Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How to Handle Negative Press

If you watch politics, you know there is an art to spin. Good spin MUST have truth to it, it doesn't have to be the whole truth, but a good chunk must be true for it to resonate with the audience. The goal with EVERY piece of bad press (and to some extent, a bad review) it to highlight the positive of the review.

Let's start with my story, and some of you already heard about this when it happened last month through Facebook. I STILL find it funny, and instructive, so I'm sharing it. Ready?

I am an Alice. Anytime I see a clever link, blog post title, or share, I click. I run Linux, so I have very little fear of a virus or malicious spyware installing on my computer (nothing installs on my computer without my express say-so and password). It doesn't take me too long to have seven or eight tabs open in my browser. I know. It's a problem.

So one night on Facebook in February, I'm looking at the stream, and "Why I Stopped Reading..." popped up. Ooooh, I thought. This might be good information from a reader's perspective, or maybe it's a scathing review of a book.... I freely admit that I enjoy reading negative reviews to gawk at the train wreck, but I don't take every word to be the gospel truth about a book. Especially one-star reviews from reviewers with NO OTHER reviews. That to me makes me suspect it's another author's jealous sock puppet. But I digress.... back to "Why I Stopped Reading..."

So I clicked and was taken here.

It is a post about why a reader couldn't finish a book. I was excited! I always wanted to hear this kind of analysis. After all, it's vital to know what makes a reader put a book down.

I'm reading the beginning:
It was a free download, so I didn’t feel as obligated to finish as I might have if I’d paid for it. It wasn’t by someone I know, or anyone I network with, so that also cut down on the potential guilt factor. And I gave it a chance: it was approximately 75,000 words, and I read over 25% before I gave up on it, deleted it from my smartphone, and moved on.
And this small voice in the back of my head says "We just went free.......we specifically state our book is 75,000 words IN the description....this might be our book"

Then came a few more details....
...straight contemporary romance...It did have a consummated love scene... it was glossed over pretty friends to lovers romance
Now that voice is screaming.."THAT'S OUR BOOK SHE'S TALKING ABOUT!!!!!!" Alarm bells are going off, and my stomach drops. Ugh. But then I get to this point.
In the book’s defense, it was well-written from a technical standpoint, it had an interesting premise, and characters that could have been people I’d have enjoyed spending a few hours with, had their emotions been better drawn. The book wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t have kept reading   
Okay. My book interested a reader who usually likes paranormal romance, and she didn't care for my book. But she didn't say I suck. She didn't say the book was unreadable. She had a personal response to the characters that wasn't positive.

And she wrote about it. Yeah!!!! She wrote about it!!!!! I'm going to be egotistical here and say a book has to be pretty good, but not interesting to a reader, for them to write such an analysis. Think about it. WE only do that when there's a product out there that we really wanted to like, either because of what it is or what everyone is saying about it, and it didn't meet our expectations. Then we share that, because we feel something about the product. And that happened to me! :)

So I knew it was my book. And I also weighed her criticism about the lack of emotional connection. It made me smile. First, I know that in the rough draft, there was TONS of introspection, and they fell victim to the red pen. Why? Because of my husband. If I ever ask him what's he's thinking about, the answer is "Nothing." I chose to model Johnathan off of him and the type of male gender role I identify in my husband. He's an alpha male, with a softer side, one who deals strictly with facts and emotions are secondary in his decision making process. My book was never a statement about all men, far from it, just a particular type of man I'm intimately familiar with.

I contacted the blog owner. I know. DANGEROUS. But the more I'm in this industry to more I'm realizing that by just being my normal self, things usually go okay. I let her know I recognized my book,and I took responsibility for her not finishing the book.... here was my initial contact:

 Pretty sure that's my book. If it is, it won't hurt my feelings in the least for you to indentify the book. In fact, you aren't the first reader to point out they wished there was more emotion behind my characters. We only grow as we get feedback, and while 5-stars are great, ALL feedback is valuable. 

Not to defend the work as some of the lack of emotion was a conscience decision, obviously I failed to communicate aspects of my story world to keep you drawn in. I take full responsibility that you couldn't finish, that's on me. But I thank you for giving the novel a chance.
Our exchange continued very pleasantly, and ultimately, I wrote a comment on the blog post AFTER discussing it with her first. Remember, that's her website space, and it would very presumptuous for me to just barge in and start taking over. It could be awkward, I don't want to make people afraid to talk about my book in a constructive way.

Why Did I Identify My Book?

Why didn't I just keep my mouth shut? Because the PROS outweighed the CONS. What do I really lose by being completely classy and owning up to my weaknesses as an author? Nothing, really. I do not want readers to pay money for my book expecting it to be something it is not. It hurts their pocketbook, gives them hard feelings towards me as the author who hoodwinked them, and probably brings more negative reviews to the book. I want every reader who is expecting a typical romance story line to know CANCELLED does not fit the formula.

