Oct 202013
 

thermalimage2IMP – Well, it isn’t great, but it’s progress.  Just under 2000 words on the IMP story (working title is “Ghost Story” – real imaginative, isn’t it?)  The good news is that I think I’m past most of the framing, and am getting into the meat of the story now.  Hopefully that means it will go much easier now. I don’t know why this one has been such a problem, but let’s hope the problem is past, and the progress is faster.  Wink

SoP – In the meantime, October marked the end of my Kindle Select period, and I have now made Streets of Payne available for Nook.  I hope to have it up on Smashwords next week as well, and I plan to look into making it available for Apple and Kobo soon.  My next step is to work on some marketing for it.  I’ve got to do something, because as much as I like the book and the characters, I haven’t sold a single copy this month.  If I can’t turn that around, I’ll have to assume either there’s no market for this particular type of book, or I’ve done something terribly wrong with it.

That’s it for tonight – short and sweet.  But I’ll be back in two days with an interview of new author, Stephen Kozeniewski.  If you’re interested in a new take on the zombie genre, check him out.  After all, how often do you find a pulp style detective… who happens to be a zombie?

All right.  Good night everyone.  Stay safe.  Bye

Aug 072013
 

WARNING – The following post contains considerable writer geek-speak, and may cause non-writing enthusiasts’ eyes to glaze over.  DO NOT OPERATE HEAVY EQUIPMENT FOR AT LEAST HALF AN HOUR AFTER READING THIS POST.  If you are easily offended by geek-speak, please do not read any further.

 

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

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Yep, this one is going to be another “lesson” blog entry, so if you’re new to the business, pay attention and learn from my mistakes.  And if you are a pro, sit back and laugh at my misadventures in the writing business. Smile

THE PROBLEM  –  I’ve reached the point at which sales on Half Past Midnight and The Road to Rejas have pretty much tanked.  In July, HPM had fifty-three sales (including international sales) and two borrows, while R2R had thirty-one sales with four borrows.  And since Streets of Payne is a brand new release, it’s basically an unknown title in a sea of others on Amazon.  As of today, it has sold thirteen copies since its release on July 11.

THE SOLUTION(?)  –  Obviously, if I ever want my writing to become a serious income stream – or even (dare I dream?) a career, I will need to learn to handle and use marketing to better effect.

As ominous as that sounds, what it really means is that I’m tired of watching the numbers drop without even trying to do anything about it.  So I got busy looking for advertising venues, and found a few that were relatively affordable, and whose criteria my books met.

Criteria, you say?  What criteria?

I’m so glad you asked! Smile

You see, many of the advertising sites have become popular specifically because people who subscribe to them know they can count on seeing recommendations for quality books.  After all, who wants to have a deal recommended to them, only to find out that the product is crap?  And what site wants to be the one that recommends said crap?  The site’s subscription levels would plummet which would quickly be followed by the loss of advertising income.  So, to prevent such occurrences, most of them have certain requirements regarding the number of reviews, the rating of the reviews, and sometimes what kind of books.  Sometimes they will make exceptions if an author is well-known and has a long track record of producing quality books, or if the book has been favorably reviewed by a well-respected book reviewer.  But such occurrences are rare for new writers.  The better review sites protect their reputations stringently, as they should.

And of course, there is always the little matter of cost.  The big sites can charge hundreds of dollars for ad listings.  For a new writer with a new book, these factors make it pretty difficult to gain any traction.  Streets of Payne is in that no-man’s-land right now.  As I mentioned earlier, it’s new (been out for less than a month), and as a result, it has no reviews.  As such, it has a low sales ranking, which results in minimal visibility. Such are the breaks for a new book.  Frown

So, HPM and R2R sales have tanked, SoP hasn’t taken off, and I am faced with a harsh reality – it’s time to do some marketing.  Eek!

