Friday, September 20, 2013

KDP Select update: promotion helps. But not a ton.

Just finished my third and final KDP Select giveaway for Ring of Fire, with abysmal results. It was really just a test. With the first giveaway, I spent a large chunk of time pre-promoting it and even spent a not-insignificant amount of money getting it listed on other sites. Downloads were upwards of 6K, but ensuing reviews were nil and sales didn't even cover the cost of the promotion.

Second giveaway was nearly identical to first, except I spent a little less money, the same amount of time, and got slightly fewer downloads (5K+). I hit #3 in Suspense Thriller, for Pete's sake, so I definitely got exposure. Again, sales and reviews afterward: nil to nearly nil.

SO, I thought for my last giveaway, let's just pay ONE person on to blast it out to 25 sites (same resource I used for first two giveaways), do NO promotion myself and see what happens. Here's what happened: fewer than 500 downloads, and of course no follow-up sales or reviews.

So, promotion helps, if you're looking at sheer downloads. But do downloads translate to sales or reviews? Not in the least, and I have two books out there, so there's even another book to benefit from all this. I did NOT use some of the more expensive sites that I've heard do produce better results (Bookbub, for example), but then you're looking at spending $300-500 or more. I can't rationalize it.

In the end, I'm done with KDP Select. It was good to try it, but in the past year, Amazon has gotten beyond saturated with indie books and at this point, getting one book noticed through giving it away is like the Whos trying to get Horton's attention in that enormous field of clover. To grant them exclusivity for three months and get so little in return--no thanks.

For now, it's back to writing. That's a lot more fun, anyway.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mixed--but better--results with second KDP giveaway.

My second Amazon KDP Select giveaway of Battle Axe is winding down after three consecutive days, and I must say, it's changing my mind about the program. I still don't know if it will boost my reviews or sales, but the activity has blown away that of my previous giveaway over Easter weekend.

Here's what I did differently:
1. Three consecutive days vs. two non-consecutive days (last time I skipped Easter proper).
2. Used only these paid sources:

Here's what I did the same:

1. Picked a holiday weekend
2. All the same Facebook and Twitter sources

But this time, as of 4:30 on the third day of the promotion, I'm looking at 5700 downloads vs. the meager 710 I got the first time around. I hit #2 in the free Kindle store both times in the Humor category, but this time also hit #6 in Suspense. 

My theory is that the paid sources I used this time are indeed more effective (and slightly more expensive), and the three consecutive days allowed more momentum to build vs. the two nonconsecutive days. Also, I have a feeling that Memorial Day itself is a more popular time to download books, as opposed to Easter. And my books definitely qualify as "beach reads."

Lastly, either Amazon got my scheduling wrong, or I was looking at a European calendar when I picked my dates, but the three days started not on Saturday, May 25 as I had hoped, but on Sunday, May 26 and continued through Tuesday, May 28. I imagine if the promotions (both paid and my own) and the scheduling had synced up better, my results would be even more impressive.

I'll report back with after-promotion results. In any case, this has persuaded me to enter Ring of Fire into the KDP program as soon as Battle Axe expires. Giveaways to follow.

Oh, and actual writing? That may happen again someday, too.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pinterest: I'm doing it, even if I don't get it.

Okay, that's not entirely true. I get it, but I have to admit it's not my thing. Which is fine--there are plenty of things that aren't my thing. In fact, there are probably way more things that aren't my thing than things that are my thing. I'm a man of particular interests. And you can find a selection of them here. A note: most of them relate to my novels, because I have to weave my interests into my novels, so I can experience them more often.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Amazon KDP Select Giveaway Part 1: The numbers are in.

As I gear up for another giveaway for Battle Axe--this time for three consecutive days--I wanted to share the results of my previous giveaway, which was two non-consecutive days over Easter weekend.

I spent a lot of time in the preceding months reading blog posts and advice from other KDP participants. I boiled their tips down to a "best of" and that was the extent of my plan. Here's a rundown of the "marketing" I did to announce the giveaway:

The Marketing:

1. Posted on my own Facebook page
2. Sent out periodic tweets from my Twitter account
3. Sent an email blast to relevant people in my address book
4. Created an event on Goodreads and invited my friends
5. Sent a note to the following free websites:
6. Posted to the following free Facebook pages:
7. Tweeted a note to the following:


8. Paid a nominal amount to be listed on these paid websites:
I started my activity around 7:30am EST, and the promo is on PST, so I think that gave me an advantage. It took a couple hours just to do all of the above, then I re-hit some of the contacts throughout the day (mostly Twitter, as redundancy is more accepted/expected there). So what did it get me?

