Monday, February 17, 2014

Which Came First? (a review review post)

There is that age-old question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" It's the great playground debate. Or, at least, it used to be. No, seriously, when I was in elementary school, we would argue over this on the playground all the time, sometimes switching sides several times in the same "conversation" about it. Okay, so it wasn't all the time, but it was often enough that I remember doing it. And it wasn't everyone; it was just a select few of us. I suppose the few of us that understood that there was a question even worth asking. As kids, we felt like this was the unanswerable question, because how can you have one without the other, right? But the question does have an answer or, rather, two of them, depending upon which stance you take:

  1. The religious: The Chicken came first.
  2. The scientific: The egg came first.
We authors have a similar kind of question: Which comes first, the sales or the reviews? Conventional wisdom says that reviews come first. Which, you know, is a difficult concept, because how can you have reviews without sales? Which is why there is such a push for early reviews generated by giving away copies of the book, etc. Those already existing reviews at the book's release are supposed to signal to the reader that the book is good. Of course, then, there are those readers that disbelieve those reviews as being fake whether they are or not, and I can't say they don't have reason to believe that.

Of course, the problem with this idea is that most people say that reviews don't actually determine whether they will buy a book. The number one reason that someone will buy a book is because someone s/he knows has recommended it to him/her. Other top reasons include general word-of-mouth (you hear people talking about the book a lot) and author loyalty. It's possible that reviews can fall under "general word-of-mouth," I suppose, but there has to be a reason the person is there looking at the book to begin with.

Which brings us back to the question of whether reviews drive any sales. Most data seems to suggest that reviews follow sales, not the other way around, which, honestly, is rather disheartening for those of us who have neither sales nor reviews. It leaves with the option of needing to "trick" people into buying our books to get everything started. Tricking or badgering in the same way that Sam-I-Am gets people to eat green eggs and ham or becoming the used car salesman. Yeah, I'm just not good at those things.

But, still, people insist that reviews are important; that's what conventional wisdom says, and, as much as I am usually against conventional wisdom, I do believe that reviews are important. I just hate asking for them, because that's as bad as trying to convince people to buy the book in the first place. Worse in some cases. And giving people copies of the books hasn't generated any reviews to speak of, either, so don't even suggest it. Seriously. After giving away dozens of copies of various things specifically for review purposes, I think I've gotten back, like, two. So the return is definitely not worth the investment from that standpoint.


Yeah, you should have known I'd have a "but," because I always have a "but." And stop your giggling, we're not twelve here, you know.

You have to keep trying new things, so here is the new thing I am trying. Hopefully, it will generate some sales and some reviews. I'll take either or both. As I just announced, "Shadow Spinner: Collection 4: The Undying" is now available, and it's sitting there with zero reviews, which is not to say that my other stuff is
overflowing with reviews, because that's not so, either. Basically, everything could use more reviews. So here is how all of this works:
You review one of my books on Amazon (it would also be great if you posted it to goodreads, but that's not as important). You let me know you've reviewed that book so that I can go and see the review. Once I've seen the review I will buy for you a book of equivalent value. Specifically, I will buy you an indie book of equivalent value (indie meaning self-published or small press); you just let me know which one you want, and I will gift it to you on the Kindle. Yes, it has to be for the Kindle. Also, yes, you can review one of more than my books and add it all together. For instance:

Let's say that you review "Collection 1: Tiberius" and "Collection 2: The Man with No Eyes," both with a sticker price of $1.99, that would give you enough to have me gift to you, say, The House on the Corner, which costs $3.99. Not that you have to choose something by me. That was just an example. You could choose for the same dollar amount
Demetri and the Banana Flavored Rocketship
two of my personal favorites from indie authors.
Temporary Anne (which contains a backup story by me)
"My Killbot Buddy"
"The Evil That Men Do" (which would go great with Shadow Spinner)
"Empirical Evidence: A Novelette" (which I haven't actually read, yet, but it's on my list)
And, see, I know a lot of you downloaded the free bits of Spinner as I released them, so you could just read those and review the collections based on the individual chapters, and that's like FREE! books!

Now, this isn't an unlimited offer. I'll let it run through the end of February. Or until my money runs out. I don't have an unlimited writing budget, so it's really a first come kind of thing for an unspecified amount of money which ought to buy more than a few books for people that leave reviews. I don't, though, want to cut anyone off that decides to read something of mine but doesn't finish it by the end of February, so, if that kind of thing happens, just email me and let me know you're working on it, and I'll hold that offer for you.

Here's to trying new things. It's useful information whether it works or not, right?


  1. I think I already own most of those books.
    Reviews probably drive sales a little, because the more reviews, good or bad, means the more people who have purchased the book. It becomes like lemmings.
    And obviously that's why publishers send out so many review copies before a book's release. To generate interest.

  2. Alex: Those are just examples, not options.

  3. Fine, I'll quit giggling like a 12 year old.

    I'm scared to death of reviews. I think this is a really unique way to get them, Andrew. Very creative.

    I'm with you on loving Demetri. It was also one of my favorites.

  4. Hey, I just reposted a slightly-revised version of my reviews from the serialized version, and added a bit to it, so that might help. I had FIRSTIES!

