A few thoughts and, maybe, a brief snippet

I want to start by thanking everyone for their understanding about the open floor I had to put up last week. I try not to do so very often but last Tuesday was one of those days when everything converged to keep me not only away from the computer but out of the house. I’ve still been kept away from the house a great deal of late and off-line, but things are getting better. Which is probably a good thing since my work laptop has something odd happening with it where it no longer likes Yahoo and there are a number of sites — including mail sites and file sharing sites — that it seems to be blocking. So, once I finish here, I’m tearing into the firewall and other programs that are supposed to be protecting me and see if HAL has taken over.

Some of you were kind enough to leave suggestions for topics last week. Some of them, like the suggestion to discuss copyright and fanfic, will take more thought and research than I’ve had time to give to it yet. So, give me a couple of weeks — to get some deadlines dealt with — and I’ll do a post on copyright, fanfic and filing off the serial numbers.

Several of you wanted to talk about how to deal with the current dry spell so many writers seem to be experiencing right now. Not so much a dry spell on the writing front but on the sales front. That seems to be a topic a lot of folks are talking about. I wish I had a response that we could all implement, but I don’t. I’ll admit that over the last few years, I’ve seen a trend in my own sales where sales seem to slow a bit in July, drop through the floor in August and then slowly start picking up in September. Whether that means anything or not, I don’t know. It could be as simple as people are on vacation or are getting ready for their kids to return to school. But sales do seem to be cyclical and they do pick up.

I just haven’t found any quick fix for the decline. I’ve tried blog tours. It’s a lot of work for what didn’t always give a return that made it worth the time. I’ve had a trailer made and it had no impact on sales. I’ve tried putting titles up on all sales fronts and only on Amazon’s KDP program. I’ve changed the pricing — up and down — and changed the tags. Facebook and Twitter and snippets, oh my.

What I’ve learned is that different tactics work for different genres. The blog tour worked to an extent for one of the novels written under the pen name. It worked, not so much because it increased sales a great deal but because it got reviews up on Amazon. The reviews weren’t always glowing but they were always honest and the good reviews outweighed the bad ones. Those reviews do help because potential readers will look at the number of reviews and the average rating when considering whether or not to try a book by a new author.

However, for the urban fantasy stuff, the blog tour didn’t work as well. Does that mean such a tactic won’t work for others? No. It just means that, for me at least, I will have to think twice before putting in the time and effort to do an other blog tour for more of the Nocturnal Lives books. I’ll do a few guest posts — hint, if you need someone to fill in on your blog one day, give me a shout. I’ll be glad to as long as I can link to my Amazon page — but a blog tour of a week or two where I’m on different blogs every day is a no go now. I’d rather be writing my next book.

As for the rest of it — especially Facebook and Twitter — social media is a way to keep your name and the titles of your work in people’s minds. But it is a balancing act. You don’t want to do so much promotion that your Facebook page or Twitter feed is nothing but one long ad for your latest novel or short story. (Hint: I’m seeing more and more people posting on their walls that if they get a friend request on Facebook from someone and, when they go to check out that person’s FB page it is dominated by self-promotion, they will refuse the friend request.) So, before you start spamming your page and feed with info about your latest release, stop and think. Are you going overboard? Look at your last three to five entries. If they have to deal with your work and have all happened in the last couple of hours, you are going overboard. Step away from the keyboard and breathe. Post something different.

There’s another pitfall to social media sites like Facebook that a lot of authors fall into. That’s the creation of a page for your latest novel or series or whatever. Every day I’m getting invitations to “like” some author’s new page. That’s annoying enough because it does take time to figure out if it is a page I want to be involved with — and this is something you need to think about. When you “like” a page, it shows up on your wall. Your “friends” can see your likes. So do you really want to like that latest invitation? For example, how will your Christian publisher react if they check and see you’ve liked a number of pages for books that are about demonology or the like? — Even if I am interested, do I have time to follow them?

