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Tag: book promotion

New Deal Year

Well, 2022 kinda looks like it’s gonna bite pretty hard; here’s to a hoping for a repeat of 2015 – a much more propitious year!

Happy New Year, and here’s to hoping for a speedy recovery from the holiday season and maybe a glimmer of hope in the new year. This is a time of reflection and aspiration, where we look back at the mistakes of the past year, and look forward to the mistakes of the upcoming one.

As the Primary Scribe of Sweet Weasel Words, there were many things to celebrate in 2021. Well, by “many,” I mean two: publication of Powwows and the publication of Fester. Being a sole-prop APE (author, publisher, entrepreneur), every new title is an adventure and a learning experience.

Powwows was originally a story line from the monster first draft (~150K words) of Fester that was excised to bring the manuscript down to a tolerable size. I still liked the story quite a bit, so I hit on the idea of editing Powwows as a separate novella that would be released a few months prior to act as an “appetizer” by introducing the reader to the built world of Fester, Pennsylvania and make them eager to read the full-length novel.

In theory.

In practice, I suspect I used up all of the goodwill in my friends-and-family fan base with Powwows. I got a fairly decent response from the gang about the ~18K word novella, but when the 90K word Fester hit the shelves, the response was, to coin a word, sub-monktastic. The attitude seemed to be “Oh, Christ, he’s published another one?” Plus, college football season was just starting up, so there was very little time for people to bother reading something I had spent 13 years crafting. OK, well “writing” might be a better word than “crafting,” but still…

So, take that as an object lesson: be careful of how you time your publications, so as to avoid reader burnout.

Looking ahead, what is in store for 2022? Or 2015? Well, I’m about 50K words into a draft of a novel called Laughingstock. It’s about two stand-up comics who get started in show business together as teenagers. As they grow apart, one experiences success in the laugh business while one continues to toil in small-time comedy backwater. As the successful one reaches the apogee of his success, he suddenly disappears. His friend embarks on a quest to find his friend – and take on the sinister Wolff Network.

I’m still not sure where the story is going to go, but I did get in the habit during National Novel Writing Month of seat-of-the-pants writing, which often takes the story in amazing and unexpected directions. I’d like to get the first draft of Laughingstock finished before mid-year.

Waiting in the wings is a sequel to Fester. During a trip to the unusual and interesting town of Astoria, Oregon, I came upon a fascinating story that would serve as a framework for a sequel. I came back from that trip with a 75% complete outline for the story. I was quite eager to get started on it when I returned from Astoria, but decided instead to forge ahead with the Laughingstock MS. I think this will allow the Astoria story to age on the shelf, as it were – and make for a more compelling story when I get down to writing it.

It’s been an interesting 2021; it promises to be an equally interesting 2022. That’s why I’m looking forward to 2015. Have a great year!


How to Make Big Money in Self-Publishing

NaNoWriMo Update

I’m still plugging away with my scaled-back version of National Novel Writing Month. So far, I have been able to keep my goal of 500 words per day (with one exception, which was more of a math error). Big thanks to the Willamette Writers writing cohort for keeping me on task. Just cleared 50,000 words on my latest MS.

Sour Grapes for Breakfast

One of the things I like about NaNoWriMo is that it gives me an excuse not to work on sales and marketing my existing titles Jackrabbit, Powwows, and Fester. I may be no great shakes as a writer, but my writing’s positively stunning compared to my salesmanship and marketing skills. I just don’t like it. Yet, I want people to read what I’ve written, of course. I’m not really looking to make a ton of money here, I’d be happy to break even on my out-of-pocket costs for the editor, the cover artist, and other fixed expenses.

So I have succumbed, at what I hope is a tolerable level, to the self-publishing industry’s legion of people, businesses and services who will make your book a “best seller” for the right price. Being naturally suspicious and tight-fisted, I always do a little research before shelling out any money. Scammers abound, and I’ve always know that the quickest way to make big money is to sell other people “secrets” of how to make big money. I recently read an article about a woman who charges $1,111 per hour to “channel” “Jesus” to Hollywood celebs and other rich idjits. If I only had a smidge less morality, I’d be on that action like Paula Deen on a plate of deep-fried Twinkies.

