Tag Archives: ebooks

On Wart Trolling in Mediocre Bridge Trolls

Everyone out there will have heard one of the most common pieces of advice for new writers:

To be a good writer, read more.

OK, zajebisty, but what exactly? The usual advice is to read the classics, and the classics in your genre. So, if your genre’s fantasy, then read LOTR. If it’s romance then read… I honestly have no idea. Danielle Steele? Either way, read everything George Orwell ever wrote and a bunch of turn-of-the-century American writers.

Poppycock!

I’ve learned more from reading crap books that I ever did from reading the luminaries in the field. I only really read other indie books, and I only ever read those with 4 or more stars on Amazon, which I guess is pretty common for a lot of (cheap) readers. None-the-less, a lot of the books I read are worth significantly less than their ratings – and I love them for it. A few examples:

  1. I’ve mentioned this classic charmer a few times recently (in various places). Some book (I don’t remember the title) as the protagonist die in chapter 1 and become a trainee guardian angel. It’s her job to save human souls from demons. Then she gets all kissy kissy with the leather jacket-wearing “bad boy” supervisor, then she gets the job of rescuing a special baby from demons. Apparently it’s special because it’s mother was a guardian angel, which is a big no no. Anyway, so now guardian angels and demons will instantly die if they touch this baby (the birth and breast feeding must have been fun for its mother) and so she’s given special gloves. Lo and behold, she has to pick up the baby without the gloves and doesn’t die. Why? Apparently her mother was also a guardian angel, so she’s special too. OK, so why isn’t her new boyfriend toast? Guardian angels (her boyfriend) can’t touch these special babies (her) without instantly dying.
    1. What I learned:
      1. Plot hole!!! And it’s the size of, well, the whole book.
  2. I’m currently struggling through a very well-written book that’s excruciatingly slow and monotonous. I’m 11% in and so far nothing’s happened, but I keep reading because I want something to happen. I’ll probably give up soon. In the first 11%, a new wizard has been trained (no exposition on what that involved or how, just conversations about how grey his room is) then been kicked out of his master’s tower with a cruddy map and told to never come back. Now he’s wandering from town to town and getting sore feet. The highlight of his journey so far has been the 2 or 3 pages the author spent explaining, in graphic detail, how to skin, gut and clean roadkill. A squirrel, I think it was.
    1. What I learned:
      1. Pacing is critically important. Don’t let it go on for so long with explanatory stuff.
      2. What the author finds fascinating might be boring, or even just plain gross, for the readers.
      3. The whole My character starts his journey with amnesia thing really is a cop-out.
  3. I gave up on the last book I tried to read at 19%. So, in this one, apparently humans engineered true A.I. and it took over the world. Then it escaped from the confines of the Internet to become a free-roaming intelligence made up solely of swarms of electrons that move through the air, so it can’t even be killed. Aaargh!
    1. What I learned:
      1. If you don’t understand physics, don’t write about it.
      2. If you don’t understand IT, don’t write about it.
      3. If you must, find someone to help you make your plot reasonable.
      4. Don’t repeat the same thoughts and ideas in multiple conversations with too many characters – setting the stage for 19% of a book gets monotonous and boring.
      5. If every character is always negative, then so will the reader be, and they’ll solve their problem by deleting your book.

I could go on, but I guess you get the point. Now, these are all broad-brush lessons that I’ve included here, but on reading these 3 books (as much as I could stand anyway) I learned a lot of specifics about how these authors committed their sins, so I know what to look out for in my own books, specifically.

Those lessons are worth the few hours I put into these freebie books, and so should you.


If you’re interested, I’ve also added a condensed version of this to my page How to Edit & Proofread a Novel in the section Don’t Do As I Say.

On KBoards Book Discovery as a Bridge Troll Catapult

Welcome back to my (so far brief) floundering series on promotional sites and their effectiveness. Most recently I’ve tried the KBoards “Book Discovery” promotion service (http://www.kboards.com/book-discovery-promo/). As they say, it’s a promotion opportunity “for newly-published or overlooked books”. Well, due to my utter failings at promotions (I’ll have to change tack again soon) this is exactly what my book needs.

First up, what’s their deal?

I’ve pulled this, almost verbatim, from their website.

