Author Archives: Dorothy Grant

Blurb Writing Example – King’s Champion

Context: Just after 8am, on a rare morning shift. (I don’t work day shifts. So when I do, I need All The Caffeine.) I settle down at my desk, having accomplished the usual flurry of morning tasks, and am contemplating how best to be the best I can be (or braaaaaaaainsssss….), when I get an email from my darling man. This, then, was conducted entirely by email and squeezed in around the edges of the demands for work. It’s not my best blurb, but it works… and it’s an example of how these things get created and changed.

And yes, I still want to rewrite the final version. But there’s a time to shoot the engineer and begin production – and we’ll be re-evaluating blurb and cover as the market changes, in a few years.

8:02am – Peter
Cedar needs the blurb for the book cover. Have you got one yet? If not, can you let me have a draft by 10 a.m.? I’ll work on one, too, and send it to Cedar later this morning after I have your input.

***
8:34 am – Me
I don’t like the blurb I have; please rework it or shoot me your version.

After twenty years of peace, war is coming. Old men can feel it in the wind, as rumors of black wings bearing death in the night grow.

Osiric, the former king’s champion, stumbles into a raiding party on the way back from a friend’s grave. In the rubble, he finds evidence of old foes with a new plan, and an alliance with darker powers.

Now he’s in a race to uncover their plot, before it buries him!

***
8:45am – Peter
How’s this?

The Kingdom has known decades of peace… but time has eroded its will to defend its way of life. Old foes are stirring, with new plans and an alliance with darker powers.

Owain, once King’s Champion, feels the harbingers of a new threat on the wind, as rumors grow of black wings bearing death and torture in the night. Visiting the grave of his sword brother, he stumbles into a deadly raid.

Now he must race against time to uncover the threat and deal with it… before it deals with him!

Love you!

***
9:01am – Me

After decades of peace, the Kingdom of BlahBlah is an unsuspecting prize for an alliance of its old foes and new, darker powers.

Owain, once King’s Champion, feels war in the wind as he hears rumors of black wings bearing death and torture in the night. Visiting the grave of his sword brother, he discovers their reality and fights his way through a deadly raid.

Now he must race against time to uncover their plans, and defend his land and king again!

***
9:11am – Peter
My latest:

After decades of peace, the Kingdom has grown lax. Old foes are stirring, in a new alliance with darker powers. Black wings bring death and torture in the night.

Owain, former King’s Champion, hears rumors of sorcery. Visiting the grave of his sword brother, he stumbles into a deadly raid, and uncovers vital information.

The Kingdom’s enemies know Owain is now their greatest danger. He must race against time to find and deal with them… before they deal with him!

I think this is close to what we want. If you agree, I’ll fire it off to Cedar.

***
9:28am – Me

What is the name of the kingdom? You really want that in there, because that sets a lot of expectations for worldbuilding. The kingdom of Estarria vs. The principality of Al Andalus, or the Celestial Court of Xongshu… “The kingdom” without a name is too ‘generic mock-medieval European’ and will drive readers off because there’s been a lot of bad fantasy that did that… and I can’t remember it.

What do you think of the other minor tweaks?

After decades of peace, the Kingdom of Blahblah has grown lax. Now, old foes are stirring, in a new alliance with darker powers. Black wings bring death and torture in the night.

Owain, former King’s Champion, hears rumors of sorcery. Visiting the grave of his sword brother, he stumbles into a deadly raid, and uncovers coded orders for a larger plot.

The kingdom’s enemies know Owain is now their greatest danger. He must race against time to find and deal with them… before they deal with him!

***
9:46am – Peter
I like it. We’ll go with it.
***
King’s Champion

After decades of peace, war is threatening the Kingdom of Avranche. Its old foes are stirring, in a new alliance with darker powers. Black wings bring death and torture in the night.

Owain, former King’s Champion, hears rumors of sorcery. Visiting the grave of his sword brother, he stumbles into a deadly raid, and uncovers coded orders for a larger plot.

The kingdom’s enemies know Owain is now their greatest danger. He must race against time to find and deal with them… before they deal with him!

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Blurb Clinic

Okay, a bunch of you requested blurb clinics. And I was innocently sipping my coffee when I looked up and saw a swarm of fingers pointed at me, including one from Sarah as she rapidly ran away. I get it, I get it. The other people on this group blog write actual, y’know, books, and then try to write a blurb once a book. I write blurbs, and only every now and then try to write a book. So, blurb clinic!

To start with, I’m going to repost the text from the last blurb clinic, with three added notes:

1. Readers like characters with agency. This means the characters go places and do things, they don’t just have life happen while they’re there. Blurbs must reflect this agency – they must show your character going and doing and plotting. The shorthand for this is “Don’t use passive voice”, because nothing kills agency faster (and adds length) than putting the action verb on something other than the character. But it’s not solely grammar. “Bob had survived the war, and was hiding on the sidelines as conspiracies rose in the court to entangle him” is very passive. “After surviving the war, Bob is hiding out as a mere florist in the court’s staff. But when he uncovers a new conspiracy…” that has agency.