So I always look a little askance at the myriad of opportunities for self-published authors to make a bundle by forking over some program or another. At the same time, I’m completely cognizant of the fact that I need help marketing and selling, so I’m just going to have to suck it hope and hope for the best.

Recently, this has taken the form of paid advertising, which is pretty much a given for any self-published author. I’m a kinda techie guy – or at least I used to be – but the online advertising systems used by the likes of Facebook or Amazon are really complex and not at all intuitive. Early attempts at advertising on these platforms had been unsuccessful, so I started hunting around for some reasonably-priced advice.

In the course of my searches, I stumbled upon a plan that is so simple in its efficacy and audacity that I have to tip my hat to the author. There was a teaser article about this person’s formula for advertising success. The piece of advice given in the article was to essentially ignore the Average Cost of Sale (ACoS) metric on the Amazon Advertising dashboard. I could do this easily, as my ACoS figures are downright depressing. This guy seemed to be on the right track; the hook was set.

Of course, he had plenty more useful advice to offer, and was, in fact, going to write a whole book about his Amazon advertising secrets. The book was still in the process of being written, but if anybody wanted to get in at the ground floor, he had established a Kickstarter campaign. Out of morbid curiosity, I checked out the Kickstarter page and was amazed to see that of his $5,000 goal, he had raised a whopping $16,547!

I was awestruck. He had already cleared five figures and he hadn’t even written the book! I did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation, and came up with the number 3,100. Based on the price point of similar book of his, and the typical 80/20 ratio of paperback to eBook sales, along with Amazon’s cut – his Kickstarter campaign had raised the equivalent of the sales of 3,100 copies of his book, which, I hasten to repeat, hasn’t even been written yet. Of course, he’s going to have to come through on the promises he made to the Kickstarter funders, and that’s not peanuts. Still, he’s basically got the equivalent of 3,100 copies of the unwritten book out the door. Sure, that’s chickenfeed to a lot of authors – but not me. I’d be over the moon to sell 3,100 copies of a book.

Truly, this guy has it dialed in when it comes to selling self-published books about self-publishing. And as sour-grapesy as this post sounds, I will buy a copy of the book when it’s finally released, just out of respect for this guy’s sales acumen.

Makes me think I should go into writing books about self-publishing. However, on the whole, I think I’d rather just be a spiritual adviser to the rich and unfulfilled. I will call myself “Brother Mysterioso,” and charge rich idjits $1,112 an hour to channel the spirit of Rip Taylor.


More Gruel, Please!

“Please, sir, may I have an Amazon review?”

Well, my latest novel, Fester, is as published as it’s going to get. That means that I now have to go out and actually sell the sumbitch.

This, for me, is not fun. Some people love being a sales-entity*, but not me. For me, it’s like pulling teeth. However, as a one-entity operation, I have to be the author, the publisher and the sales-entity. As the philosopher Meatloaf pointed out, two outta three ain’t bad. Regardless, slacking on marketing is not going to get my book in front of readers, which is the object of the exercise.

I have been researching how to maximize book sales for indie authors**, and the bottom line is that you can’t really get anywhere with sales without spending on advertising. OK, I can get behind that; it takes money to make money. But here’s the rub: you shouldn’t really be spending money on ads unless you have a minimum number of Amazon reviews in place (~10). There’s no point in driving people to a point of sale without them seeing a number of (presumably positive) reviews once they get there.

Now I am in the uncomfortable position of trying to wheedle Amazon reviews out of my friends and family. This is, to me, odious – I feel like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel. I had some issues with this when I was promoting the Fester prequel, Powwows. I offered free copies of the eBook ( Powwows was eBook only) in return for an honest Amazon review. This met with limited success. I think the issue in this case was that people downloaded the book and then forgot about it. Or maybe I’m just an impatient asshat. Probably both.

Regardless, I thought I’d try the same thing with Fester. At first, I offered a free digital copy for an Amazon review. Then, when my author copies finally arrived, I began offering a free hard copy for a review. When I made that offer, a relative who has also self-published books via Amazon suggested that I crank it up a notch, in order to make sure these were verified purchase reviews.

