The Ugly Truth of Publishing & How BEST to Support Writers

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

Well, I figure I have one more day to drunkenly torch my platform. Sad thing is I don’t drink. I am apparently this stupid when sober 😛 . Actually I am writing this as a follow up for my rant from the day before yesterday, because knowledge is power.

Writers need this. Your friends and families need this. Readers need this. The more people get how this industry works, the more everyone can start working together for everyone’s benefit.

In my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, I go into a LOT more detail and I highly recommend you get a copy if you don’t have one. I spend the first chapters of the book explaining how the various forms of publishing work so you can make an educated decision.

All types of publishing have corresponding strengths and weaknesses and this is a decision only the writer can make. Not all writers are suited for self-publishing. Not all books are good for traditional.

And so on.

But today, dear newbies. I am going to take you on a tour behind the curtain. Also for those who are NOT newbies, feel free to pass this to family in a “Take Your Clueless Friends Who Think You Will Make a Million Dollars as Soon as You Publish To WORK Day.”

Nuts and Bolts of Publishing

Publishing is a very old business that has not updated its business model since the biggest traffic snarl in NYC involved a runaway horse carriage colliding with a drunken fish monger. In the early days of publishing in order to encourage bookstores to carry books, publishers invented what was known as the consignment model.

Publishers would guesstimate how many books would sell, send them to the merchant with the promise that, whatever did NOT sell could be returned at no cost. The merchant only had to pay for books that sold.


Can you imagine a car manufacturer sending out fleets of new cars that customers could test drive all day long. Run up mileage, spill drinks in the console, but then if they didn’t sell the dealership could say, “Nah, we’re good. Can you send us different models from another designer? We really dig that sleek crossover.”

Because often that is what happens with books. People use bookstores like a freaking library. They go into the adjacent Starbucks with a stack of books, read to their heart’s content and then leave a stack of books for the clerk to put away.

Now the spines are cracked, the pages wrinkled and no one is going to buy that book, but the bookstore isn’t out anything because they can rip the covers off and send them back. Ultimately the writer is the one who takes the hit. Kind of the publisher but really the writer as we are about to see.

Because bookstores want to provide a “browsing experience” they don’t want to rely on the new and far more efficient way of doing business, which is POD (print on demand). They like having stock to show off, which of course they do because they are not really out anything.

How Writers Are Paid

Original Image via Wikimedia Commons

Original Image via Wikimedia Commons

Why I kind of derailed into a rant Tuesday was because there are so many things that get presented as “blessings” for writers when in fact, they are benevolently killing us. They are undermining us and making it harder and harder to make a living wage. We can’t criticize these sacred cows lest we look like jerks.

You ever wonder why people just assume that a published author is rich? That is because this used to be a profession that did rather well. Granted it was easier to be elected to congress than write for a living, but these “good ideas to sell more books” have eroded the Author Middle Class and created a Publishing Third World Economy.

You know what a marker of a third world economy is? My degree is in political economy. In a third world country wealth is concentrated at the top. There is little to NO middle class and the vast majority are working poor or poverty level.

If you peruse my blog from the other day, I mentioned the ways we are paid best (digital and new books). We get a royalty. Anything used? We make no money. But let’s explore a bit further…

Compounded Sales

Back in the days before the mega bookstore, there was a very strong Author Middle Class. This author wasn’t a gazillionaire, but he did really well writing for a living. The reason was that a smaller store like B. Dalton often carried an author’s backlist. If you are old enough to remember browsing these small stores, you might even remember that factor coloring your decision.

How I ended up hooked on any number of SERIES was that the bookstores stocked the series. I didn’t want a standalone book. If I fell in love with an author or characters, I wanted to be able to keep reading.

What this meant was that writers weren’t being paid royalties from ONE book, but many books. Even if the author didn’t write series, if the author had multiple titles, odds were pretty good that the store ordered those, so even with single titles, a browsing reader could be assured they could get more than one title from THAT author.

But there was a downside…for the reader. Books were more expensive. The store was not the size of an aircraft hangar and had no place to buy a frappucino and good luck being able to buy a figurine of a chubby cat reading Shakespeare.

The MegaStore is GREAT for READERS…and Writers of COURSE

Spawn writing his memoirs.

Good luck getting good placement BABY WRITER.

So then Borders and B&N came on the scene. I still remember how they were lauded. How they were going to improve literacy because books would be so much more affordable! They were “cultural centers” and “bookish hubs”. Writers will get so much more “exposure.” Does any of that sound familiar? Refer to that @$$hat article I was ranting about.

But there was a problem. There is no free lunch. Those “deep discounts” came at a cost…to the writers. In order to discount the books the way they do, the mega stores don’t stock like the old indie bookstores unless an author is a household name guaranteed to sell.

Megastores are in the business of moving high volume. That is how they give the consumer the discount. Books, for the first time in history, had a far shorter shelf life than ever before.

Instead of books remaining in the store and giving the writer time to cultivate a fan base, the covers were ripped off and the books pulped.

As a consequence? The mid-list author (Author Middle Class) was nearly wiped out. Authors who’d made a very good living previously had to return to the regular workforce (I.e. teaching) because they no longer could live off their writing income.

I had a friend of mine who won a Nebula Award in science fiction. She went from making a regular income off ELEVEN titles, to making income off ONE title at a time.

Even though she was a respected and award-winning author, she had to give up writing full time (until Amazon).

***This was all until Amazon, by the way. Many of these authors who were driven to poverty actually now make more money than they ever did traditionally published and they no longer have to be pillaged by megastores. Which is why I get pissy when people act like Amazon is the devil and bookstores are so awesome.

Megastores make money with volume and offering the newest shiny. But the problem is that books often are like fine wine. I said wine, not whine ;). They need time to mature.

But the problem was that the very literary ecosystem that helped launch unknown books like The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood into legendary status…was destroyed. Traded for beads frappucinos. Borders and Barnes & Noble obliterated the small bookstore and took with it the earning ability of many writers.

The mega-bestsellers did VERY well. Ergo my reference to Publishing Third World. Wealth was redistributed and concentrated at the top and the middle class was eradicated.

Book Placement

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If you do not have an on-line platform, then Browsing Roulette is about the best you can hope for. But those spots in a bookstore are all negotiated in a writer’s contract. Those front slots on a table are premium real estate.

Same with displays. Ironically, though, the authors with the most selling power often get the best displays (remember the volume thing). But, George R.R. Martin is probably going to sell books. The writers who need that placement the most are the least likely to get it.

This isn’t personal. It’s business.

If I came out with a novel, I am going to sell a heck of a lot less than George R.R. Martin. Well, at least five or six copies less 😛 .

In seriousness, though it makes sense to display your heavy hitters. Problem is then that the newer writer no one knows then better hope her last name falls at the fortuitous eye-level because she will be spine-out on a shelf.

And if the time runs out and no sale? Off with that cover and the book is pulped.


Before I became a writer I bought books everywhere. Because it was not my profession I guess I really just never put any thought into how that writer was paid. If I bought a book at a used bookstore and it was new, I assumed it was overstock. I had no idea what a remainder was (more on that in a moment).

I’d also watched movies and heard this term “advance” tossed around as if it meant money rained from the sky. In fact, as a new writer, I dreamed of all kinds of ways to spend my million dollar advance.

Advances are not free money. They are essentially a payday loan. It is money loaned to the author against the money eventually earned in royalties.

So if an author is given a $20,000 advance, he is not paid another dime until that book earns over $20,000.

Herein lies the pickle.

If an author doesn’t “earn out” the advance, odds are she will not be given another book deal. So, if you get that $20,000 and the book makes $19,700? No more deals. That’s why BIG advances seem like a good thing, but can actually wreck a career. It’s far easier to earn out a $20,000 advance than a $90,000 one.

Writers don’t have to pay back the advance, but if it doesn’t “earn out” it means the writer is not a wise investment for the publisher so the odds are not good for the author getting another book deal. Depending on the author or the book, they might get another deal. But with newer authors? Probably not. And first-time authors? Forget about an advance. Not happening unless your name is Kardashian.

This was a really big deal before the digital age because traditional publishing WAS the only game in town. So if an author didn’t make her quota? Game over.

These days, advances are pretty much a thing of the past. Any money most writers will make are going to come from US buying books from them.

Print Runs

Screen Shot 2012-05-04 at 11.05.40 AM

One can tell how much confidence a publisher has in a book (author) by the print run. Low print runs mean the publisher is being conservative to hedge losses…but low print runs mean the writer doesn’t make as much. A standard print run for a new unknown author is 10,000 books. But traditional tends to limit authors to one book a year so even if an author makes $2 per book, that is $20,000 before taxes.

Yes, J.K. Rowling is a billionaire but she is not the norm.

***Btw, all of this is VERY unscientific and very broad strokes to give y’all the gist.

This isn’t BAD for the new writer because it is way easier to sell out that 10,000 and then she will get a bigger run the next book and the next as her brand grows (if she doesn’t starve in the meantime).

However, higher print runs? We are in the same deal with advances. If you don’t sell out your print run, the remaining copies are remaindered. 

There are ways writers can buy a portion of their remainders to sell by hand and they can get a far lower royalty off remaindered copies that are then sold through wholesale outlets and used bookstores.

