Category Archives: MARKETING

Reader Demographics via Emotional Beats

**This was posted in April, 2016 – I was going to do a piece on burnout, and preventing same, but the flu is sweeping through Day Job and we’re swamped. Unlike a lot of marketing advice, this is just as relevant as when it was first posted, and worth revisiting.**

If I were selling jewelry at a gaming con or ren faire, the easiest way to figure out my target audience is to note who’s attracted to the displays, and who of that segment has enough money to buy the merchandise. (There’s a secondary market of “attracted to the display, but can’t afford; clearly I need to find a piece that it’s their price range yet still profitable to sell!” But that’s a digression, not quite so applicable to ebooks.) For silver and semiprecious stones, that’s the $20-$80 price range for a good-sized gaming con, with a few pieces/sets up to $250 that may or may not move, but attract the customers to the booth.

The demographic is primarily women and gay men, though if a man walks by with a lady who glances at our booth, he’s the best kind of fair game. “Sir! I have a necklace for your lady that would go perfectly with… your credit card!” Generally, for silver and garnet, you’re looking at the college age, though any older gothy types are even better – they have more money, know what they like, and won’t hesitate to purchase it. We’re especially looking for the people who have similar tastes in jewelry on them. “Shiny things! We have sparkly, shiny things!”

(Okay, maybe that’s more “when I used to” than “if.”) Anyway, it’s pretty easy to suss out your demographic – if they’re not interested, they saunter off. If they are, they stick around for the pitch, or browse and buy. Selling ebooks blind through a vendor makes it a lot harder to figure out who your target market is, especially when you didn’t have one in mind when you started.

Who likes science fiction? Who likes entertaining stories? Who’s willing to put in time and money to getting good stories? Don’t limit yourself artificially here. If you check the demographics of Star Wars fans on Tumblr, you’re going to find demographics… that reflect Tumblr. If you check the demographics of science fiction fans at WorldCon, you’re going to skew old, literary, and heavily social justice compared to DragonCon… neither of which are the same as a ComicCon, and even that won’t reflect the general population that liked The Martian enough to go see it in the movie theater. Most statistics of reader populations are small and self-selecting, reflecting the pool from which they’re drawn. They tend to miss the vast majority of the buying public.

The Martian’s opening-week audience, who went to go see it based on trailers alone, was 54% male, 59% of whom were over 35 years old. Week 2 was 52% male, 72% over 25 years old. The preordered tickets for Star Wars: The Force Awakens were “primarily” male, between 18 and 49, with an average age of 34. Given the Martian’s domestic gross from film run was $228 Million, even if you assumed $20/ticket (it’s $9.50 locally), that’s still a heck of a lot of eyeballs. Neilsen Bookscan, which we know misses a lot of sales, was reporting 62,000 sales per week of The Martian (print format, ebook not included) after the film was released.

Granted, you don’t have a film directed by Ridley Scott backing your book. Nonetheless, you can see there’s a heck of an audience out there the publishers don’t tend to reach. Dream big!

So, you’re now nodding, and saying “Okay, so you’ve proven that men in the 18-49 range like science fiction if it promises to have a good story. And lots of women; 52-54 percent is barely a majority. How do I get any clearer than that?”

Well, now you get to do some research on your particular book. Go to your biggest market (probably Amazon), and start pulling up the first books in your also-boughts for one of your books. (Skip the other ones by you. That just proves that the readers like you, and buy more after one try.) Now, you’re going to break out for each of these some basic dissection.

As you go through the book, which emotional beats does the book contain, and in what proportion? Beats are: wonder, humor, adventure, horror, romance, mystery, and drama.

