Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Amazon Expects Readers To Pay If They Want To Leave Book Reviews

Online customer reviews are a way of life. Whether you're going out to eat, buying a car, getting your gutters cleaned, or buying a book, you always check to see what previous users have had to say before you put your hard-earned money on the line. In fact, as Invesp points out, as many as 90 percent of people will do a quick check on a local business's online reviews before trying them out. Of those folks, roughly 88 percent said they trusted online reviews just as much as they would a personal recommendation from someone they know.

This one looks good... let's give it a try!
If you're an author, then you already know how important good reviews for your book can be. Especially when it comes to the Internet's biggest marketplace, as I mentioned back in How Many Book Reviews Do You Need Before Amazon Promotes You? However, if you're hoping to get your readers to leave you a whole bunch of 5-star reviews on Amazon, prepare to run face-first into an unexpected hurdle.

You Want To Leave Feedback, Make Sure You're Paid Up!

Ideally, the book review process is a simple one. If someone reads your book and likes it, they can sign onto their Amazon account, call up your title, click how many stars they think you deserve, and maybe leave a little blurb about what they liked. Or hated, if that's the case. The more reviews you have, the more likely your book is to be seen, and the more sales you're likely to make. After all, if more than 50 people thought this book was great, then this is clearly something you need to check out for yourself!

In case you were looking for your next recommendation, you should check this one out!
It's already hard enough to get readers to go and leave reviews on your book, but as I've found with my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, Amazon recently enacted a policy change that makes it even harder.

These days it isn't enough to have an Amazon account if you want to leave reviews. It's not even enough to buy your book through Amazon. In order to leave a review on it, the account holder needs to have spent at least $50 through that website in the past year. Otherwise they're not allowed to leave reviews. Even if they discovered your book through Amazon in the first place, and that's where they bought your book to read it. Unless they've spent that money (gift cards don't count according to the Amazon policy), then they can't share their thoughts with the community at large.

That's a kick in the teeth no matter who you are. Because whether your fans came across your book during a free giveaway, or they simply don't have a lot of spare dosh to throw around, leaving a review is one of the best ways to help the authors that you love without spending any money in the process. Unless, that is, you're trying to leave that review on Amazon.

So Go To Goodreads Instead!

If this is a problem you've ever run into (I've had three readers message me personally to inform me they ran into this wall, so I can only guess the number who had this problem and didn't tell me about it), then I have a workaround for you! You can still help the authors whose work you want to promote, share your opinion, and do it all for free.

Head over to Goodreads, and leave your review there.

Seriously, everyone is welcome over there!
While Amazon's algorithm is seriously powerful, Goodreads is no slouch at getting the word out about your work either. It even has buy links right on the page (as you can see on the page for Crier's Knife), in case someone sees it, thinks it looks good, and wants to pick up a copy. It also shows how many people are currently reading your book, and how many people have marked it to-read, which can be helpful.

This is not an either-or proposition, of course. If you're a reader who really wants to help an author you like reach a bigger audience, then leave reviews in as many locations as you can! But if you find yourself standing on the other side of Amazon's velvet rope because you don't order enough stuff from them to share your opinion, well, you're more than welcome on my Goodreads page!

We Can't Do It Without You!

Authors might be the ones writing the books, but it's the vocal readers who boost our signal that really drive our careers. Remember that, without you, there's no way we could afford to do this sort of thing for a living! Also, if you want to know some more ways you can help the authors you love without spending green to do it, check out 10 Concrete Ways You Can Help Authors You Like!

That's all for this Business of Writing installment. If you're an author, make sure you have a place all your thrifty fans can go so that Amazon doesn't silence their voices (and cost you money).

For more work by yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by My Amazon Author Page! To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and now on Pinterest where I'm building boards to keep track of both my books and RPG supplements. Lastly, to help support my work, consider Buying Me a Ko-Fi or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

If You Want Your Art To Improve, You Need To Invest In It

How many times have you wished you were better at something? A better writer, a better painter, a better sketch artist, whatever your jam happens to be? If you're like most folks with a creative streak, I'm sure it's a constant wish. You know that you can't just snap your fingers and get more skilled, but who has the time to write? Or draw? We all have lives we're living, and there just isn't always room for our art.