Usually if you see a new book at a used bookstore and it looks like this (pic below)? It is a remaindered copy. That’s why yes, I get the Doctrine of First Sale and that used bookstores are not doing anything “illegal.” But don’t assume that a writer was paid a full royalty the first go. That isn’t always the case.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 8.50.18 AM

Image courtesy of Angela Quarles

Yes, this is a great fabulous discount for the reader, but when I see this? My heart feels heavy and sad for the author. That is why in my last post I said, YES feel free to buy used but if you can, please see if you can buy new from the author. The reason is that those sales can make the difference in that author earning out the advance, selling out a print run and getting their next book contract.

Because used bookstores do not favor self-published and indie authors. Most of their stock will be traditionally published authors so you (readers) supporting who you like with a new sale becomes far more important to that writer’s future and career.


Traditionally published authors are often paid yearly. Sometimes quarterly. That is negotiated. It is why you have an agent. So whatever the author makes, Vinnie the Fish Agent makes sure the publisher pays, then takes 15% (pretty standard). Then the writer is subjected to self-employment taxes, but with all this “exposure” from the megastore the writer might qualify for food stamps.

So writers are paid like farmers. Let your family know that your down payment on the yacht might be delayed.


I get that a lot of people buy used because they are on a budget. Been there so *fist bump*. You can still support writers in meaningful ways.

Even if you buy new, there is another way you can support writers you love. Write a REVIEW. A GOOD ONE.

As a writer I have a personal policy. If I can’t say something good, I shut up. Mainly because I AM far more picky about story being a writer and an editor but also this business is brutal. If we are not supporting each other? Who will? Because our families don’t get us. Our significant others might. Our kids think we are nuts. So I only leave glowing reviews. But that is me. Writers shouldn’t eat their young.

For READERS. Reviews are more important now than ever before, especially for the indie and self-published author. The reason is that with the change in the publishing paradigm, the slush pile (unfortunately) has been dumped into the reader’s lap. There are a lot of bad books out there. But even then, that really isn’t all that big of a problem.

Want to know the bigger problem?

There are a lot of good books out there.

With the Internet and social media and the explosion of books there is SO MUCH content. This means consumers are overwhelmed with choices. Reviews help writers sell books because if readers see a book with no reviews or five reviews versus a similar title with thirty reviews? Who will they choose? Additionally writers gain access to promotional tools like Bookbub, but can ONLY do this with a minimum number of reviews.

Instead of sending me an e-mail about how much my book changed your life? Put it on Amazon and change MINE! 

Readers are essential to our success beyond just the sale. If you love our books, your promotion means a thousand times more than any ad I could pay for. Ads and marketing don’t sell books. Never did and never will. Only thing that sells books is word of mouth.

Beloved reader? You would be shocked how much regular people will pay attention to you. That review is worth your weight in gold to me for a number of reasons. Humans don’t like being first. So unless a couple of you are brave and review? My book can sit with NO reviews and it is then unlikely to sell.

Think about a shelf with ONE item. It freaks us out. There is only ONE. Is it poison? O_o

Secondly, when you review us, Amazon favors our books in the algorithms meaning more people SEE our book. More people SEE it, odds are I will sell more copies. In the on-line world YOU have the power to get US that awesome front of the store book placement. The more reviews the better the algorithm. Better algorithm, more views. More views, more sales, more sales—>we make a best-seller LIST!

<3 <3 <3

You can also use your social media because it means more than ours.

Tweet a picture of our book. Put it on Facebook. People in your network ARE noticing. Peer review and approval is paramount in the digital age. And don’t support your favorite author on Goodreads as a first choice (AMAZON reviews are better). The only people hanging out on Goodreads for the most part are other writers and book trolls.

Support us on your regular Facebook page or Instagram or Twitter. Because when you post a great new book you LOVED your regular friends see that. When they get stranded in an Urgent Care or an airport? What will they remember? THAT BOOK. They won’t be on Goodreads. Trust me.

So there is your year’s end peek behind the curtain. Sorry (again) it was so long but this is meant as a reference/guide. Readers, we love you. Honest. It is why we are so stupid to work for free so much. This is a labor of love in many ways. Writers, I hope this helps you understand your profession better and maybe even “get” why I was so ticked off the other day.

Happy New Year! I love all of you very much. So NO, your writer friend is NOT YET a millionaire, but you can help MAKE HER ONE :D.

I love hearing from you!

What are your thoughts? Feelings? Are your eyes wide open? Would you like to add anything?

I love hearing from you!

Make SURE you sign up for my upcoming classes! This is part of how I fund my plans for global domination. Purchase a class! Buy a book! OR ignore all that follows but DAMN sure buy all your books NEW or I WILL FIND YOU O_o ….

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International. Your friends and family can get you something you need for Christmas. Social Media for Writers, Blogging for Writers, and Branding for Authors. 

Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

Enough of that…

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook


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  1. Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.

  2. Excellent! Very informative and, as always, written with great energy.

  3. Thank you for this!

  4. Love this. People don’t understand what a huge thing reviews are. Word of mouth is the only way to sell books. I will never buy a book unless it’s been recommended by an actual human being.

  5. A very clear, concise explanation of the whole world of what-happens-after-you’re-published, and the best way to support favorite authors. Bravo!

    • mitziflyte on December 31, 2015 at 11:46 am
    • Reply

    Reblogged this on Mitzi Flyte and commented:
    Every new writer or would-be writer should read this…no, memorize this. And get Kristen’s The Rise of the Machines. I’m now rereading and taking notes.

    • Vanessa Fowler on December 31, 2015 at 11:47 am
    • Reply

    I had no idea about any of this. Wow. I’ve been an Amazon basher, but you’ve given me a totally different perspective. And I never leave reviews; but I’m looking forward to doing that now. Thanks for the insights. I’m really getting a lot out of this blog of yours. Happy New Year!!!! Can’t wait to read what you write about next.

    1. No this is why I am flummoxed when writers defend Barnes and Noble and then bash Amazon. B&N DECIMATED many writer’s earning abilities. Amazon resurrected the Author Middle Class. Granted it isn’t perfect but it IS a new business model and they have a learning curve. I am thrilled I could help!

        • Lee Nelson on January 2, 2016 at 3:13 pm
        • Reply

        Does nobody remember Crown Bookstores? They were the original discounted book store with nothing sold at cover price. They took out the B. Dalton bookstores and the Walden bookstores at my local mall.

        We love to point at B&N and Amazon, but long before them, there was Crown.

        1. The difference is that Crown didn’t deliberately open a GIANT location on EVERY SINGLE corner directly across from every bookstore. They might have made a dent and even gave the other guys the idea though.

          I KID you NOT. At one time we had SIX Barnes & Nobles all within four miles and three Borders within that same area walking distance from a B&N. It was STUPID. I don’t miss Borders and I won’t miss B&N. They are predators like Blockbuster (who I do not miss AT ALL). The sooner the B&N megastore dies off the sooner an authentic indie can return.

  6. I hope all readers read this post. Thanks so much for explaining the weird complicated way a writer gets paid. More readers need to know we’re not millionaires and depend on every little thing a reader can do.

    1. Well, that is why I put this together. I know it is long, but I am hoping my witty one-liners help 😛

  7. I love this. I get those wonderful comments, but no review accompanies the comment. I love those readers, but they don’t understand.

    • KathyMcIntosh on December 31, 2015 at 11:58 am
    • Reply

    Reblogged this on Kathy McIntosh, Author and commented:
    Great information from Kristen Lamb

  8. Happy New Year

  9. Reblogged this on Stories from the Hearth and commented:
    This blog post gives a great round-up of all the main points: why it mostly sucks to be a writer in today’s publishing world! Readers, we need your support! Write those reviews, don’t just consume, consume, consume. Writers need to eat and have a roof over their heads to keep producing all those wonderful stories you love so much.

  10. Love this article! I posted it on my Facebook page! This way I can perhaps help two writers rather than just one!

  11. Reblogged this on Indie Lifer and commented:
    From Kristen Lamb: The Ugly Truth of Publishing & How BEST to Support Writers

  12. Thank you for addressing these issues at length. Many indie authors are unaware of the full story of publishing, and I love that you pointed out that advances come with a lot conditions. Many people take that check, bank it and spend it. The book doesn’t sell and they go into debt. Great post. Am sharing!
    Happy New Year !!

    1. Not sure if I misunderstood your post “Spirited Quill,” but an author does not pay back the advance even if the book doesn’t earn out. So, when I receive my advance, the money is mine free and clear. However, I will not receive additional rotalities on that book until after I earned back the advance. There is no danger of an author going into debt because their book didn’t earn out the advance. That money is mine no matter what. However, if that happens, a publisher may not want to give me another contract. Make sense?

      Great post, Kristen.

      1. Per the terms of their contract, unless it is negotiated otherwise, it can be true. I know several authors who turned down contracts because the publisher had included in the contract that that if they accepted the advance, if the sales didn’t come through, that difference had to be paid back.

        Pays to read the fine print, kids.

        1. Does NOT surprise me AT ALL.

          1. It is a shame, but this is how they have been doing it for decades. We just don’t hear about it because these are private meetings between authors and publishers. I know someone who pushed back a very large advance check across the conference room table, just a few years back because of it. I know of a couple others who mistakenly went it alone and regretted it later. One of the MANY reasons people turned to self-publishing in the first place.