The Results:
  • March 30: Topped out at #617 in free Kindle store, #11 in free humor, #2 in free comic fiction, #26 in free suspense. 429 downloads total.
  • April 1: Topped out at #729 in free Kindle store, #2 in free comic fiction, #18 in free humor, #23 in free suspense, and #19 in PAID comic fiction. 281 downloads total.
  • The few days after the giveaway, Battle Axe ranked as high as #51,062 in paid store and #35 in paid comic fiction. My other book, Ring of Fire (not part of the giveaway), "rose" to #263,393 in paid store, #93 in comic fiction. These rankings are well above anything I'd achieved previously.
  • In the six weeks since the giveaway, Battle Axe and Ring of Fire have picked up one (favorable) review each on Amazon.
My total downloads were well beneath what I was expecting--I'd read fairly common accounts of authors with downloads in the thousands and tens of thousands, so that part was surprising. And as I'd only been selling around a half dozen books or more per month up until the giveaway, selling that many in the week following should be considered a boost in sales. But we're back to nothing for the first two weeks in May. And that accounts for dropping the price of Ring of Fire from $2.99 to 99 cents.

Once I complete the second giveaway, I'll take Battle Axe out of KDP Select and consider trying it with Ring of Fire (depending on how the giveaway fares). But at the moment, it doesn't seem to have had a huge impact.

My personal feeling is that the market has gotten entirely too crowded and it's getting harder and harder for readers to pick and choose. It's overwhelming for both authors and readers at this point. I've downloaded quite a few free books myself, both indie and "legit," and some have been worth it and some I couldn't finish--or even get past Chapter 1. 

Wish I had more answers, or had more encouraging advice, but that's the state of fiction these days. It's anyone's guess where things are headed, but I'd like to think that those of us with patience will be rewarded as the wanna-bes crowding the market will get discouraged from their meager sales, shake out and move onto other pursuits.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

So many books, so little time.

I know it sounds like a pity bumper sticker or t-shirt slogan, but that really sums up the loss of Randy Rohn, an outstanding writer and even better husband, father and friend. A prolific advertising writer for more than three decades, he had only recently moved into publishing short fiction and even a novel. I know for a fact he was working on another one, and who knows how many more he would have produced had he not been cruelly removed from this life.

When I first turned to long-form fiction myself, he was one of the few I trusted to give me feedback, even if his feedback amounted to "It's the best book about jazz and lesbians I've ever read." (note: this is an oversimplification) I truly respected his talent and judgement, and my writing will no doubt suffer for his loss. We had even planned on writing a book together, "Talisman"-style, where I would upload a chapter to Dropbox, then he would follow. I still may write that book, although it will lack his unique edge (and more importantly, vast knowledge of the world in which it takes place).

The older we get, our chances to make friends grow slimmer and slimmer. That's not to say we can't have a large social circle, or be surrounded by people with overlapping interests, but true friends get harder and harder to come by. Particularly ones you'll hang onto for 25 years.

What follows is an excerpt of the words I spoke at his memorial service. I delivered these words after opening a brand new bottle of Cadenhead Whisky and pouring a shot. Not being much of a Scotch guy, I was saving it to share with him when we next saw each other, so it seemed appropriate. The pastor was not amused, which made it even more fitting.

First of all, I’d like to thank Randy for getting me out of work. He was always good at that. But I would also like to acknowledge that, for a consummate writer who knew just the right word to use in just the right way—Randy, your timing is awful. 

Because Randy was one of the funniest people I’ve ever known, I’m pretty sure that he would hate for his departure from this world to be cause for complete sorrow. That, Randy, is easier said than done. It’s like turning off the music and telling everyone to keep dancing. 

I’ve known Randy for 25 years. More than half my life, but less than half of his. So I’ll let others fill in those blanks and tell the childhood, high school and college stories.

Like any relationship, ours has gone through phases. There was a phase when we saw each other nearly every day in Chicago, took production trips together, hit the town together, went to lunch, concerts and CD stores on a regular basis. When he changed jobs, we still got together regularly, albeit with more scheduling. My wife and I made frequent trips to hang out with Randy's family in the suburbs. To our wives’ chagrin, he and I would typically disappear into the basement, oblivious to those upstairs, and have an informal listening party, popping the caps off beers and popping CDs into the player. 

