Welcome to Sweet Weasel Words, home of author Crawford Smith.
I love writing, but am not particularly fond of creating and maintaining websites, so please be patient while I attempt to beat this sumbitch into some sort of order.
My big project right now is publishing a novel called Jackrabbit. This is a historical crime novel about the latter career of Depression-era gangster John Dillinger. This criminal’s life was indeed stranger than fiction – so much so that I had to focus on only the last five months of it to keep from overwhelming myself and the reader. Check out the Jackrabbit page for details.
The purpose of this blog is two-fold: 1) provide me a forum in which I can piss and moan, and 2) provide some advice so that others may not have to piss and moan as much as I. Also, I guess – 1.5) provide s repository of useful information for myself that I can use as a reference, as my memory is like a cloth bag full of water.
One piece of advice that I deliberately blew off in the runup to the release of Jackrabbit is thus: plan your book release. Give it at least three months, and preferably more. I didn’t do this for a couple of reasons. The first was that I realized late in the game that I was coming up on the 85th anniversary of the event that was a major plot point in the book, so I rushed to get the book out on that date. The other reason is that I am a lazy bastard, and really didn’t want to think about marketing and promotion ahead of time.
Well, live and learn. If I ever do it again (and I probably will), I’ll spend more time planning how, where and under what circumstances I will release the book.
One of the more interesting lessons learned has to do with the distribution channels through which the book is distributed. Based on my overall need to rush to get the book out, coupled with my inherent laziness, I decided to go with Amazon KDP for the complete publishing service. This saved a fair amount of up-front decision-making, but it did cause some problems later on. So far, the biggest of these is that many indie bookstores hate Amazon with a passion and will not carry self-published books produced through Amazon KDP – an issue I groused about in a previous post.
When I was bandying with a representative from one of those stores, he suggested that I create an account with IngramSpark to contend with the anti-Amazon bias. The issue with that is that I’d already sold my soul to Amazon and signed up for their Expanded Distribution option. This nominally provided more outlets for potential sales – allegedly large booksellers and libraries. Of course, as with most anything in American consumer culture, Some Restrictions Apply. In this case, that meant that I wouldn’t be able to use IngramSpark to distribute the book to finicky indie stores.
This begs the question: what the hell is IngramSpark anyway? IngramSpark is a subdivision of the massive Ingram Content Group, which is a huge book distributor and publishing service provider (whatever the hell that means).
Here’s the interesting part: by signing up for Amazon’s Expnded Distribution option, I’m actually having some books distributed through Ingram anyway. I found this out recently in my ongoing struggle to get Jackrabbit some shelf space in local indie bookstore behemoth Powell’s Books (as I griped about here and here). I looked into the possibility of ditching Expanded Distribution and signing up for IngramSpark, but the whole thing smacked of effort. It’s possible, apparently, but there was a whole rigamarole about relisting the ISBN number and so forth, and I don’t really see how it would necessarily boost my sales at this point. Perhaps I’m wrong, and I’m definitely lazy. I did, however, find a good article about why self-published authors should use both:
This has gotten wordy/whiny enough, so I am just going to sum up the important things I think I’ve learned so far:
Always Buy Your Own ISBN Numbers – This is one of the few things I got right out of the gate. Amazon KDP and other services will give you free ISBN numbers, be then they own your ass. The Bowker’s monopoly on ISBN number sales in North America results in a scammy pricing structure, but it beats the restrictions that come with a “free” number.
Use Amazon KDP for Early Production – You don’t have to shell out at all, meaning you can tweak the design, upload revisions to your heart’s content, and get it OCD-perfect before you shell out a dime. The author copies are more reasonably priced, as well.
Don’t Sign Up for Amazon; Expanded Distribution; Get an Ingram Spark Account – IngramSpark will get your books to bookstores and libraries that hate Amazon with a passion and won’t buy books from them. There are also more printing options, including more paper choices and hardback versions (Amazon KDP is paperback-only). To be fair, the Expanded Distribution network might slip a few copies to self-same Amazon-haters, but IngramSpark is probably better.
Amazon’s KDP Select Ain’t All That and a Bag of Chips – KDP Select is a program that offers expanded worldwide distribution for your eBook, as well as periodic special offers you can make on your book. However, KDP Select restricts your ability to sell your eBook through other channels (WordSmash, Draft2Digital, etc.) The offers are restricted to a handful of days within a 90-day window, so not so hotso. I’d advise going with the other ePublishers.