Worse are when authors or fans create group pages and add you without asking. I’ve finally reached the point where if people do that and I don’t know them well, I will not only delete the group but will unfriend the person responsible for adding me.

Social media is just that — social. For the average indie author who is struggling to make a name for himself, it isn’t a major sales tool. It is a tool to be used, carefully and sparingly. You have to walk that thin line between promotion and becoming a pest. So think about what you like, and don’t like, to see and apply that to your use of Facebook and Twitter and then see if it yields any results. Just remember, those results may be long term and may not show up right away. That’s especially true if you are distributing your books through Smashwords (where sales may not be reported for up to six months for outlets in their premium catalog) and not putting them directly up on sites like Amazon, Kobo or BN.

So, what can you do to help pump your sales? One of the best is to check your product description on Amazon or the other sales pages. Do you give the potential buyer enough information to hook them without giving them too much? Is it well-written? How about formatted? If your description has more than one paragraph, make sure there’s space between the paragraphs so it is not only visually pleasing but also an indication that your book is properly formatted. Have you checked to make sure there are no misspelled words? You’d be surprised how many descriptions I’ve seen with spelling errors, even for books released by the major publishers. That description is the first impression your writing is going to make on a reader. So make it the best you can.

Then comes the tags you use for your book. Each site has a different number of tags you can use, so you have to be careful not to just cut and paste from site to site because you may wind up losing that one tag you really want there.

So what tags should you use?

First of all, understand that your tags are different from the categories you select for your books or short stories to be listed in. The tags are basically the meta tags or descriptive words that help readers find your books when doing a general search on Amazon or another store site. They are keywords treaders might input into the search engine for the sales site. If you write a romantic suspense novel set in Dallas around a wedding that has a murder and blackmail in it, the tags I’d use are romance, suspense, Dallas, wedding, murder, blackmail. That’s six and, iirc, Amazon lets you tag up to seven words. So I’d figure out something else, maybe the profession of my main character, to use. Anything that I think someone might use as a search term.

Tags you don’t want to use are your name, title of the book or series title. Why? Because they are already associated with your work if you filled out the information page properly.

So, here’s a challenge for each of you. Take your current wip and put a sample of the product page description and your tag words in the comments below. I’ll be back later, after I clean house, to see what you’ve done.

Now, for the brief snippet from Nocturnal Interlude:

“Don’t you dare die on me now!”

46 comments

    1. Great list. Skimming it quickly, it looks pretty much like what I’d do anyway. But it is handy to have it bookmarked for future reference. Thanks for the link.

  1. Title: The High T Affair, Author: Mark Philip Alger, Categories: Erotica, Contemporary Fantasy, Series Title: The Baby Troll Chronicles, Volume: 1, Tags: Dolly, Human Wave, Magic, Myth, Adventure

    Description: Gabrielle Francesca East — Dolly to her friends — is an artificial person, a clone body created by the Goddess Aphrodite, inhabited by the mana of a hero of a thousand generations. Half the Gods want to control her. The other half want her dead. Her family resents her. She just wants to be left alone. She has a way of getting what she wants. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

    1. Mark, my only real concern with your description is that there is nothing in it to warn the potential reader that it is erotica. Just because you have it listed in the erotica category doesn’t mean the reader will see that. Believe me, if you don’t have that warning in the description, you will wind up getting reviews that hit you because they didn’t realize it was erotica.

      Other than that, I don’t get a real feel for what kind of story it is. Is it mainly about the family trying to kill her? Is it a retelling of the myth somehow? Is it an erotic romance? What?

      My suggestion is to give a bit more plot in it so your reader has a feel for what he’s getting when he buys the book. Also, you have six tags listed. If, as I remember, Amazon lets you have seven, use all seven tags.

        1. Mark, I hate writing blurbs. The only way I can think about them is to think about what we used to see in the old TV Guide listings. They were short but left you basically with an idea of what a show’s plot was for the week. You can expand more with book blurbs, but you don’t want to go on too long — at least that’s how it seems to me. Give ’em a taste, hook ’em and reel ’em in.

