Monday, April 27, 2015

Phantasialand - Talocan


I have a new favorite theme park I will never visit - Phantasialand in Germany.  Let's start with a suspended top spin ride, Talocan.



Some kind of Mayan Apocalypse as if designed by Jack Kirby. Probably scarier to watch than to ride.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Adventures in Self-Publishing: Going Free

You can make a title free, either as part of a KDP Select promo or permanently.  Some pros & cons to this.
Pros:
  • The possibility of a higher ranking in various free categories (for whatever that's worth)
  • More readers
  • More readers that will buy your other books, especially if you make the first in a series free
  • More reviews
  • More "Also boughts" in the Amazon environment
  • You get to see the little green line squiggle a little bit on your KDP dashboard, which is better than nothing
  • Nobody, and I mean nobody, bought your book, so you might as well
  • On occasion, you will get a few extra paid sales after the end of a free promotion, folks catching it after the free period and paying for it anyway, or by accident
And the cons, which are mostly the same as the pros:
  • The ratio of downloads to reviews is much, much lower for freebies
  • You lose out on the opportunity costs of someone who might have paid for the book.  Don't worry, they wouldn't have.  Especially for a one day promo, figure if that reader wanted to pay for your book, they would have already.  And don't, don't, don't get in your head things like "I gave away a hundred books, if I had charged I would have made -" no, you wouldn't have
  • You often get a lot more negative reviews with giveaways.  People that don't like your book before they even read it won't pay money for it, but they will get it for free and poop on it in a review.  "This doesn't look like my type of book, I didn't read it, 1 star".
  • The "also boughts" may be wonky as well, but I think this is getting better.  When freebies were rarer, some folks would just download everything, so you get also boughts of cookbooks and self-help books, etc.  Now, you couldn't download every free book if you tried, so folks are more likely to download in their favorite genre.  For myself, the freebies have given appropriate "also boughts"
  • Free doesn't mean poop anymore, so it might not help you that much
 My first KDP free promo in 2014 I got something like 350 downloads in two days.  Now in 2015, I get like 60 with more popular titles.  I've read blogs of other folks moving like 20,000 freebies a day, but these are more popular writers, and often back when free meant something more.  There are something like 50,000+ free titles on Kindle, so it's not that big a deal now.

Some general tips for a limited time promotion:
  • In KDP Select you get 5 free days a period.  Use them one at a time, no more than two - the numbers scale off dramatically after the first day
  • I've heard various reports of whether weekdays or weekends work better, but don't do holidays
  • Promote the heck out of your giveaway
As for the last one, there are plenty of free places to promote your free books.  First up, Amazon and Goodreads message boards (you need to have an account to post):
Then there's facebook - I won't list all the groups as there are a billion of them, just search for "Free book" and "free kindle".  You need to join groups to post.  I wouldn't bother posting to the wall on a page.

Next up are the promotional websites.  The premium free ebook promotional company is Bookbub.com.  They will not accept you, and it's $500+ if they did.  Following them is ereadernewstoday.com, with maybe thefussylibrarian.com and freebooksy.com.  They charge, and they have certain standards (# of reviews, average review, etc).

For entry-level losers like us, there are still plenty of places to promote.  These websites will take your submissions because:
  • The hope to upsell you to their paid promotions
  • They want to add you to their mailing lists so they can brag about their numbers
  • They are entry-level websites trying to get customers
  • They want to add your contact info to spam lists
  • They want Amazon Affiliate money
Once a website gets successful enough, they'll start charging for submissions, and raise their standards for what they'll accept.  Below is a list of websites where I promote my freebies.  All are free, none require any bizarre hoops to jump through except maybe joining their mailing list, and none have minimum requirements.  This will have changed by the time you read this, so read their terms.
Most of these won't actually do anything with your submission.  They fill their slots with paid advertising, and fill in the extras with freebies.  And that's fine, it makes perfect sense for them to do that.  The last promotion I did, I got listed by Awesome Gang, Ebooklister, Frugal Freebies, Pretty Hot, and Ebookasaurus.  Three others posted on the wrong day, and nothing else from the others.  Your mileage may vary.

