My book isn’t for everyone.
If we want to talk hard lessons, that’s probably the first thing I learned as a new novelist. The Aeschylus is a long book. It has dozens of characters, 2 timelines, and subplots that jump 80 years. It combines elements of an old school political thriller with sci-fi horror, and let’s face it, it’s pretty violent.
If all that sounds weird and unappealing to you, you’re not alone. That’s perfectly okay. Somewhere along the line, The Aeschylus found an audience, and 7 months after its release, it’s still selling and reviewing quite well. If you’re a published writer and you’re not an overnight miracle like Ernest Cline or Gillian Flynn, you’ve probably gone through a similar experience. Your book is good, so your fans are out there. How do you find them? How do you get more reviews? How do you get good reviews?
There’s no easy answer, because if your book is available for general sale, anyone can buy it, and anyone can leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. There are some options, though. In particular, I wanted to share my experiences with NetGalley, how NetGalley reviews helped promote The Aeschylus, and how ultimately these reviews drove it to the next sales tier.
If you’ve never heard of NetGalley, check them out here. From their own description, they’re a site that helps “media, librarians, booksellers, educators, reviewers, and bloggers… to discover, read, and share reviews about new books before they are published.” Essentially, they’re site which caters to professional book reviewers. Site members request a free copy of your book, and sometimes, they decide to leave a review on a professional website, and/or Amazon, and/or Goodreads. Sound good? It can be, but there are 2 catches. First, it costs about $400 to get a book listed, $600 for a listing with a promotional package. Second, reviewers can and do leave bad reviews just like anywhere else.
When I first started out, I heard a lot of mixed opinions about them. By and large, the consensus was this: you’ll get your highest review scores on Amazon, your middle tier reviews on Goodreads, and your lowest reviews on NetGalley. Naturally, my first reaction was, “That can’t be true, else why bother?”
I had a theory on why some authors had a negative experience, so suffice it to say I ignored the naysayers and decided to list The Aeschylusanyway. Now time for a little honesty. How is it really doing?
As of this writing, The Aeschylus is surprisingly even across all review sites. That wasn’t always the case. For the first few months, my Amazon score dropped to a low 3.8, my Goodreads hovered at 3.9, and my NetGalley score was up around a 4.2, the exact opposite of what I’d been told. How did that happen?
Let’s start with Amazon. Amazon customers represent an extremely broad range of readers. You’ll find Manhattan book critics on Amazon. You’ll also find giggly teenage girls, your best friend’s dad, and the guy down the street who reads at an 8th grade level. Are all those types right for your book? Probably not, and sometimes, it’s a random toss-up as to whether you get a fan or a troll. There are things you can do to help narrow the pool, such as having a very clear blurb and allowing a book preview, but I’ll save those for another post. Generally speaking, Amazon doesn’t only have casual readers, but casual readers are only on Amazon. Thus, you’re going to get a lot of casual readers and a lot of casual reviews. If your writing style is more John Steinbeck than E.L. James, that’s something to keep in mind.
During the 1st month of its release, I did a 3-day free event for The Aeschylus to help get it in the hands of new readers. It was a big success, and for a brief time, it actually rose to the #1 free most downloaded book in the political thriller category, which I was really, really happy about.
As expected, I got a slew of new reviews. Unfortunately, most of my negative reviews came during this period and directly after my next free event the following month. Who leaves a bad review for a free book, anyway? As it turns out, people do. My particular reviewers were confused by the time transitions or got more horror than they expected. I made a few adjustments to my synopsis, but what really helped was getting the book in front of a more specific crowd.
When I first entered the book on NetGalley, I had no idea how it would turn out. Actually, I expected an even tougher lot. But then something wonderful happened. The reviews started coming, and they were all fours and fives. I had found my audience.
Now, I’m not saying that NetGalley is somehow easier or full of soft-hearted souls. Far from it. There are plenty of writers who have had bad experiences, and I absolutely believe the ones who said listing their book was a mistake. The thing is—and this is something I’ve had to accept--The Aeschylus is not a casual book. It’s long, it’s detailed, it’s full of crazy, evil people and crazy, obscure allusions: to Lovecraft, to Eco, yes, even to the Greek playwright, Aeschylus. In other words, it’s written for readers like me. Readers who like horror but don’t necessarily need romance or fantasy elements. Readers who don’t mind getting a little blood on their hands. Surprisingly, there seem to be plenty of those folks on NetGalley, and altogether, maybe 15 or 20 of them ended up transferring their reviews to Amazon and Goodreads. Those reviews helped rope in more readers, and more importantly, I think they helped rope in the right kind of readers.
This post isn’t really meant to be a specific plug, though. It’s more about revisiting advice I got when I first started: know your audience. It sounds like a no-brainer, but if you’re going to invest your valuable time and money promoting your book, you might as well do it with the right people. Will your book turn off casual readers? Turn on hardcore history buffs? Will it do better with adults or teenagers? All these kinds of questions should help you determine where to spend your efforts, and whether or not you want to use a service like NetGalley to get it in front of more critics.