I didn't want other authors to wonder if it was their book. I doubt that many would, but still, sometimes not knowing is worse than just knowing. And finally, in accepting that my book is not going to satisfy every reader's tastes, I'm getting an opportunity to further talk about the reader I had in mind when I wrote the book. By simply defining that I intentionally took out emotional introspection, I'm defining my book for a reader that is sick of books with an overabundance. There is no such thing as a perfect novel. Our job is to make happy the readers we can. :)

So if you find yourself staring at a 1-star review, or find yourself coincidentally reading  a blog that is reviewing your book in a less that gushing manner, don't panic. Accept that the person writing the review has a 100% entitlement to his or her opinion, and is probably right in the conclusions met based on the individual's previous reading history, tastes, and personal experiences. Accept the feedback as valuable.

Try to find a redeeming aspect to keep yourself from stewing on the negative. Sometimes it's just that at least you got a response out of the reader. For me, this blog was the first time I had found someone writing about my book and it wasn't a scheduled or requested review! WHOA! :) Other times, the reviewer or blogger is classy too, like Jennette Marie Powell, who after explaining why she couldn't finish my book, added positive qualities about the book that she did like. You don't always get a balanced review. In fact, most I've read are either over-the-top gushing, or completely negative. Balanced reviews from strangers are priceless.

Finally, always respect another writer's, reader's, blogger's, or reviewer's web space. Ask for any clarification or deal with any concerns in back door communication (private messaging, email) not in the comments section. If your emotional response is retaliatory, you need cooling off time. You'll know it's retaliatory, not professional, when you want to write in the comments so that the world can see your righteousness or injustice. This isn't the way to handle negative press or reviews. And even if you are technically right, you're wrong because it's not your site and you're not going to turn the website's audience against the owner. They will rise en masse and clobber you. You are the guest, don't be an unwelcome one.

Good luck to all, we soldier on in the good times and the bad. Remember, there's no such thing as bad press!

A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby. CANCELLED is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble 

WIP: STONE. Can Melanie Stone let her mother back into her life and kick out the creep trying to worm his way in? 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Barnes and Noble CUT Affiliate Monies on Ebooks and Other Electronic Media

My Nook is sad.

First, a quick word on affiliate traffic....for those who don't know. Most online retailers offer a small commission on the purchases made to a website owner willing to advertise their products. Amazon has such a program, called Amazon Affiliates with very cool widgets and API tools. Like most areas of comparison between Barnes and Noble and Amazon, Barnes and Noble's program is a half-hearted shell of the robust Amazon offering.

Barnes and Noble's affiliate program is through LinkShare. It's not even in-house. Then, only select affiliates were allowed to "deep link" that is link to specific products to recommend to their readers. And finally, the death knell has sounded for Nook, as the Terms and Conditions were just updated to include this:

All products sold on receive 6% commission with the exception of customized gift cards, eBooks, digital magazines, digital newspapers, and any other ePeriodical.

That's right, affiliate percentages are only 4-6% on average, a few programs offer the sweet deal of 10%. To be clear, affiliates ONLY receive this commission on the purchases made by the traffic THEY drive to the site. This is tracked using cookies and tokens in the URL.

Affiliates ALREADY lost out on significant ebook affiliate monies because there's only a 30-60 minute window for a purchase to be made for it to count towards the affiliate. So, if I visited say, KotC, saw an ebook that struck my fancy, downloaded a sample, read it, and then purchased the book, they don't get affiliate monies for that. I'd have to go back to KotC, click the link again, and then make my purchase for it count for them. And on a $.99 ebook, that's a $0.4-$.06 commission for them for taking the time to highlight the book for me....


There was already a gross disproportion of Kindle book review and recommendation sites than Nook Book sites. Partly because it took so long for Barnes and Noble to even HAVE an affiliate network, and Amazon's been running an in-house affiliate program for years. With no return on advertising a Nook ebook, there is really no monetary incentive for a review site or book recommendation site to advertise Nook ebooks. Sorry, Barnes and Noble, advertising is NOT free!!!!!

It takes HOURS to go through author submissions, verify information, and make daily listings of books. I don't know of a single ebook reviewer or site owner about to retire on the riviera from that 4-6% kick back for advertising products. There ARE big time sites with tons of traffic that make a decent living doing what they do best, advertise to the masses, but the reality is the more traffic you have, the more staff you need and server costs you incur.

I am VERY disappointed in Barnes and Noble's continual stifling attitude towards digital reading. They already do not link paperback and Nook book versions on many books, burying ebook listings of titles below insidious products like Noise-Cancelling Headphones!

When my ebook of Cancelled was available on Nook, the keyword Cancelled brought up the Amazon distributed paper book first. Yes, the AMAZON distributed Createspace paperback was result #1. What was next? Three sets of noise-cancelling headphones. Finally, below the fold, they listed the Nook book published through their own digital publishing arm, PubIt!.

To now cut affiliate marketing on Nook books either screams to me they are lacking funds to pay for the results-rewarded advertising campaign, or they are indeed preparing to spin Nook off into a separate company... Either way, it's a really dumb way to give Amazon yet ANOTHER advantage.

This isn't about killing the indies etc. as it applies to ALL Nook books, including traditionally published ones. This is about Barnes and Noble repeatedly sending the message that they will not encourage the sale of their digital products to help readers who prefer reading on a Nook rather than a paperback. And THAT is poor customer service.

A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby. CANCELLED is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble 

WIP: STONE. Can Melanie Stone let her mother back into her life and kick out the creep trying to worm his way in? March 2012.