It's important to see fans as partners in the book's journey. It's important to cultivate a positive, compassionate mindset toward fans.
I discuss this right up front because, as an author traverses the online forums and social networks, it's very likely that the author will find other authors who do NOT have this mindset. It's key not to get infected with anti-fan fury. It's important to either build up a resiliance to that attitude or to know when to choose to leave an environment which fosters that.
After a long day of marketing a book, author John Smith logs on to his favorite author internet group and rants at length about how stupid / idiotic / braindead his fans are. After all, the fans aren't deluging the author's book with 5-star reviews. Heck, some idiot even posted a one-star review!
No harm in venting. Right?
Study after study demonstrates that how a person perceives an issue flavors every aspect of how they handle it. By actively stoking and trumpeting negative emotions, an author is building patterns in their mind. Patterns which infect every aspect of what they do.
It's similar to this: If a husband spent all day long at work ranting about how stupid and idiotic his wife is, cutting her down to co-workers at every turn, it's unlikely that husband can go home and be fully supportive of that wife. That ingrained mindset of ridiculing the wife will continue to come out, eating away at the relationship like acid.
A fan relationship is the same thing - with the addition that an author absolutely depends on the good will of fans for their long term success. Where a wife might hang in there because she feels she has few other options, fans have millions of other options out there and will gladly jump ship (and tell all their friends!) the moment they sense disrespect.
It's extremely important for an author to take this seriously. An author should always respect fans - even in their own private conversations. Even in their personal thoughts. Because that foundation level of understanding will then bolster every other action taken which interacts with fans.
Ranting about Fans' Intelligence / Technical Skills
I've seen this behavior time after time in specific writing groups which I no longer interact with (for this very reason). Certain authors spew all sorts of vitriolic venom about how stupid and idiotic their fans are. Those authors then wonder why their books aren't in the top tiers of sales.
Let's break down this issue into its logical components.
First, fans come in a range of shapes, sizes, and intellects. That's normal and natural. By the very definition of a bell curve, half of all humans are below average. To berate them for that makes zero sense. If they are having challenges navigating sites, well, the solution is to help them figure it out.
If a fan has a challenge using aspects of an online bookstore sales site, then it's the author's responsibility to make that easier if at all possible. Berating the fan for getting stuck is both unprofessional and nonsensical. The fan WANTS to buy the book. The system is hard to understand. The author should make sure every aspect of the process is as easy as possible.
For example, if the author is linking to Amazon.com's homepage and making the fan find the book on their own, that's an author failure. The author should always link directly to a sales page. That way the fan is taken right where they need to go.
Similarly, if the author would like a review, the author shouldn't link to Amazon.com or even to the book's homepage. Instead, the author should link directly to the review page for that book. Every book has a matching review page. If the author links directly to it, the fan now just types in the review and is all set. Readers often lead busy lives juggling sick children and demanding elderly parents. If the author wants a review, they need to make it one-click easy.
The end of book one of a series should link directly to the sales page for book two of that series in that specific system. Don't make a fan have to hunt for what comes next. Provide them with a simple, easy to use link. In some cases I've seen authors demand that their readers jump through hoops to find a next book to read. The result is the readers don't navigate the obstacle course and book sales suffer. The author blames the readers! Again, it's the author's job to make this easy.
To summarize this section, online sales sites can be confusing, especially for first time users. Authors often forget that, since they use the system all the time. Be patient with new users and help them. Provide instructions in your mailings. Always link to the exact thing you want them to go to. The sales page. The review page. The page for book two. Support them with a smile. After all, they want to support you!
Ranting about One-Star Reviews
This is another personal pet peeve of mine in author forums - an author complaining because a person gave them a one-star review.
Readers come in all shapes and sizes. Some love horror stories. Other hate gore. Some adore sex in their stores. Others want a clean read. That is ok! That is natural!
The book sales site actively prods and emails readers asking them "What did you think of Book X?" It's normal and natural for the reader to respond to that query, if only to make the queries stop. Authors should always be grateful for all feedback from all groups of people. Sure, some people won't like a particular story. That's a beautiful indication of how nicely varied our human population is. It should never be a cause for being upset. In many cases the feedback can be greatly instructive to an author about changes they need to make to their cover or title to make more clear just what their book offers.
