Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Hacks for Amazon Marketing

After my last post, I had an odd spike in ad expenses with no return, and I wanted to know why. So I did another report on my AMD ads experiment, with a breakdown by ad placement. It showed me that 35% of my recent ad budget was completely wasted on First page Top placement, with not a single sale. When looked for a way to adjust the number of ads by placement to eliminate this, I found none. AMS customer service said that they will take it under advisement as a new feature in the future.

Placement Impressions Clicks Cost Per Click Spent Sales  average cost return orders percent budget
Product pages 56792 78  $   0.61  $ 47.54  $29.90  $   4.75      0.63 10
Rest of search 21624 34  $   0.65  $ 22.10  $23.92  $   2.76      1.08 8
First page Top of Search 2113 31  $   1.23  $ 38.18  $     -  

Until then, how do I avoid flushing so much money?

1. Product Pages Only

Well, Rest of Search has no knobs, but I can set the base bid at 10 cents, and after the ad is created, go to the last line of the "campaign settings" tab and increase bids for Product Pages only by 800%. In this way, I can ensure that no First impressions will be made and I can bid on my old keywords for Product Pages only for under 80 cents. I can then adjust the bid per keyword for this submarket. 
The first day only cost me $1.66, but I haven't seen any purchases yet. After an initial burst of 2000 impressions, Amazon throttled the exposure to 3 impressions per hour, too low to get any clicks. I suspect after the first day, it favors campaigns that produce a profit.

2. Rest of Search

If I want Product Pages and *some* of the Rest submarket which as twice as lucrative, I could set my default bid to 65 cents (the average cost per click of that category) and only bid down. The max bid is half the average of the First page prices; however, on the first day of this test, the campaign somehow reset itself to "dynamic up and down" and generated three useless $1 "top" clicks to go with the 3 sales that the other categories earned. I set it back to "down only" and will retry. Of the 13 settings that you can change, Strategy is the only one that has its own off-screen Save button, so be careful.

Unfortunately, when you go "down only," even if you keep increasing the bid, it only gives access to Rest markets 10 percent of the time. It feels like I am being penalized for not giving Amazon free-rein with my budget. Indeed, in the five days after the change, I only got 2 clicks total. Up until the change, I would have expected 65 clicks for the same period. Since it takes an average of 6 clicks per sale last week, I sold nothing.

3. Skipping Days Manually

With years of Amazon reporting data to go on, I know that Tuesdays are my worst days (and Sundays are weak). Looking at Amazon ad data, none of the clicks generated revenue on that day of the week. So, I will use the pause button on the campaign to manually prevent the expenditure on that day. Reducing my ad budget 14 percent with the same monthly purchase rate increases my profit.

4. Manually Enabling on Key Days

From my sword-and-sorcery series, I know that Monday afternoons were my biggest time for purchases, making almost as much as the rest of the week combined. Therefore, I only turn my Doors campaign on for that day. Make sure that the ad duration lasts through the desired dates or turning it on the night before will only get you an expiration message when you try to check the stats the next day.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

AMS Ads Lessons Learned

Indie authors would love to wave a magic wand and have ads transform their backlist into best sellers. It doesn’t work that way. For the first week, AMS is more like visiting the doctor or mechanic after going without for years. You pay a bunch of money to find out what needs fixing. Be willing to pay upfront for this valuable information and make changes accordingly. If you’re lucky, you can use the tools available to find a niche for your book that is profitable and satisfies your customers. I know this because I played amateur sleuth like one of my characters. I’ll give concrete examples from my experiments below.

1. Don’t try this with 99 cent books
Your cut of a 99 cent e-book is less than 30 cents. AMS bid averages start in the 35 cent range. The best categories are closer to 90 cents. This means that you’ll never make a profit. Even if you’re willing to eat the huge loss short-term, my one-day comparison experience is that people are less likely to click on a 99 cent novel than a 2.99 option. If you don’t value the product, why should anyone else?