Real talk, here. If you want to improve as a creator, then you're going to need to make room for it. Because if you aren't willing to invest in your art, then you're never going to get any better at it.

Lessons From The Great George Carlin

May he never be forgotten.
If you've paid even the slightest attention to comedy, then you know who George Carlin is. Considered a master of the craft, his cutting insights and caustic wit made him a legend among audiences, and an idol among comedians. What most people forget, though, is that when he started off George wasn't anything special. He was a guy who did goofy voices, had good timing, and was generally amusing. So how did the guy who was sort of funny end up becoming a mythical pop culture figure?

Bad financial decisions, and a lot of pressure, since you ask.

You see, back around the end of the 70s, George was starting to get burned out on comedy. He'd had a good run, and he was thinking about getting into movies instead. It wasn't an uncommon career path, and he figured that a change would do him good, creatively and professionally. However, young George had made some mistakes in spending too much money, and now his future self owed the IRS quite a tidy sum of money in back taxes. With all of the other debts he'd incurred, staying in comedy was just a more reliable way to dig out of the hole.

The results speak for themselves.

As Carlin said himself in later interviews, being forced to stick with comedy likely saved his career. Because not writing new and better jokes wasn't an option. Also, since he had to constantly tour and constantly create in order to stay one step ahead of the bill collectors, he got really damn good at his craft. So much so that most people are shocked to hear that he ever considered hanging it up in the first place.

No One Else Is Going To Put The Gun To Your Head

I said this before in Want To Be A Better Writer? Make A Lot of Pots!, but it bears repeating. If you want to get good at something, then you have to put in the hours and develop your skills. Not only that, but you need to keep that edge honed, because it will go dull if you don't use it.

And if you want to get that razor edge, then you need to spend the time with a whetsone, some oil, and finally a strop to get yourself there. Wishing and sighing ain't gonna do it for you.

I'd start turning, if I were you.
If you want to get better, then you have to prioritize your art. You need to let people in your life know that it's important, and you need to practice every day. Not just when inspiration strikes you, or when you feel like it. Some days you spend twenty minutes with a notebook, others a few hours with your laptop. Which tools you use, and how long you spend may vary; the point is you're doing it. Work on a schedule. Sometimes you won't like the work you do. Sometimes it will be sub par, or just junk that you delete the next day. Sometimes you'll get half of a good story out, and you'll have to fix it in editorial. That's great. All of that is great.

Because the only way you're going to improve is by doing it. And the only way you're going to do it is if you decide to do it. Because not all of us have the luxurious misfortune of an outside entity pointing a gun at our heads and screaming, "Write something good, or else!"

You need to look in the mirror, and do it to yourself.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing installment. Hopefully it helped some folks out there! For more work by yours truly, check out my Vocal archive as well as My Amazon Author Page where you'll find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. You can even catch my new books, RPG supplements, and other articles on my Pinterest now! Lastly, if you want to help support me, please consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron. Every little bit helps!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

In Case You're Wondering, Novels Really Are Easier To Sell

I love reading short stories. I've always enjoyed the art form, and I treated both collections and anthologies as a kind of sampler platter. Which is to say, they were the thing I checked out when I wasn't sure what I liked in a genre, or when I wanted a lot of different flavors by the time I closed the back cover. These books were often how I found new authors, and how I explored new aspects of genres I liked. That was why I started writing short fiction; I figured it would give people a sample of my work so they could decide if they liked it or not.

Then I wrote a novel. And let me tell you, the difference in selling these two very different products is like night and day.

"So this is my fantasy novel-" Great, I'll take two.