Certain authors rant because a few readers downloaded their book and didn't like it. How is that the reader's fault? The reader thought they were getting something they'd be interested in. They spent the time and energy downloading and reading that content. And it turns out they were misled or mistaken - they invested that time on content that wasn't of interest to them.
That's not the reader's fault. That's the author's fault for not having their cover, title, and subtitle describe their book accurately. The author needs to make crystal clear that the title and cover accurately convey the tone and nature of the book. Some authors whine, "But I describe my plot in my blurb." That's not good enough. Amazon heavily pushes readers to buy ON THE BROWSE SCREEN where the reader never even sees the blurb. An author can never rely on a reader seeing the blurb. If that cover and title aren't perfectly conveying the tone and meaning of the book, they need to be updated. That is their job. It isn't the reader's job to be a mindreader.
I explore this topic quite heavily in my book on designing book covers. Sometimes even the smallest of tweaks to a book cover can speak volumes to potential readers. One of my sweet (no sex) medieval romances had a cover with a slightly dipped neckline on the heroine. I got complaints from readers that there was no sex in the book. I then changed the cover so the model had a higher neckline and a cross on her chest. Suddenly those complaints went away. I was making more clear in that cover that the book would be chaste. It meant I did a far better job of drawing in my target audience.
Similarly, one of my mystery novels had a dark, brooding cover. People complained that the book was too gentle - too much nature, not enough violence. I changed the cover to be a kayaker on a lake, looking into foliage. Voila, those complaints went away. The new cover did a far better job of conveying the type of story I was presenting.
Yes, there will always be a handful of reviews which come from left field. Someone who gets confused and says your book had too much sex when actually there was no sex in it. Someone who is infurated that your heroine was blonde when they hate blondes. Who knows, maybe their husband just left them for a blonde. You have to smile and accept the world has its quirks. If you have a healthy volume of reviews on your book, those few quirky ones will fall into the shadows and, if anything, will demonstrate that your review pile is an organic one from real readers vs a curated selection of 5-stars from family and friends.
So, to summarize, always take every review as an opportunity to learn. Good reviews indicate you're drawing in your target audience. Iffy reviews indicate you have some work to do in that area, to further hone the cover and subtitle. And there will always be a scattering which simply say our world is full of a myriad of people and some get confused sometimes.
Ranting about 'Didn't Read Yet' Reviews
It's important to understand how Amazon (and most other book sales systems) work. A reader gets their book. The system knows they got the book. The system now hounds the reader to ask them what they thought of the book. The system gets all sorts of benefits from having more reviews loaded live. So the repeated emails begin, asking the reader, "What do you think of X? Is it good? Is it not good? Tell me!!!!"
After a few of these, some readers are going to respond with "I haven't read it yet." They're just trying to get those annoying messages to stop.
It makes NO sense for authors to get upset about this. The reader is responding to a question. The reader is doing the best they can. If anything, blame Amazon (or the other systems) for hounding readers into giving reviews when they're not ready yet or really aren't that interested in writing something.
If an author consistently gets "did not read yet" reviews, the author should figure out why people are downloading the book and not reading. Is the book presentation not compelling enough? Is the cover so bland that the book easily gets lost in the To Be Read pile? Still, for a percentage of books which are just not going to be read or finished in a timely fashion, it's then Amazon's fault for repeatedly emailing readers to ask them for the status of unreviewed books. Blaming the readers for responding to those nagging emails is nonsensical.
Again, this is a case where a book with ample real reviews won't even notice the few 'placeholder' reviews that people post. If your book has such few reviews that these 'didn't read' reviews stand out, it's definitely time to ramp up your review seeking process.
Why It Matters
You might be asking yourself, self, why does it matter? Who cares if I rant for an hour to my husband over dinner about the stupid, idiotic fans and what they have done to screw me over again today? I'll just get up tomorrow morning and write.
Here's why it DOES matter.
Numerous studies show that the thoughts one dwells on carve, in essence, ruts in their brain. They shape one's thinking. And the more a person thinks a certain way, the more habitual it gets. The more those thought patterns show up in EVERYTHING one does and thinks. From answering email to posting on Facebook to writing blurbs and more.