I suppose I should mention that I really, REALLY hate the marketing side of the biz.  I always feel like a sleazy street vendor, trying to hawk my wares to passers-by.  Still, I know that marketing is part of the business.  And I keep going on about how I need to treat my writing as a business, right?  Wink

So I bought an ad for HPM on BookBub.  Yeah, it’s a gamble.  I mean, you’d think I would concentrate on getting exposure for SoP, wouldn’t you?  And I would, except for that pesky review requirement.  So, while marketing for SoP is currently problematic, I’m hoping that if I get an ad for HPM, maybe that puts my name in front of some people who’ve not yet heard of me.  And if they like one book, they may be inclined to buy another.  Like I said, it’s a gamble.  I also bought an ad for SoP on a new advertising site called BookGorilla.com.

Coincidentally, while I was working on all this, my good friend and fellow author Edward Lorn called me with a proposal that seemed perfect for increasing visibility.  He was gathering a few new authors together to do a quick marketing slam fest.  He had lined up a few review sites to get out the word.  Needless to say, I was in.  And since I hadn’t been able to get any other exposure for SoP, I went in with that title, with an agreement to run it free for five days (August 1st through August 5th).

SoP Promo

Click image

August 1 - At the start of this little endeavor, my Kindle Sales ranking was #77,084.  The book came out on July 11, had sold twelve copies in the US, and none in any other country.  Our slam fest began on August 1, with a mention on Big Al’s Books and Pals.  On that day, I gave away 190 copies of SoP in the US, 30 in the UK, and 13 in other international venues.  It was nothing like what happened with HPM when I conducted “the great experiment” last year, but it was definitely better than I had been doing.  On top of that, my Kindle sales ranking dropped from #77,084 to #1,697.  Of course, that was in the “Free” listing, but I thought it was respectable.

August 2 -  So after the first day, my “sales” rank rose dramatically, from 77,084  up to 1,697.  Very cool.  But there was no “slam-stop” scheduled for August 2nd or 3rd.  So while I had gained momentum, inertia only takes you so far.  As a result, my “sales” dropped to 78 in the US, 26 in the UK, and 4 international.  My Kindle Free ranking rose a little more, settling in at #1,153.

August 3 – On the 3rd, with still no further advertising slated, the number of sales dropped.  As I said, there was still a certain amount of inertia, so books were still moving, but the number dropped for the second day.  60 units in the US, 16 in the UK, and 16 international.  However, the Kindle ranking dropped from #1,153 to #1,406.

August 4 - On the 4th was when the magic happened.  Remember me mentioning the ad I bought on BookGorilla.com?  Well it worked like gangbusters.  During the course of the day, SoP moved 1,576 units in the US, 53 in the UK, and 41 in the other international sites.  Better yet, the Kindle Free ranking rose all the way to #118!  Woohoo!

August 5 - Momentum, once again took over.  August 5th was the day after the BookGorilla ad, and the book was still coasting.  Additionally, we had an ad at another review site called “ImAVoraciousReader” that I’m sure helped out a bit.  SoP moved 627 units in the US, 91 in the UK, and 55 in other international venues.  And the Kindle Free ranking rose just a little more, topping out at #108Yes

All in all, I thought it went pretty well.  I was relatively pleased.  Final number of units given out were: 2,531 in the US, 216 in the UK, 92 in Germany, 7 in France, 3 in Spain, 1 in Italy, 2 in Japan, 4 in India, and 20 in Canada.  A total of 2,876 copies of Streets of Payne were given away over a period of five days.  So would it pay off?

First, you have to look at what I was trying to accomplish.  My first goal?  I wanted to gain visibility for SoP.  Second goal? I was hoping that said visibility would garner itself into a higher Kindle sales ranking, which would hopefully translate into the third goal of some reviews, and the fourth (and ultimate) goal of higher sales.  So did it work?

Well, the first goal was definitely a success.  SoP is now in the hands of over 2,800 people who likely never heard of it before last weekend.  In the grand scheme of things, 2,800 people isn’t huge, but it’s much better than I’d started the weekend with.