2. Use Kindle Select Novels with a Paperback Option
Although it is difficult to track, novels that subscribe to KDP Select have much better results. Kindle Unlimited subscribers who don’t have to pay extra are much more willing to try your book. Once they read a few pages, they should be hooked. Even with stand-alone novels, I’ve generated almost as much follow-on revenue through KU as during the actual sale of units. My “Doors to Eternity” epic fantasy didn’t benefit from the exclusive Amazon contract the way all my sci-fi novels did, but I flipped it on after a few days to make my ad dollars go twice as far. Note that I sold a higher percentage of paperbacks than normal with these ads. (11% compared to the normal 0.2 percent) Unfortunately, the AMS reports won't tell you which keyword sold your paperback, and the total sales on the summary page will be mysterious more than those on the spreadsheets because of this.
Lastly, I noticed that read-through to the second book in any series made ads even more cost-effective. The higher your read-through rate, the better the effects. Because 67 percent of readers of “Jezebel’s Ladder” buy “Sirius Academy,” and there are five books in the series, one sale has the weight of three.
Below is the comparison of direct sales versus KU. Note the two-day lead time.

3. Manually Target
I’ve never seen an automatic campaign get significant clicks. If it does get clicks, they often don’t lead to sales for the first several days, and you won’t know why or be able to control this. The point of this exercise is for you to learn. That’s the real benefit for what you’re spending initially. If you knew what sold or why people liked/disliked your product you wouldn’t be in this situation. I use an initial budget of $10 a day. Plan on burning that much per book to find out what you don’t know. Try to start out with at least 75 keywords/phrases and add to the list each day as you find out what works. For the first book I wrote, Scarab, I could only think of 29 phrases. Only three got above 50 impressions, and only “Ready Player One” was something other than a sci-fi category name. As much as I thought fourteen-year-old video-game players will like the book, it isn’t really marketable. If I couldn’t think of enough good reasons somebody would want it, no one else will. With all my other experiments, other good keywords kept popping up every day. I was able to use the data to change the price and blurb on my novels to reflect what I learned. For example, 100% of Andre Norton fans who clicked on my Doors ad purchased the book, so I added her to the blurb and my keywords. I also added her to the list of phrases on my YA novel, an even better fit.

4. Be Patient
Data in Amazon takes one to three days to be recorded. Nothing will show up on your sale board for 24 hours. Even if you get sales on your board, you won’t always know which title sold for a while. KU purchases take even longer to register. Furthermore, book sales happen in cycles. For example, my epic fantasy sales dip on Sunday and Tuesday, but spike heavily on Monday at 1, after my target audience of IT guys comes back from lunch and checks their e-mail. You need several days of data before discarding anything. Be aware that the reporting interface is buggy. When you change to request Targeting keywords, it resets the span of the report to LAST month, giving you an empty useless spreadsheet. I recommend the "Month to Date" version.

5. Preconceptions are the First Casualty
However, on day three, you can begin changing the search keywords that you entered in your initial KDP setup for your e-book. The words you thought described your book are probably irrelevant garbage. Now you can prove what is popular and what positively associates with your product. For example: my magic school novel “Tells” had Harry Potter in the description, but everyone uses that label. Only .2 percent of impressions go anywhere. I had no idea that Richelle Mead or Harley Merlin series fans would convert so much better (up to 2.5 percent). The keywords Magic and Intuition were a waste of space, and I replaced them with the two successful ones. For my “K2 Virus,” no one cared about Virus, Korean, or Martial Arts, but Pandemic, Assassin, and Tom Clancy were huge winners. Evidently, buyers wanted a spy thriller more than a research paper. Why customers are interested is something we haven’t been able to see before. Take advantage of what you’re learning to make your book better long-term, not just for the span of a sale. 

6. If Amazon Won’t Spend Your Money, It Can’t Be Spent
After four days, “Quantum Zero Sentinel,” one of my newer novels hadn’t spent even $3. I had very few clicks. Why not? It had a 4.8 rating and had a decent initial sales bump with my regular fans. However, there were several problems. First, the targeted Batman/Orphan Black fans weren’t interested. The more popular authors who resonated were Dan Simmons, Neal Stephenson, and William Gibson. Altered Carbon even had a good showing. Wow! Huge compliments, but I need to radically change my blurb. The category that most closely aligned with the novel wasn’t hard sci-fi, but Spy Thriller, with a whopping 2.5% click rate. My biggest problem? The cover doesn’t say any of this to prospective readers. I’ll have to spend another $200 plus to fix the problem. Fortunately, my Facebook marketing research of alternate images says that more than enough people will buy the novel to pay for this change. In the meantime, thousands of people in my niche were exposed to my brand for next to nothing. Next time they see one of my books, they’ll be more likely to buy.