What you get:

  • Inclusion in our Book Discovery Days post in the Kindle blog. We post these on Tuesdays and Fridays at about 4pm Pacific. The table is limited to 16 books or fewer, and includes a clickable book cover, links to your book’s page on Amazon, and a synopsis describing your book. The synopsis is pulled from the first 500 characters of the description of your book on Amazon.
  • A Facebook post about the blog post. The Facebook post may include an image showing book covers; for space reasons it is not guaranteed that your cover will be among those.
  • A tweet about the blog post to our KBoards Twitter followers.
  • An alert about the blog post in our daily e-mail newsletter.
  • A “KBoards Featured Me” badge to include on your author website.

Requirements:

  • Our family-friendly guidelines apply. No erotica – sorry!
  • Fewer than ten reviews on Amazon *or* an Amazon ranking of higher than 100,000.

To me, this sounds like an excellent opportunity, and the price is awesome. It cost me only $US15. The “What you get” list is very generic in its offerings, but this is to KBoards members, which, in theory, are dedicated bookies and so should be on the lookout for good deals. If you’ve read my previous blow spews about this type of advertising, you’ll know I’m highly skeptical of FB and Twitter spamming, but to this directed audience, it might be more effective that to the world at large. The KBoards blog inclusion and the alert sound very helpful though.

The requirements are awesome, and I’m highly appreciative to KBoards for even setting up this type of promotion, for this type of author. I really wish more services would try to help those at the bottom of the ‘recognisability’ spectrum, instead of only catering to those who can already afford to pay wheelbarrow-loads of cash to bump their books from 25k to 5k on Amazons lists. This alone makes the KBoards Book Discovery promo a great idea.

I just wish it was successful.

How’d it go for me?

Complete and utter failure!

More on why in the next (small) section, but first I need to deal with my numbers, or complete lack thereof.

Now, I did sell more copies during the time period of this promo, but 40% of them were before the promo even went out. I followed my usual process of keeping the promo separated from any other activities so I can see the effects of the promo in isolation, but I did reduce the price of my book and update the blurb on Amazon to add a heading line saying it was on sale for that week because of the KBoards sale. I then sold 40% of my extra copies before the promo, but after the price reduction and headline change.

I can only assume it was the headline that attracted (most of) my extra sales, not the KBoards promotion. How disappointing 😦

Why the crap results?

I have to be fair to KBoards and all of the other services that I’ve tried and lay the blame for my relative failure at marketing directly on my book, not these services. Even with ENT, my results were poor compared to the others in the same promo, so it must be my book, not entirely the service.

I’m looked at this topic before, and no doubt I’ll look at it again, but it’s the cover, mostly. My cover artwork is pretty well done (I like to think) but trankly, too dark (too much black) for the primarily US audience of these services. I’ve gone back to my cover artist a couple of times to get the artwork updated, but if you’ve ever dealt with a cover artist… well…

So look, don’t blame KBoards for my pitiful results, but also, do blame them. After all, half of their promo service is FB and Twitter based, which is pointless. No-one in history has ever bought a book based on a FB or Twitter blast from an advertising site. It just doesn’t happen. So it looks good on the promo site but doesn’t actually achieve anything or the author.

I also have to wonder about the effectiveness of the blog inclusion. Does anyone read that blog or those emails? I don’t know. KBoards is a massive website and is hugely popular (and deservedly so, because it’s excellent) but I’d guess people go there for the threads, etc, not for their blog. My completely unauthoritative guess is that the blog sits at the side of the site and is significantly less popular than their highly popular forums.

Where will I go from here?

I have 2 plans for the immediate future, which are relevant to you, if you’re reading this.

  1. I’ll research more promo services and try them out. I have the spare cash to give them a go, and the patience to try them all in isolation. It’s helpful as most other people don’t want to blog about these things unless they’re wonderfully successful.
  2. Perhaps more useful, I’ve got a thriller/crime novel coming out in a few months. I’m going to get professional, colourful cover artwork done, etc, and it’s much more “in” the genre which these services claim are the most successful. So I’m going to really push my thriller, by advertising it across all of the same services I’ve already tried with my fantasy book with the darker cover art. You should definitely check back in in a few months to see how all of these services, including KBoards, fare with a brightly artworked thriller.

I have to be fair to these services. I don’t like to unfairly crap on advertising services which in all probability work wonderfully for different genres with more competent advertisers (i.e., me), but in my case, this service did, legitimately, fail dismally.

On Horribly Incestuous Bridge Troll Clans

I have some spare time on my hands this week and I found myself watching all of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. It’s a simple series, but a lot of fun, and I recommend watching it if you ever get bored. It did make me think of a very important point regarding writing novels, however.

First off, here’s a quick rundown on the general plot of the single-season series. This is a stupendously massive spoiler so please don’t read it if you haven’t seen the series. You’ve been warned!

