I just finished spending about an hour recording audio for one of my books. I have two I’ve finished and submitted for approval and two more non-fiction I want to do before tackling any fiction.
One of things I was thinking about today is that audio and writing are very different in one key aspect.
With writing you can be having a bad day, feel tired, feel out of sorts, have a head cold, what-have-you. And you can still sit down in front of your computer and put new words down. Maybe they don’t flow as well as normal. Maybe they need heavier revision when you come back to them.
But you make progress. Even if all the words are junk and you went in the wrong direction, it will often help you figure out where you do want to go with the story.
So on the writing side, pushing through is what you do. Butt in chair, right? We don’t always come to the keyboard full of joy. Some days we just know we have to keep going.
Audio is the exact opposite when it comes to this. Because if you record while tired or with a bad head cold or while too distracted to deliver any emotion to what you’re reading, it’s there in your voice. And you can’t edit that.
A flat performance or one full of stomach noises can’t be fixed. It needs to be re-recorded.
At least if you want a solid performance.
So with audio it is in fact possible to waste time on bad work.
I suspect this is one of those things where the more you do it, the less bad takes you record, but just starting out know that’s an issue you’ll be facing.
And if you have a bad take? Admit it early, throw it out, and redo it. Because five minutes of audio recorded poorly costs ten minutes of time at most. But if you edit it and process it and all that? That’s more like thirty minutes spent on something you’ll still have to redo in the end.
The other day I went to check my book page for some reason and saw this:
Excel for Beginners now has 1,000 ratings on Amazon. That’s not reviews mind you, just ratings, but still a pretty nice little milestone to reach.
So in honor of that event, I’ve decided to put the ebook versions of Pivot Tables and Excel 2019 Pivot Tables to free until the end of September. (Amazon, as usual, is going to not be free just yet, but the other stores are and Amazon will catch up in a day or two.)
I also figured I’d share my little origin story on these books.
Five years ago I sat down to write a book on using pivot tables in Microsoft Excel. This was back in the day when it was not at all easy to know how many copies of a book you had sold through Amazon. There were graphs you could see, by country, but no pretty summary numbers like we have today.
You could see sales for a country for that day for that format by holding your mouse over the graph bars, but to get one bottom-line number required exporting a spreadsheet and then applying a pivot table. (Or summing the data if you only had one title.)
I told people about how they could use pivot tables to do this more than once on Kboards, but usually the response was “I don’t know how to use those.”
My thought was, “You could try Googling it?”, but eventually I got tired of hearing authors say they couldn’t tell you how many sales they’d had that month when using pivot tables was so easy. Two minutes of effort and they’d have their answer.
So I figured I would write a book about exactly how to do it. With screenshots and everything. Push this button, go here, there you go. That would give me something to point people to and if they were still clueless at that point it was on them for not wanting to follow the step-by-step instructions in the book.
And it was a unique angle on using Excel that I hadn’t seen covered yet so it made sense to put it out there because no one else had.
I sat down to write the book. A quick little title. Just knock it out.
But then I realized I had a problem. I didn’t want to walk people through Excel from absolute beginner to using pivot tables just for this one task. That was a lot.
(I sort of had done a walkthrough from start to basic math with the Juggling Your Finances Basic Excel Primer book that was a companion to Budgeting for Beginners but I thought my audience for this book was going to be those people who already knew Excel some.)
So I had a dilemma. Do I go from “this is Excel” all the way to “this is how you download this specific report on Amazon and apply a pivot table to it?”
Or did I need to split the material up into separate books? That way people could join in on the learning process wherever they were in their own personal knowledge without bogging down in things they didn’t need to learn.
Luckily for me, I decided to split the material up.
Ultimately, I ended up publishing four separate titles in September 2017: Excel for Beginners (for anyone brand new to Excel), Intermediate Excel (for those who knew the basics of Excel but didn’t know things like pivot tables and conditional formatting), Excel for Writers (which covered things I’d done with Excel that were writing-related but not self-publishing-related), and then Excel for Self-Publishers. (which was the book I’d actually set out to write and which at the end of the day also included a lot of AMS-related uses of Excel as well, that are also no longer needed today thanks to advancements in reporting by Amazon).
At that point I had what may or may not have been a lucky break.
I’m not sure how much it did or didn’t contribute to sales, but I think it maybe helped a little. It certainly didn’t hurt.
Basically, one of the groups I was in had an open call for any material that might work for a NaNoWriMo bundle, and I mentioned the two books on Excel for writers and self-publishers.
The books were included in the bundle which ran in October and November 2017.
(I say that’s luck, because, yes, I did have the books ready and had done the work that put me in the path of hearing about that invitation. But the fact that someone made that open call and that they included little no-name me, was pure luck.)
Maybe a few of those folks circled back to the Excel for Beginners and/or Intermediate Excel titles and gave them a little boost.
Maybe they didn’t. I’d also started some AMS ads. Those could’ve been the reason the titles gained traction.
Whatever the cause, first month sales of Excel for Beginners were 24 copies. Second month, 47 copies. Third month, 69. Fourth, 122. And so on.
Sales eventually hit their level. They can’t double each month forever.
End result, between September 2017 and August 2018 I had a four-fold increase in sales and an eight-fold increase in profit, largely driven by those Excel titles.
And they’ve held relatively steady for me ever since. I have to work harder for those sales now than I did in 2018, but they’re still there.
All because I had a niche little area of expertise and was annoyed enough that other people didn’t know about it to write a book. And because I luckily ended up in the process writing a book that was more universally accessible than the subject that originally started me down that road.
Other than that bundle, Excel for Self-Publishers, the title that I originally set out to write, only ever sold 50 copies. And it’s now only available on Payhip because so much has changed with the data that’s now available to self-publishers that you don’t need to jump through so many hoops so I unpublished it from the major stores.
(I leave it on Payhip because it has how to calculate an average customer value and series sellthrough which are still useful. But I replaced it with Data Analysis for Self-Publishers which talks about the thoughts behind those kinds of calculations but doesn’t do the step-by-step thing that the original book did.)
It would have never occurred to me to write a beginner-level book on Excel otherwise.
But I did. And I’m happy I did. Because 1,000 reviews on Amazon later, that little title still chugs along and hangs out in the top 100 for its category most days.
Now, would I have the same result if I did that today?
AMS has changed drastically since then, so those ads would not work near as well for who I was then if I published that same title today.
Also, because I mentioned having success with my Excel books a lot of others jumped in there, too, starting sometime in 2018. So there are far more titles competing in that space now than there were when I first started out with those books.
When I first published them the trade publishers weren’t even using AMS to advertise their books. Now they are.
And there was only maybe one or two self-publishers in the space. So a $12.95 paperback stood out as a good, affordable alternative to the $40+ versions from the trade publishers.
Now…Not so much.
So the lesson to take is not, “write a book about Excel for beginners.” The lesson is, “find a personal pain point where you can share knowledge”, “find your own angle on that pain point that no one else has covered yet”, and then “try to leverage off of that to find something more universal or broadly applicable.” It may just work.
