The MetaReview of Amazon’s Reviewers

So, following the advice of one of my friends, I decided to pursue the possibility of promoting my book with a little help from some of the prominent reviewers on Amazon; specifically, I started with their list of the Top 100 Reviewers. After going through the top reviewers list, I did find a few people who might be interested in my writing, and I did introduce myself to them. As of yet, none have returned my solicitations, but given that they’re probably inundated with requests, I’m not surprised. More importantly, though, I have rediscovered that a beaten track is not where I should tread. It’s a lesson learned yet again.

Of course, first and foremost, I have to commend Amazon on a great strategy and execution when it comes to their reviews and the community built around it. In fact, you could say that the Amazon reviews community has become a separate organism from the main site itself. Brilliantly, Amazon understands how to advertise itself by embracing its colorful community of reviewers, and it even acknowledges their more amusing characters. Their Vine program is another component in that strategy, in which their more popular and prolific reviewers are given a special status. This role comes with a cornucopia of perks, of which a couple are being given free product samples from companies and being prominent mentioned among Amazon’s pages. In effect, Amazon has taken the online bromide of user reviews and (with a flick of wrist) turned it into a meritocracy which serves its self-promotion engine. It’s an excellent implementation of a smart design.

Unfortunately, though, this is not a place for self-published authors, especially ones which do not follow fads or mainstream perennials. As I went through the list of their reviewers’ profiles, I noticed a few patterns which do not bode well for the brave souls who seek assistance from these modern-day patricians:

1.) Some of them do not have a listed email address. I’m assuming that the Vine program and their own pursuits are enough for them.

2.) Some of them have their own particular focus of interest. For example, some of them only review music; many only care about gadgets and electronics. Only a scant few of them only focus on books.

3.) Many of the reviewers who have actually reviewed a book only care about specific content. The family-oriented only care about children’s literature. The older, retired demographic typically only cares about biographies, history, and mysteries. The middle-aged, single crowd prefers science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal romance.

In the end, there are only a few reviewers of whom I might possibly consider ‘literate’, in the sense that they have a actual palate which appreciates a wide variety of flavors when it comes to prose. So, if you’re looking to promote a book which doesn’t satisfy a craving for something akin to a midnight snack, the reviewers of the Vine program are probably not a good crowd to turn to.

My immediate thought was that perhaps Barnes & Noble might be a better place instead, since it actually specializes in books. Alas, after taking a quick walk over the grounds of its site, it seems that route isn’t particularly encouraging, either. Even though it does have reviews, it does not anything equivalent to the ambitious Vine program. Unlike Amazon and its Vine program, there is no page which effectively serves as a pantheon of champions to which an author can turn. Plus, there are no visible email addresses on the reviewers’ pages; you can only contact them through their B&N account. So, I was disappointed, to say the least. However, after following a few clicks, I have observed that some of these reviewers are serious about opining on slews of books, which makes me think that they might actually be more literate and have weight among other literate friends. Plus, this path has very few visible footprints. It’s enticing enough to keep following it…we’ll see where this one goes as I disappear into the brush…

So, What Sidedish Goes Well with a Modicum of Crow?

Well, it appears that I have might have spoken a tad too soon. Truthfully, I’m still not that far off from my original theory, but I’ll adjust it since further evidence compels me. So, after a whole month of advertising, my book Blowing the Bridge (yes, I fully embrace self-promotion and don’t know the meaning of the word ‘shame’) has been advertised on Goodreads for over a month, and it has been viewed over 200,000 times…but it’s only been clicked a few dozen times. So, my fiancée hasn’t been proven wrong: Goodreads is not a site for an audience that wants to read contemporary satire. (Instead, it’s more of a site aimed at escapist literature, especially for middle-aged women.) However, my optimism towards Google Adwords was a tad misplaced. Despite having a higher percentage rate for clicks, my Google Adwords campaign only has 35,000 viewings after several weeks, and despite having hundred of clicks, there’s no indication that any sales can be attributed to it. At least with Goodreads, there have been a few people who have either read it or have marked it as ‘to-read’ for future consumption. So, at the very least, my declaration of Google Adwords as the clear winner…well…that might have been wrong. And that’s the most which you’re going to get from me! So put that in your pipe and smoke it!