2. The first person introduced is assumed to be the hero. “In the house of Rlyeh, Cthulu lies dreaming until Captain Carter disturbs him while searching for lost treasure!” If the readers don’t know Cthulu, that makes Cthulu sound like the protagonist, and possibly hero. “After finding lost civilizations on six continents, Captain Carter is close to solving his biggest mystery yet: the location of the lost temple of R’lyeh! But dread Cthulu lies inside, dreaming…” Makes Captain Carter the protagonist.

3. Lead with your protagonist. No matter how interesting your world, people won’t care until you give them a person to care about. This is one of the essential paradoxes of science fiction and fantasy: people are attracted to the genre for the setting, but they stay and come back for the characters.
“After two hundred years at war, the Empire of Man has come to a stalemate with the Scourge. Each side is deadlocked, seeking some advantage, and sending teams to scour dead worlds in search of lost tech left behind by the forerunners. Blah blah setup setup infodump….” is not how to start a blurb.

instead, try “Captain James Carter of the Go Lightly is scouring the ruins of dead races in search of any lost technology that could turn the tide of interstellar war. When he contracts the virus that killed an entire race, Command orders him to become a suicide bio-bomber! Will one man’s search for survival put all humanity’s star systems at risk?”

Links to prior blurb clinics:

https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/05/22/blurbs-ad-copy-and-cover-copy/
https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/01/10/blurbs-short-and-sweet/

Blurbs, Ad Copy, and Cover Copy: A blast from the past and present-day Blurb Clinic

First, let’s establish terms, because they’ve gotten muddled. “Blurb” used to mean a pull quote on the cover of a book. “This is the greatest thing since sliced bread! –Famous Author in Same Genre.” Pull quotes are a journalistic device of lifting selective quotations out of an interview, article, or review, and highlighting them to make the article or item being reviewed sound really juicy.

Now, “blurb” has become a term for the Ad Copy, or Cover Copy, which means the one to three paragraphs of “What’s it about?” on the back of the book, on the website under description, and right next to the cover thumbnail on promotional emails.

Sarah tackled this subject, under https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/05/18/going-indie-for-dummies-but-what-is-it-about/. And then she tackled me, and said I had to explain how I do the voodoo that I do so well.

Now, I personally feel that’s about like asking all y’all “how do you write stories?” There are a lot of guidelines, but no hard and fast rules beyond it must be truthful about the contents, and hook the reader’s attention.

Interestingly enough, those of you who have written poetry will be at an advantage here, because you’re familiar with making every syllable, much less every word, count.

Like haiku, there are length constraints. Some promotional emails are very specific about the character limit (letters and spaces) you may use. Other places, like Amazon, will let you ramble on and on, but they cut the “above the fold” that browsers see to only 3-4 lines.

I recommend that you try to keep your blurb to the promotional length, so that you don’t have to come up with a new one for every promotion you want to run. Functionally, this means you’ll want to keep it within 300 characters. This will also force you to write long, then cut it down to something short enough to be exciting, picking and choosing each word for best effect.

Now, what words do you write?
First, We’re going to go to the heart, the core of your story, and break it down.

1.) A Character
2.) wants something
3.) But something opposes them.
4.) The stakes if they fail are: —-

Note: This should all be information the reader will have by Chapter 3.

But, you say, I have three people, and this one wants this, and that one wants that, and this other wants… Yes, true, most stories have more than the protagonist and the antagonist. However, unless you’re doing an epic fantasy, there’s one (or at most two) central protagonists whose actions and choices drive the plot. As Harlan Ellison says: Who does the story hurt? That’s who it’s about.

Epic fantasy breaks this guideline, because it generally has three to five separate viewpoints and storylines, not necessarily going on at the same point in history. Thus, you’ll end up doing a one-sentence-per-storyline to keep it in the limit.

Returning to that list, sometimes you’ll also add:

5.) What is the first plot twist?

And, especially for SF/F stories:

6.) What are the 3-5 most important unique names involved? Use 3 of them.

(This is because people tend to tune out after 3-5 unfamiliar terms. So, if you start with “Xaarath Fthagn of Marakis Prime is a gleeple of the Tuurathi”… you’ve already lost a chunk of readers.)

Finally, the best piece of advice: when you think you have a good piece of ad copy, try reading it out loud, and then saying it like you’re answering the question “What’s it about?” at a party.

You’ll probably find yourself hesitating before words, dropping them, changing phrases, possibly even skipping and combining entire sentences. This is normal and good. Write down the spoken version, and it’ll be smoother on the reading as well as the delivery.

Now, on to examples. Riffing on Sarah’s post, these are all Cinderella variants. I warn you, they’re going to be rather rough, because composing a blurb usually takes me two to three days, and I need to get this done by Saturday night for the post to go up.

