Sunday, March 22, 2015

Adventures in Self Publishing - Twitter

Start off with a couple accounts at least, as it's harder to separate your Spam and Interact personas here than at facebook.

Spam Mode:
Here is how the game works.  Create a separate account, as your feed will be a mess after this.  Follow a bunch of authors - it doesn't hurt to stick to a similar genre.  They will (hopefully) follow you back.  Authors will then follow you, hoping you like them back, which you should do.  If you follow 20 people and 10000 people follow you, you're either real-life famous, buying followers, or a jerk.

Now you have an account like one of mine.  I have about 1000 followers.  I don't read their posts, and they don't read mine.  There are maybe 10 actual readers in there, and I'm sure they've muted me.

Now, retweet some of those folks' posts.  Hopefully, they'll be nice and retweet yours, but more likely they've hired a company to set up a computer program to randomly retweet junk.

Now you're in a position to tweet an ad, get it retweeted, and hopefully out of the tens of thousands of timelines it show up in, maybe 10 people will actually have it appear on their screen.

The analytics page of twitter is good for tracking this.  It's kind of buried.  First, log onto twitter, then open another tab and search for twitter analytics.  It should get you there the first time, and after that you can get to it through the "twitter ads" option from your twitter page.

Remember, we're not paying any money here, and they're only giving you this info to make you want to pay for stuff.  There are a lot of numbers about favorites and retweets and blah blah, we're only interested in link clicks.  It doesn't matter what your reach or exposure or whatever is if nobody is clicking through.

Using hashtags does work here, especially those for retweet groups such as #IARTG.  I've seen a notable increase in clicks when using these.  Be a good citizen and retweet some other folks.

I haven't bothered spamming twitter much, but some authors literally tweet every 30 seconds, or rather their automated programs do.  I followed one idiot who literally had the same ad tweeted a least a hundred times a minute.  Great way to get blocked.

Announce Mode:
As with Facebook, just announce when there's actual news.  The idea here is that someone who likes your stuff will be able to find out about new titles.  But don't announce from an account you spam from, as you'll get muted the tenth time the reader sees the same ad.

Interact Mode:
Much the same as Facebook, but again, don't spam from that account.  The #amwriting hashtag is routinely one of the most trending, and is a good way to get genuine followers.  But don't spam it, i.e., "Buy my book #amwriting".  Say something clever or insightful or cute about what you've just written.

Writing twitter copy is good practice in brevity, but the returns here are less than Facebook from most reports I've seen.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Overqueue - The Magic of Disney Animation

The Overambitious Overflow Queues of Walt Disney World - The Magic of Disney Animation

This is an odd area.  The video above only shows a portion of the queue, and the only thing the line is for is the preshow "Drawn to Animation" with Mushu, which can (and usually is) bypassed to go straight into the building proper.  This is also the site of the only time I've snapped at a Disney employee - for interrupting me to let me know it's an Eddie Murphy soundalike, not the real Eddie Murphy. 

But the history of this queue area is also the history of Disney Hollywood Studios.

When the park opened in 1989 as Disney-MGM Studios, it consisted of a two-hour long Backstage Studio Tour and the Great Movie Ride.  Period.

The Backstage Studio Tour began with a tram ride, and the queue for the trams still exists today as the queue area for the Magic of Disney Animation.  By 1991 the tour was split into two attractions, the tram ride and the walking tour.  In 1996 the entrance of the tram tour, renamed the Studio Backlot Tour, was moved to its final location, where it died a slow death a piece at a time, closing without fanfare in 2014.

The area continued to be used for the Magic of Disney Animation Tour, which began with a preshow "Return to Neverland" with Walter Cronkite and Robin Williams and continued as a walking tour of a (sometimes) operating animation studio.  The studio parts left, and gradually the tour became an exhibit, with a drawing class and interactive computer terminals.  The expansive queue area outside was used for meet & greets, and as of this writing the entire inside area is one animation class and a series of meet & greets.

