Some Bits Make A Post

I’ll be at Norwescon this year, as a member. No table or pamphlets or panels or anything. I should be spending part of the time in the bar and part of the time attending panels and part of the time huddled over my laptop trying to get some pages of GREEN WILD revised. And I’ll be paying attention to my phone so, hey, let me know if you’re around and want to say hi!

The Renton community garden opened on Saturday and I spent about five hours there this past weekend. It turns out I really don’t like dirt. Compost & potting soil? Those things are fine. Sunbaked tractor-plowed clod-filled dirt? Ergh. I flailed at my plot for a while and put out all of the spring starts I’ve been cultivating at home. I was so overwhelmed by the hard clods of dirt that that I was really lazy on how I set out the seeds and plants. We’ll see if any of them survive. I hope it rains today, and I should probably check in tomorrow to see if anything has withered already.

I also up-potted my tomato seedlings, putting them in their third container so far. I handled them kind of roughly but I think that’s the point: stress them so they grow up strong. They look really good; far better than the seedlings I’ve been getting from Territorial Seed the past couple of years. I’m still planning on buying some grafted tomatoes from Costco if they show up again but I have (hopefully) 10 seedlings already, far more tomatoes than I’ve ever tried growing before.

GREEN WILD, sequel to CITADEL OF THE SKY, which is due from Harlequin Digital First…. someday… goes along well. I was convinced a month ago it was the worst thing I’ve ever written. I’m no longer as certain. But I’m looking forward to getting it into submission-shape because then I’m going to move on to more SENYAZA short stories. I’ve been working on a long list of ideas about events that occur post INFINITY KEY. I should maybe make a dedicated post about this, but I’ve found that the keystone of turning an ‘idea’ into a ‘story’ is figuring out the point of view– not first or third or whatever but simply who the story is happening to and what their relationship is with the events. Once I have that, I still have to do the work of creating a story but I’m no longer flailing in the dark.

Speaking of SENYAZA, I hope to have news soon regarding WOLF INTERVAL, the third book in that series… I will say that if GREEN WILD felt like my worst book for a while, WOLF INTERVAL currently feels like my best. I may be calling in every connection I have to get it noticed by a broader audience.

That’s enough for now, I guess :-)

Mr. Bento and the Fresh 20

I recently gave up on solving for dinner and invested in weekly cheats. They offered a lunch plan too and my husband and housemate usually buy their lunches for about $8 a meal. So… Now sometimes I make lunch for them too.

I’ve tried this many times before; I have a large collection of lunch stuff. Even if I only do it for a few weeks think of the money saved!

Anyhow, my lunch collection has long been missing one of these:

20140408-174619.jpg
That’s a Mr. Bento, a classic of the lunch scene. Some of the Amazon reviews gave been updated across a decade of use!

Technically I will use it for my husband. But I’m going to Norwescon in a week or so and I plan on packing some lunches…

(Will you be at Norwescon? Let me know!)

The secrets of the Goodreads Ad system

Both the INFINITY KEY and the MATCHBOX GIRLS campaign expired today so I thought I’d post an update on how the ads did. Although technically the original IK campaign would have expired a couple of weeks ago if I hadn’t doubled its budget– but more about that below.

The original post is here . I’m duplicating the Infinity Key ad text below, with an updated click-through rate, which is averaged across the duration of the ad’s life. When I posted before, some of the ads had just started and so data hadn’t really stabilized. The MATCHBOX GIRLS campaign went through its entire budget almost entirely without changing the CTR percentages presented earlier so I’m not going to crowd up this post with those ads.

I have access to a fair amount of daily data but it doesn’t help me much in my current set up for determining results. After I’m done sharing CTR, I’ll share book adds and book sales during the ad period.