1. Is your protagonist Male or female? How old are they?
2. Is there romance or romantic subplot in the book? What rough percentage of the book is dedicated to the romance?
2a. Are there explicit sex scenes? (female audience!)
3. On the action to introspection scale, what rough percentage of the book is action, and what percentage internal monologue and introspection?
3a. Is the protagonist whiny? (female audience!)
4. Is there a sidekick? Are they humorous? (kids and male audience!)
5. Is your antagonist nature itself, some faceless group entity / race / corporation, or a villain?
5b. If your antagonist is a villain, What is their age, sex, and occupation?
5c. Is it the cartoon standard of rich old white man or corporate man for evil corporation?
6. Is your scifi hard, cyberpunk, military, space opera, or steampunk? Is your fantasy urban fantasy?
6b. Does your urban fantasy have sexy monsters or ugly monsters that get killed?

People find it easiest to identify with someone like them.** Kids can identify with a protagonist up to about 27 years old, as long as they don’t become parents, but respond best to someone their age or slightly older. (A 14-year-old has been 10. She doesn’t want to be 10 again, but she may want to be 16, or 18.)

In general, statistical strokes:

Kids and Teens respond strongly to wonder, adventure, and humor. Teen girls to romance, teen boys to horror.

Women from Age 20-40 respond strongly to romance, humor, horror, mystery, and drama. (As they approach 40 and the hormone levels drop, mystery and drama statistically become stronger draws, and romance less.)

Men from 20-50 respond strongly to adventure, primarily, followed by wonder, drama, and mystery.

Military, active and vet, like military science fiction, and action/adventure, especially if it doesn’t have navel gazing or anti-military messages. They also tend to like hard(er) scifi, where the challenges against environment and entropy are clear.

Kids, even the ones still in college, respond strongly to coming-of-age, exploration of strange worlds and cultures, fitting in, etc. Parents are often absent or dead in stories, sometimes the restrictions that must be overcome.

Over time, the response shifts strongly and naturally to caring for loved ones, providing for a family, raising children, and makng a relationship stable and lasting. Now the fears are threats to children / family, to relationships / marriages, to jobs.

So look at your story, and the other stories your audience likes. Peter’s Laredo Trilogy books often lack romantic subplot, and by the other books his audience buys, that’s pretty normal for the target audience. This means they’re going to skew military and skew male, looking for adventure, wonder (cool new worlds! Starship battles!), drama (the ship is at stake! So is the empire!), and mystery.

Sabrina Chase’s The Scent of Metal, on the other hand, has adventure, wonder, and romance as its primary emotional beats. And it has kissing (sparks fly!) So her audience demographics is likely to skew much more heavily female than Peter’s books, though the military aspects will draw military of both sexes.

Dave Freer’s Changeling’s Island is a wide-audience-draw marketed as YA. The protagonist is a teen boy of unmentioned age, but there’s a girl sidekick that can provide somebody for preteen and early teen girls to empathize with. The parents are absent, but there’s the boy’s grandmother, and the girl’s parents, to provide adult points of view, with their own challenges and struggles when it comes to taking care of family, of neighbors, fitting in as an adult newcomer, remaining independent as your body fails you and the place you know changes (that’s a post-50 draw for men, post-40 draw for women). The kids’ POVs are heavy on wonder, adventure, mystery, and humor. The parental storylines have horror and drama interleaved in.

If you want more in-depth on this, check out Dave Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines. He has some pretty nifty demographics breakdown that can be applied to marketing, not just outlining.

One final note: all this analysis can be done in outlining, or post-writing, but it’s not prescriptive for how to write any single book, much less your book. Write the book that thrills you, that inspires you, that you love. If you write to a marketing formula, it’s at best formulaic, where if you write to emotion, it’ll have an emotional depth to attract and hold readers.

Wrapping this up now, as I’m crashing for the night. What beats and demographics do you find from one of your stories and its also-boughts?

** “Identify” is greatly abused by identity politics idiots. This does not means Honor Harrington’s audience is limited to heavyworlder-genetically modified female captains with treecats, for goodness’ sakes, nor do you have to be a dragon to enjoy Dog and Dragon. Common sense, please! This means that men tend to like reading stories about men, women about women. People in their 30’s will find more in common with protagonists in their 30’s, cat people with cats and cat-owning protagonists, dog owners with loyal dogs and their owners in the story. And children have a really, really tough time connecting with a character that’s a parent, as opposed to a character that’s a child. (Whod’a thunk most kids don’t see things from a parental point of view!) This is a broad statistical truth, not an ironclad always-in-every-case. (See: demographics of Harry Potter fans.) But that’s just the very start, and it’s far more important to keep reading the rest of this article about emotional beats than to skim until offended!