The queue area currently is mostly roped off, which is a shame as it has some interesting features, such as framed prints, remnants of an Atlantis meet & greet, and animator's hands in cement.

And that's it for overflow queues.  Were there any I missed?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Adventures in Self-Publishing - Facebook

Yes, the cool kids have all since moved on, and nobody under 30 bothers anymore, and you only keep your account open so Grandma can send you pictures, but Facebook is still probably the best general platform for authors

First off, you might want to create a new account (or two or three) just for your marketing.  You can't post to a group under anything other than your user name, so if you have a personal account under your real name you might not want to use it.

If you want to jack up your "friends" or likes, just randomly friend some authors, and you'll get a flood of folks who you'll never talk to filling up your feed.

Spam Mode:
The best place to spam is in groups, but only in groups where it's okay.  Do a search for "kindle" or "ebook", etc, and join the zillions of groups available.  Note that some are specifically for free books, $0.99 books, kindle unlimited, etc.

There are also groups for specific genres - these are even better, though make sure you fit that genre.  Also, take a look at the posts before you just spam away.  If there is mostly discussion, you may just want to post via Announce Mode, as described below.  If the feed is nothing but Amazon links, spam away.  Keep an eye on the rules - most groups have a few.  I've had my hand slapped twice: once for accidentally posting a $2.99 book in a $0.99 group, and once for my book not having enough rape in it.  Welcome to the internet.

The posts should start out with a line to get your attention, as well as a link to Amazon.  You can babble on to your heart's content after that, but have something that a reader can pick up on in the first lines before the "See More" jump.  Also, experiment with line breaks, etc, to see how much text you can get in before that jump.

If you post a picture (likely your cover, but it could be a separate ad), you get to better control what it looks like, but you can't have it link through to your Amazon page.  If you don't upload a separate picture, the preview picture from Amazon will show up, but it will only be the middle third in a lower resolution, but you can click through.  Decide which your happier with - if the Amazon preview looks good, I'd stick with that.

Of course, the link doesn't have to be with Amazon, but have a link somewhere.  In most of these general book groups, you can post once a day and not get on anyone's nerves.  One thing - don't go too fast!  On my first KDP free day, I slammed through dozens of groups - click group, paste, post, click next group -  with such machine-like efficiency that Facebook became convinced I was a robot.  As a result, every time I try to post a link to my first book, I have to enter an unreadable captcha, and anyone clicking on the link is told it's a dangerous virus.  Link shorteners do not get around this, and it's been a pain in my butt ever since.

Spamming doesn't work with every book or genre, but it works to a certain extent.  If I don't do it for a week or so, my sales start to drop.  But as a part-time job, you'd be better off doing tech support or working at McDonald's.  Luckily, it's easy and brainless, so I can do it while watching TV or when I get bored at work.

I would not bother posting on the wall of somebody's page - it's getting hard to find those posts even if you hunt for them.

Announce Mode:
Some of the genre discussion groups allow posting ads, but I would go into Announce Mode here, only posting when there's a new title or a sale.  Or just post way less frequently - get a sense of how other folks do it before plastering your stuff everywhere.

You can also announce in a page.  This is more about announcing to existing fans, as one has to like your page to get it in their feed, and probably not even then.  I've liked scores of author's pages and I still only get promoted content and the occasional dog video in my feed.

Interact Mode:
Be interesting enough in your own timeline or page that people will want to follow you, and do just limited announcements.  Joe Lansdale does this right - a little talk about his books, a little talk about the writing process, the occasional plug.

Involve yourself in conversations about writing, but don't plug your own stuff.  The idea here is that people will become interested in you and click over to your profile and then want to read your stuff.  I would only recommend this if you actual want to be in these conversations, as faking it is pretty transparent and will turn people off.