Fantasy:

Ella’s sheltered world died with her father, leaving her a refugee on her step-mother’s estates. Now exiled to kitchen servitude to hide the reminder of the unpopular and doomed marriage alliance, she must dodge her increasingly paranoid sisters and parlay old ties with the Fae to win back her rightful place in the palace. Unfortunately, every gift from the Fae comes with a cost, and midnight is coming all too soon…

Science Fiction:

It’s just a temp job, right?

Stranded on Chimera5 among the indentured servants, Ella and her shipmates must cater to the increasingly bizarre demands of the galactic upper class, while seeking a new captain, contracts, and alien allies to find a way back to the stars!

Romance – Science Fiction

Stranded on Chimera5 among the indentured servants, Ella must move among the galactic upper class while avoiding being fined . Getting back to the stars never seemed so far away, until a favor given freely to the local aliens is repayed in the oddest way. In the middle of a ball, Ella’s won not just the prince’s assistance, but his heart.

With freedom in her grasp, she must choose between the stars, or love…

Thriller:

Time is ticking away…

Caught between a malevolent murderer and an enigmatic conspiracy, Ella must find out who killed her father. All signs point toward something happening at the palace ball, and the prince may be the author of the conspiracies – or it’s next victim!

A few notes – if you’re going to have more than four lines of test, break it up into multiple paragraphs. When viewed on a small screen (kindle fire, iPad, phone…), even a normal-looking paragraph becomes a wall-o-text.

Taglines- sure, knock yourself out.

I’m at work today, but I’ll be checking in. What are your blurbs?

(And if you want to read something pretty nifty, Holly Chism has modern gods working together to stop Loki after he lost the last of his sanity! https://www.amazon.com/Godshead-Holly-Chism-ebook/dp/B00AGI1AGY/ )

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Series and Multiple Simultaneous Releases

For Dan Z, who commented:

Advice on managing/planning a series. For example, if you know from the get go that your story is too big for just one book (or just one set of characters or what have you) is it better to write out the entire series, in essence building up a backlog, and then publish each volume individually on a regular schedule? or perhaps release them in pairs or other multiples? or to forego the entire idea of a backlog and publish the whole series en masse? or to dial that back a bit publish each story as it gets finished, whenever that happens to be?

It Depends. On what? Well, first and foremost, on your writing speed and skills. Second, on your experience level as a writer. Third, on the planned length of series, which ties into fourth, the marketing tactics you planned.

—The Writing Segment —

Writing speed and experience are tied together: if this is your first book, you may not know how long it’s going to take for you to write the second one, much less the next 6. This was one major stumbling block for many authors in trad pub: after taking years to craft their first book and put it through the query process, it got picked up and did well, so the publisher turned around and said “We’ll take two more in the series.” Now the author, who may have taken 5 years to gather ideas and get the first book written in its final form, suddenly has less than a year to come up with and write the second book. It’s not as good, because the author didn’t have the skill set for pulling ideas together and writing to deadline, nor the practice at writing sequels.

The advice to overcome this used to be to keep writing the next book and the next, so you had many out in slush piles at the same time. These days, the advice is different.

New Author Option 1: When you have the first one done, start writing the second while the first one is out to beta readers. If it is working, then write that sequel! What you learn by writing the second book will really help with editing the first one, so leave that until you’ve finished the second. Now is the time to learn the skills of formatting, covers, and blurb, but most importantly, keep writing the second book! Once you have two written, then you can edit both while writing the third. Then, you can decide whether to:

A. Publish each book in 30-day intervals,
B. Publish each book in 60 or 90-day intervals,
C. Publish Book 1 & 2 simultaneously, then Book 3 within 30 days
D. Publish Books 1-3 simultaneously, followed by Book 4 within 30 – 90 days.

To make the best choice, proceed on to the marketing techniques portion of this article.

New Author Option 2: When you have the first one done, start writing the second while the first one is out to beta readers. If it’s not working, or you end up switching to other things, you might give it a couple months. After a couple months, especially if it’s clear that the grand plan of writing the series-of-twelve really isn’t going to work right now, pull out the original book and use the distance that time has helped you gain to struggle through the learning curve of editing your first book. (A different skillset than writing!) Then publish the first one, because it’s better to have it out there, delighting readers, than sitting on a hard drive waiting for months or years or eternity for its sequel to join it.

Experienced Author: If you have 5 books out and have your process fairly well down, and have decided you want to break into a new genre or series, then this may be a great idea. You not only know you can do this, you also know how long it’s going to take you, and can plan the marketing accordingly. Don’t, however, do this on an existing series.

— The Marketing Segment —

Why do I keep mentioning 30, 60, and 90 days? Because those, along with the one-year mark, are important cutoffs in your book’s visibility. The first 30 days your book is out, you have the chance on being on the Hot New Releases list – a list that required far fewer sales to make and stay than the bestseller list. As a new author, especially if you don’t a have a following due to blog, forum, or other group, your primary challenge is being visible enough that people who have never heard of you will find you and give you a try. (This is also a major challenge for established authors, but it’s a different playing field. Your first 100 sales will be the hardest sales you ever make; The 101st will be far easier than the 1st.)