And, please, if you have access to Excel and don’t know how to use pivot tables and you work with data that needs to be summed up, go download one of the two pivot tables books and learn it. Please. For my sanity.
I think I finally ran into the IngramSpark/Amazon publishing order conflict today.
I’ve always published my paperbacks to Amazon first because I like to use their previewer to walk through my book and look at my cover. I find it far easier to use than the PDF preview that IS provides.
So I usually go there and publish and then go straight to IngramSpark and publish. Same day for both. And I’ve never had an issue doing it that way.
But today I was going to publish a book on IngramSpark that I’d previously published on Amazon and hadn’t signed up for expanded distribution. (At least it isn’t now and I don’t remember doing so before.)
And…it wouldn’t let me. Said the ISBN was already in use. I assume because enough time had passed between when I published on Amazon (in April) and now. So that error so many people had run into that I hadn’t when publishing over 100 books, I now have run into.
(But just realized I didn’t run into that issue with three other books earlier this month so maybe this was a D2D/IS conflict for a title I started and never finished when I thought I was going to start using them…)
Now I get to decide whether to request management of the ISBN or just use another ISBN for the IS version or just not do anything at all because it’s not that big a seller for me.
At least I finally can use my codes on IS again. It’s quite possible I was able to do so back in May which would have been my anniversary date with IS but I didn’t bother trying until today because I was kind of fed up with them.
Which actually worked out well, because I decided to redo the Budgeting for Beginners covers yet again. I redid them in April, but decided this week I didn’t like them so changed them up again.
Sometimes I do something and think “Yep, that did it” and sometimes I do something and think it’ll work and then come back to it a month or two later and go, “Hmmm…No, not there yet” and have to try again. It is what it is.
I often wonder if all the failing in public that comes with self-pub is healthy for me or not. It should be humbling, which would probably be a good thing, and yet somehow I still manage to be an arrogant little shit most of the time despite it.
But it does at least keep me from thinking I’ve got this all figured out which keeps me engaged enough to keep going, so there’s that.
Although I’m not entirely sure carrying around a little voice in your head that tells you that internet strangers are going to think X or Y about you is necessarily a healthy thing even if you do ignore it most of the time.
(Then again, I get that with my mom anyway. The caustic things she said about Anne Heche and that car accident – geez. Seriously.)
Interestingly enough I decided to retake the CliftonStrengths test recently and my Empathy had moved from mid-teens to top 10 and I wonder if part of that isn’t just the bruising you take being out in public.
I mean I’ve always been pretty good at being sympathetic because I’m a Strategic-Relator-Learner so when I interact with people I’m trying to deepen that connection and adjusting my understanding of them on the fly the more they share with me. The better I understand someone, the better the interaction.
But I always figured I was like, “Nope, you’re emotions stop with you, buddy. I’m not carrying that. I got enough of my own.”
Maybe it’s just ongoing cultural crisis impacting how I viewed those questions. Whatever the cause, it was interesting to see.
Also, I’m currently reading an excellent book for writers, The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner. (That’s an affiliate link, btw, in case anyone was planning to buy a boat or something through Amazon. Can you even do that? I don’t know. Probably. If so and you’re going to, why not use the link.)
The book’s not about writing craft so much as writing personalities from someone who worked with a large number of writers over their career as both an editor and agent. I will say I think she skews to the literary side of things with her experience and examples, but still a good read. I’ve done lots of underlining.
One of the things she touches on in there is that balance between ego and insecurity that seems to be part of so many authors. (Me included.)
And it’s funny because this week I was thinking about the fact that there are maybe a dozen people who read this blog. But then sometimes I’ll say something on here and see what it seems might be echos of what I said here and wonder if maybe that number is higher than I think it is.
I mean I know I certainly don’t subscribe to the blogs I read. And I’m pretty sure my subscriber number doesn’t include people who’ve signed up for an RSS feed or whatever that is. So, maybe?
But then I think that’s just ego talking and how those echos are more likely part of the ongoing mass conversation that’s always happening where it turns out a good dozen people have the same “original” idea at the same time because all of the material for that idea was out there in the mass consciousness and those dozen people picked up on it in the same way around the same time.
Like, for example, I made a point here about something a couple weeks ago and then one of the hated ones on Twitter made a similar point around the same time. We don’t know each other, but we both said similar things at a similar time. And so if people who live to hate that person subtweeted their point and I hadn’t seen their post, it would be easy to wonder if somehow I was the one being subtweeted not them.
But likely not.
We all want to think we’re the star of the story, but we’re usually in the audience, not even in the supporting cast.
Just in case, though. For anyone who hasn’t figure this out, I’m just another rando on the internet spouting crap that’s probably 60% outright useful, 30% interesting enough to use to refine your own viewpoint, and 10% absolute misinformation or misunderstanding or only applicable to me.
And with that said…I think it’s time to start uploading some audio files for approval so people can hear me being very authoritative and opinionated on obscure business topics. Good times!
A few things that have crossed my timeline recently that I figured were worth mentioning.
For anyone looking towards trade pub and bookstore placement, I think this was a really good summary of the current state of affairs with Barnes & Noble.
I hadn’t realized they’d gotten rid of their co-op placement and that’s actually a really nice thing that means I may drop by my local B&N just to see what they have in there. I used to love walking through bookstores to browse the shelves and find something new to me, but recently the books that were getting a lot of attention in my genres were ones I didn’t want to read.
Which also reminds me that one of the drawbacks of becoming a writer is sometimes you get to know other writers and then you can’t remove that impression of them from your judgement of their books.
There was a recent big release by someone who annoyed the hell out of me at a conference by talking through all of the presentations, being generally arrogant, and flipping their hair around way too much and it means I won’t check out their book even though it might’ve been something I would’ve enjoyed.
(On the flip side, you meet a ton of great writers you would’ve never known otherwise and get to check out books that may not have even been on your radar, so it cuts both ways.)
Getting back to that Barnes & Noble thread.
I think something that wasn’t strongly highlighted in that thread and maybe because trade does work differently since books will literally go out of print, is that since B&N focuses so much on backlist sales that means there’s a chance for a book to get shelf space later if it follows the slow build, steady sales over years path.
(And honestly I’d rather not be on their shelves for a year and then be there for ten than be there for a month and never be carried by them again. Of course, trade pub doesn’t actually reward that pattern, but still.)
Anyway. There are a ton of options out there that come along later and maybe aren’t immediately available at release.
Bookbub, for example, rarely if ever (at least last time I checked) takes new releases in its promo emails. They want to see a nice track record of reviews first.
My first BB deal I think the book had been out for two years at that point?
So that midlist title that isn’t stocked at Barnes & Noble, eh, who cares? I mean, yeah, you care because you want to walk into that store and see YOUR book on the shelf.
But if you can create buzz elsewhere those people will order from Amazon or through the Barnes & Noble website or through any of a number of other places.
You do miss a random discoverability sale (which for kids’ books may matter more, since my mom would take us to the bookstore to pick out a book once a week when I was eight), but if people want that book they can still get it.
And if you get those steady sales so that you stay in print and people are continuously asking for your books, eventually maybe you do become one of those backlist titles they stock.
