Is BookBub worth it? (And other surprises in my author journey)

Here are my reflections on what marketing tactics have and have not worked for me.

The publishing industry is changing so quickly that business plans become obsolete almost as soon as they’re written.

My conclusion? Community is everything. Authors have to help one another. And the “sure things” aren’t, necessarily.


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The Good Bad Review

Before I was a mystery author, I was a college professor, so I’m no stranger to reviews. We professors have end-of-semester student evaluations, as well as public websites that invite students to rate their professors on such criteria as easiness, helpfulness, and –Heaven help us—hotness.  Some reviews are more helpful than others. The negative ones can be among the most useful because they tell you something about fit. (A quick perusal of my own online reviews shows that among those students who have yet to master the spelling of “professor,”  few enjoyed my upper-division writing-intensive class.)

And just as no one class is right for every student, no book is a good fit for every reader.

On this point, it’s instructive to read the reviews for Sarah Caudwell, one of my favorite authors. Her books are very English, very mannered, and very funny. But Hemingwayesque, she is not.

Consider this opening passage from Caudwell’s first novel, Thus Was Adonis Murdered.

Scholarship asks, thank God, no recompense but Truth. It is not for the sake of material reward that she (Scholarship) pursues her (Truth) through the undergrowth of Ignorance, shining on Obscurity the bright torch of Reason and clearing aside the tangled thorns of Error with the keen secateurs of Intellect. Nor is it for the sake of public glory and the applause of the multitude: the scholar is indifferent to vulgar acclaim. Nor is it even in the hope that those few intimate friends who have observed at first hand the labour of the chase will mark with a word or two of discerning congratulation its eventual achievement. Which is very fortunate, because they don’t.

Here she sets up the persona of  Hilary Tamar, the pompous and not-so-self-aware Oxford don.  This paragraph isn’t a quick read, but in my opinion it’s a rewarding one.  It is definitely, however, not everyone’s cup of tea.

Favorable Goodreads reviews describe Caudwell’s first novel  as “very funny,” “an incredible plunge into British wit (second to none),”  “witty,” and “probably the most charming murder mystery that I’ve ever read.”

Now, let’s hear from the haters:

“If emotional involvement in a story is important to you, avoid this book at all costs…[a]smug, self-consciously witty, piece of tripe.”

If I’m looking for something mannered, witty, and not emotionally taxing, this one-star review wouldn’t necessarily put me off.  This is a review that does a service to potential readers, giving us a clear, if negative, perspective​. The next one is an even better bad review.

“Style-wise, I’d give it 5 stars–Ms. Caudwell is/was a terrific writer; very funny in a very British sort of way. But you have to accept the plot-style, which involves way more talk than action. The mystery is essentially sussed out via roundtable discussions and letters from the “suspect” (Julia) that, while incredibly enjoyable, aren’t a bit credible as letters. No one could relate verbatim dialogue in a letter as Julia is purported to do.”

This was voted most helpful negative review on the book’s Amazon page, for good reason. It tells the reader what the reviewer liked and disliked, and why. I am fully prepared to suspend  disbelief  for the sake of entertaining dialogue; others may not be.

Now, I have to give this next one-star review…one star.

“Couldn’t read more than a few chapters.”

This doesn’t help the reader at all.  Why couldn’t the reviewer read more than a few chapters? Was there too much gore? Explicit sex? Typos and formatting errors? Did the reviewer recently emerge from a bank vault to find that she was the last person on earth, and drop her only pair of reading glasses? Why couldn’t you read more than a few chapters, reviewer, why?

“Couldn’t read more than a few chapters” is a bad bad review.

I think there are two important lessons here:

  • you can’t (and shouldn’t) cater to everyone, and
  • a review says as much about the reviewer as about the thing being reviewed—and that’s a good thing. I don’t want to read the most popular book; I want to read a book that readers like me enjoy.

So when I say I appreciate honest reviews, I really mean it. But I should say that I mean helpful honest reviews.  If you have to leave a bad review, make sure it’s a good bad review.

And of course plain old good reviews are always appreciated.

 


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This One Weird Trick will put you on the Bestseller List: My Adventures as a New Author

The world of publishing is changing so fast that this presentation will probably be obsolete in another week or so.

 


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Will my book title be a bestseller?

I just found out about Lulu’s title scorer.

The Lulu Titlescorer has been developed exclusively for Lulu by statisticians who studied the titles of 50 years’ worth of top bestsellers and identified which title attributes separated the bestsellers from the rest.

We commissioned a research team to analyse the title of every novel to have topped the hardback fiction section of the New York Times Bestseller List during the half-century from 1955 to 2004 and then compare them with the titles of a control group of less successful novels by the same authors.

The team, lead by British statistician Dr. Atai Winkler, then used the data gathered from a total of some 700 titles to create this “Lulu Titlescorer” a program able to predict the chances that any given title would produce a New York Times No. 1 bestseller.

