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.