Second goal?  Well, that one was a resounding failure.  That may sound counter-intuitive, considering the numbers I listed above, but here’s where a HUGE lesson comes into play.  Remember how I mentioned that my sales ranking rose from #77,084 before the giveaway, to #108 on the last day?  Something you have to bear in mind is that the #77,084 was in all Kindle books listed for sale, while the #108 was in all Kindle books listed for free.  After SoP was no longer free, not only did the ranking not carry over (which was to be expected), but it appears that Amazon counted all five days of the giveaway as zero sales days, and knocked me all the way back down to around #400,000.

Third goal (reviews) - It’s really too early to say for sure, but I’m going to list this one as a tentative success.  Up until this morning, SoP hadn’t gotten a single review.  This morning (August 7) I received my first.  Even better, it was a very favorable (five-star) review.

And the fourth goal (more sales) – Well, it’s obviously much too early to tell how that one’s going to turn out.  I can only hope it will pan out in the near future.

Lessons learned – The first thing to come to mind is simple.  NEVER, EVER, EVER GO FREE!  I don’t know if it’s because of those mysterious changes that Amazon makes to their magical algorithms that we always hear about, or if it’s simply that free is so blasé now, but the loss of sales ranking doesn’t appear to be worth it anymore.  If I had it to do over again, I would pay more to get an ad to sell SoP at 99¢.  I can only speculate on how many sales I would have made, but at the 99¢ price point, half of the sales would still have paid for the ad, with perhaps a little left over.  Additionally, the book wouldn’t have lost its sales ranking.  Indeed, if I had sold 1,400 copies at any price, I can only imagine that my ranking would have shot upwards, and likely would have stayed there for considerably longer, and would have translated into even more sales in the long run.

Also, coordinate your advertising better than I did.  If I could have managed to get ads in several locations all at the same time, I wonder just how big a splash the book could have made?  Sure, it would have cost a decent chunk of change, but would it have paid off?  I suppose there’s no way to know.  However, I now have a better idea of what I need to do in future marketing campaigns.  Hopefully, I’ll do a better job next time around.

So that’s it.  Another adventure with Jeff Brackett “Learning to write”.  Stay safe everyone.

May 062012
 

Cover for "Explorers: Beyond the Horizon"

The writing is still moving, albeit slower than I would like.  Current project progress is as follows:

Road to Rejas has been languishing, waiting on some distance so I can go through it for another round of edits.  I think I’ve just about had enough time to go through with fresh eyes, so I’ll hopefully be able to get it to the editor soon.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on Streets of Payne again.  I’m beginning to rethink some of the storyline, but I’m determined to not let that stop me from the writing, itself.

The Burning Land is the short story I wrote for The Dead Robots’ Society anthology. The name of that anthology is entitled Explorers: Beyond the Horizon, and it is currently scheduled to publish in early June.  Over the last few weeks, I’ve driven the editors of the anthology nuts with the galleys.  It seems that each time they sent me a galley to go over, I kept finding something new.  We went back and forth five different times, and I finally submitted the last proof last week.  I hope you’ll pick up a copy when it comes out.

I’m finding that trying to make it as a writer is as draining as it is thrilling.  It’s not so much the writing itself, but trying to fit the writing into the rest of my life that is the problem, and I know I’m not the only writer that has to deal with this.  That’s why it’s so much fun to witness the success of a fellow writer.  It shows me that there is hope that I may one day be able to spend all my time doing what I really want to do.

 

Dastardly Bastard cover

And that’s why I’m so happy to make the following announcement.  On Tuesday, May 15th, I will be hosting the first stop on Edward Lorn’s blog tour to promote his new release, Dastardly Bastard.  I know I normally post on the blog over the weekends, but I had an opportunity to help out an up and coming writer whom I greatly admire, and truly believe is on his way to big things in the writing community.  If you like Stephen King style horror, please look up Ed Lorn’s books.

So check back here on the 15th for my interview with him.  There will be a bit of insight into what makes such a twisted person tick, as well as information on a raffle to help promote his book. Smile

If there are any specific questions you would like Ed to answer, leave me a comment and I’ll pass them on to him.  In the meantime, be safe.  Bye

 

NOTE:   Thanks to Michelle, who pointed out that I had misspelled Mr. King’s first name.  I have now corrected this.   Smile

Mar 112012
 

Well, it was time for another post, and Mike made the below comment, and once again, I was well into another long winded reply before I realized this was more appropriate as a post than as a comment.  So once again, here is Mike’s question, followed by my reply:

Mike Oakes

Hi, Jeff

Looks like things are still going well for you. There’s a couple of things I’ve been thinking about as far as ads go, and I was curious what you thought.

