Episode 99 – Keywords, Expert Reviews, and Writing to Market (Featuring Chris Fox)

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Question of the Week: Which opinion do you trust more when you buy books: experts or friends/Amazon strangers and why?

Chris Fox, the author of Write to Market, visited the show this week for our latest lab segment. Jim and Bryan thanked their patron Kathy Coakley and her book Dad’s Girls ( http://www.kathycoatney.com/dads-girls/ ) before launching into their final double-digit show (#99!). The trio of tips included pointers on burnout, book file sizes, and social media image sizes. The top five news focused on the Amazon recommendation algorithm, Facebook ads, expert reviews, keywords, and Scribd’s latest scale back. This week’s Question of the Week: Which opinion do you trust more when you buy books: experts or friends/Amazon strangers and why?
What You’ll Learn:
  • Why Chris Fox is writing a novel in 21 days
  • How he chose the genre for his challenge
  • How to stave off burnout
  • Why file size matters for your bottom line
  • Which image sizes to use on social media
  • Why Jim and Bryan like Amazon’s “inhuman, narrow” recommendation engine
  • How long Adam Croft waits until he gives up on a Facebook ad
  • Why reviews from experts no longer matter
  • How the Amazon search engine actually works
  • What Scribd’s latest service cutback means for the industry
Question of the Week: Which opinion do you trust more when you buy books: experts or friends/Amazon strangers and why?

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  • First off, Silicon Valley is an awesome show. Great taste, gents! And I will always trust organic word of mouth from friends. If history is any indicator, that has always been how movies, television shows, musicians, and all providers of entertainment have become successful. It is usually after this fact that promotions and marketing can enhance the awareness of a certain product.

    • Bryan

      I actually knew Thomas Middleditch (Richard in the show) before he made it. My wife sublet a room from him in Chicago while he was on a Second City cruise :).

  • Connie B. Dowell

    Great Q this week. I’d certainly prefer a friend’s recommendation for most books, but with one big exception. As a historical fiction author, I do a lot of research. For those books, I do want an expert recommendation. So I think there will always be some need for expert book reviews, but just in certain areas where an expert level of knowledge is needed.

    • Excellent point. I write health, fitness, and nutrition, and you won’t believe what people believe. I scan the reviews for names of people I trust when it comes to these books.

      • Bryan

        I only trust witch doctors.

    • Bryan

      Ah, that totally makes sense. Thanks, Connie.

  • QOTW – With indie fiction I trust the amazon reviews over time, but not at first. I get the swarm of 5 star reviews, but until the book has proven itself with normal readers, I take them with a grain of salt.

    I don’t know that I’ve ever read a kirkus review or the like, so there’s my answer on that one. 😉

    • Bryan

      Haha. But you’d read a Kukral review, right?

  • Bryan, on Rotten Tomatoes I look at the critics AND the audience, since they show both. The critics might not like it, but they often don’t represent the target audience.

    I’ve hated critically acclaimed ‘films’ and loved flicks that the critics panned. Of course, if they are both in the high 90s, all the better.

    • Bryan

      I really should look at the audience scores more.

  • Experts for non-fiction and friends for fiction. And I use reviews for confirmation before I buy.

    • Bryan

      Here here!

  • therealcromar

    Recommendations from friends (either internet or IRL) carry more weight than anything. I mostly ignore comments and reviews from randos, unless they are so common as to be overwhelming. I ignore critics almost completely; I might check a Rotten Tomatoes score for the hell of it, but I can’t remember the last time i made a media decision based on a critical website.

    • Bryan

      I use RT too much. And I use the score to convince my wife to go see superhero movies with me :).

      • RT works great if you take into account the User ranking too. If you see a Critic Score of 89% and a User Score of 59%, run away. But if you see a Critic Score for a genre you enjoy at 59% and a User Score at 89%, you still might find it a good movie. It would be cool if Amazon had a way of weighting the value of your target audience’s ratings for your book.

  • Eddie Jakes

    Reviews aren’t necessarily important to me because personal taste is so subjective. However, word of mouth works best because people in my inner circle will be more in line with my personal taste than a bunch of strangers on Amazon.

    • Bryan

      Oh, to be in the inner circle of Eddie Jakes! That’s where the real influence lies ;).

      • Eddie Jakes

        Hey, I’ve been reading Ted off and on, so you’ve got some influence.