If you don't have time to post to all of these, you might want to narrow it down by looking at the quality of the website.  Some of these promote more through their mailing list, on facebook, or on twitter.  But if they mainly promote through their website, look at the website as if you were a reader.  Some of these are 100% about marketing to authors and you have a hard time even finding where the free books are advertised.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Adventures in Self Publishing - Amazon keywords revisited

Some updates on what I've learned about keywords in Amazon.  From what I can tell, the search results are based on:
  • Title
  • Subtitle
  • Series Title
  • Author 
  • Publisher
  • Category and subcategory
  • Keywords
Period.  Not descriptions, despite what I might have said earlier.  Also, the keywords are very flexible.  I never get my boolean search operator whatevers right, so I don't know the right word for this, but you probably don't either.  In your keywords, if you have a phrase or even just several words separated by commas, the search can find it even with just one word there.

My example:
Victim City Stories Issue 1
Category FICTION > Crime
Category FICTION > Mystery & Detective > Hard-Boiled
Keywords: Pulp, Masked Hero, Slasher

The book shows up under searches for:
  • crime slasher
  • "masked hero"
  • masked slasher
  • masked slashers
  • pulp slasher
  • masked crime
  • masked (on like page 20)
  • masked victim
  • victim pulp
Note that "masked" works without "hero", so any combination of any part of the elements will give a return.

It did not show up under:
  • mask slasher, masked criminals - the search is fuzzy enough for plurals, but not a whole lot else
  • victim pulp crime masked potato - though it did pop up below the "no match" dialogue
  • "victim pulp" - if there are quotes in the search, the keywords need to be in the right order
  • masked protector - a phrase from the product description but not in the keywords
Amazon does allow phrases in the keywords, so I would suggest going a little crazy there.  There is a limit of 400 characters, and I wouldn't be too spammy - "hot sex naked steampunk Harry Potter billionaire game of thrones leaked nudes" - Amazon may eventually crack down (or not - the unofficial standard may just be 400 characters and they don't care how many terms you cram in), and the Harry Potter bit will actually get you a "no-no" email from Amazon.  But I think it would be fair to do something like: "mythological centaur horse person, curvy plump big boned large healthy bbw, rich wealthy billionaire millionaire".  Arguably, you could get rid of the commas altogether and have one big keyword string, but I like to at least pretend to be following the spirit of the thing.

With this in mind, I'm going to drastically alter my keyword strategy and see if that does me any good.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Adventures in Self Publishing - Blogs

First off, let's talk about other folks' blogs.  Getting reviewed, interviewed, etc, by a book blog is great exposure.  However, if you're a misanthropic hermit with social skills that make even the internet embarrassed for you, things may be tough going, as it takes a bit of networking.  I've struck out in this field myself.  I looked for active book review blogs in my genre that take ebook submissions that aren't respectable enough to snub me and for which I can find a contact email and sent them an epub and mobi of what I was shilling.  I initially asked first as a courtesy, but since ebooks are so tiny I don't think it rude to just email the thing.  And don't nag them about when they're going to give you your Five Star review.

Message boards and other community websites can be a good resource, but keep in mind that Shameless Self Promotion is pretty much universally frowned upon.  Your best bet is to have genuine interactions with other members and don't do any promotion at all aside from maybe a link in your signature or profile page.

Another route is to run your own blog, with the occasional self-promotion and maybe links in the sidebar ---->

But make sure to have actual content, and it doesn't hurt for that content to be related to your books in some way.  Turns out having reviews of theme park queues doesn't help sell masked hero torture porn.