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It’s a Business – A blast from the past

(Brad is still busy with life, family and writing. So I thought I’d do a blast from the past. In this case, from last year.)

There are times when I feel like I’m the crotchety parent sitting the kids down to tell them the facts of life. No, not those facts of life but the facts of life about business. It seems like almost every week there is a blog post or newspaper article about a bad contract or troubles in publishing or writers thinking about hanging up their keyboards. Why? Because all too many forget that publishing is a business and it needs to be treated as such.

I’m not going to discuss, at least not much, the publisher side of writing as a business today. Oh, there is plenty out there. Bad publishing decisions coming back to haunt the publishing company abound. But that’s not the point of today’s post. No, today I’m back on my soapbox reminding everyone who wants to be a writer that you have to remember that this is your business and you have to treat it as such.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve talked with writers, some traditionally published and others indie published, who went into this business with stars in their eyes and rose colored glasses firmly in place. The ones traditionally published just knew that once they signed the contract, the publisher would be spending all sorts of money to promote their book and make it into a best seller. The indie writers who are now wanting to go with a traditional publisher because — duh — they will get this huge advance and will be sent on tours to sign their books and will soon be playing poker with other best selling authors ala Castle.

That sound you hear, that slow thud-thud-thud is my head pounding against the wall.

It would be wonderful to live the life of Castle — less the murderers and other crooks trying to take pot shots at you every week. But that isn’t reality. The reality is that the vast majority of writers who have signed with traditional publishers see little if any real push from their publisher. In fact, the publisher — and the author’s agent — expect the author to do their own promotion. Oh, you might get reimbursed for your expenses if you go to a con or do a book tour but don’t bet on it. Don’t believe me that publishers aren’t spending as much on promotion of those authors they haven’t pegged as best sellers or the newest “best thing ever”? Think back to the last time you saw a book signing at your local bookstore. Now ask yourself how many times a year your local bookstore has such signings. How many of those are authors who aren’t best sellers or local authors?

Now, look at your local newspaper and tell me how large the arts section is and how many book reviews appear per week. Oh, wait. Sorry. Part of the reason there aren’t as many reviews is that there aren’t as many people reading the newspaper. Reviews, especially book reviews, were some of the first things cut when newspapers started cutting costs to make up for the lower advertising revenue and lower subscriptions rates. Few newspapers have their own book reviewers any longer and the books being reviewed are either best sellers or the newest best thing. Hmm.

But, Amanda, you get those huge advances and you don’t have to work any longer.

Wrong.

And this is where you have to remember that this is a business. Most advances, especially for “new” authors fall in the four-digit range. Yes, some new authors get more but they are the except and not the rule. You don’t get the advance all at one time and you aren’t going to see any more money from the publisher until you have earned out the advance and, believe me, that doesn’t happen very often. How can it when publishers use Bookscan to determine how many books are sold instead of a simple inventory tracker program?

That means you have to make sure you have a way to pay your bills between advances. This is why the vast majority of writers aren’t full-time writers. They have families to feed and are like me. They like having a roof over their heads and food in the fridge. Even if your first book is a success, you don’t know that the second book will be. More importantly, if you are publishing traditionally, you have no guarantee that the readers will remember you two years or more after your first book by the time the second book comes out. Remember, when you publish traditionally, you have no control over when your book is released and you are just one of many the publisher is having to slot into a finite number of slots per month.

I can’t repeat this often enough. Writing is a business and the writer is the business owner. Yes, you might sign a contract with someone to distribute your work (a publisher) and promote it (publisher or someone else) but it is still your responsibility to make sure the job is being done. You can’t just sign the contract and sit back and wait for the money to roll in, trusting the person you contracted with to do the job. You need to understand the supply chain for bookstores and the reality of how long a book is left on the shelves before it is pulled. You need to understand the financial aspects of the business and you need to study the numbers when it comes to sell through, resigning authors, etc.

