I’ve already mentioned that I’m kind of queasy about the risks of self-publishing, the almost 24/7 promotion it takes to be successful (defined as you wish), the schmoozing, the social media obsessing, and the pain-in-the-assing you have to do with friends, family, and random pedestrians. And since I write literary novels — and Yesterday Road is a literary comedy, more than anything else — my chances for getting noticed on Amazon are pretty lousy out of the gate.
I’ve read that you can buy Twitter followers at pennies to the pound, but the other day I learned that the first self-published author to sell a million books on Amazon.com did it, in part, by purchasing five-star reviews! The scheme was later exposed, and his reputation is therefore tarnished, I suppose, though his books are still selling.
Personally, I couldn’t live with myself if I sank to the level of buying reviews. (And they’re not cheap, by the way — a thousand bucks or so for forty reviews.) But, philosophically, I wonder how different this is from HarperCollins, say, buying preferred placement for its books in stores? Most people aren’t aware that’s going on. They just think, These are the popular books, the best books. These are the five-star review books.
And how is it different, really, from celebrities hawking products on TV? We all know they probably don’t use the stuff, or drive the cars, or whatever. They’re paid to say they do. Most marketing is smoke and mirrors to one degree or another.
Let’s face it. Four- and five-star reviews on Amazon are the new Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. People use them to filter the enormous gob of titles that are available. Why wade through a hundred pages of thumbnails when you can ask to see the best ones in just a couple of pages? It’s not even that the reviews themselves are the selling points. (A lot of people rely more on the poor reviews than the positive ones anyway.) It’s just a way of separating wheat from chaff.
I don’t know. I’d like my book to earn its stars, and yet I can almost smell the futility of my earnestness as I lay the groundwork for self-publishing my little literary comedy in a few months.
It’s war out there — metaphorically, anyhow. What do you think? Do we have to become guerrilla publishers in order to prevail? Lay traps and snares and trick people into buying our books, since diplomacy is clearly not going to cut it?