7. Not All Clicks are Good
False clicks happen, and they hurt, especially early on when you’re adjusting your campaign. Sometimes it’s an accident or a fluke. I had this happen most often with popular titles like “Game of Thrones,” “Warhammer,” or “Star Trek.” You need to reduce the chances of a mistake using negative keywords like RPG, DVD, Movie, or TV so that you don’t pay for someone’s fat fingers. After filtering, the hit rate for several of these is much lower (1 per 3000 views). I eventually got rid of these phrases, too, because even if the Star Trek customers do buy my space opera, it won’t be the experience they’re looking for and my product reviews will be lower. This is an exercise in finding the right audience for your writing. Since K2 Virus has a transgender character, I made that one of the original keywords. However, the types of books that come up when you search that word on Amazon are very specific sorts of erotica—nothing like my novel. I turned this keyword off after several false hits because I don’t want to mislead people. As this decision very subjective, I make it a rule to switch off only one of these false leads a day (or a couple closely-linked ones like Klingon and Star Fleet). Then watch how the revised list performs on your reports tomorrow. Eventually, you’ll have a smooth-running machine.

Here is an actual sample day with my decisions color-coded.

keyword views clicks cost per click spent sales
assassin 961 3 $ 0.99 $ 2.98  $  2.99
espionage 633 1 $ 0.64 $ 0.64
medical thrillers 622 7 $ 1.14 $ 7.98  $  5.98
spy novels 616 1 $ 0.65 $ 0.65
pandemic 589 12 $ 0.87 $ 10.38 0
tom clancy (BROAD) 576 1 $ 1.33 $ 1.33
tom clancy 450 1 $ 1.54 $ 1.54
plague 292 6 $ 0.76 $ 4.55  $  2.99
north korea 279 1 $ 0.63 $ 0.63
richard preston 190 2 $ 0.81 $ 1.62
spy 181 1 $ 0.59 $ 0.59
hard science fiction 83 1 $ 0.84 $ 0.84
military thrillers 47 1 $ 0.59 $ 0.59
outbreak 43 1 $ 0.48 $ 0.48
bioterrorism thriller 39 2 $ 0.46 $ 0.91  $  2.99

8. All Hat, No Cattle
The last case is the hardest. What happens if you get lots of clicks, but nobody buys? Ouch. You just shelled out good money for nothing. I had this happen with “Void Contract.” One of two things might be to blame. I’ll have to apply the scientific method to determine which. First, the image of an African man with a gun on the cover can be off-putting to American consumers. I found with Facebook experiments that British and Indian customers have no such bias. Unfortunately, I can’t test this theory because AMS doesn’t run anywhere but the US, and I don’t want to buy another new cover today. Second, and more likely, is that the detailed pitch is too dull for the audience. I wrote the book as an homage to the 70s author Alan Dean Foster and peace between all species, but today’s military sci-fi fans (Zahn, Dietz, Green, Cook) are the ones buying it. No room for touchie-feelie with these guys. The pitch has to grab them by the nose and shout, “Someone who deserves it is gonna get hurt, and you can watch.” Testing will take a week because first I have to wait a day for the e-book to unlock after I changed the keywords. Then, the new pitch can take another day to percolate through to the Amazon page. Finally, I’ll need at least three days of revised data collection to judge the performance of the new one. Because of the long wait, I need to word-smith each revision carefully. I’m considering the following replacement:
  • Max doesn’t want to be an assassin, but his Xhosan-African genes and hunter training make him invisible to empaths, the perfect weapon for hunting alien war criminals across the Gigaparsec of known space. After they’re all gone, he isn’t sure how he’ll fit into peacetime society. That’s not a problem now that Saurian mobsters have kidnapped his only surviving friend. Since evolved races can’t legally kill sentients, Max is going to have to get creative.
  • Fans of Dietz, Zahn, Vance, Heinlein, Walter Jon Williams, and Babylon 5 should enjoy this action-filled quest to other planets.

