A Mini Rant

So yet again I’m seeing James Patterson’s name drug through the mud because supposedly he doesn’t write his novels.  And it annoys me. Not because I read the man’s books, I don’t.  Or at least can’t remember reading any of them.  But more because I find it a symptom of the “they don’t deserve it” -itis that is so common in the writerly community.

Hang around long enough and you’re bound to hear how horrible Stephenie Meyer’s writing is, how E L James’ books are awful, how Dan Brown can’t write his way out of a paper sack, and, of course, how James Patterson doesn’t even write his own books.

It drives me nuts.

One, because so often when this critique is made it’s because writers are focusing on one aspect of writing (the words) and failing to see how plot or emotional engagement are just as important.

And, two, because it comes off sounding like sour grapes. As in, why is that horrible author so successful when I’m so much better?  (Well…perhaps you aren’t.)

And the James Patterson thing annoys me because I took his Masterclass (through masterclass.com–I also did the Aaron Sorkin and Shonda Rhimes ones and enjoyed all three) and in there he talks about his co-writing process.  And from that I can assure you that he doesn’t just slap his name on something someone else writes.  He’s heavily involved in the process and in the plotting and polishing of the novel.

And if we go back to this concept of what is writing a story, I would argue that the easiest part of writing is putting together the sentences.  Finding a way to make those sentences work together to create an experience that pulls a reader through the book is the challenge. Having something happen that’s unbelievable yet totally plausible at the same time isn’t easy either.  And coming up with a way to engage with a reader’s emotions so they actually feel something about your characters and what happens to them is maybe the hardest skill of all.

When these criticisms crop up, those skills are never considered.

Anyway. Next time you find yourself wanting to complain about some very successful author and their lack of writing ability, maybe check yourself and try to figure out what they do right instead.  And, no, it isn’t going to be “spends a lot on advertising” because the people we’re talking about here are all people who’ve generated word of mouth beyond their advertising efforts and who I’ve heard readers rave about.

So when that happens, ask yourself why. You might just find a way to improve your own writing.

(And this rant is not directed at anyone that I know reads this blog, so if any of you recently wrote or posted about this, I’m not writing this rant because I saw your post. It most recently came up in a forum discussion about something else, but it was the third time I’d seen someone say something similar this week and figured it was a good choice for a Wednesday random thoughts post.)

AMS Ads and Value of Customer

First, the AMS Ads for Authors book is rolling out of KU in approximately a week, so if you think you might want to borrow it, do so now or forever hold your peace. And sorry for not posting on Wednesday.  I had jury duty and almost did a post on Thursday about how that experience always reminds me how not-normal I am but then couldn’t figure out how to write the post without sounding like an ass. So sorry about that.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way.  I’m currently working on a series of Excel guides and one is going to be for self-published authors. One of the calculations in there is a simple calculation of how much a new customer should be worth to you assuming you have a series and know what your read through rates are at your current prices.

(As with most things, the calculation is a more simplified version of something that’s far more complex than it looks.  For example, my read through rates are different for purchases versus borrows and for when I run a 99 cent promotion versus when I’m not running a promotion.  But some of that nuance you can’t even calculate because who knows if today’s sale of book 2 is from someone who just bought book 1 or if it’s from someone who bought book 1 during that promo six months ago.)

The value of customer calculation is crucial to anyone doing advertising.  Because if you limit yourself to what you’ll make back on that one book you’re advertising, you’re not going to spend as much as you could and you’ll miss out on potential sales.  Especially if you have a 99 cent or free series starter.

For example, AMS just billed me about $500 for the last two weeks and, as I do every time they bill me, I crunched the numbers for each book I was advertising to see if I was profitable on my ads for that period.  On the romance side I have two novels in a related series.  On the fantasy side I have three novels in a related series.  If I had just looked at the ad cost for book 1 for those two series, I would’ve concluded I was unprofitable for this period and possibly shut the ads down. (No one wants to spend $500 in two weeks and not make money off of it. That gets expensive fast.)

But when I factor in sales and page reads of the later books in the series, it turns out that both series made more money than I spent on advertising.  Which means those ads are worth continuing.

So how do you get that number?  How do you calculate the value of a customer.

The rough version is this:

Add together the following:

Book 1: Sales price * payout percent (So basically what you net for a sale)

Book 2: Sales price of book 2 * payout percent * (number of book 2 sales/number of book 1 sales) (So basically x% of what you net for a sale of book 2 where x% is based on how many people go on to buy book 2 after buyung book 1)

Book 3: Sales price of book 3 * payout percent * (number of book 3 sales/number of book 1 sales) (So basically y% of what you net for a sale of book 3 where y% is based on how many people who buy book 1 also buy book 3)

And so on and so on.

So if you’re selling on Amazon and have a book 1 at 99 cents and books 2 and 3 are at $2.99 and 50% of the people who read book 1 read book 2 and 50% of those read book 3 then:

(.99*.35)+($2.99*.7*.5)+($2.99*.7*.25)=$1.92

Instead of trying to limit your ad spend to 34 cents you can actually spend up to $1.91 to acquire a new customer and still be profitable.  That’s a big difference if you think about it.

