Reviewers: You Don’t Have to Charge for Book Reviews to Make Money

In a recent post I talked about why indie authors should never pay for book reviews. In the comments, the topic of book review websites came up — more specifically the fact that there are other ways for these sites to make money without directly charging the authors whose books they review. (And if you’re looking for reasons why you shouldn’t charge for book reviews, read that post. The same penalties that can affect review buyers can also affect sellers.)

Today I’d like to talk to those book reviewers about their side of the issue. I understand that they want to make money from their websites. I know how much time and money it can take to run a successful website or blog. I’ve spent nearly a decade in Web publishing, running dozens of websites and blogs over the years (and doing so successfully and profitably). And I don’t begrudge any Web publisher or blogger the right to earn for the work they do.

I even tested paid reviews as a revenue source myself quite a few years ago before they led to penalties. That was on a business blog where I was paid to review and analyze company websites, giving the owners tips for improvement. I’ve also run review-heavy websites tailored to independent artists, where I knew better than to charge (I ran a PR firm, and was well aware of the reputation hit my sites could take in that kind of niche).

So believe me. I understand the temptation of taking that easy way out. I also understand that there are better options out there from years of testing in a wide variety of niches — some directly related to the writers you target for reviews.

Here I’ll provide tips from my years of experience in Web publishing and testing revenue streams to hopefully give you some new website income ideas that won’t put your site’s rankings and reputation at risk.

How to Make Money Without Paid Reviews

Here are eleven examples of revenue streams you can use to make money from your website without charging for book reviews. I’ve personally used all but three of these on the blogs I’ve run over the years. And of those other three, two are being incorporated into a major rebranding and site merger in coming months (which will include All Indie Publishing), and the third is being tested for possible inclusion on that site.

Here are the revenue streams you might want to try:

  1. PPC Advertisements – These are ads, usually run through a third party network like Google Adsense, where you’re paid every time someone clicks. How much you earn can vary greatly depending on your niche. For example, I have sites in niches where it’s common to be paid one to several dollars for every click. And I’ve run sites in niches that are lucky to see $.05 per click on the high end. This is probably a better option for nonfiction book reviewers where you’re more likely to talk about high earning niche topics.
  2. PPM Advertisements – These ads are similar in that you’ll generally work with a third party ad network. But instead of being paid per click, you’re paid based on impressions (similar to pageviews). In other words, you’re paid based on your traffic numbers and the eyes you can put in front of the ads. This could be the best option for book review sites that already see significant traffic.
  3. Private Ad Sales – These can be either traditional banner ads or text link ads (although you’ll want to use the nofollow attribute for text links if you don’t want to be penalized by Google). You’ll often make more money per ad with private ad sales, but they also take the most time to manage.
  4. Affiliate Promotions – Affiliate ads can look similar to private ads in that they’re often text links or banners. The difference is that you join an affiliate program first — you go to the advertisers instead of the advertisers coming to buy space from you as the publisher. You promote a product or service as an affiliate, clicks and purchases are tracked from your affiliate links, and you’re paid per sale (or other action, like a service lead). For example, if you’re an Amazon affiliate, you might use those third party ads in your reviews for books you feature, which eliminates direct bias that’s assumed when an author pays you personally. Or you could feature other products and services your readers are interested in that don’t directly involve the book reviews. For example, you might post affiliate ads for an e-reader or audiobook subscription services.
  5. Run a Classifieds-Style Ad System – I don’t think it’s any secret that many authors (especially self-published ones) are huge self-promoters. Sometimes they actually get more of a “spammer” reputation for the way they like to plaster their links everywhere. So why not give them somewhere where they’re welcome to promote their new books aggressively? Find a classifieds plugin for your blog platform or other content management system and run a separate area for author ads. You make money. Authors get to reach your audience. And you don’t have to sacrifice the credibility of your book reviews in the process.
  6. Add a Paid Niche Directory to Your Website – If you focus on book reviews for a narrow niche or genre, you might be able to make money by adding a paid directory for your site. For example, if I were to do this on my horror writing blog (which I wouldn’t because it’s more of an author site), I’d create a directory of independent horror writers. You could make all listings fee-based. But I can tell you in the Web directory world this generally doesn’t work. You’ll want to add plenty of listings yourself first to make the directory valuable to visitors. Only then will people think it’s worth paying for inclusion. Another option is to offer free submissions but then charge a fee for featured placement at the top of each category.
  7. Sell Information Products – One of the best ways to earn revenue from your own website or blog is to sell your own information products — like short reports or e-books (generally the short, non-fiction, how-to .pdf variety). You can whip these up in days to a few weeks, and they can actually sell for more than your full-length books in newer e-book formats. That’s because they’re designed to be more like mini-classes than traditional books. My first was put together and released over two days and it brought in thousands of dollars both in direct sales and new business. As a book reviewer, you have insight authors want. You read a lot of their competitors’ books. You know what rocks. You know what sucks. And you know what authors need to do if they want to improve their own book reviews. So write a short information product up as a guide on getting better book reviews. Sell it. Win-win.
  8. Sell Tools – If you don’t want to publish reports or e-books, consider selling other tools like worksheets, templates, or “kits” of some kind. You can also sell apps and online services if you know a programmer or can contract one (like a book review submission app). As for more traditional tools, why not offer a tracking spreadsheet template, pitch letter templates to accompany review requests, or worksheets to help authors pinpoint common story issues you see as a reviewer?
  9. Offer Online Courses or Webinars – You could even turn those information products or tools into events like online classes or live webinars. You can often charge more for these, although you might reach fewer buyers. A webinar would be a great way to line up live call-in interviews with authors in your specialty area and charge for access.
  10. Provide a Premium Members-Only Area – Instead of offering downloadable products or events, you could simply put your best content behind a paywall in a members-only area. For example, if you don’t happen to focus on indie authors, you might have a premium writer’s market directory featuring traditional publishers. Again, look for blog or CMS plugins to manage paid member areas (I’m currently testing one called Premise for WordPress).
  11. Offer Related Services – Other than offering your own products through your book review website, offering services is your next best bet. For some of you, it might even be your biggest money-maker. For example, you’d have your public book reviews where no payments change hands. They’re completely unbiased for the benefit of your readers. As your opinions become more respected, you could start charging authors for private evaluations (which of course they couldn’t publish as reviews). You’d basically offer consulting services that go a step or two beyond your typical unpaid book reviews. The book reviews themselves become a part of your writer platform and help build demand for the services.

