Writer’s blog: stardate: 03.05.2013
It’s been a big month for my self-publishing – the biggest in terms of downloads. Rope Enough (The First Romney and Marsh File) was price-matched by Amazon to £0.00 on the 9th April. In the month of April it was downloaded just under 25,000 times. As I’ve highlighted before, there’s no money in that for me, just plenty of free publicity, which to my mind has been well worth it. Things have started to tail off a bit now – Rope Enough was in the top ten free downloads for most of the month, but has since slipped to fifteen. Of course, it’s to be expected. All good things come to an end and I am essentially still a nobody in publishing terms – a yesterday’s-news-is-today’s-chip-wrapper type of author. It’s not like I have a big fan-base to rely upon.
One very welcome upshot of these downloads has been that those who have gone on to read the book and then taken the time and trouble to comment on Amazon have generally left very encouraging comments. (One gentleman did say that he found the read tedious and would not be recommending it, but at least he didn’t torpedo me completely – he still gave the book a charitable three stars.)
All writers want their work to be well-received. I would venture to say that critical acclaim is more important to an aspiring writer than money (most of us have got jobs anyway). I’m finally getting the kind of feedback that I’ve been after – objective, critical, helpful, insightful and honest. And if I’d seriously considered the possibility of that I might have been a little more anxious. Amazon readers know what they like and they are nobody’s fools.
Something that I have noticed with some bafflement on Amazon is that authors rarely respond to readers reviews and comments – one or two do, but generally these responses are made to take issue with something in what, to my way of thinking, can only end up being a counter-productive exercise.
In another life I worked at a builders’ merchants. This was thirty years ago and still I remember a poster that we had on the office wall – No-One Ever Won An Argument With A Customer. And again, I’m reminded of another similar slogan – Customers Might Not Always Be Right, But They are Always the Customer.
As nobodies, we self-published authors must seek to take every opportunity to engage with our readers positively, politely and constructively, mustn’t we? Doesn’t that just make good sense? If someone is going to take the time and trouble to read our books, more often than not pay for the privilege, and then go on to leave constructive feedback, is it not at least good manners as well as good customer relations to acknowledge what a reader has done for us? I could be wrong, but I get the idea – don’t ask me where from – that authors, even the self-published variety, have this idea that because we are providing free or cheap books for people to read, it is the readers who should be grateful to us. That’s not the way I see it.
I understand that some ‘real’ authors don’t indulge in responding to reviews. Maybe they think that with their traditional publishing deals and their huge loyal fan-bases they don’t need to. Maybe they’re right. Maybe they don’t even look at their reviews – perhaps the arrogance exists that ordinary readers’ opinions of their work, as opposed to the opinions of industry critics, don’t really count for much. Then again, maybe I’ve got that wrong. What I do know is that it counts for me. It matters to me. It matters enough for me to at least say thank you. I even found something nice to say to the guy who didn’t like my book (I offered to include some pictures, although the artwork would have to be my own and if my humour might come across sometimes as childish you should see my drawings – think stick men).
Fortunately, in addition to seeing this opportunity for interaction as simple common-sense I am also enjoying the experience. I have already had some thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening exchanges with readers – and by no means have all these exchanges been based upon gushingly positive critiques. I’ve learned things about how readers view aspects of my writing – mostly what they don’t like, what grates – and I can take that knowledge and understanding and use it to improve my writing – be a better writer.
Something else that I’ve learned lately – if you’re going to self-publish and you can’t afford a proof-reader, you’d better be bloody thorough about it yourself.