In any case, one of my friends provided a suggestion that might be of some assistance. There’s an avid community of reviewers on prominent eBook sites (like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.), and their opinions carry a good deal of weight within the site’s community. In fact, some of them have blogs with a significant following. So, if you approach the right reviewers (i.e., ones who might actually appreciate your book), you could get a recommendation which broadcasts to an entire community of possible fans. It’s an idea worth checking out.

On a side note, that same friend from before had another suggestion. Being also of the “old-school” ways, he knew that I would eventually want a physical copy of my own book. He recommended CreateSpace, which is a subsidiary of Amazon. (At this point, what online company isn’t a subsidiary of Amazon?) Interestingly, since this company is a tentacle of the Cthulhu beast known as Amazon, I don’t know why this option wasn’t already integrated into the KDP publishing process…Nevertheless, it’s an interesting site. The site isn’t entirely straightforward, and there are some confusing parts to their submission process…but in the end, you supposedly get an affordable way to print your own book in bulk. I went ahead and ordered 5 proof copies, in order to check out the material. So far so good. However, I’ve learned already to be more cautious about making any pronouncements with only scant evidence. I still have the taste of crow in my mouth.

It’s Not Me, It’s You

During one typical morning on the way to work, I approached my usual guy in the coffee cart, in the plan of obtaining my daily order.  Since it’s usually the same on every morning, there’s a nearly silent transaction which occurs between the two of us, as I stare curiously into the dangling blue nazar while he fills my cup of coffee.  On this day, it started like any other morning…but in the midst of pouring my cup of coffee, he suddenly stopped and looked up at me.  I raised a surprised eyebrow back at him, awaiting some joke or amusing comment.  “She’s dead,” he said.  “My wife.  She died in a car accident last night.  She’s gone.” My eyes widened in surprise and shock.  Even though I didn’t know her all that well, I had been at the cart on many occasions when his wife had been there, assisting her husband.  She wasn’t a stranger; she was a familiar face that indicated kindness.  Looking into his, I could see the desperation behind his eyes. I felt immediate sorrow for his loss.

I had no idea how to respond. What can anyone say in the face of utter despair which doesn’t sound contrived and banal? What can you even do to help comfort someone who is obviously trying to reach out, even to someone who is a customer but mostly still a stranger? I muttered something about being so sorry, and since I knew a scant few facts about his children in college, I told him that they could take comfort in each other. I walked away in a mental disarray, and when I sat down at my desk, I continued to reevaluate my reaction. To this day, I still can’t come to any conclusion as to the choice of my words. However, I’m not critical of myself since I didn’t bring myself to such a situation; he put me in it.

Recently, I found myself in a similar situation at work. If you’ve ever worked in software (or in any field which has requires a certain amount of technical expertise), you’re aware of the necessity to keep abreast of the latest methods and techniques, if you have any hope of staying competitive. Some people like myself are acutely aware of that condition, and especially in my case, I’m at an age where you’re paranoid of that fact. Others, though, either are not aware of that fact or simply don’t believe that it will affect them. These older workers, these Drifters retain and utilize the skills that got them hired in the first place ages ago…but they never improve themselves in terms of their chosen career. Their time becomes consumed by outside interests (community, family, etc.), and as the decades slip past, they become the personified versions of fax machines and dial-up modems.