          1. I don’t mind it. I just suspect I’m not that good at it.

            I’m wondering if I should quote some text. There’s nothing in the story of the creeping-monster-about-to-pounce variety, but a lot that might act as a what’s-happening-here-I-should-find-out type hook.

            M

            1. And I do hear you about the erotica warning. I’m also concerned to soft-pedal it, lest it be considered porn, which is banned from KDP Select. I’d love to slap a big Parental Discretion Advised sticker on it.

              M

              1. I’ve seen a number of descriptions that do have a warning either at the beginning or at the end of the description. Some are funny and some aren’t. Some simply note that this is “an erotic story/novel. . . ” Others will go into more detail, ie hot sex between consenting adults with handcuffs and role playing. Amazon doesn’t have a problem with that sort of thing, at least not that I’ve seen.

            2. You can do that or you can think about how you would describe it to someone who knew nothing about the book. What would you tell them to make them want to pick it up? Now, cut it down to no more than a couple of paragraphs at most. One good paragraph is better than several that don’t have a good hook.

              As for wondering if you’re not very good at it — it is a learned art. I’m firmly convinced of that.

  2. Title: A Double Edged Wish; Author: Alma T.C. Boykin; Categories: Science Fiction, Mil-Sci-Fi. Series Title: A Cat Among Dragons Volume 3; Tags: Rada Ni Drako, invasion, galactic empire, human wave.

    Description: Rada Ni Drako soars to a new height—a moment of carelessness brings her crashing down. Rada and Zabet survive a King-Emperor’s anger, a contract that leads to plague and a discovery, and motherhood. But when her world collapses around her, Rada proves once again that there’s nothing so deadly as a cornered cat.

    1. Like I suggested to Mark above, I’d suggest you make sure you use all your available tags. If your book has cats or dragons in it, I’d use those as tags. Your description lets me know that it most definitely isn’t taking place in our world but I don’t know what the relationship is between Rada and Zabet — are they partners, mates, or what? You might want to consider something with more bite to it than “when her world collapses around her” — I’m not sure here since I don’t know the complete plot. I guess what I’m suggesting is being a bit more specific there to show why it’s dangerous to corner a cat, especially one that’s really PO’d.

      This isn’t to say your description is bad. It’s not. It’s better than many I’ve seen. But I think the hook could be a bit sharper, if you get my meaning.

      1. Got ‘cha. Thanks. It’s the old “tell the story, not the plot,” problem rearing its ugly head. The “cat” is a shape-shifter, although that’s a very minor part of this sequence of stories. (And I need to add “short story collection” to the description and tags, not that that will stop some people from complaining because the chapters don’t flow together.)

        1. In the description, note that it is a short story collection “including the following short stories. . . .” And then be sure to have an introduction of some sort at the beginning, even just a paragraph or two, if you want to remind them.

  3. Title: The Barton Street Gym Author: Zoey Ivers Series: Doors into the Dimensions Volume: 1 Categories: Hard Science Fiction; Science Fiction, General Tags: YA Fantasy, Cyberpunk, other dimensions, AI, Artificial Intelligence, Cyber war, dinosaur

    In a future where no one needs to sleep, homes are unnecessary. A simple dimensional cubby in a hi-rise gymnasium is all anyone needs.
    Perhaps the designers ought to have considered the possibility of unintended effects from thousands of multi-dimensional bubbles in close proximity to each other. But they weren’t physicists . . .

    Joe is independent, his divorced father a bit absent minded. Joe and his “bio-model” friend were exploring the pedestrian tunnels under the Barton Street Gym when they found themselves trapping in a strange landscape with a hungry dinosaur.

    Alice Brown is used to getting in trouble; her parents are quite strict. But being attacked by a Tyrannosaurus Rex in a strange dimension just a step across a malfunctioning D-door is not her usual sort of trouble.

    1. Pam, you have a lot of info in your blurb that would get me to pick up the book. My only suggestion would be to maybe flip it some and consider putting the info about Joe and Alice to the top and the explanation to the bottom. But that’s just me.