            • Harald Johnson on January 1, 2016 at 5:39 pm

            Hmm… I’m not saying you guys are wrong, but this was not my experience at all in 2000s (nor any of my author friends). Advances were never paid back; that was the risk the publishers were taking. No risk, no reward. That was the deal. Anyway, I guess that ain’t the deal anymore, so now it’s history. Onward!

          2. Some of the publishers are pulling some really nasty BS. Look up the crap Dorchester pulled.

  13. Reblogged this on No Extra Words and commented:
    We are a non-paying market, asking writers to give us their work for free. We also get paid not a dime for what we do. As a 21st century writer, it is harder than ever to get paid and this beautiful outline of the traditional publishing model tells us why. But we are not alone. Musicians, photographers, visual artists…they are all trying to figure out how to get paid.
    What do you think? Can you make a living as a writer? Do you count on your readers to help you out as the finances get tighter? And maybe the toughest question of all: does the literary community owe you anything? I don’t know what to make of this…tell me your thoughts!

  14. Reblogged this. Thank you so much for this great info and starting the conversation.

  15. Thank you, Kristin. I’m posting this in my group Books by Brats because we all need to know this. I’m also reading your book Rise of the Machines – Human Authors in a Digital World. Amazing cover, and a treasure-trove of content. Thanks for writing it, and I promise, I did NOT get it an any used bookstore!

  16. Thank you so much for this post, Kristen. And an extra big thank you for this: “As a writer I have a personal policy. If I can’t say something good, I shut up.” That has been, and will remain, my personal policy toward reviews. I’ve been told it’s unfair to leave only good reviews, that I’m being dishonest to prospective buyers who buy books based on reviews. In spite of that, if I can’t leave 4 stars or better, I don’t leave a review. There are enough readers out there waiting to tear us down. As a writer, I’m not going to pile on.

  17. Reblogged this on authorkdrose and commented:
    Nuts and Bolts that all Writers Should Remind Themselves of!

  18. Okay, my next item on my list is to read your book and leave a review. Knowing my list I’ll say it will be up by the end of January. Promise. By the way, your blogs are so good, why do I need to blog at all? REBLOGGED

  19. Shared on all platforms! Writers support writers – and hopefully that encourages readers from each author to expand their book buying.

  20. I’ve been bad about reviewing books. I will make book reviews one of my new years resolutions (along with calling my mother more often and eating right, which got off track last year). Happy New Year!!

  21. Another fantastic post! Yes, after following your blog for a while, I finally bought your book, Rise of the Machines. So excited to give it a read and soak up your wisdom.

  22. Reblogged this on Michelle Eastman Books and commented:
    A must-read for anyone who writes!

  23. A must-read for anyone who writes!

  24. If we already have your book, what is he benefit of the classes?

  25. IF my blog was about author advice, I would reblog this. However, spot-on as it is, it does not contain pet care information – sorry, that sculpture of the cat reading Shakespeare isn’t quite enough. HOWEVER, I plan to send to link to this to several people who need to be educated; one being a fellow indie author, who markets herself to distraction, then wonders why the book she isn’t promoting is her big seller…. Happy New Year!

  26. Wow! This was super helpful and also really made me feel better! Like as a new writer whose book got published only a year ago, this really helps. Also, it makes all those so you write, big deal jabs a lot easier to handle and gives me a wider outlook on the industry. So excited to buy your book and see what else can I know. Happy New Year! Keep the posts coming.

  27. Another excellent and informative post!

  28. I linked to this post on my FB page. I already knew a lot of what you say but not all of it. My bottom line when I posted – if you love a book you read, leave a positive review, no matter how short. I have not always done this, unless the book was an ARC. I am going to to my best to change that in 2016.

  29. Preaching to the choir here Sister! I know and am living this very life. Sadly I am in the poverty level but still hammering away at it in hopes that someday, something will give. Will be reblogging this on Siefken Publications so others can share the news and enlighten as well. Thank you for writing this so succinctly!

  30. Reblogged this on Siefken Publications and commented:
    This writer has said what many of us have fought for,through and learned along the way of becoming a writer.

    • Rachel Thompson on December 31, 2015 at 1:13 pm
    • Reply

    “The more people get how this industry works, the more everyone can start working together for everyone’s benefit.”
    That is true for some of the factions involved like writes and readers, but the publishing industry doesn’t give a rats butt that “everyone benefits.” Before becoming a freelancer I was in the construction industry and it is remarkable how much alike construction and publishing are in how they do business. The same is true of all corporations, they are sociopaths and don’t care for anything but profit. None can be trusted. The human sides matters not and never will. When dealing with publishers, it is good to know that you are working with heartless monsters. That’s why agents are handy. Yeah the editor may be a nice guy, but the bean counters call the shots so believe no promises and forgo polite handshakes, get it all under contract and hold them to it. They will screw you for a penny if they can.

      • L. Palermo on January 3, 2016 at 6:00 am
      • Reply

      The margins in trade publishing are such that pennies matter. Consider that a trade publisher carries all of the financial risk involved and that many of the costs are front-loaded, so money is paid out months and years before the 1st red cent is made from a project. Those front loaded expenditures are not refundable, whether or not the title sells through. In addition to the things you may know to consider (design and development costs, book production costs, author and illustrator advances, etc), there are many which may not even be on your radar (galleys; advance readers copies and promo items for reps, buyers, trade reviewers, etc.; sending final, bound copies to many of that same group as well as awards committees, etc.; initial shipping cost for most order fulfillment (regardless of eventual returns); annual inventory taxes on the publishers unsold books, etc.). The opportunities for catastrophic loss are myriad. All publishers are not the same.

    • prudencemacleod on December 31, 2015 at 1:13 pm
    • Reply

    Wow, the old one two punch. This is the second blog in a row that had me yelling. YES! Keep them coming, sister, tell it like it is! You Rock, WANA mamma. 🙂

  31. Hi Kristin! I especially liked your section on reviews. There have been several posts in the author blogosphere lately concerning “pay for reviews” businesses preying upon indies. Such a despicable practice sickens me.
    However, I think you hit the mail on the head when you say that “word of mouth” is a boon for book sales.
    Thanks again for another great insight.

  32. Reblogged this on Amy Reece and commented:
    Such good stuff here!!! I always learn sooo much from Kristen!

  33. Signed Up and excited to join a class or two or three or four!

  34. Posted this on my facebook page. Happy New Year!

  35. Reblogged this on Mystery and Romance and commented:
    Ever wondered how writers get paid? How the publishing industry really works? Why my books aren’t in those giant book stores? How much impact a single review has?

    • TKP on December 31, 2015 at 3:03 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen does an excellent job with this overview – but as an industry ‘insider’ I feel compelled to make a few additional comments:

    Publishing model

    I slightly disagree with the blog in that I see big changes happening within the publishing industry and while a number of presses cling to the old, traditional model – growing numbers are updating to digital age methods. In the past ‘print on demand’ (POD) has been maligned as an inferior print method as well as an unwelcome usurper of the traditional print run and warehousing method – but the technology has improved massively in the last couple of years and more publishers than you might think or already converting over. If a book is well designed, you can no longer tell the difference between digital (POD) production and offset printing – and some of the larger presses are already quietly converting. It is more economical, more environmental, requires less space (no warehousing), less pulping, and books do not sit around and deteriorate. I’ve found that a lot of writers still hold on to out-dated views on this development and do not understand the impact of these changes. A lot of writer-advice blogs are 10 years behind on how they view the industry. Sure, a lot of presses still do traditional printing – but not for long. POD printing is the future and gives the publisher (and some extent, writer) more control on book distribution and waste.

    ‘Consignment’ and ‘Sale or Return’

    Bookshops who demand these terms hurt publishers as well as writers, and especially small presses. Writers don’t seem to understand that the major publishing conglomerates are a small percentage of the industry even if they provide the biggest commercial output. Only big commercial presses can swallow the cost of doing business to these bookshops, whereas small presses are often put under by these policies. There are a growing number of smaller or specialist presses who no longer target bookshop sales – and concentrate on online vendors instead. These presses will only sell to the small percentage of bookshops who will pay them for their books – rather than borrow them to see if they sell then return them in used condition. As many presses are moving from print runs and warehousing to PODs – they have no facility for mass returns – so bookshop business becomes less viable. Kristen is right to point out that this is the only wholesale/retail situation in the world where the retailer expects product without paying for it. It is quite frankly, a ridiculous situation.


    Writers should know that advances are increasingly rare, even for the larger publishers. Kristen rightly points out how they operate like a loan – but only the larger presses can continue to afford giving them in the first place. I know heard many mid-market authors at fairly substantial presses complain about the lack of an advance – and the trend is here to stay. In fact, many presses are now adopting a ‘pay-to-publish’ model, the complete opposite of advances. In a publishing environment where the competition has multiplied at an unprecedented level – advances even for large presses are extremely risky. I feel that writers should know this!

    Placement and Advertising

    Writers still place a lot of emphasis on getting a publisher or publishing work. This is only the beginning and the hard work starts after. I know two authors that got a book deal through Penguin and thought they’d ‘made it.’ Their books failed, were put out of print quickly, and now they are both searching for publishers (with no luck) or self-publishing. Different presses have different distribution models, different advertising budgets, and often differing expectations. Authors should never be complacent – or expect publishers/agents to do all the work. Only a tiny fraction of published authors actually earn a living wage from it. Many authors with big publishers still struggle. Many book events and conferences are poorly attended – even at the top levels. Not trying to be overly bleak – just realistic.


