E-blogging for Life, Day 109: E-book Miscellany

January 18th, 2011

The idea for a review wiki, floated here by Philip Coggan and referred to and refined by those who followed, is very appealing, but some of the writers I e-mailed about it have some issues with it.

There’s already an idea for a site that would offer e-books for review to people who wish to review them.  This is an e-book version of Netgalley, a site that traditional publishers use to offer advanced reading copies of paper books to more-or-less qualified reviewers.  The e-book equivalent of this site, which has been suggested by a very good writer, CJ Lyons, would not run reviews; rather, the reviewers would post reviews on their own site and, ultimately, on Amazon.

So issue number one seems to be, Why go for reviews that take readers anywhere but to Amazon?

Issue number two is, How do you bring readers to the site?

This is a good question.  If I can’t publicize my own books very effectively, why do I think that I/we can publicize a whole new site that refers to my books, among the books of hundreds and hundreds of other writers?  I don’t know the answer.

But it still seems to me to be a very good idea.  I find Amazon difficult to browse; most people either don’t know how to use tags or don’t want to be bothered with it.  I think a well-organized mystery/thriller site would draw mystery/thriller readers.  Also, I can say from personal experience that good Amazon reviews don’t necessarily produce sales.  CRASHED now has fourteen reader reviews, each one five stars, and the sales are nothing to stop the car and take snapshots of.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, Amazon reviews only reach people who have already gone to the book’s page. Those people are already half-sold.  One of the primary objectives of the wiki site would be to direct readers to those pages.

I take CJ’s point that one thing we need desperately is more reviewers — some sort of sifting mechanism is essential if potential readers aren’t going to get frustrated by the sheer volume of available books and go back to buying that week’s new James Patterson.  So the wiki site, as I imagine it, would communicate aggressively with book bloggers and reviewers, offering them a whole shelf of free e-books from which they can choose.

This is an enormous task, and not one I can shoulder, but that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it.

On another front, a reader named Doug Asherman, who has been kind enough to write me about my books, asks how I feel about the new lending policy on Amazon, that allows Kindle owners to lend a new book once, for a limited period.  Doug says he has a writer friend who’s miffed by it because independent e-book authors on Amazon don’t get a chance to opt out of the lending project.

It doesn’t bother me at all. I hope everyone who buys one or more of my books will lend all of them.  I hope they find a way to defeat the “one-time” limit.  I want everyone to get a chance to read all of them.  One thing tree-book writers don’t often have the guts to bitch about much is the used-books market, although it cuts the feet out from under us.  A week after we’re published, used versions of our books are available online at substantial savings, and we don’t see a nickel of it.

E-books sort of solve that problem.  I don’t believe they’ll ever turn up in large numbers on the used-books marketplace for two reasons.  First, they’re already cheap.  How much profit is there in undercutting a $2.99 or $3.99 books?  Second, there’s no physical book to sell.  We might eventually see free file sharing of e-books (as we have with music) and, in fact, there are already a few sites that do that.  But I think the millions of people who traded free music files were rightfully pissed off at the music industry and also felt that music stars were so rich and over-privileged that they couldn’t be hurt by some swapping.  Anyway, let’s face it: the hunger for new rock and rap is more acute than the hunger for new books.

So lend away.  Just don’t buy my e-books used.

12 Responses to “E-blogging for Life, Day 109: E-book Miscellany”

  1. Bonnie Says:

    This is a day-job day for me, so I won’t spend much time: but this is a project I want to get my teeth into sometime. Amazon is too unsystematic. I think if we (not sure who “we” is but happy to start the experiment on my own server) treat the thing initially as (a) and experiment and (b) a Regency club, where new members must survive the blackball process, we could see where it went. By starting with a small group of good reviewers and really insisting on the discipline of drilling down and assigning categories, we might be able to create something that will not lose quality as it grows.

    Obviously I have some other projects to finish up before I get engaged in this, but I’m willing to do the scutwork and initial set-up–maybe in about a month?

    I got an email from Margaret Koch this morning, by the way, thanking me for a favorable mention of her (e)books on DorothyL. She also expressed complete bafflement as to how to promote her work, and it is really worth promoting!

    And for every Barb Stark mystery ($2.99) there’s another that wasn’t worth even that. Reliable referrals are really important to me.

  2. fairyhedgehog Says:

    The main thing I’m waiting for from amazon is the ability to give a Kindle book to someone else. That’s not available in the UK yet.

  3. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    I rely on mentions on DorothyL and other blogs (The Rap Sheet) to discover new authors. Bonnie, I bought the first of Margaret Koch’s books right after I read your recommendation. This to me is the value of these blogs, in addition to getting to know what authors like. I like the idea of a combined list, and I would like to see a more interactive mode. I’m no techie-as is known-but I would subscribe, and contribute if appropriate.

