Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reviewer or Influencer?

On Monday, Jana posted about book reviews. I commented about being an influencer vs a reviewer and then Vince commented saying he’d never heard of an influencer and suggested I write a post about it. So, here we go…

About a year ago on one of my writing loops, I saw an email with the subject, ‘Looking for an Influencer’. I don’t know if it was a new thing or if I just hadn’t noticed before. But, someone was looking for people to read her book and basically brag about it. At the time, I was a book reviewer and reviewed every book I read. My opinions were truthful and one author even said I had ‘credibility’. But writing reviews takes time away from writing my own stories and as I became more involved in my work in progress (wip), I wrote less reviews. I mean, like Jana said, a review is just my own personal opinion and who cares if I didn’t connect with the book.

The thing that bothered me, however, was when an author sent me a book to review and I didn’t like it. If a book is riddled with errors, I feel other readers should know about them, but I didn't want to hurt the author whom I usually know. Some people only talk about the good points and ignore the rest, but if I don’t think a book is worth my money, why would I expound only its good features? And how will others in the publishing world view my writing if I brag about a mediocre book? And when I accept a book free of charge, I feet obligated to write a ‘nice’ review although I didn't always comply.

An influencer doesn’t have that problem. It’s like a contract: An influencer accepts the book on condition that she/he will do everything they can to influence people to buy it. However, if they don’t like part or all of the book – in which case they can't truthfully promote it – then, they send an email back to the author explaining the reason and they pass the book on to someone else.

I didn’t plan on becoming an influencer and I even kept deleting the emails from authors looking for them until I saw one I couldn’t pass up: Mary Lu Tyndall, who writes those exciting swashbucklers, wanted influencers for her new release, The Raven Saint. A thrill went through me just from that email. I immediately responded and within hours received a response. I was one of the chosen ones.

Since then, I’ve been picked to be an influencer for several more authors. I only offer when I know I’ll have time to read the book within a couple weeks of receiving it as well as time for the actual job of influencing.

So what can an influencer do for an author? Just this morning, I finished reading The Healer, Book 1 in the Brides of Alba series. Linda Windsor has written for both secular and inspirational markets and yet I’d never read any of her books, that I recall. However, when I read the book blurb on her ‘Influencers Requested’ email, I broke my own genre rule and sent my name in even though the book comes under the realm of Fantasy.

Linda sent an eBook copy of The Healer which I started reading on my eReader and found hard to put down.

The Healer is set in the sixth century in the days of King Arthur, when witches and shape-shifters were common words and Christians were the new kids on the block. Between curses and spells came a healer’s touch – a woman who used visions and a knowledge of plants – in the battle of good versus evil. I love this book! I knew the story of King Arthur and Merlin but never have they come so alive through the pages of a book. Nor on a film screen, for that matter. Linda’s penchant for research covers every aspect of the story and made me feel like I really was a part of it. When the print copy arrived in yesterday’s mail, I was delighted to find interesting facts about Arthur, The Grail Palace, even a glossary nestled in the back.

Can you tell how enthused I am about The Healer? I’m so excited to tell everyone about this fantastic book. So, here’s what I’m going to do as an influencer:

I’ll write a review and post it on:
- my blog
- amazon
- christian book distributers
- shelfari
- goodreads
- eHarlequin

Plus, I’ll try to work the author onto one of my group blogs like here at Prairie Chicks or over at Inkwell Inspirations.