This is why having lots of books out under one name and ideally in series is a very very good idea.  (Assuming you write well enough that people will buy more than one.  If your read through is 0% at some point having a long series won’t do anything for you.)

Anyway. Something to think about.

And now time for me to procrastinate writing the next novel by writing non-fiction guides no one will want…

 

AMS Ads Require Patience

Seth Godin has this book called The Dip.  It’s all about knowing when to quit and knowing when to push through because you just need to put in the time and effort.  It’s a good little book and one I try to keep in mind with this writing thing.

It occurred to me this morning that it sort of kind of applies to running AMS ads as well.

I was trying to help someone out with their ads this week, but it didn’t go well because the other person was very quick to give up on the ads, so ended up pausing the ads before they’d even run a day and then turning on other ads on the same books the next day (which in my experience can interfere with ad performance), and it looks like has now turned off ads that were actually performing for them and gone back to non-performing ads that look sexier because of number of impressions.

(I say this in my book, but for those of you who haven’t read it: To judge your ad’s performance you need to do two things.  One, look at your book’s sales as reported on your KDP dashboard, not your AMS dashboard–because it’s anyone’s guess when they’ll show up on your AMS dashboard.  And, two, if your book is in KU, monitor your book’s rank.  Not your page reads, because those come with a few day lag usually, but your rank. Each time your book is borrowed, your rank will reflect it.)

Anyway, back to the point.  It can be hard sometimes to know when to quit and try again and when to keep going on the path you’re on.

I’ve heard people say that they start an AMS ad and let it run for a couple of weeks before they touch it. I don’t do that.  I’ve had ads that immediately racked up impressions and clicks but had no sales or borrows to show for it and I shut those down within a day or two.  Good thing, too, because they cost me $20+ each for nothing.

I’ve also had ads that started out completely dead, but when I pushed up the bids they started to move and became well-performing ads for me.  Letting them sit there dead wasn’t going to change anything.  They needed to be worked to find what would get them going.

(Although I have heard at least one person say that some of their ads have taken a month to finally start moving, so you could try that, too.)

What I see a lot of people do is try one ad, usually with the wrong keywords and bids, not get the results they wanted, and then quit.  Or try one ad that would be good if they gave it time, decide it isn’t working, try another, decide it isn’t working, try another, etc., etc.

AMS require a steady, consistent approach.  Try something with a clear goal in mind.  See if it works.  Tweak things to see if those will impact it any. Tweak something else. If you see movement in a good direction, try to zero in on why.  Only when you’ve tried what you can do you give up and try something new.

And, at least in my opinion, if you aren’t getting sales/borrows, it isn’t a successful ad no matter how many impressions or clicks it gets. You might be able to fix that by changing your blurb, because everything needs to be aligned–book cover, ad copy, book description–to get a sale, but exposure alone shouldn’t be your goal with AMS ads. It should be about generating sales and at a profit, ideally.

Now, I’m not going to tell  you what strategy is “the one” because I’ve seen a number of strategies work. I know of one person who did very well for a very long time with low bid ads.  I know of another who has done well running hundreds of ads on the same book. I do well running one higher-bid ad per book.

But I can tell you that starting and stopping and switching strategies before they have time to play out will likely cost you a lot of money with no discernible results.

What Works In Business Doesn’t Work in Dating

One of the reasons I started this blog was so I could write about the many things my books cover, not just a narrow set of them. So far I’ve pretty much stuck to puppy pictures and writing topics, but today I figured I’d write about dating. So bail now if that sounds dull or boring or isn’t of interest to you.

Yesterday on Twitter there was a tweetstorm that went viral because a woman realized she was the third or fourth date of the day that a man had scheduled at the same location.  He’d lined women up, one every forty minutes or so, like he was conducting job interviews.  Turns out he had six total “dates” scheduled for the day.

Now from his perspective (he told her he was a project manager) this was a very efficient use of his time. He didn’t know if he’d like any of these women and you can usually tell within a half hour or so, so for a busy professional why not just line ’em up and knock ’em down and see if there was anyone worth pursuing further?

From a woman’s perspective, that’s insulting as all get out.  Even though you know going into most dates that it’s not going to go well (at least not well enough for another date), you still want the other person to approach it as if it will.  And to, I don’t know, crazy thought here, try to impress you?  Maybe put their best foot forward?  Make you feel special and wanted?

This guy completely sabotaged himself.  He brought something that works well in the business world, where efficiency is valued, into the dating world, where it’s all about chemisty and emotions.

I still remember a date I had over a decade ago with a man who was a bit like the project manager mentioned above.  This date of mine was clearly in wife acquisition mode.  And he had a set of qualities his wife needed to possess.  So rather than relax and talk to me and see if we had any sort of rapport, he launched into a series of rapid-fire questions, one after the other.

