UPDATE: GENUINE REVIEWS ARE BEGINNING TO REAPPEAR SO AMAZON HAS BEEN LISTENING :-)
There's been some panic recently with authors and reviewers noticing reviews disappearing on Amazon. I actually shared a post to my Savvy Authors' Snug group on Facebook about disappearing Amazon reviews many weeks before this all kicked off as it's actually happened before.
Many believe it’s part of Amazon’s crack-down on dodgy paid-for reviews, not just for books but all products sold via the website.
Admirable reason. Problem is, many people are discovering genuine and sometimes even verified reviews are going missing. Whatever Amazon has recently developed to seek out dodgy reviews is proving to be a tad over-zealous.
I think it comes down to one of Amazon's review policies:
'In order to preserve the integrity of Community content, content and activities consisting of advertising, promotion, or solicitation (whether direct or indirect) is not allowed, including:
Creating, modifying, or posting content regarding your (or your relative's, close friend's, business associate's, or employer's) products or services.'
And by 'close friend' that can include anyone who they think received a free copy of your book (bloggers, journalists and advance readers) or simply someone who follows you on Twitter or is a Facebook friend. Not good when many authors connect with bloggers and readers via our social media channels.
So for now, until we know concrete reasons why, here are two steps you can take:
1) Be careful about the kind of links you share. Long links give Amazon information which can set off their algorithms. So for The Lost Sister, when I search for it on Amazon the link is mega long:
Don’t use a link like this. Instead, shorten it by simply going to your book page and finding the 'share' link on the right. This will create a nice neat link for you. Or you can delete everything after the first long number. So for The Lost Sister, it’s https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Sister-Tracy-Buchanan-ebook/dp/B0796WD7S5 As always, check the link works before posting.
2. Tell you publisher. They probably know about it anyway. But your publisher will have more clout with Amazon then you and can put in a query.
I hope this helps! Things might change over the coming days so watch this space.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK in the week I'm writing this (WB 14 May). Mental health plays a huge role in our lives as writers. After all, we explore our characters’ mental frames of mind and often, we can help restore the mental health of our readers by giving them something to escape into (something I’m exploring with my #BookBalm campaign).
But it’s also so relevant because many authors battle mental health issues. I recently shared a personal battle I had in this blog post.
It can seem like an enviable life doing what we do as traditionally-published authors. But it can be such an isolating and scary experience too. We fear talking about the insecurities and worries that plague us. There’s this sense you always need to be enthusiastic and excited and SUCCESSFUL as a writer.
But the truth is, we’re terrified we might not get another contract. We fear people will hate the novel we hold so dear to our hearts. What if we get writer’s block? What if we run out of ideas? What if our agent and / or editor hates our next idea? If book sales are disappointing, what does that mean for our career? If we're lucky enough to be full-time authors, how long will that last?
Sometimes it feels like the questions just won’t stop. There are ways to help ease the mental anguish. But obviously, some mental health issues go so deep, only professionals can help. Don't be scared of visiting you doctor and seeking help. I did as you'll see in the blog post I link to above. But for now, here are some tips that might help:
1. Make ‘honest’ author connections
It’s so easy to feel like crap when you’re seeing other authors shout from the rooftops about their successes. And why the hell shouldn’t they? They deserve it! Plus it's very likely they will have had their fair share of low points too. But not many of us talk about those low points meaning we don’t often read about them, which in turn makes us feel we're alone with those low points. It's a vicious cycle!
But there are places where people share the tough stuff. If you find it difficult seeing other authors’ success, it’s time to change the frequency. Seek out places where you can hear about honest author experiences so you know you’re not alone in your insecurities and what you perceive as ‘failures’. This can come in the form of listening to podcasts like the The Worried Writer podcast by author Sarah Painter where she shares advice and interviews to help authors overcome self doubt and fear. There's the Honest Authors' Show too that is run by two traditionally published authors. It gives a refreshingly honest (hence the name!) take on the traditionally-published author experience.
And then there are communities you can join. I’ve set up the Savvy Authors’ Snug on Facebook, for example, a closed group for traditionally-published authors who need a safe place to share their fears and struggles.