The Ads

Infinity Key Friendship
CTR: 0.04% -> No change
Infinity Key
Branwyn is ‘only human’ in a world with fallen angels, but refuses to let that stop her from saving her friend from a supernatural curse.
Infinity Key Publishers Weekly
CTR: 0.04% -> 0.05%
Infinity Key
In a world of faeries and fallen angels, one mortal woman can turn everything upside down. Publishers Weekly calls it “deeply refreshing”!
Not weak
CTR: 0.0% -> 0.07%
Infinity Key
They say we’re only human. That we’re weak. That we should let them protect us. But they didn’t protect you. Now they have to deal with me.
Shhh.
CTR: 0.14% -> 0.21%
Paused
You won’t read this.
You won’t even see it. You don’t want to know. It’s safer that way. Don’t worry. We’re taking care of everything. That’s our job. Look away.
 Hush, hush
CTR: 0.0% -> 0.05%
The world is sleeping. Soon it wakes.
Soon it learns to listen. It moves, thinks, breathes. It only takes a key. But who makes the key? Soon everything changes.
 Lies And Self Promotion
CTR: 0.0% -> 0.07%
INFINITY KEY is an undiscovered winner
A stunning new entry in the field of urban fantasy, with faeries, angels and a wonderful heroine who doesn’t let her humanity slow her down.
Unlock the door.
CTR: 0.0% -> 0.01%
INFINITY KEY: empowering urban fantasy
“Unlock the door. Wake up the world.” Come with Branwyn into Faerie to save a friend and change the world.
Blurb
CTR: 0.06% -> 0.05%
Funny, brilliant and empowering fantasy
INFINITY KEY is a reckless dash through a world on the brink of a magical singularity. Hop on board now before you fall behind.
 Mean girl
CTR: 0.0% -> 0.04%
INFINITY KEY, an urban fantasy
Mortal Branwyn is mean and cranky– and so loyal that you root for her as she steps on supernatural foes in the name of friendship.

THE ADDS (to reading lists) & SALES

Sales’ estimated exclusively from Novelrank monitoring Amazon sales rank jumps, which is a minimum. I suspect a few more sales but won’t know until royalty statements– but Amazon is a pretty good baseline.
MATCHBOX GIRLS: 
Added between 2/27 and 3/19: 18 (2 rating, 16 to-read)
Sold in March:  3 ebook / 0 paperback
Added between 1/27 and 2/26:  7 (1 rating, 5 to-read, 1 other)
Sold in Feb:  1 ebook / 1 paperback
INFINITY KEY:
Added between 2/27 and 3/19: 18 (1 rating, 17 to-read)
Sold in March: 1 ebook / 0 paperback
Added between 1/27 and 2/26:  3 (1 rating, 1 to-read, 1 other)
Sold in Feb: 2 ebooks / 1 paperback

CONCLUSIONS

First: Clickbait ads really, really work in earning clicks. I had to shut down ‘Shh’ because it was devouring my budget without showing any real benefit other than ‘winning’ at ad writing. If I’d been earning money for those clicks, though…
Second: I invested $30 in this experiment. My actual monetary return on investment is abysmal; as a conservative estimate I earned $4 in the same timeframe and there’s no real sense that was due to the ads.
Third: I DID get a serious uptick in reader interest, as measured by to-read lists.  It wasn’t exactly cheap; I paid at a rough estimate about 75 cents for each expression of ‘maybe someday’.
Fourth: Use the title space on your ads for more than just the book title. Don’t be modest, either. Both ‘Blurb’ and ‘Lies and Self-Promotion’ got into the double digits of CTR on days they got started early. ‘Unlock the door’ and ‘Mean girl’ didn’t get any traction until very late, so I’m not sure they’ve been adequately tested. (Really, I expected this entire campaign to go longer than it did– not even a month of data! Alas, I can’t afford to test any more at the existing ROI, not until later in the year anyhow.)
Fifth: As a game, it almost seems worthwhile. I really enjoyed tracking the performance of individual ads and I’ve certainly spent more on games that haven’t really given me anything back at all. But I think I’m probably a freak in this instance.

Next

I’d really like to experiment with targeting next time. I suppose the right way to do that would be to pick a few of my best performing ads, duplicate them, and then target them at different Goodreads demographics. Thanks to this experiment I feel like I at least have the data to make the decision on best performing ads!

