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Category: Book promotion

Time for Some Fall Cleaning

Fester
All new Fester cover

Fall came late to Portland, but when it finally appeared it hit like a ton of bricks. Cold, wet, windy bricks. After a summer of amazing authorial indolence, I’m finally get up off of my keister and getting some things squared away.

New Book Cover

First, I have a new cover for Fester. I was conflicted about replacing the original, as I really liked it. My good friend Ken Huey did a superlative job on the cover. He gave me exactly what I asked for. The problem was that I didn’t really know what I should be asking for.

Fester
Original Fester cover

Right out of the gate, it was attracting flak along the lines of “you’d better hope than no lawyers from Warner/DC see that cover.” Apparently some felt that one of the figures on the cover resembled a character owned by a litigious multimedia conglomerate.

I shrugged that off, but the real hassles began when I started advertising on Amazon. The Amazon Ads content moderators felt that the cover was “gory,” for reasons I couldn’t discern and they wouldn’t explain. So, I yanked the ads and saved my advertising pennies to pay pro cover designer Stuart Bache to come up with a new design. I’m pleased with the new cover, even though I’ll miss the old one.

(And if you have a copy with the original cover, encase it in Mylar immediately and buy yourself a copy with the new cover. The original is sure to be a collector’s item in some alternate universes.)

New Novel Manuscript

I’m still moving ahead on the second draft of Laughingstock. I hoped to kick it into overdrive during NaNoWriMo this month, but alas it was not to be. First, a cross-country trip took the wind out of my sails right at the beginning of the month. Then, the ructions surrounding the cover redesign took up a lot of time that I otherwise could have spent writing. Finally, I’m a lazy bastard with dozens of excuses for doing other things when I could or should be writing.

So, what I will try to do is to have my own mini-NaNoWriMo in December. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to produce 50,000 words in a month. I know that that’s still a steep order, but I think I can crank out at least 30,000 words during December. I think it’s possible to do 1,000 words a day. Currently, I am re-writing the second act of the story arc, so those 30K words are going to have to be original stuff. Absolutely doable!

New Social Media

Given the poop-show that Twitter has become, what with the invasion of billionaire buttheads whose daddies didn’t love them, I’ve decided to bail on Twitter entirely. It is unlikely that many people will be upset or even notice. Seeing as how the plat form was little more than a timesuck (just like all social media), I doubt I’m going to miss it.

Instead, I will now be not-really-doing-much-posting to Instagram instead. The URL there is instagram.com/crawfordsmithauthor/

Keeping with the theme of moving away from the Sweet Weasel Words “brand” (shudder), and sticking to my own name, I will also shift to a new FB page: facebook.com/CrawfordSmithAuthor. I will continue posting on the SWW page for now, but intend to phase that out entirely by the end of the year.

Everybody have a great Thanksgiving, and I will be back soon with an update on all these marvelous doings!

Adventures in Modern Book Advertising

The SFD

First Draft Completed at Last

Before I get on to the main whinging, some good news: I finally finished the first draft of a new novel, tentatively titled Laughingstock. I started writing it in February 2020 (before Covid – remember that?) I’m pretty happy with what I got out of the “shitty first draft,” primarily since I pantsed the whole thing. With some sage advice, I managed to put together a pretty decent ending, which can sometimes be a challenge. As part of my pantsing strategy, I typically drive all of the characters to some oddball locale and see what they do. It worked (kinda) for Fester, and seemed to work pretty well for this story, too.

Now I just have to convert the SFD into a decent manuscript. The problem is that with pantsing, the first draft pretty much amounts to a super-detailed outline. There are major timeline issues and new characters that emerged during the latter part of the SFD that will need to be addressed. So for the second draft, I will essentially re-write the whole MS, occasionally adding pithy sentences or paragraphs from the SFD.

Book Advertising for Dummies Named Crawford

Now on to my main grouse-fest: advertising woes. At the beginning of the year, I decided I really wanted to go all-in on advertising for Fester. I had dabbled with Amazon Advertising in the past, and it seemed like the most likely way to get the book into readers’ hands. To that end, I coughed up big bucks for an “advertising for authors” course by a bloke named Mark Dawson.

Dawson is a successful author, with 20 titles published and sales of more than 2 million. In the course of his career, he figured out the best way to navigate the arcane system of self-service advertising on such platforms such as Amazon Ads and Facebook. I’d tried to work with these platforms before, and had limited success. They are very complicated and confusing.

So I ponied up the money and began diligently working through the modules. The course is very well-constructed, and Dawson continually updates the material, so it is always current with the vagaries of the advertising platforms. The lessons are clear and well-explained, and there are a lot of supplemental materials like checklists and cheat sheets. It’s really quite impressive. (Between his books, the courses and his podcasts, I have to wonder when Mr. Dawson finds time to sleep.) The course is solid.

The problem is, it didn’t work – at least not for Fester.

The main issue is that the course works best for authors who write book series and in very well-defined genres with avid readerships, e.g. romance or thriller. I am 0 for 2 in that regard. (To be fair, Dawson is upfront about these limitations.)

