I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Publishing is a tough gig! Since I’m only in my adolescence when it comes to writing and publishing I can’t tell you if the days of the typewriter and printed manuscripts were harder than publishing is now. I really don’t know if the number of digital publishers and the ability to self-publish is making life easier or harder for the author.

What I do know is that there are a TON of books being released every day. No, I didn’t look up the exact numbers. (Feel free to google it.) But just think of all the traditional publishers, then add in small e-presses then add in self-published books and you have a lot of authors trying to find readers. It’s a regular cacophony of word music and it’s definitely hard for an individual instrument to stand out among all the overlapping songs.

There are only a few soloists who stand out, which means most authors are trying to find that one little trick that gets them heard. What will make their melody resonate above the river of music? Figuratively turn up the volume.

Okay, enough music metaphors. LOL! You get the idea.

Let’s face it, we all tag and like each other’s books. Why? Because there are rumors that the “likes” on Amazon affects the algorithms for a book and possibly give it a little extra to get up on the lists. (Since no one knows for sure, that information can’t be verified.) At the very least, when a reader pops over to a page and only 6 people have liked a book, it doesn’t quite have the psychological boost that a book with 231 likes gets. People wonder what they’re missing if that many people like a book. Is this gaming the system? Could be.

Knowing the impact of reviews, last year I began writing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for the books I’ve read. And guess what? I read a lot of self-published writers because that’s who I’m hanging with these days. If readers wanted to start pointing fingers they could say I’m padding the reviews of my friends … even if my reviews are totally honest.

The internet is a buzz about authors buying honest reviews. Yet, publishers (and authors) buy advertisements in romance magazines and books get reviewed. Isn’t that the same thing? There are stories of bestselling author buying thousands of copies of their own releases to have the new release climb the charts. So is all this gaming actually cheating the system? How far does it have to go before it steps over the line?

Is offering a book for free as a loss leader considered cheating? Some say yes. I don’t think so. What I think is that it’s one of those tools that’s allowed my books to actually stand up in front of readers and scream “Try Me!“.

I’ve had three self-published books out for nearly a year. And you can see March Sales, May Sales and June Sales were nothing that could be called a living wage. But after several backflips (which ain’t easy for a woman with MS) and lots of groveling (see the post with the June sales), I finally got Amazon to price match BLIND HER WITH BLISS, the first book in the Tilling Passions series for FREE.

And guess what? I can actually say my writing is starting to make the kind of money I’d always hoped it would. Here are sales for the last six weeks.

Blind Her With Bliss: 80,000 Free, 14 sold = $30.00
Blind at UK site: 4663 Free, 0 Sold = $0.00
Deceive Her With Desire: 760 books = $1550.40
Deceive at UK site: 34 books = $35
Cheat Her With Charm: 563 books = $1148.52
Cheat at UK site = 22 books = $23

Barnes and Noble:
Blind Her With Bliss: Free
Deceive Her With Desire: 47 books = $91.18
Cheat Her With Charm: 39 books = $75.66

Approximate sales for Apple, Kobo, Sony and Diesel = $480.33

As many of you know, I released a 4th self-published book this week. I’m hoping with an excerpt at the end of the third book that readers will begin buying that book and sales will only go up.

Will this last? I don’t know. I’m really pleased after all my back-breaking work last year that something is finally falling into place for me. All I can do is keep writing the best books possible and hope the readers continue to enjoy them.

So, what do you think? Do you think there’s too much “gaming” going on in the book business? Are the truly great books rising to the top or is it the author who knows how to play the system that comes out ahead? Let me know what you think, I’m curious about stuff like this.

20 Responses to When Does Gaming Become Cheating?

  • I’m always curious what’s working for self-pubbed authors and what’s not. I do always like books when I drop by and read the blurb, whether self-pubbed or not. It’s just what I do. I haven’t reviewed, but I’ve been thinking about it more. I see it could be important to authors.

    • Amber – I think the “liking” a book is become automating for so many of us as we now check out books on Amazon. And really, I just started writing reviews myself. I don’t know if they help an author, but I know I do like having them on my books.

  • Great post, Nina!

    I think readers are drawn to the book with 200 likes versus the book with 2. Finding out that ‘likes’ and reviews can now be bought as part of this new attempt to try and game the system is unsettling. Unfortunately, in this business cheating/gaming seems to get the author rewarded. So, we are faced with yet another challenge in trying to stand out in the cacophony of voices trying to be heard.

    I loved all your musical metaphors!


    • Nichelle – But I guess my question is, since it appears authors and publishers have been “gaming” the system since the beginning of publishing, has anything truly changed? Is what’s happening now truly “cheating” or just a different method of doing what authors/publishers have always done?

  • Thanks for the update, Nina!

    And I so agree with you…who really knows what works? Or doesn’t? I do think the freebie thing works a lot and I’ll be getting more on the bandwagon with that one as soon as I can.