What started me thinking about this again today was this article. The author in question signed a contract with a major publisher for her first book. It was critically acclaimed and not long before it was released into the wild, she quit her job. Yep, you read that right. The author quit her job — the job that helped support her family — so she could promote her book and write full-time. She did so after signing with the publisher for only this one book. There was no second book that would bring in additional advance payments. Nope. Just the starry eyed vision of living the life of a writer.

Now, I don’t want to kick this woman when she’s down but her story is illustrative of the problems so many writers — and folks who start their own businesses — face. They get a great review for a product before it hits the shelves and based on those reviews, quits their regular job to do this full-time. The problem is that reviews don’t always turn into sales and sales, especially for books, will slow down if the author doesn’t bring a new title out in fairly short order. For those authors going the traditional route, that very likely means no payments after the book is released because the advance isn’t earned out. So what are you going to do for money?

This particular author did finally go out and get a job — for awhile. But what struck me is that she doesn’t really seem to want to work. She would rather be writing but the worry and stress of not having enough money has shut down the writing. But a job makes her too tired to write. You see the circle. I feel for her but, to be honest, she needs to man up — or woman up — and realize that the situation she is in is the same one so many of us face on a daily basis. We face it and learn to live with it as we continue to write and put our work out there.

The lesson to be learned is that if you don’t have at least six months — preferably a year or more — of living expenses in the bank, do NOT quit your day job. If you are worried about putting food on the table for your kids or if you are worried about how you will pay the bills, do not quit your day job. It makes it more difficult to write, yes. But this is a business and you learn to adapt. You find the way to carve out time to write. But having all the time in the world to write isn’t worth anything if you are worrying about losing your home or having your utilities cut off.

It’s a business, damn it, and you need to look at it that way. Have your business plan. Have your promotion plan. Know that you aren’t going to get a regular salary that is the same from paycheck to paycheck.

And since I am a working writer, check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

Dagger of Elanna, the second book in the series will be released soon. You can check out snippets from the book starting here. (Edited to add, Dagger is out and you can find it here.)

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Reading Reviews Like A Publisher

One of the joys of being indie is that you get to be your own publisher, with all the control on how to bring your stories out to the world and represent them. One of the real drags is that you are your own publisher, with all the responsibilities and priorities therein that do not line up with your artistic priorities.

And one of those priorities, as a publisher, is gathering market feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the currently published catalogue, and what’s doing well and trending in the market right now, in order to make business decisions about future releases. (Unlike trad publishers, though, you’re rather committed to accepting any books that come out of your dedicated on-staff writer – you can’t simply turn down a book and go to the slush pile. Makes it a little trickier, it does.)

Feedback comes in several forms – first, the volume and velocity of sales. For your first couple books, this is going to be a real struggle and a giant mystery to you, because you have no internal sales baseline. You have external ones – kindle rank and the hot new releases / bestseller charts can tell you how you’re doing compared to every other book, and you can track the trajectory of sales on other books by watching their ranks rise and fall, and how long they stick around for visibility (but you can’t see what they’re doing for fanbase or publicity). You also have reviews on similar books in genre / subgenre, and you should be reading those, and developing your ability to look for trends.

The internal sales baseline will come with time and more books. But that’s for another article! Right now, let’s look at those reviews.

When the average reader looks at reviews, they’re looking for two very specific things:
1. Are these reviews trustworthy or fake?
2. Is this a book I’ll enjoy?

The first is why you look for one and two star reviews: they provide that curve that looks “real”, because humans know instinctively that if it’s too good to be true, it ain’t true. The second comes in when you skim through the reviews, discard the ones that don’t have much content or are obviously off the wall, and check to see if the things you like are in there, as well as the things you hate. (Even when a reviewer likes what you hate or hates what you like, the review’s still useful at saying if those things are there.)