    I’ve talked to thousands of authors who expected royalty cheques in the thousands – and are only getting hundreds or even less of a pittance. Publishing is NOT a meritocracy – and authors should know this. I’ve seen some brilliant books and authors fly below the radar, make so little money and get shuffled out of print. Likewise, I’ve seen some truly awful books and authors make more than they should. There are so many factors in these determinations that it’s almost impossible to project how any book will go. To be brutally honest – most authors (especially self-published, indie or small press authors) only sell books to a smattering of relatives and friends, if that. Some work hard online to pick up a few additional sales but it’s all very modest and the royalty cheques are often not even worth cashing. Even the moderately successful authors I know and work with have day jobs – or another source of income. It’s good to be confident and positive – but authors should also stay realistic. If you sell just 100 copies of your novel – you’re already doing better than MOST other authors – that’s reality for you.


    I agree that Amazon reviews are good – but authors seem to obsess over peer reviews, author blurbs, magazine reviews, newspaper reviews, etc. I have to tell you that I have seen authors chase all these things down only to receive a ZERO sales bump from them. That is not to say they shouldn’t try – but be aware that very few people buy books from reading magazine reviews or newspaper reviews anymore. Books with loads of cover blurbs from writer peers don’t necessarily sell better than those without, statistics show. I think authors get a little carried away with the review process and are so often disappointed with the results. To be honest, a 5 line Amazon review is worth more than some peer review in a fiction journal.

    Writing Advice vs Craft

    My final point is the most important. So many writer advice blogs talk about the process ad nauseam but never mention craft. More important that all the tricks of the trade is to be a good writer. Work on your craft – perfect it – strive to develop a unique voice, style, story, plot, etc., and never settle for average. Most of the writers I talk to have no idea of the sheer volume of submissions that even the smallest of presses receive regularly. I can promise you – the number of authors seeking to be published is sometimes perilously close to the number of customers that are willing to pay for a new book. Suddenly, everyone is an author – and the market is absolutely inundated with new work. Of the thousands of submissions that pour into a press submission box – most of them are immediately discarded for being poorly written and badly crafted. Many of them read no better than a standard college writing class paper – and more than you might imagine are worse. A lot of people have good ideas (if sometimes derivative) but have absolutely no idea about craft, presentation, or writing in general. So many of these people are full of advice from writer sites and blogs and are full of good intentions. But they fail to realise that their novel is one of thousands seeking to be published that day – and only the truly exceptional even make it to the second round with the submission committee. Instead of improving a manuscript, a lot of writers proceed to self-publishing after so many rejections – thus diluting the pool even further. While it’s true that some presses are actually looking for average narrative fare, particularly in the world of genre or commercial fiction, writers should still look to perfect their craft as much as possible while paying attention to the submission policies of each press they submit to.

    1. THANK YOU! Yes I know publishers are updating and the industry is getting better. I’m thrilled you took time to fill in gaps because this WAS really just broad strokes. I go NUTS about authors chasing industry and peer or journal reviews. Write more books! Improve your craft! Less marketing more writing. Again, thank you ((HUGS))

    2. I don’t entirely agree with everything in your blog. Yes, the publishing world has a lot to learn and could learn from POD. I think you overstate the historic ability of authors to make a living– there’s a reason I was able to see Kurt Vonnegut speak at my college, and I doubt it’s because he loved hanging out with frivolous boozy 21 year olds. Comparing an advance to a payday loan is I think silly– payday loan places use predatory interest rates. An advance is getting paid for your work on the speculation it will sell, and the only risk is to the publisher. These are I think great times for writers, because you cannot be stopped thanks to Createspace and Amazon. If you don’t write and produce a beautiful book there is nobody but oneself to blame, but then finding an audience is an entirely different job. But the book being created is the most important thing. I self-published my first and third novels (haven’t done anything yet with the third), but only after lots of rejections from agents. Over a hundred. But then I found an agent for my fourth– your depiction of agents as sleazy is off-putting to me with the wonderful experience I have had– and she found me a two-book deal, with an option for a third, with Harper Collins, with an advance that could allow me to quit my day job, though I will not, and it is an advance I figure to earn out. This means that my fourth and fifth novels at least will be everywhere, and I will have an audience that I could probably never achieve self-publishing. Having other people concern themselves with your cover, the marketing plan, the legality of your title, and whether your beloved protagonist has said enough in each scene is a surreal development. I feel fortunate to have fallen into the hands I have fallen into, but it didn’t have to end this way. I didn’t begin writing novels with the hope of making a living, but I needed to write them anyway. If I have to return one day to self publishing I will, but it will be as a more known commodity with perhaps an enhanced ability to sell what I write. But there are lots of ways to make money, and only a few ways to make you feel the way you do when you give birth to a novel.

      1. I never depicted agents as sleazy and I feel you are taking the “payday” loan comparison too literally. I meant a loan until ONE is PAID. I don’t overstate their ability to make a living. I know they were not millionaires but there was a decent living wage. I know this because of many, many mid-list writer friends and friends (MANY authors) who in the new paradigm are doing VERY well when the megastores all but killed them out. Bob Mayer is a very good example. When I met Bob at a conference in OKC in 2007, he was planning on leaving writing for good and going back to teaching and pursuing corporate coaching using his background as a Green Beret. His advice to me as an author was stick to NF. There was no living in fiction. And this was a MULTI NYTBSA and USA TODAY best-selling Author. Bob in the new age of publishing is doing VERY well in FICTION namely because the new age rewards smart business.

        1. Didn’t you use some name such as “Vinnie the Fish” as the prototypical agent? Well, I can’t relate to the idea of deciding what sort of books to write– fiction versus nonfiction or chasing trends. It’s nice to make money, and it’s great to have an audience, but best is writing a novel that was worth the trouble, that will live in the hearts of whatever audience it reaches.

          1. I just meant that as having to strong-arm NY and break kneecaps to get the author paid. NY can be jerks about paying royalties on time and we writers need a brute to shake them down.

          2. My experience has been much more pleasant thus far, but it is good having an experienced and skilled agent on your side. I had a surreal lunch with my agent, editor and editorial director in October, and it was interesting watching my agent be my cordial advocate speaking with my editor and editorial director. My agent has some previous experience working with the editorial director.They are such a talented trio it was rarified air I breathed. To have people like them laughing at what I said and then pay the bill is quite a feeling.

    3. Spot on. I believe that if you truly want to be an author, you need to learn the entire history of publishing, learning the art and craft of penning a manuscript and keep up with the changes within the industry. Knowledge is power.

  36. Love this post. All of this is information I wish more people knew. Thank you for sharing and shedding light!

  37. Thank you for writing this article – it says all the things I’ve been thinking, and answers the questions I didn’t even realise I had. I just wrote a blog post and linked back to your article, Kristen – I hope that’s all right

  38. Interesting article Kristen. May I point out another book store problem? I am new to the writing world (although I am no longer young). I write family appropriate westerns. We have one major book store in our city. Of course, they won’t give me the time of day but I expected that. What I didn’t expect is that their (very small) western section is taken up with Zane Grey, Max Brand and Loius L’Amour. All of these books are between 50 and 100 years old.. I love L’Amour’s writing but come on, he died in 1988 and we have all pretty well read his works. Of course, the store says that westerns don’t sell. Why would we be surprised? What other genre carries books that old? There are many great new western authors but the store, and obviously, their distributor, won’t give the new authors a look. Seems like a strange way to stock a shelf. Reg Quist

  39. Hi Kristen,
    This is an excellent post, as usual. Yours is my favorite site to follow and I love all of your support and enthusiasm for writers. I’ve learned a lot this year. I’m looking forward to reading Rise of the Machines.
    I get so many messages and emails from people who say they love my books but not as many reviews. Can I ask them directly to leave a review? Would that seem too forward or offensive? This seems to be my main issue.
    I wish you a wonderful, healthy, prosperous New Year. Thanks for everything.

    1. YES! Ask for the sale! We are a business. All they can do is say no 😀 . Send them to this post and tell them to look at the section regarding reviews and how they can help YOU. That was part of why I wrote another TOME so you guys would have a reference to show people.

    • Amy Jones Sedivy on December 31, 2015 at 5:14 pm
    • Reply

    Excellent and informative. The other thing I’ve learned is that publishers and agents want you to come to them not only with your book but with an audience you’ve already created via blogs or Facebook or whatever.

    • Ari on December 31, 2015 at 5:46 pm
    • Reply

    This was a brilliant article and just what I needed. It really helps to know this. It also helps to be able to put off family members who, when they are not in the “it’s a phase” moment, are going “when will you be published? we need you to look after us with your millions” (ha!)

    Excellent job of giving all this detail, I am definitely going to be following your blog!

    Happy New Year 🙂

  40. Thanks for the insightful and detailed comments Kristen. Reblogging on Monday at

    • Harald Johnson on December 31, 2015 at 7:44 pm
    • Reply

    Thought-provoking post, as usual, Kristen! But I’d like to differ with or clarify a couple of the points made based on my experience. Call this an Historical Reference. And I’m talking from a non-fiction writer POV who did VERY WELL in the 2000s, and who’s now moved to fiction. And I know that 2005 is the bronze age compared to 2015, but it’s not paleolithic (even though I do eat a Paleo Diet :).

