You sang your song For much too long The songs they're wrong The bread has gone
--"Peanuts," The Police, 1978
We need to talk about Sting. Not for his sake, but for ours. Well, mine. I shouldn't speak for you. Perhaps you've already come to terms with the end of his meaningful career. Or perhaps you always thought he was a tosser and this only proves your point. Again.
But I grew up on his music. Synchronicity made the Police the biggest band on the planet when I was in junior high. I remember wanting to go see them in the Tacoma Dome the week before I started high school. I remember being so jealous of all the kids showing up on the first day in their concert t-shirts. My sister bought me a Synchronicity t-shirt that Christmas and I wore it until the black faded to gray and the holes in it became too large and numerous to ignore.
And then the Police broke up, walking away at the top, and I was gutted. I finally got to see Sting in concert a few years later, at the State Fair in Syracuse. I saw him three times as a solo act, and when the Police did their reunion tour in 2008 my wife and I caught them in Buffalo. My only regret looking back on it was I didn't pay for floor seats. It was my one and only chance to catch my all-time favorite band, and I should have sprung for a closer vantage point.
There's an unwritten (but much written about) rule for authors when it comes to reviews. You cannot respond to negative reviews. Authors are supposed to have thick skin. Authors shouldn't put their work out for the masses to judge if they can't handle the criticism that will inevitably come. Even books that have a large number of positive reviews will also attract some 1-star hit jobs. We're just supposed to rise above and tune them out.
For starters, it's unprofessional to try to argue with readers. If someone thinks your book sucks, leaving a comment on their review telling them they're a bozo isn't likely to change their mind. Nothing will be gained, and there's a chance you just might unleash the dogs of the internet, who will savage you with many more terrible reviews, just because.
So I won't respond to the moronic review that was left for The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo on Amazon this week. Not on Amazon anyway. But I will vent here, in the relative obscurity of my own site. Here, among friends and spiders and bots (yeah, I see you Russians in my traffic stats).
Here, in its entirety, is the review that was written.
"Is this all nothing but emails?" Um, yes. That is why it says this in the summary of the book:
So maybe if you hate stories told through emails, don't buy a story told entirely through emails.
As for the "what a waste" portion of the review ... you may recall that I ran a free promo for First World Problems last month. Not to go too Janet Livermore on it, but my expectations weren't exactly met. I didn't get anywhere near the downloads I was hoping for. I had 900 in four days, which is pretty crappy. It did generate a few sales of Dispatches from a Tourist Trap, which I assume means there were a handful of people who enjoyed the first book enough to move onto the second. But there wasn't exactly a spike in sales of either book. Which makes me 99.9 percent sure that this reviewer got the book for free. So "what a waste," eh? They wasted none of their own money on it, and if they hate books written as emails, it should have been obvious by the first page--second if they're slow--so how much time could they have wasted figuring that out?
This reminds me of a 1-star review left for my first novel, The Greatest Show on Dirt.
That book is indeed a story about people who work in a baseball stadium. I'm not sure if I could have made that any clearer in the summary.
So, again, if that's not what someone was looking for, why buy the book? Apparently his reading comprehension is as poor as his grammar.
The most incredible part of that one is this same guy left a review for my other baseball book, Nine Bucks a Pound.
So many questions. Why did he buy a second one of my books if he hated the first so much? Why would he review a book he only started? Is it personal? Should I know this guy? Did he open the phone book and plant his finger on my name? Does he hate cans?
Reviews can be tremendously helpful for authors. (I'll pause here while you go to Amazon and write a few for some of your recent favorites.) Even negative ones can be useful if they provide honest, constructive criticism. But these, all they do is give authors something to vent about on their blog. Considering how dry I run sometimes on blog topics, maybe I should consider they've done me a favor.
There was a point in the early days of indie publishing when the FREE! book promo was one of the go-to gimmicks. Tales spread among the author blogs about huge sales tails that would follow a 3-4 day run on the Kindle free lists. These surges would more than pay for the advertising required to spread the word back in the glory days of free in 2010-11.
I released my first novel, The Greatest Show on Dirt, in February 2012. I ran a free promo on Amazon, gave away 5,124 copies in April of that year, and saw a modest sales bump when it returned to regular price. Maybe I missed the window on free, maybe my book wasn't quite the right genre to ride the wave. I wasn't sold on free, but I wasn't ready to completely write it off, either.