But now, as a publisher, you’re asking new questions, with different answers:

1. Who is the intended audience for this book?
2. Did the cover / blurb attract the right audience?
3. Did the book fulfill expectations?
4. What did they like in general and in specific about it?
5. What did they want changed / not like?

Phase 1: Pick at least one subgenre you write in, and start reading through the top 50 bestseller’s reviews like a publisher. You’ll start to notice trends, and audience expectations – and develop the filter for weeding out “this person obviously brought their mental issues to this book, and review reflects same.” Get plenty of practice on the skills and plenty of data on broader trends and audience expectations before you try to apply this to a book where you’ve got skin in the game.

Also, on Amazon, people have the option of marking a review as helpful instead of leaving their own review. Weight reviews accordingly.

You’ll also start seeing trends of authors who have fans that read everything they put out, trends of early reviews (fanbase) versus later ones (word of mouth / browsers, and other non-prior-fans), and so on.

As you read through, you may find yourself strongly drawn to download a sample or buy a book you’re looking at. When that happens, make notes on what attracted you to that book – was it the cover? The blurb? A particular review? If a particular blurb or review made you go “I want this!”, write it down and come back later to study what made it so compelling that you can use in your own ad copy/blurb.

Phase 2: Pick at least 5 books that you really love, and a couple you really hate. Go read all their reviews. Now that you have a broad sense for reading like a publisher, you’re going to sharpen it on books that you know the characters, plot, and worldbuilding – so you can see again how the books draw an audience, what that audience is, how they fulfill reader expectations, and so on. Be aware that books that have been out for several reprintings are not nearly as useful for cover/blurb draw, because they will have gone through several iterations.

Are there any reviews or blurbs that make you go “Yes! This!”? Copy them down, so you can study later what they used to hook you in, and how you can apply that. (In fact, while the main function of a review is for one reader to comment to another reader, if you think of them as amateur ad-copy, there’s a lot you can learn.)

Phase 3: Now, only after several hours spent on learning to practice and hone these skills on other books, turn to your books and read the reviews. Did the cover/blurb attract the right audience for the book? What is the right audience for this book? What did they like / dislike?

Once you have this information, it gives you a way to gauge what covers and blurbs will work, and what won’t. What phrases and keywords, characters and plots, are going to hook the attention of the audience, and you should try to work into your ad copy/blurbs. What audiences are attracted by the book, and if you have it correctly categorized / keyworded to find them. And, also, what they really like, and what they want differently.

As an example, I fell into the classic trap in Scaling the Rim of going “My science fiction hits all the romance beats with a major subplot, so it’s romance-scifi.” But as I read the first wave of reviews, I realized that the audience that really enjoyed it weren’t the romance crowd (it had too much scifi for romance-scifi, and no sex scenes), but the scifi-thriller/action-adventure crowd I hadsn’t even considered due to lack of combat. So, I pulled it from romance and reset with action/adventure keywords to hit that subgenre’s lists instead. Sales them picked up – and the reviews were happier!

***Important Note***
Note that everything above has to do with marketing your book, and possibly with editing your publishing house’s books. It has almost nothing to do with writing your book! Write your books from your heart, from your muse, from your curiousity and wonder and dreams. Don’t try to paint-by-numbers due to what the market wants right now!

Kris Rusch speaks of writing and publishing as wearing two hats – and when she writes, she takes off the publisher hat, with its responsibilities and prioroties, and puts on her writer hat, with its completely seperate, and sometimes completely conflicting, responsibilities and prioroties. She even has seperate computers to help remind her that her creativity is not driven by her publishing – her publishing is a way to monetize her creativity.

There will be things that help with the general writing: in Peter’s earliest books, a number of reviewers complained that Peter’s protagonist was a golden boy, and his writing was too stilted. If you get common points in reviews in your own books, remember that reviewers are readers writing for other readers, they’re not professional authors and gifted teachers writing a personal feedback to the author. They’re not even beta readers. So they will identify that something is a problem to them – but they may not have the right cause, and generally don’t have the right fix.