    No need for a free book -- I've got them all already, and you should use your funds to get someone besides me to do a review. I owe you for all the reviews and comments, anyway.

    I'll be interested to see if this works. I'm working on an article for our magazine about how to get book sales. Not based on my OWN experience, of course, since as of right now I have sold...


    Books in all of 2014. WHEEE! My publicity efforts are clearly paying off.

  5. If that works I might have to make a similar offer. I could use some reviews that aren't written by morons who give it 1 star because they like a completely different genre.

  6. I'm not sure if it's a hundred percent valid any longer, but I am aware that Amazon, at one time, did put some emphasis on the number of reviews a book had when it put all those mystery variables into their recommendation engines. But they have been pretty committed to changing things if they feel like folks are gaming the system. So they may not do it that way any more.

    I'm on the egg side of that debate, btw.

    And finally, I haven't reviewed part 4 yet, either. I'll pop on over there and get that done in the next day or so. I should do it now, but I'm trying to work too, so I have to take a few minutes, do this, then get back to work for a bit, then come back... that sort of thing.

  7. Elsie: Well, we'll see. Evidently, my approach has not made all people happy.

    Briane: Hey, I'm not doing any better this year. Except my royalties are higher, so there's that.

    Pat: I'm sure I'll mention if it works at all. Just don't hold your breath.

    Rusty: I do know that reviews with the "verified" tag carry more weight in their algorithms. Maybe those are the only ones that have any weight? I don't know.

  8. Why do you say that, Andrew? It seems fine to me.

  9. I have been telling myself I'll drop you a review for a long time now. I will do my best to buck up and review. But now that there is a prize involved I feel all guilty. I'm weird.

  10. I don't need money to write reviews for friends, but I'll certainly take it ;-)

    I try, emphasis on try, to write a review when a friend writes a book. I feel like it's the thing friends do for each other, because they're friends.

    I do like what Rusty said about algorithms and changing criteria and all that, because I know that they mess around with that stuff all the time. Does THAT math interest you, Andrew ;-) ? (couldn't resist)

    That being said, what I don't have any of at this time, is TIME. I have 105 books, unread, on my Kindle. About 10 of those are by what I'd consider my closest writing friends. They are 1/2 read. I tried reading in order of purchase, I tried reading by genre. I tried reading one of each genre at once (less confusion that way...wait? There are sexy cops in this one, too? I must be in the wrong book, you know, that kind of confusion).

    So yeah, I'll take you up on your offer. Even though doing so violates the rule I made for myself which is no more book buying until I'd read what I'd bought...sigh. I can't even discipline myself these days...

    Tina @ Life is Good
    A to Z Team @ Blogging From A to Z April Challenge 2014
    @TinaLifeisGood, #atozchallenge

  11. ...nor remember to subscribe...

  12. I thought science determined that the chicken actually came first.

    Anyway, I guess it makes sense that reviews follow sales. It seems like people wouldn't look at one until AFTER they were thinking about buying the book. But a review could push them into definitely buying it. Good luck with your little experiment. I hope it works.

  13. Elsie: Email me.

    Sheena: Hey, take advantage of it!

    Tina: Yeah, I've been holding back on the book purchases, too, so I know how that is. I'm not even going to go look at how many I have lined up on my Kindle, right now.

    Jeanne: Well, the thing that births the chicken is, in fact, not a chicken. The mutation that makes the chicken happens in the egg. You know, according to science.

  14. Very cool idea and I hope it pays off. I'm planning on buying/reviewing Part 4 by week's end, and no book payment is necessary. I'm just happy to do it.

    Regarding the chicken v egg thing, you know what fascinates me? Those trashy romance ebooks that can have zero reviews but still be consistently ranked at around #8-9,000 in books. How are these things selling without a single review, and who's buying them?

  15. Got over 500 books on my Kindle and I too am saying no more until I have read these, but guess what, I see a good deal and click, it's on my Kindle. Not much use at reviews but will do so when I read Shadow Spinner, don't need an incentive thanks.

  16. ABftS: That's a really good question. It's like chickens springing into existence spontaneously.

    Jo: Any review is better than no review, so it's useful from that standpoint.

  17. Interesting experiment.

    I think reviews can have some influence on book sales, but the key is to get people to go look for the reviews or to find them somehow. A review in a publication drives sales more than one on Amazon I would think. The Amazon review is probably more of a tipping point for someone who's already considering buying something.

    I've read Evil Men Do but have been hesitant about reviewing it. Do you want my review for that one? It was not my favorite thing to read, but I wouldn't give it 1 or 2 stars either because it was very well written.

    I think I still have another couple things by you downloaded to read, but honestly I have so many things I've promised people I'd read that I don't know when I'll finish it all.

    I will be interested in hearing about your marketing test results.

    Wrote By Rote
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  18. I'm one of those people that read reviews before I buy something, so it would be Review = Sales for me. Thoughtful topic Andrew.

  19. Lee: I always want the review. And I'd be interested to see your thoughts.

    Maurice: Well, going back to what Lee said, I think then the question is why were you there looking at the reviews to begin with? Because someone recommended it to you?