Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Beast that is Promotion

Promotion is a challenging thing for a writer to get right.  You want to get word that your book is out there (or in my case, that it's available for pre-order), but you don't want to be that person who's just "BUY MY BOOK!"  Because that person is obnoxious.

Seriously, that person isn't just hypothetical.  There are people out there like that, and they are obnoxious.  I once knew someone whose twitter feed would auto-tweet one of ten different "BUY MY BOOK HERE'S THE LINK" messages every few hours, like clockwork.

I never bought that book.

But you have to do something, of course, else no one knows the book is out there.  The trick is getting the word out there without annoying the people you want to be enticing.  Of course, the best way to do that is for someone else to be the one talking about your book.  That way it's not you doing obnoxious self-promotion.  It's someone who's genuinely excited about your work and wants to talk about it!

And sometimes you get blessed with a bit of serendipity.  In my case, it tied to Book Country.  See, I was one of the initial beta-testers of the writing-critiquing community, which was designed and owned by Penguin.  Thorn of Dentonhill was one of the first books available on the site for critique-- at least, its first few chapters.  So when Thorn was bought by DAW-- part of the Penguin group-- the folks at Book Country were eager to talk it up

Of course, I'll still be talking it up plenty in the months to come.  Have no doubt about that. 

All right, off to the word mines.  See you all down there.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Promo Pushes - The Good, The Bad and The Serendipitous

by @JeffeKennedy

Because I ended up with an extra guest post on tracking sales, I gave up my regular Sunday spot to that. And, to save KAK another post on how she's not at the point of dealing with this week's topic - Our Best Planned & Best Serendipitous Promo Pushes - I offered to take her Tuesday post.

The thing about promo pushes is that most writers hate doing it. Worse, I think the marketers or the ones who do love that kind of thing make us feel worse about hating it. They remind me of my extrovert friends who simply can't understand how I can stay home - or sit by a lonely lake, as above - when there's a party to be had. More than that, they *worry* about me, that I'm somehow secretly unhappy and messed up that I don't want what they do.

OF COURSE I should want to sell books! What the hell is wrong with me??

The thing is, most writers want to write books and hope the selling will take care of itself. I just got off the phone with an amazing writer I feel lucky to count as a friend, talking her out of her tree about hating promo. No matter how we try to distance ourselves and treat our books as products, marketing our books continues to feel like dancing naked for the crowd, hoping they'll love you. Hell, I had to jump on James in the comments yesterday, to point out that he's doing more promo than he thinks he is.

Not many of us are good at this.

Thus, the serendipitous promo success - the one you didn't sweat and bleed for - is like manna from heaven. Having a planned promo push actually work in an identifiable way is the second best.

The best planned promo event I've done was a Facebook party and quiz that I did with my much more famous friend Darynda Jones. It took all bleeding day, was a ton of work, but we had fun - very important - and, thanks to her copious and enthusiastic fans, it garnered a lot of attention for me and my books. It worked way better than I hoped. And I have been unable to replicate it.

As for serendipitous promo, I'd have to pick those glorious occasions when a reader gloms onto my book and shouts their love to everyone in hearing distance. These come out of the blue and feel equally miraculous. They are also, I suspect, far more effective than anything else.This can't be planned or extorted - never mind that many authors try to - and that's part of why it works better than anything. It's sincere, real and true - and everyone who hears the message knows that.

All we can do is give our best and be grateful when serendipity bestows her blessings.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Planned Promo push? What the Hell are you talking about????

So apparently our headline for  the week is "TheBest Planned and Serendipitous Promo Push."

I feel like one of the kids in the Peanuts when the grownups are talking. All I'm hearing is "Waah wahhn waannhh, Waa-waa-wwa-wwaah."

I write stories. On rare occasions I remember to send out review copies if my publishers are failing in that department. A few of them have failed EPICALLY by the way. Not all, thank all the Gods.

So, because I have failed you, I am dusting off one of my older advice columns. This one on where to start a novel.

Keep smiling,


So, where do we start?

The logical answer would be “At the beginning,” but that’s not always the best answer. I’ve said before in conversations that for me—and I must qualify that because I KNOW it’s different for other writers—that a story seldom starts at the beginning of a person’s life unless it’s a biography. I usually tell stories from multiple perspectives, and that means I’d be filling encyclopedia length volumes just to get to the main story if I wanted to start at the beginning. No, for me the story starts where lives intersect. The moments that make up a story should have a beginning, but it’s the events that matter, in this rare case, not the people; the events that lead the people to one place, to one time and to the tale I want to tell.