In July 2015, I dabbled with free again with my second novel, Nine Bucks a Pound, also a baseball-themed story. According to my records, which I have no reason to doubt, I didn't spend anything on advertising this time. I moved 1,147 units. I sold a handful at regular price afterward. Again I was left wondering whether there was more potential for this. Certainly advertising would have helped generate interest, but would it have meant more paid sales after? And how many free downloads would be required to result in a bona fide sales spike? I could only guess.
The last time I bothered with a free promo was March 2018, when I ran one for my third novel, Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed. This time I spent $78 on a total of three ads, and I saw 3,668 free downloads as a result. Sales spike? Not quite. Depends on your definition of spike. I was disappointed enough that I figured I wouldn't bother with free again.
Yet here I am, giving it one more try. This time I'm giving away The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo, my fourth novel, from Thursday (9/5) through Sunday (9/8). And I'll be honest, free is something of a desperate measure here. This book just hasn't seemed to catch on. It's received some decent reviews (and a couple of lame ones), but not enough overall.
There, I said it. Yeah, crazy that someone who writes books would like to read them too, right?
Books seem to pile up in our house. Every bookshelf we have seems to have more books on it that it was meant to hold. When we moved in back in 2005, I bought two 6-foot tall unfinished pine book cases, stained them, and then filled them with books. When we finished off our basement, they moved down into the library. Yeah, we have a library. What of it?
I have two more bookshelves in my office, another smaller one in the library. A small one in my son's room, a fancy one with a glass door in our bedroom, and ... somehow we still have more books than shelf space.
For several years now I've been meaning to add another big shelf to the library, to eliminate the sideways lying books that block the ones that are properly shelved. It's actually tough to find a solid wood bookshelf these days that doesn't cost a fortune. The store where I bought most of the others is long out of business, and I can't find any others in the area that stock plain wood shelves. So I decided to make my own.
With a little help from my dad, who has all the tools not to mention all the wood-working skills in the family, I constructed something solid that will alleviate our overcrowding problem. At least for the moment. Check back in a year or two.
I held off on formatting First World Problems for print when I released it last fall, mainly because sales of my other books as paperbacks were so sluggish. But they've picked up quite a bit over the past four months, enough to motivate me to make all five of my books available as both ebooks and paperbacks.
I was also a little hesitant to deal with the conversion process, as I've struggled with formatting for print some in the past. But I have to say this time it was much easier than I'd feared. Maybe I'm learning a thing or two along the way.
At one time last year I had hoped to release this book at the same time as The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo, the first book in the series. But then the reality of editing and rewriting hit and it became obvious that would only push everything back. I was also hoping that by releasing Book 1 in the fall, there would be a rabid corps of Jason Van Otterloo fans salivating for the second book by now. That hasn't quite happened. This series is more of a slow burner, I guess. We'll get there in time, but for now still building one sale at a time.
I'm in my last week of unemployment before starting my new job next Monday. I've been busy, busy, busy with book stuff over the past few weeks. The top priority was getting Dispatches ready to go, but there's been a lot more going on.
Yes, I have finally gotten the formatting done to release both The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo and Dispatches from a Tourist Trap in print. I am in the process of getting the covers created. Once those are ready I'll just need to upload my files to Amazon, order proofs, make sure everything came out right, and release. I'm hoping to have them ready for public consumption by the middle of the month.
In addition to doing review copy giveaways on Library Thing and Booksprout, I had a very long, detailed review run on a site called The Irresponsible Reader. And I don't know if I really understand the name, because the guy who runs it seems quite responsible, as well as prolific in his reading. He had some nice things to say about The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo, and will also be reviewing Dispatches from a Tourist Trap soon.
An Author Q&A
In addition to reviews, The Irresponsible Reader also runs author Q&As. Mine was posted this morning. I've done a few of these in the past, but this one was great because he seemed like he put some serious thought into the questions, instead of simply sending the same handful of questions he asks everyone else.
So, plenty going on here. I keep thinking I'll wake up one day to a short to-do list and have time to lounge on the couch watching TV, but it keeps not happening. And we're down to three days of "vacation," so it's looking less and less likely. Oh, well.
What's it all about? Glad you asked. Here's the blurb:
Thanks to his parents' separation, Jason Van Otterloo is starting his sophomore year of high school three hours away from all his friends--including his new girlfriend, Sian. Tiny Icicle Flats is a quaint Bavarian-themed mountain village that has been trapped in time since long before his mother grew up there. That she was willing to return is all down to her new boyfriend--who also happens to be her new boss. And judging by all the makeup found in his bathroom cabinet, Jason's dad isn't wasting time waiting for her to return.