Goodreads Ad Campaign

My subscription entertainment of choice is the Goodreads Ad system. I intermittently plunk some quarters (so to speak) in and create some very different ads and watch how they perform. The ROI is debatable, but my goal is raising corner-of-the-eye awareness and honing my own intuition re: what gets clicks. An unexpected side benefit is that I’ve become a lot better at, uh, promoting myself.

Right now I have 18 ads, 9 for MATCHBOX GIRLS and 9 for INFINITY KEY. There’s no easy way to show off the ads within the system, so I’m going to do that in this post. After experimenting with various targeting options and paying more per click, all of these run at $.10 per click and are targeted broadly at fans of SF, Fantasy, Paranormal, Manga and YA. I think a couple of the IK ones also target Romance readers.

The way the Goodreads system works (as far as I understand it) is that how much you pay per click controls where in the rotation of unclicked ads you appear; once you’re clicked on, you jump to the rotation of ‘clicked’ ads, which are shown far more often. My experiments with paying more per ad ($.50) didn’t seem to increase anything but how much I paid per click, which rapidly took it from the realm of ‘interesting game’ to ‘complete and obvious loss’. My experiments with highly targeted (by author) ads resulted in very few ad displays and almost no clicks, for no real benefit.

CTR means ‘Click Through Rate’. It doesn’t reset when an ad is modified, but the MATCHBOX GIRLS ads have been running long enough that I think previous versions have a fairly diluted effect. Most of the INFINITY KEY ads were just approved; only the first two have been on campaign before, when IK was launched.  The ads were written in the order presented, for the most part, across months.

The phrase on the first line is my internal title. Sometimes it is kind of facetious or self-disparaging, which is how I cope with blatant super-positive self-promo.

If there’s interest I can write another post when my current roll of quarters runs out for each campaign, with the current CTR.

The Ads

Matchbox Girls Plain Talk
CTR: 0.02%
Matchbox Girls
An urban fantasy focused on strong non-romantic female relationships. Published by up-and-coming indie press. Please read and enjoy!

Matchbox Girls Basic Summary
CTR: 0.04%
Matchbox Girls
In a clash between angels and the Fallen, one woman struggles to protect two children from their own destiny.

Matchbox Girls Demon Feminist
CTR: 0.05%
Matchbox Girls
The demon smiled. “Men have always thought women with power meant the end of the world. Trust me on this.”

Matchbox Girls The Spark
CTR: 0.04%
Matchbox Girls
It only takes a small thing to start a fire that will change the world.

Matchbox Girls Recipe
CTR: 0.04%
A protagonist with secret origins. Winged enemies who will do anything to erase their sin. Cute kids who can destroy the world. Buy it!

Matchbox Girls CE Murphy
CTR: 0.05%
Matchbox Girls
“Lovely worldbuilding and an unusual heroine surrounded by strong relationships… I’m impatient for the next book!” –CE Murphy

Matchbox Girls Nephilim
CTR: 0.05%
Matchbox Girls
You know how the angels sent the Deluge to wipe out the Nephilim, because they were ashamed of their sin? Yeah. It failed. Here we are…

Senyaza Recruitment Ad
CTR: 0.04%
Matchbox Girls
Feeling anxious? Not sure how you fit in? Maybe you’re a Nephilim! Senyaza Corp. is here for all your electronics and angel-slaying needs.

Monster Hunter Matchbox Girls
CTR: 0.05%
Matchbox Girls
We’re busy fighting monsters right now, but leave a message by pressing 1. Do remember to tell us the name of the scallywag in question.

Infinity Key Friendship
CTR: 0.04%
Infinity Key
Branwyn is ‘only human’ in a world with fallen angels, but refuses to let that stop her from saving her friend from a supernatural curse.

Infinity Key Publishers Weekly
CTR: 0.04%
Infinity Key
In a world of faeries and fallen angels, one mortal woman can turn everything upside down. Publishers Weekly calls it “deeply refreshing”!