My first thought (and I apologize for being negative) is what percentage of the people who bought your book because of the ad would have eventually bought the book anyway–even if it was over the course of the next year. My guess is it’s not that high, but let’s say, for example, of your 268 sales, 200 of them were a result of the ad, but only 50% of them were sales to people who would have otherwise never bought your book. That’s a net of 100 sales from the ad–not enough to recoup your investment.

On the flip side, every sale that’s generated by the ad has the potential to spawn more sales. So if 100% of the sales that wouldn’t have otherwise happened generate each generate another sale that wouldn’t have happened, you’re back in the black.

It’s probably impossible to ever determine any real numbers on this, and all the ones I used are probably grossly inflated (I do figure the smaller your niche is, the larger these percentages might be), but I’m just trying to cover all possible scenarios.

What do you think?

 

Hi Mike,

You make some good points.  However, I’m approaching this from a different perspective.  While it’s possible that many of the people who bought Half Past Midnight would have eventually found it and bought it on their own, I don’t think it too likely.  You see, I’m just one new, no-name author with a new book - among tens of thousands of others.

I view it like this – I’m an entrepreneur with a new product that I want to use to make a living.  Therefore, I have three jobs with regards to this product; create the best product I can (within reason – there must be ROI), package it as attractively as I can (also within reason), and place it in front of people who might be interested in buying it so that it has the best chance of success.

I have covered the first two steps by writing a (hopefully) entertaining story, hiring and working with a first-rate editor, and hiring a cover artist and formatting company to wrap the product up in an attractive package. I’m now working on the third step, and my job is to get my product in front of as many of my target audience as I can, to see if it’s something they would be interested in buying.  I think we can all agree that if they never see it, the odds of purchasing go down considerably.  Smile

But here’s the thing – if I simply place the product out there and hope people find it on their own, the odds of them ever seeing it remain very slim.  Books that are way down on the sales chart tend to stay way down on the sales chart – unless something happens to raise them up.  Look at it like this, if my book is rated #1000 in the Action/Adventure category, and #100,000 of all Paid books, what are the chances that Joe Q. Public will ever see it?  It’s up to me to do something to make it more visible.  And that’s where I have to learn to work the system.

When you’re ranked that low, you are among the tens of thousands of other new authors, many of whom are not really serious about making it as a writer.  Most of them are going to be the folks who have always wanted to write a book, but never wanted to put in the effort that it takes to make it successful.  (Remember the video that Justin put out on DRS?)  Smile

I like to think of this as the free-market version of the traditional slush pile.  If these were the days of “traditional” publishing, there would be junior editors at the publishing house sifting through the slush pile, looking for the gem that is worth putting some time into.  That is part of what they deemed as their job as “the gatekeepers”.  But anyone in the industry knows that the traditional model has been turned up on its ear.  The role of traditional houses as gatekeepers has been negated by the new technologies that make it so easy for us to self-publish.  But the other side of that coin is that it is now up to the individual author to raise themselves out of that slush pile on their own.

As I said, most of the books that are that far down in the listings are stagnant.  But believe it or not, that can actually work to your advantage.  When a book is that far down, the sale of a single unit can temporarily move it up in rank.  The sale of four or five books in a short timeframe can move it up quite a lot.  I know of a fellow author whose novel went from around #196,000 to around #45,000 with only four sales in one day.

Now think about what can happen if you can sell a few hundred in a few hours!  And beyond the abrupt climb in sales ranking, there is another, less obvious advantage that can be triggered here.  You also stand a good chance of hitting Amazon’s list of “Movers and Shakers“.  These are books that have jumped dramatically on the rankings charts, and there are a lot of people who watch that list to find the next “breakout” book – which in turn leads to even more sales – which brings you further up in the rankings – which gets you more exposure – which gets you more sales…

Remember my comments on the Ouroboros effect in my earlier post?