That does come back though to the need for authors to promote themselves somehow. There are so many ways to do that, but most take a lot of time and effort.
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have a Twitter account but I do go there and read tweets by about a dozen different authors most mornings.
And you know what? The people I read are people who tweet every single day. Multiple times a day.
They aren’t necessarily the people saying the most interesting things, or the people I would like the most if we met IRL, but they’re the people who are there and delivering content when I’m bored and want something new to see.
Tweeting multiple times a day though is a lot of time sunk into one website that you have no control over.
Because the people I follow don’t just schedule tweets and go about their day. These are people seeing things while they’re on there reading other people’s tweets and sharing and reacting.
I wouldn’t be surprised if each of the people I follow is on there at least an hour a day. Probably more.
That may be fine for them because it’s where they hang out with other writer friends so it’s like lunch break. But don’t think that isn’t time spent. And that it isn’t something you have to dedicate yourself to for weeks or months or years to even get to the point of being visible enough that others share you and help you build an audience.
And at the end of the day…I’m not sure how many new readers it brings in.
I have a friend who killed it with social media. And who gets paid a nice little sum for some of the things they do as a result of building that audience.
But…That didn’t guarantee success when their books came out.
I do think it helped them get a few of their trade publishing contracts. It definitely helped with their first. And may be a factor in being kept on with their current publisher because they’re also very good at promoting other authors.
But social media followers don’t necessarily become dedicated readers.
Eventually I buy at least one book from someone I follow on social media. But I’m trying to think of one of those authors who I then became a regular reader-fan of. And I can’t. I bought that one book. Maybe two. And…that was it.
Because social media is different from novels. And just because someone likes a tweet you sent doesn’t mean they’ll like how you told a 90,000-word story.
Ironically for me most of my favorite authors suck at social media. They either have a snarly out-dated Q&A about the books arriving when they’ll arrive or they have a blog that gets updated maybe five times a year with things I don’t care about or…Yeah, they’re not savvy media types.
So building up a social media following that’s not based on people who are fans of your books is likely not going to drive significant sales of those books.
It might raise the tide enough, though, to get to the people who really would be your readers…But those numbers need to be large enough for that to work.
One of the early self-pub success stories was someone who kept leaving out the part of their story where they released three books almost immediately and then had a Bookbub on the first title for free that moved 40,000 copies at a time when people actually read the freebies they downloaded.
I think if any of us had 25,000 people read one of our books and were a competent storyteller we’d find our way to that core audience of 1,000 that you need to build from. Especially if it happened in a very short period of time when Amazon’s algorithms could see and react as those people bought books 2 and 3.
But for most it’s a much slower grind so there is no algo-love.
I still think of the excellent presentation Courtney Milan gave years ago about being that little paper airplane and trying to get the lift to get it up that initial cliff of discoverability.
And sometimes it seems to me that social media followings are a side quest. You climb a mountain and it is an accomplishment, but it’s not necessarily one that will help you climb the cliff of steady book sales.
Anyway. With that bad analogy, I am done for the day. I have some audio to process and then some groceries to pick up so pup and I can go have lunch with family.
I mentioned the other day that this had come up during the DOJ trial related to the PRH/S&S merger. This idea that a publisher invests in 10 debut authors, maybe two do really well, two or three completely bomb, and the other five or six do alright but not amazing.
This is the approach VCs use to investing as well. (At least that’s what I was told during our MBA program by some VCs that came to talk to us.) They hope for the home run, but they know that only a small percentage of their investments are going to be home runs and that they’ll lose or be disappointed or meh about the others.
Well, it occurred to me this morning that this can also apply to self-publishing, too. And maybe this is more an example of the 80/20 rule in effect. (Where 80% of performance comes from 20% of the pool, in this case, of authors.)
Let me walk you through it.
About five years ago I joined a group of authors that occasionally touch base with one another and share information or commiserate or cheer one another on.
At the time we all wrote in a common genre or at least had written in that genre. And we all had a baseline level of sales. (It was a low baseline IMO but still I barely managed to qualify at the time.)
The idea behind the original group was that we had all done well enough with self-publishing that we took it seriously and had seen some traction with our writing and that we could benefit from sharing our experiences.
The group did not turn out to be what the founder wanted it to be, but a core group of about six of us hung in there. We now write in very different genres, but we’re still there to lend support and commiserate and just touch base.
Our little core group that’s left sort of follows this same VC pattern.
Two of the members are killing it in KU in two completely different genres. One has had a history of success but is at a pivot point. One went through one of those phases where you can’t seem to write anything new but really wants to get back to it and is maybe starting to do so after a couple years of struggle. One got frustrated enough with the whole thing that they’ve focused in on their day job for now with maybe the occasional promo or work on a new book. And then there’s me who is doing okay enough to be full-time for now but not killing it.
I think our group is pretty typical for what you’d see if you took a cohort of say ten serious about it self-publishers and tracked them for five years. Some would start high or go up and stay there. Some would find their way up but not be able to sustain it. Some would putz along in the middle never going up but never dropping to nothing. Some would never quite get off the ground. And some would leave for other opportunities no matter where they were performance-wise.
And what’s really challenging is finding a way to keep going when you’re one of the 8 out of 10 that aren’t at the top.
We have this myth in self-pub that if you just work hard enough or smart enough that you can be that 2 out of 10. Anyone can do it, right? I had someone say that in another group I’m in just the other day. That anyone can be a six-figure author if they just write a well-targeted, well-branded six-book series.
Oh, right. Okay, let me just go knock that out. Be right back in…two years? When the market has shifted again and now it’s ten books I need in a series to be a six-figure author. And maybe my series is no longer well-targeted. Oh, and somewhere in there I need to either figure out what “well-branded” means or somehow find someone who knows that even though it’s hard to judge someone’s credibility when you don’t know something yourself.
Sure. Okay. Let me get right on that.
And, to be clear, that person probably wasn’t wrong. An author who can write a well-branded six-book series in six months and get it out there has a good shot at building an audience.
But most authors can’t do that.
Some absolutely can. One of the two members of my group who is killing it in KU puts out a well-written full-length novel every six weeks or so. It can be done and is done. Just not by most authors.
And not by most new authors. That friend of mine has published something like 80 novels at this point under various pen names.
So, knowing this, what do you do? If you’re one of those authors who isn’t at the top, what does knowing this do you? (Other than make you want to cry.)
It very much depends on you and what matters to you and what you want.
If you must be at the top, you must win, you either floor it and give it everything you’ve got or you go and find something that’s easier to win at. There are absolutely corporate careers where if you put your head down and do the work for a decade you will move up and be making a very good salary.
But what if you don’t have to be the winner, you just want to keep going?
For me, I have to repeatedly accept that I personally don’t want to give what it takes to be at the top (and might not even be able to if I tried) and that while some will see me as a failure because of that, that I’m getting what I need out of this and that’s what counts.
Every single time I look at a friend’s life and think, “Oh no, I would not want that life” I have to remind myself that the only person allowed to judge someone’s life is that person. They are the one who has to get up every morning and live their life and if they’re happy in that choice then it’s no business of mine that I wouldn’t want to live like them.