Also, I'd avoid politics and religion, as you'll alienate half your audience once you jump on a soapbox. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ace of the White Death - G-8 and his Battle Aces 03

Ace of the White Death
by Robert J. Hogan
G-8 and his Battle Aces 03


This is my first time reading a G-8 story, and I was expecting more over the top craziness.  Maybe things get turned up in later issues, but this installment was a relatively mundane, though well written, war/aviation/espionage story.

G-8 is a pilot spy fighting for America in World War One.  He's assisted by "Bull" Martin and "Nippy" Weston.  In this installment, G-8 goes behind enemy lines to sabotage a German mining operation.  The story follows the typical capture/escape/rescue cycles of other pulps of the era.  A skeleton makes an appearance, but it's the only outre element.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Swami Sleuth

The Swami Sleuth is Black Barry Desmond, an "ex-spirit medium, magician, confidence man and amateur sleuth."  He is also an escape artist, which comes in handy in the one adventure I've read, Murder Magic in the August, 1934 issue of Star Detective.

Murder Magic reads like a typical hardboiled detective piece, with a bit of sleight-of-hand and lock picking mixed in.  A major piece of the story involves Desmond being left alone in shackles by hoods that know he's a escape artist.  He's also a bit of an amoral antihero (or a jerk), as he endangers his assistant's life to save his own skin and punches out a cop to hide incriminating evidence.

The only two stories I've come across of the character have been by George A. McDonald, the other being April, 1934 issue of Detective Story Magazine.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Adventures in Self Publishing - Misc Social Media

We'll focus a little closer on stuff that does (kinda) work later: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Blogs, Promotional Websites

Here's stuff that is perhaps less valuable, though that may change as time goes on.

Pintrest - folks reportedly spend the most per click on things they find here, but for fashion, jewelry, DIY, crafts, not so much for books.  You can have a little gallery of covers, or things that inspired your book, and it is a nice place to collect a bunch of YouTube videos, but I haven't heard a lot about this being successful for authors.

Instagram - even fewer options here for authors

Vine, YouTube, etc - about the only use for these are to showcase...

Book Trailers - the most over-hyped trend of recent years, in my opinion.  There might be a larger market for Young Adult books, and audiences in future years may respond to these better, but it basically just shows the cover and some copy in a format that takes longer than just reading it.  One issue is that nobody sits down at a computer and says "Show me trailers of books in this genre" - they would have to go hunting for your particular book, and to do that they would already need to know about it.

Google + - I tried, but I can't find places to spam ads like Facebook, there was maybe one group or circle or sphere or whatever with 100 people in a genre I was interested in, and the whole thing smells like a con.  They brag about their numbers and how popular they are, but I'm not buying it.  They give you an account if you open any kind of Google account (gmail, YouTube, etc), and most people don't even know they have one.  This blog here has had around 11,000 views as of this writing, after over a year in existence and over 300 posts, and most of those are by Eastern European scrapers or myself.  One of my google+ accounts that I didn't know existed had 70,000 views the first month it opened, with zero content and not even a user photo.  Sure.

Library Thing and Shelfari I can't figure out the point of.

Bublish is a good example of what to look out for when checking out any website.  You want to be where the readers are.  I can go on Goodreads and just dial up a book for reviews and such.  As a reader, I can't even tell what Bublish is, and had to go to Facebook to find a link back to actual content - mainly author profiles and excerpts.  We'll look at this later when we talk about promotional websites, but if the front page is more marketing to authors than content for readers, that's a warning sign.

One thing about a lot of social media - it should be content, or pointing to content.  I've seen Facebook posts to YouTube ads to check out the Instagram account of a picture of someone's Twitter handle - it has to go somewhere, sooner better than later.  It's fine to have a tweet saying "new post on my blog", but don't go in circles, and don't use one social media account just to publicize another and then back again.  WWE is horrible with this - one would think the pay-per-views were just advertising for their twitter account.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Phantom Detective 108 - Streamlined Murder

Phantom Detective 108
Streamlined Murder
by Laurence Donovan

There's a method of writing in which the author starts with an inexplicable scene or plot device and then works out a way to explain it later.  The Doctor Who revival did this with diminishing returns as the seasons went on.