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

  1. 3 Brothers need some magical water to heal their mother after a fire. They aren’t allowed to take it so they steal it.
    The Guardian of the water curses them and turns the three of them into genies. This happens after they use the magical water to successfully heal their mother.
  2. Their mother (somehow) becomes a powerful sorceress who is determined to find the 3 genies (her kids).
  3. The bastard child of the local emir tries to be recognised as a prince, fails and is killed by dear old daddy.
  4. The child finds the sorceress, becomes her apprentice and becomes a powerful sorcerer himself.
  5. Now both the sorcerer and the sorceress are looking for the genie. The sorceress is trying to rescue her kids while the sorcerer wants ultimate power to get revenge on his father.
  6. Alice (of “in Wonderland” fame) finds one of the genies and falls in love with him.
  7. The Queen of Hearts and the sorcerer kidnap the genie and Alice, with her friend the Knave, spend a season trying to get him back.
  8. The Knave was the boyfriend of the Queen of Hearts before she ditched him to shack up with a king. The Queen of Hearts gets together with the sorcerer to get ultimate power so she can get the Knave back.

What’s the Point?

So, complex? Every character knows every other character, the actions of 1 precipitated the actions of the next and the whole season snowballed from there.

Every character was related to every other character. It’s a very tight, closed storyline. It’s like a southern redneck BBQ where the family tree doesn’t actually branch at all – it just keeps feeding back in on itself.

Right now I’m in the middle of writing a long, deep, epic fantasy series which’ll end up spanning 4 or 5 full-length novels and probably 10 short stories. The urge to reuse characters is huge. It’s just so much easier than constantly coming up with new ones. The desire to add one more link in the web to prove how clever I am at crafting intricate plots in overwhelming.

Stop it!

This isn’t Star Wars (or the Spiderman movie franchise, or one of a hundred other examples). Every character doesn’t have to have a personal history with literally every other character. You’re allowed to have random people come into the story, do stuff and leave without realising he’s just spent 200 pages banging his long-lost sister.

Be more creative, and frankly, put in more effort. It can actually be easier to just reuse characters, but it’s been done to death.

On Pimping a Bridge Troll to ENT with a $20 Tithe

My blow spew titles are getting weirder and weirder, which is OK with me. So here’s the deal. On Wednesday 24th June 2015 I ran a promotion with Ereader News Today. I’m running a few promos for my pretty, little bridge troll, Equivocal Destines, over the next few months, and ENT is the first. Why ENT? Because the word across the various blogs is that ENT is 1 of only 2 promo sites that reliably produce positive results – ie that actually make you more in sales than the promo costs you. I’ll be trying out some others too (I already have another scheduled) but ENT is an excellent place to start.

First, a word about my Amazon ranking

I recently organised and went on my honeymoon. In Equivocal Destines, I proposed to my girlfriend Paulina, who was, lets say, quite surprised to see my proposal in print when my paperback copies arrived – weeks after I published it. Anyway, so she said yes and we went to Crete. Check out my Twitter feed for dumb ego-posts from there. The point is, while doing all of this, I pretty much ignored my book, sales plummetted and its ranking nosedived. I regret nothing – some things are more important than sales and rankings.

Feel free to skip these points as they’re in my table below.

  • Historically-speaking, my ranking has been hovering around 150-200k.
  • After 1-1.5 months when I had more important things to do, with a grand total of about 3 sales (1 to a student, I found out later) my ranking had dropped to 900k.
  • I organised my ENT promotion and manually dropped my price on Amazon to 99c. At the same time I updated the description with info about my promo and promo price.
  • A day later I sold a single copy. My ranking went up to somewhere around 400k. I don’t remember exactly.
  • On Sunday and I sold 1 copy (the price was already 99c) and my ranking jumped again to just under 150k.
  • I sold a copy on Monday (in the UK) but the money didn’t appear on the KDP report until Tuesday. In the 12 hours between KDP reporting the sale and the money, my ranking dropped from 150k to 260k, most of that overnight. Beware – it seems that sales in the ‘other’ markets don’t help your ranking in the main store at all. My rank at amazon.co.uk dropped to under 100k though. My ranking is always better at amazon.co.uk. Check out my blog on that topic for my reasons why.
  • On the day before my promotion (Tuesday), I sold a copy in the main store. My rank dropped from just north of 300k to 157k.

That’s what’s happening before my promotion. The ranking jumps up a lot with single-unit sales. Check out my older blog spew on my thoughts about Amazon’s ranking system to see why I think this is the case.