It wasn’t a date. It was a job interview.  I think he even asked “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

I’m sure this approach made perfect sense to my date.  Why waste time with someone who doesn’t want what you want?  Isn’t it better to know right up front that you’re not looking for the same thing and move on?

But you can’t approach dating like that.  (Or maybe you can. Maybe the perfect woman is that one in a million woman who’d appreciate such extreme efficiency…) You have to make the other personal comfortable and adjust what you say or do based on what they say or do.  It’s interactive in a way a job interview doesn’t have to be.  Because dating is really about seeing if the two of you can work together to create a mutually enjoyable experience.

That’s what neither of these men understood.

(And one final comment on Mr. 20 Questions.  Sometimes people’s answers change once they meet the right person, so asking someone in a cold setting about marriage and kids isn’t the same as asking them after they get to know you personally. I have more than one friend who never thought they wanted marriage or kids who have now married and had kids because they met “the one.”)

Now, let’s make this fair and talk about a way that women screw this up, too.  With women it’s more in forgetting that the things that have made them successful in the workplace aren’t necessarily the things that will attract the person they want to marry.

A few years back a highly successful friend of mine was talking about a book she’d read where the woman had suggested that if you want to find a husband through online dating you shouldn’t have a dating profile that looks like your resume.  My thought was “Well, yeah, duh. Isn’t that obvious?”

But then I watched a TED talk by a woman who had designed a scoring system that ultimately let her find her husband, and she too had started off with a dating profile that was a copy and paste of her resume.

So it seems this needs to be said: If you’re a woman on a first date or posting an online dating profile, you will have more success if you focus on what makes you an interesting person to spend time with than on your professional accomplishments.

I’m being careful with how I word that, because I would never advocate hiding who you are or what you’ve done. (I once had a classmate in business school suggest I just tell men I was a waitress and act dumb to get them to date me. Yeah, no.)

It’s more a matter of having ten things you could talk about and realizing that three of them (e.g., your trip to Bali last year) are far more interesting to someone else than the other seven (e.g., the fact that you just completed a project that saved your company 20% on its recycling costs).

I think for a lot of professional women (and I was one of them), your career is such a large part of your life that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that what’s interesting to talk about with your co-workers isn’t necessarily interesting to strangers. But most of us do have interesting things about ourselves that we can focus on instead.  You just have to remember to do so.

So, bottom line here: If you’re dating, take a breath, stop, switch gears, and think about the other person and what they might want or like.

And leave all those business-based time-saving, efficient tricks where they belong–in the office.

Miss Priss Monday

It’s Monday so time to share some puppy love to get the week started off right.

Here’s the pup at the unholy hour of seven a.m ready to play. (Her version of playing is to run around inside for five minutes like she’s insane until I finally go outside with her at which point she lays down in the grass and refuses to move.  But if I try to go inside she does the whole thing over again, so I usually bring a book along to entertain myself while I keep her company outside.)

Miss Priss in the Morning

And today it seems is one of the rare summer days when she’ll deign to keep me company while I work.  (In the summer she rarely sets foot in my office, but in the winter she spends most of the day curled up on her bed while I work.) Nothing like writing with the sound of a snoring dog in the background…

Miss Priss in the Office

And can I just add that it’s hard to take a good picture of an all-black dog?

Anyway.  Mondays don’t really count as the first day of the workweek for me since I do something writing-related every single day of the week, but I do still think of it that way.  So another week, another project.

Bidding and AMS Ads

So over on a writing forum thread devoted to AMS ads, one of the users shared an interesting response they received from Amazon about AMS ads and bidding.  I’ll quote part of it here so you don’t have to wade through all those pages to find it:

CTRs build up overtime, so if you are just beginning to advertise with AMS it is wise to go with a high bid in order to win impressions and thus build up your CTR. Once you have a high CTR for an ad and this is based on longevity so the longer you run an ad the better, you can lower your bid, but only if you have a high CTR.

Which is interesting and fits with my own experience in a few ways.

  1.  I’ve found that my best ads are the ones that have run for a very long time.
  2.  I have been able to back my bids down on some of my longer-running ads as time goes by. (My romance ad had bids over $1 at one point which just isn’t sustainable. I still bid high by many standards, but not that high.)
  3. I recently tried some low bid/low budget ads for books I’m not focused on right now just to keep some sort of momentum on them and found that my impressions were high but my clicks were low, and that the ads ultimately stalled out and really don’t deliver.
  4.  My most successful ad is one that I ran through a free run which I’m sure boosted my click ratio and is the reason the ad got sticky. I think of it as AMS rewarding momentum, but maybe what it is more is AMS seeing an ad that’s getting a lot of activity and pushing that ad more and then as long as that ad continues to get activity keeping it running.

The response doesn’t say what a high CTR is, but in my experience my ads that do well have around 1 click per 1,000 impressions with individual keywords doing much better than that.

So if you’ve been trying AMS and not seeing results, maybe try a new ad with higher bids combined with a price promotion that will result in more clicks early on and then you can raise the price later and back your bids down a bit once the ad has established itself.