Tag Archives: Researching

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.

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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.

On Unsupported 99c Promos

A week or so ago I ran my next marketing experiment for my novel Equivocal Destines. My previous 2 experiments were with free promos. Having judged them worse than useless, but actually counter-productive, I’ve moved on to 99c promos. Michael Bacera pointed out a piece of sagely wisdom to me a while ago, which is effectively that free promos are going out of fashion, presumably, because they don’t provide a marketing boost, sales boost or even a reviews boost for your book. My research has shown they actively decrease the popularity of your book by reducing your Amazon ranking. After all, while you’re giving away copies (which don’t result in reviews or post-giveaway sales) you’re not selling copies, so your ranking plummets. Good advice. So, what about 99c?

Well, here’s where I ran into a huge problem. It turns out Amazon has no intention of helping me out here. I’ve removed my book from the Kindle Select program because of its demand for exclusivity. I’d rather also be allowed to sell my book on Smashwords, Apple, Google, etc than use Amazon’s promo infrastructure and rent copies. Maybe it’ll work out badly, but that’s my next experiment. Without Kindle Select, there’s no option within the system to run any promos at all. I was left with the choice of doing it manually, so I did.

  1. I reduced the price to 99c, manually.
  2. I updated the text of my Book Description with bolded text saying it was discounted, etc.

The problem is, all these manual changes do nothing to promote the promo. If I could use Kindle Select’s mechanisms, Amazon would put in a bit of effort and all those promo websites would scan and find it. No such luck for me, I was on my own. So here’s what I did to advertise. It’s a copy of my previous promo task list, but updated, and looks really pathetic. My self-imposed remit was to not spend any money though, which severely limited my choices.

When What I Did How Effective It Was
Sunday Update book and release 2nd Edition at 99c Went live within 4 hours
Sunday Write  blog post bout the promo: https://raymondclarkeauthor.wordpress.com/2015/04/26/a-rare-sales-pitch/ A couple of people viewed it
Sunday Tweeted & Facebooked the blog post  A couple of retweets and views
Sunday I added a comment to the “Under $3.00 Kindle downloads” thread on http://www.amazon.com/forum/meet%20our%20authors/  It got swamped out quickly
Sunday I added a forum post to http://www.amazon.com/forum/meet%20our%20authors/ This forum is so messy it’s impossible to find anything. I doubt anyone checks it and clicks through to purchase.
Sunday Added a thread to “The Book Bazar” http://www.kboards.com/index.php/board,42.0.html http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,213463.0.html
36 views in the first day
It was read about 60 times by the end. I can’t guess if it led to any sales because there’s no timing correlation, but it could only be 1 or 2, max.
Sunday Confirmed I’m still registered at indiebookdiscovery.com Yep, it’s still there, but there’s no way to update the profile to say “On Promo” or anything, which is a deliberate design choice of theirs that I actually like (read their info) so what more could I do.
Sunday I searched Twitter for “book suggestions” and replied to every tweet I could find where someone was asking for a book suggestion and I thought they might be interested. Max 1 sale. 1 person replied, positively.
When the book is free, this seems very effective, but with a 99c promotion, this was very ineffective. My guess is this netted me 1 or 2 sales, for maybe 30-40 tweets. It also took a long time to do it nicely, reply to anyone (almost no-one) who replied to me, etc.
Monday Sent out a few funny advertising tweets with hashtags: #IARTG, #BookBoost as well as the usual #RT, #free, #fantasy, #99cents, #99CentsKindle, #Amazon The free retweeters seem to only retweet once a day
Monday Fixed my forum post at “The Book Bazar” http://www.kboards.com/index.php/board,42.0.html because I, stupidly, forgot to add a direct authl.it link It had 36 views at the time of the change but had generated max 1 sale.
Monday Emiled http://www.authorjd.com/aha-program/ for a free tweet promo to 250k. This tweets to:
http://www.bookpromo.in/   @Ebookpromoters   Cheapest deal is $9.99
http://www.bookpromo.in/   @Reviewmyebook
http://www.bookpromo.in/   @Bookblows
https://www.facebook.com/Mybookoftheday/info   @Book_oftheday
http://www.bookpromo.in/   @Bookblow
@Jdshouts
http://enasreviews.blogspot.in/   @Enasreviews   3-5 star reviews for $19.99
@Bookdeal01_my
@Bookdeal02_my
@Bookdeal03_my

More on this guy after the table! I had 2 sales the day of his tweets.