I’ll update the post when these results are available.

9. The Long View
For “midlist” authors like myself with a couple dozen novels, AMS works best as a marathon, not a sprint. I don’t want one-day burst of 500 sales, followed by obscurity. I want a steady three sales a day, building my “people who bought this” affiliations and increasing my positive reviews. I love it when a day after someone new likes one of my novels, an entire cluster of them sell. These are intangibles you can’t buy. The biggest success from the first wave of my AMS experiments was “K2 Virus,” which has a handful of keywords that pop 25 times a day, but when they do, I have a 4 percent conversion to sales. At the other extreme, I have words that get 200 views a day with only a half-percent click rate. You have to work these ads like a farm: planting, weeding, harvesting, and starting over the next season when conditions change yet again. This isn’t a one-time deal; rather, AMS ads are a tool in your arsenal to help you understand who your buyers are and what they want—marketing. This also informs what the topic of my next novel should be. If I can tell from research that it won’t have a market, I shouldn’t spend three months and a thousand dollars creating it.

10. Adapt
After over a week, I figured out that two of the keywords I used were getting sales but not earning as much as they cost. Therefore, I adjusted the amount I will bid so it stays inside the profit margin. This can be adapted continuously from week to week.

Targeting Cost Per Click (CPC) Spend ACoS profit point
assassin $ 1.40 $ 5.58 186.6% 0.75
medical thrillers $ 0.98 $ 10.82 180.9% 0.54

Friday, February 1, 2019

Success with Facebook Ads

Since I've been concentrating on my editing program for the last two years, I've let my mailing-list lapse. I wanted to build it up again. Another writer suggested I use the Mark Dawson videos on the subject, which he sends for free when you sign up for his newsletter. They were a little outdated but still excellent. The idea is that you offer a free book to anyone who sends you their name and e-mail address. The catch? You can have words in your photo, and you have a very limited word count to induce someone to click.

Results in a Nutshell

I started slowly at $5 a day and canceled ads that clearly weren't working after a $2 expenditure or a hundred exposures without a click. By spending $58.84 over two weeks, I garnered 245 new names, bringing my total to a more respectable 400 names. My cost averaged 24 cents a subscriber, which was my target range. When I first posted a new ad, a good one would snag 10 percent of the viewers at around 15 cents each. Over time, this would drop. I paused ads that started costing more than 50 cents a name.

Key Takeaways

  1. Keep your budget small, $35 over a week. When I tried the "more is better" approach, multiplying to $25 a day, the amount of money expended went up by a factor of three, but the rate of clicks stayed the same. 
  2. People who are too young may grab the free stuff but don't necessarily have the disposable income to buy your e-books. Fourteen-year-olds might read my video-game novel, but they don't pay for it. Don't waste your limited ad budget on them on the first pass. People who are too old may not relate to my books. Therefore, I chose the age range between 28 and 64.
  3. Make sure to make your first "narrow the audience" filter people with Kindle readers. This limits any audience to people who may take action and become fans. Unfortunately, only about 5 percent of US Facebook customers identify as having e-readers, and they sometimes won't intersect strongly with your intended targets.
  4. Make sure your targeted audience is between 300K and 1 million. This isn't as easy as it sounds. I added UK readers in because although the US has 5 times the Facebook population, we have only 3.8 times the readers. That means we're less literate. Also, some categories I tested scored many more hits in the UK!
  5. There was a direct correlation between how well people responded to these ads and how well the tested nine books performed in Amazon sales (multiply by forty). So if you want to test-market a new release, spend five bucks and do it here first. 
  6. The images you pick must be text free, uncluttered, and eye-catching. This is hard to do. Start with a clip from one of your covers, but if that doesn't work, consider going to Dreamstime. Their site has a one-week, five free download trial that I highly recommend using for your experiments.
  7. People don't speak in books on Facebook; rather, they speak in movies and TV series. By forcing yourself to pick two shows that most exemplify your book, you also communicate better to your Amazon audience.
  8. Fantasy is a harder sell, reinforcing my earlier experiences, where I can sell 2.5 times the science fiction with the same effort.