ALL OF THOSE ACTIONS BECOME INFECTED WITH DISLIKE AND ANTIPATHY.
This isn't just about writing books. It's about everything. It's about boyfriends and husbands, wives and girlfriends. It's about sisters and brothers. The rants we indulge in form our personalities.
If an author doesn't think readers can easily see those attitudes in writing and correspondence, think again. Authors who are snide and nasty in their personal discussions shine that emotion out in all sorts of ways. Readers shy away from that. The author's sales are hampered by this - and then the authors whine and blame the fans for not supporting their books. All along it's the author's own actions and verbiage which are just exacerbating the situation, day after day.
NIP IT IN THE BUD.
Dismissive disdain is one of the most insidious harms to relationships that exists. It destroys careers. It's a habit which needs to be broken.
Cultivate gratitude for the fans who appreciate your work. Work daily to draw in new fans. Help ensure your cover, title, and, yes, blurb, shine to reach the absolute perfect readers. The key is daily effort, step by step, and building up those authentic review counts, fan counts, and overall reputation as a writer. These are things that build slowly over time. They form the bedrock of stability for your long term soaring success.
There's an extremely treacherous issue which envelops certain writers. They assume their world view, with its flaws, is universal. And they spout off a sharp-edged stereotype to the very audience being skewered.
I've seen writers gleefully rant against gays TO GAY PEOPLE. I've seen authors state they don't know any lesbians when a lesbian was sitting at the table. One author scoffed about people who had abortions when two women who suffered through traumatic abortions were sitting right there. You think these people don't hear those words? They don't comment to all their friends? Sure, nobody has TOLD those authors they're gay or had an abortion. Perhaps there's a reason why?
Authors have made dismissive remarks about blacks on welfare in forums where their respected fellow authors had once been blacks on welfare. The authors had made snide comments about "I don't include characters who are X in my books because it wouldn't be authentic" when there are three people who are X in their circle of friends, which was the group the author was in essence writing about. These types of comments don't just alienate the author from their local group. They distance the author from readers who see, very clearly, this gigantic hole in the story.
I live near Boston. If someone writes about Boston and the story only includes white, heterosexual, middle-class, middle-aged conservatives, it screams out "wrong" to me. If the author then claims, "I don't want to be pressured to write about other groups - I want to write about my own world" - that's not a statement of author integrity. It's an indication that the author is so radically biased that they don't even realize how bizarrely fantasy-land Stepford-wives their world view is. It's not even that the novel feels "odd" to most other readers. It feels wholly unnatural. And the more the author defends their world view as realistic, the more it creates a vast gulf between the author and much of their target audience.
Absolutely write the story you want to write. I am always a strong proponent of that. But if your story involves a city with no gays, no blacks, no other minorities, and no poor people, make sure it's a fantasy world. Because otherwise simple logic indicates that this location cannot exist.
In general, any time an author starts down the path of denigrating a group of people, they should stop and ask themselves why. "There but for the grace of God go I." With just a tiny cosmic hiccup we could all have been born into vastly different circumstances. Into completely different families which taught us from an early age completely different ways of viewing the world. Our genetic makeup could be the exact opposite of what we are now. We can't know what immense burdens others are shouldering. If anything we should be supportive of others and encouraging for them to make progress on their own life's path. Our time on this Earth is blink-of-an-eye short as it is. Every moment we have is precious. To invest that valuable time in denigrating others just doesn't seem the best way to use it.
I gave a lot of serious thought as to where I should place this essay within my material on marketing. Maybe it was too serious an essay to start the section with. Maybe it belonged deeper in the material.
In the end I strongly believe that this mindset becomes the foundation of every single thing an author does which relates to marketing and promotion. This world view addresses that base-line relationship an author has with their fans. The relationship should always be founded on trust. On respect. On compassion and understanding. The more an author approaches this project with the sense that the fans are part of a partnership, and that working with fans is one of the most important things an author can spend their attention on, the more that the entire project succeeds and shines.
Find compassion in every interaction you participate in.
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