    Book Placement
    Non-fiction has sections (“subjects”) in the bookstore. Photo books go in Art/Architecture/Photography (B&N); computer books go in Computers. I was very much a new nobody, and my books (traditional-published) about digital printing for art and photography went right in one of those sections. Anyone looking for a book about photo printing walked to one of those sections, and there I was. And that’s where I stayed. Partly because my mother kept moving my book from the bottom row to eye level, but mainly because my book (“Mastering Digital Printing”) KEPT SELLING. If a book sold, they reordered it. If it didn’t—like you say—you were GONE in a heartbeat.

    I asked for a $5k advance and got it. Twice, in fact (for Second Edition). It wasn’t a lot, but it paid for propane deliveries in the winter. And that $5k seemed pretty normal for my niche. Apparently, those days are pretty much over based on what you and everyone else seems to be saying now.

    Quarterly was standard. I started at 10%, but that was of PUBLISHERS NET (which is way down the totem pole from the retail price). My first 400-page book listed at $39.95. By the time I was getting 12% (stepping up with each 5k sales benchmark), I was receiving ~$2.00 per book. So I was getting 5% of the retail price! Not so great is it? Makes you think about going Indie, doesn’t it? (see below)

    This is a very important thing, in my view. Besides the obvious: good writing craft, good concept and premise, good cover, good editing, etc., marketing IS THE KEY to book sales, I’m convinced. Even as the #1-selling author in my non-fiction books’ category (and reaching Top 5 overall in Amazon), my publisher (the world’s largest at the time) did ZERO (end-user) marketing. They did Distribution (much appreciated!), but NO marketing (to the final readers/purchasers of the book). I had to do it all. And I did. And that’s what kept the royalty checks coming in year after year. Personally, I would put marketing at roughly 50% of total writing effort. Many writers don’t like to hear this; they want to write, goshdarnit, and not mess with marketing and sales. Well, if you want to sell books, get over it. Learn about author platforms and all the rest.

    Traditional for Fiction?
    Do I plan to go with traditional publishing for my new fiction? Heck no! I’ve seen it from the inside, and I’m going indie self-pub. If a publisher comes to me later with an offer, I’ll know exactly how hard a bargain to drive. Or, I might just blow them off entirely. That is, if they’re still around.

    Hope this gave a little added perspective.

    1. No, I love it! I know my little walk through is WAY lacking. I was giving the 20,000 foot view but I love the added perspective. Thank you!

  41. Great info and tips. Thanks to you and to my writer friend who linked to this on her Facebook.
    I just finished my first manuscript yesterday (!) and am sending to beta readers this week. I’d love to send 20 pages to you! Put me in the hat!

  42. Excellent post. Thanks!

  43. Reblogged this on selenafulton and commented:
    This was a fabulous read for anyone wanting to understand how to help authors.

  44. Great info and tips. Thanks to you and to Donna hatch who shared this on her Facebook.
    I just finished my first manuscript yesterday (!) and am sending to beta readers this week. I’d love to send the first 20 pages to you! Put me in the hat!

    • Ros Davis on January 1, 2016 at 3:10 am
    • Reply

    As a reader not an author of like to speak to two statements. First no one buys books with only a few reviews. I do if those few reviews are rave reviews.second buying second hand hurts authors. I have lost count of the number of authors that I have added to my buy anything they write list because I came across them in an opportunity shop or market and only had to risk a couple of dollars to try them.sure if you only buy second hand it does authors no good. But its rare to find more than a few books of an author second hand and once you are hooked well some may have the patience to wait till their next find but with the intro of digital books I don’t. So its a win for the aurthor.
    My biggest frustration with trying to support an author I like is when some publisher refuses to allow all or part of a series to be sold in Australia. It is screamingly frustrating to fall in love with an author or a particular series only to discover that half their books are not available to the Australian purchaser. There is a twisted logic to this for print but for digital down load it make no sense.

    1. We DO appreciate the support. AND to reiterate, I have no issue with second hand books and making discoveries that way if WE authors are communicating to readers how we are eventually PAID so we can write more. I know I discovered many of MY favorite authors that way, but then (because I was educated) I was able to go back and buy NEW from the author to show gratitude/support. THANK YOU!

      • Tom on January 2, 2016 at 9:56 am
      • Reply

      Hey Ros! I was reading through here and noticed your complaint about digital downloads being restricted in the Oz, and I may have a solution for ya’ – check out VPN (virtual private network) – it can essentially be like a tele-porter for your computer/device. You can make it appear as though you are in any country in which the VPN provider has a server… In order to keep this reply fair, I won’t suggest any company in particular, but know that there are some options. As with all things, there are many options in price, but I find that you get what you pay for… VPN’s are totally legal to use in most countries (N. Korea may ban them ;))
      Experience: My wife is from Sweden but lives in the US now – we use a VPN so that she can still watch the Swedish broadcasts on line 🙂
      Best of luck!

    • timamarialacoba on January 1, 2016 at 3:41 am
    • Reply

    I love your rants! They make so much sense, Kristen. Re-blogging this and even placing a segment on my facebook page with the link back to you 🙂

    • "Lonesome" Lee West on January 1, 2016 at 4:09 am
    • Reply

    Good stuff, Kristen! Thanx!

  45. Reblogged this on Mandy White.

  46. Thank you for this. Reblogged and shared it with my writers’ group.

  47. thanks, shared this

  48. Reblogged this on Claire Stibbe and commented:
    Than you for the ugly truth . . . A very educational blog and one definitely worth reading. I had no idea word of mouth carried so much fire. And thank you for the opportunity to put our names in a hat. What a change 2016 will be!

  49. Reblogged this on disregard the prologue and commented:
    This is an interesting look behind the curtain at how authors get paid (and a few of the reasons I publish independently rather than seeking out traditional contracts, actually, and therefore why you won’t be seeing my books on display at Chapters or B&N). But the best part is the end, where she talks about how reviews support authors. If you love a book and let people know about it, you’re ensuring that your favourite authors can keep producing work for you to enjoy. 🙂

  50. Reblogged this on Tiffany Dawn and commented:
    Add this to what you wish you knew before you started writing.

  51. I’m a writer, too, but I also work in a part of the industry you kind of glossed over, non-big5 traditional publishing, aka indie presses. Bookstore sales aren’t a big part of our world (alas, as I formerly owned an indie bookstore, sigh.) There are no advances and no press runs, just POD and ebooks. So far, just like self publishing, right? But: we’re a recognizable brand that a reader can count on to deliver quality. There is still a gatekeeper (me, I’m the acquisitions editor.) There is an editor and a copyeditor. Cover artists who are staff. A Marketing & PR dept., also staff. A book designer, an IT person, established web presence. No, we can’t place your book in B & N or Walmart– that’s what the big5 is FOR– but writers aren’t SOLELY depending on only Amazon reviews to sell (although of course we want our writers to market their own books too, and so do the big5.) A reader seeing an unknown writer’s book with our label on it knows there are around 50 or so people betting their paychecks and their family’s rent money on that book selling, and that’s a vote of confidence.

    1. I, personally, am counting on you guys taking over the industry. I have no use for businesses that do not value their resources. I didn’t shed a tear for Blockbuster or Tower Records and I don’t care one whit for B&N. I did mourn the loss of the mom & pop bookstores. They DID care about writers and books. But this, “We don’t care! YOU don’t matter. Only CHEAP matter!” Okay. Let’s see how that works out for you.

    • Luisa Perkins on January 1, 2016 at 11:40 am
    • Reply

    SO helpful! Reposting on FB.

    • James Copeland on January 1, 2016 at 11:43 am
    • Reply

    Dear Kristen Lamb:

    I read every word. Do I get a prize?

    I seriously doubt it. What you said is true. I personally have been writing since 2006 and have penned 25 novels, published one, self published 5. Some are as good as JT Rawlings, or what ever her name is, some better. They have all been tweeked…multiple times. The Amazon part you mentioned is probably true, however, I am wondering seriously why they have lost the account number of my bank account. They won’t let me do the reviewing? So…where does that leave me?

    I buy the book that says that I must find an agent or else…so far, it has been ‘or else.’

    I have a national named company’s book in front of me at the moment and another stack of names of agents that I have sent all they asked, and more. Nothing! Some are so busy throwing my stuff away that they don’t have time to answer real writers who send in stuff.

    It is January 1, 2016 so I guess I will keep on writing…

    Sincerely, Happy New Year,

    James M. Copeland Novelist

  52. Wow, I definitely learned something today… As a writer I learned more about the business I’m trying to get into. As a reader, I’ve learned where I will be buying my books from now on…

  53. Your blog is absolutely the best out there for writers, Kristen, and I’m always posting links to it in hopes of educating others. One of my big concerns about the biz that is rarely mentioned is the astounding numbers of ebooks that authors give away for free on a permanent basis. While a freebie might be a strategy that helps authors with big backlists to push their other books, it makes it impossible for new authors to make any money, and it has taught readers that they don’t need to pay for books. Sadly, I think that the biggest problem for authors is other authors who are happy to give away their work for nothing.

    • Melissa on January 1, 2016 at 1:50 pm
    • Reply

    I appreciate you taking the time to explain this. I will certainly take the time to write reviews for books that I like, and like you forgo the ones that I don’t. Happy New Year!