Jason begins a blog to share details of his new life with his old friends, but some news isn't meant for wide distribution. Fortunately, his sage-but-sarcastic best friend, Drew, is always just an email away. Would it be so wrong, Jason wonders, to ask a local girl named Leah to the Homecoming dance? "Just as a one-time date, nothing more, obviously." "Why are you asking me and not Sian?" Drew replies. "Wait, I think I know the answer." If only Jason would ever take his friend's advice, he might spend less time climbing out of the holes he digs for himself.
Pressed into afternoon and weekend duty at his grandpa's hardware store, Jason still finds time to join an after-school book club that specializes in controversial classics. When Leah's brother reports the book club to the school board, Jason and his fellow readers are forced underground--until they emerge again to enter a protest float in the Icicle Flats Christmas parade. The ensuing brouhaha makes for the most exciting holiday season Jason can remember. And for once, it's not his parents' arguing that takes center stage. With the new year comes a new scheme: If the local busybody brigade was upset by a few old books, pirate radio will surely blow their minds. Who ever said life in a small novelty town would be dull?
Told entirely through Jason's email exchanges and blog posts, Dispatches from a Tourist Trap picks up where The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo left off. Come and spend a little time in Icicle Flats--just don't forget to pack your lederhosen.
Well, there it is. Order your copy today for just $2.99. Or read it free if you're a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. And tell all your friends. Thanks!
There's a distinct Catch-22 when it comes to promoting a new book. You need reviews in order to run most promotions, but you can't get reviews if you haven't promoted the book. This leads many desperate authors to harangue their family and friends into reviewing their latest release, and some unscrupulous ones into buying reviews, a practice that Amazon has banned, though it's practically impossible to stamp out.
For those who want to play it straight, the options are limited. It would be great to have a big enough mailing list to shoot an email to your followers and simply offer review copies to anyone willing to write an honest review. At the pace I'm building mine, I might get there by 2050. (This is the part where I include a link so you can join my mailing list. Please.) Failing that, you're left to try some of the sites that offer ARCs (Advance Review Copes) to willing readers. The largest of these is probably NetGalley, though there's another called Hidden Gems that may rival or exceed it.
I only recently learned of Hidden Gems, and while I'd love to try giving away review copies there, they're booked through December, so I'd need a time machine in order to set something up. NetGalley is easier to get into, at least if you use the side entrance. For an independent author like myself, the way in is through a co-op, which buys up ARC slots in bulk and resells them to individual authors. This actually puts indie authors on even footing with big publishing houses, because reviewers who use NetGalley will see your book listed among the big press titles. I had good success with NetGalley when I released Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed back in 2015. It was reviewed by a number of book bloggers, who had at least enough of a following that their reviews reached people I couldn't myself.
Unfortunately, I had less success with The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo when I tried NetGalley last October. I got two reviews on Amazon and a couple more on Goodreads. And that was it. Boo.
When I first saw the notices last summer that Amazon's CreateSpace publishing arm for print books was going away and I needed to migrate my titles to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) Print, I did what I often do when bombarded with unwelcome information: I ignored it.
The notifications kept coming, however. Every time I logged into CreateSpace to check my nonexistent sales, I was hammered with more messages. Move your books now! Eventually, I did click one of the links and made a half-hearted attempt to migrate one of the three titles I had published through CreateSpace. But the options I saw on the screen didn't match what Amazon said I should be seeing and I literally couldn't submit the changes. So I gave up.
After procrastinating a little longer, I tried again, ran into the same roadblock, and ignored the entire thing again, as if it might somehow go away. No surprise, it didn't. Finally, I contacted the KDP Help with my question, was told how to get past the obstacle I had encountered, and ... well, it wasn't so hard in the end. By Halloween I had moved all three of my books.
I'll chalk up my reluctance to bother with the entire migration ordeal to my pathetic print sales. Over the first 10 months of 2018, I had shifted a grand total of six print copies of my three books. Combined. That came after a whopping eight units were moved in 2017. To say print sales were a sore subject would be an understatement. While my Kindle sales were nothing to brag about, the futility of print was downright laughable. So why bother, right?
I'm not giving away any secrets if I tell you I've become obsessed with my Also Boughts on Amazon, and in particular how my ads can influence them. My last post, earlier this month, was an in-depth breakdown of all 97 books linked from my third novel, Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed, in its Also Boughts. At that point, the books linked to were still almost exclusively--well, there's no polite way to put it--shit.