In Peter’s case, he identified that he was writing a very old-school British hero for a very modern American audience. He was using British English with its more formal structure and style instead of the more informal American English his audience is used to, and they weren’t seeing the modern American ratio of challenge to success they were accustomed to. By changing the language in successive books and adding more metaphors and colloquialisms, focusing more page time on the difficulty of overcoming each challenge, and narrowing the scope of each book to a few challenges or limited time span, he brought the stories more in line with reader expectation and the reviews & reader satisfaction went up.

But he did not sit down and say “I am writing military science fiction. Therefore, I must have a galactic war humans are losing, a near-derelict ship, a rebellious antihero captain on the outs with his/her superiors, and a plucky crew of rejects and oddballs the captain must motivate for the do-or-die long shot that will turn the tide of the war / stop the invasion, because those are the most common current hot tropes.”

That is the difference between using market feedback to improve your writing, and “writing to market.”

As for Scaling the Rim? I noted that a lot of people shared my dislike for infodump and enjoyed building the world from clues and references – but a number of other people missed a few subtle bits of worldbuilding laid in, and were confused because there was no infodump to clearly explain what’s going on up front, who the good guys and who the bad guys were, and the history of the world and the peoples to date.

Because I choke on infodump both as a reader and a writer, I’m not going to start putting in lots of narrative summary. I will, however, clearly have to up my game on building more background in early along with the foreshadowing, so I don’t confuse readers – or they don’t stay confused!

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Friction

I bought a frozen lasagna for dinner for the family. I love to make lasagna, and have a great recipe a fellow author gave me, but… There was friction. In other words, it was Friday night, had been a very long week, and I was so tired it hurt. So I did something to reduce the friction, and bought the darn lasagna.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, it relates both to the writing, but more importantly, to the marketing and sales of our work. We want to reduce friction for our readers, but not too much. Frictionless is also a bad thing… But I digress. I’ll come back to that in due time. Friction in the context I’m using it is anything that makes the reader work harder to overcome. We’re going to say our readers have worked a long day and just want a book to curl up and relax with – literary fiction is the very definition of added friction to a book, which is why those are the books people love to say they have read but don’t actually ever finish reading. So how do you reduce friction in a book? Like sanding a piece of wood – you start out with the obvious of removing typos and poor grammar, then you switch to the finer grit of making sure you’re historically accurate, or consistent through the book with a character’s development, or… you get my drift. At the end you have a smooth, polished work.

But not too smooth. Here’s the thing. People remember ‘sticky data’ that doesn’t just drop through the colander of their brains. We all have colanders for brains, this isn’t an insult. We have to: we’re constantly bombarded by input, and if we didn’t learn how to filter all – well, ok, most – of that out, we’d be gibbering in the corner with our hands over our ears and our eyes squeezed shut. So the input pours through the colander, but sometimes something is too big or too sticky to just fall through, and that we pay attention to and remember. You don’t want your book to be so frictionless it falls through and is instantly forgettable. We want, to return to my wood carving metaphor, the grain of the wood to show through and give it some character, some unique qualities. Your book should still reveal your voice, the unique way that you write. If – and really, this should be when – you hire an editor, keep this in mind. They need to be helping you polish, not taking a belt sander to it and obliterating the interesting features that are your style.

Friction is, if anything, even more important when it comes to sales and marketing. Let’s look at two ways: in-person bookstores, and online bookstores, to begin with. When was the last time you went to an in-person bookstore, a brick and mortar? How far did you have to drive? That was a lot of friction, wasn’t it, before you got to the books. Now that you’re in the store, how easy is it to find the book you want? Or the section you’d like to browse to find a book, at least? Last time I was in a bookstore they didn’t have the fiction sorted by genre and it was a little annoying to say the least. Fortunately I wasn’t there for fiction, I wanted comic books, and I browsed the antique section of the store while I was there because I love beautiful books. But those aren’t organized at all, just ‘this looks old’ and shelved. So it adds a lot of friction to my shopping experience. Why do I go back? Because this store offers a ‘free book’ coupon and that reduces the friction on my bank account.  Note: I’m talking a used book store, here. Their books are mostly $3 and comic books are a buck. My kids adore them, and frankly, so do I. Now, the last time I was in a ‘new’ bookstore was the local Barnes $ Nobles, which is a fifteen minute drive from the house (good) in a very congested shopping area (bad) and we only bought one book, from the bargain rack, because I refuse to pay full price when I can hop on Amazon and get the discounted rate. But the authors!! you’re saying They need to be paid! 