Images that Worked

What works on Facebook is doubly important because with similar constraints, what works here should also work in Bookbub ads. These were my most successful ads.

1. Alias meets Armageddon (zoom on Jezebel's Ladder cover)

2. Hot Zone in North Korea. What could another SARS epidemic trigger? (image used on K2 cover)
Strangely, 76 percent of the respondents were women. Therefore, I limited the ad to women only so that I would have a higher hit ratio. I'm running a second campaign switching the starting analogy to "The Stand."

3. Giants, evil spirits, and blood-feuding wizards guard the Doors to Eternity (top of Dreams of the Fallen)
I used "Lord of the Rings" and "Game of Thrones" as the audience base.

4. Like Babylon 5 with a bushman hunting alien criminals (part of Union of Souls cover)
I used Han Solo and Firefly fans to start with. This one did much better in England (35-50 percent depending on the time of day). That tells me I should promote my Gigaparsec series more in the UK.

5. Batgirl meets Orphan Black. Spies, quantum computers, & gummy bears. Quantum Zero Sentinel (Dreamstime image)

Since 90 percent of the clickers were men, I limited this to them in order to boost the relevancy.

Be careful targeting images, because some of them only scored among lonely 45-year-old guys late at night--not what I was aiming for.

In the Details

For those who like to see the proof, here's the spreadsheet.

Title Sales Subscriptions Projected  left to sell
jezebel 4578 89 3568  done
doors 3207 36 1443   oversold
void contract 610 27 1083 473
k2 virus 585 43 1724 1139
foundation 339 19 762 423
quantum zero 227 24 962 735
scarab 144 4 160
contagion 77 1 40
Messenger 56 2 80

I have 25 novels in my catalog and limited funds for ads. This data helps me to direct future advertising dollars and effort. Clearly, the lower three don't have a market, no matter how good they are. The top two have hit Amazon bombs and sold more than I expected over the years. The sweet spot is in the middle. K2 Virus is seems like I will get the most bang for the buck, followed by QZS with the Batgirl reference, and Void Contract in the UK. Unfortunately, Foundation doesn't have a good connect rate, and people don't often read the rest of the series. So I'll hold off on that and try it in the UK at a later date, once I learn the ropes with Bookbub ads.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

the Myth of Weak Verbs

I've read a lot of editing gurus (including the makers of Autocrit) who say that "weak" verbs should be replaced with strong ones if you want publishers to take your book seriously. Their goal was to make the book less "tell" and more "show." One even insisted that every instance of "walk" should be replaced with a more specific version, like "strolled". To me, this smacks of purple prose and those people who sold "said books" in the era of the Hardy Boys--when you shouldn't bore readers by using the same words for said and ask. I was skeptical, so I did some numerical analysis.

Here is the list of "weak" verbs I used:
{ Every form of the verb IS (to be)
"get",  "gets", "got",
"move", "moves", "moved",
"walk", "walks", "walked",
"put", "puts",
"go", "goes", "went",
"smile", "smiles", "smiled",
"hear", "hears", "heard",
"see", "sees", "saw",
"look", "looks", "looked",
"watch", "watches", "watched",
"witness", "witnesses", "witnessed",
"stare", "stares", "stared",
"notice", "notices", "noticed",
"begin", "begins", "began",
"start", "starts", "started",
"feel", "feels", "felt",
"help", "helps", "helped",
"let", "lets",
"love", "loves", "loved",
"hate", "hates", "hated",
"knew", "know", "knows",
"stay", "stays", "stayed",
"meet", "meets", "met",
"keep", "keeps", "kept",
"appear", "appears", "appeared",
"sound", "sounds", "sounded",
"need", "needs", "needed",
"grow", "grows", "grew", }

Autocrit also highlighted forms of have, touch, and could, but that was overkill.
Next, I had to lay some ground rules to keep the comparison fair. First, my program detects the part of speech from context because most of these words could be either a noun or a verb. We only care about the noun usages. Second, I ignore dialog, because people use these weak terms in conversation all the time. I had to reduce the noise and focus on narrative only. Third, I had to exclude first-person point-of-view novels, since that is effectively conversation.