  54. Thanks for another great article. I always find your posts helpful. I have a question that is loosely connected to this topic. What are your thoughts on gifting books to friends and family? I keep hearing comments from people who seem to expect me to give them a copy of my book for free (when it’s published, or even now while I am still editing.) I have a few writer friends who have tried to do this for me, but I’ve always insisted on buying the book from them. I don’t know what to think when someone close to me seems to think they should get a copy of my book for free. I’m not published yet, so I can usually avoid the question, and I’m not opposed to some giveaways because that could spread the news about my book when it comes out. Ok, I guess I have two questions. (1) What is an appropriate way to plan book giveaways? and (2) how do I educate those close to me to understand that purchasing the book (and writing a review/ telling people about it) is what is going to help me make a living as an author?

  55. If only there was some way to make everyone read your ‘Reviews’ section of this post, I wouldn’t find myself begging for reviews on social media and still getting very few of them. (“The best thing you can give an author is an honest review” and that sort of thing. I avoid saying “Please, by all that is holy, review my book!”) My first novel has 37 reviews, my second has 11, and my third – and best of the ones released – has one. As you might guess, books two and three don’t sell that well. It’s…frustrating.

    1. Feel free to cut out that section and reblog it. Just give me credit 😀

      1. Thanks and rest assured I’ll give you credit.

      2. As an author, I feel hlvogel’s pain. Trying to ask nicely for a review without sounding like a self-promoting beggar is difficult! So, we end up not asking enough. I don’t now why, but people will review practically any product on Amazon, (and get quite inventive about it too, even bags of garden manure, I’ve seen that!) but hardly on a review about a book, if at all! Trying to get a book review is like pulling teeth from a turnip. I hope you don’t mind, but is it okay if I take you up on your offer to hlvogel to share that same section of your blog on mine? Full credit of course, with a link back to your full blog post!

        1. Actually I WRITE that section FOR YOU TO PARSE and share. Take it!

          1. Thank you! Shared, and shared again!

  56. I think the best way to change the traditional publishing industry is for established authors to stop using them for publishing. Self-publishing has freed up the market, which is always a good thing. If an author wants readers to help, he/she should encourage readers to only buy self-published books. Once the traditional publishers have no authors coming to them they will change their payment methods. At that point, the authors have the power and can negotiate an appropriate deal. Alternatives scare publisher, but they also will make them better.

    1. Very true.

  57. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    This is VERY good stuff for writers. Not exactly news for anybody who’s been paying attention, but very relevant.

  58. Reblogged this on Louise Forster.

  59. Reblogged this on and commented:

  60. Great post. I bought your book, as much to support you as anything, since I am already doing most of what needs to be done. Of course, there are always new things I could learn. Amazon literally saved my life. I spent years submitting manuscripts to publishers and agents, only to be told that, though I was obviously a talented writer, there really wasn’t a market for my work. Amazon allowed me to self publish and catch an audience. In three years I have sold over a hundred and fifty thousand copies of my work. I was stuck in a dead end job that was sucking the life from me, and am now working my dream job. Amazon definitely revived the writers’ middle class. I’m not Stephen King, but I make a very good living, bringing in triple what my state job was paying. I was recently at a workshop where several big name authors asked me if I really wanted to become traditional (the answer is still yes, but not because of the money). Just goes to show how things have changed.

    1. THANK YOU! And what a fantastic story! GO YOU!

  61. Do you know what? I don’t think I’ve ever written a review for something I bought used. I am now slapping myself upside the head, checking out my shelves, and sharpening my quills. Thanks for the kick up the butt!

  62. Reblogged this on katepavelle and commented:
    Reviews are the best fan mail. And, an inside look at the traditional publishing industry. Read, consider, adapt.

  63. Reblogged this on Flynn Gray and commented:
    Re-blogging this post from Kristen Lamb’s blog, as I feel it is important information for all writers (and readers) to know. A great overview of how the publishing industry works, its pitfalls, and how readers can support their favourite authors. ~ Flynn

    • Helen on January 1, 2016 at 8:31 pm
    • Reply

    My problem with people who only leave positive reviews is that I don’t trust the review. There are so many books I don’t want to waste my money on bad books. Honest reviews are of more value to me.

    1. Just because they are all good doesn’t make them dishonest though. And people can leave bad reviews. As a WRITER it is not the best professional courtesy. Don’t SH&^ where you eat.

  64. I’m currently reading your book, “rise of the machines.” So much great information and along with the information on your blog it has certainly opened my eyes. I am about half way thru the first draft of my book and can see I have a LOT of work ahead of me. I also plan on taking your classes in January. I do have a blog, on blogger, and am looking at WP to switch everything over. I haven’t paid attention to that blog in a couple of years but it still has a good priority ranking…wish I could magically bring that and my followers with me to WP.

  65. Reblogged this on Emily Arden, author and commented:
    Some great info and insights in this post from Kristen Lamb. My favourite quote: “Beloved reader? You would be shocked how much regular people will pay attention to you. That review is worth your weight in gold to me for a number of reasons. Humans don’t like being first. So unless a couple of you are brave and review? My book can sit with NO reviews and it is then unlikely to sell.” So true! Reviews are vital.
    One of my goals for 2016 is to connect with more readers who will want to review my books. I will provide interested readers with a free copy for honest reviews!

  66. Wonderful post – thanks Kristen! I particularly love your reminder about the importance of reviews – so true!

  67. Reblogged this on iamhyperlexic and commented:
    One of the most detailed articles about book marketing I have ever read.

  68. Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    Great necessary information from Kristen Lamb.

  69. Reblogged this on Juanita Kees and commented:
    In this article, Kristen Lamb outlines the ways of the publishing industry and the importance of a good review for an author. Readers, we love hearing from you. The best gift you can give your favourite author is an honest review.

  70. Reblogged this on Jinxie's World and commented:
    THIS so very much. Every word of her post. Read it. Please.


  71. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:
    This is a long post, but it is VERY informative, and well worth the read. You owe it to yourself to check it out, I think, and to reblog, tweet, and forward by mail to everyone you think will take the time to read. We writers need to understand this, and help educate readers who don’t realize it.

  72. This is a great blog, Mrs. Lamb. I especially enjoyed the part about book reviews.

    I’ve had plenty of folks tell me my first novel is a great story, but many of them wouldn’t leave reviews. There is a stigma for people when leaving reviews. I get the same three responses over and over, A) I don’t have the time to leave a review, and B) I don’t know how to write a review or C) I don’t want to sound (insert whatever word you wish here, but the one I get the most is I don’t want to sound stupid).

    I get all of that and I can’t really argue the finer points of it (especially at a risk of running off a reader).

    I have a habit of reviewing books. I want folks to review mine, but if I don’t do the same thing I’ve always thought it would be hypocritical. For me, the book review not only plays the role of boosting sales, but morale as well. One of the best things we can do for a writer is tell others about their work and reviews are one of those ways. I could go on for days here.

    Thank you, Mrs. Lamb, for this post. It is definitely an eye opener.

  73. I get emails almost daily when people finish my book about how much they loved it, but only about 10% of those leave a review. I’m learning that people who are not writers have a fear of writing reviews. I always say, “copy and paste this message, and that’s your review.” Thanks for the info as always. Just bought your book. I’ll review it when I’m finished!

    • Lee Nelson on January 2, 2016 at 2:58 pm
    • Reply

    The music industry also practiced consignment…and some boutique industries do, as well. I’ve worked for many retailers – including inside corporate offices – and it’s not that unusual.

    1. Yep and look what happened to the music industry. You would think publishing would have LEARNED.

  74. Very interesting and I have passed it on to the indieBRAG fans.
    We have a large reading group whos purpose is to find worthy self-published books and let readers know these are books worth their time and money. We are proud to honore these books with our B.R.A.G. Medallion ( Book Readers Appreciation Goup) However, as they join our “family” of authors we ask them to be supportive of each other – read each others books, leave reviews
    (good only if they think so!) and tell everyone to check out books displaying the BRAG Medallion. By making this honor recognizable, it helps all books with the medallion. This seems a very simple and logical way of supporting each other. I wish that were true. Many authors, although thrilled to have the medallion, do very little to support other authors. We provide them with a great base and platform – getting them to take advantw of it is not so easy!

    I think that any success come with dedication, time, knowledge and generosity-

  75. Great post, Kristen. Can I leave a bit of insight for newbies/readers regarding Remaindered Books? I’m in the UK, but I can’t believe it doesn’t happen on your side of the Pond as well. An author friend invites me annually to the launch at a city bookshop of her new women’s fiction hardback (via a big-name publisher), and she has a lot of readers queuing for her signature. Yet around the corner, literally 2 minutes walk away, a discount remainder shop sells that same new hardback for between half to two-thirds the price *right* by its checkout – and has been doing so for 7-10 days prior to launch date. Has the author been offered remaindered copies as per her contract? No. Does the author get a full royalty on those copies? No. She’ll be lucky if she gets a miniscule percentage on net receipts, eventually. Isn’t it good to know that big-name publishers will support their authors every way they can?

    1. But now you know why I am getting REALLY PISSED OFF at people who want to beat me up with the Right of First Sale Law and say, “Well the author ALREADY was paid ONCE :P.” No! Not always! Don’t assume that! Thanks for this.