First, Fester doesn’t really fit into a neat genre: is it dark humor? Mystery? Paranormal? Young adult? Detective? Suspense? It really has elements of all of these, so it’s not easy to slot into a single genre, which makes identifying a cohesive target market exceedingly difficult.

Also, I can’t really produce a series in the normal sense of the term. I write really slowly (remember: over two years for the SFD of Laughingstock). Granted, there was a prequel to Fester of sorts in Powwows, and I have notes for a sequel but that doesn’t really qualify it as a series, per se.

The Cover of Doom

Then there was the cover. I had all manner of problems with the cover. This is not the fault of the artist; he gave me exactly what I asked for, and made it look awesome. The problem was that I had no idea what I really needed as a cover to help potential readers understand the myriad goofy aspects of the story.

Also, Amazon Advertising had issues with the book cover (see below), which they said was too violent. I’ve been over this in a previous post, so I won’t flog that horse but so much longer. One of the issues may have been that the people who review ads for conformance to advertising standards are in India, so there may have been a cultural issue at play. They may also have interpreted the shadows around the cops and the guy on the ground as pools of blood – although it sure doesn’t look that way to me. After repeated attempts to get someone at Amazon Ads to explain to me exactly what part of the cover constituted “excessive violence or gore, including, characters that have open wounds, are in the act of being attacked with weapons, dismemberment, [or] depictions of cadavers,” I got no response. After five attempts and no clarification, I decided to quit while I was behind and pulled the ads.

At that point, I had spent over $200 on advertising and sold exactly one (1) book. I probably would have been better off just using that money to buy copies of my own book and boosting the sales rank, which may have boosted other sales, via Amazon’s voodooesque algorithms.

All in all, it was an expensive lesson learned. I’ve got enough faith in Dawson’s system to give it a try with Jackrabbit – but not until I’ve retooled the cover. I guess the takeaway is Let the Buyer Beware. There are a lot of scams out there that prey on self-published authors. Mark Dawson’s course is definitely not one of these, but do your homework and make sure the system is right for what you write.


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!


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.


Sophomore Slump Revisited

Ah, I thought I’d hit the sophomore slump when Jackrabbit came out, but in retrospect that was more of a freshman slump. Now that I’ve gotten Powwows out the door, do I appreciate what a sophomore slump for a self-published author really looks like.

I read somewhere that of all of your friends and relatives that buy your book, maybe 25% will actually read it. I was appalled when I first read that; now it seems wildly optimistic. Of course, I realize that in thee Covid-confusing times that people can have trouble focusing on naught but the essentials. And of course, there’s a helluva lot of entertainment out there vying for peoples’ attention. But on the other hand . . .COME ON! I crafted this tale to be an easy-to-read piece of entertainment that would make people chuckle about witchcraft murders. Is reading it too much to ask?

Actually, at this point, I don’t even give a flip if people actually read it; I just want them to review it. Once again, I’ve been struggling to get people to post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads (but especially Amazon). For self-published books, the rule of thumb I’ve been going by is that you want 10 or 12 reviews available before you start promoting your work. The idea is that why go to the effort of promoting a work, only to have potential buyers see it with only a handful of reviews (half of which are by people that have the same last name as you)?

Of course, I’ve bitched about this before. This time, however, I thought I’d be clever: In an effort to get people to post reviews, a gave away yea number of PDF versions (it’s an eBook-only format) to people with the idea that in return for the free copy, they would post reviews for the sumbitch. Perhaps my mistake there was not including a time frame, as nary a single one has followed through on their commitment. Frustrating; and I’m not sure how to deal with it. Nagging via email and Facebook seems to have limited effect, and I don’t want to come off as pushy (although it may already be too late for that). On the other hand, since there is no physical book that can be rediscovered on the nightstand, I suspect that it can easily be forgotten in these modern, busy, fractured-attention-span times.

Then there’s the issue of sales, which is almost to depressing to delve into at this point. Of course, as I learned with Jackrabbit, one should not go into a self-publishing project expecting to make a lot of money (unless they want to spend every waking hour promoting it on social media).

Now, Powwows was meant to be a loss leader. I set the sale price at ninety-nine cents in order to interest people in the full-length novel Fester, coming out–I hope–at the end of June. The idea was that I would lose a little money on Powwows in order to set the stage for the big soaking I’d take when Fester comes out. However, given the sales figures so far, I’m beginning to question the wisdom of this approach.

Face it, we live in a very materialistic society. I may have groused before (but am too lazy to look it up) about how much Americans equate value with price. I know I’ve discussed this with Ken Huey, the most excellent cover artist I’ve used for both books. As a professional artist, he’s struggled to figure out how to price his work, which, of course, is of inestimable value. So, with that in mind, I’ve got half a mind to jack the price of Powwows up to a whopping $1.99. At this point, I don’t have much to lose other than pocket change, so I may as well put this theory to the test. The only real danger is that the sample size will be too small to draw an accurate statistical conclusion about the relationship between price and sales.

So be it. As with my other works, I primarily write to amuse myself. Of in this case, to vent a little. If you’ve actually read this (hi, Aunt Gail!), I appreciate it. And if you’ve been hedging on whether or not to buy a copy of Powwows, go ahead and do it while the price is still low.


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!