Monday emailed ebookpromoters@gmail.com from https://www.facebook.com/Mybookoftheday/info to see if they’ll consider advertising my book I heard nothing.

@book_ofTheDay tweeted my book out on Friday 1st May to 42k, but this isn’t the same group. This came from @Jdshouts (see above). Friday saw 2 sales.

Monday Filled in the form at http://www.bookpromo.in/p/about-us.html for a free tweet. @ebookpromoters
@Reviewmyebook
@BookBlows
@BookBlow free Tweets to 151k USE – Upload a message on http://www.bookpromo.in/p/about-us.html
Tuesday Submitted an application to ENT It was rejected, a week later. As I suspected, I was too late in applying.
Tuesday Posted an entry to http://www.indiesunlimited.com/category/indies-unlimited/thrifty-thursday/ I heard nothing
I didn’t bother rebranding all of my profiles. It achieved nothing during my previous 2, free giveaways, so it just seems a waste of time. None-the-less, I should have put together a sort of banner to attach to tweets and blog posts.
Infrequent Twitter and Facebook spamming. To be honest, I really didn’t have the heart to do this much. It just doesn’t seem effective either. I gave it  lighthearted try, but achieved nothing.
I checked in on the retweeting retweeting accounts and tailored my tweets to use the better ones. This basically means adding #IARTG, #RT and anything else useful to tweets. This generated a lot of retweets which were potentially seen by over 100k people, but generated no sales. This shouldn’t be surprising since most of the recipients were probably other authors.
I checked a bunch of sites that automatically scan Amazon for free books. Yes, this one includes the word “free”, so I didn’t expect my book to be listed, and it wasn’t. I also searched for sites that list discounted books, but came up with nothing. This method’s only useful for free books.

A quick note about @Jdshouts. I found him (he found me) on Twitter and offered free advertising of any book. All you have to do is ask. Then his website says you should start by buying the pre-release of his book and email him the proof of sale. This sounded really dodgy to me, and possibly a bit unethical, but a test’s a test so I diligently emailed him, following all of his rules, which included only mentioning his book in the email, not actually buying it. I expected nothing back, but true to his word, he did tweet my book out to 250k or so people over 10 accounts, some of them very well-known. I was surprised, but pleasantly so. Not dodgy at all.

His help gave me a very important piece of information too. As my table above shows, I ended up with 2 sales the day of his 10 tweets. ummm… Twitter spamming isn’t effective. I’m really grateful to @Jdshouts for the help. I just wish it had been more effective.

I might even consider buying the pre-release of his book as it sort of sounds interesting. Now that I’m in no way bound or obligated, I’ll give it another look. The couple of grammar mistakes on his website though don’t bode well for the book though.


So, what were my results. At this point, I’d usually add a table breaking down my sales by day and region, but they were so woeful that it’s not worth the effort. I sold 1 or 2 copies a day, which raised my Amazon ranking from 200-250k to round 100k on amazon.com and 80-90k om amazon.co.uk, and achieved SFA else. It was a complete washout.

Now, I guess I could have put a lot more effort into the advertising side of things, but it really was a disheartening experience (as I sort of expected it to be) with a fair amount of work and nothing to show for it. I simply don’t think free advertising’s effective in any format or context.

My next experiment will be with paid advertising. There’s some more permutations of free that I could try, but I doubt they’ll achieve anything more than this one.