The next phase was the longest, when we lived in separate states, but thanks to the Internet, the communication and music sharing continued, and there were occasional visits, such as my trip to judge the Evansville Addys and his to christen my son and judge the Raleigh Addys.
But not enough visits. Not nearly enough.

A new phase had just begun. A promising new career for Randy as the creative director for an agency in Statesville, North Carolina. I know it wasn’t his or his wife's first choice, but selfishly, I was really looking forward to it. My son—his godson—has a soccer tournament in Statesville in May, and just last week, he and I were gearing up to see each other for the first time in a decade. We were going to make up for all those years of all that distance between us.

So again Randy, the timing? It blows.

Husband, Father, Rocker, Writer and Friend. That was the Randy Rohn I knew, and he excelled in all those roles. I thought I was a big Beatles fan. Then I met Randy. I thought I knew my way around a radio script. Then I met Randy. I thought I had a sense of what a strong, loving family looked like. Then I met Randy’s.

He was one of those rare people that brought out the best in others. I know I always stepped up my game around Randy. When I was with him, I felt sharper somehow—more observant, more articulate, more sarcastic. Which is why he made such a good writing partner. 

Even when our jobs separated us physically, Randy’s presence in my life was akin to that of the “R” on my computer keyboard. I didn’t use it all the time, but I could always turn to it when I needed it. And at our age, it was a presence I took for granted. Losing Randy goes beyond losing a key off my keyboard. I’ve lost a letter of my alphabet.

You know when you’re a kid and something doesn’t go your way--your parents inevitably say “life isn’t fair.” And it isn’t. And it’s never been more acutely pointed out than right now. Life gave us one Randy Rohn, and we weren’t done with him yet. But if anyone could tell you that life isn’t fair, it was Randy. Yet after any setback, he remained positive. The guy radiated optimism, which makes it ironic that Paul McCartney wasn’t his favorite Beatle. And when you were around him, you got caught up in it. Whatever terrible thing was going on in the world at the time was forgotten. He had a terrific sense of humor, but he was also a terrific audience, particularly when it came to laughing at himself. He gave us a lot of great material, but more often than not, he was in on the joke. 

When I see a movie, read a book or hear a new song, I find myself frequently thinking, “What would Randy make of this?” Note that I didn't say, “What would Randy do?” In most cases, one would not want to do—or even know—what Randy would do, particularly after a couple of drinks. The stories you’ll hear throughout the day will be proof of that.

We all know a great injustice has been done. And the temptation here is to be angry, to feel cheated. But those words and those emotions don’t even belong in the same sentence as Randy Rohn. He had plenty of cause to be angry from time to time, and I even saw him get cheated. The day Kristin was born—the day I mentioned earlier—he left the office in such a rush to get to the hospital that he entrusted someone else to present his scripts on his behalf. I don’t need to tell you what happened next. Was he cheated? Yes. Did he get angry? No. He was too full of joy over his new daughter to let petty office politics bring him down. Randy always knew what really mattered.

I wanted Randy at my funeral. I wanted Randy to DJ my funeral. So this, this situation is unacceptable. But accept it we must. Randy was nothing if not resilient, so we need to apply that same thinking as we struggle to move on without him.

In his incredible book “Hang On Sloopy,” there’s an underlying thread of melancholy throughout. The main character spends a lot of time looking back and wishing he could freeze time, because things were always better “back then.” But the book ends with the character finally moving past those feelings—although not without some sadness. To quote Billy Joel, who barely qualifies as rock and roll in Randy’s eyes, even though he was a fan: “The good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.” 

I like to picture him holding court in a corner booth of St. Peter’s Chophouse, with a rare porterhouse on his plate and a fresh Glenlivet in his hand. Elvis is on his right, John Lennon on his left. He’s saving a seat for Keith Richards, who is due any minute. Around the rest of the table are the friends and family who preceded him. 

Randy Rohn was a true original. He was such a damn interesting guy. He knew a lot about a lot. He cared a lot and he touched a lot of people. The world needs a lot more Randy Rohns. But there will ever be only be one. Thank God I was blessed to have him in my life.