The fruit of this work is presented here, in the form of the Lulu Titlescorer: a program that you can use to gauge the chances that your own title will deliver you a New York Times No. 1 bestseller.

You can plug in your own book titles here.
This is what I got:

The title The Musubi Murder has a 35.9% chance of being a bestselling title!

The title Molly Barda and the Cursed Canoe has a 14.6% chance of being a bestselling title, but  The Cursed Canoe has a 41.4% chance of being a bestselling title!

The title Molly Barda and the Black Thumb has a 34.8% chance of being a bestselling title, but The Black Thumb has a 69.0% chance of being a bestselling title!

Apparently I should leave Molly Barda out of the title.

The title The Invasive Species has a 41.4% chance of being a bestselling title!

The title The Blessed Event has a 41.4% chance of being a bestselling title!

I listed The Black Thumb as a figurative title, and the others as literal. “Figurative” titles score higher, all else being equal.

So what title will catapult my books to the top of the bestseller lists?

The title Fifty Shades of Grey has a 34.8% chance of being a bestselling title! Nope. Can’t use that.

The title Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has a 14.6% chance of being a bestselling title! Oh dear. Box office poison.

The title Miserable Misery has a 69.0% chance of being a bestselling title! We have a winner.


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Bad book reviews = great sales?

Maybe the one-star review, that bane of every author’s ego, isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Stanford Daily reports that the only thing worse than bad publicity is no publicity.

By measuring the size of sale spikes in the week following the release of each book review, the study showed two main points: positive publicity benefited all titles and the bad publicity only helped lesser-known and obscure authors.

Just one more reason to stop fretting about reviews, and sit down and write another, better, book.

The original study is here.


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Library Journal: “Certain to appeal to readers who love well-drawn settings or academic cozies”

Library Journal

Reviewed on JULY 1, 2015  |  Mystery

Molly Barda is a faculty member at Mahina State University, teaching at the College of Commerce in Hawaii. All she wants to do is lay low and work until she is granted tenure. Fast-food guru Jimmy Tanaka makes a donation to the college but fails to show up for the ceremony. Nobody can find him. Old secrets, long-standing grudges, and murder are on the menu. This humorous debut makes entertaining use of the local patois. Anyone who has ever labored on a college campus will recognize the place and its resident academic egos. VERDICT Certain to appeal to readers who love well-drawn settings or academic cozies such as Sarah Shaber’s “Simon Shaw” series or Clea Simon’s “Dulcie Schwartz” books.


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Publishers Weekly reviews THE MUSUBI MURDER by Frankie Bow

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“ . . . winning first mystery. . . Bow, who teaches at a public university, uses wry humor to alleviate the horror of her heroine’s situation and is familiar enough with island culture to know the popularity of Musubi rice balls with a heart of Spam.”

Read the full review at Publishers Weekly.

Order today and get a pre-order discount


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How Lobster Got Fancy – one of the most remarkable rebrandings in product history

“Lobster shells about a house are looked upon as signs of poverty and degradation,” wrote John J. Rowan in 1876. Lobster was an unfamiliar, vaguely disgusting bottom feeding ocean dweller that sort of did (and does) resemble an insect, its distant relative. The very word comes from the Old English loppe, which means spider. People did eat lobster, certainly, but not happily and not, usually, openly. Through the 1940s, for instance, American customers could buy lobster meat in cans (like spam or tuna), and it was a fairly low-priced can at that. In the 19th century, when consumers could buy Boston baked beans for 53 cents a pound, canned lobster sold for just 11 cents a pound. People fed lobster to their cats.

How Lobster Got Fancy – Pacific Standard.


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The Complete Opposite of Tuna on Toast | Job-hunting outside academe

How channeling George Costanza saved one woman’s career:

Acting like George Costanza — specifically, doing the opposite of everything I’d been counseled for the past decade — is what made me solvent once again. And if you, dear reader, are contemplating an exit from academe (as the boulder of this year’s hiring cycle rolls ever so briefly back to the bottom of the hill) a turn as George might be just what you need.

The following  may not sound particularly Costanza-like, but it does contain some excellent advice for job seekers, especially freelance writers:

If, however, you want to put your Ph.D. to use in all sorts of other interesting jobs — editing, translation, freelance research, consulting, grant writing, museum work, teaching at a private secondary school — waiting is for chumps. Instead, be chipper but assertive and seek out people who have the sort of jobs you want, and send them short but admiring emails. Get as friendly as possible with all of those people. Do them favors. Prove yourself to be a solid, go-to specimen of a human. Then, months later, when you need a favor from them — a reference; an introduction — they will usually be happy to give it.

The Complete Opposite of Tuna on Toast | Vitae.

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THE MUSUBI MURDER by Frankie Bow | Kirkus Reviews

“A smart and welcome addition to the teaching-college-is-murder genre.”

via THE MUSUBI MURDER by Frankie Bow | Kirkus.

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