Part 2 of a 3 Part Series – Part 1: How to Turn One Book Into a Full-Time Living | Part 3: Reflections on Bogus Blurbs, Unreal Reviews, and Manufactured Bestsellers
Got an email recently from an old fraternity brother that read, in part:
I have a small favor to ask, A good friend of mine has written a book, and Amazon is running a contest to determine the winner in its category. It would really help him out if you’d write a good review on Amazon (here’s the link: ____). The more good reviews he gets, the better his chances of winning. I know he’d really appreciate it.
The author’s original note followed, expressing his no-doubt sincere appreciation: “Thank you SO much for doing this!” So earnest. So grateful. So ethically-challenged.
Winning’s what it’s all about, right? Here was someone asking us to help a friend by writing a gushing review of his book – minus the inconvenience of actually having to read said book. After all, we’re all busy people, y’know…
Particularly troubling was that neither felt any qualms about sending a note to a huge list of folks asking them to do something dishonest. There was this presumption of understanding: being dishonest is so commonplace, it’s not even considered dishonesty anymore.
This is similar, incidentally, to the requests I get to “blurb” someone’s upcoming book, and all they send is the table of contents and introduction (more and more the prevailing M.O.). One person actually sent me only the table of contents from a previous edition, looking for a blurb for the updated version, and was mystified at my refusal. Everyone does it, y’see. Not this everyone.
Sure, few people will read a review copy cover to cover. But shouldn’t we start from the assumption that they will, and work towards the middle, as opposed to the other way around? The unspoken nudge-nudge, wink-wink message, of course, is “Fellow Author, wouldn’t you like to get your name, book title, and Web site in print in my book?” Just a friendly quid pro quo. To paraphrase Tina Turner, “What’s truth got to do with it?”
Speaking of which, how about the ridiculous campaigns to “Become an Amazon #1 Best Seller!” You know the drill. By offering up free ebooks, bonus reports and multiple copies of the book (all via mass emails with frantic urgings to forward to as many lists as possible), authors try to get as many people as possible to buy their books on one specific day. Given Amazon’s cryptic rankings system, a brief spurt (even one not yielding huge sales in real terms) can launch a book into the Top 10 or even to #1 for, literally, a few minutes. Voila! “#1 Amazon Best Seller!” bragging rights.
I say what these authors are really trying to do is buy their way to a better book. After all, if a book becomes a #1 (or even a top 10) Amazon bestseller, it must mean it’s a good book, right? Of course, it doesn’t work that way, any more than giving a kid an A for C or D schoolwork will transform that work from mediocre to excellent.
Here’s an analogy: Say there’s this competition in your town for “#1 Restaurant in the City!” honors. And say it’s based on traffic – actual diners – over a certain period of time. One restaurant with mediocre food goes all out, offering free appetizers, free drinks, half-price entrees and free desserts. The unsurprising result? Based on the thundering hordes it attracts, it earns the #1 designation.
Now. Would anyone who knew how they’d accomplished this feat give much credence to that #1 designation? Not a chance. And you can bet the restaurant wouldn’t go out of its way to explain either. The whole power of the accolade is in people not knowing how it came about. (Ditto for the Amazon bestsellers.) People unaware of the dubious strategy who heard about the win, would logically — though erroneously – conclude that it related to the quality of the food.
Which brings me to the crux of all these examples – public perception. In my perhaps hopelessly old-fashioned perspective, it all comes down to our responsibility to the reader of that book review, blurb or “#1 Best Seller!” designation.
As a reader, when I see a glowing review or blurb (and know nothing about how it was earned), I’ll assume – call me crazy – it’s because, well, it’s a really good book. Not because of some tortured short-term process of intense lobbying and outright bribery to create the illusion of bestseller status.
Best Advice: Write a GOOD Book
Sadly, we’re now living in The Age of Expediency. How you get somewhere is far less important than simply getting there. Tricks, gimmicks, and cutting corners are all acceptable strategies.
Yet, there’s one comfort: mediocre books, regardless of the games their authors play, never have long lifespans. They’ll never benefit from the invaluable word-of-mouth publicity that accrues to truly solid titles, never earn heartfelt kudos from those whose words really matter, never hope to garner serious industry recognition.
So, do yourself a favor: if you’re looking for long-term success, start with a really good book. You’ll dramatically simplify your marketing tasks while eliminating the need to prop up a title that can’t stand on its own. And you’ll sleep better at night.
Want to get published, and make a living from it? Check out a free report “How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living” at www.wellfedsp.com, home of author Peter Bowerman’s 2007 award-winner, The Well-Fed Self-Publisher (and powerful companion marketing kit, The Well-Fed SP Biz-in-a-Box). Bowerman is the self-published author of the award-winning Well-Fed Writer titles(www.wellfedwriter.com). Over 52,000 copies of his first two books have earned him a full-time living for over seven years.
Photo used with permission