This week I have three very different movies to recommend. In fact, you could say that the theme of the week is variety.
Stowaway (Netflix) A team of three is on a mission to Mars and discovers that someone else is on the ship. I enjoyed this movie because it’s well made, futuristic, and centers on ethical dilemmas more than action. I didn’t expect Anna Kendrick as an astronaut, but it works.
Sound of Metal (Amazon Prime) A heavy metal drummer in a band with his girlfriend loses his hearing and quickly transitions to a new life. This is a great film that’s raw, human, and well-acted. I came away with a new perspective on deafness. Riz Ahmed was great in The Night Of (HBO) and he delivered in this film as well. Paul Raci was nominated for an Oscar for his supporting performance.
Booksmart (Hulu) Booksmart made me LOL. Two high school seniors realize they’ve wasted time being focused on grades and decide to start partying before college. This, of course, leads them on myriad adventures. Fun and easy; a modern Superbad with female leads and a female director, Olivia Wilde. The soundtrack makes it even better.
In book publishing and promotion, few things matter more than ratings and reviews. They are used by customers to evaluate the book, by industry pros considering distribution, and more. A high number of positive reviews help to validate the book and author.
Recently BIG ENOUGH reached the 50 review mark on Amazon, which was a goal that I’m excited to cross off my list.
Part of earning reviews is understanding Amazon’s review system and what it rewards. or punishes. The problem they face is making sure that the reviews are genuine and not someone (or an organization) gaming the system. It’s an arms race and, to their credit, the system (or more directly, it’s algorithm) is constantly evolving to stay a step ahead.
In promoting my book, I learned a few big lessons regarding the review system. You can learn more in this Wired article.
Verified Purchases – Amazon knows if a reviewer purchased the book. This is an indication of authenticity and reviews from verified purchasers are rewarded as such.
Ratings Instead of Reviews – Reviews, where someone writes a message about the book are helpful. However, they can be misleading and gamed. For this reason, Amazon is making their 5-star rating system more prominent. Today, a customer doesn’t need to write anything. They can simply select 1-5 stars and their rating counts like a review.
Time – Reviews and Ratings don’t happen quickly. It may take a few days for a review to appear. This is apparently due to Amazon’s validation process.
Asking for Reviews
I put a lot of effort into getting BIG ENOUGH into the hands of people I thought would enjoy it. That involved a pre-order campaign, launch promotion, and a request for authentic reviews. The review request took the form of an email I sent to people who ordered or pre-ordered the book.
The message was short, casual, and focused on ratings versus reviews, because they’re so much more efficient. I think Bootsy helped too.
Going into this phase of the book launch, a created a spreadsheet that includes names and email addresses of nearly everyone I know. Over the last two weeks, I emailed them all, one at a time. This ended up being quite a project. I sent hundreds of individual emails, all personalized, and focused on one thing: pre-orders for Big Enough.
As I’ve written before, pre-orders are a powerful way to generate buzz when the book launches and it’s up to me, the author, to make it happen. Once the book launches, there are options like advertising to achieve a similar effect.
Thankfully, I’m starting to some fruits of the effort. I don’t have direct access to pre-order sales numbers, but I watch the Amazon bestseller rank as an indication of how the book is doing relative to all books on Amazon.
You see in the graph above when the pre-order campaign started. That’s what I call the campaign bounce. By contacting people in my network, the book can rank in the top 35k before it’s ever released.
This project was a great opportunity to check-in with people I hadn’t seen in a long time. I now feel like many relationships have been rekindled. I’m so thankful to have the help of friends and family!
As Sachi will tell you, I am often preoccupied with data about our business. I spend a lot of time checking websites and dashboards to see how our projects are going. I love it, but it can also become an obsession. There have been times when my daily perception of myself and Common Craft were driven by data points. A few days of disappointing data would make me want to reassess our entire direction. It wasn’t healthy and over time Sachi convinced me to take a step back.
In Big Enough I wrote about the impact of the “Merchant Receipt” emails I received when someone signed up for Common Craft:
At Sachi’s insistence, I committed to making a big change: I turned those email notifications off. Sachi insisted that what was happening on a day-to-day basis was her business. She does micro, I do macro. She’s the CFO, I’m the creative director. I needed to focus on the future and what we could do to sell more memberships.
She was right. I had become so accustomed to the endorphin rushes that each day without them felt bland and uneventful. It seemed like there was nothing to celebrate. Eventually, I regained a better outlook and took a longer view of our work and direction. It was the right decision.
Big Enough, Chapter 7, A Platform of One’s Own
I still struggle. The emails may not arrive in my inbox, but I know where to find the data. My first book, The Art of Explanation, set off a similar habit. Multiple times a day I checked the Amazon Bestseller Rank to see how the book was doing. I still check it a few times a week. Now, Big Enough is occupying that part of my brain and I’m always cataloging where it lands on the list.
A bit of promotion regarding the ebook and pre-orders pushed Big Enough into the top 45k books and it has me feeling good. For a book that doesn’t come out for a couple of months, I’m encouraged.
I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.