My Cumulative, Take-Home Advice

  1. Free promos in all their forms are detrimental to your sales efforts. See all of my recent posts for my proof.
  2. Kindle Select is a great idea, but implemented badly, because it restricts the author and is therefore unfair. It’s not unfair of Amazon to offer it, but it’s unfair to you if you use it. (Keep in mind, as far as I know, Apple has a similarly restrictive policy where they force you to register a piece of Apple hardware with your account to sell your books in their market, so Amazon’s not alone in their restrictive tactics. I think Smashwords can effectively get you round this pointless limitation by publishing to Apple on your behalf. More on this in a week or 2.)
  3. Twitter advertising is pointless. It’s easy to put a tweet in front of 250k people, but results in nothing. This shouldn’t be surprising since most of those 250k users are probably also other authors hoping to use those same sales channels to sell their books.
  4. Banner ads are a waste of time. End of story.
  5. Pretty much all forms of free advertising out there may be well-intentioned, very nice and ethical, but they’re bound to be ineffective with so many books flooding the market.

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On Bridge Trolls and Beauty Pagents

My most recent, dismal failure of a free advertising experiment has lead me to a very useful piece of information, which I feel I should share.

If you read my blog spew you’ll know I’ve been running a few experiments with advertising my novel, Equivocal Destines. So far I’ve actually had negative luck, as I’ve explained in some previous blog posts:

During these, and my most recent experiment, I’ve been fairly carefully watching my Amazon ranking. If you’re not fully up on what this is, a very brief explanation:

Every book on Amazon (which on amazon.com is at least 4.9 million – I’ve seen a book with that ranking) is ranked. Basically, it’s a popularity contest. #1 is the most popular book, #4.9m has got to be close to the least popular – smaller numbers are better. Every author’s dream is to be #1 in the “Books” category, or at least in the Top 10 in their category, whatever that is. You use if for advertising, etc. People even put it on their book covers, take screen scrapes of their book with that ranking, etc. Also, if your book becomes really popular, Amazon themselves (the automated bots on their servers) will recommend your book to other buyers. This ranking is therefore where the real money is on Amazon.

So, here’s what my ranking has shown me.


Amazon appears to have a two-tiered ranking system. This is all complete guesswork on my part, but I’m pretty sure I’m approximately right.

Tier 1: Your baseline ranking is based on your sales and rentals (and possibly page views) over a long period of time. I can’t speculate how long a period this is yet as my book’s only been published for 3 months, but it’s probably at least this long. The idea is, Amazon averages every book’s sales over a long period and sorts all books based on this number and your ranking on this list is your baseline ranking. This will be a regular thing, possibly daily, possibly more often, but it seem accurate. Now, whatever happens to your book, sales-wise, it will always drift back to this baseline very quickly – within 24 hours.

Tier 2: Your, lets call it your spike ranking, is based on what’s happened with your sales and rentals in the previous 24 hours, max. If you get an abnormally high number of sales in a short period, it spikes your popularity a lot to show this, but if you then don’t follow up with more, consistent sales, your ranking will drift back down to your baseline within a day.

This system has 2 interesting effects, which I’ve seen with my book:

  • As mentioned above, the ranking of an unpopular book (like mine) can spike significantly, quickly, if it gets a few extra sales close together. This – repeat THIS – is what you need, repeat NEED, to do to get Amazon to pay close attention to your book. 1 week is too much. 24 hours is the max.

Conversely, logically, if your book is already really popular, the spike will be much less pronounced, so it’ll be really hard to move up through the Top 1000 or so by adding a few extra sales in a day. It’ll also drift back downwards just as quickly.

This spiking therefore really helps unpopular books but doesn’t do much to already-popular books. I actually think this is really cool of Amazon.

  • If you do a free book giveaway – and I think you should NEVER do this – your ranking actually goes down. Why? Because you’re not selling any books during that period – free books don’t count towards your ranking, or result is reviews, so this is all a waste of time – so the spike works in reverse and drags your book down in the rankings. After the free promo ends and you sell a copy or 2, your ranking will go back up to normal.