My ENT tasks

I actually did very little to promote this sale. As mentioned above, I had more important things on my mind.

Date Action Result
Weeks ago Completed the form to advertise Equivocal Destines on ENT. It’s a standard, 99c promo which cost $20. The promo was approved a week or 2 later.
Last week Updated the blurb / synopsis at KDP, Createspace and Kobo to be more positive and proactive. See my blog spew on the topic. Approved and visible a day later on Amazon. Instantly updated on Kobo.
Fri 19th Updated the blurb / synopsis at KDP, Createspace and Kobo to include a notice about my ENT sale. I made th font red on CreateSpace and bigger on both CreateSpace and KDP. Kobo doesn’t seem to allow any pretty formatting. Approved and visible a day later on Amazon. Instantly updated on Kobo.
Fri 19th Manually reduced the price on KDP to 99c and adjusted to x.99 across all markets. Approved and visible a day later.
Fri 19th Setup promotional prices on Kobo for the 24th and adjusted to x.99 across all markets. This worked as expected, and Kobo’s system of setting up promo prices is actually very cool. I didn’t sell any copies on Kobo, but ENT was only promoting my Amazon link, so I didn’t expect to.
Sat 20th Sent out the 1st of (hopefully) many polite promotional tweets with an attached image of the book cover, which will be auto-spammed onto Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
My #ereadernewstoda #99cents promo is Wed 24th, but the discount’s up now! http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00SZ63XY6 #AHAprogram #IARTG
Yep, it happened. der
Sat 20th Pinned my spammed tweet on Twitter and Facebook. Impressions = 581
Total engagements = 8
Retweets = 4
Favorites = 2
Hashtag clicks = 1
Detail expands = 1
Sat 20th emailed my (puny) mailing list about a blog post and added an extra section to the bottom about this promo. This will have no effect what-so-ever since my mailing list is so new, but it’s a good habit to get into.
Sat 20th Posted about Fallen Victors to the “Promoting OTHER Authors’ Books” thread athttp://www.amazon.com/forum/meet%20our%20authors This has nothing to do with my promo. I just saw the thread and thought it was a nice idea.
Sat 20th Posted to the “only 99c” thread at http://www.amazon.com/forum/meet%20our%20authors:

My pretty, little bridge troll’s having an Ereader News Today sale this Wednesday, but I’ve already manually reduced the price so you can grab it for 99c now.

[[ASIN:B00SZ63XY6 Equivocal Destines (Upheaving Nidola Book 1)]]

Here’s the first part of the blurb, so I don’t waste too much space in this thread:

I can’t find a way of verifying if this actually did anything. There’s no read counter and you can’t enter custom URLs based on short links that you can track.
Sat 20th Added a thread to “The Book Bazar” http://www.kboards.com/index.php/board,42.0.html then quickly fixed it because I forgot to add a direct URL, again.

[b]My pretty, little bridge troll, [color=navy]Equivocal Destines[/color] ([url]http://authl.it/B00SZ63XY6?d[/url]), is discounted to [color=red]99c[/color] until Wednesday 24th June.[/b]

[table][tr][td]In a world plagued by hordes warped by magic into creatures hell-bent on the destruction of mankind, where [i]elemental magic[/i] holds sway and determines your lot in life, Taal is [i]of the water[/i], which should assure him a place among the revered rudas, protecting his city and assuring him the wealth it bestows. But centuries ago, it was a water wizard who caused [i]The Change[/i] that precipitated all of the disasters that followed, and now, being a water wizard is the lowest of the low.

With dreams much bigger than life in Takelberorl will allow a lowly water-boy, Taal sets out on a journey that will change his world forever. In reality, he’s a typical, 16yo boy who’s only following the pretty girl, but those electric-blue eyes (and said pretty girl’s older brother) just won’t let up on the whole Destiny thing.

From the battle-scarred plains that surround the place of his birth, through regal cities and across pristine mountain wildernesses full of mysterious forces, Taal and his makeshift band of renegades search valiantly in a quest to unmask the evil forces conspiring to annihilate all races. Taking heart-pounding risks and suffering tumultuous trials, the team experiences both horrific battles and unexpected delights.

Powerfully descriptive and yet lyrically poignant, Clarke reveals the land of Nidola as one of not only diverse wonders and startling beauty, but also exposes a world where seemingly benign occurrences have often surprising and even deep meaning. The radiant and dynamic characters transverse exquisite landscapes that are both hauntingly beautiful and fiendishly dangerous. Adventurous and exciting, yet thought-provoking and memorable, Taal’s adventure transports the reader to a unique place that won’t soon be forgotten.