Now, I’ve heard lots of people more knowledgeable than myself talk about Amazon’s algorithms.  I don’t pretend to understand it all, but I do know that getting your product out to as many people as possible is only part of the equation.  To maximize your sales potential, you have to get your product out to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible!  Otherwise, you will never get the visibility necessary to continue to make the sales.

Basically, there are several things you want to use on Amazon.  I already mentioned the Movers and Shakers list.  There are also the Top 100 category lists and the “Also Bought” lists.  These lists help keep you visible in the groups of people who are already interested in the kind of stories you write.  Conventional wisdom also says that choosing your genre category or sub-category is also very important.  I have read blog posts by other authors who will intentionally bypass an obvious category to publish under, so that they can hit another, lesser used sub-category with a higher ranking.  I currently have my book listed as “Action & Adventure”, but I could just as easily have listed it as a “Thriller”.  I don’t know how that would have worked out, but there is obviously some overlap, since during my POI experiment, HPM ended up moving into the Top 100 list for Thriller as well as A&A.

And I will go back again and mention that getting high enough in your sub-category gets you more exposure.  And once again, more exposure means more sales, which can bring you higher up on the coveted Top 100 of all Kindle books sold.  That’s not top 100 in your category, that’s all books.  I keep coming back to it, but it all boils down to getting that exposure.  You know the old ko-an about the tree falling in the woods, with no one around to hear?  I don’t want to be that tree.  I want to be the tree that people have to block off the road for, that stops traffic and has everyone’s attention.  That’s the tree people notice.

I keep banging this same drum.  Sorry.  There are likely hundred of other ways to make it as a writer, and I’m doing my best to learn about them.  But one thing I’ve learned that seems to work well is to get the best exposure you can that will give you a rapid climb in ranking.  That has to be the result of some sort of advertising or marketing campaign.  Whether it’s a day of free giveaways, or a paid ad, the best ROI seems to be exposure to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, to prime that old Ouroboros express.

On the other hand, you have to remember to keep working on the next project.  Keep writing.

And on that note, I think I’ve rambled on enough here.  It’s time to take my own advice and get back to writing.

Be safe.  Bye

Feb 292012
 

WARNING – The following post contains considerable writer geek-speak, and may cause non-writing enthusiasts’ eyes to glaze over.  DO NOT OPERATE HEAVY EQUIPMENT FOR AT LEAST HALF AN HOUR AFTER READING THIS POST.  If you are easily offended by geek-speak, please do not read any further.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

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This is a sort of followup to my post from February 15 (In answer to Mike’s question…) in which Mike wanted specific sales numbers from when I put HPM up for free.  In that post, I explored what happened during “The Great Experiment” from the perspective of using Amazon’s KDP Select “free” marketing tool.  Well, this post is about another marketing tool I just used – paid advertising.

Yes, I actually paid for an ad for my book.  I once again had some great guidance from my fellow Red Adept Select authors in chosing the proper ad.  Truth be told, I sat back and let them decide what ad location would be best, and I went along for the ride.  And what a ride it was.

There was a short list of sites that most of them felt would be worthwhile with regards to buying ad space.  You have to balance several factors: the readership or traffic on the site, the cost of the ad space, the length of time the ad will run, and probably a few others I can’t think of at the moment.  You may also run into problems with some of the more reputable sites with actually getting in.  Some have relatively strict requirements and considerable waiting lists.  The site I got on is called Pixel of Ink.  POI is a little expensive (I think it was $275, but I could be wrong), a bit restrictive (requires that the book have at least ten four-star or five-star reviews on Amazon), and has a HUGE following.  I paid for my ad last December, and it just came out on February 24.  When I just went to their site to check specific requirements (I don’t actually remember them all), the site shows that they are closed to further submissions.  I can only assume this is because they have already filled their slots for the current time period (quarter? year?).