In Streamlined Murder, we have a murdered silk tycoon holding a box with a severed hand.  There's going to be a will reading at his mansion, which happens to have as permanent house guests:
  • An Arab who trains apes to use machine guns
  • A legless carnival acrobat
  • A reclusive chemist
I kept waiting for the Ritz Brothers to show up,

but instead we've got the Phantom Detective and gang, along with a mad gasser and Japanese criminals.  Any one of these elements should be awesome, but here he's just throwing the whole Old Dark House kitchen sink at us.  I'm especially upset by the apes.  If you're going to have an army of machine gun wielding apes, use them a lot.  A whole lot.  Hell, start a spin-off series.

At the end Donovan ties everything in a little bow with a bunch of stuff the Phantom found out about off page, as per usual.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Doc Savage 008 - The Sargasso Ogre

Doc Savage 008
The Sargasso Ogre
by Kenneth Robeson (Lester Dent)
October 1933

And you thought his ripped shirts were provocative

Doc and the gang are aboard a boat that gets hijacked by a gang of thugs, included the titular Ogre, whose strength matches that of Savage.  The liner gets set adrift in the Sargasso Sea, a fictional dead zone in the Atlantic where multiple currents meet and deposit derelict vessels.

Here, amongst the seaweed, are scores of ghost ships and a boat full of Amazon-esque survivors guarding a treasure.  Shades of Waterworld.  Great sense of setting, and great action as Doc navigates the maze of ships to take on an army of pirates.

Also fun for having Doc interact with a large group of women.  Of course, they constantly swoon at his bronze magnificence, but their flirting is futile as Doc is famously "woman-proof".  On the flip side, this is one of the few things that Doc is not the world's best at.  Although familiar with feminine psychology, "the intricacies of the feminine mind were beyond any psychologist".  Dames.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Adventures in Self Publishing - Reviews

There's a prevailing view that you won't sell any books until you have reviews, and it's hard to have reviews if you haven't sold any books.  This stress has tipped some authors over the edge, and lightened quite a few wallets.  What's an author to do?

Here are some legit and semi-legit means of getting reviews:

Waiting for them organically: This may have the best results, but can take time.  Depending on the book, one has to have from 100 to 5000 customers to get one review.  While time consuming, this is the most ethical and perhaps the most effective way.  This is an audience that wanted to read your book so badly they sought it out and paid money for it, and then felt so strongly about it they went out of their way to say something.

Give books away: either free KDP Select days, permafree, or handing them out on the street corner.  This will get more takers, but a much lower percentage of folks will actually read the book, much less review it.  Also, you get folks that don't want to read your book, but downloaded it because it was free.  I've read (and experienced) accounts of reviews garnered from free giveaways that go like: "This isn't my kind of book, but it was free.  I didn't bother reading it.  One star."

Give review copies to bloggers: Find blogs that review books similar to your own and email them, asking if it's ok to send them a review copy and what format they would like.  Keep in mind they have no obligation to give you a good review, any review, or even respond to your email.  You start to get in a grey ethical area with how you do this, as sometimes authors will submit their review copy preloaded on a new iPad or some such shenanigans.

Solicit reviews from existing readers: Here's a method I've tried with no results, but it's worked for some.  At the end of the Kindle file, ask readers to review on Amazon (or Goodreads or wherever) and email you their contact information, offering a free ebook if they do.  Even though you're not specifying that it has to be a positive review, it probably would be - if they think your book sucked, they probably wouldn't want another.  This also gets a titch grey, as you are basically bribing readers for reviews, but it's not the same as flat out buying positive reviews from folks that never looked at it.