People Really Like Novels (While Shorts Remain A Tough Sell)

For folks who haven't been by My Amazon Author Page lately, I've been a part of a lot of short story anthologies over the years. I've also released my own collection of steampunk noir shorts, titled New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam. From fantasy and sci-fi, to horror and romance, short story anthologies have been universally difficult for me to sell. That is not to say that they don't sell, of course, but you really need to have your pitch down perfect to get people to take a bite on a bunch of shorts. And even then, you're more likely to get them to take a card than you are to close a sale.

By contrast, I released a sword and sorcery novel last year titled Crier's Knife. And you know something? It is a lot easier to get people to buy copies of this book than any short story collection with my name in it.

Speaking of, go buy your copy today!
To be clear, I am not selling gangbusters. But in my experience, both online and in-person, novels hook more potential readers (and buyers) than short stories do. Especially because, with an anthology, someone tends to get entire stories with their sample. With a novel you only get a few chapters, which is enough to draw you in, but not enough to satisfy you. When you combine that with the fact that readers seem to enjoy long-form fiction, it's just easier to convince people to check out your book if it tells a single story, and has a bit of heft to it.

I'm not the only author who's noticed this phenomenon. Jason Sanford talked about it on his blog in the post Should Authors Avoid Short Stories if They Desire Literary Success? In this post he brought up something interesting... mainly that we don't consume our fiction the way we used to. Which is to say that in the old days we got our sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc. mainly from magazines. They were all over the place, and they were paying big money to fill their pages. So much so that many writers would use short stories to pay their bills while they completed novels, thus making it seem that you should write short stories to build your audience and start stacking checks, and then release a novel to cash in. Then, as novels began to grow more common in new and burgeoning genres, they became the main meat for readers, and short stories became a kind of side dish.

In today's Internet age, magazines are niche publications. While there are lots of digital places where short stories are more than welcome, collections tend to move minimal copies unless the people in them are already famous, and have a following eager to gobble up any new content from them. And while you can do well with novellas (at least according to some metrics), short stories still tend to fall into the bottom of the barrel most of the time when it comes to sales.

There's A Market For Everything

Now, does that mean you can't make money writing short stories? Of course not! You totally can. Writing for open anthology calls can make you semi-regular paychecks, get your name out there, and help you build both your network and your readership. It pads your archive of work, and helps draw more people to you.

However, if you had the option of spending a year putting together a collection of short stories, or a year working on a novel, you're going to get a lot more bang for your buck out of the novel. Whether you're bringing it to readings, trying to move copies at a convention, or just doing online link sharing, a novel will almost always score higher, all other things being equal.

Just something to think about.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing installment. For more work by yours truly, check out my Vocal archive. Also, I'm on Pinterest now, so come take a look at my boards where you'll be able to find all kinds of fun stuff! To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Lastly, if you want to support me, Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! Every little bit helps, you can trust me on that score!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

"Where Does The Poop Go?" is The Most Basic (and Ignored) World Building Question

When we sit down to build worlds, we tend to focus on the big, sexy topics. How does magic work in this strange, new world? What forces power the drives that let the Astro Navy reach the outer rims? How many social orders are there within this great dystopia, and what led to their savage struggles for dominance in the decaying world?

All of that stuff is important, no doubt. It's fun, it's engaging, and you're going to spend a lot of time on it. But there is another question you need to answer before you start writing. A question that a lot of us tend to ignore.

Where does the poop go?

Because until you know that, you don't know shit.

Why Does It Matter?

If you find yourself flabbergasted, asking why it is important to your story that you know where your world's bodily wastes go, chances are that it isn't. Unless you're pulling an It and having a monster who lives in the sewers, or you're going for a musketeer-style underground infiltration, it probably doesn't matter all that much to the narrative that you understand where all that excrement goes.

But from a world-building perspective, it is one of the most important questions. And it's far from the only one.