Award-winning author Deb Raney, posted a whole slew of things an influencer can do for an author. Here’s a compilation of her list and mine:

- Recommend the book to a book club
- Start a discussion on your blog/e-mail loops
- Add the book to your list of favorites on myspace, facebook, shoutlife, or other online communities
- Tweet about it while you’re reading it
- Offer to distribute bookmarks and/or postcards for the author or publisher. (Deb says, “Public libraries, church libraries, bookstores and gift shops are usually happy to have giveaways on their counters.”)
- Leave bookmarks/postcards at each place setting while at a conference
- Hang out in your local bookstore and “hand sell” the book by talking it up to customers shopping in the fiction department.
- Talk to bookstore and library clerks and recommend they order a few copies.
- Send your review to the neighborhood newspaper, community/church newsletter, or any other printed source that might reach readers.
- Organize a book table at your next retreat where you can feature the book among others.
- Offer to organize a blog tour for the author, setting up a week when numerous blogs will feature the book and interviews with the author.
- In a bookstore, turn the book face-out, if you can, without blocking other books

Once you’ve read and reviewed your copy, give it away:
- As a prize on your website or blog
- To your library along with your review
- To someone who’s ill or hospitalized
- As a hostess gift at a party or BBQ
- To a Women’s Shelter or Prison

Leave it:
- In a doctor or dentist’s waiting room
- On a bus

Since word-of-mouth spreads news the quickest, read the book in public places and be ready to share if someone asks what you’re reading. Personally, I’ve found a well-placed chuckle or sigh draws interest.

However, what if I agreed to be an influencer and didn’t like the book? Then I just send an email back to the author explaining the reason.

Influencer books are usually sent straight from the publisher. Some have a bookmark/postcard included. Some have a One Sheet. One had a mini-press kit with interview questions and answers.

Being an influencer has taken the sting out of reviewing books. Yes, I still review books, but I don’t feel the same compunction to review them all.

I receive free reading material in return for my time. I believe it’s a fair exchange.

And finally, if you want to have fun and see what happens to a book, join BookCrossing and ‘Register and release your book’. I found this intriguing website years ago. It’s a free world-wide library and very simple to use. As a member, you’re given a BookCrossing number (BCID code) to write in the front of the book. Then, you leave the book somewhere. Anywhere. And after a few days, check in with BookCrossing to find where it went. Here are the stats for books released in the last 30 days:
1044 in Canada of which 80 are in Saskatchewan. Of those, 1 in Saskatoon and 72 in Regina, released in the following locations:
At an ATM 2
Bus Stop/Shelter 22
Crosswalk 2
Dairy Queen 1
On a bench 6
On the sidewalk 4
Phonebooth 1
Saskatchewan Science Centre 2
Shopping Cart 1
University of Regina 14
Victoria Square 1
Wascana Park 16

At the BookCrossing site, if I clicked on any one of the above locations, the book title and information plus the exact address the book was released would be shown. And that's just here where I live. As of the last 30 days, 7,724 books have been released 'in the wild' in the USA.

So where would you leave a book if you were an influencer and wanted to get the word out?


Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
Influencing is an interesting process, one that's certainly new to me. I've never heard of it on any of the loops I'm on. Is it a common feature in the Christian/Inspirational market?

Regardless where it started it's a great form of promotion, especially for an unknown author like me who's just trying to get her name out there. Like you said, word of mouth is the best way to sell books. The modern equivalent would be people talking up a book on social media.

I had to laugh when I read your list of what an Influencer could do to promote a book. If I had a fleet of Influencers doing all those things, I could retire to write full-time! I'd be a best seller!


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, I'm not sure where it started but it was on the Christian/Inspy email loop where I first saw it.

Of course, it may stem from the distribution of tracts... you know, those small 2 page leaflets which Bible societies and church groups give out? I knew a girl once who'd go shopping but not to buy the clothes - she'd take them into the change room and slip a tract into the pocket.

The process is the same - leave the book/tract there and walk away because you're just the messenger. Only now it's an influencer.

Well, Jana, the next time you have a new release, send an 'Influencers Requested' email out to your writing groups and see who responds. Of course, you have to give them free copies of your book, too.

Good luck.


Karyn Good said...

I have to be honest and say I very rarely, if ever, read book reviews, but I'm intrigued by the idea of an influencer's 'job'.

I would definitely use the idea as a way to promote books. Thanks for clarifying and informing!

Love the pic :)

Vince said...