Amazon has a multiplier to the visibility that specifically promotes new books – after 30 days, it decreases, leading to “the 30-day cliff”, as in “my sales just fell off a cliff.” However, there are multiple cliffs at 30, 60, and 90 days, and another at 12 months. Savvy authors on a fast release schedule will therefore schedule releases so the day one book drops out of the Hot New Releases, the next one is launched and can take advantage of that multiplier. After all, every book is a potential entry point to a series, and if Book 3 catches a potential reader’s eye, they’re likely to go to Book 1 and start reading.

Newer authors may not have the skill and experience to be able to write quickly enough to meet multiple 30-day releases, or to get everything together quickly enough for their next release in 30 days. If so, all is not lost – just reschedule to get out within 60 days, or 90, to catch some of the same boost.

Reader Behaviour & Releases: Netflix has revealed a wonderful amount of human behaviour in storytelling to those of us who create for a living. For the first time, we can really see that people like to binge-watch* shows they’ve discovered and fallen in love with… and that when they run into something they like, they prefer to go back to the beginning of the entire show, or at least the prior season, and watch it all the way through. Furthermore, if the plots are complex and tangled, and they know a new season is coming out involving the same characters, they’ll often rewatch the last season or last few episodes.

What does this have to do with book release schedules? Everything! We’re in the entertainment business, not the book business. This means when people find you, and like you, they want to binge-read your series, so especially if you have a 4+ book series, the more you have available when they find you, then more they’ll tear through before they run out of material, they disengage, or something else takes higher priority.

Readers also have a finite attention span, and are far more likely to remember the book they read last week over the one they read three months ago. They’re more likely to remember you as an author they like if they’ve enjoyed three of your books instead of just one. So, once you have readers it’s a good thing to give them more to read right away, and more coming out soon, so they will get in a habit of looking for new stuff by you, and remember your name.

Here are two authors who experimented with multiple releases at once to break past the “Is the series worth investing in? Will they actually continue?” that the midlist death spiral trained into readers, as well as having the next book right there for readers to immediately get.

The Liliana Nirvana Technique
http://www.hughhowey.com/the-liliana-nirvana-technique/
Lindsay Buroker’s Secret Pen Name Experiment
Launch:http://lindsayburoker.com/amazon-kindle-sales/pen-name-launch-first-month-earnings-marketing/
Followup:http://lindsayburoker.com/amazon-kindle-sales/pen-name-update-at-10-weeks/

Some notes from other authors who’ve tried multiple-simultaneous-release, with less stellar returns:
1. This turns your release into one-shot. If you release 4 books separately, even at 30-day intervals to keep something eligible for the hot new releases list and take advantage of the release visibility boost, you have four releases to learn about and fine-tune your titles, covers, blurbs, release promotions, availability in paper, as well as proofreading and formatting. So you need to be on top of your game, in order to avoid massively dampening the effects of your single launch.

2. This is expensive. If you’ve published several prior books and have your A-game when it comes to covers, proofreading, et. al., then you can drive the costs pretty far down, but you’re still doing 4-5 sets of cover art & design, and any editorial you pay for, as well as the promotional slots at the email lists / banner ads / AMS ads / any other promotion… all at once, without prior sales to feed it.

3. It is far harder to sit on 3-4 books than it looks. Most authors overestimate their production speed and their reservoir of patience when it comes to producing but not releasing… and the sustained production speed post-release. (The 4 down and 1 in the hole technique needs the 5th to be almost done. It does not work nearly as well on two down, and the third out in three months, the fourth out about a year later.)

4. Sitting on the books means that you don’t get reader feedback (other than beta readers) to help improve your writing. While I’d never recommend taking every single review on Amazon as the revealed gospel direct from the mouth of G-d, if you get running themes in your reviews, it means that readers are consistently seeing something. Peter had reviews noting that his protagonist in his very first book was too good to be true, and the writing (which was British English, not American) was stilted. (That’s British for you, to American ears.) He’s used that feedback to improve both the character and his writing as a whole.

5. Promotion to get people aware of the books is critical, since you don’t have time to grow word of mouth. (Unless you already have a blog or other following. But if you have said following, why make them wait?) When it comes to one author doing KDP Select, another doing permafree, someone else going wide… remember the two examples I showed you are several years old, and individual promotional techniques have changed in effectiveness since them. Work according to the market you have, not the market they had back then.

6. Preorders are a mixed bag. Some people have found they work great, especially when you’re in the high numbers of a long-running series, to make sure people order right away and don’t forget you after they ran out of books to read. Most people have found they completely destroy release date rankings boost and stickiness of visibility, because the sales apply when the book is ordered, not when it’s released. (On Amazon. Itunes, last I checked, still does release-date rankings per file shipped.) Most authors go with a maximum 4-5 day preorder that lets them have a URL ready for all the promo sites they can get, lets them get everything uploaded and double-checked, but doesn’t spread pre-sales out over a month or more.