I also turn that around and I remind myself that I am the one that has to live my life for the next 24 hours, 7 days, 52 weeks, however many years. And it doesn’t matter what others think of the path I’ve taken, it matters how I feel about the path I’ve taken.
It’s not easy to shut out those outside voices and judgements. Society exists to make us conform to a set of standards that benefit the whole over the individual and we are wired to hear those messages.
But it’s essential to do that if you’re going to walk a path that isn’t the norm. Especially if you could walk a path that’s the norm and you’ve just chosen not to.
Anyway. Just some more random writing thoughts. I’m off to record more audio. I think I finally have things dialed in on the non-fiction side at least so will be getting two of those books out in audio soon. They’ll probably sell five copies, but you never know. And I get to learn something new while doing it, which is the part I enjoy the most. So…Onward.
I was refreshing a bunch of my AMS ads yesterday and noticed that I’d hit the $100K in ad spend milestone.
Now, a few things first. That sales number looks more impressive than it is because that’s retail price not what I receive. Also, though, that number doesn’t include all the KU page reads I had on my books before AMS started reporting KENP on the dashboard, so my direct results from AMS ads are better than this.
Also, while that number I’ve spent can seem big–and given to someone in one lump sum it would be–my total AMS ad spend is much lower than the big hitters spend. There are authors out there who probably spend $50K or more per month on AMS.
So, as with most of what I write on this blog, my target audience is those trying to get a foothold not those who already have one. So the folks spending $50K on AMS per month, I’ve got nothing for you. Same with the so amazingly wonderful writers whose books just sell without effort.
Back in the day when we still got a physical paper everyday there was a cartoon called Pluggers. That’s who this is for. The ones sort of trudging along making progress even though it seems like they’re stuck in the mud half the time.
So…Let’s see what we can learn from my experience with AMS ads. First some context.
I was lucky to run my first AMS ads back in May 2016 before they really caught on. There was a glorious period of time when all the heavy-hitters on Kboards who’d beta’ed the ads were talking about how horrible they were and I started running some ads and…they worked for me.
The beauty of not having a lot of competition. Clicks were cheap then! Ah, it was a beautiful time.
But then people started sharing their success stories. And a few really big ad courses came out on how to use AMS. And things started to shift.
At one point I had a book out on using AMS ads, that I updated once, but I pulled those books because it seemed like every time I published one of those books the good folks at Amazon would completely change the interface or the available options or remove an ad type or add an ad type and the book would become obsolete.
Since I pulled that second book they’ve added columns for orders and KENP and top of impression share and I think moved how you access half the options.
And, thank god, they also added the ability to see information for just a select time period. (To see some of the fun hoops I used to have to jump through to use AMS, you could always check out another title I pulled, Excel for Self-Publishers. Half of the items I covered in that book were workarounds for things AMS didn’t have at the time but now does, like a way to guesstimate your KENP you were getting from your ads.)
So things have changed. And that number you see in ad spend happened over a period of six years.
Which I think is the first lesson here.
DO NOT THROW A BUNCH OF MONEY AT THE WALL
I did not start out spending large amounts of money on AMS ads. In 2016 I spent a grand total of $1,143 on AMS ads.
I don’t know how to describe this, but it’s true for the titles you publish as well as advertising spend. Some just show more signs of life.
I still remember when I published my first billionaire romance short story. Copies sold before I even knew it was live. (Note, this was also back in the days of less competition when that could happen.)
I hadn’t had that happen before. That was a sign of life. It meant, lean into this. There’s promise here. (I didn’t but that’s another story. I seem to learn the hard way.)
So with AMS, every book I publish I try to run some AMS ads on. Some of those books, the ads just don’t work. I publish a weird variety of titles, some of which probably have an audience of one, me. But I give them a shot with an AMS ad just to see.
And then, if I’m seeing clicks and sales, I keep it going. I cut what didn’t work and boost what did and try to refine that ad into something that can run long-term.
So, for example, my books on Affinity Publisher, I tried targeting some self-publishing keywords, but they really didn’t work so I trimmed those out. But there were some others that did, so I kept those and have an ad or two running for a couple of the Affinity Publisher books that deliver low-level sales results.
Full disclosure here before I say this next book, I have not taken any of the other AMS ad classes or read any of the other AMS books. There was a little too much snake oil feel to things at one point so I avoid it all.
But occasionally someone will mention here or there the advice they’ve been given on AMS ads from one of those courses or books. And sometimes the advice is that you have to be willing to lose $500 bucks to master AMS. And maybe that works. But no way in hell I’m flushing $500 on ads that aren’t working. Which brings us to our next point.
AMS ads are not necessarily the best choice of ad for a book. The more in the center of a genre a book is the more I think the list-based ad options are a better choice. Things like Freebooksy or Bookbub.
But for a full-price, cold audience looking for X book on any given day, AMS ads can be great. That means someone who comes to Amazon looking for a book on X, with no intention to buy my particular book.
You want to learn Excel and not bog down in a bunch of bullshit about the history of the program and every little thing you’ll never use? I gotcha covered. Since 2017 I have been able to successfully run AMS ads on that book at full price because it meets that need of people who come to Amazon looking for an Excel book.
But some of my fiction? Not so much.
I don’t write to the center of genres. My romances are on the edge of being women’s fiction. My cozy mysteries are probably small town family sagas that happen to involve murder. My YA fantasy has a romance subplot that doesn’t appeal to fantasy romance readers. My fiction is a harder sell.
It’s part of the challenge of learning to be a writer to figure out how to hit the bullseye of a genre, and fourteen published novels in, I know it conceptually but can’t do it yet.
So it’s harder to advertise my fiction.
Early on when there wasn’t a lot of competition I could take 25 clicks to sell a book and still make a profit. Nowadays with bids where they are I need to be at 10 or even less, depending on the title and genre.
Also, in my experience, based on how I run AMS ads, the ads only run well on full-priced books. I have tried to run them on freebies or cheap books or while I was doing a promo and the ads just slowed to a crawl.
Other techniques for running the ads may have different results, but for me it has to be full-price and something that will appeal to a cold audience.
WHAT THE COMPETITION IS DOING MATTERS
When you run AMS ads (or FB ads or Bookbub click ads) you are in a blind auction against an unknown number of other participants employing unknown bidding strategies.
How they choose to set up their AMS ads is going to impact how yours perform.
What they bid, what keywords they use, how successful their books already are, how new their books are, and how new their ads are will all impact whether you win that ad slot or they do.
The more sophisticated the competition becomes about using AMS ads the more challenging they become to run profitably.
Back in the day an author mentioned how they’d bid $9 for some keywords during a launch period because that put them at the top of ad placement, but that they didn’t actually have to spend that because no one else was bidding that at the time.
Well, others thought that was a good idea and started doing the same. And when you have multiple authors using that strategy, suddenly everyone is paying really high click costs.
So in a certain sense AMS ads are not set it and forget it ads. You do have to tend them and keep an eye out for changes and then figure out how to adjust.
