In 2009 I started on Twitter. I was already writing, and had gleaned from the interwebs (those i first experienced back in about ’88, and wanted to play with, but didn’t get my chance until about 1998) that a social media presence was required. So i started this blog, and tweeting, and met some interesting folk.
Experienced as an editor, i wanted to self-publish, and didn’t even send the manuscript to any agents to look at. I decided Amazon wasn’t for me – for a start, they needed you to have bank account in either US, EU, Japan or Brazil, and i didn’t have one. (This has changed quite recently.)
Finally, in 2011 i published one book on Smashwords – and my dream since my teens (’73-79) was complete. I was a publisher! I hung onto that thought through a series of disasters and awful choice in friends, as it took me until 2017 to release the follow up to that book, and its companions. A quartet. Very proud. Released them literally on Thanksgiving (not a holiday in Australia!) As usual, my marketing is flawed. But still, i was in publishing.
I worked in actual big money publishing, so doing it myself felt wonderful. Once i’d got the books selling on Smashwords (and various distributors) I’d start with Ingram Spark and their Publishing On Demand packages, and put out paper versions of the books. I couldn’t wait.
Meanwhile, i found typos, edited those and put up new versions, and that was pretty much 2017 gone. And so i started really pushing my books, as the mistakes i’d clocked were fixed and they were fit for reading. I was selling. Selling well enough off the back of the good ratings for the first two books (which are free) that i could see the first paper versions, could even smell and feel them.
I was top of the ‘best reviewed’ charts, and that was the only reason i was selling. People go with the crowd. They don’t scroll through to page 120 to see who rated very poorly in case there’s a hidden gem. However i was nearly on the front pages of various most-downloaded and best sellers’ lists too, so i could see a glorious future, one with paper in it.
Then someone gave me a non-5 star review. And then another book got one too. They didn’t seem to dislike the books, they said they liked them, but still, 4 stars. Then another. And my books disappeared off the top of the charts. Not just down a bit, they went to page 120 or worse.
When i found my books, i saw that other people with even more 5 star reviews than me also had been nobbled by one 4 star review and were on page 120 too.
My sales dried up as my books moved off the front pages. Then they stopped.
I tried talking to Smashwords, even to Mark Coker (the CEO) and they were nice about the facts – which were – Smashwords rating system is unfair. It’s also open to abuse. I can go on there now, give the top rated people 4 star reviews, and they will disappear FOREVER. Unless you page through to page 120. They will be behind the guy whose mum gave him 1 glowing 5 star review. Yep – one 5 star review outweighs 20 of them if you get just one 4 star or lower review.
I have written about this before, but i figure you probably can’t be bothered paging back then coming back here again, so trying to sum it up. So Smashwords said they weren’t planning to do something about it in 2018, but they’d consider it for their 2019 list.
Since February 2018, i’ve been looking for some way to fix this. I tried Patreon (it’s supposed to be ‘be a patron to the arts’ but it seems to turn out ‘lots of artists begging and a tiny number get lucky’), discovered it wasn’t really my scene. And a week or so ago, i got Smashwords “Plans for 2019”. You guessed it, no plans to sort out the ratings system.
Which leaves me completely at sea. My entire marketing plans hinged on how well reviewed my books were, which gave them visibility – not just on Smashwords, but on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and in the Apple iBookstore. That visibility gave me sales, gave me more visibility, and so on.
I’m poor, i cannot afford to do more. I’m crippled and ill – i can’t get a better job or save (about $1500 would do it) or the usual tricks. And i’m 58 so even if i was fit, turning tricks is out of the question.
I could remove the books from the site, redo them enough to be plausibly ‘new editions’ then republish, but i’ll still be open to that one spiteful person who decides their books need to sell more than mine do, and gives me 1 bad review. So i won’t.
So this is it. The end.
I’m going to do more books, i just won’t be bothering to put them out as an self-publisher. It will be the more usual route of Agent followed by (if i’m lucky) Publisher. Seven years of my life (and another two learning how to), i gave it a good shot.
N.B. Having just noticed that Amazon Australia (which opened in December 2017) allows me to publish via Amazon, i might put the books on there – seems better than allowing them to stay rotting in the basement equivalent of Smashwords.
So maybe i’m not at the end, it might be another beginning. Aargh, not again!
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