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Dummies for Facebook Ads

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%.

The Jackrabbit Rests in Peace…for Now

Dillinger’s body prior to burial

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.

Let Johnnie D. rest in peace.

Dear Powell’s

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.

Dillinger Grave Exhumation Update

Who would have thought that the simple disinterment of the corpse of a notorious gangster would turn into such a soap opera?

Sure enough, the announced re-surfacizing of the remains of John Dillinger has sparked controversy in the Dillinger community. John Dillinger was married only briefly, and had no children (that we know of). However, he had a sister and a number of half-siblings, many of whom went forth, were fruitful and multiplied. Now Dillinger has yea number of blood relatives in the Midwest, and thrice-yea number of people claiming to be blood relatives. All of them seem up in arms about John Dillinger’s disinterment.

The ostensible reason for this remains-disturbing is to prove once and for all the identity of the body buried in Lot 94, Section 44 of Crown Hill cemetery in Indianapolis. This was announced at the end of July, as I mentioned in an earlier post. Of course, this was of acute interest to me, as I had just published a novel about John Dillinger called Jackrabbit. One of the main plot points of Jackrabbit was that Dillinger had arranged for a body double to cover a getaway to Mexico.

The current imbroglio started when one of Dillinger’s nephews, Michael Thompson, applied with the Indiana health department to disinter his famous uncle’s remains. This was somehow connected with the History Channel, which is working on a documentary about Dillinger. Did money exchange hands? Sure, why not? (Actually, I have no idea. However, I’m a cynical bastard, so I buy in to the notion that HC flashed their big cable-history wad to get things moving.)

Of course, not all of Dillinger’s relatives and demi-relatives were happy about this turn. Dillinger great nephew Jeff Scalf said he it was “despicable” and “appalling” that the exhumation was announced. Scalf has some legal interest in and control of the Dillinger name and image, as he formed Dillinger LLC.

Scalf was presumably fairly happy when Crown Hill cemetery announced its opposition to the planned disinterment. They cited concerns about maintaining the integrity of the grounds and the possibility of upsetting relatives visiting the graves of loved ones during the disinterment. Both seem like legitimate concerns, given that 5,000 pounds of concrete and scrap metal supposedly cap the grave, put there to deter grave robbers. Removal of such an edifice will likely be a major undertaking.

The latest turn in the drama is that Michael Thompson is seeking a court order for the cemetery to cooperate with the planned exhumation. What’s next? Well, I don’t know, but I can’t help but think that John Dillinger is somewhere looking over all this with a cracked grin on his face.

Promotional Rescue

The launch of Jackrabbit has been a hell of an interesting ride, so far. It’s been an absolute thrill seeing something that went from a vague idea five years ago to an actual physical book that I can hold in my hand and use to swat flies. I can remember back twenty years ago, wanting to be a novelist but resenting the hell out of the fact that I had to actually write something. My goal, as I saw it then, was to have my own ISBN number. And now I do – 978-1-7332699-0-2. I just didn’t think I’d have to pay for it myself.

But I’ve already whined about that, so I’ll whine about something else.

To wit: promoting the book. This is something that is proving to be really challenging. I am decidedly NOT good with sales and marketing. At one point, I had my own one-man architecture and consulting business. I managed to limp it along for nearly two years, largely on the basis of connections I had in the local AEC industry and the largess and patience of my wonderful wife. But I hated, absolutely hated, having to drum up business and make cold calls. I figured that was not going to be a good situation for a one-person firm, so I eventually went back and got another “real” job. Also, I needed the health insurance.

So now I am back in the familiar but uncomfortable place of having to promote my own book. I knew that I was going to be in for it when I decided to self-publish (a topic for another post), but thinking about having to do it some time in the future, and actually having to do it NOW are two different beasties. But, here I am again.