    • Jay Dwight on January 2, 2016 at 5:16 pm
    • Reply

    Really enjoyed your article. Agree with a lot of what you say, and even as a bookseller (a small franchise in Aust), my partner and I get frustrated by the current model. We wonder about how new authors get noticed when there are SO many new titles every month. We’re also weird in that what are business discounts the product when it is first released (mass market stuff) and then increase the price (back to RRP) after a month or two. In Aust, the industry is way too much about price, damaged heavily by the Discount Department Stores who the publishers support heavily, even though they only sell mass market new releases and no backlist. As booksellers, my partner and I love finding new authors (though we can’t possibly read all the proofs we are offered) that we can hand sell to try and develop a following. Our store is well known locally for the masses of “staff review” cards we have on the shelf, all the books we like (including staff reads too) get reviewed and put on our store Facebook page, and I now put all my reviews on Good Reads. So trying to do our bit. Still do some of those reviews for authors who probably don’t need it (based on comments in your article) because I like their work and continue to read them, but must admit a buzz from finding a new one and then seeing our store sell disproportionately well (vs our franchise network stores) because of our recommendations and hand-selling. And I love meeting authors so hopefully we are helping in some small way (as well as trying to make money. It sure isn’t a lucrative business from our perspective either. We’re still in it mostly because we love the product!)

  76. I started out on the self-publishing route (because no agent would take me on as a client!). I made sure I had more than one book to launch, so if someone liked the first book, they could gobble up another. That was five years ago. My books did so well that they attracted a procurement editor at Amazon Publishing. I signed a contract with them 12 months ago and have never regretted it. Sales passed the 300,000 mark this year.
    I say all this, not to brag, but to point out the truth of much that you say. Two things sell (fiction) books: a great story with memorable characters; and word of mouth. Word of mouth means reviews on Amazon. My 2,000 reviews are the main reason the books keep selling.
    Thanks for sharing “the truth” with folks.

    • Mika Bartroff on January 2, 2016 at 6:18 pm
    • Reply

    Thank you so much for this. As a fledgling author (which is to say, unpublished), I know a small bit of what you’ve spoken about, but this really was very eye-opening. And also, thank you for defending Amazon. There may be a handful of things they do wrong, but the things they do right are so amazing, it really upsets me to see people bashing them. And given the rise of electronic publishing, which they made a great deal easier, they’re just that much more important in the book industry.

    I do wonder about your thoughts on Goodreads? Basically took Amazon’s review formula and spread it out a little more. I’ve found so many great books there, and I love that it links you not just to Amazon, but any place the book might be found.

    Definitely shared this, and I need to dig through your archive. Looks like I might get a lot of insight here.

    1. The problem with Goodreads is they never reined in the trolls and a lot of authors were mercilessly bullied some to the point of leaving writing altogether (and many of these trolls were other writers hiding behind monikers). The reputation for trolls and sock puppets eroded confide people might have had in the reviews. Also Goodreads doesn’t seem to attract regular folks, just writers and trolls.

      Great to have you!

  77. Thanks for your clear and funny, (even if sad-but-true) breakdown of how the publishing industry actually works for those who just ‘don’t get’ a writer’s life. The main glory of a writer is in writing the book, after that, we’re at the bottom of the ‘food chain’ in the industry. One thing I hate is if a traditionally published book doesn’t sell, it gets pulped! Literally destroyed! (If not given back to the author and passed off again through used outlets, etc. as you pointed out.) Not only is it bad for the author, but what about the environment? That’s a lot of ink used and gone, not to mention the paper has to be recycled, etc. A lot of wated time and energy, the recyclers get the money out of the book, and again, nothing for the author for all those books.

    If only POD books didn’t have such a stigma against them in the ‘real’ publishing world. One good thing about POD, (print on demand) all books are usually wanted books as they have to be ordered, and people only order what they want. Nothing gets pulped, a win-win for the author and the environment. Also, POD relies heavily on word of mouth for book promotion as there is no shelf-placement for traditional viewing as with a bookstore. POD also relies on online stores such as Amazon as PODs have to be ordered. Thanks for also showing that Amazon isn’t always the demon in the book world! Now, if only readers would write reviews…

  78. Reblogged this on and commented:
    What a great article!

    • Hayden on January 2, 2016 at 7:46 pm
    • Reply

    Hi. Many good points here. Do need to say that the info about bookstores isn’t accurate. Only mass market paperback books (those small, chunky paperbacks) have their covers stripped to return. Every other paperback and hardcover book that just won’t sell despite best efforts has to be boxed up and returned, which costs money not only in freight charges, but in restocking fees (10% to 15%) that distributors and publishers levy to offset returns. So bookstores DO take risks stocking books and really don’t want to have to return them. Returns are a money loser for bookstores; it’s not a true consignment model.

    Also, most independent bookstores aren’t making money from book placement; most don’t allocate any shelf or display space based on publishers offering credit or other incentives, as they do at chain stores like B&N.

    1. In fairness, Hayden since I am having to paint with BIG strokes here B&N is mainly who *wink, wink* I am talking about here and probably other mega outlets. I know indie stores do take on more risk and there is variegation but I can’t obviously account for all of that. But, as I said in the beginning, I am trying to educate ALL parties because if we understand how everything works, we can work TOGETHER. If people understand that using your bookstore like a library could end up hurting the writers they love? They might not be so quick to crack the spines and may be more inclined to purchase that book they dented 😀 . If they find a book they love at a garage sale, they might go to you to buy another title NEW from the same author at YOUR STORE! See WE ARE NOT ALONE! All we can do is educate people and hope. Right?

  79. Thank you thank you thank you for writing this. It’s a big help, especially to those of us just starting.

  80. You gave a fairly accurate big picture of epubbing but painted with a very broad brush regarding traditional publishing. There does remain a solid middle class of well paid authors receiving decent advances and doing well. They are paid twice a year at all the major houses where I worked. No, special store placement is not quaranteed in a contract (unless you’re Rowling, king or Nora Roberts). Next, agents play a far more intense and important role than you seem to believe. As for the returns system, it arose during the Depression as a way to encourage book sales. It actually DOES work even today, albeit not as well. There are many other factors affecting the sales of print books and the reduction in bookstores is just one. Trad publishers were early adopters of ebooks and have done extremely well selling them.

    1. I know agents play a far larger role, but the post is already a TOME 😛 . And as far as an author middle class? Opinions vary and that might depend upon genre. There is a very good reason that romance authors spearheaded the self-publishing and indie publishing movement. I also said store placement is negotiated in the contract. It isn’t like some store clerk on a whim decides where a book goes.

      And we will agree to disagree that traditional publishers have done extremely well at selling ebooks. They had no use for author backlists until authors started self-publishing them and making money. Then they grabbed up all the backlist rights they could get. Then they priced ebooks at the same price as hardcovers putting authors in the crosshairs of angry readers. James Rollins (a friend of mine) endured a digital tsunami of pissed off one-star reviews because the publisher priced his e-book the same as the hard cover. And that is the tip of it. So, again, we will just agree we disagree, but perspectives will vary since there are all kinds of genres and all types of writers 🙂 .

  81. I can’t get anyone to leave a review, even though several have promised they would. I feel daily like giving up on the whole idea.

    1. It can get overwhelming, but maybe this post is a start. There has been a lot of good feedback that it was as I suspected, that a lot of people simply did NOT know how things worked and HOW IMPORTANT these reviews really were/are.

  82. This was excellent, Kristen. I’ll share on The YA Gal Facebook tomorrow.

  83. Reblogged this on R. L. Martinez and commented:
    Awesome post here. Though I don’t agree with the “only post glowing reviews” comment, everything else here is gold. Heartbreaking gold.

    • brendaattheranch on January 2, 2016 at 11:07 pm
    • Reply

    I’m glad I saw this article cuz otherwise I wouldn’t know about the availability of “Rise of the Machines.” Just downloaded my copy as it promises to be an informative read. I’m not yet published but I confess I have honestly forgotten about brick and mortar book stores. Amazon is just way too convenient (and better priced for my small budget, most of the time). I’m very fussy about what I’ll read so there’s not likely any brick and mortar store who will have what I want & I don’t have time to search the shelves for good fiction. And I’m even more specific and particular about my non-fiction choices, so again, brick and mortars are irrelevant to me.

    RE: Reviews: I whole-heartedly believe in giving feedback in general, including reviews for books. But I don’t subscribe to the theory of glowy reviews only. As with any product, a potential buyer who reads reviews for information before they make a decision deserves an unbiased look at the product. That does NOT mean writing of some vicious reviews that we’ve all seen. But it does mean honesty. The mediocre and the wow. Fairly covered. If I read reviews for a book that has nothing but glowy reviews, I usually become highly suspicious and move on to browsing other possible choices.

    1. Well every writer is different. I am a softie. I couldn’t honestly look a writer in the face if I’d gutted her in a review. I will give 4 stars and point out areas I might like to see strengthened in the future, etc. But I am not a critic. Not my platform. If I hate a book? I just let it alone. Now readers? Readers are allowed to be honest in reviews. They are not WRITERS and they are not possibly going to have to work with that person one day 😛 . Thank you for getting a copy of ROTM! I hope you love it and that it blesses you!