    I think I’m going to have to revamp the way I do things to make it work for me. I am soooo glad it’s working for you. Congrats!

    I hope to be with you sometime in the near future!


    • Lynn – It’s been a long haul. I know we’ve talked about this before, but I think I’ve tried everything other successful authors have tried. Sometimes I think it’s just timing and luck that get a book on the charts. (I’m crossing my fingers that these sales continue.)

  • Thanks for the great post, Nina. The numbers are very helpful. I’m looking at indie publishing 2 books next year, one that was previously published and that I’ll be editing and probably offering free, at least for a time. The second is a sequel and I will probably charge for that.

    But I would never know about this strategy if it weren’t for authors like you willing to share so much of your experience.

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    • Judi – With all the publishing options out there if an author has a book to self-publish, it would seem to me like a good business decision to get it out there. There are so many changes happening in the publishing world, it doesn’t seem to be the time to have all your eggs in one basket. Self-publishing is just another avenue for readers to find your books.

      Good luck!

  • Congratulations on your recent success’s It’s funny, whenever I see your pic around the net, I always considered you one of those, ‘one day I’ll be as successful as her’ authors. I’m not happy about your struggles, but to be quite honest it makes me feel that there is hope things will turn around some day for me. Thank you for sharing!
    As far as ‘cheating’ goes, I don’t think this is something new. It’s just become more public knowledge. As in any business, ‘who you know’ is always beneficial. Having the money to make money also puts you ahead in the game.
    Sure, I’d love the instant success of E.L.James, but for me I want to know my success comes from my blood, sweat and tears, not because I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
    Not sure if that makes any sense or not lol Sooooo before I write a book here, I’ll sign off. Wishing you continued success.

    • Adelle – Awww, thank you. Ya know, it’s funny, I don’t think of myself as one of “those” successful authors. I see many others who are just doing amazing things with their writing and their books. But thank you for the compliment. (LOL! on the struggles … I feel the same way when I know success didn’t just fall into someone’s lap, but there were a few hard knocks along the way. Like you, I think that could be me.)

      Yeah, I don’t think the gaming is anything new at all. But with the internet and the immediacy of news, I think we’re hearing about it more often.

      And you know … I would be okay with EL’s instant success. I think I’d manage. 😉 But I do understand what you’re saying.

  • I wish we could return to the days of good word of mouth to find interesting books instead of “liking” and tagging, which can be done on auto-pilot.
    XXOO Kat

    • Kat – I do think word of mouth is still the best way for an author to find readers and vice versa. But like I said, with so many books out there, it’s hard to be the one they’re talking about. 😉

  • Nina, as usual, thank you for sharing. I’m so happy for your success. These are amazing numbers and well deserved. You’ve worked hard and I’m glad to see it’s paying off. I loved Blind Her With Bliss. I must get the others. Series sell really well. Readers love them. I hope these great sales continue for you. I always “like” and tag books I’ve read and try to leave reviews. Sometimes I’ll “like” a book even if I just read the blurb. I don’t think any of the things we do to sell our books is gaming the system. The very big name authors don’t need to do any promo. But the rest of us must do all we can to get our names out there and our books in front of readers.

    • Cara – Thank you! One foot in front of the other and keep putting books out. It’s all any of us can do. I don’t think it’s gaming the system either, but I know there are some readers who don’t like the idea authors are doing this for each other. LOL!

      I hope you do read the rest of the Tilling Passions series. I think each book got better with each sister’s story.

  • Nina,

    I appreciate your willingness to share information and am glad for your success. I wish you all the best with your career.


    • Adele – It’s been a long haul for me to get to this point. Sometimes I think self-pubbed authors only hear when others are doing well. I want authors who are struggling to know they’re not alone. There are many of us whose trip to the bank to cash the monthly royalty check cost more in gas than we made. 😉

  • Wonderful post, Nina!
    One of the very first blogs I read was yours talking about whether or not you were “invisible.” Well, I have to say you’ve shown that by continuing to pursue your dream you are definitely NOT invisible. Thank you for sharing your struggles and triumphs.

    Whether you see yourself as one of the ‘successful” authors or not, WE do. 🙂

    Tammy Dennings Maggy/Lia Michaels

  • Hi, Nina!
    I appreciate your honesty and generosity in sharing what you’ve learned (and earned!). I think there’s “gaming” in every industry, but readers know what they like and will only go back for more if they enjoyed what they read. So I do think good books rise to the top. That said, you deserve every bit of your success. And it’s only the beginning. If what goes around comes around, you’re going to be wildly successful 🙂


    • Meg – I think you’re right about readers. They do know what they like and speak with their book buying habits.

      And you’re sweet to say that about me. My only hope is to make other authors not feel alone in mediocre sales and hopefully save them from making my mistakes so their journey might be easier.

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