The question I asked myself recently was whether I felt like the nine months of promotional work I did for By the Feet of Men – which mainly consisted of contacting book bloggers – was worth it. The answer: yes and no.
The novel has managed to carve out its own niche, no matter how tiny, in the massive dystopian fiction genre. The response has been mostly positive from reviewers. I gained a few good pull quotes to use on the Amazon editorial section. A couple of reviews even gained a little traction on Twitter (100 retweets, 100 likes, etc.).
Out of the 30 book bloggers who received a paperback copy of the novel, only 4 (13%) actually read the book and posted a review before or in the month after the publication date. I actually received a higher response rate from bloggers to whom I sent an electronic copy. That’s a poor return on an investment. I do, of course, understand that to send somebody a book is not a contract under which they are obliged to provide a review. As stated, these people are extremely busy and their bedside tables are probably overflowing with books. It’s a gamble, and by and large it didn’t pay off on this occasion. Next time I may receive a higher return – or I might restrict myself to sending out electronic copies only.
The only part of the book-blogger promotional process that bothered me is this: I followed up with a few of the reviewers who had seemed most keen on being sent a paperback copy and who promised to read it in advance of (or by) the release date. My email was a thing of curiosity more than anything – I asked only if they had indeed received their copy and if they were still planning on reading it, so that I could gauge whether any more reviews might be coming in post release. Of the 10 emails I sent to follow up on the paperbacks, I received three responses: one stating they had forgotten about it, one assuring me it was still on the pile, and one saying that they had never received the book. The other seven never responded. I was ghosted by my book bloggers.
There’s no judgement here from me. After all, there are no certainties in business. And book blogging is a business. But there are a few lessons to be learned from this experience, especially for authors who are just setting out on the promotion trail:
1. Perhaps most obviously, giving somebody a paperback does not guarantee a review. Your novel may be forgotten or end up on the bottom of the pile, or the recipient may experience a change in their personal life that puts a stop to their blogging career. In other words, it’s a good idea to think twice about whether to spend the money on posting physical copies or channelling the funds into another way to promote the book.
2. Even if a blogger sends you the most enthusiastic response in the world stating that they are dying to read your novel, you may never hear from them again. It’s important not to take it personally. Tastes and opinions change, and what seemed appealing back in March may be unpalatable in September. Sure, it would be polite for a person to say if they no longer wanted to read your work, but how many times have you decided to ignore an email rather than get into a potentially uncomfortable back and forth with someone?
3. This is something I’m working on: don’t obsess over reviews. Contact bloggers, magazines and relevant people by all means, but restrict checking in on the various review platforms to once a week. If you do it too often, those numbers will take over your life. And you’ll forget why you wrote your book in the first place.