Now that I’ve got the self-publishing end of things squared away, I’m focusing my attention on promoting the book, and doing a little online research about the best way to go about doing it. One of the first things I read is that the author needs to begin promoting the book six months before the publication date. WTF?! Back then, I was still writing the bastard; I had no time to think about promoting it. Hell, I have a full-time job and a wife and something akin to a life – there’s only so much more I can do on top of maintaining my so-called life and finishing a manuscript.

Then there’s the fact that nearly all self-publishing promotion involves social media. I don’t much cotton to social media, but I suppose I’ll have to live with it. I knew what I was getting into – but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to deal with it gracefully. Besides, from what I understand, even authors who managed to get their books published are now expected to shoulder a lot of the promotional activities. They need a “platform” – which I guess is what you are reading now.

So, here I go promoting again. I can be thankful for a number of things, not the least of which is that I live in Portland, which has self-published authors out the wazoo. So I have friends and acquaintances who have been down this road before and can offer useful advice. Most important, however, is that I have something that I didn’t really have when I was making those cold calls for my business, and that is faith in the product. This is a good book. I’m proud of what I’ve written, and I’m thankful that I hooked up with a good editor to make ti readable, and a good cover artist to encourage people to give it a try.

Here it goes…

The Ghost of Dillinger’s Corpse

Just a week after I released Jackrabbit, a novel about John Dillinger, he is back in the news again. In fact, he’s all over it. On Monday, it was announced that Dillinger’s nephew had petitioned for the gangster’s body to be exhumed from the cemetery in Indianapolis for examination. Two of the latest stories, from CBS and the New York Times have good information. As August is typically a slow news month, I expect to see more. (Oddly enough, there’s been nothing in Oregonian so far, but it has been in many other small-market newspapers. My Dad called me from Raleigh to let me know that the News and Observer ran a piece.)

The putative reason for this exhumation was initially pretty hazy. Over the last day or so, it has come out that the relatives “have evidence” that it’s not really John Dillinger buried in the grave with his name on the tombstone. This is nothing new – rumors of the “wrong man” being killed in Dillinger’s place have been circulating for ages. In fact, it’s a major plot point in Jackrabbit. I had heard the stories about the “wrong man” since junior high school, and wanted to explore how the switch may have occurred.

Of course, the FBI is standing by their story that they “got their man,” but given the circumstances of Dillinger’s death and some of the events that led up to it, their contemporary accounts may not be entirely believable. Dillinger pulled off a number of incredible escapes that were also incredibly embarrassing for J. Edgar Hoover’s nascent FBI. The worst of these was a shootout at the Little Bohemia Lodge in Wisconsin several months prior to the Biograph shooting. The FBI agents killed a WPA logger and wounded two others, thinking they were gang members trying to make a run for it. One of their own agents was killed by Baby Face Nelson, who also wounded another agent and a local lawman. IF the FBI had killed yet another innocent person in its pursuit of Dillinger, it would have been devastating for Hoover and the FBI. They certainly had a strong motive to conceal another screw-up, if that’s in fact what happened.

Also, perhaps not coincidentally, the History Channel has a documentary about Dillinger in the works right now. Call me cynical, but I suspect that the History Channel offered a bunch of money to the relatives in question to have them initiate the exhumation in order to promote their special.

While you’re calling me cynical, you might as well call me hypocritical, as I am looking to capitalize on this exhumation as much as the History Channel. In fact, I was thrilled to pieces when this story initially broke. From my point of view, the timing couldn’t be better. I’m also plotting a major promotion to take advantage of the actual exhumation, currently scheduled for mid-September

But I’ve got to admit that it makes me feel a little sleazy, too. Take a good look at the picture above, and consider the carnival atmosphere that surrounded this man’s death. That’s about to be repeated, and I suppose I’ll aim to get my slice of the sleaze. John Dillinger was a colorful character, and a true American in more ways than one. It seems wrong to dig him up for the sake of a cable TV special – or a self-published novel.

John Dillinger was a colorful character, and a true American in more ways than one. It seems wrong to dig him up for the sake of a cable TV special – or a self-published novel.