  84. Reblogged this on Kim's Author Support Blog.

  85. I’m probably going to make a bunch of comments while I process this article: I totally get the whole book store atmosphere, and as a reader, I loved the idea of going into Barns and Noble and browsing, chilling on the couch or in a chair and reading for like an hour. So a few years ago, the B&N down the street from my house straight up took out all the chairs and coffee table and couches etc, eliminating any real place to sit and read and standing while reading isn’t as comfy. So of course this was all 8 or 9 years ago before I decided I wanted to write books for a living. Lol. Now I see the wisdom in B&N’s decision to eliminate any real place to sit and read, thus compelling their customers to either buy a book, or look stupid sitting on the floor lol.

  86. I agree. When I began my blog, I decided that, any book review I write, will be a good one. And that I will only review books I like. Now, in the past, I did not practice this unfortunately. But, as I was hunting out blogs and making friends/networking and doing research etc, I discovered that 1). I hate reading bad reviews so why would I write one and 2) even if an author I love writes a bad book, but other books are great, I still choose to promote that author out of respect, and possibly hopefully keeping up a network/friendship connection.

    OMG you nailed it. The only person who is possibly even a little bit excited as I am about my writing is my mom lol. My friends, the rest of my family, do not understand at all.

    OK I think I addressed everything on my mind. You’re hilarious while you write btw 😀

  87. While I agree with a lot of the points here, it is completely disingenuous to plead for only “good” reviews from people reviewing books. I’m a (very) minor league writer and reviewer, and a lack of “bad” reviews on a book is more telling, and more dangerous to your status on Amazon, than many other warning signs.

    Part of a reviewer’s responsibility is to to praise AND to warn other readers about crap, books and anything else. If you just want to make it seem like the sun shines out of a mediocre author’s backside, or not mention that a book wasn’t properly edited (or even proofread in several instances for me last year), then why bother reviewing at all? You’re just setting up either a newbie or a moron for a much bigger fall later on.

    I support other indies, and authors in general, by purchasing their books and leaving reviews. I’ve left a modicum of a review for every book I’ve read in the past three years counting and don’t plan to stop or modify by criteria for doing so.

    1. Whoa hold on! We have to be careful. I didn’t plead for only good reviews from people reviewing books. I said as a personal policy I would not leave bad reviews as a PROFESSIONAL COURTESY because I am part of the PROFESSION. I therefore have different consequences when leaving those reviews.

      We as writers have to think long and hard about what brand are we trying to create. An author brand or a reviewer brand? Because I am a writer not a reviewer. TWO DIFFERENT BRANDS.

      Readers and reviewers can say whatever they want to. There is no professional courtesy. A regular person might not be on a panel one day with a person they filleted. They may not have to work with that person. They may not find themselves at a career junction and some author they gutted on-line is now responsible for the next step in the evolution of their job. The world of publishing is VERY small and if you stab someone in the FACE? Trust me. They WILL remember and they should. Would YOU want to work with that person? In ways we are like soldiers in a war and if we can’t rely on the writer next to us to not to bayonet us, then that writer might just die from friendly fire.

      No, readers? Feel free to leave bad reviews. Please don’t troll. There IS a person on the other side of that review. MY POINT is that writers need to think long and hard about that bad review before posting.

  88. Great article. This is why I left traditional publishing to set up The Author People . I think it is not only possible, but imperative to create a new publishing paradigm to ensure a viable future for authors and readers.

  89. Your conclusions are overstayed. Some great points, a number of flaws. I own three new/used bookstores, I do not purchase remainders, I purchase from suppliers and publishers that the authors get their royalties. My stores have over 200 book signings a year promoting local authors, independent authors, national authors. You miss represent used bookstores. The idea that books have been on consignment bases is a major overstatement. Being in the book industry over 50 years, I have not seen that as any major tool of sales by publishers, very selective. I am 100% committed to authors, but that doesn’t make it easy especially under the new concept that Amazon is the answer for the author, what a mistake if that is the only nitch they use or how they promote their book only. I have never once torn a cover off a new book purchased to get any type of credit from a publisher. Having a degree in marketing an author has many options they need to use. A bookstore can be part of the benefit for authors, you have your cost we have ours to try and be successful and to try and help authors. Well I like to write more, but need to get to work, we have some major challenges ahead. May your books do great this new year, and compliment parts of the industry that is committed to authors, and not all publishers are evil. Be successful and keep writing! Clarey Rudd of Bank of Books

    1. Hopefully with some education and communication we writers can band with bookstores that ARE committed to our success. I know some are. Unfortunately as I detailed in this post, megastores damn near wiped y’all out.

  90. I loved this post so much that I just bought Rise of the Machines.

  91. Kristen, you’re a writer after my own heart. I’ve taken a a lot of flak from both readers and writers because I want to make more than pennies from my work. Keep fighting the good fight.

  92. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    A must read for all writers who are or are planning to publish a book. Successful authors are not born or made they are created with hard work, perseverance, informed decisions and sometimes a lot of luck. Be smart and read this article.

  93. Reblogged this on J.A. Stinger.

  94. Fascinating info. Thanks for sharing. I’ve never been published. Have often been advised to do so. I’m retired from other professions, and will stick to writing for the sheer joy of it. I don’t have the energy to endure the struggle. Best wishes to you.

  95. Reblogged this on TheWordSmithe and commented:
    Very insightful for readers AND writers!

    • Melissa on January 3, 2016 at 1:45 pm
    • Reply

    Great information. My husband wrote some technical books and we learned quickly how little money is made from royalties. It sounds good on paper, but not so much in reality.

    As a reader and review site co-owner who used to post book reviews regularly on Amazon, I have since stopped. I was up to rank 1100 and was hit by a troll that dropped by rank 300 almost over night. I reported the issue, but the unhelpful votes (mainly on reviews 2-3 years old) were considered ‘legit’.

    Unfortunately their environment is not reviewer friendly and oftentimes your review can get pushed to the bottom simply because of when you post your review. You almost have to be the lone review for a few hours and get a helpful vote or two or your review is lost in the list. Over time it becomes discouraging to post reviews when they are rarely seen or one person disagreeing with your opinion pushes your review to oblivion.

    Writing quality, thoughtful reviews is time consuming. If I didn’t co-own a review site, I would no longer review at all. It’s quite discouraging to spend 30-45 minutes on a review that gets pushed to the bottom of the reviews simply because one person for some unknown reason thought your review was unhelpful or because you posted your review a day or two after the book’s release. Until Amazon makes some adjustments to their system, I now only re-post a review to Amazon upon request by the author or publisher.

  96. Thanks for the wonderful, and direct, advice. I love your blog and am quoting some of this on my blog on Monday.

  97. I shared it on my blog. Excellent post!

  98. Interesting article. Yes, I see the sense in it from most writers perspective.

    From a buyers perspective bookshops in the old high street format have been dead for some time. Second hand shops and Amazon have been where we get anything other than best sellers or establishment books. Thanks for the idea of approaching the writer direct. I suppose most more known writers are signed up to a publisher already but the need is to get new work from uncommitted writers known about is the key to the future

    What I hate is writers I know pressuring their friends to write them a positive review. No need to actually read the book of course. It must be good because you are a friend. I just wish we could have a genuinely independent system of reviewing where the reviewers aren’t paid and just do it for the love of good writing. If that could be achieved and known about amongst readers the print on demand idea would have some chance of working. As a reader I already suspect reviews on social media as much as those from the publishing media.

    The paradox, of course, is the power the reviewer has once their opinion is regarded as worth listening to and how to ensure this power is not abused.

    I live in hope if not expectation!

    Good luck to you though and I hope you do indeed make a living from writing.

      • brendaattheranch on January 3, 2016 at 3:09 pm
      • Reply

      What is absent from this discussion about how/when to write reviews is that the entire discussion revolves around the writer. To me, a book is a product, and so the chief person being considered should be the potential buyer. NOT the author.

      I do understand that the review system is not foolproof. And there is abuse. But the focus isn’t even on the end user. That’s just as worrisome as the abuse.

      1. It is absent because it isn’t the thesis of this post and… Yes and no. There is always potential for abuse in anything. I feel readers need to understand that their reviews DO make a difference. I think readers don’t understand that what they say DOES matter to the author in a meaningful way beyond stroking that writer’s ego. I am NEVER for sock puppets.

        I refuse to give a good review if I don’t feel it is deserved. Readers need to give us the review we earn. Plain and simple. But readers need to ALSO understand that remaining silent on a good book can be DEVASTATING to our career. Instead of sending us thoughtfully crafted e-mails raving about our work en lieu of a review? Put that in a review. Because most writers can tell you they get STACKS of letters where readers wax rhapsodic about how WONDERFUL the book was…then never post a review. And the reason is is that readers really have NO idea how much that review matters.

        Truth is, I plan on writing a blog about book reviews. I think it needs to be discussed.

  99. Great post..I always learn something and love your banter, I suppose is one way of putting it but who doesn’t love to learn and smile…I sure do 🙂

  100. Great post! My first novel, On the Edge of Sunrise was published in 2015 with a small international press. I’ve been learning slowly about the business and the evolution taking place in publishing. This article was quite informative. I’m posting this to my facebook pages.

  101. Getting good reviews is difficult. I all five star reviews but they read very generically. Or maybe since I say what I like and what didn’t float my boat character and story-wise, I’m expecting my readers to do the same.
    Most don’t. When people tell me they enjoyed my book, I say – rate and review it on your favorite retailer’s site. Reviews might be gold. I don’t have enough to know for sure. Yet.