Story Cartel and the Search for Reviews

cover3bOne of the biggest struggles for an indie author is getting people to review your books on Amazon and other book retailers (I even have trouble getting people I know personally, and who have given my novel extremely positive feedback, to leave reviews). Without reviews (positive, negative, or indifferent), it’s nearly impossible to get strangers interested in your book because it gets lost in an endless sea of unreviewed, self-published books available to the masses.

As indie authors, we take steps to try and remedy this situation: launching giveaway contests, making our books available for free with coupon codes or by reducing the price to zero for a period of time, promoting the books on blogs and social media, and so on. For most unknown authors, I imagine the results are as middling as mine have been, so last month I decided to try something new.

My search for reviews led me to a few sites that offer authors the chance to give their books away for free in exchange for honest reviews. Some of these sites are more expensive than others and, as I was unwilling to risk spending a lot of money on something that was not guaranteed to work, I chose the site with the cheapest rate: Story Cartel.

For $25, you can post your novel on Story Cartel in various formats for three weeks. Anyone can download it during this time for free. As added incentive, those who leave reviews are entered into giveaways for prizes such as Kindle eReaders, Amazon and Barnes & Noble gift cards, and bestselling print books. I figured that for $25 I didn’t have much to lose, and if it helped me get a few reviews, all the better. After all, I’d read articles in which people had claimed to get 50+ reviews out of it.

My results, I’m afraid to say, were not quite so amazing. In fact, I’d have to label the entire experiment a failure, for in the end, I only got one solitary review for my $25. It was a very nice, 5-star review (for a total of two reviews on my novel’s Amazon page), but overall it was not worth it for me. Does that mean it won’t work for you? Perhaps, perhaps not. I think the success rate might be higher for an author with more of an established following than one like myself who is still trying to build one. The reason for this is that the onus is on you to promote the giveaway. I did my best to feature it on both social media and this blog but, again, I believe it comes down to how big (and dedicated) your following is.

As for the publishing process at Story Cartel, the interface was easy enough to use, though I would like to have seen a longer description field, as well as a place for me to enter a list of searchable tags (I feel that being limited to just two genres did not make the book searchable enough). It also might have helped if I could have made the book available for longer than three weeks.

I could have opted for Story Cartel’s more expensive option that features the book more prominently, but there’s no guarantee that would have helped get me more reviews. At least $25 wasn’t a huge amount to spend on a failed experiment–I’m just glad I didn’t try one of the more expensive sites that would have taken more than $100 out of my pocket.

I think the lesson from all this is that there is only so much you can do to drum up sales as an unknown author. A lot of it comes down to luck–you can have a great novel that never gets read by anyone, or a lousy novel that becomes a best seller [cough 50 Shades cough]. Most of us fall somewhere in between. That doesn’t mean I will stop trying (see below), it just means I’m being realistic. I was never under any illusion that I was going to become a best seller and have my novel turned into a movie. I’m just gratified that I was able to get it out in the world and that those who have read it have really enjoyed it.

In other news, you can now download the entire first half of my novel for free from Smashwords, and it’s only 99 cents to read the rest. I believe this 50% sample size may also apply to some of the other booksellers in the Smashwords distribution network, such as Barnes & NobleKobo, Oyster, Scribd, Inktera, Apple, and OverDrive (though not Amazon). I also intend to make more of my novel available for reading on this blog.

And stay tuned for a series of upcoming new releases: free short stories excerpted from my novel, which will be downloadable at booksellers and also posted here. The series of stories will live under the title, The Eyes of Mictlan: Origins. I hope you will enjoy them, and as always, I thank you for your support!

Writer, traveler, photographer, hiker, film/TV addict, amateur chef, casual gamer, and occasional tennis & saxophone player . . . in real life I do web design.

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Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017

Another prairie dog shot, this one in the iconic standing pose. Not as sharp as I would have liked, but not too bad for handheld at a 250 mm focal length.

#animals #devilstower #nationalmonuments #NorthAmerica #Photography #prairiedogs #roadtrips #Travel #UnitedStates #wildlife #Wyoming Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017

There is a giant field beneath Devils Tower that is entirely covered with prairie dogs. I was so mesmerized by the little critters with their cute screeching noises that I almost forgot I was there to visit the tower.

#animals #devilstower #nationalmonuments #NorthAmerica #Photography #prairiedogs #roadtrips #Travel #UnitedStates #wildlife #Wyoming Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017

This shot only features the top of Devils Tower, but I liked the variety of colors in the landscape.

#DevilsTower #Wyoming #NationalMonuments #travel #buttes #landscapes #photography #UnitedStates #NorthAmerica #RoadTrips #hiking #colors Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017

A closeup shot of climbers scaling Devils Tower.

Pretty soon, climbing will no longer be necessary because, according to a sign I saw at the site, they are apparently installing an elevator to the top. Although it would be neat to see the top of the tower, I think it’s unfortunate that they are going to ruin its appearance with an elevator apparatus. I’m glad that I was able to see Devils Tower in all its natural glory before this happens.