Those are just the primary revenue streams that I’ve played with over the years (or am currently preparing to test). If you get creative, I’m sure you can come up with other ideas. And they don’t have to put your reputation at risk the way paid book reviews can.

Have other ideas for book reviewers about how they can make money to support their sites? Share them in the comments.

What Are Your 2013 Publishing Goals?

It’s that time of year again when goal-setting and dreams of new achievements fill people’s minds. I’m no exception, and that’s why I shared my overall writing resolutions previously on my freelance writing blog. For me those resolutions include freelance writing goals, Web publishing goals, and publishing goals for books and e-books. Today I’d like to share that last group of resolutions with you and invite you to share your book writing and publishing plans for the New Year.

My 2013 Writing and Publishing Goals

The bulk of my work on books and e-books this year will be on the writing and editing side (with several publication dates expected early the following year after professional editing and design work is completed).

  • Finish drafting the first novel in my Murder Scripts mystery novel series, under my Aria Klein pen name.
  • Finish the first draft of the second novel in that same mystery series.
  • Finish drafting my first horror novel (largely being adapted from a rough screenplay format) under my A.J. Klein pen name.
  • Create and release the first Murder Scripts game (an ancillary product tied to the mystery series).
  • Draft the manuscripts for four short children’s books under my Poppy Andersen pen name.
  • Choose an illustrator for those books (art is another passion of mine, so I might do it, but I don’t expect to have the time).
  • Release at least three Query-Free Freelancer information product style e-books.
  • Finish my next draft of The Query-Free Freelancer manuscript (print book).
  • Choose a professional editor for The Query-Free Freelancer.
  • Draft the first short story for a collection to be continued in 2014.

It will be a busy year on all fronts of my business. But that’s where planning comes in handy. I usually set lofty goals knowing that if I don’t push myself hard, nothing will get done. So chances are good some of these things will get bumped. But if I mapped things out reasonably well, most will be completed as planned. And that’s something I’m excited about. I’m determined to make this the best year ever for me professionally, and when I put my mind to something, very little can get in my way.

How about you? What are you working on in 2013? Are you hoping to self publish your first e-book? Draft your first novel? Publish a collection of poetry? Win a particular writing award? Tell us about it in the comments.

My Interview on Independent Writing and Publishing

I was recently interviewed by Dava Stewart of SmilingTreeWriting.com about independent writing and publishing. I’d like to share a portion of that with you below. If you’d like to read more, please check out the full interview.

Dava Stewart: Recently, I heard a well known writer talking about the often repeated phrase “there are no gatekeepers anymore.” He suggested that every reviewer on Goodreads or Amazon is a gatekeeper. What do you think? Has self publishing made it easier to be heard, or is it more difficult than ever? Or, is it just a different set of obstacles now?

Jennifer Mattern: This is a tough question, and it’s one I have mixed feelings about. Look. There’s a lot of crap out there right now. And that has the potential to hurt independent authors because some readers have a bias against them after one or more bad experiences. Then again, even major publishers release garbage on more than an occasional basis. That’s nothing new in publishing.

I think what the current environment does is provide a unique opportunity for independent authors and small presses to blur the lines — ignoring the gate and jumping the fence, if you will. And while I wouldn’t call reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon “gatekeepers,” if you screw around once you join the party, they sure have the ability to kick your ass out.

We’re slowly moving in a direction where readers are going to pay more attention to the author and less to the publishers. If you can build a name for yourself — your author brand — you’re going to sell books. But that’s no justification for publishing anything half-assed. So sure, it’s easier for authors to be heard. But it’s also easier for them to get lost in (or contribute to) the excessive noise.