2. Aim for the long-term
This relates to my post about changing your mindset, and it’s relevant here too. By seeing our writing as being part of a long-term career, we have a much better chance of lessening the mental pain when we don’t reach those short-term goals we all obsess over. Things like obsessing about pre-orders and stalking the bestseller lists in launch week, for example.
Of course, the numbers are important. But if you see them as being part of a bigger picture - a strong and steady build towards a long-term author career - then it becomes a little less painful when they don't meet expectations. Instead, focus on your day-to-day work, the foundations you’re building for a strong career and the relationship you have with your readers (more on that below). The snowball effect rather than the overnight success.
And remember, the fact you got a publishing deal in the first place, selected by an editor at a publishing house to spend money on and nurture, means you’re already miles ahead of a million other writers.
3. Watch what you eat
I don’t mean go on a diet, screw that! What I do mean though is author life involves a LOT of sitting around and much chocolate eating (please don't tell me it's just me!). And this can be fine, in moderation. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my 40 years on this planet, the relationship our minds have with our bodies is profound. If you eat better, then it will often make you feel better mentally. Here are some steps I try to take each day. Hands-up, I'm not perfect. I often slip up and stuff my gob with chocolate brownies. But I do try...
- I keep a large cup of water with me and take regular sips, refilling it when it's empty
- I have a fruit bowl nearby and try to eat at least two pieces of fruit as I work
- I try my best to prep several portions of food, meaning I'm not tempted to grab something unhealthy as I work.
- High sugar intake has been linked to poor mental health. This doesn't mean you need to cut it out totally. I personally think every author needs some sugar in their life. But just make sure it's the right kind of sugar and you have it in moderation day-by-day. I have some dark chocolate in my desk drawer for when I need a sweet fix. Dark chocolate is actually good for you in small doses, you know! Make some sugar-free cakes at the weekend and freeze them. A quick defrost in the microwave and you have a sweet treat without all that processed sugar.
- I don't beat myself up when I slip up and indulge. In fact, I allow myself indulgences when I reach a deadline or something good happens.
4. Move more
I’m not telling you to join a gym or sign up to a running club. Sure, do that if you want to. But what’s most important is to move. Writing is such a sedentary task! And exercise has a direct scientific link to lifting your mood. Here are some things I try my best to do:
- Walk the dog each morning
- I try to get up from my desk every 30 mins or so, often to make a cup of tea. I used to keep my tea-making stuff within reach so I didn’t have to move to get to it. But now I’ve moved it to the other side of the room. Okay, just a few steps but it means I'm moving!
- Walk around the garden at lunchtime
- Walk around when replying to emails or checking social media on my phone
- I like dancing so now wake half an hour earlier every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to do a dance workout. On Tuesday and Thursday, I try to do a quick 5-10 minute yoga stretch at my desk before I start work, so it doesn't feel too formal. Do a search on YouTube for free workouts and yoga sessions to suit you!
5. Focus on your readers
I don’t mean obsess about your reviews. As I’ve said so many times, I found the worst individual reviews I got were for my best-selling titles. The more you sell, the more bad reviews you’ll get. Go check out your favourite authors on GoodReads or Amazon, select their one and two star reviews… you’ll see what I mean!
No, what I mean is focusing on your connection with your fans. The readers who love your work. The ones who follow you on social media and email you. Create a ‘Happy File’ on your desktop of the loveliest emails and comments you get from readers. Damn it, print them out and plaster your walls with them!
Focus on interacting with your readers. They are so grateful when you do. And stop obsessing so much about what goes on in the publishing bubble that's filled with other authors, publishers and book bloggers. The most important bubble is the one you share with your readers and more often than not, it’s a lovely positive place to hang out in.
I hope this helps. Please share your own tips in the comments and I’ll add them to the article if you’d like me to!
The GDPR acronym is everywhere at the moment, causing authors to scratch their heads in confusion. I'm one of those authors! Or was, until I did some digging. First, some background:
What the heck does it mean? In it’s very basic form it means new laws are coming into place from 25th May meaning we need to ensure we're looking after the data, through both electronic and physical documents, that relates to an individual.