DON’T GET PULLED OUT OF POSITION
Which brings up another issue. It’s very easy to react to every little change. A keyword goes from performing well one day to having 20 clicks and no sales the next and it’s tempting to turn that keyword off.
But the problem is doing so can sometimes pull you out of position. In my little Excel niche this is often driven by fake clicks on the ads. And if I turn off that keyword that day whoever is behind that gets the real clicks on that keyword and those sales for as long as everyone else is away from that keyword. If it was a good one that can be a big part of your ad performance.
Same with when someone comes through with really high bids. If you try to match them and continue to dominate the space, they’ve pulled you out of a profitable little pocket.
Which is why I do monitor my ads but I try to not be too drastic about the things I do with them. Because I want to react to long-term changes in the ad landscape, but not be jerked around by every little hiccup.
(I should not here, though, that when you’ve established ads it’s much easier to hold that line than when you’re learning and trying to figure out what really does work and what really doesn’t.)
SLOW AND STEADY
Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I am fairly productive (not massively productive, but I get 300K words published a year or something like that), but I am also not driven to be at the top.
I write because I like to hang out with my dog and avoid office politics. As long as I think I can do that for another six months, I’m good.
So I do want to make a profit so I can keep going, but I don’t have to “win”.
Which means I do not spend a lot of time narrowing in and optimizing my ads. Nor do I adopt some of the strategies that probably are more successful but take more time and effort. That seems an exhausting way to live for me.
So I try to have ads that I set and forget. My biggest AMS ad at the moment is closing in on $30K in sales. My two second biggest have hit $25K in sales.
I know that there are others who run AMS ads who do the exact opposite. They wake up every day and they started a hundred new ads and burn through them like wildfire. Which works for them. And they probably make more from that strategy than I do from mine.
But I like my way because I get to set up one ad that runs for three years with some careful tending. So there is room with AMS ads to take the slow, steady, distracted approach and still make some profit. Not as big a profit probably as the optimizers, but enough of one.
Which I guess brings me to the second-to-last point. I would never have spent the amount of money I have on ads if they didn’t make me a profit. If they didn’t return more than I put out there immediately.
Self-publishing is a weird space because there are very vocal people in this industry who will make you feel like shit if you have to advertise your books to sell them.
They’ll either imply that your books aren’t good enough if you have to advertise (even though they write to a very hungry market segment and you don’t so the sales dynamics are completely different).
Or they’ll imply that you’re not a real writer or your some sort of impatient sellout if you aren’t willing to write nine books before you even think of advertising. (Actually I think I saw someone say 20 the other day and I laughed and laughed and laughed and then went and checked my AMS ads.)
That second one strikes me as the self-pub equivalent of “you should spend ten years querying agents if you want to get published” or “you shouldn’t write a novel until you have a dozen pro short story sales” that trade pub sometimes throws out there.
I would not be writing right now if I hadn’t started advertising my books, because they will not sell on their own. If I didn’t advertise the Excel books, people would happily buy Excel for Dummies and get on with their lives. If I didn’t advertise my fiction there are plenty of fiction titles out there that they would buy instead.
I am my publisher. And as a publisher I have an obligation to get my work in front of potential readers. Advertising is a very good way to do that on a daily basis. Sure, this website gives people links to my books, but they’re not just gonna stumble across it. Something has to pull people here.
Putting a book up and then thinking the world will find it is a good way to be disappointed. And being disappointed is a good way to quit something you might have actually been good at.
BUT ADVERTISING DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK
I currently have a list of sixteen titles that I wrote down where I’d run AMS ads on them at some point this year, but the ads just weren’t doing well enough and I turned them off.
I have another ten that I wrote down where the ad was okay-ish, but I wanted to redo the ad because I thought it could be better and I didn’t think tweaking the existing ad was going to cut it.
(This in addition to the twenty ads I do have running right now that I think are doing alright.)
The reality is that sometimes advertising doesn’t work for a book. Maybe it’s the cover or the blurb or something else that can be redone to make it hit better. But sometimes…a book just isn’t going to appeal. Maybe forever, maybe just right now.
And that’s tough. It sucks.
But if you write enough books you will find that some do better than others and it’s not a matter of packaging or of getting the right description, it’s just that some books don’t appeal as much as others do.
Sometimes, though, it’s a matter of having enough books for those ads to work. On the fiction side I tend to lose money on book one, make it all up with sales of book two, and then have profit from book three onward.
Well, if all you have is book one…that’s not gonna work.
Or if people don’t read through to book two or three, that’s not gonna work.
So sometimes it is a matter of getting better at your craft. Or of writing enough books to make the ads profitable.
With AMS, even though I know that pattern exists for my fiction, I still tend to want an individual book to be profitable when I advertise it. I want that ACOS number to be under 55%. But sometimes that does not happen. And I have to let go, for now, of that book.
Look, people write for all kinds of reasons. For the love, for the exploration, etc.
But sometimes they write for the money. And if you’re writing for the money, you have to let go of the ones that don’t work. Learn what you can from that experience and move on to the next.
IT ALL CHANGES
One final thought.
I’ve been writing towards publication for a little over a decade and self-publishing for about nine years at this point.
What I can say with certainty is that things will be significantly different in another ten years. I’m not quite sure how, but I’m certain they will be. Maybe that change will happen at the industry level, maybe it will happen at the national level, maybe it will be international. But overall there will be significant change.
Over the last ten years self-pub has significantly evolved. What worked for people in 2013 when I was putzing around not doing anything I should have been is not what works for people who start today.
(Heck, KU didn’t exist when I got started and that was a game-changer. If Amazon opens KU up to all authors or splits out pop lists by KU versus other or does any of a number of other things they may be forced to do to not be considered anti-competitive, that’ll be significant for many authors.)
So knowing that, I will say that the single most important skill you need to develop as a self-published author is the ability to see that things have changed and to adjust.
I can sit down with someone today and walk through the mechanics of using AMS and tell them how I approach the ads. And that may benefit them for the next year.
But if that person can’t take the higher-level principles and let got of the details, they’re going to get stuck at some point trying to rely on what used to work.
So my best advice with AMS and self-pub is to stay flexible. Build up slowly and steadily. Don’t flush money away but do take some risks to see what’s possible. Accept failure. Follow-up on success. And adapt as needed.
(Oh, and if you want to see all the books I’ve written about writing and self-publishing they’re all on this page. I tend to write them for myself to cement my knowledge, but I do think they have some valuable discussion, too. And what kind of self-publisher would I be if I didn’t at least mention that they exist?)
First, let me get this out there right away, I think that doing your own audio (even though I am going to) is a huge time suck and waste of effort for most authors. You’d be far better off writing the next book.
But, there is something I have learned about myself through this whole self-publishing journey and that’s that I like to learn new things. If I ever get this to the point where I’ve learned everything and it’s just a matter of rinse and repeat, that will probably be the day I walk away.
Because I can tell myself stories in my head. I do it all the time. I have like five partial novels that rotate in my head these days with little bits getting added to them all the time. I don’t have to write to create those stories.
So, for me, I do this because it’s a challenge and I get to learn new things. And this year the new thing I’ve decided to learn is audio.