Okay, I'll bite... why?
How we deal with our waste is one of the fundamental questions of society. Do we have big, public engineering projects that deal with it (whether we're talking New York or ancient Rome, doesn't matter), or is it just a mad free-for-all where everyone just tosses it out the window? If the former, is the system old and crumbling (which could symbolize break-down in infrastructure), or is it well-maintained and sort of taken for granted? If the latter, does all this waste cause sickness? Or is civilization significantly far-out in the wilderness that you have plenty of room to fertilize the fields, as it were?

The way your world deals with poop is just one of the many nuts-and-bolts questions you should have the answer to. Even if that answer is, "It's set in 2011, so they have whatever modern sewer systems we're used to," you still need to have that answer.

This applies to all those niggling, homely questions you may not want to make time with, but which you still need to answer in order to give your world that bedrock foundation it needs. Questions about what people eat, what their hygiene is like, and if they put their pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us do. Questions about who trades with whom, what commodities are valuable, and how certain items made it to the other end of the world. Especially if your story isn't set in a world that has Amazon Prime shipping, and a massive global trade network that links one end of the planet to another.

The ho-hum, everyday matters need to be examined, and decided upon, just as much as the big, world-shattering ones that typically inspire you in the first place. Because you are going to nail down those big questions completely. But it's the bolt with the missing nut that's going to trip you up in chapter 12, and leave you shouting at your screen.

Every. Single. Time.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post! Hopefully it got some wheels turning. If you've got a foundation question that you feel is just as important as where people poop in your world, then leave it in the comments below!

If you'd like to see some more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page, where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! And if you'd like to support me, you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

5 Tips For Surviving Conventions As An Author

I just got back from Capricon, and like always it was a working vacation for me. I brought my newest novel Crier's Knife, I was on all sorts of panels, I spent some time at a signing table, shook a lot of hands, and refreshed connections with some folks whom I hadn't seen since... well, since last time we were at this convention.

And in case you were wondering, working vacations are the only variety I get.
As I said back in Can Authors Advance Their Careers By Going To Conventions?, these events are one of the best places to be if you're in the business of writing and selling books. However, if you're not a veteran of the convention circuit, it's really easy to make some rookie mistakes that can ruin your weekend. So while my latest endeavor is fresh in my mind, I figured I'd make a couple of recommendations for all the authors out there.

Tip #1: Wear Comfortable Shoes

Seriously, it matters.
For a lot of us, conventions are when we break out the super nerdy parts of our closets. And while you might be tempted to slip on your steel-toed Doc Martens that look like something out of a 90s comic, make sure they have the right inserts before you do. Because that is going to matter.

This tip applies to anyone who's showing up at a convention, but it goes double for authors looking to sell books and make connections. Because chances are good you're going to be on your feet all damn day, and you're going to do a lot of walking. The last thing you want to do is limp up to a potential contact, or lose track of your sales pitch because all you can think about is how badly your feet hurt.

Seriously, a $10 pair of Dr. Scholl's is worth the cost.

Tip #2: Volunteer For Programming

Even if you're not sure you should be on this panel, volunteer anyway.
When you go to a convention, your goal is to make connections. Connections with fellow authors are just as important as connections with potential readers. However, there is a divide between those who are on panels, or behind signing tables, and the sea of attendees who gently lap against that shore.

You want to be on the professional side of that divide, and that's why you should always reach out to programming a few months before the event to volunteer.

To be clear, it isn't that there's anything wrong with being an attendee, but that guest of honor you want to network with is a lot more likely to remember you if you were on a panel with them for an hour and a half than if you were one of a few hundred people they met and talked to for a couple of minutes. And if you're part of programming, then other attendees are going to look at you as a cut above; your opinions will be listened to, and your status seen as larger than it is. Not only that, but if people in the audience think you made some good points, they're a lot more likely to buy your book.

Which you should have on a stand next to your name tag, just to drive home who you are.

Tip #3: Stay Fed, and Hydrated

Find the green room, if you can.
Again, this is something for everyone, but it is super easy to lose track of when you last had a glass of water and a sandwich when you're at a con. Especially if you're really rolling when it comes to selling books, or shaking hands. So make sure you actually eat breakfast, and that you keep a granola bar or two on your person as you tour through the convention.