#buttes #devilstower #hiking #nationalmonuments #NorthAmerica
#Photography  #roadtrips #Travel #UnitedStates #Wyoming #climbing Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017

A view of Devils Tower from my hike around the base. This is the opposite side of the tower from the shot I posted yesterday. The black dots in the sky are birds.

#DevilsTower #Wyoming #NationalMonuments #travel #buttes #landscapes #photography #UnitedStates #NorthAmerica #RoadTrips #hiking Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017

A lifelong dream sparked by 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' was finally realized when I visited Devils Tower last August--40 years (and many plates of sculpted mashed potatoes) after I first saw the tower on film. I had no idea as I hiked around Devils Tower that just two days later there would be a 40th anniversary screening of the film at the tower itself. Just missed it!

#DevilsTower #Wyoming #NationalMonuments #CloseEncounters #travel
#buttes #landscapes #photography #UnitedStates #NorthAmerica
#RoadTrips Deadwood, South Dakota - August, 2017

I chose to stay in Deadwood during my three nights in South Dakota because I was a huge fan of the HBO show and have always been fascinated with the Wild West. I thought it would be cool to walk in the footsteps of Deadwood’s famous residents.

The drive in to town was interesting, as I steadily climbed the Black Hills while passing “Bighorn Sheep Crossing” signs. I only had time to explore the main strip because I spent most of my visit taking day trips out of town, so it’s not really fair to render a judgment without having taken the time to fully check out everything Deadwood had to offer. Still, I found it to be kind of a disappointment, mostly just your average casino town, which isn’t really my cup of tea.

Nevertheless, I saw several points of interest during my walks around town, such as the spots where Wild Bill was shot and where his assassin was caught, the Bullock Hotel that was built by Seth Bullock after the events of the show, and a few establishments named after notable people and places such as Charlie Utter and the Gem Theater. The recreated “gunfights” in the middle of town were also neat.

#deadwood #NorthAmerica #Photography #roadtrips #SouthDakota #Travel #UnitedStates #wildwest #historictowns #blackhills #oldwest Mount Rushmore, South Dakota - September, 2017

This is a zoomed-in view of Mount Rushmore from a lookout point a couple of miles away on Iron Mountain Road, a scenic mountain drive that I highly recommend taking before heading to the monument. If you go south to north, you will drive through a tunnel that perfectly frames Mount Rushmore; makes for a memorable photo. This shot may not look like a panorama due to its more squarish shape, but it was stitched together from two different photos.

#IronMountainRoad #MountRushmore #nationalmonuments #NorthAmerica
#panoramas #Photography #roadtrips #Scenic #SouthDakota #Travel
#UnitedStates #mountains Portland, Oregon - August, 2017

The view from my apartment during my stay in Portland last summer.

#NorthAmerica #Oregon #panoramas #Photography #Portland #Travel #UnitedStates Yellowstone National Park - August, 2017

Yellowstone Lake, the largest freshwater lake above 7,000 feet in North America.

#yellowstonelake #nationalparks #NorthAmerica #panoramas #Photography #roadtrips #Scenic #Travel #UnitedStates #Wyoming
#YellowstoneNationalPark #yellowstone #lakes #water Yellowstone National Park - August, 2017

The Grand Prismatic Spring, one of Yellowstone's most stunning features, is the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world. It's difficult for a ground-level photo to do it justice, but if you climb the hill visible in the background of this shot, you can get a nice bird's-eye view of its beauty.

#GrandPrismaticSpring #nationalparks #NorthAmerica #panoramas #Photography #roadtrips #Scenic #Travel #UnitedStates #Wyoming
#YellowstoneNationalPark #yellowstone #hotsprings #MidwayGeyserBasin Yellowstone National Park - August, 2017

Vertical panorama of the Dragon's Mouth Spring in the Mud Volcano area of Yellowstone. Pictures don't do justice to this remarkable thermal feature, but you can see how it got its name as smoke appears to shoot out of a gaping mouth.

#dragonsmouthspring #nationalparks #NorthAmerica #panoramas
#Photography #roadtrips #Scenic #Travel #UnitedStates #Wyoming
#YellowstoneNationalPark #yellowstone #hotsprings Yellowstone National Park - August, 2017

This is a portion of Hayden Valley featuring rolling hills. Hayden Valley is one of the two prime locations for spotting wildlife in the park (the other being Lamar Valley), and one of the most popular destinations in the entire park.

#nationalparks #NorthAmerica #Photography #roadtrips #Scenic #Travel #UnitedStates #Wyoming #YellowstoneNationalPark #haydenvalley #panoramas #hills Yellowstone National Park - August, 2017

This is Lamar Valley, one of the two prime locations for spotting wildlife in the park. The other is Hayden Valley. I saw wildlife in both locations, though Hayden Valley had much more.

#nationalparks #NorthAmerica #Photography #roadtrips #Scenic #Travel #UnitedStates #Wyoming #YellowstoneNationalPark #lamarvalley #panoramas
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