To test the range of weak content, I first ran the tool on all 25 of my books. I came up with an average weight of 18.25% weak, plus or minus a 3 percent range. Then I did the same thing for 26 common-domain masterpieces of literature. They averaged a whopping 28.47 percent (from 20.7 to 34.6). About one sentence in three violates this rule editing. Hmm. By this metric, these hacks like Tolstoy, Wells, Kipling, Twain, Burroughs, Dickens, Chopin, Joyce, and the like must not be very popular. 

But Scott, these were examples from the 1920s. English has improved so much since then. I'll bite. Getting a word or text copy of any current novel is difficult. Luckily, Brandon Sanderson has a website where he shares and workshops his novels with fan support. I downloaded version 6.1 (final version before handing over to TOR) of the novel "Warbreaker." It scored 25.2, in the same range as the 1920s stuff. A fluke? I downloaded three more novels from some friends at Fiction Vortex, and they averaged 25.6 (+-7 percent range).

Therefore, good and popular writers use "weak" writing a quarter to a third of the time. By Autocrit logic, to be successful, I should inject my work with more weak verbs like a butcher grinds more fat into the hamburger. If we only flagged those books significantly above the classical metric, half the sentences in a document would be highlighted for change--and the recommendation would be wrong most of the time. My conclusion is that only a few weak verbs matter for pre-editing.

I have felt all along that my "Senescence" editor was right saying that narrators should rarely "start" or "begin" to do something; rather, they should just DO it, clearly and cleanly. My editor "Katie" was also correct that "get/got/gets/gotten" are a crutch that I should eliminate. Beyond these, I will add on a case-by-case basis. To one who knows how to mix a palette of words, no word is truly weak when it's direct and intentional.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Free Sci-Fi Pageturner

In honor of my annual newsletter membership drive, this week I am giving away e-books of my most popular Sci-Fi novel, "Jezebel's Ladder."  Amazon Page   To get a free copy, click the subscribe button to the right with your e-mail address, or send a message to with the title "Jezebel Giveaway."

If you liked "Armageddon", "Alias", "Orphan Black", or "Contact", you'll love this present-day thriller.

Note that this offer is not available to children under the age of 13. Your name and address won't be sold to anyone else, and I don't send out newsletters often (maybe once a season). If you enjoy it, please take a moment to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Automating Style Sheets

My next feature for my pre-edit software is to automate the creation of editor style sheets. I already have a feature that collects all the possible misspellings. In using the Story Shop planning app (, I noticed that it's an error-prone process to rely on human memory to create an element card for every person/place in the story. Therefore, I put a small add-on into my tool to collect, weight, and group each proper noun in a novel. Fiction Vortex intends to incorporate the feature.

The example below is from my book "the K2 Virus."  The computer can't tell if two similar names refer to the same person. In this case, even gender clues won't help because Tony and Tonia are the same person. My favorite is how Big Bang is a member of Warden Bang's extended family, and Mr. Park is right next to Olympic Park. That's okay. A human can very quickly convert this into something usable. Already, I've used the tool to find incorrect spellings (Reuben vs Rueben) or Dr without the period. The weighted nature helps to weed out noise and stress the relative importance of each character. I chuckled when I saw that the tool labeled Blood and English as key elements in the story because it's right.

Daniel Mann
    Tonia Benedict
    Tonia Marian Benedict
Varsity Kohl
Sister Ahn
Mr. Jero
    South Korean
    Korean Air
    Korean War
    Republic of Korea
    North Korea
    South Korea
    United States Forces Korea
Corporal Webb
Uncle Dae
Mr. Yeonlihan
Officer Tamguja
Henri LeBeau
    Seoul Central
    Seoul National University
    Seoul Internet
    Dr. Benedict
    Doctor Benedict
    Benedict Arnold
    Tony Marlin Benedict
    Doc Benedict
Colonel Branson
    Chinese Red Steppe
    Red Cross
    Red Snow
    Warden Bang
    Mr. Bang
    Mrs. Bang
    Big Bang
Sister Elizabeth
Dr. Young
    Monsieur Mann
    Mr. Mann
    Mrs. Mann
    Dr. Mann
Hong Kong
Christmas Massacre
    American Embassy
    Kaesong Industrial Park
    Olympic Park
    Bangi-Dong Park
    Mr. Park
Ryongchon County
Sinuiju Medical University
Hanawon Center
Aunt Eun
Officer Mylinsatu
Hamilton Hotel
Mr. Avery
Major Ganghan
United States
Sad Sack
Blue House

Monday, August 6, 2018

Do Goodreads E-books Giveaways Work?