Not weak
CTR: 0.0%
Infinity Key
They say we’re only human. That we’re weak. That we should let them protect us. But they didn’t protect you. Now they have to deal with me.

Shhh.
CTR: 0.14%
You won’t read this.
You won’t even see it. You don’t want to know. It’s safer that way. Don’t worry. We’re taking care of everything. That’s our job. Look away.

Hush, hush
CTR: 0.0%
The world is sleeping. Soon it wakes.
Soon it learns to listen. It moves, thinks, breathes. It only takes a key. But who makes the key? Soon everything changes.

Lies And Self Promotion
CTR: 0.0%
INFINITY KEY is an undiscovered winner
A stunning new entry in the field of urban fantasy, with faeries, angels and a wonderful heroine who doesn’t let her humanity slow her down.

Unlock the door.
CTR: 0.0%
INFINITY KEY: empowering urban fantasy
“Unlock the door. Wake up the world.” Come with Branwyn into Faerie to save a friend and change the world.

Blurb
CTR: 0.06%
Funny, brilliant and empowering fantasy
INFINITY KEY is a reckless dash through a world on the brink of a magical singularity. Hop on board now before you fall behind.

Mean girl
CTR: 0.0%
INFINITY KEY, an urban fantasy
Mortal Branwyn is mean and cranky– and so loyal that you root for her as she steps on supernatural foes in the name of friendship.

Outlining Insight

I often chat about the writing process with a particular fellow writer who is also fascinated by the topic. I am an outliner; she is not. But unlike most of the non-outliners I see, who defiantly declare that outlining would suck all the joy and discovery from the writing process, she wishes she could outline. She’s tried and it produced one of her most negative writing experiences. That gave us a starting point for a very interesting conversation.

I’m always very bewildered by the anti-outliners, because as documented elsewhere on this site, there’s still a lot of discovery in my writing process, no matter how detailed my outline is. A metaphor I like is that I start with a small square of paper, upon which is my basic premise. I then unfold that, and have a few squares, and that’s my big plot events and major characters. I unfold again, and I get more events and minor characters. Again, and I start detailing chapters. And again, and I have this big sheet of paper with dozens of squares on it– but I still have to fill in each square to create the story. There’s a lot of discovery that goes on in those squares. And if things don’t go quite the way I expect, I usually go with it. It rarely derails the whole story, though it might have ramifications that change the story’s theme or mood significantly.

For example, today I was writing a Big Scene. I expected the protagonist to have a discussion with a semi-antagonistic supporting character, which ended with the supporting character volunteering to accompany her on a journey. As I wrote the scene, I realized that I couldn’t make that conversation happen. Instead, they had a fight in a dark warehouse, and when the protagonist won (or they had a draw, depending on your perspective) she then invited him to come along. Same end result: the two go on a journey together. But the dynamic has shifted, for the better. And the scene has a tension I was worried it would lack. I don’t have any qualms about departing from the outline, because I can tell what I’m doing is better. It’s very much like writing a second draft; it’s an iterative, improving process that relies heavily on an intuitive understanding of both the characters and the plot.

My wise friend then suggested that the big difference between me and people who consider outlines book- or joykillers is that I’m willing and able to trust my intuition when it leads me off-outline. She, on the other hand, can’t help but view an outline as The Rules. The Book, to be adhered to. Which, yes, WOULD destroy joy, especially if you found yourself writing something that sucked and feeling like you had to do it because it was right there written down already.

So, anti-outliners: I now understand, I think, and am properly sympathetic. Carry on with whatever works best for you.

 

 

 

Honor and Self Publishing

Hey! I’m posting again!

My personal swear word, Chuck Wendig*, has a new blog post up about dealing with the impact self-publishing has on discoverability. It’s a long post. My takeaway is that discoverability is hard in the age of self-publishing, it’s only going to get harder, and people celebrating the lack of gatekeepers are actually celebrating their own gruesome literary deaths in the cesspool below Respectability. He also suggests some guidelines that, if adopted by self-publishing culture, he believes might help.

