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Gauging Popularity, An Author’s Dilemma

So, there's been a lot going on in the author world these past few weeks (publishers suing bloggers, authors stalking bloggers, violence, boycotts) most of which I don't have a public opinion on except to say that I'm saddened and heart-broken to see such a wonderful, supportive, creative field turned upside down. I hope things can get better soon for all involved.

I want to talk about gauging popularity, putting your toes in the water and deciding whether or not it's hot enough for you. I've been doing this self-publishing thing for a year now, and when I started, everyone talked about getting reviews. “Reviews are what sells a book!” people cried, and for the most part, they have a point, and not only for the reasons you can imagine. Sure, seeing the number of reviews on a book lends it some credibility. When I see a book with 1000+ reviews, I think, “Whoa! This one's popular!” Same with anything over 50 reviews. Anything under and I begin to question the book. Why aren't people reviewing? I look at the date it was published. Oh! It's only been out a while. Or I look at the genre it's in and that gives me an idea of why. Or I look at the blurb. Am I bored just reading the blurb? Well, maybe that's why the number is so low. Etc Etc. These are all thoughts that go through my mind before I hit (or not) the one-click, but still, I just one-clicked a book today that looked interesting and it had only 3 reviews.

Every author wants to see those review numbers climb. There are places we can't even get advertising unless we have a certain number of reviews. And this is why all the books have pleas at the end of them. “Please consider leaving a review…” mine say. And after that, I provide a way to sign up for my mailing list.

Guess what gets the most clicks? The newsletter sign-up. Just this past week as I watched my whole community grapple with reviews, I saw my newsletter list climb as people read my books, didn't review, but instead indicated that they wanted more from me in a non-public manner. This is another way to gauge popularity, and though the numbers aren't publicly displayed with little stars next to them, they are just as valid.

Think of this as a two-prong approach to a popularity quotient, one in which you don't gauge how popular you are against other authors, but instead how well-loved you are amongst your own readers. Guess what? Your readers, whether they review or not, are super important, and the minute they engage with you some manner (Like your FB Page, follow you on Twitter, write fan mail, or sign-up for your newsletter) the closer you are to achieving Author Nirvana.

Don't worry about the naysayers. Plenty of people hate my work. I let them be. In a short amount of time, they have moved on to another book they'll love or hate, and they've most likely forgotten about me just like I've forgotten about them. That's the way it should be. And watching the other numbers climb indicates that my work is still being read and loved by SOMEONE, possibly someone who will be a life-long fan. That's what's really important.

My suggestion? Stop placing so much importance on the number of reviews. Start working on those reader relationships by writing great books, interacting in a positive way with the people that engage with you, and providing ways for that to happen because most people don't care about those numbers or what other people said of your work.

If you ever want to talk to me, you can comment here or send me an email using the “Contact Me” form at the side of the page. I will always give you a place to say something (as long as you're being nice or respectful) in public or private, and I value what you bring to the community and my world. Thank you.

(Sorry this is kinda rambling… That photo is me, 20 minutes ago, having some gin because that's the kind of day it's been.)

P.S. This is also why I stress newsletter so hard to new writers. They are worth it. Always.

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S. J. Pajonas