[i]Universally agreed – and reviewed – as highly unique and entertaining, with deep and well-developed characters, Equivocal Destines is an excellent choice for anyone looking for something different. There’s elves and dwarves; swords, magic and action, but all set in a cohesive world unlike any other, with a full cast of original creatures, instead of relying on the stock fairytale cliches of dragons, warewolves and vampires.

Professionally-written, proofread and edited, with appropriately-themed cover art worthy of store shelves, Equivocal Destines is a quality read that shouldn’t disappoint.[/i][/td][td][img]https://raymondclarkeauthor.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/equivocal_destines_cover_for_kindle.jpg?h=300,w=150[/img][/td][/tr][/table]

203 Views

This got merged with the post I made for a previous, free promo. That, I guess, sort of killed it as it had a bad subject line. Anyway, by the time I’m writing this, it’s on page 7. It got 203 views, but those are shared with the previous promo.

My Results

The results of my ENT promo were generally positive, and I definitely recommend ENT to any other authors who’re looking for advertising ideas / locales. There’s a couple of caveats, as always:

  • ENT says on their site that they’re most successful with thrillers and romance titles, and this is what I found too.
  • I’m thinking (but can’t confirm) that where your book lists in their email out is very important. My book was #8 of 14, which isn’t a very good placement. Couple that with my almost non-existent placement on their website, which is part of the package, and I’m thinking I was modestly hamstrung by bad placement. I think they do a first-come, first-served method of choosing the listing order, so book your promo early. I had trouble even finding my book on their site, which says a great deal about late setups.

So here’s my results, in painstaking detail. It includes the sales listed in the notes above. I’ve included my ranking at random points along the way to give you all an idea of efficacy – in the fantasy genre – but this list is based on whenever I happened to check, which I did mostly to compile this list.

Time & Day Cumulative Sales Totals Sales Ranking Notes
June 17th 0 sales for 1 month 900k I had more important things to worry about – my wedding and honeymoon.
The point is, if you don’t advertise (for any reason, legitimate or not), your sales and ranking will suffer.
June 18th 0 sales for 1 month 900k I organised the ENT sale earlier but only manually changed the price on June 18th, in preparation for the sale on the 24th (Amazon warns you that their changes can take 5 days to propagate, but in practice it always updates within a few hours.
June 19th 1 approx. 400k
June 21st 2 approx. 150k
June 22nd 3 approx. 260k This sale was in amazon.co.uk so didn’t help my amazon.com ranking at all. Lesson re-learned!
June 23rd 4 approx. 157k
Wed 24th June 23 29,442
Wed 24th June 24 16,402
Wed 24th June 25 14,300
Thu 25th 29 14,852
Thu 25th 32 12,349
Thu 25th 32 but later 11,854
Thu 25th 33 11,902
Thu 25th 36 12,352
Thu 25th @ 1:30pm 36 16,142
Thu 25th @ 3pm 36 21,804
Thu 25th @ 4:50pm 36 22,562
Thu 25th @ 11pm 36 24,838

20150624 - ENT promo sales results

One final thought on ENT’s sales. I must admit I was expecting a dramatic increase in sales (which I saw) and a more parabolic decrease in sales over 3 or maybe 4 days (which didn’t happen). I don’t know about you, but I often check my ENT emails a few days after I receive them and possibly buy a book later. Yep, I’ve used ENT as a customer too. I was expecting a lot of other subscribers to buy books over a few days, but I didn’t realistically see it. I have to assume either people think the book won’t still be on sale in 3 days or there’s just so many good books that most people don’t bother with anything but the latest email. Either way, factor this into your marketing plan.

How do we judge success?

What’s your goal from a marketing campaign? What’s mine? Here’s my thoughts.

Making a profit

If my goal was to make an immediate profit, I failed. I spent $20 and made about $15, depending on whether or not you count the before and after sales. I do.

Increasing visibility

If my goal was to increase the general visibility of my book so that potential customers can see it on Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” list, then I also failed, sort of.

My list was, I think, 5 pages long. Now it’s 8 pages long. So there’s more books on my list. I’m linked to a wider selection of titles. I checked though, these books appear on my list, but I don’t appear on any of their lists, so my book’s still invisible. How is this possible? Because not enough people have bought my book yet. The correlation has to be strong in 2 directions to be useful, or at least 1, but the other direction. 100 people bought Book X and a couple of those people bought my book, so Book X is on my list, but with only 2 people buying mine, my book’s not on Book X’s list, yet.