Also, something for folks who followed my second tip. Most conventions have a designated green room, which is a sort of lounge where programming participants, convention staff, and guests of honor can go to get some food, and relax in a place that isn't open to the general public. Which means that stopping to rest for a bit, and to pop a top on a diet coke, might also mean you get a chance to share a table with the Big Names attending that year so you can strike up a conversation. It's a great way to get that natural, organic conversation with someone because they have their guard down, since they aren't being beset by the public.

Tip #4: Get Your Game Face On

Hey! Did I tell you about my book?
If you're going to a convention, you should stand out. Be memorable. Have a schtick people recognize, and which makes an impact.

What does that mean? Well, it can take a few different forms. As an example, Paul A. Erickson is a fellow author I met at Capricon many years ago who wrote The Wobbit. As you can probably guess, this book is a Tolkien parody, so Paul showed up to con in full Bilbo Baggins attire, complete with fuzzy feet slippers. That got people's attention, and everyone who commented on his look got a card, letting them know who he was and what he did.

You don't have to go that far with it, if you don't want to. If you're more of a jeans and tee shirt kind of author, that's fine. But if that's the case, make sure you have your pitch down to a fine delivery, and that you have something people can latch onto when they try to remember you. Myself, I have a green leather beret that I always wear to events so that people can pick me out of a crowd... it works, and goes with the Literary Mercenary theme.

As long as people remember you, and can easily associate you with your business card, bookmark, etc., then you've got a solid schtick.

Tip #5: Act Professional

Don't squee... don't squee... deep breaths...
It is shocking how far you can get by just acting like you're more important than you are (in a good way). I talked about this in Why "Fake It Till You Make It" Is Great Advice For Authors, but all of that goes double when you're at a convention.

Now, don't confuse acting professional with being cool and unflappable all the time. You want to be relatable, and you're not going to lose all of your credibility if you geek out about something. This is a con, geeking out is what everyone is here to do. But remember that when you're at a convention, all eyes are on you. And there are probably cameras and recorders all over the place. If you get into a heated argument with someone over nothing, or you start losing your grip on your adult words with kids in the audience, that's an impression you're going to have to work hard to scrub out.

So remember, get plenty of sleep, make sure you're not cranky, and ask yourself if what you're about to say is the impression you want your potential fans and business contacts to have of you. Because those moments we wish no one had seen tend to come around to bite us when it hurts the most.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing installment! Hopefully it helps folks out there who've decided to start hitting conventions this year, and it helps remind my fellow veterans of some things that are all too easy to forget. For more work by yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page where you can pick up books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! And if you'd like to help support me then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular patron today! Even a little donation can go a long way.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

There is No Such Thing as Forced Diversity

I've written fairly often about what people would term "social justice" issues in fiction. From Asexual Awareness in Fiction, to What Would A Woman Do?, or even my fairly recent post from late last year Avoid Back-Handed Inclusion in Your Book, I've had a lot to say about representation in fiction. While a lot of the response has been positive, there has been one, consistent complaint used as a push-back whenever I (or someone else) talks about these topics. A line of reasoning that those embracing it seem to feel is the perfect counter-thrust to completely derail the conversation.

They simply say that they are all about diversity, but that "forced diversity" can ruin a book.

I don't know if you realize it, but those words are literally meaningless together.
I'm not the first person to say this, but I am going to re-affirm what other folks have said. There's no such thing as forced diversity. No one is forcing you to do anything. Either make your book more diverse, or don't. But if you choose not to, don't pretend it has something to do with a purer expression of your craft when it's just that you can't be bothered to swap up the color and gender palette.