Why should I be bothered? It's very easy to dismiss this and say – “nope, I don't keep any information on anyone.” But sit and have a think. Do you have a newsletter that you send out? Do you outsource any work such as social media support, newsletter distribution and so on? Do you keep a list of people to send ARCs to? Chances are, you are storing information such as people's names, email addresses, and a postal address in one form or another. This means it's time to comply! If you don't, there's the chance of a huge fine.
*Gulp* Okay, so how do I comply?
Here are 5 steps I took to comply. Please note, I am NOT a legal expert and am just sharing the steps I took with you.
1) I got the consent of my current newsletter subscribers: As the law is so new, it's unlikely you will have got the level of consent that's required from your subscribers. So to cover all bases, I contacted all my subscribers asking them to sign up to a new newsletter and making it clear what they'd be signing up for (you don't need to do this, I was just launching a new list!). To make it easy for you, most of us use email marketing tools such as Mailchimp to send out our newsletters. These tools will more then likely have developed an opt-in landing page that is GDPR ready for you so use that. Eg, the Mailchimp steps can be found here: https://kb.mailchimp.com/accounts/management/collect-consent-with-gdpr-forms So you can send our an email via Mailchimp which covers you
2) Have a record of consent: I needed to be able to provide a record of exactly where and when a user gave their consent. If you can't, you could be in breach of the law (hence why the step above is so important). Again, if using a provider like Mailchimp, they will have a record of all this. So if you follow the step above, it's covered. If not, make sure you're keep a record somewhere secure and safe.
4) Check any online forms you have: It is made clear what purpose users are providing their data for? Existing forms may need to be re-worded or tweaked to make permissions more explicit.
5) Still confused? Check out these useful resources:
For a 12-step guide to what steps you need to take visit The Information Commissioners Office website
Run by a specialist GDPR small business lawyer, this Facebook group has a number of videos and discussion on the new regulation
If you are running as a small business and just want ready to customise templates for all the legal documents this pack has all the checklists and legal documents you need.
‘Don’t give up your day job.’
It is a well-worn mantra among agents and editors. I’ve banged on about it myself at times. After all, there is some truth in it. It would be foolish to pack your job in on the assumption you’ll get rich quick with your writing.
However, what this mantra has done is make some authors think that writing should be for the love of it only, and money shouldn't even be a consideration. But if you love writing so much, then surely you want to be spending most of your time doing it? Many of us need a day job to pay the mortgage though. This means fitting writing in at weekends and evenings. The only way to change that is by making enough money through our writing to turn writing into a job... or at least reduce our day-job hours.
Some authors are lucky. They strike that six-figure deal quickly, or their books sell hundreds of thousands without them having to think too deeply about the business or marketing side. Others can happily hold down a full-time job while meeting increasingly demanding publishing schedules.
But this is rare.
Most of us are what the industry refers to as 'mid-list authors': we're in a contract with a publisher, but we can never guarantee we'll get a new contract. So there's always that fear hovering over our heads that this dream we've worked so hard for will be snatched from our hands. It can all feel a bit precarious. Most of all, we feel we can't control things. Our writing fate is in our publishers' hands.
But I disagree. I think there are ways you can take control as an author. And it starts with changing your mindset. The fact is, to have a chance of a long-term writing career, you must adopt some CEO attitude.
I can imagine some of you cringing right now.
Treating your writing like a business can feel disheartening for some creative types. We have this view of writing as a dreamy creative experience. We don’t want to sully it with talk of business and money.
But by changing my mindset, I've been able to continue earning enough money through my writing to live in that dreamy creative world all day, every day (that's before the four-year-old comes home from school and all hell breaks loose!).
So how can you start changing your mindset? Here are some tips:
1) Don't waste time
When my latest novel The Lost Sister winged its way to my editor, I took a break. But then I was back on it, working on my author brand. You need to do the same. Don't sit around doing nothing when you’re waiting on feedback from your editor and / or agent. Take a break and recharge for sure. But do not stagnate. Instead, make plans and take responsibility for your author brand. Engage with your readers. Plan a marketing strategy for the launch of your next book. Network. Check your finances.