7. Sales will still reflect the size of the niche. Weird West is a tiny niche genre, while urban fantasy is large. So if you’re writing about ranching radioactive spiders in the wild west while fighting indians and zombies, and having shootouts with mad inventors in the streets at high noon… that actually sounds pretty darned awesome, and let me know about it, but in the meantime, don’t expect to sell as many books as Jim Butcher.

8. Keywords – try staggering your keywords. If you have more keywords for the series than the 7 slots per book, don’t use the same keywords for every book! Overlap is great, but if you’re putting out 4 books, you have 28 keyword slots – and each book can act as a draw into the series.

In summary, multiple releases can be an extremely flashy way to break into a genre, and can work very well – but they come at the cost of the sales lost while you didn’t have the books out, and the risk of only having one launch to get all your blurbs, cover art, promotional lineup, and so on right.

Anyone tried this? What did you find worked well, and what didn’t? How about staggered quick-succession releases, every 30,60, or 90 days?

*A note on binge-watching: this is defined by netflix as watching 2-6 episodes of the same show in one sitting. In broader cultural context, it’s defined as watching all available episodes in a show as time allows, until either the viewer runs out of content, drops the show, or a higher-priority show/activity displaces it.

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Mens sana in corpore sano

You should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body.
Ask for a stout heart that has no fear of death,
and deems length of days the least of Nature’s gifts
that can endure any kind of toil,
that knows neither wrath nor desire and thinks
the woes and hard labors of Hercules better than
the loves and banquets and downy cushions of Sardanapalus.
What I commend to you, you can give to yourself;
For assuredly, the only road to a life of peace is virtue.

-Juvenal, Satire X

After moving to Texas, I landed a wonderful job that allows me some time to write, minimal dress code, and sitting all day in air conditioning in Texas summers, and heating in Texas winter. Sounds wonderful, right?

Except that after many months of sitting all shift long, my knees (not great to start with) had degenerated to the point that by LibertyCon my cane became a full-time necessity. Which sucked. A lot. And as my knees got worse, so did my balance, which led to falling on the kitchen floor and months of physical therapy.

So Peter and I committed to something we’d been kicking around: weightlifting and strength coaching, at a Starting Strength gym.

Deadlifts really suck. Well, to be fair, they’re sucking far less as muscle memory is starting to sink in and figure out that this body part does this while that does that, and hips here and breathe there, and yeargh. Except that our starting strength coach is determined to keep adding weight as we get better (thereby driving the adaptation and muscle growth that makes us continue getting better), so deadlifts will continue to suck for the foreseeable future. yay.

On the other hand, the sheer amazement of being able to lift a fourty-five-pound barbell in an overhead press when just a few months before I was working really hard in physical therapy to be able to raise that arm higher than my shoulder… this is pretty cool. And my knees hurt less, and I’m not limping at all unless the weather changes rapidly!

The first couple weeks were a blur of “just take me out behind the barn and shoot me” feeling on the lifting days (much less when working a shift after lifting weights in the morning. Whose stupid idea was that? Oh. Mine. Carry on!) But since then, I’ve started to find that I’m sucking down less caffeine, and skipping the painkillers I needed before to make it through each day… My concentration is improved, as is my ability to squeeze extra tasks into the day. Peter’s starting to find that he’s not feeling as mentally exhausted in the evenings, and is able to get extra hours of writing time in! (His take on it is here: https://bayourenaissanceman.blogspot.com/2017/08/of-strength-training-disability-and.html)

There really is something to this “sound mind in a sound body” thing.

To those of you who can become or stay active, look at me as a warning, and stay strong and healthy! (Try to avoid falling on wet tile, too. No good comes of bodyslamming the earth!) What do you do to stay fit?

And if you want to read about a couple active youngsters on a colony world, and the trouble they get into when they discover ruins that neither the humans nor the local natives knew about, check out Alma Boykin’s Shikari!

Adventure, daring-do, and dogs! ..and homework. Lost cities, alien politics! …and an older sister who knows just what Rigi “ought” to wear. Best friends, awesome uncle, and alien allies! …and stupid bully at school. Shikari!

Excerpt Here: https://almatcboykin.wordpress.com/2017/09/09/shikhari-update/
Buy it here! http://amzn.to/2gZ69Pe

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Mailing List Basics – And New Books!

Mailing list campaigns

I am a big proponent of having your own mailing list – it’s a direct link to people who like your books enough that they want you to tell them when a new one comes out. No worry about the middleman, no having the list be hostage to some company or platform that might go bankrupt or fold. Seriously, happy readers get new entertainment, and you get paid. What could possibly be better?

That said, there are a couple things to keep in mind. Peter uses Mailchimp, so all my examples are going to be drawn from there; Aweber and others may use slightly different terminology, so interpret as you go.

1. Quality over Quantity

Never forget your mailing list is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The end goal is to sell more books. Getting 1,000 people to sign up for your mailing list means nothing if they don’t buy your next book. We’ve taken a really low-key approach to mailing list growth: it’s on Peter’s blog sidebar, and otherwise we haven’t pushed it.