Let’s not be too cynical about this though. Do any of you really expect a single round of advertising to catapult your book to stardom? Yes? Then you’re an idiot! This is round 1 of a long process for me, and I’m confident that it’ll end in success, but it’s not here yet. I really do believe that ENT will help my book, but in the long run.

Bragging rights20150625   amazon.com   Best Sellers in Children's Sword & Sorcery Fantasy Books

What about bragging rights as a goal? If this is the case, then I’m a jackpot winner. Check this one out. There’s my novel, Equivocal Destines, on the same page as all of the Harry Potter novels. How awesome is that? It was only there for a few hours, and it’s long gone now, but I get those bragging rights forever with this (non-photoshopped) screen scrape.

Conclusion

ENT is a winner. Less so if your genre’s fantasy, more so if it’s thrillers or romance (see my next post in a few days for details) but it’s definitely worth your 20 bucks, in my humble opinion.

Catapulting Bridge Trolls onto Foreign Soils: Destination Nook

Today you can bare witness to my pathetically short, prematurely aborted attempt at publishing my pretty little bridge troll to Nook, ie, Barnes & Noble. Here’s the demeaning and insulting process:

  1. Create a general profile at https://www.nookpress.com/. This couldn’t be easier.
  2. Upgrade the account to a Vendor Account. You know: Press the drop-down –> Select Vendor Account. Piece of cake.
  3. Complete the Contact Information section: Add some more generic info –> Press Save & Next a few times. There’s nothing to all of this. I’ve typed all of these details into so many forms in the last few months that Chrome’s doing the work for me.
  4. Complete the Publisher Information section. More of the above. Easy peasy.
  5. Complete the Payment and Tax Information section. Crap! Here we go again. I highly recommend you go here http://www.nook.com/services/cms/doc/nookpress/us/en_us/legal/w8.html and read this immediately. Every company says this, but none have laid it out as clearly and as usefully as Nook just did. So here’s my problem:
    1. They say “US law currently requires that we receive a signed, original, physical copy of W-8 … Scanned, faxed or other electronic copies are not yet treated as valid documentation.” O…K… so why did Amazon and Kobo accept digital declarations? Maybe this W-8 form is a different one. In that case, why didn’t Amazon ask for it? whatever, it’s optional. I can worry about it later. Let’s just get the book on the shelves.
  6. Select Tax Country and Bank Country. Are you F#@KING kidding me??? Here’s the valid list:
    1. United States
    2. United Kingdom
    3. Belgium
    4. France
    5. Spain
    6. Italy
    7. Netherlands
    8. Germany

What type of hokey, dumb-ass, small-town, redneck BS is this? I can’t publish a book on Nook because I don’t live in one of that tiny selection of anointed countries? Are all authors in the universe located in one of these few countries? How about this – I live in Poland but I’m Australian and still have an Australian bank account. I could use my parents’ or a friend’s address or something and get it working, but Australia’s not even on the list!

Game over (before it’s even begun).

I. Hate. Nook!

On Concisely Signposting Bridge Trolls

Here’s a question. Well, 2. And a tip – I got all of this very wrong  (I say that a lot).

  1. When should you write the blurb for your book?
  2. What are the blurbing rules?

There’s so many blogs out there giving advice on writing blurbs that I won’t repeat the usual stuff here in detail. I had some further thoughts though. Ones not usually covered.

What I’d like to talk about is where you must put your hook in your blurb, and how to write it. What’s important is that, no matter how pretty your blurb, and no matter how much you write, you get about 3 lines to convince your reader to buy, and 3 lines is the optimistic number. Let’s go with 1. Just as importantly, how much space do you get on each of the sales channels before your prospective customer has to click on another button to even see the rest of your blurb?


Let’s do a quick survey. Here’s the stats from today’s EReader News Today email. FYI, if you haven’t signed up for this yet, do it. It’s an excellent way of finding new, indie authors. Disclaimer – they don’t know I exist, so I’m not advertising them at all, I just like the service. I compared what you can see in the EReader News Today email to what you see on Amazon.com. It’s actually really simple for Amazon though – they display the first 5 lines of your blurb, whatever they are, even if they’re blank lines. More on this later.