To that end, I decided to offer a $10 Amazon gift card to anyone who bought the book on Amazon, left a review and sent a screen shot confirming this. This seemed a little ethically mushy, but it’s a cutthroat environment out there for self-published and indie authors. I figured what was the harm? I’d get my number of reviews up to double digits, discontinue the offer and proceed with my advertising campaign.

The problems started when I unwisely cross-posted the offer to a FB indie author group that I had signed on with. The moderator of this group is a harridan – y’know the type: they’ve got a tiny chunk of the web they control, so they control it with an iron fist. This moderator saw my offer and went ballistic. Soon, I was getting nastygrams about how people like me were why the indie publishing world had a “bad reputation.” (This was news to me.) The moderator and a number of like-minded pedants were stalking my Twitter feed, and leaving nasty comments on unrelated posts on FB, etc. One of them even ratted me out to Amazon, claiming that I was “…abusing [the] system by offering incentivized reviews, incentivized purchases, sales manipulation, ranks manipulation, etc.”

This abuse seemed a little over-the-top for what I regard as a noob mistake. So I deleted the posts that had so offended the indie author pedants. Then, I checked the official rules*** and discovered that “incentivized reviews” used to be kosher, but they changed the rules a few years back. That’s the problem with Amazon: indie authors are pretty much at Amazon’s mercy if they want to sell book one, so they get to change the rules whenever they like. Also, it seems like there are underhanded ways to abuse the system on a large scale, which was a far cry from what I was attempting to do. Certainly, it seemed like overkill for my misguided attempt at book promotion to compel a complete stranger to act as a corporate snitch for Jeff Bezos.

I looked at some of the other rules regarding book promotion and Amazon reviews. They’ve got all sorts of rules, some of which border on the ridiculous. For example, it is OK to offer a free copy in exchange for an unbiased review – which is absolutely what I was doing. However, the reviewer is supposed to divulge that fact in the review.

Other rules regarding submission of Amazon reviews are a little more Orwellian. Technically, you are not supposed to get reviews from any friends or family. OK, I can (barely) understand rejecting reviews from the same household, but the whole friends and family group? Fuck that noise. Are we supposed to submit a list to Amazon or something? Bullshit. That company has too much of our personal information as it is.

So that’s where I’m at now – still pissy and frustrated. I’ll try to be cognizant of Amazon’s ever-shifting rules going forward, and avoid indie author groups in general. Fthang!




* I started to go with “salesman,” but realized that was sexist. I then thought about “salesperson,” but realized that term was prejudicial against non-humans and ghosts. “Sales-entity” seemed like the most inclusive term for this situation. Also, if anyone knows of a ghost who is looking for a sales position, please let me know.

**There are yea number of places that will , for the proper fee, provide instruction on how to maximize indie book sales. In fact, I was all ready to put my cash down on one of the more reputable courses, but then the radiator in the car blew up, so that was that. So it’s just muggins here who gets to work it out on his own.

*** Which, in retrospect, I should have done first. Eh, I’ve always leaned towards the “salt before tasting” philosophy., anyway

Slouching Towards Publication

I’m one month and a few days away from the putative publication date for Fester. It’s exhilarating, exasperating and also a little frightening.

Exhilarating in the sense that I actually started this project in 2008, and it’s amazing to actually hold a proof copy of the book in my hot little hand. I put a lot of work into over the years, and then essentially shelved it to work on other projects. After the publication of Jackrabbit, I went on to a number of short(ish) stories, and another novel manuscript, which I will discuss in much detail at a later time.

Right now, I’m waiting for the second proof to arrive from Amazon KDP. It seems like the turnaround time is a little slower than when I was getting the proofs for Jackrabbit, but maybe that’s a reflection of my own angst and impatience. Because part of this process is actually damn uncomfortable for me.

For example, impatient though I may be to get the next proof in my hot little hand, the thought of re-reading this story again is a bit daunting. I’ve been working this tale over for the past thirteen years, and I’m looking forward to being done with it. Of course, the devil is in the details, and in my opinion, it’s using the fine-grade sand paper that really make the finished piece shine. So, once more into the breach, dear readers, once more.