So, let’s work under the assumption that you’ve got your story ready to go regarding pieces of the proverbial puzzle. You have a plot, a setting, a cast of characters (Be prepared to add a few more as needed) and you’re all set with the mood you want to work in and the story you want to tell. All you have to do now is get it started.

Easy, right?

Sometimes, yes. I recently worked through the first seven chapters of a novel and then decided to kill it. Oh, I’ll take the parts of the corpse that I can still work with, but despite knowing the characters and how I wanted them to interact, they didn’t have the right “feel.” I think it’s a sure sign that something has gone wrong when I, the writer, can’t empathize with the characters. So, after working on three other projects for the last month, I’m killing the book and starting from scratch.

The odd thing about it is that I’m not the least bit disheartened by the change. I don’t have a deadline and I can take my time on this one. Oh, there are several deadlines looming, including two short story submissions I should technically be working on instead of this article, but on the novel I haven’t even considered contracting it yet. That makes a big difference sometimes. If I had a hard deadline, I’d have been in a full-scale panic by now and would be about as psychotic as some of the heavies in my stories. That’s one of the reasons I like having at least a few projects where I can kick back and relax a bit.

So what went wrong with the novel? A little of this and a little of that. As I have probably said before in these articles, I don’t work with an outline per se. I work with a vague notion of where I want to go. I know where the story is supposed to end, and I know a few spots along the way, but mostly it’s off the top of my head. This time around, I got lost. It’s happened before (not that long ago I was working on OUBLIETTE, which I murdered and cannibalized for CHERRY HILL) and I have no doubt it will happen again. Believe me, it’s a lot less painful than losing 40,000 words of novel because you forgot to have a back up disc.

I didn’t like the way the tale was playing out. Oh, I think there are some admirable scenes, and like as not I’ll keep them, but of the 30,000 words I’ve written, most of them just don’t feel right. They get the job done, but that’s all that they do. One of the big rules for me when it comes to writing is trust your instincts. So I’m trusting them. It’s annoying as all hell. I mean, seriously, that’s a decent amount of my time invested in the book, but in the long run, I can’t even hope to finish the story if it’s already bogged down in parts that don’t work for me.
Where did it go wrong?

At the beginning. (And here you thought I’d probably lost track of what I was supposed to be talking about again, didn’t you?) I was never comfortable with how the story started. It’s all right, but it isn’t memorable, and that’s a death blow for most books. If you can’t hook the reader/editor from page one, you might just have a serious problem on your hands. Also, despite what should have been a fast tempo and a frenzied line of activity, I was having a bitch of a time introducing characters. My fault, really, because I do love to populate a novel with enough characters to fill a Manhattan Subway tunnel at rush hour. I like dealing with the interactions between major characters and minor ones. I like seeing how they affect each other as the story progresses, and, of course, I need to know who I’m killing off if I want to enjoy the actual killing part. Hey, it’s horror. I’m allowed to kill a few people here and there.

So, where do we start?

Well, I started too early this time. I started at the beginning. It was a mistake. The points of what happened at the beginning of the tale are significant, but they also reveal too much of what is gong to happen. I gave away too much too soon and I think that cut the running legs off this particular tale before it even got the first bend in the track. I’d rather save that particular revelation for later, when everyone in the book and hopefully the readers are going “what the hell was THAT?”

So, now I have to start somewhere in the middle, just before the first murder. The damnedest thing is, I think it’ll work a lot better if the beginning isn’t told for a while. I truly believe the tale will be far stronger for the change over and I know the characters will hold my interest better if they don’t start off in a high panic mode. They’ll still get there, but this time around, I’ll know them better before I start. They’ll probably have a few surprises in store for me, which is half the fun, but I won’t forget what they’re all about before the action begins.
Oh, and I decided to change the setting just a bit. The same town, the same people, but this time, just to make them all a little more miserable, I’m going to set the story in the heart of a New England winter with oodles of snow and a few storms, too.

Something about the thought of all that blood resting on virgin snow just makes me feel all warm and happy.

Where to start? Where it best suits your story.

