It’s the Catch 22 of writing, especially when you’re first starting out and hoping to build a living in the field: You can’t get reviews without sales, and you can’t get sales without reviews. This has always been true, but never more so than in the Age of Amazon.

Gathering reviews is just one element of the multi-headed monster that is marketing. I’ve gotten where I (think) I can write books passably well, but marketing myself is a different animal. Some people are just born to shout things from the rooftops, and there are others of us who just wish the rooftop shouters would just keep it down — we don’t want to compete with them and we’ve got writing to do, dammit!

Still, being the “best-kept secret” in writing is not the path to success; it runs counter to the whole aforementioned “hoping to build a living” thing. And I’m certainly not alone. There’s a type of person who can bang out 90,000 words on a project, and they are typically not rooftop-shouting material.

Looking for an answer, I spun through a couple of writer’s groups I belong to on Facebook — I’m at least that social — and came across a company called Hidden Gems Books. Their business model is pretty simple: For a fee, they will put my book in front of X readers (not employed by them – just in it for the books) who will be urged to write reviews. They don’t have to review it, and reviews may be positive or negative (although the company claims that if someone leaves inappropriate reviews or just hates everything they won’t be invited to participate any longer). It isn’t paying for reviews — it’s paying for distribution to people apt to review things.

Hmm. This sounded intriguing. I’m not above outsourcing some marketing efforts — especially if they know what they’re doing.

I did my research, and the firm seems to have good reviews and a good track record of actually getting your book in front of people who a) like to read, and b) like to review. It started out catering to the world of romance but recently opened to other genres. I have a fairly well-honed sense of rip-offs in this arena. When whole groups of people are chasing their dreams, there will always be a cottage industry that springs up to fleece them royally.

It seemed legit. I can see where this company makes its money, and I’m okay with it. So I signed up. Threshold, the first book in my The Joined World trilogy goes out to their reviewers on April 4 (my birthday, because why not?) and reviews should be coming in late April. The company boasts around an 80 percent participation rate, so if things go well, I’ll have approximately 70 reviews. The more reviews, the easier it is to get some promotions. The better the promotion, the bigger the reader base. As I understand it, it’s a matter of building to a critical mass to break through the noise and find a place.

Which leads me to the next pain point:

What if they hate it?

Like many authors, I suffer from what the professional (health care workers and authors) have dubbed “imposter syndrome.” Who am I to call myself an author? my ever-helpful brain will ask, often late at night.   Surely someone will figure it out and tell me to stop.

That’s the knee-jerk reaction, anyway. I can have 99 people out of 100 tell me they love something I’ve done, and you can probably guess what will draw my laser-focused attention.

My brain is a jerk.

The part of me who wants to make a living doing this kind of thing knows that I’ve got to shut up that part of my head. Writers write so readers can read.

Time to toughen up.

People will have one of three reactions:

  • Love It
  • Meh
  • Hate It

With upwards of 70 reviews (fingers crossed), there’s likely going to be a mix. As my career advances (fingers crossed) it’s something I’m going to have to learn to deal with.

That being said, I’m excited that almost 100 people — people I don’t know — are going to read my book. Feels like a next step.

I’ll give my opinion on how effective Hidden Gems Books when the numbers come in.

Fingers crossed.