        • Bryan

          I’ll take it! 🙂

  • Daniel Martone

    I stopped trusting professional critics for any book purchases, they just don’t seem to be in touch with what people want. I think they would rather dictate what we should read. I so trust friends if they have the same tastes as me. I will also look at the “reader reviews” for books but I scan thru the top, the middle, and the lowest rated reviews, not just the top or bottom… Often, the 3 star reviews are the most honest.

    • Bryan

      Most helpful review I ever received was a two-star. I’ve never seen anybody read my work that deeply.

      • Daniel Martone

        And as readers, I find you usually can’t trust the 5 star and 1 star reviews. 2-4 is where it’s at.

  • Patrick Stemp

    Oprah is probably the only real book recommendation expert of recent memory. I couldn’t care less about “expert” opinions – including blurbs from famous authors in their friend’s books. I get my recommendations from Amazon algorithms and friends.

    • Bryan

      I trust Oprah for everything! 😉

  • Edwin Downward

    Friends and peers hands down. I have never trusted the so-called experts to represent my tastes in entertainment.

    • Bryan

      Those jerk experts.

  • QOTW: Friends all the way for me. I usually try new authors when they’ve been recommended by multiple people. I’m a slow, picky reader, so I want something that’s really great to read to make it worth investing the time.

    Immerse or Die is good for that too.

    • Bryan

      Never heard of Immerse or Die, but it seems like a cool concept.

  • Karl Leis

    I ‘try’ to take everyone’s opinions in. For music, I simply can’t trust my friends because their tastes range from nothing but ABBA to hardcore metal-pop – because apparently metal-pop is a thing. For things like books, I kind of have a set of authors I love to bits, and since they’re always producing, I only go outside of that circle for research. Movies I’ll watch whatever, since they’re easy to consume and always teach me something about the art of storytelling, even if it’s a very loud and obvious example how not to do it.

    Love the show guys – keep it up 😉

    • Bryan

      ABBA! 🙂

      Thanks, Karl!

  • You missed an important point in your discussion of Scribd this week. Scribd and Oyster were never financially viable because of their payment model. Both of them paid the same amount for a borrow as a sale. This is one of the things that enticed traditional publishers to list books with them. Contrast that with the KU model, which always aimed to pay less for a borrow than a sale. When authors gamed the system, KU switched from the same payment for each book read regardless of length to the current KENP. You will also note that the amount per page read has been consistently dropping (with a very few blips up since it was introduced) over the past year. And they recently recalculated the KENP, which most authors reported as giving them a lower number of pages for their books. Amazon is in total control of the profitability of KU, while Scribd is running in putting bandaids on their model, trying to survive. I predict they won’t.

    • Bryan

      I agree. They won’t survive. We’ve definitely touched in the viability of Scribd and Oyster in the past, but we probably should have brought it up again. Thanks, Elise!

  • Nathan Roden

    Jim and Bryan, congratulations in advance on 100 shows. Well played, and here’s to 100 more!

    • Bryan

      Thanks, Nathan!

  • Crissy Moss

    Loved this question. It really made me think about it. And honestly, when it comes to tech items and physical goods I’m more inclined to listen to reviews than if I am looking for a book. For books I find them in all sorts of weird places, like book stores, recommendations on audio books, and thrift store shelves.

    The truth is I don’t trust any review 100% because it’s so easy to game the system, pay for good reviews, few reviews for a newish author, or just get someone trolling and leaving bad reviews. I also read the preview, and back matter. But reviews can be a start.

    • Bryan

      Thanks! Jim came up with a good one :). Yeah, there are all levels of how folks decide on these things. Social proof never hurts!

  • Lately, most books that I’ve been reading have been those written by people I hear on the various podcasts I listen to. So I guess my answer for the question of the week seems to be…the authors? If I’m browsing for something to read, then generally I’ll just look at covers and descriptions, I am more likely to look into reviews for physical products and in that case I tend to go off of the random folks leaving reviews on the products, but for books I very rarely actually read reviews. The author (or publisher)’s copywriters are what I care about.

    • Bryan

      Copywriting for the win!

  • When it comes to book reviews, recommendations by friends and connections always mean more to me that other reviews. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to discern which reviews are a result of marketing efforts by the author or publisher, and which are genuine.

    • Bryan

      That’s for sure. Hard to know what’s real out there.

  • Robert Hegwood

    I believe this is the correct episode where a question was raised about why there were fiction search categories for homeless orphans and the like. It was puzzling. Not really. I think the popularity of the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series was off the radar. The third book in that series has been recently released. Harry Potter was an orphan as well, and though not homeless, his home was not very supportive or very welcoming.

    • Bryan

      That completely makes sense, Robert. Thanks.