Hi Anita:

That was an amazing post. There have always been COIs, centers of influence, that salespeople were told to cultivate; however, a COI is a de facto situation. An Influencer can become one. She doesn’t already have to be a COI.

I will have to think a lot more about this concept from a marketing POV. It is like being a super fan, in a way. For example, I’d love to see Michelle Styles do well with her Roman history novels because so few Roman history titles are issued. Perhaps, if an author writes something that is unique and hard to find (but is loved by a small group of fans) that author might have the best chance of ‘growing’ Influencers. I think this is a potentially very big marketing idea that could spawn a bestseller. Have you thought about writing non-fiction? Title Idea: “The Care & Feeding of Influencers: The Fastest Way to Grow a Career”.

One thing: is being an Influencer a one time assignment? Or do you get the author’s new books until you say you don’t want to do it any more?

BTW: Michelle Styles is great!


Anita Mae Draper said...

You're welcome, Karyn. I hope you do use it when your book comes out next year,or the next. :)

Ah, the pic of JJ. We actually took 4 of them with different expressions. On my blog today, he's looking surprised. I was going to make a slide show but figured it would take too long to load. I'd rather use my own pics than worry about copywrite with others.

Thanks, Karyn.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey, Vince. You're right, it's very similar to being a Super Fan.

No, I don't want to write non-fiction, thank you very much, especially when it's not my idea. Heh.

"is being an Influencer a one time assignment? Or do you get the author’s new books until you say you don’t want to do it any more?"
I don't know. It was only in Feb when I offered to be Mary Lu's influencer, and the others since then. However, my guess is they would send an email out for new ones every time, because they want the book read at the time of release and people do have their schedules. That's why I'm careful about sending my name in.

Hopefully an author who's been through the process can answer better. I'll tweet and see what happens.

I have a couple of Michelle's books but they're in my TBR pile. That's the thing about being an influencer... the books go to the top of the pile. Well, and some don't even make it that far. LOL

Thanks for sharing, Vince.


Heather said...

I had not heard the term influencer. interesting.

I belong to bookcrossing and love to release books in unusual locations. Lately I have been loaning books to my quilting friends. They all love to talk so I'm sure they are telling others about these books.

Janet said...

Very informative post, Anita. I, like the others, have never heard of an "Influencer". An interesting way to get books in the hands of readers! And I like that if you don't enjoy the book, you're not required to do a review anyway.

Like Karyn, I don't read reviews. My book choices usually come from friends' recommendations, favorite authors, and authors I've come across in blog hopping (or standing at the library shelves looking for an interesting read - I've found a lot of my favorite authors that way - back cover blurbs work very well for me). But there are a lot of people who do read reviews and base their choices on them.

Bookcrossing is interesting. I had no idea. Thanks for sharing that ;)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Heather, a quilting circle is a great place to be an influencer. It's like being in a book club but keeping your hands busy with a needle instead of finger food. I've wiled away many hours around a quilting frame discussing books, movies and yes, even men. LOL

Glad to hear you're a member of BookCrossing. Let's get the word out.

Thanks for sharing.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Yes, Janet, knowing I'm not obligated to review really eased my mind.

About reading reviews - I learned a long time ago not to put stock in other people's opinions. I seem to run on a different wave length as most other people (I'm sure y'all've never picked up on this) so what Siskel and Ebert (sp?) usually liked, I hated and vice versa.

When I do read reviews - like on amazon - it's to find out about the story, sequels, etc.

Thanks for giving your opinion, Janet. Oh - and spread the news about BookCrossing on the east coast, will ya. :)


Anita Mae Draper said...

Vince, I forgot to mention... if you like Roman romances, you really should read Carla Capshaw's The Gladiator. It's a Love Inspired Historical, but I'd say the sensuality is about the same as you'd find in a Julie Lessman novel.(JMHO)

Carla has a new Love Inspired Historical out in July called The Protector. This time, the hero is the slave fighting as a gladiator until sent to protect the heroine, a wealthy socialite. Sounds like another good one. Yay Carla.