Why so Surprising?

file-dec-03-11-14-48-am-surprisinglygoodSomething that’s jumped out at me a few times while reading reviews of my books is words to the effect that the reader was “surprised” the book was so good. I’m kind of torn between being cheered that the reader/reviewer did end up enjoying the story, and being a bit dismayed that they were surprised by that outcome.

Side note: Yes, I always read every review I find whether it’s on a blog, Goodreads, Amazon, AllRomance, wherever. I figure it’s a good idea to know what readers did or did not like about the story. Even when I don’t agree with something, I figure there’s something I might have emphasized more to avoid giving an undesired impression of a character, or added in to avoid a misconception. I’m always looking for ways to improve and reading the reviews is one way to do that.

Back to the subject of the post: So, serious question…why is it “surprising”? Is that just a figure of speech, or was the reader truly expecting to be underwhelmed by the story and was thrilled to be proven wrong?

If it’s the latter, then why? Do my blurbs suck? I like the covers and think they’re both eye-catching and appealing as well as fitting for the stories, but maybe that’s just me. Am I doing something wrong, or missing something that I should be doing? Maybe people aren’t expecting it to be good simply because they aren’t hearing any buzz about them? Perhaps promo is lacking in some way?

Because here’s the thing. Judging whether sales have been good or bad is kind of relative, but let’s face it, when your reviews/ratings are overall quite good (excerpts/links to the blog reviews for these two books can be found here and here), but your ranking in Amazon appears rather dismal despite that fact, something is wrong. I can’t help but think the whole “surprising” thing is related to the lack in sales. If a potential buyer isn’t expecting the book to be any good, then they’re not going to purchase it.

To illustrate that last statement, at the time of this writing ’Til Death Do Us Part (released April 4, 2016) had a GoodReads rating of 4.29 (adds/ratings/reviews = 344/73/46). It had an Amazon rating of 4.7 (with 23 reviews), yet the overall rank was 659,505, with a gay romance rank of 9,684). To Love and To Cherish (released November 12, 2016) had a GoodReads rating of 4.57 (adds/ratings/reviews = 59/14/8). It had an Amazon rating of 4.6 (with 5 reviews), yet the overall rank was 422,504, with a gay romance rank of 6,591.

In other words, To Love and To Cherish was released less than a month ago, yet more than 6,500 other gay romance books are selling better. No, they’re not all rated higher, so that’s not the driving factor. I’ve looked, and many of the top selling books have poor to average ratings and reviews. So what gives? What am I doing wrong and/or what are they doing right?

Yes, piracy is a factor in overall sales, but I don’t see how it would make a difference in relative rank, since presumably ebook theft affects us all the same.

For ’Til Death Do Us Part things moved along pretty fast and I didn’t get out ahead on promo, but I did get a number of reviews lined up on popular blogs, so I think it got a fairly decent amount of exposure. With To Love and To Cherish I went with a full promo tour as well as lined up additional reviews on the side.

Should I have gone with a short term blitz instead? Is it simply a matter of getting the right exposure, or is there more to it?

I need to know because this is a LOT of work. I put in a tremendous amount of time writing and reworking those stories to get them just right. I also put in a lot of time arranging promo and reviews, trying to create a presence in social media to gain exposure, and quid-pro-quo time with critique partners and beta readers. I’ve enjoyed every step of this or I wouldn’t do it, but at the same time, it takes away from real life activities. If I’m not going to make more than a couple hundred dollars on something that took me six months to write then I have to ask myself it it’s worth the continued effort. Note, also, that number is gross earnings. Once you factor in my costs I’m in the hole.

I love my stories. I love being able to look at them and say to myself “I created that.” I’m incredibly proud of eliciting comments like “This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read,” and “It kept me turning page after page after page without stopping,” and “What I enjoy about Addison’s stories is her ability to bring the characters to life,” etc.

Basically, if I can’t figure out what to do to make people want to actually buy the books, then I’m going to have to back this down to hobby level. I don’t want people to be “surprised” that the book is good. I want them to expect it.

On that note, I’m going to go out and mow my yard now. Yes, I know it’s December 5th, but it’s currently 50 degrees F, and a bunch of leaves dropped since the last mow so I want to get them mulched in.

4 thoughts on “Why so Surprising?

  1. This is a very interesting post. I have no answers for you, but some reflections from a reader perspective if you’re interested? I read a lot and I have lots of opinions 🙂

    First of all: I like your online presence and that you update your blog. I grumble about authors that have a blog and update it every three months. Why even bother with a blog if you’re not going to update it? (A simple web page with a news section would be enough because as a reader/visitor I won’t expect regular updates.) I also like that you’re active on Facebook, and you’re incredibly generous when it comes to sharing other people’s content. I really like that about you.

    As for the surprise part: I read a lot of reviews on Goodreads and I’ve noticed people tend to be “surprised” when a “new author” writes a good book. Like we’ve forgotten even Stephen King was a beginner once upon a time. And I know you’re not new, but you were on a hiatus. Maybe that’s enough for reviewers/readers to regard you as “new”, and thus be surprised you can actually write? We are bombarded with so much information these days that we forget quickly if we’re not constantly reminded. Unless we’re Donna Tartt who writes one book every eleven years and still manages to win the Pulitzer Price 🙂

    The covers are pretty. They are colorful and draw the eye in a good way. And we know covers are important. If I’m completely honest with you I’m not super fond of the cover for “Cultivating Love”, and it kept me from reading it for the longest time. But when I read it I loved it, and love it even more for every re-read. But that’s not the problem with the two pictured above, they are well-made, beautiful covers. Could it be the lack of naked skin? I’m not personally a fan of decapitated torsos with photoshop-enhanced abs, but I know many readers are.