  4. Title: Manx Prize. Author: Laura Montgomery. Category: Science Fiction.
    In the second half of the twenty-first century, when Charlotte Fisher was just thirteen, orbital debris took its first large-scale human casualties from an orbiting tourist habitat. Haunted by visions of destruction and her father’s anguish, as a young engineer Charlotte follows in his footsteps and determines to win a prize offered by a consortium of satellite and orbitat operators for the first successful de-orbiting of space junk. Her employer backs these efforts until the reentry of a piece of debris kills two people, and she and her team are spun off to shield the parent company from liability. With limited resources, a finite budget and the unwanted gift of a lawyer who, regardless of his looks, she doesn’t need, she must face a competitor who cheats, a collusive regulator, and the temptations dangled by the strange and alluring friends of a powerful seastead. A novel.
    Tags: Human wave, exploration, orbital debris, adventure, romance.

    1. Laura, sounds like a fun book. Two suggestions and take them with a grain of salt since it is morning and I am still only on my first cup of coffee. 😉

      Consider shortening some of your sentences. You have a couple that come in at 30 words or more if I counted right. Also, I wouldn’t add the “a novel”. The default in most people’s minds is that they are buying a novel. The only time I add a descriptor about the length is if it is a short story or novella.

      1. Thanks. Will do. One question I have after reading the comments to one of Sarah’s posts last week is whether adding the romance tag will a) turn away the male readers, and b) be misleading to those looking for a Romance in the genre sense. The romance is a strong subplot, but not what the book is about. What I’m trying to say is that there is a romance, but the book isn’t a Romance. It’s about a race to win a prize.

        1. That’s why you just tag it that way and not necessarily categorize it as such. Also, I’m not really sure that it will turn away that many male readers — unless it is being billed as hard sf. Honestly, it becomes a balancing game: you have to ask how many potential readers you may lose if you tag it that way vs. how many potential readers you may gain by having the romance tag.

        2. To be honest I have never specifically looked at the tags on a book on Amazon; and I suspect many other customers don’t either. What they do do, however, is search under those tags. You may not have many male readers searching under romance, or science fiction romance; but they will hit the book by searching under science fiction adventure, human wave etc. On the other hand you will have readers (especially women) that WILL search for romance tied to another tag. This in my mind is why you should have as many tags as allowed; that of course apply to the story.

  5. so how do the tags work with the categories you choose when you upload on kdp? For example, if you chose the category Romance>Fantasy/Futuristic when you upload, and you add the keywords “new adult” does that generate an additional category of Romance>New Adult & College or does it override the old?

    1. Kali, they don’t add or override category listings. What they do is add a search term for your title. It also can help slot your book under sub-categories. This is happening more and more as Amazon splits the categories up some. An example of this is what they have done in Romance. It used to just be Romance. Then you started having sub-categories like Regency, Contemporary, etc. Now there are even more sub-categories under those and your tags can slot them into those sub-sub-categories.

      But the real use of the tags is as search terms. There are people who want to read fiction set in certain cities. So, if you have something that takes place in a particular city, tag the city. It will then show up in a search for that city name on Amazon or whatever store you have it listed in. Or say you write a book about shapeshifters on the moon who are miners. Someone may have read or heard about the book but can’t remember the title or your name. They will search for shapeshifter, moon, miner. If you’ve tagged it with those words, your book will come up.

      1. I understand what you’re saying about search terms, but I think the tags also work to create those specialized categories.

        I’ll do some experimenting with my currently published works to see what happens. It’s not like I could hurt my sales any if I make a mistake 😉

        1. They may add you into a sub-sub category as I think I said — not sure, still trying to take in enough coffee to think straight. But it won’t override the main categories you put the work into.

          1. Okay, so I take the WIP and assign it to Teen & Young Adult Science Fiction. Then add the key word “action” and that adds it to Teen & Young Adult Science Fiction/Action & Adventure browsing category as well. Then I add spaceships, romance, cooking, human wave, coming of age, and cockroaches as extra search terms.