I’ve seen the drift in my ranking go up and down with each individual sale because I check my KDP reports and my Amazon rank 10 or 20 times a day when running a free advertising campaign. I do this because I’m pedantic and because I want to know what’s going on within the system. The results of all of this is this blog post.

I’ve also been watching the rankings of a few other books that were published at the same time as mine. I don’t know the authors, but I’ve read both books. Here’s something interesting about them.

  1. The better of the 2 books has about 30 reviews and its ranking is currently about 500k while mine drifts between 200k and 250k. This means that the number of reviews probably doesn’t affect the ranking at all. If so, this excellent book would have a better rank than mine, but it doesn’t. It started out well but over the last month it’s gradually drifted down to 500k. I guess sales are bad.
  2. The worst of the 2 books (Still an OK book though) has a rank which is often higher than mine but is currently 100k lower. The book only has 2 reviews averaging at 3.5 stars while mine currently has 5 reviews – all 5 stars and all legit – so again, I don’t think reviews count towards rankings. You can clearly tell what a book’s sales are though by watching its ranking for a full 24-hour period.

On Prematurely Spawning Forth New Bridge Trolls

I apologise in advance for this long, rambling mess, but it’s an important, and often discussed topic.


Writing  novel is both much easier than you think and much harder. I have so many people tell me that putting 80k words on paper would be too big a challenge while most people seem to think that coming up with a winning idea isn’t that much of  problem. The opposite is actually true. Everyone has a book inside them, or so the oft repeated phrase goes, but most of them shouldn’t ever try.

I’m a (drum roll please) published author, which is a phrase bandied about on Twitter like it’s in some way related to winning a gold medal at the Olympics. Not only am I a writer, but I’m also published, which is a distinction most writers never attain. Well, I called myself an aspiring writer until I published, and only now do I dare to call myself a writer. I hope to add successful to that label later.

Here’s the point. Writing is easy. Type words into a keyboard. Good words? Excellent. Bad words? Please stop embarrassing yourself. Acceptable words that are in desperate need of good editing? Good enough! What’s difficult isn’t the writing, it’s the planning.


Now that I’m published, I get people asking me for advice on writing. Like I’m suddenly, miraculously, some sort of expert. I’m not. Most recently, my sister send me the alpha of the beginning of her work-in-progress.

My sister wanted to know a single, important thing:

  • Does her story have potential?

Wrong question. I can’t answer my sister’s question based on the alpha she sent me. It’s just not complete enough yet. And anyway, how the hell would I know? Here’s a few better questions:

  • Does the story, as presented so far, seem interesting and/or compelling?
  • Is it cliche or is it in some way unique?
  • Does it have enough conflict to form a full story?
  • Does the author seem to have enough talent to pull it off?

Answering these questions, I’ll say that my sister should continue working on her story and (in my humble opinion) I think it could turn into a good book. With that in mind, (I’m sorry to say this, but) my sister represents an excellent case of what not to do when writing a novel. Let me explain.

  1. She sent me the alpha text. It’s 16 pages long. It has a few problems:
    1. There’s basic spelling mistakes throughout. Sure, it’s an alpha, but F7 is a pretty simple button to find.
    2. There’s a bunch of comments saying things like “How will character A’s presence affect character B?” We’re talking about main characters here so how can this question not have been answered yet. More on this in minute. This is the important bit.
    3. The document doesn’t even include half of the names. You need the names up front. The names help define the characters, cities, rivers, etc. If you don’t know the name, you don’t understand the character/thing.
    4. Chapter 3 doesn’t end. Instead, there’s a note saying “To be continued”. It then goes on to chapters 4 through 7. If she hasn’t finished chapter 3 I’m not going to continue reading. I’m not trying to be an arrogant douchebag, she’s just spoiling the story for the alpha reader. How can I evaluate an incomplete storyline?
  2. She sent me a map in .odg format. How many people can open that? As it happens, I can, but only by accident. .gif/.jpeg/.png please. It’s a simple thing, but makes a big difference to the average tech-illiterate. My tablet can’t open that file even when my laptop can.
  3. She sent me an 86 page planning document. Seriously. Problems:
    1. As an alpha reader, I don’t need it.
    2. As an alpha reader, I shouldn’t see it.
    3. It’s a template from some website which is almost entirely empty anyway. This document is my main concern, and what I plan to talk about from now on.