James Reasoner does this right, and I'm not just saying that because I get half my traffic from his site.  He's got movie reviews, book reviews, talks about the writing process, some nostalgia - I have some limited experience myself with paperback spinners in small Texas town drugstores, and they are pure magic.  As a result of being a regular reader of his blog, I've ended up checking out some of his stuff on Amazon, even though I'm not especially into Westerns by Americans.

But only do it if you enjoy it, and if you have the time.  Blogging can be a time suck, but it can also be good practice stringing words together.  And it's the perfect warm up for self-publishing.  I understand the anxiety of putting something out there for the whole world to see.  But don't worry.  Nobody's looking.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Hell House by Richard Matheson

Hell House
by Richard Matheson
1971

Funded by a dying millionaire anxious to learn if there's life after death, a group of psychics and parapsychologists stay at the haunted Belasco House.  The novel blows its load early for my liking in spelling out the house's back story all at once, seeing as how it's the greatest back story of all time.  A Marquis de Sade type perverting the innocent into conducting month long depraved orgies, complete with an abortion bog outside.  After laying all that out, the rest of the novel had nowhere to go but down.

There are some creepy scenes scattered about, but I was left cold by the two main themes of the book.  The whole sexual repression thing was done better in the Haunting of Hill House, and would be less relevant in 1971 than 1959, I would think.  Next is the whole conflict between spiritualist hogwash and pseudoscientific horse hockey.  To me their both equally implausible in real life, and equally acceptable in fiction, so I don't have a horse in that race.

The house is being modernized, and they prioritized having a steam room and pool over working electricity.  Take a guess why.  And I'll go ahead and spoil the ending, as it's the worst reveal in history.  Belasco, the dead guy that is either a ghost or left his negative psychic energies in a lead-lined room, had lifts in his shoes.  He was short.  I didn't get why this was a deal in the movie, and in the book we don't have the benefit of Roddy McDowall hamming it up.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Adventures in Self-Publishing - Draft2Digital

I had the opportunity to use Draft2Digital, and there are some elements I like which give it an edge over Smashwords.

I found the interface friendlier, and the conversion process was much friendlier.  There is also an feature where it will auto-add certain elements to the converted file, such as a copyright page, title page, etc.  Draft2Digital did not like my Table of Contents, even though Amazon and Smashwords processed it with no issue.  They have their own TOC generator, but it's pretty basic and can't be fiddled with much.  I can see folks fighting with this feature.

The main reason I switched to Draft2Digital is that I can have multiple pen names per account and per title with no difficulties.  Smashwords really needs to implement this.

I never have problems with Smashwords' meatgrinder, but they have never accepted one of my covers the first time around.  Each time I've submitted one, there's some new rule that wasn't there (or wasn't enforced) the last time.

Draft2Digital gets the books up in the stores quicker, if only because I haven't had to spend the extra day or more messing with Smashwords approval process.  Smashwords has had some issues in the past with slow uploads to the stores, but they've been doing much better for me lately, taking about a day.

Draft2Digital pays monthly as opposed to quarterly at Smashwords.  As written out, the formula for royalties differs, but the payout is about the same - for a $2.99 title, the author royalty is $1.78 at Draft2Digital and $1.79 at Smashwords.  This may vary depending on cover price and venue.

What I really, really like about Draft2Digital is that not only do they show on their website where a book is in the publishing process, they provide direct links to the product page and send you an email letting you know it's there.  With Smashwords, obsessive people like me have to keep doing title searches at each venue to see if it's been published.

Smashwords has its own storefront, and has a few extra venues that Draft2Digital doesn't (well, pretty much just Oyster), but you can do like I do and sign up for both services, making sure to check that the sales channels don't overlap.  I'll talk about this later, but for me, Smashwords is a distant 2nd place to Amazon, coming in ahead of both B&N and iTunes.