No. Here’s the thing. As a businesswoman, I like supporting fellow small businesses. I’ll buy books at full price from fellow Indie Authors. Heck, if it’s an option I’ll read the book through KU and then buy it, so they get paid twice (if I really like the book, this is a nice way to say thanks to a creator). As a budgeting wife whose whole goal is to live frugally and not get into debt, I’m out to spend money wisely and plunking down twenty bucks on a (paper) book that may get read once is not a wise decision. I have a monthly book budget, by the way, one for fiction and one for research because I am a writer. So, back to friction. I don’t give a flip about supporting the big fiver publishers. So them? I buy discounted or even used.

Most Indies have already figured out that a great way to reduce friction and get more sales is to lower the prices of their books. Not having ritzy Manhattan offices to keep up appearances, they can afford to set their trade paperback prices around $15 and their ebooks around $5 for a novel. Now here’s where we get to the inverse effect of friction: if you reduce the price too much, or make the book free, you remove so much friction the buyer mentally discounts the book in their head as being less worthy. Free ebooks have a very, very low read rate. You might give away thousands of them, and maybe hundreds will get read (if you have a good cover, but that’s another post).  Ebooks, in case you haven’t already realized it, are perhaps the ultimate in friction reduction for not only book reading, but book buying. Above I asked about the last time you drove to a bookstore, and the time and hassle involved in that. For online shopping? Pull up Amazon or your favorite ebook site, and click, you’re done and reading two minutes later. I was doing this last weekend when I was stuck in bed with a pinched nerve, trying to keep my mind off the pain. Binge reading, what a drug. You don’t have to get dressed – not even into jammies, if you don’t want to – to shop online. You don’t have to risk your life in mall traffic (suck it, B&N, I’m never coming back again). You don’t have to (Shudder) put up with people to make a purchase.

Friction, by the way, is why you shouldn’t limit your sales outlets too far. I’ve seen anti-Amazon advocates calling for selling books just through personal websites. That adds so much friction that I’d be surprised to hear of them making sales. Any sales. There are reasons why aggregator sites work, just like big department stores. Personally, I’ve chosen to add friction by not having my books available through Nook or Kobo and it wasn’t just that I saw the writing on the wall for the Nook years ago when I first compared a nook and a Kindle side-by-side. I’ve added that friction in order to reduce friction by having my books available through Kindle Unlimited. It’s not perfect, but you have to admit it’s very darn close to being frictionless for the reader, which means that if they are enjoying the story, there’s nothing to break them out of the reading trance as they march through an entire series. KU lowers the entrance hurdle for new readers to your work, and that reduces the friction, too.

Speaking of which! The anthology I have a story in, the one I was snippeting last week, is available for you now, and you can get it in paper, ebook, and read through KU. Just click here and you’re there! How’s that for frictionless?

 

 

 

 

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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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Reviews and Maturity

So this post is the result, as so many of my posts are, of a few conversations I’ve had recently about writing, and life. I’m constantly learning, but at this point, also trying to share what I’ve learned with others who ask me about stuff. Like whether they should ‘un-publish’- a book that was their first, and they now feel is immature and not a reflection of them as a writer now. I pointed out in response that I leave my first novel up, despite it getting not-so-great reviews, because it’s a reflection of where I started versus where I am now. No, readers probably don’t pay attention to dates published, in most cases (I know I do if I am trying to blitz-read an author, because it lets me read series from the beginning if they have been so inconsiderate as to not mark books with series identifiers. Pet peeve: number your series books, people!). I know I have fans who were interested to read it and see my growth as an author, because they took the time to reach out and tell me that. I leave it up for them, and because with some two dozen titles on Amazon, I know it falls to the bottom and only a reader who was working through my whole body of work would find it. Along with some of the other oddballs I’ve written.