So, the ad for HPM came out shortly after 2PM on Friday, February 24th.  As soon as I saw that the ad was out, I struck a base line on my sales and started tracking hourly (yes, I’m that kind of geek) Smile  See the chart over there to the left?  (Click on it if you want a larger view.)  Notice that at the beginning of the chart the unit sales per day were dancing around the fifty sales per day line.  That big spike there?  Yep, that’s the day of the POI ad.

The numbers on the chart show that I sold 239 on that day.  But that’s not the whole story.  You see, when I started my base line for the POI ad, HPM had made 922 sales during the month of February.  But that base line started at 2PM, and I draw my daily figures at 8AM.  So, in order to draw a more accurate picture of my sales due to the actual POI ad, I started tracking on a separate spreadsheet.  Starting at 2PM I made it a point to check numbers as close to the hour as I could manage.  Here is a chart of the numbers during that twenty-four hour period.  The blacked out portion is when I finally succumbed to sleep.  Smile  (Again, click for a larger image.)

As you can see, I began charting from my 2PM baseline (Row 2 – 2-24 1400) with “1400″ representing the time.  It was easier to keep the columns sequenced properly using military time.  There are some obvious observations here.  For instance, note that as the number of Domestic Sales (red column) increases, the various rankings on Amazon decrease (they don’t show up until row 5 because that was when HPM broke into the top 100).  This inverse relationship is shown even more obviously in the earlier chart.  You will see that when that huge red spike of Domestic sales goes up, the other lines (representing the various rankings) goes down.  The exception is the lowest line at the bottom, which represents the number of units borrowed in the Kindle Prime library.  Note also that at 10PM (Row 10), HPM unexpectedly broke into the Top 100 Kindle Sales in a whole new category, (Thriller).  I’m not honestly sure what prompted that, but I’ll take it.  Yes

But something that’s not quite as obvious, and in fact might actually be mistaken for a discrepancy between the two sets of numbers, is the fact that the first chart shows 239 domestic sales, while the second shows 268.  This is explained by taking into account the two different timeframes.  The first chart covers the period of 8AM, February 24th, to 8AM February 25th.  But the POI ad came out at 2PM, so when I tracked for a twenty-four hour period, I covered from 2PM of the 24th to 2PM on the 25th.  That covers more of the “hot” period after the ad. 

Here is another chart that exclusively covers that time period.  This picture is simply a graphical representation of the same data shown in the spreadsheet above.  In this one, the relationships between the trends is more difficult to see because the scales are so disparate.  Nevertheless, these two graphics show that, rather than the 239 sales indicated on the 8AM to 8AM chart, there were actually 268 sales for the twenty-four hours immediately following the POI ad. There were also 11 borrows during that same time period, when there are typically only three or four per day.

It looks like my peak rankings were right at midnight, when I hit #8 in Paid Kindle A&A, #13 Paid Book A&A, #66 Paid Book Thriller, and #302 in All Paid Kindle Books.  And right now, it’s 8AM February 29, five days later.  Checking my numbers shows HPM is still in the top 100 A&A in both Kindle and Book categories (#62 and #79, respectively).  It is also #2149 in all Paid in Kindle Store.

So was my ad purchase on POI a success? Absolutely.  Is it going to work like this every time for everyone?  Of course not.  Buying the ad alone is not going to guarantee sales.  There are your basic prerequisites here.  You have to have at least a marginally well told story.  That story must be well-edited (hire a good editor folks – it is a necessary investment in this business).  You have to have decent packaging (a good cover and title is also necessary – if you can’t do the cover yourself, hire someone).  THEN worry about promotion.  If you’ve done all this, and you still have some cash to gamble – because it is a gamble – then you can think about purchasing advertising.

But I’ve read about many authors that have done the same thing, and for whatever reason, they didn’t recoup their investment.  Like I said, it’s a gamble.  So think before you make the leap.  Ask yourself “Do I have the money to drop at the poker table?”

Now, for all of you who couldn’t care less about my lessons along the way to learning the business of writing in today’s market, I promise to have something less geeky/writer-y to post in the next few days.

In the meantime, be safe everyone. Bye