Draft2Digital does some kind of prescreening for naughtiness and won't distribute some titles to Apple, Kobo, or Scribd, but Barnes & Noble seems to be ok.  The process is automated, as one of my titles got rejected within minutes of being submitted.  In my instance, it was for having the keyword "memory loss", which got it flagged for being "nonconsensual".  They sent me an automated email explaining their policy, the broad reason why it was blocked, and links to the appeal process, all of which I found very transparent.  The website won't let you just resubmit changes of a particular book to those blocked retailers once they've been rejected once without going through the appeals process, though you can make changes in general to less prudish retailers.

Draft2Digital has a payment threshold of $10 for paypal, $25 for check.  They also do direct deposit, but it doesn't say what the threshold is for that.  I suck at selling books at Draft2Digital as badly as I do at Smashwords, and have yet to be paid at either, but again, not their fault.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Body Smasher by Jan Stacy

Body Smasher
Body Smasher 1
by Jan Stacy
1989 Zebra Books



Yes!

Just when I ask myself why I slog through the literary sewers, I'm rewarded for my efforts with Body Smasher!  Pro wrestling meets Men's Adventure.  I thought Lou Albano merely endorsed this book, but no, he's a major character.

A group of random communist terrorists, led by a crazed professor, get a hold of some plutonium and create a nuclear device.  Some gym chalk is found at the scene of one of the thefts, so clearly they intend to use the device at the World Wrestling Games, or International Games, or the All-World Games, or whatever, at Flushing Meadow Park, New York.

There's no time to lose, so CIA Director Parker hires his old Nam buddy, washed up cage fighter and YMCA instructor Rick Harrison, and trains him for a month in an underground base before entering him in the games.  Training sequences are a lost art in action fiction, and I didn't mind spending more than half the book there.  Harrison stays in a tiny, coffin like room outfitted with Jetson style toiletries while he's trained in lockpicking and espionage, but what we came to see is the rasslin'!

Enter Captain Lou Albano, who trains Harrison along with the fictional (as far as I could tell) Destroyer.  Near the end of his training, the Destroyer identifies Harrison as being of a race of native American superhumans called the Werrieux, or bodysmashers, and teaches him the ancient deadly art of the Double Kick Death Drop, which is like a straight-legged lung blower, I don't know, I'm not Joey Styles.

Harrison's final exam comes in the form of an incredibly convoluted death maze complete with a cowboy robot.  The second test has him dropped in the middle of the woods and him finding his way to civilization.

He finally joins the Games, which are shockingly not pro-wrestling, but a combination of weightlifting, Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling.  Pro-wrestling is usually portrayed in fiction as being real, but not like reality which is fake, if you follow me.  Either way, it's usually it's own thing, completely different from real (Olympic, Greco Roman, etc) wrestling.  Here, the pros are simply amateur wrestlers who get paid.

To confuse matters more, after going over the rules and point system for takedowns and pins, Harrison wins his first match with an enziguri kick, and I'm pretty sure kicks to the face are illegal in every kind of wrestling that has rules.



There's a weird detour of Harrison being beaten, dumped in the river, and rescued by a mysterious, tattooed sewer dweller who heals him with kung fu magic before the final showdown.

There's not a ton of action, and what's there is a little rushed.  Surprisingly gory, perhaps the goriest Men's Adventure I've come across.  We've got a detailed description of the effect of a stinger missile fired indoors at point blank range at a man's chest,  The radiation causes the terrorists' bodies to deteriorate, and by the end they're falling apart like an 80's Troma film.  This is put to good use when Albano and his deadly beard rubber bands come into play.

These were the days where Men's Adventure books were twice as big as the should have been, but Stacy keeps things breezy without any padding or drag, despite the fact that not a whole lot actually happens.

A couple of sex scenes, one with an awkward soliloquy on safe sex which chilled me a bit, as the author died of AIDS the same year this was released.

Jan Stacy seemed like an interesting character, and along with his occasional writing partner Ryder Syvertsen, they produced some of the most fun Men's Adventure of the era.  We'll definitely be visiting them again.