So, my sister’s writing  novel. Excellent. Will it be good? No idea, but potentially, yes. All of the problems I wrote about above are completely irrelevant. I promise you that my novel, Equivocal Destines, looked exactly like that for a long time. So why complain about these very normal, and very temporary problems in a public blog post? How can others actually benefit from this? To put it simply, polish the alpha into a beta before you show it to anyone.

Here’s the thing…

The problem is my sister probbly has too little confidence in her writing, but she should. Her idea is fairly unique, her descriptions, when included are clear, her characters interesting so far. Who knows if she has talent (probably, yes) but people, please, ditch the formality, the planning templates, the special writing programs, and all that junk. Put words on paper (as my sister’s done) and get the idea down – this is most important – but don’t let all the other stuff get in the way, and don’t seek confirmation until you have something confirmation-ready.


When I first moved to Poland (I always find an excuse to mention that) and started telling people I was working on  novel, I had 30 of these conversations:

ME: I’m planning a novel

THEM: How much have you written?

ME: Nothing, I’m still planning it.

THEM: How long have you been planning it.

ME: A few months.

THEM: That’s stupid. Just start writing. That’s a better idea.

No, it’s most certainly not a good idea, but neither is endless planning. I have a planning document for Equivocal Destines that’s currently 49 A4 pages long. When I started writing the novel it was about 20 pages long. It’s growing with the novel as I add ideas while writing. I have to go back and update my plan at lest weekly.

For context, the book series, Upheaving Nidola, of which Equivocal Destines is book 1 will end up 5 books long. I’ve got character and various other profiles and at the end, 2 separate plans for the plot:

  1. My plot outline is very high level, and only 1 page long. It lists everywhere the characters go, who meets whom and when, how to fix the grand problem, etc. But not much else. Everything else is details.
  2. My story outline is broken up by book:
    1. The story outline for book 1 (completed and on sale) is 6 pages of bullet points.
    2. The story outline for book 2 (currently in progress) is 5 pages long and growing as I write.
    3. The story outline for book 3 is currently only 1 page long and only includes the specific plot points that I have to hit in a certain way because of what I’ve already written in books 1 and 2.
    4. The story outline for books 4-5 are skeletons.

OK, so more of me talking about me, gain. What’s the point? I have a high level outline and 20+ pages of bullet-point detail about the characters in a 4-column table (including the critical characters who don’t appear in books 1 and 2) but I haven’t wasted months on planning things in such minute detail that I have no room for creativity.

Conversely, I have a plan! Without any sort of high level plan, how can you get your characters to where they need to be at each state of the story? Do you even know where they need to go?

You’re probably going to end up having to rewrite (maybe big) parts of your story (a few times) anyway, as you come up with cool new ideas while you write, but if you have a broad framework and a more detailed plan for it, then you know where and how to be creative and how to slot your new ideas into what you already have.


  1. Step 1 – Write a high-level plan so you know what has to happen, but don’t go into any more detail than you need to.
  2. Step 2 – Figure out who has to do what. Build mental images and make them real. Not on paper, but to you. Names help.
  3. Step 3 – Write the damned thing, at least to the point that other people can read it without your private notes, understand it, and give you useful, critical feedback.

You have to have confidence in your work, first and foremost, and flesh it out to the point that others can begin to enjoy it. Then let others tear it to shreds so you can improve it. Wash, rinse, repeat.


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On Free Advertising

I just finished my second, 1-day promotion, and the results re very different from my previous one. First, check these out:

Here’s what I did this time, in brief. I’ll post a whole page with way too many details on it sometime soon.