2) Shrug off your Grateful Sap persona when liaising with your publisher
We're constantly told how difficult it is to get a book deal. So when that deal comes along, we're so grateful to the people who’ve taken a chance on us that we become blinkered to the fact this is essentially a business relationship. Editors love words, of course they do. They're our cheerleaders and our support. They can become our friends too so it often feels like they're so much more than just a business associate. But, at the end of the day, the books they edit need to make money for the company they work for. And remember, for every book sold, your publisher is taking a much larger percentage of net sales than you.
So don’t be so humbled by them taking a chance on you that you lose sight that this is essentially a business partnership. Approach any communication with your publishers knowing you are a crucial part of the process. You are creative and business partners. Ask them probing questions. Chase them if you don't get replies to emails.
3) Stop panicking you won't have time to write by adopting this mindset
Of course you will! For all this talk of thinking of this as a business, the most important thing you need to do is WRITE. Writing comes first. The more you write, the more you learn. And the more books you have published, the bigger the potential for making money out of them and getting that long-term full-time writing gig. Sounds pretty amazing, right?
Read it: Though Joanna Penn aims much of her advice at indie authors, I found two of her books very useful for changing my mindset: Business for Authors and The Successful Author Mindset.
Listen to it: I enjoyed listening to this podcast with Joanna. Definitely worth a listen when stacking the dishwasher!
1. Start listening to indie podcasts
I was happily living in my traditionally published bubble until I stumbled upon a podcast. It was the Worried Writer podcast. That led me to finding more podcasts, like The Creative Penn. It. Blew. My. Mind! From interviews with successful indie authors to guides from the people who helped them become successful, it shone a light on techniques they were using to sell more books. Techniques, I soon realised, which traditionally published authors should be using too. Now I listen to these podcasts all the time. And so should you. It doesn’t need to take up much time. I listen to them while exercising, tidying, walking the dog, clearing the garden… just make it part of your daily routine. For a full list, visit my resources page.
2. Check your social media stats
You want to make your social media posts as engaging as possible. And yes, there's a wealth of information out there to tell you how, just a simple Google search will give you realms of articles with tips. But nothing beats checking your stats to see what works and what doesn't among YOUR audience. I use the insights from my stats to see which posts are the most engaging. By engaging, I mean posts which encourage the most comments from your readers. These are the posts which will be shown most in Facebook timelines in particular going forward. See the Resources section to find out how to get these stats.
3. Engage with other authors
Other authors are invaluable. Not only are they a fantastic support but you can also share your readers! Does this thought alarm you? I remember when I first launched the Savvy Authors' Snug on Facebook, one of my friends said: ‘but why are you sharing information with your competitors?’ But I never see other authors as competition. The kind of readers we all want to attract hoover up books and have a passion for reading. They aren’t going to NOT buy your book because they’ve brought another author's books. So network online (see my resources section for a list of useful groups to join, and of course it goes without saying, you are welcome to request to join the Savvy Authors' Snug). Twitter is also a great tool for connecting with authors. Utilise the lists facility to engage with authors in your genre. And of course, connect with authors who are represented by your agent if you have one, or are published by your publisher too.
4. Sort out your web presence
No, I’m not talking about your website - though you should have a decent one (without spending a fortune). I’m talking about making sure your author pages on sites like Amazon and BookBub are up to date. Check out the resources section for a list. Also make sure your publisher and agent have an updated profile for you on their websites.
5. Change your mindset
This is so important, maybe the most important point on this list. ‘Don’t give up your day job’ is a well-worn mantra among agents and editors. I’ve banged on about it myself at times, after all, there is some truth in it. It would be foolish to pack your job in on the assumption you’ll get rich quick with your writing. But what this mantra has done is make some authors think that writing should be for the love of it, not the money. That we should be grateful to get a publishing deal. That we should continue to sign up to that 'poor artist' stereotype. If you want a long-term writing career, then you need to change your mindset. And ta-da! I have just the article for you...