Diversity And Representation Are Marketing Concerns

If your book has an all-white, all-heterosexual cast, that isn't going to stop it from selling. Those kinds of books have been selling for literal centuries with no problems. Also, this cannot be overstated, no one is going to make you change that roster. There isn't some kind of quota at publishers that say you have to have X number of black characters, Y number of strong female characters, and Z number of trans or genderqueer characters. Readers don't keep those checklists, either. It isn't going to be held against you.

However, it's not going to earn you any points, either.

This is the point where we talk about numbers.
You know that point I made above about how all-white, heteronormative casts have been the norm in books for literal centuries? Given that there are thousands of other books out there who made the same casting decision, how is yours going to stand out?

Because, and this is a little-known fact that some folks seem to miss, if you include an under-served group in your cast then members of said community are a lot more likely to actually check out your book. Why? Because getting the chance to see yourself in a work of fiction, and to have the issues you struggle with represented on the page, the screen, etc. is a huge selling point. And the more underserved a demographic is, the less competition you'll have in that area.

So, if you wanted to take a purely capitalist approach to things, then yes having a prominent trans character in your main cast would immediately put your story on some people's radars. From asexual strippers who hunt vampires, to a burly black cop comfortable in his gay sexuality hunting down serial killers, you would raise eyebrows, and get people to pay attention. Even if these characters aren't your main lead, just having them featured as part of the major cast of characters will generate buzz.

They're Story Concerns, Too

If you're one of those writers who just wants to be realistic in their casting (assuming you write fiction set in the real world), then you should also be interested in having a more diverse cast... because that's the world we live in! That isn't a new fact, either; people of all skin tones, a wide variety of sexualities, and all kinds of genders have existed in different cultures all over the planet without regard to where lines are drawn on modern maps for most of recorded history. From gay friars who were happily devoted to one another in medieval England, to Japanese mercenaries fighting the Dutch in the 1600s, our real-world history was a pretty diverse place.

But we're not even on Earth!
And if your story is set in a fantasy or sci-fi world that has no bearing on our Earth? Well, let me ask you this... does your story have humans in it? Because if it does, and they're supposed to be humans we can identify with, then you can only improve your setting by adding more options to it. Because it might seem easier to make fantasy or alien races a stand-in for a certain religion, ethnicity, sexuality, etc., but it just makes more sense to be genuinely diverse in your casting.

Again, remember, no one is forcing you to do this. If you think it's just easier to leave Buck Manwell, Space Force Captain and rugged, womanizing adventurer exactly the way he is, it's your book. You can do, or not do, whatever you want with it. And if you're just writing that book for your own pleasure, then that's fine... but if you're writing that book with the intent to sell copies, build an audience, and increase your professional reach, then diversifying your cast just makes sense.

Not only that, but it's a fairly easy habit to get into. Just look around, and ask why you've made certain characters in your cast the "default" setting. Then change them, and see what happens. You might be surprised at the results you get.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing installment! Hopefully it got the wheels turning for some folks. For more work by yours truly, check out my Vocal archive, or stop by My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

To stay on top of all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you'd like to support me, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular monthly patron. Every little bit helps!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

"The Rule of 10" or "Why Numbers Are Deceptive in The Writing World"

Despite the fact that authors deal in words, it is numbers that rule our lives. Everything from page count, to margin size, to cover image dimensions, to how many re-tweets our book release announcement gets are the determining factors in whether our careers rise or fall.

That's bad enough, but I've talked about this before in posts like Authors Live Under The Tyranny of Numbers (Here's How You Can Help!). Today I'd like to talk about something else, though. Namely about how frustratingly deceptive numbers can be for all the creative professionals out there.

Come on baby... papa needs a bestseller!

There's Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Figuring out how well your book is or isn't doing can feel like reading tea leaves. The reason for this is that it's easy to get caught up in numbers that look good for you, but whose true import is difficult to determine. Even if you have access to all the necessary metrics, authors are often just as surprised as anyone when a book does well. Or, worse, they might think their book is doing really well, when it actually isn't.

How does that happen?