What I Did How Effective It Was
I rebranded all of my profiles.
Banner Ad - 20150404
 As with last time, I doubt this achieved anything.
 Infrequent Twitter and Facebook spamming. To be honest, Easter got in the way and I didn’t post anywhere near as much as I should have. I don’t think this was too effective, but see below for the real Twitter work.
I searched Twitter for “book suggestions” and replied to every tweet I could find where someone was asking for a book suggestion and I thought they might be interested. I wrote many versions, but they were similar to: “Dreading a dull Easter period? Try Equivocal Destines – #free this Sat 4th. authl.it/B00SZ63XY6?d #kindle #fantasy I seriously think this was the most useful thing I did. I have no way of knowing, but I think a lot of people would have downloaded my book based on this direct, personal approach.
I investigated the Top 100 Reviewers on Amazon and emiled only those whose profiles and review histories showed that they might be interested in reviewing my book. I spent a lot of time on this but only ended up sending about 10 emails. I got 1 reply and don’t know (yet) if this reviewer actually downloaded it.
I searched for  retweeting accounts. This was a wash out. There are very few real retweeting accounts. Pretty much all tweeting accounts seem to be fronts for paid advertising sites.

Not that I have a problem with paid advertising sites – I plan on using some soon – I just didn’t use them this time.

I added a forum post to http://www.amazon.com/forum/meet%20our%20authors/ No-one read it.
 I added a forum post to  the Amazon Kindle Forum thread for free books I don’t think anyone saw it.
I added a thread to www.kboards.com http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,212239.0.html

It was read 17 times.

 I checked a bunch of sites that automatically scan Amazon for free books. Some found my book, some didn’t, 1 I had to manually add my book.

I think this one’s pretty hit-and-miss. None of them tweeted anything about my book.

 I signed up to IndieBookDiscovery Do this! Their methodology seems to be better / more fair and that actually tweet, so they’re useful. Right now, they’s also free.
 I registered my book here: http://www.philipsmith.eu/indie-author-promotion @PhilipSmithEu is actually really cool because he retweets my posts anyway. I don’t know why, but he’s very cool.

So how’d I do? Much better than last time:

Date Marketplace Units Sold
Apr 04, 2015 Amazon.com.au 4
Apr 04, 2015 Amazon.in 1
Apr 04, 2015 Amazon.ca 5
Apr 04, 2015 Amazon.co.jp 1
Apr 04, 2015 Amazon.de 1
Apr 04, 2015 Amazon.co.uk 5
Apr 04, 2015 Amazon.com 177
Apr 05, 2015 Amazon.com.au 3
Apr 05, 2015 Amazon.es 1
Apr 05, 2015 Amazon.co.uk 10
Apr 05, 2015 Amazon.com 3
Total 211

Some notes:

  • The promotion is split over 2 days because I live in Europe. It begins t midnight, US-EST, which is 9am, my time.
  • The promo actually started at 9:40m on Saturday and ended at 9:40am Sunday (today). This is in Amazon’s terms of service so I wasn’t surprised.
  • My first promo gave everyone I’ve ever met a copy, so they didn’t get  copy this time, so these copies went almost entirely to people I don’t know. That’s more useful in the long run.
  • My single-unit giveaways to Indonesia, Japan and Spain are most likely the result of my spamming of people on Twitter who asked for book suggestions.
  • There’s only 9 sales in Australia and Canada, which re conceivably from friends and friends of friends. That’s a very small number and percentage.

And what were my immediate results:

  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,170 Free in Kindle Store
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Fantasy
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Epic

The final question for now is, how good is this? I don’t know how many free books were in each of these categories because Amazon only makes the Top 100 lists east to find. I was on the first page in each of my categories though, for a few hours at least.