I know about how discoverability is hard. Oh, I know. It’s hard even if you’re not self-published (my Senyaza books are small-published rather than self-published). My mapmaker likes to talk about the ‘discoverability gap’, which is the Grand Canyon you have to jump between sinking in the cesspool and acquiring actual readers. Is that too many metaphors? Maybe. But I think my mapmaker likes it because it implies that once you jump the gap (these days) it stays jumped. Possibly true. I hope it’s true!

Anyhow. Chuck’s been posting a lot about self-publishing and how to control the onslaught. It’s a quest, maybe. A life quest. He’s not going to get much traction on his own. He’s gotta know that. I believe he’s trying to kick off a revolution, which will sweep across self-publishing like a cleansing fire as more and more voices pick up the cry.

Or maybe he’s just tilting at windmills? I can’t tell. But I’ve watched self-publishing since before it was a Thing, and I am chock-full of thoughts about, oh, all sorts of things and my wacky weird brain, it draws connections between them, and I like to share them.

So let’s talk about honor.

To an outside observer (as much as a modern Western woman can be an outside observer on the subject of honor), ‘honor’ is a code of conduct artificially imposed on the dangerous, to regulate their behavior for the good of society. Traditionally ‘the dangerous’ comprises two broad categories: armed men and nubile women. (Man, those groups could totally destroy society if they weren’t indoctrinated young with a whole bunch of rules to stop them from running amuck with their guns/swords/sexuality.)

I read Chuck’s post, and what he was calling for, and I thought about codes of honor. Is self-publishing a threat to society, or at least the fragment of society that fiction readers comprise? Chuck thinks so; his posts have a lot to say about respecting and doing right by the reader. I… don’t know. I think self-publishing is mostly a threat to itself. I think it would benefit from a widespread adoption of a code of honor. It might, over time, help. So would standards organizations. Codes of honor didn’t just maintain themselves. Historically I know the most about Regency England, and while ‘honor’ was taught to ladies and gentlemen of quality from the cradle, organizations formed to informally enforce it. Clubs like Almack’s; gatekeepers like its patronesses.

But two things to consider in inventing a code of honor for self-publishers:

First: no code of honor is going to stop crap from being published. Opinions vary, and rules are, in the end, just rules. Many people have internalized the concept of honor deeply, and that’s useful. But the rules are bars on a prison and there are always going to be those who pay lip service without believing in the spirit of the code. Sometimes that kind of thing even becomes a standard kind of dodge: consider the idea of paying a debt of honor– but letting other debts, to those who aren’t on the same code of honor, slide.

Second: Scale is a problem. Scale is the problem, in so many situations. Scale is what we’re constantly relearning how to deal with. All sorts of systems that work perfectly with a certain number of participants absolutely collapse when the number of participants grows exponentially. With something like this, you can’t have clubs where everybody is involved, to a greater or lesser extent, in monitoring everybody else. You can’t have a club where members vote on new members, or members have to be referred by a large handful of other members. Or rather, you can but the club will remain extremely exclusive (and thus not have any impact on Chuck Wendig’s volcano). If membership is self-determined– well, a lot of people will do their best and more will just tell themselves they’re doing their best and again, it will have only a minor impact, if any, on the volcano.

I don’t actually have a solution right now, although you can bet I’m thinking about it. But I wanted to present this ‘honor’ paradigm for looking at the problem, in the hopes that it helps. And also to join my voice to Chuck’s, in encouraging other people to also think about what can be done to help that old saw become a truth: that literary cream floats to the top. Because right now, it doesn’t. It can’t, not without a whole bunch of luck or money.

(I’m always thinking about it. What about using a standards organization with lax standards to set up _extremely detailed_ book genres. Erotica, which is always a front-running in embracing new technology and certainly deals with massive churn, finds its audience with super-detailed genres but they usually have to put the category in the title somewhere… Often so does category romance… An idea for helping with discoverbility, maybe, but it’s not exactly a pretty one. But maybe a standards organization could come in there with indexing tools…)

*true story: he always either warns about using naughty language in his posts, or somebody complains in the comments. And I never notice the bad words when reading.

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