Other authors have run rafflecopters for free books or run Facebook ads where the call to action is a mailing list signup – but while they’ve expanded the amount of signups dramatically, the amount of opens / clickthroughs has dropped correspondingly. Some have still come out way ahead, others came out with a larger headache, more expense, and further in the hole. Proceed with caution, do research.

As a result of our approach, we have a fairly small mailing list, but while industry average for promotional emails is 19.3% open rate, 2.7% click rate… Ours is, on average, 49.6% open, 10.7% click rate.

Given that many inboxes these days have a “promotional” tab that exile everything that makes it past the junk mail filter, 50% open is pretty darned awesome. As for that 10% open rate – that includes clicks to other authors on cover-reveal emails (usually 4-5% click rate), and the westerns (8% click rate, because a lot of the scifi readers don’t read westerns.)

2. Specific parts of the promotional email

Subject lines

I’ve found that if the headline is “(New Book Title) is out!”, the open rate drops dramatically. “September Newsletter”, on the other hand, works awesomely. Amusingly enough, there’s an upsurge of sales anyway with the former: a statistically significant number of people will read “(Book Title) is Out!” and then go to Amazon and buy the new book, without ever actually opening the email.

Overall, though, “August Newsletter” gets more sales over the next 48 hours than “King’s Champion is out!” So September is “September Newsletter”, and not “Forged in Blood is out!”

Preview (The line you see on some email systems after the subject line)

“You’re getting this email because you signed up to hear about news and new releases from Peter Grant – and we have news for you!”

Why? Because the average interested reader may or may not know what the new release is named, and on the first cup of coffee, “King’s Champion is out!” may hit the same mental spam filter as “Hot sexy Tasmanian Devils!” So I give ’em a reminder why they’re getting the email. You’re getting this because you asked for it! Don’t reflexively hit that “spam” button or the “unsubscribe” link!

Body – This thread needs pics!

Put in the book cover. Many people are visual, and so you want to give them the “this is what you want” in visual form. (I know, I’m talking to writers, who tend to think in words. When talking to artists, I have to remind them to add words to the email instead.)

Put in the blurb. Make sure you use line breaks, paragraph breaks, and don’t give ’em a wall of text. This email may be read on a cell phone – make sure everything’s readable in mobile format, not just on a browser set at your monitor’s size.

Call to action: Put in the link to buy it! Say something like “Buy this Here:” Really, it’s okay to ask for the sale when people have signed up to buy your stuff.

Country-specific sales: We’re exclusive on Amazon, so what I’ve done is I put in the top 5 countries’ sales links. You can break this out on your KDP (and other) dashboards. While you may not have many Canadian, German, UK, or Australian fans, the ones you do have will appreciate taking the time to put in a direct link to click and buy. They appreciate with money! (I actually have this set now to the top 5 countries that are clicked-through on the mailing list – making it easy for the people who see it to get the books.)

3. Avoiding Spam / Junk filters

First, the easy one: in the body of your email, do not provide link text that’s different from the link but can look like http text. What do I mean? I mean, “King’s Champion on Amazon” is far better than “Amazon.com” and “Amazon UK” is far better than “Amazon.co.uk”

Otherwise, some spam filters are going to detect the difference and flag it just like emails that ask you to update your bank info at “Wellsfargo.com” and the link sends you to “Phishingcentral.com”

Second, the harder one – DMARC means you want a custom domain name.

What is DMARC? Here, check this post from Mailchimp – the other major mail providers have since joined. https://blog.mailchimp.com/yahoo-changes-may-affect-your-deliverability/
Basically, you really want a custom domain and email, because if you’re sending from SomeAuthor@Gmail.com, but it’s coming out of mailchimp’s servers instead of gmail’s, it won’t get authenticated as sent from gmail – and thus it’ll get bounced to spam.

And last but not least,

4. Getting people to sign up – or buy the next book?

It’s a truism of marketing that you can only have one effective call to action at a time – so while you can ask people to buy the next book, or sign up for the mailing list, or leave a review, asking them to do multiple things will drastically reduce the number of people doing anything at all.

Do I believe the truism? It depends on placement. If you ask busy people to do one thing, they will – if they want to. But if they don’t want to, they skip right past and don’t do any of the other things you’d like, either. If you give people with time multiple options, they’ll choose what they want.

Mailing list emails are a great place for single call to action. People don’t tend to spend a lot of time on any single email, and you want to get them to do one thing before they delete the email and move on without looking back. So “The new book is out! Buy the new book!” is a pretty great message for an email.

“Buy the next book! Review the last one! Enter this raffle! Check out this book by someone else!” is asking too much, and the clicks go down dramatically.

(Random aside: I try to have something people can do for each email. So if I send out a cover reveal email, then I provide a link to another author who overlaps with the reader’s tastes under “check this out!” at the bottom. 1-2 authors good; 3 is really pushing it.)