My last novel, CHERRY HILL, started with a lone old man walking down a road. The one before that, DEEPER, started with two men cleaning a yacht. This one? This one starts with the words: “Why are you always so angry, Bryce?” and will move forward from there.
Remember the following words: It’s not written in stone until you see it in print. If you don’t like where your story starts, you can always go back and fix it.

That’s all for this time around. I have two short stories I want to finish before I go to sleep.

James A. Moore

Can you guess what sort of novel proposal I'm working on? Shouldn't YOU be writing?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tracking Sales Data When Self-Publishing

by @AuthorAmberLin

We have another guest talking about tracking sales today, Amber Lin! I asked her for input, since she does so much self-publishing and would have a different perspective. Take it away, Amber. :-)


Wheeee, thanks for having me! I’m Amber Lin, and I write sexy romance. This is my first time on Word Whores. (Be gentle, please…)

The topic of the week is tracking numbers. I read the previous posts and there are thoughtful posts about whether to track Amazon ranking and what it means in relation to success, along with practical tips. I wanted to throw in some thoughts from the books I self-published.

Because you get a lot of tracking data when self-publishing! Yay! 

Unless you don’t like tracking data, in which case you are free to ignore… In fact, mostly I do ignore it.

I could take a snapshot of my sales of each book at the end of the day and chart them and know sales trends by day of the week or even time of day. There are self-published authors who do that. But I don’t have that kind of fortitude.

Looking at sales and thinking about sales bleeds into my writing. Then when I think how a scene should go or how a character should act, I’m thinking of how it might impact my bottom line—instead of thinking about how I want the story to go. How it needs to go.

So, each month I just accept direct deposits into my account, and either clap or groan at the amount. Or shrug. This is similar to how I react to checks from my publishers, really.

But every few months I take all that data I’ve been ignoring and build a sandcastle.

First I create a nice level place to work. This used to be an Excel spreadsheet with months and books. Now I use TrackerBox, a desktop software.

Then I add wet sand. The report from Amazon KDP. From Nook Press. From Smashwords. From All Romance. From Kobo. ALL THAT SAND. And I pack it together really tight and form little spires on top. That’s important, the spires.

And when my castle is done I have fancy graphs telling me all kinds of things. Like yeah, it may seem like that one book did the best, and maybe the reviews tell me that, but they’re wrong. Actually this other book sold way better. If I’m wavering between which book to write next, this can help. If I want to decide which book to promote through various means, this can help. 

And trends! What even are trends…

Okay, the sandcastle doesn’t tell me that.

But I can look at the shape of it and feel more confident I know what’s going on. What does a 2,000 sales rank mean to my career? What does $350 on a royalty statement mean? It means very little, as single data points tend to mean very little, as small as a grain of sand.

I need to dust off my hands, stand up, and look at the whole if I want to really understand how I’m doing.

Can any authors with self-published books weigh in on how you handle it? (And again, thanks for having me! You can find out more about me and my books here.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Amazon Ranking: An Expose!!!

by @CarolynCrane

Our Saturday Word Whore Veronica Scott is under the weather - hope you feel better soon, V! - so Word Whore alum Carolyn Crane is pitching in to share her insightful, meticulous and professionally mature system for tracking sales.


Hi!! It’s former Word Whore Carolyn here, filling in. The subject this week is one near and dear to my heart. I’m not obsessed! Here, a reprise of an old post from my first book, then updated November 5, 2o12.

It's so rewarding when you look at the way you were, say, two years ago, and see how far you have come!! 

Mind Games, the first in my Disillusionists trilogy, came out in 2010.  OMG, I was obsessed with my Amazon rankings!  You can tell from this old post, below.

The Oddshots blog, where this originally appeared, is sadly now gone. So I'm reprising it here.

The sad state of Carolyn Crane in 2010...