Title Word Count Chars w/o Spaces Chars w/Spaces Notes
Cicada Spring: A Novel 68 330 395 That’s half a word short of paragraph 1.
Floyd 5 136 65 310 369 Amazon cut the blurb after 5 lines, 2 of which were blank, so missed almost everything.
First Bite – Shifter Romance Box Set 65 294 357 Again, Amazon showed only 5 lines, so showed nothing useful.
There’s no place like HOME 59 267 324 Amazon missed the hook by 15 words.
Predatory Kill 60 245 298 ENT appears to have skilled the promo stuff before the blurb on Amazon. Ignoring the 1-handed clapping, this is the first blurb of the day with a hook clearly shown.
Relics 72 315 383 Good hook in paragraph 1, shown on ENT and Amazon.
A Dead Husband 71 303 363 Good, visible hook. Lots of other promo stuff *under* the blurb, only visible after you press Read more
Above the Bridge 68 321 384 The hook’s at the bottom of the ENT blurb and only just visible on Amazon.
The Prophet # 1 66 318 375 Good hook. Lots of promo stuff under the Read more button on Amazon.
All The Gods Against Me 67 311 377 Unclear-but-visible hook visible on ENT but obscured with self-promotion on Amazon. Sounds like a fun book though. I grabbed a copy.
In This Life 71 320 383 Unclear-but-visible hook, but it seems like a paranormal romantic to me, so I’m not a good judge.
Curse 64 313 367 Short, clear hook in a 1-sentence paragraph. Excellent for hooking those interested in the genre.

OK, so what have we learnt from all of this?

  1. Amazon displays the 1st 5 lines of your blurb, no matter what, so your hook must be in paragraph 1, on the 1st 5 lines – and they’re narrow lines.
  2. ENT safely shows about 60 average-length words, so your hook has to be in there.
  3. Don’t get too fancy. Some of the blurbs had hooks but they were unclear, badly worded not specific enough to actually hook me, even with those in my preferred genres.

Now let’s compare Amazon to the other big retailers. For this, I’ll have to pick a single, famous book and see what everyone does. Just because Gra o Tron is cool, I’m going with A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) by George R. R. Martin.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0553593714/ 5 lines of blurb. No hook, but it’s Game of Thrones, so does it really need it? Yes! Some people really do live under rocks.
https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/a-game-of-thrones-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-book-1 The search page shows 3 lines of Synopsis but the book’s page shows a lot more. It references HBO, which is a sure hook then actually explains the plot, which is better that the author’s people’s choice for Amazon.
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-game-of-thrones-martin-george-r-r/1112681019 3.5 lines of blurb – all self-promo.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/audiobook/game-thrones-song-ice-fire/id387502843 Full blurb – 7 lines long. By a mile, the best blurb of all of the sites. It actually describes the plot as no others do. (I used the audiobook because Apple’s site is horrific to navigate if you don’t own an Apple toy.)

In the table above, most of my comments are about the topic / quality of the blurb, which is beyond the control of the website / sales channel – this is Martin’s people’s choice – but I’ve also listed the length of the visible blurb, which is important to you.


So, here’s the general rules for blurb writing:

  • You need 3 short paragraphs, 1 for the intro, 1 for the short content, 1 about you… bla bla bla – whatever. Read other people’s blogs to find out how to write a blurb that’ll hook a reader. More importantly:
  • Your blurb must have a hook in paragraph 1.
  • This hook must be in the first 3 lines.
  • This whole paragraph must be positive! No humdrum either. Why? Because I’ve found that when I’m reading through the 12 blurbs in the EReader News Today emails, I get bored  by the end of line 1 when the blurb starts out negative (“The protagonist’s life sux … shit happens … she meets a vampire … life gets interesting.”) or when it’s prosaic (“The protagonist leads a mundane life … something happens … he’s forced to …”) aaargh! Next! I have 12 choices every day.
  • Different sales channels – and that’s exactly what they are – treat your blurb differently, so write it, fine-tune it and test it our across all channels. Change it as necessary and don’t be afraid to burn and rewrite it if your book’s not selling well.

Catapulting Bridge Trolls onto Foreign Soils: Destination Kobo

My first novel, Equivocal Destines, has been available on Amazon for 4 months. I originally signed up to the Kindle Select program which gave Amazon exclusivity for 90 days. As this exclusive period has now ended, I’m belatedly adding my book to the other main sales channels. The first one of these, Kobo, has turned out to be a very different process to Amazon, which has made me think about writing a blog post on my experience with each sales channel.