There: all of my recent kvetching boiled down into four pithy bullet points. My next novel is gonna go so smooooooooooth!
A week or so ago, someone suggested that I approach a small but iconic bookstore in town about getting Jackrabbit on the shelves and perhaps doing a reading. For the sake of not alienating myself further, I’m going to call the place Arnie Bang’s Books. Arnie Bang’s isn’t a local colossus like Powell’s, but has been around for awhile and has a good reputation. It’s kinda like the “Cheers” of Portland bookstores.
I called Arnie Bang’s about carrying the book and possibly scheduling a reading, and the person I talked to was very friendly receptive …until I let slip that I had published the book through Amazon KDP. At that point, she became quite frosty and cut the conversation short. When I asked as to why, I was told “Amazon is the competition!” End of conversation.
I was, as I mentioned earlier, butt-hurt. I totally understand hating on Amazon’s monstrous global retail monopoly…because I hate on it, too. So does everybody…but it’s just so fucking convenient. I try to buy local where I can – Powell’s for books, Music Millennium for tunage, Fred Meyer for groceries, etc. (The last one’s a bit of a stretch – Fred Meyer was bought out by Kroger in ’98, and they’ve really been acting corporate as hell lately. But I digress…) But if the local stores don’t have what I’m looking for, I’m shopping online the next day.
So I get the hating on Amazon bit, but the part that peeved me was that Amazon’s cut comes out of my pocket. Amazon makes their money on their markup on the author copies it sells me. Arnie Bloom’s would get their 40% of the cover price, regardless if it had been published by Amazon, Lulu Press or even freakin’ Kinko’s.
I took a look at the book, and there is absolutely nothing that indicates where it was printed. I was tempted to just go back to Arnie Bang’s and trying bullshit them into carrying the book, but at that point I figured that my integrity was more important than the handful of bucks I’d potentially make. Besides, Arnie Bang’s would end up making more per copy than I would, so fuck ’em.
I did a little research, and apparently it is not uncommon for indy book stores to refuse to carry books published through Amazon KDP. Hey, it’s their business and they’re free to run it how they see fit. And I’m free to think that refusing to stock a book based on where it’s printed is a self-defeating move. I doubt Jeff Bezos is losing sleep over Arnie Bang’s business practices, but I sure as hell ain’t gonna go back there.
Wellnow, I just finished up my first experience with buying Facebook ads to promote Jackrabbit, and I’ve come away nonplussed. And that’s being generous.
To be fair, I’ve long had an attitude problem towards Facebook. In fact, I had bailed on it entirely after the Cambridge Analytica news broke. I reluctantly joined back up when it became apparent that it would be impossible to promote the book or really do any sort of business without having a Facebook account. So I held my nose and did it.
That was pretty much my attitude when it came to running ads on Facebook. I was unhappy enough with giving Mark Zuckerberg my personal information, now I was going to have to give him some actual money, as well. We were not amused.
Still, it takes money to make money, and since there was my folding green on the line I felt that some research was required. I read a book and worked through a LinkedIn Learning course until I felt like I had a solid grasp on the basics. I set up the graphics, developed what seemed to be a good target audience, wrote some copy and submitted the ad.
It was rejected.
Facebook has a policy whereby they won’t accept your ad if the text in the graphic takes up more than 20% of the space. My response: so what? If I want to run an ad that is nothing but the words “SUCK IT, MARK” is 96 point Arial Black, what difference does that make to Facebook? Their nominal reason is that ads with a lot of text don’t perform that well, but I suspect that’s just a cover story.
Here’s another bit of Facebook advertising trivia that I found out the hard way: you can’t drive traffic from a Facebook ad directly to an Amazon listing. Do what? I figure that this should be in BIG BOLD LETTERS somewhere on the Facebook ads info page, but I had to go through the entire process of creating an ad only to have it rejected because I had to put a snippet of FB code called a “pixel” on the landing page in the ad. Not surprisiingly, Amazon is not keen on having FB pixels on their site. Go figure.
To accommodate these unexpected challenges, I changed the ad graphic to have less text and pointed the ad at the Jackrabbit page, which now included the Facebook pixel. (Jeebus only knows what that little hunk of code is doing besides tracking my click-through rate.) With these changes, the ad was accepted. I had budgeted the minimum as this was my first ad – five bucks a day for eight days. I submitted the ad and waited for the sales figures to skyrocket.