It's time to start taking charge of your writing career. It'll be hard work. But by starting with these 5 important steps, you can get there!
We're often encouraged to ignore reviews. It's all part of the whole 'fragile author' mindset I'm trying to change. And you know what? That's fine. If you really don't want to look at your reviews, then don't.
But don't let this 'hands over ears, la-la-la' approach downplay the importance of reviews. I don't mean in terms of getting amazing reviews. Truth is, the more you sell, you'll often find the worse your reviews get. So I really don't obsess about it too much.
But what IS important is the number of reviews you get. The more reviews you get, the more chance you have of getting your book promoted on sites like Amazon and Kobo, and enewsletter 'services' like BookBub.
So it's important to try your best to get as many reviews as you can. But how? Here are five quick steps to take:
1) Ask your publisher what they're doing to get reviews.
Is your book going up onto NetGalley? Are ARCs being sent to bloggers? In the letter / email your publisher sends to bloggers with the ARCs, are your publishers encouraging people to leave reviews on sites like Amazon, Kobo, GoodReads and so on? Will your publisher be getting in touch with the people who have ARCS on the day of publication to remind them to leave a review? If they answer no to any of these, ask why.
2. Include an 'Author letter' at the end of your novel
Start thinking about this before you've even got to proof stage. At the end of the manuscript you send to your editor, include a 'letter to the reader'. An informal thanks for reading the review, maybe some information about writing the novel then a polite request for them to leave a review after reading the novel. Visit the Resources section to see mine for The Lost Sister.
3. Build your own 'street team' of reviewers
I recommend sending an ARC - or even a pre-proofed copy (eeeeek!) to 5+ enthusiastic readers. For those of us who've had a few books published, you can put the request out via your enewsletter like I did for my latest novel, The Lost Sister. Or you can approach those readers who are regular posters on social media. They get a copy sent to their Kindle (or posted if you get ARCs) a few weeks before publication. In the email you send them, you ask them to share the love with family and friends if they love it... and leave a review. DON'T make this as a condition of getting the free copy, Amazon don't like that! On publication day, send them an email to jog their memory with a direct link to the area to leave reviews (easily found by going to your book on Amazon, scrolling down to 'Customer reviews' then clicking on the yellow 'Write a customer review' button).
4. Don't be shy about asking for reviews
This ties into the author mindset you need to develop, something I've blogged about. Too many authors are scared to ask for reviews from their readers, family and friends. Why? Imagine one of your favourite authors sending a tweet asking politely for a review. You wouldn't think badly of them, would you? I schedule tweets to appear once a week asking for reviews. You can see examples below as well as a few from my Instagram account, which I shared to Facebook too. Hell, if you're really too scared about asking for reviews, just RT my tweets! I also recommend that if you're trying to invite reviews for a particular novel, link directly to where someone can leave a review, like I do for The Lost Sister. To find the link, go to your novel's page, scroll down to Customer Reviews then click on the yellow 'Leave a customer review' button.
5. Be careful!
Amazon has got a lot more stringent when it comes to clamping down on reviews from family and friends (which frankly is ridiculous as many authors are 'friends' with bloggers and readers on social media but what can we do?). My advice? Be careful what link you share to your book on social media as Amazon can track long links. Always use the short URL.
So for The Lost Sister, when I search for it on Amazon and click on it, the link is https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Sister-Tracy-Buchanan-ebook/dp/B0796WD7S5/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1520281610&sr=8-2&keywords=the+lost+sister&dpID=51MGKI5CPBL&preST=_SY445_QL70_&dpSrc=srch But when I'm going to start sharing it, I'll shorten it to https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Sister-Tracy-Buchanan-ebook/dp/B0796WD7S5 (even when using it to get Amazon Affiliate or things like Bit.ly links). This is where sharing a direct link to where people can leave reviews comes in handy.
I hope this helps! Oh and if you're reading this after 20th July and you've read The Lost Sister, remember to leave a review... ;-)