They were showing the scantest glimpses of life. But for the most part the books that were being linked to had no logical ties to my novel. There were cookbooks, romances, psychological thrillers, and World War II sagas, particularly of the "escape from the Nazis" variety. And I don't mean to cast aspersions on any of these (other than the cookbooks, which appeared to be a little on the sleazy/scammy side), but none of those fall within the sweet spot for my book.
Fast forward two weeks and change and ... things are moving in the right direction. My sales have been consistent in February. Not spectacular, but nothing like the anemic totals I saw the last two years or so. The Amazon keyword ads I'm running definitely work. I've learned and tinkered and learned and tinkered, and I've finally hit upon a formula that is cost effective. My ads no longer run at a loss. And that's huge.
I've become obsessed with Amazon's Also Boughts, mostly because the ones appearing for Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed have been so random/nonsensical recently. I posted about this last month, when the first three books appearing were cookbooks. At that time, none of the Also Boughts that I clicked on linked back to my book. Not good, right? I mean, the point of the Also Boughts is, "Hey, you there, shopping for books, if you like this book, you might want to check out this other, somewhat similar, book." But if these relationships are a) broken, and b) only flow in one direction, there goes one of the most valuable discovery tools in book-selling.
I strongly suspect I'm paying the price for not being more active about marketing my books last year. I was seeing less and less return on the pay-per-click ads I had up on Amazon, so I gave up on them early in 2018 and figured I'd wait until I was ready to release The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo in the fall before investing any more. More books = more bang for the buck, at least in theory. If a reader clicks an ad and buys a book and enjoys it, maybe they'll seek out another of an author's titles.
So I waited it out as my sales shriveled, with as much as 50 percent of my Amazon revenue coming through KDP Select, the program where Kindle Unlimited subscribers can download your book for free, and you get paid for the number of pages they read. And even that wasn't anywhere near what it was a couple of years ago. It was so lame, in fact, I decided to drop out of KDP Select in the fall. I removed my first three books by November, and never enlisted First World Problems.
And now that I'm digging into these Also Boughts, I'm even more convinced leaving KDP Select was the right move. Because I suspect most of these shitty Also Boughts that have nothing whatsoever to do with my novel came about because of indiscriminate Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
Ever since I opted back out of KDP Select on Amazon last November, I've been searching--fruitlessly--for ways to kick-start my sales on other platforms. I've had sales here and there in the past on other retailers, in between my KDP Select stints (which require exclusivity to Amazon for ebook sales). Barnes & Noble's site is one I've had a trickle of purchases in years past, but since making my books available for the Nook this past fall, the royalties there have added up to a nice, round number.
Yes, zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
So when I saw Barnes & Noble was offering a new advertising option, I was intrigued. I have had some success with Amazon's pay-per-click ads, particularly for my third novel, Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed. If B&N was going to offer something similar, at perhaps a slightly lower price point, considering the relative unit-shifting potential compared to Amazon, well, that might be just what I needed.
One, potentially, helpful mechanism for selling books on Amazon is the Also Boughts. As in, "Customers who bought this item also bought" all this other stuff. As an author, you're hoping your book gets linked up with some other similar titles so readers might find your book while they're browsing selections in your same genre.
This mystifies me a little. I first noticed the cookbooks there a month or so ago. Admittedly, I had somewhat given up on my sales last year while I was working to get The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo ready to release. These days, to generate much in the way of sales on Amazon, you have to play around with Pay Per Click ads. I've had mixed success at best in the past with those, and by early last year they were no longer cost effective. So I stopped advertising for most of 2018 and my sales swirled the toilet bowl.
I found a helpful blog post on Amazon PPC ads a few months back and gave them another go in November. I've had better luck than I did previously, at least with Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed. It does much better than my other books, probably because it's reaching into a more vibrant readership band, where fans of Jonathan Tropper, Matthew Norman, Jess Walter, and others hang out. Ideally, those would be the books that show up in my also boughts.
And maybe if my sales keep growing over the next couple of months as they have in December and January, we'll start to see those associations taking root--as opposed to the Mediterranean Diet Cookbook and Fruit Pies. Which are probably lovely books. But not really what I need.
Of course, what I really need are enough sales for my books to show up on their also boughts, so their readers see mine. But that's two steps down the road. At the moment, I'll settle for the first step of booting the cookbooks out of my kitchen.