The Amazon sales ranking: An expose!
Before my book came out, I noticed that many other authors talk about the Amazon ranking, and how on release weeks, they would check it a lot to see where their book was. I was sure I would be different because:
1. I don’t tend to buy books from Amazon, and naturally, I assume most people behave as I do.
2. I’ve always heard those ranking don’t mean all that much. 
3. I’m interested in whether people actually enjoy the book—not sales, or a silly number.
So! Mind Games was released last week, and what did debut author Carolyn Crane do? Check the Amazon rankings!
I started off not doing it much, but since other authors talk about it, I figured if they check it, there must be something to it. Because Carolyn Crane is all about the peer pressure. So I started checking it more and more. Also, maybe nobody knows what it means, but the little number kept changing! Something was happening. Somebody needed to monitor it.
What is the number all about? I did some high level research.
I typed “how do Amazon rankings work” into Google and quickly discovered that the rumors are true: nobody outside Amazon really understands it. (Though some say it becomes more meaningful when you get around 1000, or into the best-seller territory of 100 or lower.) But nobody really knows what it’s based on. Sales are part of it, but there are other factors. What are these other factors you ask?
Nobody knows. Many people work hard to try to figure these other factors out. They write articles with phrases like: “the sales ranking has to be dissected dynamically” and “figures are applied to the algorithm during the calculation.”
Essentially, these people are reverse engineering the rankings, just the way scientists tried to reverse engineer Arnold Schwarzenegger in the time between Terminators #1 & #2. And we know how that ended.
But, back to me. The thing is, these little numbers would change, and it became weirdly entrancing. Once, my number hit the 3,000s! I felt happy! Like the book was doing well! Other times, my number would backslide and I would be a sad bear.

In their FAQs, Amazon is suspiciously vague

Amazon says “the lower the number, the higher the sales” and that the rank “reflects recent and historical sales.” Which, if you sort of think about it, are somewhat contradictory. And why not just put a number that grows every time somebody buys a book? Like a fun little meter that says, hey! Another book was bought! No. Instead, they rank your book against ALL other books on the planet in the most mysterious way possible. As if authors aren’t insecure enough. 

Clearly something is going on. It has all the hallmarks of an experiment— something akin to the Dharma Initiative on the TV show LOST! What is the purpose of Amazon’s Dharma Initiative-type ranking? How does it work? I have theories.
Theory #1: It is a sinister ego-crushing experiment
In this scenario, the number is based only vaguely on sales, but mostly on how many times an author checks the number.
As you may or may not know, one of the classic techniques of breaking down a person’s self esteem is to praise them lavishly (You’re 3,200!) and then withdraw that praise (248,560. Loser!) And then, when the author goes crawling back: (Hey! You’re okay! 11,350!). And the more you check it, the more it messes with your head.
Theory #2: The ranking is simply a carrot and stick trick to drive author traffic
Maybe Amazon is simply interested in driving traffic. I mean, isn’t that what big websites ultimately want? Think about it: authors are huge purchasers of books; maybe the ranking number is calibrated to get authors to visit more. In this theory, Amazon creates a believable range upon your release, that is, they “seed” your book the way a sports team might be seeded, and then Amazon’s artificially intelligent system goes to work, learning what sort of fluctuation brings you back, and what sort of fluctuation disheartens you so much, you stop checking for a day, and it modulates until it has you checking at an optimal frequency.
Theory #3: A funny joke for Amazon insiders
What if the number is way more random than anybody imagines? What if, inside Amazon’s headquarters, there is this giant monkey cage, and computer keyboards are positioned around the cage. And the monkeys are like, eeee eee ee! punching the keyboards, and everybody who walks by laughs, because they know that people write articles about the number, and authors check it incessantly, and it’s just monkeys playing! And it’s this thing that boosts employee morale. A joke they are all in on that creates togetherness.

UPDATE, November 5, 2012:

Oh, how sad to look back at those days when I was so hung up on a number to the  point of weaving paranoid theories about Amazon.  

This kind of behavior appalls me now. It not what being a  true writer, a true artist, is all about! I'm glad I'm over it. 

For example, my cross-genre PNR/spy/suspense romance, MR. REAL, just released this last week, and do I have it as an item on the toolbar? Actually, I don't have it on my toolbar! 

I'll admit to checking  the Mr. Real Amazon page now and then, but it's simple curiosity. A few years has put everything in perspective.

My other pen name, Annika Martin, writer of torrid bank robber erotica, recently got on a bestseller list as part of this 99-cent erotica bestsellers sale

Did I freak out? No. A rank is just a number. It means nothing! Artistic quality is what should count.  

Not to boast, but I think these past two years have allowed me to grow as a person, and truly put things in perspective. 

Hey! Thanks for visiting. If this post helps even one other writer see what a waste of time these obsessions with Amazon rank are, or gives them hope they they can change and get over their fixation on a number, I will rest easy tonight. Have a great week, people.

Friday, September 12, 2014

That Way Lies Madness

Tracking sales? Noooooo. No! Step AWAY from the stats. You have a job and tracking numbers isn't the one that pays the bills.