Your body and the world at large are more forgiving of mistakes and ignorance when you are young, but when you’ve cruised around the point of middle-age, the winds spare no mercy on your sails. One of my colleagues is such a Drifter, and recently, he stumped our department. After the past few poor reviews regarding his performance, he probably has surmised his own situation, and sensing his lack of relevance, he jumped at an opportunity which was beyond his comprehension and skill. My colleagues, my superiors, and I faced a similar conundrum as I had stared into the visage of that grieving widower. What do you say to someone in that spot, when they’re decades behind the curve? What can you truthfully tell them which wouldn’t crush their spirit? Consequently, nobody said anything, and they allowed him to pursue the project, knowing that it would probably fail in his hands. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m unsure about my own lack of a response…but, in the end, I don’t feel guilty about it. I didn’t bring myself to the situation; he put me in it.

Google Adwords vs. GoodReads Adwords: A Case Study

So, of course, the worst part about writing a book has come to pass: promotion. One could accuse me of being conceited, but I hate the prospect of the need to convince anyone of my abilities as a raconteur. In those situations where I must ask for someone’s fleeting attention, I feel like a pauper who has a bowl empty of porridge, begging someone to please give me some more. However, it seems that my reputation has not kept pace with my abilities. So, due to this unfortunate situation, I needed to be proactive and find out how to get the word out about my book Blowing the Bridge. It seemed like going online was the next best step.

I love the idea of experimentation, especially with the idea of comparing a mainline campaign versus a specialized campaign. Of course, I thought GoodReads would be the winner (since GoodReads is a site about books), but I wanted to prove that as the case. So, I started by throwing down $50 on both Google Adwords (starting a few days ago) and GoodReads’ version of the same (starting a few weeks ago). I used the same keywords for both searches, and I used the same bidding price for clicks. When it comes to the ease of use, GoodReads does present a fairly easy interface to promote one’s book. It’s limited in options, but you can get the job done within a few minutes. Google Adwords, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. As an analogy, imagine that GoodReads is Microsoft Photoshop and that Google Adwords is AutoCAD…in Esperanto. The Google Adwords console represents an abstract framework, with various online controls that leverage the power to advertise and the ability to cause an oncoming headache. Google detected my fluctuating EEG and presented me with a link to Aleve, which I naturally clicked without hesitation. I, for one, welcome our heartless online overlords.

After a few weeks of advertising on GoodReads, my ad received 34407 viewings, but I got only 4 clicks. That leads to a click-through rate of 0.02%. That’s fairly dismal, if you ask me. On the other hand, with Google Adwords, I received 28531 viewings after only 4 days, and of that number, there were 80 clicks. That’s a click-through rate of 0.28%, nearly 14 times the amount compared to Goodreads. Curious as to how to interpret these results, I asked for the viewpoint of my fiancée, who is both an avid reader and a student of marketing.

For one, she said that there’s more of an error rate for clicks when people are using Google, enough to significantly reduce the confidence level of its click-through rate (i.e., CTR). So, let’s be safe and assume that half of the clicks were mistakes, leaving the CTR at 0.14%. Still, that’s much better than the results with GoodReads. She also made another interesting observation as one who is very familiar with the GoodReads community. Unbeknownst to me, she told me how GoodReads is more of a haven for erotic literature than anything else. (Translation: it’s a chick site.) Of course, as she explained, there were several other genres whose fans nested there, but that’s the big one. Basically, since most of the site is occupied by several hardcore (pun-intended) demographics, the chances of reaching my audience (i.e., fans of contemporary satire) were greatly reduced.

So, what did I learn? If you’re looking to create a quick-and-dirty advertising campaign for a book and can handle a slight learning curve in order to ramp up, go with Google Adwords. However, if you’re looking to truly find your audience, you’ll need to do some detective work in order to find the right venue. The Web has created a nook and cranny for every different palate, and if you’ve created something a little different, you will have to start looking under rocks to find your initial audience. So, essentially, I’ve learned that I have some more work to do. Plus, I’ve also found the place where I can go to get my literary fix of incest and dino-human porn. Many thanks, GoodReads.