Short Answer: If you own Amazon stock, then it's pure profit. If you're an author, it's an invitation for abuse.

Long Answer:
If you're not an independent author, you have no idea how hard it is to garner reviews. The rules keep changing. Amazon says that it's to stop "false" reviews. Hmm. I've found one Vine Voice reviewer who gives only five-star reviews without reading the book and others who OPENLY SOLICIT bribes: a donation to their foreign orphanage reading program or demanding I send the e-book as an Amazon gift which they cash in for something else. When I tried to turn these people in, Amazon had no interest in upholding the integrity of their system. So I think the real reason policy changed is that Amazon doesn't make money when an author gives away free copies. Note that Amazon requires Vine Voice folks to review a minimum number of books they send for free, so they've exempted themselves from the rules.

To get 50 reviews for my books "Jezebel's Ladder", I had sell 4500 copies, e-mail about 800 copies to critics, and about giveaway thousands more via Amazon giveaways. The problem with Amazon giveaways is that people download it because it's free, not because they are even interested in Science Fiction. I had one guy rate a book one-star because it didn't have bondage like he expected. But I have to find some method to stimulate reviews because every year, Amazon finds more reasons to delete old reviews, and they won't give you a justification. I worked hard for every single one of those reviews, and now I'm at 47.

What can an Indie do? Goodreads paperback giveaways traditionally got about 30 or 40 percent review rate. For $100 in paperbacks, I might get 3 reviews. If e-books do half as well, the 100 e-book giveaway program should get me 15. My latest thriller had 35 hard-won reviews, and I could finally see what happens when you reach 50! For the first year, Amazon restricted the program to only traditional publishers and its own 47 North imprint. I was so excited they finally opened the program to everyone. You pay $120 for a chance to get reviews. I decided to roll the dice. Within a week of the event ending, 4 people gave me drive-by rankings on GR, and two people gave me text reviews. I get 5-9 a month normally, so that didn't justify the money. I also garnered one review on Amazon, but this led them to delete two old ones at random. Net loss. That flagpole is greased. The new review was also the dreaded "this isn't my normal genre" type. Don't panic. I reread my terms and conditions, and two months after the event, Amazon is supposed to send out a reminder to the winners to rate the book. If 6 people responded without prompting, surely more would with the e-mail. As Ronald Reagan was fond of joking about the boy who got horse manure for Christmas, "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere."

I was wrong about the pony. Two and a half months later, not one more person out the 94 other winners so much as clicked another button. When I asked Goodreads to double-check that the reminder had been sent, I was told: "Goodreads does not require winners to post reviews.  The primary goal of running a giveaway is to build awareness for your book, while reviews are a potential bonus.    It might also help to keep in mind that not every book is a good fit for every reader.  We've all had the experience of starting a book that sounds great and then discovering it's not what we were expecting."
So basically, I'm told my product that 2/3 of reviewers rate 5 stars isn't good enough to get anything. If it sucked so bad, someone would have complained. Total silence seems statistically unlikely. I doubt they went through the trouble of sending that reminder e-mail at all. Why bother when there is no way for the customer to check? If I private-messaged even one of those winners to see if they received the book or an e-mail, I could be tossed off the site for abuse.

Shortly after that customer-service query, Goodreads deleted 30 of my old reviews with no explanation.

To recap: I paid $120 to incur a huge net loss on both Amazon and Goodreads. This reminds me of the 1987 film "The Pick Up Artist" with Robert Downey Jr. He moves heaven and earth to finally pay off someone else's $5000 gambling debt. At the end of the show, the gangster in the casino orders his men to break Downey's kneecaps anyway. To which he responds loudly "What do I get for $10,000, rape and sodomy?" That's how I feel about the recent Goodreads experience.