Now, I’ve dabbled in audio before. Back in 2013 I asked about it on Kboards and got some advice and bought a Blue Yeti microphone and set up my walk-in closet and recorded part of a short story. (And then got distracted by a six-month consulting project and didn’t come back to it for a year.)
That first recording? Too fast. Way too fast. I listened to it again after I’d hired about five narrators to do various projects for me and, yeah, it was…bad. Just too fast.
After that I did some video courses for Excel. And then a couple years after that I did some video courses for Affinity. And then I did a couple of my really short short stories as an audiobook.
And…Let’s just say I was still learning. There were mistakes made.
I can listen to those files on my computer speakers and be like, “Oh, that’s fine. It works well enough.” But put on fancy headphones and…mmm, things could be improved.
(And likely will once I iron out all the details on processing audio files which I’m about 80% on at this point. I can reprocess the audio files with what I know now and regenerate and upload the files. Of course, with video files they take the same amount of time to reprocess as they are long. So that’s 20+ hours of just reprocessing time? Not including the editing part? And most people don’t have fancy headphones to notice the issues? So it will probably happen, but not immediately.)
Anyway. What have I learned that I can pass on to someone foolish like me? (Note, some of the links below are affiliate links to Amazon but you can find these elsewhere. For example, I was going to buy on Sweetwater but they were out of one of the microphones I wanted and I have no patience.)
1. Buy some good over-the-ear headphones so you can really hear things. I bought AKG Acoustics k240 studio headphones and wow, what a difference those made in what I could hear. And they weren’t too spendy either.
But if you are going to do that, watch out for sinus issues. For me those headphones hit right at the jaw joint on my left ear and after a couple days of heavy use I needed an extra hot shower and some decongestant because it messed my ear up.
2. Recording environment is king. You can do a lot after the fact, but getting a clean space to record in up front will help so much. My videos and those short stories were recorded in an untreated space and I can hear that echo with the good headphones.
3. How you prep and enunciate and speak is also very important. Again, I found some solutions that can handle “mouth noise” and “clicks”, but not making them in the first place is even better. I still need to work on tricks in that area, like eating slices of tart green apples or chewing gum or a dash of apple cider vinegar in some water. But, yeah, the cleaner you can record the less time it’ll take to have a good finished file.
4. There are eight million ways to process a file after the fact. I dove deep on how to handle sibilance over the weekend and found a good half-dozen options for how to handle it. And I think I know four different ways to handle background noise at this point. The exact combination to use is probably a very personal one based on what software, microphone, and type of voice and recording issues someone has.
5. It’s time-consuming. I recorded one short story (about 5K words) yesterday. It took 45 minutes to record. It was 30 minutes after I edited out repeats and pauses and things like that. With all of the processing, editing, listen-back it was 3 hours to create that half hour.
With better recording technique and more faith in the final product (so that I didn’t do a full listen-back at the beginning and the end) I could probably drop that down at least an hour, but I won’t be there anytime soon.
6. In terms of processing the file. My first time I listened through to a file I wanted to clip out every little noise I heard, but that is going to waste a lot of time. Go through the file, clip out any of the big stuff you don’t want in the final, like long pauses to yell at your dog (or is that just me) or repeated takes on a specific line. Don’t try to fix every little noise. Run your effects/processing on the file next. And then, if you still have some issues, fix them then. But that processing, especially like de-clicking the file, will really help with a lot of that.
7. Fiction is obviously harder than non-fiction because of the number of voices involved and the emotion required. My non-fiction does have some personality to it, but it’s a whole different level when you’re trying to have a three-way conversation and make each character sound unique enough to be distinguishable.
8. Each person who does audio or voice over is going to have a certain sweet spot where they do better. I am not an announcer voice. I also don’t have some deep, rich voice that charms and soothes. That is simply not me.
So sometimes even if you can narrate something yourself, you may not be the best choice for it.
Right now I’m working on this because I have a nine-book series where the voice is first-person and the main character is very much like me, so I can get away with narrating that.
And if I get everything dialed in it will cost me my time instead of the $10K plus it would cost to pay for a narrator on that series.
My hope is that I’ll get this to the point where I can do it for commercials or that sort of thing. But if I get there it won’t be “I can do all audio”. It will be “I can do your middle-aged neighbor who recommends that you try this product.”
9. Finally, not a tip so much as an observation: I know when I’m writing fiction that there is emotion on the page, but it amazes me how much of that emotion surfaces when I’m reading something I wrote as a narrator instead of in my head.
Narration adds a level of nuance to my stories that floors me every single time I read a new fiction piece I wrote. It takes those stories up a level and really fleshes things out. It’s almost worth it for just that experience alone. (Almost.)
So, yeah. I’m sure I’ll come up with more later. But that’s a start.
Right now as I write this I decided that using a Scarlett Solo interface and Audio-Technica AT875R microphone worked best for my set-up. I tried a Rode NT1 and I couldn’t get a low enough noise floor with my current arrangement which involves a folding table, a closet, some creative use of curtain rods, and heavy moving blankets. I also had a Heil boom arm to mount the microphone on.
I did consider a WhisperRoom but decided against it because it was too permanent a set-up for my current space. (And is far more costly, too. Not something to be done lightly.)
I may circle back to the Rode at some point and see if I can’t handle the noise issue with processing. It’s supposed to be a richer sound. But then I’ll have to deal more with plosives if I go that route, too.
Also, I started out in Audacity but right now I’m trialing Reaper and think I’ll go with it and some additional plug-ins, some of which are free, some of which aren’t. Not sure I need the plug-ins if I were better versed in Reaper (for example, I could use ReaFir for noise suppression), but for now I think the plug-ins work better for me.
We’ll see where I am on this in six months. Should be interesting for me if nothing else. (Although I so need to write the next fantasy novel! And some non-fiction that’s on deck! But hey, if I’m not enjoying my days, what’s the point, right? Sure, that’s the story…)
You don’t think about it when you decide to write a novel or produce some other creative work, but legal issues are actually a very important part of being a creative. Because it absolutely matters who owns that creative work when things take off.
And there is no way to put your work out into the world that doesn’t run into legal requirements. Whether that’s trade-publishing contracts, terms of service for listing an ebook on a distributor website like Amazon’s, or just basic copyright and trademark protections which apply to any work you put out there even if it’s something you generated on your home computer and sold on the street corner.
The law is a key part of producing creative work.
Now, you don’t have to be a lawyer to do this stuff, but you should at least understand the basics of what you’re working with. What rights are. How you license them. What trademark is and how that differs from copyright.
And I will tell you right now that relying on a daily observation of how things happen on the internet is a very bad way to do it. Because, oh my gosh, there is so much violation of copyright and trademark that happens every single day on the internet it’s not even funny. Every video shared that uses a popular song without a license to do so. Or uses the key images from some creative property without permission. Or uses the words of one creative work for another without permission.
It’s a mess out there. And it’s such a mess that most of it isn’t stopped in real-time or it’s stopped wholesale regardless of how minor the infraction. A song clip in the background of a video shared to five friends is probably not a big deal, but there are too many people out there who want to take a popular song, put it on top of their own background images, and post it on a site like Youtube so they can get paid advertising fees when people who want to hear that song go looking for it online.