I was particularly optimistic, as the same week the ad was running, I was also had an article about Dillinger featured on CrimeReads.com, and of course I plugged the book in the article. I figured that I would have a nice little sales bump between the two promotional bits running that week. I waited until the end of the week to check the sales figures, so as not to spoil the surprise. Well, I was surprised all right: that week I sold all of three copies.
Three. Fucking. Copies.
Needless to say, I was disappointed and (obviously) kinda pissed. Even making that assumption that all three sales came from the Facebook ads and not the CrimeReads article (not really a valid assumption, BTW), that means I spent forty dollars on advertising to bring me about seven bucks in royalties.
This is not what you would call a sustainable business model.
So, back to the drawing board. If anyone is actually reading this blog, they will have no doubt detected a certain note of disappointment in my recent posts about how well my totally excellent self-published novel has been selling. Clearly, I’m doing something wrong here. So, once again I will suck it up and spend more time trying to pick apart what I did the first time around that resulted in such a miserable return on investment. No doubt that there’s some other smart guy out there willing to take my money to tell me what I’m doing wrong.
I bet they won’t even care if the text in my ad graphic exceeds 20%.
I’ll admit up front that this post is going to suffer from a marked lack of graciousness on the part of yours truly. Anyone who I offend can contact me directly, and I’ll buy you a Mr. Pibb.
This has been a frustrating week for me personally, for a variety of reasons – but instead of barfing them out in one whiny blog post, I figure I can stretch them out to two or three bitch-specific posts that will perhaps in some small way boost the Google search ranking of this site. It’s called providing content, people!
Today’s gripe: getting reviews on Jackrabbit’s Amazon site. From my research into the wild and wooly world of self-publishing, getting a variety of reviews on your book’s Amazon listing is the key to sales. If you look at a book listing, and it has half a dozen five-star reviews, and most of the reviewers have the same last name as the author, then you know you’re probably looking at a real snoozer with horrible punctuation and probably no verbs. No one’s going to want to buy that book.
Here’s where the lack of graciousness comes in: I am fortunate in that I have many friends and relatives who very generously bought Jackrabbit when it came out. To them I offer much gratitude, as well as much frustration – because getting a significant number of them to actually go on Amazon and leave a review has been like pulling teeth!
“Oh, I’ve been meaning to do that,” they say. “But I just really haven’t had the time lately. Maybe next week.” All this spoken in a weary tone, as if I’d cajoled them into cleaning out my basement. It makes me want to holler, “Hey, it’s just a quick review! It will take approximately the same amount of time as it did for you to post to Facebook that picture of the basket of Buffalo wings you got at the Cleveland airport!” I mean, really.
So, I keep wheedling, hinting and make veiled threats about kidnapping beloved pets or stuffed animals. It occurs to me that maybe they haven’t actually read the book. That’s a distinct possibility for the people that downloaded it for free during one of the Amazon eBook giveaways. When something cost nothing, then it’s never a high-priority. On the other hand, maybe they read it, but think it stinks. I hope not, but even so, I rather have a raft of brutally honest reviews rather.
All right, so I just try to stay patient and avoid getting too pushy (but still a little pushy, maybe). What else is there to do?
Fuggit. I’m gonna get myself a basket of Buffalo wings.
I was especially flattered as CrimeReads is a well-respected crime book blog; an offshoot of the uber-respected LiteraryHub website. Big love to them for giving me a chance to show off my writing (and, of course, flog Jackrabbit), while other, less-prestigious book review sites gave me the cold shoulder. Take that, “Uncle Bubba’s Best Bad Guy Book and Monster Truck Video Reviews”! You missed out.
Four-plus years’ worth of (occasionally) hard work has finally paid off! This week, I got my first royalty payment for Jackrabbit – a whopping forty-one dollars and forty-eight cents! Woo-hoo! Not complaining, not complaining – well, not really. It’s good to see something in the “credits” column of the Sweet Weasel Words balance sheet. The last time something showed up there was when I signed up for a PayPal account, and they deposited 39 cents – then promptly withdrew it.
So, they way I’m looking at the situation vis-a-vis trying to market and promote the book: I’ve spent nearly five years writing this book and getting it published. Now, in my foolishness, I thought that that was going to be the bulk of the effort. I realize now that it was only the preliminary effort. So the choice is to suck it up and get on with the unpleasant (for me) matter of marketing, or just walk away and start working on another novel.
