perspective? Yes.

Example 2: Is asking Aunt Nancy and her friends to go online anonymously and give glowing, 5–star reviews of my book outside my comfort zone? Maybe not… Everybody does it. Is it unethical? Abso-FREAKIN’-lutely! Does is make sense from a sales perspective? No way!!! If Aunt Nancy and friends are discovered, my credibility will suffer. And the amount of negative comments produced by public outrage will tank my career (as it should).

Example 3: Is my cousin’s unsolicited review, with acquaintance disclaimer, of my book that she purchased with her own money out of my comfort zone? Perhaps… (Family and friends are always tricky business.) But is it unethical? No. Does is make sense from a sales perspective? Perhaps… It’s an honest review from a paying customer. However, widely publicized relationship abuse between authors and their friends/family to promote books dishonestly tends to make this a risky practice. Although it’s not wrong, the more strategic choice might be to ask my cousin to use word of mouth power and remove the review.  

(Hey wait, is this an example where the negative connotations are more prevalent in society than the positive? For every author that engages in sketch reviews practices, there are probably a thousand or more that don’t.)

Bottom Line: This is your career and your business. Don’t lie to your consumers; don’t devalue them. Be honest. Apply discipline and operate with integrity. Which sounds suspiciously like The Golden Rule.

YOUR TURN: Have you ever noticed **If you enjoyed this book, please consider leaving a review on** at the end of a book? How often have you noticed The Ask? How did you feel when you saw it?


Melissa Landers said...

Ah, The Ask. I'm with you in one aspect: I think it's a great idea, and I've never felt put off it. But when the time came to submit the acknowledgements and author bio for my debut, I decided against slipping in an Ask of my own. Why? Because 90% of the reader friends I polled told me they didn't like it. They said buying and reading the book should be enough--they didn't appreciate being Asked for anything more.

Personally, I don't agree. But hey. I'm a little different. (As you well know.) :)

Melissa Landers said...

D'oh. "put off it" = put off BY it.

CareyCorp said...

Great perspective Melissa.

You have something supporting your book that indie authors don't, your publisher's sales and marketing departments. However, how much support they actually offer may vary. :)

To me there's a difference between asking hypothetically what people think about The Ask and how they felt when the they noticed The Ask at the end of a book. (If they've ever noticed...)

At the end of a book, the reader should have some kind of emotion about the journey they've shared with the author. Putting The Ask at the end is meant to tap into that emotion.

I'd be curious to know if you gather more data, like how often the reader noticed the ask? How it made them feel in the moment? What action they took, if any? And whether it ever soured them on an author?

Do you have more you can share?

Melissa Landers said...

When I broached the topic of The Ask, the readers I polled said that in addition to feeling squicky about seeing the request, they wouldn't be any more likely to rate a book because the author asked them to. Either they're going to review it or they're not. (Depending on how big an impact the book made on them.) They said there's nothing the author can do to sway them.

I think the key to getting reviews is to write a compelling book, simplistic as that may sound. When I finish a "meh, it was just okay" story, I simply put it aside. But when I finish something that makes me say "wow," I'm more likely to review it.

Anonymous said...

Great advice! I think I need to put a disclaimer on my Goodreads account. Just realizing that people may think I'm an "easy" reviewer b/c I only rate books a 4 or 5 . . . it just means I don't post anything about a book I don't like. After thinking about it, I thought it best to adhere to one of Mom's first piece of advice: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all!

CareyCorp said...

Thanks Jamie - I need to do that, too.