    RE review sites and book blogs: sometimes I feel the book blogs have too MUCH content. I understand the motivation for it, but as a reader visiting a book blog I can sometimes feel overwhelmed. There are several posts every day, and keeping up with everything is a full-time job. So I tend to scroll past if it’s content I’ve seen before, which can be a problem when it comes to blog tours. But I understand that we as authors want to reach as many potential readers as possible, so we need to make many stops. It’s a double-edged sword.

    Maybe varying the content in the tour a little more would help? I really liked your guest posts and interviews, they are personal and interesting and made me want to check the next stop to see what you would write. But just excerpts wouldn’t lure me in, to be honest. And would it make a difference if the giveaway wasn’t available at every stop? Would it maybe make the reader want to check out another stop to be a part of the giveaway? Or would it be a missed opportunity? I don’t know, I’m just thinking through my fingers here 🙂

    I don’t know how most people find their next read, but I browse lists on Goodreads. I spend hours checking them out, especially the new releases lists, like this one: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/100918.November_2016_MM_Releases. I check back regularly several times a month to see what’s coming out. I scrolled through the November list a few days back and I added “To Love and To Cherish” when I realized it wasn’t on it. I will make sure my books are on Goodreads lists. But like I said: maybe that’s just me?

    Ok, that was a lot of words and I have no idea if it makes any sense 🙂

    Put please don’t stop writing, I really enjoy your stories <3

    1. Nell, you are the best commenter ever. I think it might be as long as my original post! Thank you for your thoughtful perspective.🙂 Don’t worry, I’m not ready to throw in the towel quite yet. I was having one of those down-in-the-dumps-feeling-unappreciated kind of days when people should know to stay far away from social media.😉 Still, it’s a legit concern and question. I don’t know if it’s something I’m doing, something I’m not doing, or something out of my control that’ll sort out eventually.

      Hopefully it really is just a question of being new (again), although there are a number of MM writers who’ve had their first novels become best sellers, so who knows? I think that likelihood improves if one is published at one of the big name publishers. Maybe my stories don’t have a wider appeal since I don’t tend to include total alpha males, which are often popular.

      I was never a big fan of the Cultivating Love cover, either. I don’t totally object to skin covers, but that one wasn’t particularly appealing to me. I think I prefer covers that do more to illustrate the content or mood of the story without resorting to half-naked guys, but the skin covers do appeal to many.

      Regarding the Goodreads lists, I don’t think people are allowed to add their own books, which makes sense and is as it should be for the “best of” categories, but not so much for a simply “published in x month” category. Thank you for adding that for me! Remind me when yours comes out and I’ll be happy to add it for you!

      I don’t think I’m a typical reader so it’s good to know where others are looking and what they’re looking for. Thank you!🙂

  2. I know I tend to babble a lot, but I like blogs. So you’re stuck with me 🙂

    I think you might be right about alpha males. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that it’s mostly women reading MM romance, and we feel like we’ve stepped out of our comfort zone enough by reading about two guys in love, so it’s totally fine to indulge in gender stereotypes? But seriously, not all gay men can be firefighters or ex-marines! I prefer to read about different characters, non-stereotypes. I also think I’ll be writing about them mostly. I’ve always been kind of alternative myself and I identify with that kind of character.

    And I thought a little about sales. I read an article (that I can’t seem to find now) that Kindle Unlimited is the way to go for a new author. Because the subscribers already pay a monthly fee they are more willing to take a chance on new, untried authors. And even if you don’t earn lots of money this way, it’s a good way to build a fanbase. And when you have a fanbase you can ease away from KU. In general, I’m not fond of the exclusivity rule myself, but if and when I self-publish something I thought I’d try it. And it’s only for a limited period of time so I guess I’ll survive 🙂

    And we’ll help each other putting our books up on Goodreads lists. I know Goodreads has a somewhat bad reputation (some nasty reviewers and even authors), but I love it. I read reviews, search for books and steer clear of all the drama and then it’s totally fine.

    I’d better stop writing now before I fill up all your WordPress storage space 🙂

    1. I totally agree with you on the Alpha Male thing. A little bit goes a long way. I don’t steer clear of them, but neither do I seek them out. I like everyday people stories. The trick is to make them interesting!

      Yes, I think your Kindle Unlimited idea is a good one. That’s why I’m overhauling my old stuff (got to get busy with that!) so I can put it up there in hopes of getting some exposure. Unless the KU readers are also willing to buy stuff that isn’t on that program once they’ve discovered a new-to-them author that they like, it won’t do me much good in the long run. My stuff that’s at a publisher isn’t likely to get on there, although with a small press like JMS they might be willing to do something like that after a story’s been out a year or so.

      LOL, don’t worry about my storage space, as long as you have something you want to add, I’d love to hear it! 🙂 <3

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