  4. Laren Bright Says:

    It seems to me there are a couple of issues here. One is credibility and the other is spreading the word.

    I don’t know how to deal with the credibility issue. Amazon reviews are generally written by fans whose pov may not be reliable because they are more likely than not, biased.So fan reviews may have less impact than professional reviews. And even professional reviewers are sometimes suspect. So reviews are an issue that I don’t think can be resolved.

    As for spreading the word, that’s a perpetual question in any field and particularly in publishing, as far as I can tell (9 feet, 2-3/4 inches). I think one of the strongest resources is an alliance of like-minded authors who are willing to spread the word about new works by their friends to their own blogs/emailing lists.

    And that may be the strength of the idea Tim bats around above when he discusses the wiki site. Tim, you ask what would bring people to the site if I can’t get people to my site. The first answer that comes to my mind is that if enough authors tell their readers about it, the volume of authors will increase the volume of readers to the site.

    The other answer is that there are folks out there who propose that they can get landing pages high listings on Google. I have seen some evidence that this may be true with one person I know who’s doing that. I remain skeptical, however.

    If someone could really come up with a solid way for authors to sell books, they could bottle it & make a fortune.

    I guess I’m stating the obvious in much of this. Oh well.

  5. Beth Says:

    I am coming late to this discussion and I am coming from a very different place.

    I am not a writer, my computer literacy doesn’t go much beyond hitting enter, and I am singularly devoid of any creative ideas but I do have a blog.

    Sometimes a person who has read a blog entry will email me and when that happens, I invite them to send me a review that I can put on the blog. There is always hesitation; people do it but not until they feel comfortable that they aren’t going to make fools of themselves.

    The purpose of the blog is to promote mid-list authors. It was not difficult for me to post reviews on the blog because I figured I was the only one reading it. It didn’t matter what I wrote. If you want readers to post reviews, you will have to come up with some sort of method to make the majority decide to take the risk. There will be some who will jump at the chance to post something that will be seen by many people and that can be good or not good at all.

    Will people post directly to the site as they do on this blog or will you have a gatekeeper of sorts? The more people who participate the greater the chance you will get some reviews that shouldn’t be made public.

    This blog is not an easy one to jump into. I have neither the erudition, life experiences, or depth and breadth of knowledge common to the posters on this site. If you want people to post reviews on a wiki or whatever you set up, you are really going to have to figure out how to separate the wheat from the chaff.

  6. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    Beth, I’m interested in your blog, and I deleted wherever I saw the name. Could you email it to me at lilhmb@sbcglobal.net? It sounds useful since a lot of authors I like are mid list, and I enjoy supporting them in any way I could.

  7. Philip Coggan Says:

    Hi Tim, Bonnie, Hedgehog (is that your real name?), Lil, Laren and Beth.

    Tim, you point out the essential aim: driving sales. The wiki must be a means of generating sales if it’s to be worth all the pain and expense (and it does cost money, tho I don’t know yet how much).

    Unfortunately, I have no idea as to whether it can generate new sales. As you point it, it has no direct sales mechanism – it doesn’t link direct to Amazon. A problem. So what can it do? It can generate interest, get names out. It does that through the hot-links, the words in blue type that take you to another article. So, if you’re reading a review of, say, Christopher G. Moore’s latest, it should (should) mention Bangkok, and if Bangkok is hot-linked (as it should be), that will take you to an article on Bangkok as a fictional setting, and that will hot-link mentions of writers like, oh, Tim Hallinan.

    Which is exactly what Amazon does not do. With Amazon, if you don’t know T. Hallinan exists, you’ll never find his books.

    Ah, back to the money bit. Maybe Amazon would like to advertise. And that nice lady who calls herself a book-producer, you know, the one who prepares books for Kindle. So just maybe it could maybe actually make money rather than cost it. Maybe.

    Bonnie: Thanks for the offer of taking this up, which, I must admit, is something I’m not likely to do myself. Run with it. I assume you’re familiar with Wikipedia: that site has a certain philosophy, which contributes to both its strengths and weaknesses. Its strength is that it has so many people willing to share with the world their thoughts on the extra-terrestrial origins of the Egyptian pyramids and the love-life of Snoop Dog; the weakness, of course, is that those thoughts are not always entirely reliable. Unfortunately, the more you insist on getting reliable editors, the less life you have in the site: for an illustration, go see Conservapedia, which allows edits only from those who embrace a rather conservative agenda. It’s practically dead. Where to strike the balance is the question.

    (And as I said above to Tim, I see no reason to follow Wikipedia down the no-advertising-shall-darken-my-door path).

    Hedgehog: I still don’t actually have a Kindle, but I have Kindle software on my MacBook. I’m starting to love it. I want to start getting magazines. And I’m far more willing to buy an ebook at $4 than a paper one for $30, which is the Oz price.