(Which, by the way, is a shitty thing to do because it takes money away from the person who actually created that song. Which means we get less from creatives because they can’t make a living and so go become Uber drivers instead. And that shitty person who took someone else’s work to profit off of it? They can’t replace that because they’re not original creators. They’re just sitting around waiting to exploit the work of others.)
So. Learn copyright. Learn trademark. And respect them. Because if you don’t want people taking your stuff you shouldn’t take theirs.
Okay, so lawsuits. First up is the Bridgerton lawsuit. This is a great, but long, video discussing the whole thing.
Short version. Two women watched the Bridgerton TV show. Were inspired. Wrote songs based on what they saw and heard. Turned it into a musical. Won a Grammy for those songs. Had it performed at the Kennedy Center and came up with a bunch of merchandise to sell. And got sued for copyright and trademark infringement.
I am not a lawyer. I am not deep into this situation. But I will make a few comments.
It is possible to lose a trademark. (Fun fact: You do not have to register a trademark for it to be a trademark of your business. So just because someone is the first to file for a mark does not mean they get it if it was actually in use before that. And you can issue a cease and desist for a mark that isn’t registered, too.)
A trademark is something that distinguishes your product from that of others. It is unique to you. And the way to keep a trademark is to rigorously defend it. If you don’t do that it can become generic (like Kleenex for tissue) and no longer valid. You also have to keep using it.
So I think one misstep here by Netflix was that they probably were not adamant enough early on about the trademark part of this whole mess. Whatever they have trademarked–and I haven’t looked it up–they should have been all over in enforcing.
But that can kill a fandom if every time fans refer to X property improperly you send a nasty note about it. So there’s a balancing act there.
And even though Barlow and Bear appear to have had legal counsel involved, it seems to me the difference between trademark and copyright may be where they went wrong on this.
Because if this was just a trademark issue, then proceeding to use that mark without permission until the brand was so diluted it was no longer just Netflix’s and Julia Quinn’s brand may have gotten them off the hook. If they somehow transformed the Bridgerton brand into some more generic thing, that could, I think (and again, not a lawyer), kill the trademark.
They seem to have missed how copyright works. Because, based on that summary and the lawsuit, they took verbatim wording from the TV show and used it in their songs.
Those words, that way of phrasing things, is copyright protected. I can quote something here and discuss it and that’s considered fair use. But taking those words and using them for commercial benefit, is not.
I think even those little quote books you can buy sometimes have to get permission for all the quotes they use or they need to make sure that the quotes used are so old they’re outside of copyright.
(Which currently is life of the creator + 70 years.)
Now, there is a fair use parody exception to copyright. See here and here for a discussion and the actual rule, but this doesn’t seem to fall under that.
Weird Al Yankovic made a living parodying songs but those songs are real parodies. They take the original lyrics of a song and change them to make a joke out of it.
This musical appears to instead be a derivative work from the little I’ve seen of it.
They probably would have been okay if they’d just done it on TikTok and not made money from it. But they commercialized it which is one of the four key considerations when looking at whether something is considered fair use or not. Also, they may have been okay if Netflix hadn’t also put out a live show that was going to be performed in the same city so a directly competing product.
You could argue that the musical boosted sales of the TV show but that would still be pretty dicey IMO and using the exact words was a really bad idea.
(As a side note I believe the computer books I write fall under fair use because they are educational, they are books or video courses on computer software so can’t be confused with the original product, and, if anything, they expand the market for that product by making it more accessible to users. However, if I had instead tried to consolidate or paraphrase one of the books that had already been written on those subjects, like the Dummies series books, then I would have been infringing that copyright because we’d both be selling books, I’d be taking market share from them with my sales, and if I used their words it would not be in an educational way but instead in an attempt to profit off of their work.)
So. Doesn’t look good for those girls. Especially since the original copyright owner tried to work with them and they said no.
(Before we move on I just want to also note that big companies can mess this up, too. The little IngramSpark pop-up that appears every time you try to publish a book through them gets all of this drastically confused. They ask questions that combine trademark, copyright, and libel/slander rules and then only link to guidance about copyright. They also make it sound like you have to have written permission for things when that’s not actually the legal requirement. Annoys the shit out of me that a company their size can have done something so half-assed. But I digress.)
The other exciting writing-related lawsuit this week has been the DOJ attempt to stop the merger of two of the largest publishers, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.
Publishers Weekly has had staff on-site live-tweeting the trial all week. If you want to get caught up on it, here’s a link.
We currently live in a world where we pay the heavy cost of decreased competition in a number of industries.
Now, you can get economies of scale from larger companies. I mean, the folks at Masterclass put out better content for far less cost than most individuals can.
Right now I can pay $15/month and watch courses from top authors, creatives, and business leaders to my heart’s content. Compare that to the $300-$500 one person might charge when putting out their own material that they recorded in their home office.
So there are definite benefits to being larger. But it also constricts your options. When I can get all of that for $15 a month, I’m far less likely to pay $300 for one little course I may not like.
The DOJ has taken an interesting approach on this one and focused on the biggest authors, arguing that taking two of the biggest publishers and combining them into one will decrease the competitiveness of advances in that portion of the market.
Which we all absolutely know will happen, platitudes from senior execs at those companies that they happily allow their divisions to bid against one another aside.
What’s interesting to me is that this lawsuit may finally indicate a shift away from allowing a small number of companies to control various markets.
We have the rules in place, but what rules get enforced is very politically and philosophically driven. Right now, though, I think we’re seeing the harm of intense consolidation (baby formula anyone) and so maybe that particular pendulum is starting to swing back from the extreme we reached.
And, of course, once again I found myself watching reactions on Twitter and feeling differently from what I saw said there.
So a few comments.
One, it’s in the best interest of these senior executives to be vague and stupid about how things work. Because if they got up there and they really drilled in on all the fine points of how books get marketed and published, they’d lose their big merger.
But they can’t just outright perjure themselves either, so you get “well, it’s all random really” and “we’re not trying to be profitable, we’re just rich people trying to influence the moral course of the country”. (Not actual quotes by the way, but paraphrasing some paraphrasing.)
And to some extent what they’re saying is true. Just this week–and don’t ask me where because I can’t remember–I read an article about how there is a part of literary publishing whose interest is in publishing books that influence the cultural moment. These people have wealth already and don’t need more from their publishing efforts. What they want is to guide what people are talking about. In that situation, profitability is not the goal. Influence is the goal.
Also, I do believe that there is no exact formula for publishing a successful book. I think it was Courtney Milan maybe who talked about it being a weighted dice.
There may be no formula for making a bestseller, but there are certain subjects, ways of presenting a book, and ways of marketing a book that make it far more likely that it will sell in big numbers.
A book that everyone sees in every Barnes & Noble when they walk through the front doors of the store and that is advertised in newsletters and banner ads on all the major ebook retailer sites has a helluva lot better shot at selling than one that’s just listed on Amazon’s website as an ebook.