This is tempting, very tempting. I’ve got at least three big-time story ideas I’d really like to explore. On the other hand, after all the effort I’ve put into Jackrabbit, I’d really like to get it the exposure I think it deserves, and maybe make a few bucks in the process. Of course, I’m under no illusion that this book is a prize-winner, or that I’ll be able to retire on the proceeds. Still, if I want people to be able to read and enjoy it (and I’ll be honest, to stroke my ego in the process), I guess I’ll have to put put off the next big writing project and start selling.
From what I’ve been able to tell, the most effective way to do this is through Facebook advertising. And I really hate the idea of giving money to Face book – hell, I resent just having to have a Facebook account at all. So be it. Needs must when the devil drives, and so forth.
At this point, I’ve got $41.48 that I didn’t have last week, so I might as well hand it over to Mr. Zuckerberg and see if he can’t turn that into at least $42 worth of additional sales. It will be fairly easy to measure the success of this endeavor, given the current sales figures. So what the hell, guess I’ll see what I can make of this.
The September 16 date for exhuming John Dillinger’s body has come and gone – and he continues to rest in peace, at least for now. In previous posts (here and here), I outlined the effort spearheaded by Dillinger nephew Michael Thompson to have his famous uncle’s boy disinterred for DNA testing. Now it seems as if the planned exhumation is on indefinite hold.
The exhumation was announced shortly after the 85th anniversary of the Biograph shooting that allegedly took down the famous gangster. The Indiana State Department of Health had approved a request by Thompson to disinter Dillinger’s body. The reason given was to establish once and for all whether or not it was John Dillinger in the grave. For decades, rumors had circulated that it hadn’t been Dillinger who was gunned down outside the movie theater in Chicago, but rather a look-alike. This “wrong man” theory had been supported by some fascinating anecdotal evidence, and Thompson claimed that he wanted to prove or disprove the theory.
Shortly after the announcement, it was revealed that the drive to dig up the Jackrabbit was connected with a History Channel documentary on the life and crimes of John Dillinger.
Then things started to get weird. Surprise!
First, there were other Dillinger relatives who were opposed to the exhumation. Dillinger great-nephew Jeff Scalf, who has some manner of legal control over Dillinger’s name and likeness, was adamantly opposed. “It’s my opinion that this effort was done for 15 minutes of fame and 30 pieces of silver,” he said.
Then Crown Hill Cemetery started to get cold feet. “We also have concerns that the complex and commercial nature of this exhumation could cause disruption to the peaceful tranquility of the Cemetery and those who are visiting to remember their loved ones.” This is a legitimate concern, as accessing Dillinger’s remains would involve a fairly robust construction effort. Concerned about grave tampering, Dillinger’s father had his body reburied under huge slabs of concrete and scrap metal shortly after the initial burial in 1934.
Not to be thwarted, Thompson filed an injunction against Crown Hill to compel them to cooperate with the exhumation. Thompson’s attorneys claimed that Crown Hill’s objections were disingenuous. They stated, “Thompson and others in his family should not be prohibited from confirming the identity of their uncle merely because he is infamous. If identity is confirmed, Thompson and all other descendants of the deceased can put to rest their legitimate questions about identity.” A hearing is scheduled for October 1 to discuss the case.
In the latest twist, the History Channel announced on September 11 that they would no longer be associated with the documentary project. No reason was given. Two days later, Thompson announced that he planned on moving forward with the project. Personally, I’m not sure if that will happen without the History Channel support. I think that the logistics involved in getting around John Sr.’s tamper-deterrent measures may require some outside financing. Perhaps some sort of “angel investor” will appear to fill the void.
The whole thing has been – and continues to be – a soap opera. I’m sure that the lack of consistent explanation from Crown Hill Cemetery and the History Channel about their sudden withdrawal from the project will fuel further conspiracy theories. I suspect that there will be a few more chapters to play out, but I think this drama is headed towards denouement.
At the end of the day, I think that maybe it wasn’t that good of an idea in the first place. Of course, I’d love to really know whether or not John Dillinger is in the grave with his name on it. And as an author who has just published a book about Dillinger, I would welcome the free publicity attendant to such a spectacle. However, the idea of disturbing someone’s remains for the sake of a TV documentary never seemed right.
Wellnow, here I am: I’ve published my first novel Jackrabbit and have gotten my ISBN number. All of my friends and family who were likely to buy the book have already done so. The first thirty days after the release have come and gone, meaning that Amazon no longer considers this a “new release” and now has much interest in promoting the book (unless, of course, I pay them). Despite running a number of promotions and mailing out actual, physical copies of the book, I’ve gotten only a handful of reviews on Amazon.