The trick will be avoiding anyone or anything that promises to make self publishing cheap or easy while learning as much as they can about book marketing and PR. Fortunately those skills can be learned and many authors these days seem too lazy to bother. That means any author willing to put in the effort has an immediate edge. And they won’t have to rely on traditional gatekeepers to open any doors for them.

Again, you can read the full interview to find out more about my thoughts on things like my favorite indie author and the business side of independent publishing.

Indie Authors: Should You Share Your Sales Data?

Blame it on my days in PR, but I’m a big fan of transparency. I love sharing open and honest information, including real life data about things that interest me. In freelance writing I encourage other writers to share their rates openly because it helps us not only conduct better market research as a group and can positively influence the hiring process, but because it also helps newer writers get a better idea of what’s realistic.

Rather than seeing a star or two talk about earning $500 per hour or only seeing low-balled rates common to freelance bidding sites, they get to see what more directly comparable writers are able to charge. They get to see what real life success looks like in the form of attainable goals.

Transparency for Indie Authors

The same thing is possible in indie publishing. Indie publishing in its newer form hasn’t been around long enough for us to have truly stable statistical sales data. The larger data includes fad factors, low saturation levels, and other things common in the beginning that will level out over time. We more readily see sales data from bigger names in indie publishing — those who had the edge of an existing audience from their traditional publishing days which isn’t directly comparable to new indie authors just starting out with their first books.

That’s why I love it when see people like friend and colleague, Evelyn Lafont, share sales data for their e-books and other independently published books. It gives other indie authors a realistic look at what others in their shoes are able to pull off. What kind of book marketing do they do and what kind of return do they see? Could you replicate some of those efforts? Could you improve upon them or work them into your own marketing mix?

Lafont isn’t the only indie author out there sharing this kind of information. Two others I came across just this week are David Michael and Cameron Chapman. The sales statistics from any single author won’t necessarily mirror the possibilities for your own work. That depends on a lot of things such as your niche / genre, your marketing budget, the production quality of your book, whether you’re selling print books or e-books or both, the size of your existing writer platform, and the time you can put into promotion.

That said, it isn’t always about trying to replicate someone else or learn from their mistakes. Personally I find that it leads to inspiration and a sense of camaraderie. And for those reasons alone, I think it’s a great idea for more indie publishers to be open about sharing their sales data.

Benefits to Sharing Indie Publishing Sales Data

The reluctance some authors have about sharing sales figures is understandable. You might worry about being judged if your sales numbers aren’t very high for example. But no matter the risk, there are some clear benefits as well. Here are a few reasons you should at least consider sharing your indie publishing sales data publicly.

  • You can serve as a realistic role model or source of inspiration for other new indie authors by giving them information they want (and that not many authors are currently providing). This can help you grow your website or blog audience, and in turn sell more books if you market your books from that site. It’s the kind of content people love to share and keep coming back for.
  • If networking with other colleagues is important to you, this can be something to bring you closer together. You can bond over shared experiences, share tips and lessons learned, and encourage each other to keep those numbers climbing.
  • Seeing your sales numbers grow month-over-month might be the kick in the pants a potential reader needs before buying your book. If an increasing number of people are suddenly interested in you each month and you can show that with real numbers, you might just pique their interest enough to convert them.
  • Sharing your sales statistics keeps you accountable. Knowing you’ll share your progress, or lack thereof, with readers and other authors might make you push yourself more on the marketing front.

Do you share your sales statistics for your independently published books and e-books? Why or why not? Are there other benefits or drawbacks that are important to you? If you’re getting ready to publish your first book as an indie author, do you plan to share your sales figures? While it isn’t something I’ve done yet, I intend to start with the next e-book I release. Share your thoughts and stories with us in the comments below.

Your Books (and E-books) are Your Business

If you go into indie publishing with the intention of selling your books and earning a profit, you’re going into business. Your books and e-books become the products you build your business around. You’ll see me emphasize this fact a lot here at All Indie Publishing. Today I want to talk about what that really means (being an authorpreneur as opposed to just an author).

Here are some of the things you’ll need to think about and deal with when you go into the indie publishing business that you might have been able to minimize if you worked with a traditional publisher.

  • It’s up to you to build a solid business plan and marketing plan before diving in.
  • It’s up to you to fully understand your target market and what influences those buyers.
  • It’s up to you to finance all levels of production — from editing to cover designs to printing to e-book delivery systems.
  • It’s up to you to recruit and hire the right people to help you bring your books to market (thinking you can do everything yourself, and do it well, is generally irresponsible).
  • It’s up to you to manage and schedule those contractors to get things done by your deadlines.
  • It’s up to you to collect and pay sales tax if required where you live (and get a sales and use tax license if that is a requirement).
  • It’s up to you to manage the carrying out of your marketing plan (while traditional authors still have to market their own books, as an indie publisher you have to do even more in that department).

Are you prepared to do all of these things? If not, now is a good time to brush up on the basics of business and marketing or work on your budget and planning. By no means are these all of your responsibilities when you become an indie publisher. But they give you a basic idea of what to expect. If you’ve been independently publishing books and e-books for a while, what else would you add to this list? If you’re a new indie author, do any of these things appeal to you or worry you more than the others? Share your thoughts in the comments below.