            BTW, just bought Nocturnal Serenade (Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Paranormal & Urban :0) ) for a trip.

  6. A little bit related to the caution about “liking” things that might cause potential problems. I’ve had linkedin requests that I felt I needed not to “link” to. Not because I’m judging, but because it’s supposed to be, absolutely, my *professional* presentation to the world. I worry that linking to a contact who is a professional educator for kink sex will… not send the right message. :-/

    1. Synova, exactly. The problem is that more and more folks are using linkedin as another form of social media ala facebook. I see the same sort of thing on pinterest too. Some of the people there who “like” my page — which is basically inactive right now because of time constraints — and who want me to like them back have stuff on their boards I might not want my friends and fans seeing and associating with me or my writing.

  7. I’m THIS close to joining the ranks of the self-published (Not counting all the free stuff on my DA site), and as a dry run, I want to put up my recent Novellette “Kiwi” up as a 99 cent short. I’ve posted a link to a PDF elsewhere. (Posting two links gets you spam filtered, doesn’t it?)

    Category: Science Fiction

    So for one thing, here’s my first stab at a cover, for which I will gladly accept suggestions. http://mauser712.deviantart.com/art/Kiwi-Cover-402738446

    And I hadn’t really thought of a blurb, so off the cuff:

    Alex Sanderson doesn’t like much, but of all the things he hates, getting locked up in an alien prison on trumped-up charges tops the list. All he wants is a fair hearing and he’s sure he can get out. His cellmate on the other hand, she has different plans for Alex.

    Note: This story contains some violence and sexual situations, although not especially graphic, they may be offensive to some readers.

    Tags: Aliens, Prison, Telepathy, (Any other suggestions?)

    1. I don’t remember about the spam filter settings. Probably ought to check that.

      The blurb is pretty good. The last sentence is a little awkward, but that’s the editor in me coming out. I also like your warning. As for your tags, if there’s romance in it, tag it. You might also want to tag something along the line of “court” or “justice” or “trial”. It’s hard without actually reading the story. Heck, even then it’s hard to figure out the best tags.

      As for your cover, I’m torn. I like it. It’s a cool looking cover. But it doesn’t cue me that it’s SF. However, that is just me. See what others say about it.

      1. The last sentence – I was trying to make sure I mentioned he was locked up with a female, without coming out quite as directly as saying “His female cellmate.”

        The Not SF vibe, yeah, that seems to be a common note on it. Stars seems to be a good suggestion. I was expecting to be told to have more typographic effects. *grin*. One goal in the design was to make sure the title and my name are still readable in the thumbnail.

        1. You might want to consider splitting it into two sentences. Not sure if that will do it. But, again, that’s just me. See what others think.

              1. They do compete a bit with the eyes. I’m toying with a version where the stars are faded to about half the current level (In PhotoShop they’re the bottom-most layer above the original brown background – which, BTW, was meant to resemble her fur.)

                http://mauser712.deviantart.com/art/Kiwi-Cover-3-403028015

                Now, do I need to do the same full front-matter and such for a short story? The KDP page really doesn’t give much guidance on any difference between shorts and novels.

    2. Hi Mauser, the layout and colors are great. But I think the cover would look more sci-fi if the eyes had different pupils, or something else. At the moment they remind me of the witch’s eyes in Bugs Bunny cartoons. (I think it’s the eye lashes).

    3. Mauser, it doesn’t say SF to me either. How about a pair of glowering eyes (real, not illustrated) against a starscape? Trite, but the point is to flag what’s in the book to the casual browser. I would also check the type other SF books use in their titles. Your current typeface has a slight horror vibe for me for some reason.

      And the note is a good idea–acts as both marketing (sex? violence? Cool!) and a warning. Everyone is happier that way.

      1. A slight horror vibe is a good thing. (Spoiler: The glowing eyes represent the alien who is telepathically trying to make Alex her slave.)

        It wouldn’t be hard to substitute in stars for the background. I’ll make a go of that tonight if folks will revisit this thread….

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