The back of a book, being arrived at without the pressure to get through 35 emails and on with their day, is a great place to try multiple calls to action. Thus, it’s a great place to stick “Please leave a review”, and hotlinks to “other books by this author”, and, yes, a link to a mailing list signup.

Note that on the cell phone version of the kindle app, Amazon has a page that pops up before you get to the back matter with 1.) a link to next in series, titled “buy the next book” in bright yellow bar. 2.) a number of stars to tap for leaving a review. Amazon puts a lot of effort into selling books, and this tells you they’re trying to get you to dig in your virtual pocket for more change (or reviews) before you have a chance to put the book down, leave that headspace, and go back to other things.

(This also prevents most readers from seeing the back matter you put in. Eh, can’t have everything. Kindle device readers, on-computer readers, and crossloaded devices will still display it, so stick it in!)

Blogs are the inbetween ground – while a single call to action works best, you can stick in multiple calls to action and options, like “Here’s my latest book, which you want! Already got it? Sign up for my mailing list so you’re one of the first to know when the next one’s out!”

5. Emails as feedback / audience engagement

Obviously, when a new book is out, you want readers to go forth and enjoy the new book. But most of us aren’t releasing a book a month – so what do you do if you release two books a year or less?

You can keep fan engagement going with other announcements: sales, con appearances, interview links, previews of the upcoming covers, update on how the dogs are doing (Some authors’ pets have fans of their own), and questions you’d like fans to answer.

Some authors will test their covers in their mailing list “Here are two possibilities for next cover. Which do you like more?” Some will ask their fans to pick (from a small list) a name for a bit character, or who ends up with whom among the side characters, or what color the wedding theme should be, or if they want the next book to be in series X or Series Y.

Asking fans for their opinions is not only excellent market research / reader feedback, it makes the fan feel like they have an investment in the book, and they’re more likely to promote it via word of mouth when it comes out.

On the other hand, this can easily grow to be an enormous time suck. Don’t become someone who answers emails for a living, and writes as a hobby!

6. Calls to Action:

Would you like to motivate me to keep writing these columns? How about giving yourself a real treat while you’re at it? There’s an easy way to do both: my darling man has not just one but two new books out, that you can pick up and enjoy!

If you like sword and sorcery, justice and old men who apply experience and cunning to overcome evil and enthusiasm, then you want to give King’s Champion a try! It’s right here on Amazon!

But even better, if you’ve already read that, here’s the story of a sword from across space and time! Peter has a story in Michael Z Williamson’s new Freehold anthology, Forged In Blood! Follow the story of Kendra Pacelli’s sword from ancient Japan when a surly ronin is called upon to defend a village against a thieving tax collector who soon finds out it’s not wise to anger an old, tired man… to Peter’s own story set in the founding of the Freehold on the planet Grainne, to the far future!

Thank you!

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On Old Protagonists, and a Brand New Book

Peter’s got a brand new book out: a fantasy featuring an old man (by medieval standards.) Owain, the old King’s Champion, has outlived his swordbrother, his wife, and most of his friends… but is still going to prove to the enemies of his kingdom why you should fear an old man in a profession where most die young.

Several of his beta readers (including his wife) noted that they really appreciated a quest undertaken by a old man who defeats youth and enthusiasm with cunning and experience, instead of yet another plucky coming of age story with wise old mentor who dies. (Campbell’s Hero’s Journey was descriptive, not prescriptive!)

Thinking about it, some of the protagonists I really love and hold up to re-reading are older, with their own scars and deep backstory. Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga has Aral and Cordelia. Her Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls feature an old man and a widow, respectively. Elizabeth Moon’s Remnant Population was an utter delight with Ofelia, who was too old to care what people thought anymore. And lately, I’ve been reading some Raymond Chandler, who definitely has world-weary protagonists who had all the wide-eyed shiny rubbed off a long time ago.

What books with older protagonists do you enjoy?

Bet you’ll enjoy this one!

King's Champion
King’s Champion

After decades of peace, war is threatening the Kingdom of Avranche. Its old foes are stirring, in a new alliance with darker powers. Black wings bring death and torture in the night.

Owain, former King’s Champion, hears rumors of sorcery. Visiting the grave of his sword brother, he stumbles into a deadly raid, and uncovers coded orders for a larger plot.

The kingdom’s enemies know Owain is now their greatest danger. He must race against time to find and deal with them… before they deal with him!

Get King’s Champion here, at Amazon.com!

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KENP, Click Farms, Overdrive, and Hand-selling at AMA-Con

First, a couple notes on things that have been happening in the field since last column:
1. KENP 3.0 – Normally Amazon’s big changes to KU come in July, but this year it came in August. While there was much sturm und drang, really, there doesn’t seem to be much appreciable change from 2.0 for regular indies. The KENP page counts shrunk slightly, to align closer to true page counts when the story’s in paper. The rest appears to be on the back end, invisible to us, mostly targeted at click farms and bought reviews.