Well, if you're solely focused on your sales, you're never going to get confused. More sales equals more success, and as long as those numbers are good, you're doing great. The problem is that there's so many other numbers out there, and they're easy to reach for if you don't have those reassuringly high sales figures.

No, I only sold 5 copies. But there were THOUSANDS of free downloads!
For example, say your book is enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited program. That means you get credit for members who read your book, and you earn a fee per page. Since that's the case, it's only natural that you'd get excited when those numbers start climbing. 300 pages here, 250 pages there, hey, looks like you're doing pretty good! Even if no one buys your book outright, if enough KU members just read it, that won't matter, will it?

Well, that depends. Because the per-page value of a read will fluctuate based on the number of members in the program in a given month, as well as the total number of pages being read that month. Not only that, but what looks like a lot of page numbers to you might, in fact, be nothing more than a drop in the bucket. You won't know that until the month is over, though, and you find out that what you thought was going to be a few hundred bucks in your pocket is just a single Jackson and some change. All because a bunch of members cancelled their accounts, and those who were left read more books, thus lowering the value of every individual page that was read that month.

This is just one example of how numbers can be deceptive for authors, especially if you don't have any concrete idea of what those high numbers really mean.

As another example, I recently hosted a free download for my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife. It did fairy well for me, with exactly 700 downloads over the weekend. That's a pretty solid number, and something to be excited about... or is it? Because if I'd sold 700 books over the weekend, sure, I'd be over the moon. That would probably be over $2,000 in my pocket! But I gave away 700 free copies, hoping that it would generate buzz through people telling their friends, leaving reviews, etc. The problem is that while more downloads is always good, it is not at all indicative of the amount of buzz your giveaway is generating. Because 100 people who tell all their friends, make social media posts, and leave reviews are exponentially more valuable than 100,000 people who read the book, and then tossed the file in their recycle bin never to be mentioned again.

The Rule of 10

As a way to avoid getting caught up in false excitement over things like social media shares, free downloads, and other metrics whose impacts are difficult to track, I find it's easy to implement the Rule of 10. While not a scientific term, it helps you keep things in perspective, and gets you asking important questions about the value of the statistics you're looking at.

More goddamn numbers.
Imagine you're going to move, so you ask your friends to help you pack up and haul stuff. Chances are good you'll get help from 1 in 10 of the people you ask. Some may tell you they can't because of work, or say they'll help only to be mysteriously absent on loading day, but motivation doesn't matter here; you can expect a 10% rate of help on your request.

The same thing is true when it comes to your numbers as an author. Some people might really wish they could help, and other people assure you they'll be there to help you get the job done, but only 1 in 10 of those people is going to actually show up when it matters.

Take that giveaway I mentioned. 700 people downloaded the book, and of those 700 people I'd bank that about 70 people actually read it. There might be more, or there might be less, but that's a number I think is fairly realistic. Then, of those 70 people, I predict that 7 of them will actually give me some return on the freebie investment (go buy another book of mine, follow me on social media, leave a review on the book they read, etc.).

You can apply this rule to most other promotional efforts that are difficult to track, too. A blog post about your new book is blowing up? Cool. So of the 10,000 people who read the article, maybe 1,000 people actually checked out your book's page. Of those 1,000 people, you might get 100 of them who read your free sample, buy the book, or save it for later.

Now, 100 sales is still 100 sales... but it's important to remember the connection between, "This piece of promotion is getting really popular!" and, "Holy crap, my sales are through the roof!" is a nebulous one at the best of times.

Be That 10%

I said this in 10 Concrete Ways You Can Help The Authors You Like, but it bears repeating; if you can be the activity in an author's career, then you are that 1 friend in 10 who said they would help, and actually showed up on moving day. So tell your friends, buy a copy, leave a review, and see if you can ask around to find other 10% people who have the follow-through to help authors move books.

Trust me, if only 1 in 10 folks is helping, we need all the help we can muster.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing entry. If you'd like to see more of my work then check out my Vocal archive, or head over to My Amazon Author Page!

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