Also exhilarating is the cover art, which is once again been handled by artiste par excellence Ken Huey. He’s been super patient and gracious with me during this process, and the results have been outstanding. So much so that I’m beginning to worry that the content of the novel. Not that anything that will attract the attention of potential readers or boost sales is anything to be shunned.

Think this looks good? It’s only a draft!

Which brings us to exasperating–which for me is promoting and selling the product. Marketing time – a time I always dread, because I am a terrible salesman. Hate it, hate it, hate it. But it’s got to be done, especially with a self-published novel that’s competing against seas of slush. I promised myself that I would begin promoting the novel well in advance of the publication date. Hasn’t really happened. I did engage with a marketing guy to put together a marketing plan, but due to a missed meeting (by me), that effort is going to have to be pushed out to or past the target publication date of June 30.

Maybe I can just push out the pub date, too – in order to stave off the frightening bit, which is to put out this important piece of myself for all the world to see. Because Fester is a much more personal book than Jackrabbit. The latter was essentially a real-world story that I was just retelling – and embellishing, especially towards the end. Fester, however, is all mine, and if someone doesn’t like this or that plot point, I can’t fob it off to historical accuracy. I gotta own it.

It seems that social media has given license to a fair amount of cruelty, especially when it comes to assessing the works of others. Kids these days, with their hair and their YouTube comments! On the other hand, was dead-nuts on when he said “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” I’d rather have a bad review than none at all. And that’s a difficult enough task, given how troublesome it was to get folks to review Powwows.

Which brings us full-circle (OK, half-circle) back to marketing and sales. This indicates to me that I really ought to wrap this screed up and get on to figuring our how to sell this sumbitch, at least until that proof shows up.


Are You Local?

Jackrabbit on the shelf at Belmont Books

It’s the small victories that sometimes keep you going. After a long and lackluster effort to get Jackrabbit in a brick and mortar store – I finally did! At first, I had been put off with the lack of success I’d had at local bigshot indie bookstores like Powell’s and Annie Blooms…uh, Arnie Bang’s, I finally started looking at other places closer to home.

So I bopped on into my most local of bookstores, Belmont Books. Joe, the proprietor, was extremely friendly and bought a copy on the spot. I groused about some of the difficulties I’d had and he scoffed that he could undercut Amazon AND Powell’s. That’s the attitude!

Better yet, he paid 60% up front, in cash – which lasted me all of four blocks, where I spent it in the Plaid Pantry on lottery tickets and junk food. So kudos to Joe and Belmont Books for walking the walk when it comes to supporting local authors. If you’re in Portland, pay ’em a visit at 3415 SE Belmont St., PDX.

Cover of Jackrabbit, new John Dillinger novel

Why Is This Gangster Smiling?

Because he just heard that Jackrabbit is available for free eBook downloads!

Yes, once again, the eBook version of Jackrabbit will be available for free downloads at Amazon from January 22 through Sunday, January 26.

It’s 1934, and America is in the middle of a crime wave. Once a small-time crook, John Dillinger – a.k.a. the Jackrabbit – has become America’s first modern celebrity criminal. The public avidly follows his exploits, from gentlemanly bank robberies to violent jailbreaks. Many view him as a modern-day Robin Hood, exacting revenge on the banks responsible for the misery of the Depression.

Having achieved the fortune and fame he’s always desired, the Jackrabbit realizes that it has an enormous price. Now, all he wants to do is settle down with his girlfriend Billie and live a “normal” life. That will be tough to do with the FBI hot on his tail. Agent Melvin Purvis relentlessly pursues him across the Midwest, and every cop in the country has orders to shoot on sight. Now desperate to escape the life that he’s created, the Jackrabbit concocts a daring plan to disappear. As the equally-desperate Agent Purvis draws the noose tighter, the Jackrabbit knows that time is running out. Will his audacious scheme work, or will he go down in a thunderstorm of lead?

Download for free until Sunday and enjoy – and if you’d care to leave a review on Amazon, it would be appreciated!

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%.

Raking In the Small Bucks

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.

Sophomore Slump

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.

Now what?

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?

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…