Randy has left the building. And there will be no encore. But it was a hell of a performance, right? One we’ll be talking about for the rest of our days.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gearing up for Amazon KDP Select Giveaway

When I first published Battle Axe and Ring of Fire simultaneously last year, I enrolled Ring of Fire in Amazon's KDP Select program on the promise that it offered more exposure via its lending library and ability for Amazon Prime members to download such titles for free. The downside? It's a 90-day arrangement that makes your digital (not print) title exclusive to Amazon, so I was forbidden to make it available anywhere else. The upside? None, at least that time around. I saw no discernible difference between the purchase/borrow activity of Ring of Fire vs. Battle Axe.

The other (and potentially huge) alleged asset of the program is that it offers up to five "giveaway" days where you can offer your title for free and they'll promote it as such. I had read that doing so before you had a reasonable number of good reviews was a waste of the days, so I devoted the rest of the year to amassing said reviews. I relied some on family, friends and my writer's group members, but largely my reviews came from strangers whom I approached via Goodreads. Since I deem my writing style to be in the same vein as Carl Hiaasen, I blindly contacted readers who had reviewed his most recent book (favorably, of course), and offered them one or both of my books in exchange for a review. If they liked it, of course.

Much later, Goodreads told me to stop this, as it violated their self-promotion policy. I honestly thought if I was approaching people with something for free, it wouldn't be considered self-promotion, but I complied. In the end, I must have contacted hundreds of readers. I'd say half replied, and a fraction of those actually read and reviewed one or more books. Oddly, most of the Goodreads readers posted their  reviews only on Goodreads, so I ended up with a few dozen reviews on that site, but only 16 and 12 on Amazon, for Ring of Fire and Battle Axe respectively.

So, a year later it seems like I have enough decent reviews to give the KDP thing another try, including the giveaway days. As I've read the best times to do this are over holiday weekends, I'm doing a two non-consecutive day giveaway on March 30 and April 1, then again over Memorial Day weekend, using up all five days. I'm going with Battle Axe this time, for no particular reason, but I've also heard that having more than one book in the Kindle store makes the giveaway more successful, because once someone reads your free book, there's another one available for purchase.

We shall see and I shall update. In the meantime, if you're in the market for a free humorous suspense novel on March 30 or April 1, 2013, just click here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Top 3 Reasons You Need to Do Character Sheets

I initially resisted. In fact, I'm resisting right now, and am only writing this blog post to avoid writing another character sheet. But I'm here to tell you they are as invaluable as they are tedious.

I've been using Scrivener, which is an amazingly robust writing program that allows you to consolidate nearly ALL of your miscellaneous data (research, photos, maps and yes, character sheets) into one document. In fact, it comes with a template built in (see inset below).

While this is a great start, I'm recommending something far more involved. If printed out, the character sheet I use would take up five pages. I can't remember where I got the version I'm using, but here's a current link to it.

Detailed, huh? And yes, it's daunting, but like writing itself, once you get into it, you get more into it. Here's why they're a great training ground before you type those ominous words, "Chapter One."

1. They help you catch your breath. I've been thinking about this novel, its characters, its setting and its plot for literally years now. Have I written anything down? Not much. So these character sheets ease me into the story by way of introducing ME to all my own characters. Like stretching before a marathon, or having your salad before your meal, it's just good solid preparation.

2. They give you ideas. You may think you know what the plot is, and how you're going to get from Point A to Point B, but once these characters start taking shape, they may surprise you. You may invent details about them that lead you down whole new paths--also a good thing. Don't think of it as a diversion or something that's "keeping you from writing," because it IS writing. Plot points, motivations and epiphanies might emerge during this process, so keep an open mind and notepad.

3. They start to write themselves. As you move into pages 2, 3 and beyond on these things, you'll find yourself thinking "what is my character's favorite movie? really?" And then you'll wonder what IS their favorite movie--and why? And that leads to another character trait, maybe due to some family history, and maybe that leads to a bit about their unhappy childhood, and having one parent, and...well, you get the picture. These are your characters, so own them. They deserve to live and breathe, and the more qualities you imbue them with (and make sure it's a mix of good and bad, just to keep it real), the better they'll serve you. I think you'll find they start serving you before you're even done creating them.

I know they're not for everyone (and hell, I didn't even do them for my first two novels, but there's a lot I didn't do for my first two novels that I wish I could have done differently), especially for "pansters," but I say give one a shot. Start with a secondary character--you'll feel you're getting way too deep into their past, their social circle, their wants and dreams, etc. You'll be writing about things you don't think secondary characters even deserve. And that's a good thing--by doing so, even a secondary character becomes more three dimensional and less likely to end up a plot device or stereotype.