2. Speaking of click farms, several indies have recently reported their accounts being locked / books taken off sale after buying “advertising” with a “guaranteed number of readers.” You know that picture of Batman slapping Robin? Yeah, picture that. Here’s how NOT to get your account locked and books delisted:
A.) You cannot guarantee buyers ethically. If buyers or readers are guaranteed, that means you’re paying a click farm to run a program on a laptop slaved to a bunch of stolen iphones, each loaded to an Amazon account, “borrowing” and “reading” them. Unless you’re paying a click farm in North Korea, in which case it’s a poor schmuck pacing down a table, manually finger-swiping every iphone.
B.) If you can’t sign up for their mailing list, it’s a click farm. Real promoters want everybody to sign up for their lists, so they can grow. Click farms say they have a list, but if it’s not obvious and easy to find, then it’s a lie.
C.) If they don’t have a website, it’s a click farm. ESPECIALLY if their only presence is a “closed facebook group.” Again, if they’re not soliciting more people to join them, they’re not right.
D.) If it’s too good to be true, it ain’t true. It’s more likely to be this: https://kotaku.com/inside-chinese-click-farms-1795287821

3. Draft2Digital is now able to load books on OverDrive – yes, that means Draft2Digital can now get your ebooks into a library. However, it’s not all wine and roses, and “can” is not the same as “will.” The comments at Passive Voice are illuminating: http://www.thepassivevoice.com/2017/08/draft2digital-adds-overdrive-to-the-fold/

And now, on marketing in the flesh:

The North Texas Writer’s Association, also called the Bugscuffle Shooting & Writing Club, ran a booth at Ama-Con up in Amarillo last Weekend. This means JL Curtis, Peter Grant, Lawdog, and myself caravaned up and Alma Boykin met up with us for the booth setup. We then spent two days hawking all our books (and the night inbetween, Jim & I got some sleep while LawDog & Peter were both furiously typing away on their latest books. LawDog’s “Africa & Other Stories” is now out for sale, and Peter’s “King’s Champion” is out to beta readers.)

If there’s anything more painful than an introvert trying to hawk their wares, it’s five introverts trying to hawk their wares. Fortunately, I have plenty of sales training, and everyone else has some “dealing with public” training. So Alma and I wore our spiffy dressy clothes (She went Edwardian, I went ren faire & steampunky with exterior corsetry), attracting eyes and cameras, and the guys took turns pitching in on sales. And we had a bowl with mints and bouncy balls, which attracted younger kids (and their parents, dragged along).

It was excellent at distilling books down to their essence. Jim’s Gray Man series quickly became “Modern westerns, with cowboys versus drug smugglers!” and Alma’s Alexi’s Tales became “Urban fantasy, but with Russian mythology instead! …And a texting cat!”

Interesting divide: People over 40 bought books, and people under 40 wanted to know if it was in ebook. We sold just enough physical books to cover table rent, but not enough to cover hotel, food, and time off work. If we do this again, we’ll have book cards (cover, blurb, QR code & URL to book on Amazon) for the ones on sale, as well as the ones not there!

Also, people may pick up the entire series at once (That happened twice with Jim’s series), especially if you take credit card. (Square worked fine.) So, bring bags! We ruthlessly dumped Office Depot supplies (sharpies for autographing, pre-printed business and book cards, books stand boxes, etc.) in order to present the bag to the happy customer who’d just bought stuff. On Day 2, Alma brought a handful of grocery bags, and life was better!

However, if you don’t have book 1 of a series, people will look interested, and then put the book back down. Most casual readers do not want to start in the middle of the series. I was really kicking myself for not having book one of everything there – or a card with book one to point them toward Amazon.

(I don’t have a good feel how we did on ebook sales. For one, LawDog is through a publisher, so I can’t get those numbers, they may be buried in the tail of a sucessful release anyway. For another, I’d have to get the other 4 of us to all check our KDP accounts and check in. I should do that. Instead I spent two days not talking to anyone, because I had used up all the extro in my vert, and needed to recharge.)

You can see our table setup here: https://oldnfo.org/2017/08/06/ama-con-update/

And for new releases this week, we have two!

Tom Rogneby has taken his talents into noir, with a few hints of supernatural in the background, with The BoogeyMan:

Martin Shelby is The BoogeyMan, a private investigator and fixer for folks who get into trouble too tough and too strange for the police. People only bring him the jobs that require the body of a linebacker and the face of a gargoyle.

Now, he’s been handed a job that pays double, but that can only mean double the danger.

But when the things that go bump in the night look under their bed for HIM, how hard can it be? To The BoogeyMan, it’s just another job.

Alma Boykin has released hilarious and lighthearted stories of witches and wizards dealing with the parts nobody ever mentions in urban fantasies: taking your familiar to the vet when it’s a 100-lb skunk, the IRS won’t let you deduct robes as professional expenses, and typos in the spellbook’s latest edition mean that students get some spectacular results from the example!

Familiar Tales, by Alma Boykin!

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