When I went spelunking through the list of top Amazon reviewers awhile back, I didn’t expect to see a familiar name. But there he was: Michael Gallagher of Kindle Books & Tips is a Top-10 Amazon reviewer. He has graciously consented to don both hats and sit in the Comfy Chair for this month’s LynneQuisition.
Michael, thanks for being here. First, a chicken-or-egg question: Which came first, the Amazon reviews or Free Kindle Books and Tips?
Michael: That’s a long story! The blog started just as something to do – I had compiled a list of links to various sites around the world where I could get free Kindle books. In the early days of the Kindle, that was a pretty big deal and I remember how excited everyone would get when Amazon would have between three to five books per week being offered for free. I’m a night owl, and learned how to format a Word document into a Kindle book one night, and put a book that was essentially a listing of various free sites and links onto the Kindle storefront that same evening. Included at the end of the book was a link to a free WordPress blog where I had listed whatever free book was available that day on the Amazon website. One million downloads of various revisions of that first book later, in conjunction with mainly word of mouth (I’ve never paid for third-party advertising), and you have the blog as it has morphed into today.
I wrote a few reviews before the blog started, but as it continued to grow, and people were asking me what I was reading on my Kindle, I would start pointing people to the reviews I had written so they could take a peek over my shoulder and see my likes and dislikes. I don’t write book reviews that are long and flowing – telling you everything about a book and having spoilers – but try to make them short and sweet as if I’m having a quick conversation with someone at work – did I like it or not, was it entertaining, and would I recommend it to my friends and family. Who wants to read the Cliff’s Notes version of the book in a review?
Lynne: I agree! How do you decide which books you’ll review?
Michael: With the exception of books I have received as a participant in Amazon’s Vine program, I don’t accept books from publishers or authors for the purposes of writing a review – if I like a book description in a genre I enjoy, or a friend recommends it to me and it sounds interesting, I will purchase it with my own funds. I don’t want to have someone feeling as if I “owe” them a four or five star review, or feel pressured to favorably review something. If I like it, I will reflect it in my review; on the other hand, I have been told I am sometimes too blunt on things I didn’t enjoy (which has always been a limiting factor in my professional career).
Lynne: I’m guessing you see a lot of books by indies. Can you speak to the quality of what you’ve been seeing lately? And has that changed since you started your blog?
Michael: Independent authors submit about 500 (or more) books for me to consider promoting – on a paid or free basis – each week. Obviously, I don’t read them all but make a quick judgment call based upon the book’s cover and the book’s description. The Kindle platform allows just about anyone to become a published author, and I’ve seen covers and descriptions become worse, especially over the last few years. The ease of publishing to the Kindle platform, I believe, has led to a lot of books that really shouldn’t have been published.
I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but people do. With over a million titles available on the Kindle platform, as a potential purchaser is scrolling along looking for something to read, you need something to grab their attention and incentivize them to click on your book’s title and learn more. If I were an independent author looking to get noticed – especially if I spent however long I did writing a book – I’d invest a few bucks to have a snappy, attention-grabbing cover. I’ve ranted about that a few times on the blog and with my author sponsors – you can read more about it here.
Assuming someone felt compelled enough by your thumbnail to investigate your book, your last chance to grab them is with your book description. You’d be surprised at how many sloppy descriptions I see each week – some are literally just one or two sentences long, or ramble a bit and I have no idea what the book is about, which makes me drive on to the next book. I highly recommend the independent author finding an independent “someone” to review – or write – the book description (your mom doesn’t count). Readers of the blog, and my author sponsors, have heard me rant about this one, also – I’ve blogged about it in detail here.
I’m not trying to sound all gloom and doom. While I have read more than my fair share of stinkers over the past couple of years, I’ve also been introduced to a lot of independent authors I really enjoyed that I never would have found in the first place. With my position with the blog, I’ve subsequently become introduced to many of these authors and developed a friendship via email with them.
Lynne: What impact did Amazon’s new affiliate rules have on the way you pick books to feature on your site?
Michael: Amazon’s change put a large crimp in the blog’s business model, as it did to others, but it really didn’t affect how I pick a book. I look at the cover and description as I mentioned above, but at the end of the day I boil it down to something simple: if I think my friends or I would enjoy one of the books submitted, I will post about it. If I don’t think they would like it, or if I think it would embarrass my mother or kids if their friends knew I was promoting it, I avoid it.
Lynne: What do you get for being an Amazon Top 10 Reviewer, other than a badge on your reviews and a ton of spam?
Michael: You do receive a nifty badge and a lot of emailed requests to review books. The biggest thing you get the bragging rights to say you’re in the Top 10 – Amazon doesn’t pay you for being a reviewer: several of my friends, particularly the ones from say high school or college I haven’t seen in years, will stumble across one of my reviews say for the new Kindle Fire, and shoot me an email asking “are you the same Michael Gallagher…” It’s been a good way to reconnect with old friends.
Lynne: And here I thought that’s what Facebook was for. Michael, thanks again for stopping by.