I put together a quick, informal count of what types of books were in the Top 100 of all free books. It’s… illuminating:

Category Count
No category listed 1
Americana 2
Biographies 1
Children’s 2
Christian Diets&Healing 2
Comedy 1
Cooking 1
Erotica 2
Horror 1
Military 1
Mystery / romance 3
Romance 40
Romantic comedy 5
Romnce – fantasy 6
Self-help / marketing 2
Sci-fi / fantasy 6
Thriller 16
Women’s fiction 6
Total 98

First of all, I said it was the Top 100, and it was. It doesn’t total 100 because I was being harassed to return to Easter breakfast (Polish people take their Easter festivals really seriously). Close enough. I also took a lot of liberties with the categorisations, so don’t take this too seriously. I wanted to keep the number of categories low, so I fudged it a bit based on cover art, merging categories, titles and things like that. It’s a relatively accurate list though.

This list really does show how hard it is to get into the Top 100 if you’re not writing boring books for bored housewives (according to the broad-brushstroke stereotype), so I’m not worried about only getting to 1170 on the main list. I’m really happy with my rankings in my categories though, especially since my book only had 5 reviews while most of those in the Top 20s had a lot more. Often, hundreds.

Now I have to wait and see if it results in sales and/or reviews 🙂

On Knowing Your Limits

I know I’m good at a lot of things. Here’s a few that are in some way related to the art of writing:

  • After 5 years of teaching Business English here in Poland I have an excellent grasp of English grammar. I know the rules, can explain them in endless ways with endless examples and generally bore anyone to death on this topic. I even get paid to do just that 🙂
  • I have a history of reading a lot of non-fiction, so my formal, business, science and a lot of other specialist and semi-specialist vocabularies are significantly higher than the average sci-fi/fantasy author. I did a dodgy, online vocab test :p
  • I worked as a Cisco-certified Network Administrator in another life so have a very thorough understanding of a wide range of computational technologies.

There’s more, but I wanted to give you a very impressive-sounding but short list. There’s a point though – it’s not grandstanding.

Here’s a longer list of things I’m truly terrible at, but would make my life as an author sooooo much easier.

  • Literally anything graphical, from Photoshop/The GIMP to drawing, painting, or even sketching stick figures. I’m truly, seriously, bafflingly, frustratingly, completely useless at this whole sphere of activities. It’s just pathetic 😦
  • Real-world technologies and tools which don’t plug directly into a computer and allow themselves to be controlled by it. Think: guns, cars/trains/planes, construction, carpentry, police procedures, medical anything. The list is literally endless.
  • Getting/thinking overly-emotionally. I’m a very mentally and emotionally stable person, and this isn’t always a good thing (just ask my fiance), especially when you need to write about these things, or simply write from a position of passion. I’m just too logical.
  • Marketing! Full stop. End of scope. Now, I’m sure I could understand marketing and do it successfully, if I really, really tried. I just can’t bring myself to fill my head with all of that nonsense. Is it actually nonsense? Definitely not. It’s a critical business skill. It’s just one I can’t bring myself to focus on for long enough for any of it to sink in.

So why am I writing this blog post now? Because I’m currently 20% of the way through book 2 of the Upheaving Nidola series, I have a Y.A. novel maybe 40% done and I’m in the initial stages of planning a sci-fi book (probably a standalone). Crap! I just realised I’ve watched a lot of sci-fi (it’s my favourite TV genre) but I’ve literally never actually read a book set in space. So how do I go about writing one? Amazon was kind enough to email me a $5 voucher yesterday for installing their Kindle software on my phone, and as I need background material (and the voucher handily expires today) I just blew $5 of Amazon’s hard-earned, virtual cash on 2 books set in space. It’s a good, entertaining start.

I know my limits. They are both broad and extensive. I have a lot of gaps to fill, and always will. No matter how much information – general and highly specific – I cram into my brain, I’ll always have disabling limits. We all will. The trick is to admit them and find ways to mitigate them.

I guess this is why highly-successful, fiction authors say that extensive reading of other people’s fiction is an essential part of the writing process.