Then we have our grey areas:

Professional paid reviews:  These would be like Kirkus Indie and the like.  You pay money (up to $500 or so), and get a review, which is not guaranteed to be positive.  I don't think I've ever run across anyone who was happy with the results here.  Of course, authors that get bad reviews (and paid a premium for it) are going to be very sad.  But even authors that got positive reviews complain that the review just repeated the plot, didn't talk about the actual book much, or was otherwise lazy.

"Honest" review swaps: I've got a zillion offers for these over Facebook and Twitter.  Two authors agree to read each other's work and give an "honest" review on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever.  Sometimes this is baldfaced fraud - neither author really reads the book at all and gives a generic 5 star review ("Couldn't put it down!  The characters and plot were fantastic!").  Even if there isn't the intention of fraud, people are inclined to do nice things for people that do nice things for them.  I would avoid any quid pro quo arrangement.

And then we have full blown fraud: writing your own reviews under sock puppet accounts, paying for positive reviews over fiverr, getting your friends to write them, etc.  Don't do this.  It's transparent, people figure this stuff out, and there are consequences.  I've run across indie books with sales lower than mine that have been out for a month and literally have like 50 five-star reviews.  People see through this kind of stuff, folks at Goodreads will lynch you, and eventually Amazon will start cracking down.

Which brings us to our next topic - what to do about negative reviews?

First and foremost, don't try to respond to them!  I've seen otherwise rational self-publishing blogs explode into insanity as they become convinced that the Illuminati is out to destroy them.  Reviewers get doxxed, flame wars burn across Goodreads - nothing good can come of all this.

Am I being sabotaged?
Probably not.  There are some folks that see publishing as a zero-sum game.  If someone is reading your Tree Elf Dystopian Romance, then they're not reading mine.  It doesn't help that Amazon is giving bonuses to the top 100 sellers in various genres under KDP Select, because that actually does benefit one author to tear another down.  Other than that, it's not really competing.  DC is rubbing their hands together over the success of Marvel films, because they know it means that interest in superheroes in general is going up, which will benefit them.  However, there is no shortage of malicious jerks on the internet, so nothing's impossible.  But more likely, authors are just not dealing well with the fact that somebody doesn't like their books.

One quick note about Amazon's "Verified Purchase" tag.  When one reviews a book, they have the option or not to click this, it's not automatic.  Update: Just tested, and it is automatic.  However, keep in mind, especially with Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime, someone could be reading the book under their spouse's account or something.  Anyway, if you get a quick one-star "Sucks, don't bother" that isn't verified, it could be an honest review by an actual reader that thinks you suck, not a random troll or saboteur.  Free books do count as verified purchases, and I've read conflicting reports of whether you have to actually ready 20% of the book for it to count.

Bad reviews are not the end of the world, and may be beneficial.  When I check reviews, and not just for books, I check the one-star reviews first.  If they're thoughtful with specific gripes spelled out, I'm inclined to think the product sucks.  If they're MISPELED ALL CAPS RANTS or from someone with unreasonable expectations, or if it's clear the reviewer is not in the market for that product, that says good things.  I don't even bother reading five stars reviews for books.

I've bought books because of one-star reviews: "The most disgusting thing I've ever read"  "This gave me nightmares for weeks".  And one-star reviews can produce positive reviews in response: "I don't know what the reviewer below was talking about, these are the best cotton swabs ever."  And I'm not the only one.  Some book bloggers have reported that they get more Amazon Affiliate earnings from their negative reviews than their positive ones.

Overall, be thankful and gracious that someone took the time to read your book at all.  All my negative reviews were by folks that flat out said they didn't read it.  Seeing as how I have a review series titled "Things I Didn't Finish", well, that's just karma.

And reviews may not be all that important after all.  Many authors report an inverse relationship - their bestsellers get worse or fewer reviews out of their titles.

And, yeah, there's also the possibility that you just suck.  But don't let that stop you.