Review Copies, Ebooks, and Pirating: Book Marketing without B.S. #5
Book Marketing without B.S. is a weekly publicity and marketing advice column for writers and other creators who prefer a realistic, clear, and no-nonsense approach. My goal is to help you cut through the bullshit with direct, understandable advice you won’t be embarrassed to follow. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want reviews? Of course you do! This means that you have to send review copies, and this can get expensive with numerous physical books to send. Many of you are paying for these directly or are with a small publisher whose budgets are as tight as your own. A few of you lucky devils will be with large publishers who furnish all review copies, whether physical or through NetGalley. In fact, this post may not be as useful for you if you’re on a major publisher. Check back next week!
Anyhow. I digress.
For the rest of you, this means you’re thinking about ebook review copies. For some writers this is a stressful idea, bringing on fears of piracy and the death of sales. First this post will look at how to prioritize physical vs. electronic review copies, and then I’ll discuss piracy fears and why you probably shouldn’t worry too much about it.
How should I prioritize who gets physical review copies and who gets ebook review copies? Generally it’s good to prioritize this with a simple cost/benefit analysis. If a site or publication is higher-traffic or is heavily influential, seriously consider a phsyical copy–if that’s their preference. Some actually will prefer an ebook. If it is a lower-traffic or a less influential site/publication, then it is most cost effective to see if they will accept an ebook version to review. This applies to comics as well as prose books. The final choice is between you, the reviewer, and your publisher; these ideas are simply decision-making tools.
You can determine priority by checking site traffic using a tool such as alexa.com to compare statistics among the places you want to review your book. A lower number is better (i.e. a higher rank), and if you can get sites better than a 500,000 rank, it’s a great start. I can’t suggest that you only decide with site statistics, however. You should be aware that some sites might have lower traffic ranking, but are influential. A good example of this is Weird Fiction Review. It’s a site with strong influence among many authors and readers in genre circles, but its Alexa ranking is so-so at over 1.8 million. Still, it would be a plum spot if you wrote the type of things that they like. Try your best to strike the balance between web traffic stats and less measurable aspects of influence. And, as always, take the time to read submission policies, reviews, and articles so that you get a good feel for what the site is looking for. It always benefits you to ensure that it’s a good fit for your work before you approach them.
One other note: if you send a physical review copy unsolicited, make sure it comes directly from you or your publisher, and includes a one-sheet. If you’ve corresponded with the person on the other end and they’re expecting it, it becomes solicited and this is when you can consider having it shipped right from the source (without the one-sheet) if you’re doing print-on-demand.
What about ebooks and piracy? First, let me be completely, unequivocally clear: I want creators to be paid for their work. If you don’t get paid, I don’t get paid. So read this with the understanding that I am firmly on the side of your intellectual property rights.
OK, all that out of the way, I want to say that piracy is not likely to be a big deal for a majority (though not all) writers and comic creators. Let me explain: chances are if you’re looking for marketing advice you are in need of audience growth. Audience growth will result from reaching more readers. Reaching more readers happens with word-of-mouth and well-placed advertisements. Ads are really expensive, so the majority of your marketing, especially early on, will be reviews by professional reviewers, and reviews by readers who share their thoughts on Amazon, Goodreads, and other similar sites.
Reviewers to whom you send an electronic review copy are nearly all good, ethical people who will not share the ebook with anyone. The few who may leak it can’t be helped. If the book gets out and gets read by people who then discuss it with others, some of those people will end up with a pirated version; but, some of them are going to buy your book. If you somehow are lucky enough to go viral on torrent sites, you’re going to get more sales and more fame even with people illegally downloading your work. This will ultimately translate into more money for you down the road. And really, the chances of your book going viral are quite slim anyway, so your lost revenue is negligible, if anything at all.
One of the best ways to get more readers for your work is to keep writing. The more you write, the more you tend to sell. So focus as much of your energy on writing and creating as you can, and over time it is most likely that you will get better sales.
One other thought about piracy is that it’s difficult to measure the impact. Are the people pirating your ebook the kinds of people who would have bought your book in the first place? It’s impossible to say, really. I suspect that in many cases they wouldn’t have bought it anyway. I know, I know. I don’t have evidence, but going on the principles of word-of-mouth marketing and the effectiveness of samples as a sales tool, I think it’s rational to conclude that over time a few pirated copies will ultimately benefit you.
So send review copies, ebook and paper, as you need. Don’t worry about it. Don’t fuss over DRM. (Unless, of course, you’re with a larger publisher and don’t have a choice. In that case you can use NetGalley, or send plenty of paper review copies that aren’t out of your own pocket. Lucky devils indeed.)
Keep those questions coming, and sign up to get my posts sent directly to your email by clicking here. Thanks for all the support!
Tonight don’t forget to join #GenreLitChat with John Mantooth, Nathan Ballingrud, and Heidi Ruby Miller. Tomorrow is Calls for Submission #2.