And along with that is the other conversation I had on facebook about one-star reviews and whether they are always bad. They are not. I had a prominent reviewer give my latest novella, Snow in Her Eyes, a one-star review, and it led to more sales than that story might have seen elsewhere. Because he was very articulate about what his problem was with the story.

I only work for myself; there is no one who tells me I have to review certain books. I only read what I want to read; that’s why, if you look at my reviews, you will find that the vast majority award 4 or 5 stars. I have been chastised for this in the past; some people have accused me of pandering to authors, others have told me I was an easy grader.

Well, bite me.

If that is the case, why am I reviewing a book that I gave one star?

Part of is is because of the limitations of the Amazon rating system. If you look at what the ratings mean:
1 star: I hated it.
2 stars: I didn’t like it.
3 stars: It was okay. (Amazon says this is a negative review, which makes no sense to me.)
4 stars: I liked it.
5 stars: I loved it.

You will notice that those ratings say nothing whatsoever about the artistry of the writing; the internal consistency of the story; plot development; originality; NOTHING at all about what I think really makes a book worth reading. It is an utterly subjective rating system, and I suppose the only kind that makes sense in the mass-market approach Amazon takes with the book reading public.

Now, that only explains the rating system, and not why I reviewed a book I gave 1 star to, and why I gave it one star.

Briefly:
1. I gave it one star, because in the first paragraph, the author kills off a baby girl. No women, no kids; one star.
2. I reviewed it because the author is Cedar Sanderson, and she is one of my favorite writers, and one of my favorite people as well. I couldn’t NOT review it without my favoritism toward her and her work utterly destroying any credibility I have as a reviewer.

Read the rest at Papa Pat Rambles (and stay for the wonderful essays and quirky reviews!)

A one-star review – especially when it is balanced with other high reviews – can actually be a selling point. It’s only when you see an imbalance of one, two, and even three-star reviews that it’s obvious there’s a problem with that book. And sometimes even ‘a problem book’ can be enjoyed by readers. I ran across a case recently where a friend I trust had reviewed a book, the author found the review, leaped like a gazelle to the absolutely wrong conclusions, and I was highly amused. I also decided that I would not read that author’s books. Not because he’d had a hissy fit over the negative review, but because I saw enough of a theme in the reviews of his books to know my friend was right, and I would not enjoy those books. I have to say the ‘sex scenes written by Victor Appleton II after a few stag films’ nearly made me snort my coffee onto the monitor!

I’ve come to a point where I trust the reviews on Amazon. Sometimes it’s not what they say that is important, it’s how they say it. Like the book with 104 reviews… until you clicked on ‘verified purchasers’ and suddenly it had five, and of the others the majority of them mentioned they had received a review copy in return for their review. I have nothing against review copies. But I do think that if the book does not generate the bulk of it’s reviews from people who read it after buying (this book was not in the KU program) then there is a problem with it (and reading the blurb and ‘look inside’ not to mention the ghastly cover, cemented that impression).

As an author I know I have to show maturity in how I handle my reviews, both the positive and the negative. Mostly, mine make me happy. But even the ones that make me shake my head – like the reviewer who commented on Pixie Noir that it had no emotion and she thought it must have been written by a man – don’t bother me much. Because losing your mind over a review and shrieking about it in public like the above author who gazelled off into the distance calling that there were lions attacking him… yeah, no. That’s not good publicity, dude. Not only did you lead to one of your fans making the connection to my friend and linking to his facebook page in your comment thread (and I screenshot that and let my friend know to brace for incoming) but you lead to me deciding firmly that I would not read your books, nor promote them. Guess what? unprofessional behaviour just pisses people off. I have a very short list of ‘will not buy, will not promote’ but that author is one of those. And I know I’m not alone in that reaction to author behaviours.

 

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