How to Help an Independent Author

Hoffman's Army cover

The independent authors of this world are struggling to get their work read, but beyond that, they are dying for want of reviews of their books. Why are reviews, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and other places so important?

Research shows that it takes 20 or more reviews of a book before it rises through the mass of offerings at places like Amazon. “It’s not sales you’re after, it’s the metric that leads to sales: Reviews” says writer Nicola Jane in The Writer Life.

Another blog claims, “Over 85% of all Amazon Kindle readers rely heavily on book reviews before making an online order to have the copy of the book.”

When an independent author publishes a book, she is not only the writer, and sometimes her own publisher, but also responsible for marketing, and public relations. I can tell you from my own experience that I was not prepared for those parts of the business. it isn’t easy. As Bookmasters says, It requires “serious elbow grease to get noticed.”

Even though I’d worked in publishing books and magazines nearly all my life, in the editorial, art, and photography departments, I had no real experience in marketing or public relations. And can not afford to hire experts, since I’m already working for pennies and hour in return from the sales of my work. That is not so unusual.

Amazon publishes a list of top reviewers, based on the ratings the reviewers receive for their reviews. Some sources claim it is worthwhile to go through the lists and find reviewers who specialize in reviewing the type of books an author writes, and then contacting that reviewer to offer a free copy of the book in return for an honest review. It takes lots of work to do that. But it took years of work to write your book, so why not add to the process and go the distance you need to get those important reviews?

David W. Wooddell author
David W. Wooddell author photo

The majority of authors today, whether self-published, or backed by a small press, or even a mainstream publisher receive very little compensation for the time spent creating the work. But readers can do their part in helping authors. If you enjoyed someone’s work, please take the time to write a brief and honest review of the book, and post it on the relevant Amazon page. Give it a rating. You don’t have to lie, or only make nice. Be honest. It takes only a few moments, but the author will thank you, and it may well help that author reach the magic number of 20 reviews in order for the book to be seen, and maybe even purchased.

Is that too much to ask? Many of us do offer a free copy to someone willing to read and write such a review. That comes under the marketing and public relations portion of what we do. –  David W. Wooddell

A Review of Hoffman’s Army

I’ve been active in a group of civil war enthusiasts on FB. and recently offered a free copy of my history of the 31st Virginia Infantry CSA to someone in exchange for an honest review of the book. When one is a self-published author, it is achingly difficult to get reviews. I’m pleased that Chuck Pribbernow found my book worthwhile.

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Wooddell Through time-1971

Where we end up as writers does not always have any correlation to where we began. It is all too easy to imagine, when one is young, the career path. All too easy to believe that one’s work will inevitably be celebrated, awards will flow, and wealth will result from that million dollar sale.

Wooddell Through time-1978

But I would hazard a guess that most don’t imagine the years of sitting solitary, in front of a keyboard and computer screen, doing the writing itself. Or of sitting with a pad of paper, or a notebook and pen, or pencil, and cramping one’s hand while writing word after word, endlessly, then revising them, and then, at last, sitting down to put it all into a computer’s word processor. That part of the dream is boring, and will be glossed over by the unimaginative.

Wooddell Through time-1-2


But what if that dream of great success and riches doesn’t happen right away? Does that mean one’s writing has no validity? When I was at university, I knew a young man who was my own age. He was determined to write novels in such a way that his genius would be recognized by the time he was 21 years old. Because his hero had done so. And when that didn’t happen? He was shattered. He declared he would never write again. I lost touch with him soon afterward, and don’t know what happened to him. Maybe he learned that stuff runs downhill and became a plumber. He probably made more in his career than most wanna-be writers ever will. He might own a vacation home, and a boat, and maybe even can afford to send his kids to college. I don’t know.

Another friend from the same period was a serious pianist. He’d been groomed from age 3 to be a concert pianist. His mother poured money and hopes into private lessons, piano camps, tutors, and a first rate piano in their home. He was astonishingly good when he performed. He went off to college, studying piano, and he became much better. But his goal was to be world famous by the time he was 21, because his hero did that. And his mom said to do that. And when he didn’t succeed in reaching that level of fame?

Wooddell Through time-2004

I lost track of him for many years, but through the wonders of the internet some few years ago, was able to briefly connect. He’d gone on to get a master’s degree in conducting, and then a doctoral degree. He as teaching college symphony band, conducting, and playing piano, and was still pretty good. They always asked him to play at parties. He knew all the songs. He married, had children, bought a comfortable home, and made a very good life for himself. Was that not worth the doing, simply because he didn’t live up to the dream he’d had when he was young?

I seem to meet a lot of young writers these days, and I try to be reserved in giving advice. I’m not Gandalf: I don’t have magic dust up my sleeve. If I did, I’d be famous and rich, instead of relatively obscure and on the poorer side of middle class. The only solid advice I can give is to keep writing. Write more. Then write it again. And then again. Write more than one story. Write many stories. And then more stories.

Wooddell Through time-2014-2

How do you learn and know what you don’t know? Ask a lot of questions. Write down the answers, and find your stories in the answers from others. Ask: What do you do? How do you do it? Why do you do it? What do you think about when you garden? How did you meet your spouse? Why did you want children? In the answers from those people you meet, to whom you ask question about their lives, you will find answers for your writing. No one is born with answers within them. But good writers are born with lots of questions. Writing is answering the questions you ask. Ask good questions.

You might want to read this essay from a speech given by a writer, Andrew Solomon, in which he discuses Advice for Young Writers by Rilke. It is more brilliant than anything I could say.

I mostly did other things in my career than write. I worked with photographers, and artists, and eventually became a photographer. I learned to be a careful researcher, and writer of reports read mostly by senior editors. To get there, perhaps the most important part was learning about the world. In my youth, I worked construction, in a steel mill, in stores, in factories, in restaurants, in libraries, and occasionally for my grandfather, learning to take care of a historic 19th century farm on a mountain. All of that was grist for my word mill, for my word farm; learning to ask questions, and find answers.

  • David W. Wooddell