A few months ago someone told me about a website/service that would potentially help me attract readers to my books for the purpose to garnering reviews on common websites like Amazon, GoodReads.com, etc. The website to create these opportunities was StoryOriginApp.com. Intrigued by the idea of getting some desperately needed reviews for my books, I quickly jumped in and followed the path down into the StoryOrigin jungle. After a few months since taking this leap, I have yet to experience the full offerings of StoryOrigin but wanted to share my experiences to date for others who may be curious about some of the services available.
First off, when I signed up, the annual cost to create offerings was $99/year. It was free to create an account to sign up to participate in offerings made by others but if you wanted to set up your own giveaways and marketing campaigns then you had to pay the fee. The $99/year annual fee gave you access to all the features of the site but I did not see an option to only pay for access to select services. It was basically an all or nothing subscription.
Now, for my initial experience, I only leveraged 2 of the services StoryOrigin offered. The first being their Universal Book Links (or UBLs as they are also referred to on their website). The second being their Review Copies Giveaway/Exchange.
With the first service, UBLs, you can create links that redirect customers to a variety of vendors. Essentially, the link points to StoryOrigin's website and from there StoryOrigin redirects the user to the product's page on a retailer website. Honestly, if you know the links to your products on the retailer websites (which you have to provide to StoryOrigin for this service to work) then you could just as easily link directly to the retailer website and avoid to StoryOrigin redirect step for a more efficient shopping experience. The only thing that I've seen the UBLs actually do is that they track the number of times that a redirect link is clicked. What I haven't found though is a breakdown to show how many clicks went to which retailers. The dashboard shows me a general count of how many times each UBL was hit but not which retailer each click went to. There is no metric to show if Amazon or B&N is seeing more activity, just how much activity a general UBL is getting.
The lack of UBL redirection statistics is a bit disappointing to me. As someone who is trying to promote my work to customers, it is generally a good idea to know which outlets are seeing higher volumes than others. Am I moving more print copies or eBook copies? Is this vendor getting more traffic than this vendor? Do I have vendors incorporated in my UBL links on my website that are not seeing any traffic and can be removed? That type of breakdown could be helpful, if not critical, when planning future marketing campaigns or redesigns of online materials. If all I'm getting is a general click count of the UBL then I could get a better traffic count through my own website statistics using standard direct links with a bit of advanced coding to track the individual clicks. Yeah, the StoryOrigin UBLs are available to anyone without technical proficiency but for those us who can develop more advanced capabilities or who desire more advanced statistics, the UBLs fall short in my book. A cool idea, limited reporting. If I could see more statistics per UBL then it would be more useful and a greater value to their service offerings.
The second service I used, the Review Copies, was promoted as an easy way to give interested readers a free eBook version of my book with the expected understanding that those who receive those copies will provide reviews on a variety of websites in return. This was the service that most captured my attention and was the sole basis for my signing up. If it works, it would make the annual subscription cost worthwhile to me given that I have multiple books out already with more books expected to be released in the coming years. The continued ability to use this service to get reviews for each book as it gets released would be great.
However, the service has not proven itself as useful as I had hoped (so far). Granted, there is a large extent of personal promotion that goes into attracting users to the service and at no point does StoryOrigin offer to promote your stuff for you. They provide the framework to create and manage the giveaway of your review copies but they are not responsible for bringing people to those giveaways. The closest thing StoryOrigin does is that you can make your Review Copy link "public" so other users on their website can find it freely and signup for that promo. That said, between my efforts to promote the giveaways and making them public on StoryOrigin's website, my promos have only attracted a few users after a couple of weeks and of those readers only one has left a review.
I have run ads on social media for several days. I have constantly blasted posts on social media to promote the giveaways with links to take users directly to each promo. I have dedicated an entire page on my website to the giveaways, including a full-blown FAQ for people to read to help ensure them that this is legit and 100% with no obligations, only a request that they leave a review once they've read the book. After the first two weeks of creating the promos, running the ads, posting to social media, and extending my website, I think I had less than a dozen people sign up in total between the two books on offer for free. And in that time only one of those people have left a review to date. That is not a good return on investment for my $99 subscription free to give nearly a dozen people free copies of my book and only get back one review. I can only hope that as I leave these promos open for people to signup over time that I will start to see a better return on my ratio of reviews for books given away.
And on top of that, when creating the review copy promos, the website requires that you upload multiple formats of your eBook to support multiple devices. Formats like .mobi, .pdf, and .epub. I don't know about you but those aren't formats that I just have lying around. I had to acquire my digital book and then find other utilities not offered by StoryOrigin to convert my digital copy into the various formats they required to complete the creation of each book's giveaway promo. I understand that there are likely some legal issues with them converting and giving away my intellectual property in formats that I did not establish or are not standard offerings. I also understand that the people behind StoryOrigin do not want to be responsible for conversion issues or technical support when things don't go right so by having the creators supply the files to be given away they absolve themselves of any liability but there is a certain level of technical skill and proficiency that is required to get it done. I'm not sure how many authors out there would know how to get such conversions done without seeking additional assistance that might require additional cost beyond the StoryOrigin subscription fee.
At the end of the day, if I were asked to rate my StoryOrigin experience today, I would give it a 5.
I see the potential that StoryOrigin has but I have yet to figure out how to unlock it. The people behind it have taken a great deal of time to develop features that I don't need so its hard to evaluate the service as a whole based on those options but with what I've experienced, its average at best.
To me, the service seems more tailored toward truly self-published authors who have control over pricing on their works. Someone who can go into Amazon's dashboard and choose when to do a sale or not. Being someone who used a hybrid publisher, I'm considered a self-published author but my publisher controls the price of my books without my input. I have no say in whether or not I want to offer a limited time 0.99 cent sale of my books on Amazon or whatever. The publisher sets the price and that's the price.
The people behind the site do a good job of sending out emails to new users like myself with tips and tricks but they all seem to revolve around exchanging your data with others to do a shared marketing using each other's outlets of things like social media, newsletters, and email subscriptions. As an author who doesn't produce much content on a weekly or even monthly scale it is hard to say how I could use a newsletter. Sure, I could put out a newsletter updating people on publishing statuses of works as they go through the various steps towards publication but that is about it. There is little in the way of monthly news to be shared unless the entire purpose of my newsletter is to promote the work of others and on occasion slip in some news/updates about my own stuff but that seems like a misuse of email addresses. People signed up for my newsletter, not my monthly ad sheet. And on top of that, StoryOrigin doesn't even offer email services. They want you to sign up with a 3rd party email provider and then link your accounts to send emails from StoryOrigin through that 3rd party. If your business model is heavy on email marketing and newsletters, why wouldn't you provide a service to support those features natively?
It looks like they can help support a number of services so all told $99 isn't bad but only if you can/will use multiple features/services. I'm not sure the $99 cost is justifiable if you only plan on using one or more of the services. I guess it also depends on the level of participation someone can achieve. Perhaps if you only used one service but managed to have great levels of participation then it might be worthwhile but so far the lack of participation I've been able to muster calls into question my willingness to continue my subscription beyond this first year. I've already paid for the next several months so I will continue to use their services that fit my needs and promote those services in hopes of increasing the currently meager participation levels and if things improve then I may keep my subscription for another year, else consider my StoryOrigin adventure over.