But there’s still no guarantee that people will click or pick it up. And no guarantee that when they do click or pick it up they’ll like what they see enough to buy it.
On this bestseller idea I will actually go further and say that if tomorrow someone said, “You can have a guaranteed bestseller if you write about X very specific idea”, that even if that were true when they said it, it would no longer be true a year later. Because ten people would have written about X and killed the excitement behind that idea that made it a “must have”. It would no longer be unique and interesting.
So you can prime the pump so to speak, but there is no guarantee.
Also, and I’ve talked about this before, I do believe that publishing works much like venture capital. As a publisher you buy ten books that seem to have a solid chance at success. Two knock it out of the park. Three are dismal failures. And the other five are okay, I guess. Solid, but not what you were hoping for.
(The numbers given in one of those comments were actually more dire than that.)
I see that with my own books. A small number generate the majority of the revenue, but going in there was no way for me to know which ones those were going to be. I might’ve suspected a bit because some are passion projects that I know won’t sell, but honestly, my number 5 book for the year in terms of profit? Completely unexpected.
There was also a lot of uproar about this comment:
I don’t know what the book was. But I suspect this was one of those situations where they paid for that book and then something changed.
Maybe it was a political book of some sort and that person fell out of favor between contract signing and book delivery. Maybe it was about a topic where the fundamentals changed by the time it released. Maybe the author somehow lost their credibility or audience. Or the book was worse than expected. Maybe a book just like that published a month or two earlier and killed the buzz potential.
There are any number of reasons a book can look like a good idea when you sign the contract and then not look like a good idea when it’s ready to publish.
And I think what he said about “I don’t think marketing money can create a success” is actually true. This is the part Twitter went nuts about. But folks…
I write some books that people don’t like. Or that only a handful of people will like.
I could win the lottery tomorrow, put the perfect cover on one of those books, get massive distribution for it, put it out in the best possible format that would let it succeed, and market it like there’s no tomorrow, and it would not suddenly become a bestseller.
Every book I release, I try to advertise. But some I stop advertising. Because it’s like slogging through mud. And, yeah, maybe a new cover would help. Or a better blurb. Or a different way to advertise.
But sometimes…What I chose to write about didn’t interest anyone else.
In self-pub, for me, short stories are wasted words unless they’re sexy. No amount of begging and pleading is going to make those short stories of mine interesting to a significantly larger audience.
So, I actually agree with that guy. You try to promote something and see if it has life, but don’t throw good money after bad if there’s nothing there. Instead, look to your titles that show a little spark and nurture that spark into a full-blown fire.
And for the record I am not saying that trade pub does this well. I just finished reading an interesting non-fiction title that discussed some of trade pub’s idiocy over the years, which has included setting a date in advance to stop publishing a book and to destroy all remaining copies of that book without even seeing if the book would sell. And doing that on an active series that still had books coming out.
What idiocy. If I see book four in the bookstore and it looks good to me? I want to buy book 1 and start reading that series through from the start. So doing that and not nurturing that series, loses readers like me and guarantees that the series will slowly sell less and less copies. Bad business.
So, yes, trade pub can do shit-stupid things when it comes to marketing. But that doesn’t change the fact that you can’t buy long-term sales of a book. Short bursts? Sure. Make a list? Yep. But sustained, long-term sales? That comes down to the product and whether it meets reader need or not.
Okay. Off to experiment more with audio which is currently kicking my butt but showing glimmers of hope.
I really need to stop reading Twitter, but when your daily conversations are your dog and your mother, well…You have to find some way to participate in humanity and that’s my current way.
So, as usual, the part of Twitter I read, or one of them at least, is blowing up right now with big-time drama.
What the drama du jour is doesn’t really matter. But it brings up an important point, which is that we don’t all possess the same information.
Two of the things that are part of today’s discourse come up often when this happens.
One, is pronoun use. The person at the center of this current drama uses a set of pronouns you’d have to have researched to know about. And they’ve now deleted their account so there’s no way to even see their bio and what pronouns they’ve listed.
I don’t know this person. I occasionally have seen tweets of theirs shared by people I do read.
On a quick glance their name and profile picture, which is all you see when that happens, present female. So if I were as a casual commenter going to mention something I saw them say in passing, I’d refer to them as “she” or “her” or, more likely for me, “they” or “them”. (I actually may have done so here in the past since a passing thread of theirs led me to comment on an issue a while back.)
Often when these things blow up on Twitter there’s a thread of comments about, “And they didn’t even use [person’s] proper pronouns! See how we can dismiss their opinion immediately.”
Except, that’s not really what happened?
What happened is someone saw a thread of a thread of a thread and by the time it was on their radar the actual person who was the source of the original situation wasn’t important enough to get a detailed biographical history before sharing an opinion about the little snippet that made its way into wider discourse.
In this case that was about an employer of this person. So people might weigh in on how someone was outed as working for X employer and refer to that person as “she” because they have no idea who that person actually is and don’t really care about who that person actually is so just go by their name.
It happens. It’s not a deliberate slight or an intentional misgendering. It’s just going by surface information.
The other big gotcha of the current scandal is that the employer information was leaked by some entity that is “known” to be BAD, and so therefore anybody reacting to that information negatively is clearly supporting this entity and its agenda.
Except, again, at least for me, my first note of the current scandal was probably ten steps down the line so all I saw were people who knew the original person reacting to them being called out and I then looked up that person’s name to see why and saw that they worked for X company.
I never saw the original source of the information. Most people probably never saw the original source of the information.
And, even if I had, not being a part of that community I’d have no frickin’ clue that Y entity is bad. Now I know about them. But the “Ooh, you’re supporting Y entity by talking about this, way to be a…” is not the gotcha you think.
According to my Google search, Twitter currently has 450 million users. That person in the midst of this drama I think had 50K followers. I’d bet you that only about 1K of those followers were dialed into the proper pronouns and who entity Y is.
When things like this break out they break out to a much wider audience than the 1K who know all the nitty gritty details.
Calling people out (and again, I don’t actually have a Twitter account and will never have one again so I’m not an active part of this conversation) for something they don’t actually know is the height of absurdity on the internet.
You live in a bubble. We all do. You cannot expect the world to know everything you know. And you cannot expect everyone to–in a casual, fast-moving conversation–dive down the rabbit hole to find every little nuance. Not gonna happen.
Of course, even if everyone in the world read this post and agreed, those sorts of callouts will never stop. Because there’s some psychological factor at work there that’s always existed. Even pre-internet you’d run into it. Like, “Ha! You didn’t factor in obscure fact number 236 in your comment, you’re wrong!”
But I like to scream into the void at times, so…
There you have it. Just because you know something doesn’t mean others do and half of internet fights seem to me to be about that exact imbalance of information and people reacting as if it doesn’t exist.
Final note. Still not approving any comments by new posters on this blog. (If you’ve posted here before, you’re fine.)
Also, full disclosure, I had a family member who worked most of their career for employer X. On space exploration, by the way. And I’m proud of the work they did there.
(And honestly this whole drama has been a good reminder for me personally that a lot of the people who are angry on the internet would never like me no matter what, so why bend over backwards trying to please them in my writing…Hm.)