Okay. If you're looking for full disclosure from me, neither does my writing - it's more a self-supporting hobby to date. But unless I obtain a job in sales and marketing (which will only happen if the pod people get me - as neither sales nor marketing are among my core competencies) writing is my sole avenue for potentially paying the bills. Some day.

Is there call to track numbers, ever? Absolutely.
  1. You're self-pubbing
In fact, if you self-publish, as you tinker with price points, sales (free to download, $.99 sales, etc) and/or different genres, keeping track of units sold is not only possible, it's necessary. It is your only metric for knowing how and what part of your business is performing. You know. You *thought* the sexy romps would sell like hot cakes. Heh. You pull up your sales reports from the different online vendors and discover that your true crime series is out performing sexy romps by a 2 to 1 margin and at a higher price point. (Totally hypothetical situation, btw, so don't set out to write true crime unless it sings torch songs to your soul . . . and you can't find a medication to address that.)

If you are pubbed by one of the big publishing houses, you aren't going to be able to accurately track sales numbers until royalty statements begin arriving. But when you're published by one of the big houses, sales benchmarks have a tendency to matter more than units sold. Did book x earn out? Did books 1 and 2 sell enough copies to justify a book 3? Then, when you're no longer concerned with those benchmarks (because the answers were all YES) the benchmarks involve hitting lists.

At the end of the day, though, the reason I don't stress book sale numbers is because once a book is released, nothing I do (beyond being a reasonably decent human being - social media, speaking, going to signings - you know - the normal stuff authors do) will make someone buy a book.  Driving yourself crazy, fretting over something you ultimately can't effect unless you're herding people into the book store at gunpoint to buy - it just seems self-defeating. Write. Edit. Copy edit. Publish. Promote within reason and then RELEASE. Take a breath. Start the process over again.

Maybe it comes down to a question. What do you love? The writing? Or comparing your Amazon ranking against your nemesis's and feeling small because you either don't rank as high, or you do and your short-lived sense of triumph is punctured by the misery of wondering whether you'll be able to stay on top? If it's not the writing, there *are* easier ways to get your nemesis's goat. Not that I have deep, personal experience.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Chasing the Numbers

So, I'm not at the point, obviously, where I'm tracking book sales.  Occasionally I'll go and look at my Amazon rank for Thorn presales and wonder what that might actually mean.  I honestly don't know.

But here's what I do know: once I can track sales numbers, I will probably be a bit obsessive about it. 

Because lord knows, I already google "Marshall Ryan Maresca" and "Thorn of Dentonhill" to a surprising degree.  Especially now, since new things are popping up on a regular basis.  That's how I discovered an article pointing to me as an example of marketing one's work using Google Plus.  (What?  Really?)  That's how I found out that Thorn has a Goodreads page now.   Which gives me another thing to check obsessively, as I can keep track of the complete strangers who have added it to their "to-read" list.  For some reason that's incredibly exciting to me.

What I'm saying is, if I have something I can track, I'm probably going to keep my eye on it.  If it's something I can quantify, perhaps even put in a spreadsheet.... oh, I'm going to be all over that.

Maybe at some point, I'll be more zen about all the how'm-I-doing data out there.  But right now, I'm making the most of it.

Speaking of things you can learn by Googling me, I'll be at FenCon in Dallas September 25-27!  Come say hello!

Saturday  12:00:00 PM  - 1:00 PM  
Getting the Geos Right  
Description: Geology and geography and how they should shape your fictional society.
R. Acks , L. Carl , Mi. Finn , M. Maresca , M. White , K. Murphy *
Saturday  6:00:00 PM  - 7:00 PM  
Handwavium And Technobabble  
Description: Where do writers come up with all those terms, anyway? Do they have roots in the real world, or does someone just throw a D20 and see what they come up with?
P. Black , S. Cupp , J. Mandala , M. Maresca , L. Antonelli *
Sunday  10:30:00 AM  - 11:00 AM  
Sunday  1:00:00 PM  - 2:00 PM  
When Will it Ever End?  
Description: How long is too long? When should a series hang it up, or is there no limit to the number of books an author can or should write in a specific setting? Which well-known series have done an excellent job of holding our attention across multiple books, and which have jumped the proverbial shark?
E. Flint , M. Maresca , R. Rogers , S. Swendson , B. Wright , L. Donahue *