Here’s my little bridge troll on Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/ebook/equivocal-destines

First up, a word about Smashwords

Strangely, to talk about Kobo, I first have to talk about Smashwords. You see, Smashwords appears to be an excellent, trustworthy, online, ebook store with credibility and a great feature that the others lack – if you publish to Smashwords, they’ll distribute your novel to (almost) all of the other sales channels. Excellent, right? IMHO, yes and no. If you’re technophobe, lazy or busy, definitely do this. The problem is, they take a 10% cut of your sales for the privilege. Now, I imagine for most authors this is a price well worth paying, but I’m a little different/weird in that I’m comfortable formatting ebooks and I’m willing to spend the time doing it. This means that I can get 10% more money by publishing my book to all of the other main sales channels separately. I’m still going to make use of Smashwords for their direct sales and the minor channels (which aren’t worth me spending too much time on) but I’ll do the main ones myself. This includes Kobo.

How does the Kobo publishing process compare to Amazon?

Let’s compare Kobo to the 800 pound gorilla in the room, Amazon. Smashwords doesn’t ship to Amazon unless your book becomes very popular  (because Amazon doesn’t supply an automated transfer system, it’s not Smashwords’ fault) so most indie authors are going to want to publish directly to Amazon anyway.

Amazon’s publishing process is very slick and highly automated. You follow the prompts, upload your cover image and your complete document, and Amazon does the rest. I found it to be fast, painless and accurate. The process to look maybe a day, including Amazon’s processing time. It took me a lot longer to format my book according to Amazon’s template document, but that’s expected.

Kobo uses a different system which appears to be based on a different philosophy. They still have a system where you upload your cover image and source text but it then opens in a web-based editor so you can edit the document online. I found the conversion process to be highly inaccurate and the online editor clownish and immature. Please keep in mind that I’ve only tried this with one source file so I can’t realistically speak with any authority, yet. I will say though that my source document uploaded perfectly fine to Amazon and is designed according to Smashwords’ excellent style guide.

I checked out Kobo’s Content Conversion Guidelines (http://download.kobobooks.com/learnmore/writinglife/KWL-Content-Conversion-Guidelines.pdf) and found the document to be a waste of time. Seriously, use Smashwords’ formatting book. It’s infinitely better.

The online editor is also very limited in its options, and if you use it your book will probably end up looking simple and maybe even amateurish. I’m wondering if this is deliberate. Maybe Kobo hardware has limited display options. I don’t know. I highly recommend doing all formatting in Word then simplifying as necessary to get Kobo’s system to accept it. Or, better yet, find a separate .epub creator and upload the finished product, bypassing Kobo’s frustrating system completely. I’ll do this next time. Amazon doesn’t let you do that – they use .mobi files, but you can’t upload those there either.


2 days after publishing to Kobo, I’m still having problems. I found the title of my book seris  – Upheaving Nidola – keeps getting changed to “Up heaving Nidola”, which could be an auto-spellchecking problem which I can’t figure out how to turn off, but the publication year – 2015 – is also changed to “201 5” in 3 places on the copyright page. These types of errors shouldn’t happen. I’ve confirmed my source document is correct and contains no hidden formatting to make this happen, so it’s just a Kobo problem.

I hate Kobo!


Once the book content is uploaded, things change dramatically. My limited experience so far shows that Kobo is more flexible and fair on pricing and distribution. Kobo gives me 70% of the sale price for all books sold in all regions that they sell to. Amazon has more local markets, but this is the Internet where anyone can buy anything from anywhere so I don’t see that as too important.

Most importantly for me, Kobo is much more reasonable on payment. I am Australian but I live in Poland. My only option for payment from Amazon is an expensive cheque sent by mail in US dollars. Amazon applies an $8 processing fee to the cheque and the process seems to be very slow and cumbersome. Kobo, by contrast will send the money directly to my Polish bank account in Euros. Simple and effective.

I already prefer Kobo.


Update 1 – Fri 29th May 2015

I emailed Kobo about my problem with their system. I got this reply:

Hello Raymond,

Thank you for getting in touch with us.

Our instant preview function is relatively new and we are still working out some of the kinks. Currently, it can take a few days for updates to go through to the instant preview, although updates are reflected in the actual file within a few hours of make the changes.

My sincere apologies for the inconvenience.

Best,
Vanessa

OK, so, long story short, I was inadvertently using their systems incorrectly because they failed to inform their authors that the Preview function has a delay. I can live with that. I really appreciate the speed and actual usefulness of their email-based customer support. I worked in IT back in Australia so I can assure you of this simple fact – every system will eventually fail / have a problem. What’s most important is the quality of the customer service when this inevitable problem rears its ugly head.

I appreciate Kobo’s customer support now. My simple experience was waaaay more positive than what I naively assume I’d get from Amazon.