Random Thoughts and Comments 20221101

First, if you live in the U.S. and haven’t done so yet, vote. I think this election is going to be a pivotal one and regardless of which side you’re voting for, you should pick a side. And, please, for the love of God, dig a little deeper than slick campaign ads to make your decision.

Humans have this tendency to think “oh, I’ve heard that name before” and then create a positive association or accept something as true because they heard it. Dig deeper than that. We live in an age where crap information is basically floating in the air 24/7 and it’s too easy to go with what seems familiar without realizing what you’re doing.

(And ignore polls. I don’t know anyone other than my grandma who answers calls, phones, or texts from strangers.)

Second, since I’m in parent mode it seems, get boosted for COVID if you haven’t. This whole thing is an endurance and adaptability challenge and so many people aren’t meeting it.

In case you missed these shifts: COVID is more lingering in the air than lurking on surfaces so breathing stale air is more risky than touching a counter, there are still mutations happening that can get around prior infection, long-term effects for even minor cases have proven to be brutal for some (even those who’d been vaccinated) so the best bet is to never get sick, and for about the last year-plus being vaccinated is not enough to avoid getting infected.

Vaccination does reduce how sick you’ll get, but only during that early six to nine months did it also protect against getting sick at all. And what protection it gives wanes over time so, you know, masks, air filters, and not throwing yourself in the midst of large crows are all still good ideas.

Third, Twitter. As I’ve mentioned before, I refuse to have an account there because I found myself spreading too much negativity, but I do go there regularly to read content.

It’s a scary time for big users of that site, because it was a good source of an audience for things like funding SFF short story publishers, and for me it was a good source of COVID info. Now…

The new owner has shown themselves to be aligned with certain questionable parties and you have to imagine they will either deliberately kill the site to shut down a vital source of independent information or that the shifts due to policy decisions will leave it a ghost town anyway.

Whichever it is in the end, it will make forming community and getting the word out about creative projects that much harder I think. And no one knows where to jump to at the current moment from what I can tell.

There’s an alignment issue out there between the social media giants and their audiences and no consensus on which is the least ugly option.

Fourth, for me the last month or so AMS ads have been a bit of a blood bath. I think a few factors are at play, one being a potential tweak to how they handle broad matches for keywords. There’s no context to them at all anymore.

For example, I have books on Microsoft Access that I used to advertise using “access” as a broad keyword just fine. I think before behind the scenes Amazon at least took into account the product category.

But this month I was seeing clicks on things like “Amazon early access sale” which have nothing to do with my books.

My better-selling titles aren’t as impacted, but for titles with less sales? Ugh. It’s nasty. And I’m only seeing a sliver of how bad it is because I only see it when people click on the ads using those sorts of keywords.

I think there may also be a bit of an ad war happening in my little subgenre. There was one keyword where Amazon was recommending bids of $35. (hahaha, okay.) But most of mine are now in the $3 recommended range and there are tons of almost-identical looking books in the charts that have that large boxset fast-produced titles vibe that hit fiction a few years back.

This is an industry where you have to adapt and change all the time or risk dying off.

Which leads to point five. If the product you offer (in books or anything) is just like the product everyone else offers then you’re at the mercy of advertising and competition and you’re going to end up with a very low-margin business that requires high volumes to make anything.

If you don’t want to compete in that space then you have to offer something no one else is.

In fiction, for example, I have my go-to authors. I don’t check their book prices I just buy. (Although if they got too far outside of the norm I’d probably notice).

I do that because what they offer is not what I can get from any other author.

But there are other authors out there who I forget as soon as I read them. I’m not going to circle back and see if they have a new release, because there are a thousand other authors who can offer that same generic experience.

One is selling a premium product, the other is not. (At least not for me personally. Reader tastes differ widely so my “eh” author could be someone else’s “must buy immediately” author.)

I think if you want to survive long-term, you have to find a way to offer something to your readers no one else can offer.

Easier said than done, but necessary I think, especially going forward.

Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is a former securities regulator, registered stockbroker (although only briefly), and consultant on regulatory and risk-related matters for large financial institutions with expertise in the areas of anti-money laundering regulation, mutual funds, and credit rating agencies. Since 2013 M.L. has also been a published author under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres. You can contact M.L. at mlhumphreywriter [at] gmail.com.

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