Clearly, I’m in the Sophomore Slump regarding the promotion of the book. I guess the next thing to do is to mount some sort of paid promotional effort to get awareness of the book to more people who might actually purchase it. This is a little difficult for me, since: A) it involves effort that would take away from, y’know, actually writing, and B) it will probably result in me giving money to Facebook or the like, which is anathema.
I know that it takes money to make money, and that a little paid promotion will go a long way. At least those guys who sell books about how to sell your books claim that to be the case. Those how-to-sell-your-books books sell thousands of copies; maybe I am writing the wrong type of books!
My goal is to sell at least a thousand copies of Jackrabbit. That pretty much represents the break-even point for the money I’ve spent thus far on the editing, the cover illustration, printing review copies etc. So far, it’s off to a slow start. Well, boo-hoo – I got my ISBN number, everything else is pretty much gravy, correctomundo?
Still, just for the sake of follow-through I will embark on the adventure of Facebook advertising, and perhaps others, just to say I ticked off that box. Why the heck not?
There’s nothing better than a good read on a long summer weekend. For Labor Day, the Jackrabbit eBook will be available for free at Amazon on Friday, August 30 and Saturday, August 31J. Enjoy a great summer read, and please leave a review at Amazon.com.
One of the things that I really love about Portland is Powell’s Bookstore. The main “City of Books” store is an entire city block downtown. The satellite store out on Hawthorne would put most other bookstores in the shade. So I was excited at the prospect of getting my new novel Jackrabbit into my local Powell’s.
This being Portland, I know a number of other self-published authors, and had gotten mixed messages about how amenable Powell’s was to providing shelf space for local indie authors. My one novelist friend said that they had bought two or three copies, albeit grudgingly. She warned that it was all political, and that you had to know someone to really get them to buy a few extra copies. Another, more optimistic friend said I should just talk to the book buyer, tell him I was a local author, and he’d pick up eight copies, no problem.
I figured I’d try to be official, and call the main business number, and eventually got shunted to a lengthy recording that went on about distribution channels and discount rates and other stuff I didn’t want to deal with. A search through the website resulted in the same message:
This was of no use, so I went by the local Powell’s and talked to the book-buyer on duty. According to my friends who do a little book dealing on the side, Powell’s used to be very generous when it came to buying used books. Then things changed, and they became much more selective about what they bought, and more parsimonious in what they paid. This change in values led to some ugly scenes at the book purchaser desk, and some of the book buyers had to become hard-hearted to be able to do their job. Anyway, the book buyer politely listened to my spiel, and immediately whipped a little leaflet on me with the exact same information as the website and the phone recording, except that is was headered “Dear Author,”
Mentally, I was compelting the sentiment as “Dear Author, Fuck you.” I think it was the snail mail address that drove that point home. Nope, this is so unimportant to us that we’re not even going to bother setting up an email account. Gonna make you waste a stamp.
So I did. What the hell, I’m supposed to be a writer, so I wrote a letter and sent that in. In for a penny, et cetera. I wasn’t particularly hopeful that I would get a response, and was a little bit pissy about it, too. A friend who works at one of the airport Powell’s emailed asking if I had approached Powell’s – “we love our local authors!” she said. Well, ya coulda fooled me, I replied. Like I said, I was pissy.
I’m sure a high-profile bookstore like Powell’s gets approached by numerous self-published writers who want their doggerel in the famous bookstore, and I can understand the need to have some sort of screening process set up to remove the chaff quickly. Still, it would have been nice if there was some bone they’d be willing to throw to us Portland-based scribblers.
Then about a day later, I discovered that Powell’s was already listing Jackrabbit. A friend of mind said she had just received her copy and was looking forward to reading it. When I asked her where she had bought it, she told me that she had ordered it through Powell’s website. I checked, and sure enough, they had the book listed and supposedly had 20 copies sitting in a remote warehouse.
After all the grousing that I had done, turns out Powell’s had been responsible for a sizable chunk of all of the hard copy sales already. How? Amazon. I could tell by the way the description of the book was written that it had come directly from the Amazon website. Then I remembered that I had signed up for something called KDP Expanded Distribution. This allows Amazon to make a book available to booksellers and libraries.
I’m still waiting to see if I will get a reply from my letter. It would be nice if they would actually display the book in one of the brick and mortar stores – preferably the one on Hawthorne with the hard-nosed book buyer. In the meantime, I will just keep flogging the book wherever I can.