Of course, Dillinger was a massive publicity hound. He loved the attention that he got in the contemporary press, but it also pretty much guaranteed that he was not going to end his career any way but the hard way. Hell, he’d probably be pleased as punch to know that he’s still grabbing headlines 85 years later. Putative book sales notwithstanding, I’d be just as happy if they left that grave undisturbed.

Live at Last

Well, the Amazon page for Jackrabbit is live! Right now, the paperback and eBook are listed separately. Amazon assures me, however, that once the Amazon Master Brain twigs to the fact that it’s the same book, both listings will be combined.

Now that I’ve navigated the increasingly complex path of: A) writing the sumbitch, and B) publishing it, I now move on to C) promoting it. This should be interesting, as self-promotion is not my strong suit. We’ll see how this goes…

Eighty-Five Years Ago Today…

On July 22, 1934, the FBI Claimed that they finally “got their man” and gunned down Public Enemy Number One. They claim that s they shot John “Jackrabbit” Dillinger outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago. Almost immediately, rumors started swirling that the corpse outside the Biograph didn’t belong to Dillinger, and that the Jackrabbit – just like Elvis, Jim Morrison and Bigfoot – was still alive somewhere.

Well, I had hoped to be able to have my new novel Jackrabbit ready for release today, but alas it was not to be. I underestimated the vagaries of the Amazon KDP process, as well as some glitches in the Reedsy Book Editor software.

The problem is that Reedsy doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge the problem. I don’t care WHAT the Chicago Manual of Style says, “i” should not follow “iii” in any pagination scheme. Amazon certainly doesn’t think so, which is why they are refusing to print the book until the page numbers are corrected. I guess I’ll fool around with it some more, but I’ve got an ugly feeling that I’m going to have to drop my Acknowledgements section to get it to behave. Bleah!

So no book just yet, and the best I can do for an eBook is an Amazon pre-order page, since I clearly didn’t read the fine print, and checked a box that I couldn’t subsequently un-check. I’ll get this figured out soon, I hope.

The Home Stretch

Just a handful of last-minute corrections…

I’m busting the boards trying to get the Jackrabbit manuscript in shape for release on Monday. The reason for the deadline is that it is the 85th anniversary of the shooting at the Biograph Theater. This, of course, is a date with a great deal of significance in the career of John Dillinger.

Being able to get hard copies cheaply and easily through Amazon KDP has been a boon – but the drawback is that I’m really tired of reading this writing (wonderful as the prose is, of course). So, to mix things up, I’ve taken the advice of Trevor Blake, who suggested reading this last proof copy backwards. It makes for an interesting read – kinda like the literary equivalent of Memento . It also makes it easier to spot errors, since my attention is more fully engaged and not skimming over sections that I’ve read dozens of times before.

The scary thing is that I could probably keep reworking the text ad infinitum, but sometimes you’ve gotta put down your pencil and say “Good enough is good enough!”

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

As much as I bitch about Amazon (and Facebook, and Google, and Apple, u.s.w.), I have to admit that their Print On Demand service is pretty amazing. I got the hard-copy proof of Jackrabbit on Tuesday evening. By Thursday evening, I had read through the bastard yet again, and flagged maybe two dozen errors that needed to be addressed. I addressed them and made some graphic changes to the back cover. All of these were loaded back up to Amazon KDP by Friday morning, and a new new copy was on order.

Now, the waiting. It seems like it takes two or three days to work through the print queue, and then a few more for shipping, since I was too stingy to shell out for the 2-day deliver.

Not to worry, it’s giving me a little space to do something I hadn’t done in over a month: write. I’ve been working on a short story called “Reset,” about a fifty-year-old who goes to sleep and wakes up back in eight grade. Derivative? You bet. But I’m having a hell of a lot of fun writing it, so stumm. I cranked out a couple of hundred words yesterday, and when I went to save it, the last save date was all the way back in May. Time slips away, especially when you’re doing something complicated like self-publishing for the first time. Mustn’t forget the object of the exercise, y’know?