    Incidentally, second-hand bookshops are a vanishing breed around where I live, and the Borders bookshop in the city centre now devotes a quarter of its floor space to the sale of Hello Kitty backpacks and t-shirts with heavy-metal bands on them. Forestry-product stores are going out of our lives, fast. We simply must go digital.

    Lil: You raise a good point: how do people find out about new books? I found Phryne Fisher on a shelf in a bookshop, but as I said above, I don’t think bookshops are going to be with us much longer. Or if they are, they’ll be selling art-books and things like that, though I have doubts even about that. But thrillers? No. Digital. Anyway, the wiki can encompass the blogs and newsletters, through articles on them.

    Laren: Yes, credibility and dissemination are key. Bonnie also raises the credibility issue. The question to be addressed is, does the wiki limit reviewing rights to professionals, or does it allow anyone to review? I’m not going to propose an answer, I just want to note the question.

    For dissemination, I’d suggest using the blogs and newsletters. But that almost supposes allowing a Wikipedia-style open editing environment – you can hardly tell the world that they may look but not touch.

    Beth: You say, “Will people post directly to the site as they do on this blog or will you have a gatekeeper of sorts? The more people who participate the greater the chance you will get some reviews that shouldn’t be made public.” Exactly. Wikipedia has two classes of editor, the general Joe and the admins. The admins remove those articles which accuse Jimmy Carter of indecent acts with small farm animals, which are an inevitable consequence of allowing open editing. So I think the answer to that question – and it’s a real one – is to have a kind of police force. Which assumes, of course, a lot of people getting involved.

    Anyway, thanks everyone for your ideas. I don’t quite know where we go from here. I have a friend in IT and I’ve asked him to tell me all about wiki software, so I’m getting myself educated. But we need to stay in touch. Tim can give anyone who wants my email address. Love to hear from you.

  8. Andrea Says:

    Hi Tim

    Sorry this is off-topic, but I just saw that you were one of the nominees for Best Novel in the Edgar Awards, and I wanted to stop by and say congratulations! That’s amazing!

    Andrea x

  9. Bonnie Says:

    This is a funny place to post, but I’m sure it will be all over DorothyL today: Tim is nominated for the Edgar for best book of 2010 (for Queen). I wonder if he even knows yet or is out running or something. 🙂 He’s right up there with Laura Lippman and Harlen Coben! I am so excited for him…I hope this means word will now really be out about these excellent books.

    (Lil, let me know how you are enjoying the Barb Stark book, too!)

  10. Laren Bright Says:

    Great news about the Edgar!

    Also, Philip’s post stimulated me to think that, as far as fan vs professional reviewers, maybe having each reviewer on the wiki site include a brief bio that establishes where they fall in the spectrum of readers/reviewers would help. These could range from “I’m a professional reviewer/book critic” to “I read 15 books a month so I have a broad base of awareness.”

    Or another approach could be to have categories of reviewers that allows everyone to post a review but also lets readers know whether they’re simply an enthusiastic fan of a particular author or they’re someone “trained” in the area of literature critique.

    In other words, maybe there’s a way to quantify a person’s review ranging from subjective to more objective.

    Just thinking out loud.

  11. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    Hey, Tim, congratulations on your nomination. I’ve read all the nominees and yours is the only one that brought tears to my eyes, and peace to my heart (Is that too corny for you? Too bad). Hurray!

  12. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, All —

    Sorry not to have responded earlier (again!) but my day got totally hijacked today by the Edgar. Even my agent called.

    This is a real outburst of creativity, and I think Philip responded well to all of you. It looks like we could make this a truly international undertaking, since he’s in Australia, and the market is international, so why shouldn’t it be?

    Where I differ from Philip is (a) I think all books should be hotlinked to Amazon and/or B&N. (iTunes really doesn’t count yet. This is easily accomplished by the reviewers, who would be following a template that specifies hot-linking on titles. Second, I would instinctively avoid hotlinking to any material other than the books and (maybe) other books by the same writer. It seems to me that this is a tool for people who want to buy e-books and it should be single-minded to that end.

    There are ways to make a little money. Advertising could be offered to publishers and to writers, and the site could have Amazon affiliate status, meaning that it makes a weensy amount of money every time someone clicks through and buys. But I doubt that all of these income sources, which would only come into being when the site is already successful, would even offset the costs of administering it.

    Laren, I love the ideas of identifying the reviewers’ experience level but it needs to be positioned in such a way so as not to discourage neophytes.

    The other approach, CJ Lyons’ idea for a reviewers’ site is also moving forward. I think they’re complementary rather than competitive and, in any case, the glut of books is so enormous that many more ideas will undoubtedly come into being.

    Don’t know how to move ahead with this and am wide open to suggestions.

    And thanks for all the congratulations on the Edgar nomination. I’m still sort of ringing with the surprise of it all.

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