Archive | August 2014

Thoughts on writing and marketing

I love odd starts in novels. Ones that, for instance

Trip you up and make you ask yourself what the writer meant by that

Encapsulate the general theme of the novel by looking at a specific or allegorical item

Plant you in the story immediately

I read a lot of openings that are competent, and a few that make me settle back, happy in the knowledge that in the next few hours my mind is going to be driven on some wild path by a master of the craft.

Pulling books at random from the shelves, here’s a couple of good opening sentences:

“My name is Gin, and I kill people.”

Cazaril heard the mounted horsemen on the road before he saw them.

And there are many more. I’d love to hear some of your favorite opening paragraphs or lines…

While you’re off scrambling to submit openings that you love, here’s something different. Reading my Sunday papers today, I came across this opening sentence:

In handbooks on Chinese traditional painting, an advice commonly given to the artist who wishes to learn to paint trees is to sketch them in winter, for then, without the seductive yet confusing and blurring effect of their leafy mass, through their stark nudity they can best reveal their inner structure and specific character.

So wrong? Long! Complex! Passive voice!

Okay, let me give you the context. It’s not a novel, it’s an analysis of Chinese history and culture, and this is a summary of the book – that the great outward show too often hides the inner truth.

http://www.amazon.com/Chinese-Shadows-Simon-Leys/dp/0140047875/

(By the way, I have not read the book, I’m just taken by that opening)

But this art of capturing the essence of a story in a sentence leads me to movie taglines and loglines. (Not that I’ve been approached by Hollywood. Yet.)

Loglines are short descriptions that summarize a film; protagonist, task, antagonist, stakes. These are fun to think up for famous movies.

Frodo, a plucky and resourceful hobbit, must creep into the lands of the lord of darkness, Sauron, to destroy a powerful, magical ring before the armies of evil sweep out and plunge the world of Middle Earth into everlasting night.

This is the movie equivalent of the novel’s “elevator pitch” – a summary of the novel that takes thirty seconds or less.

A tagline (sometimes strapline) is something quite different. They’re the descriptions that end up on the posters advertising the movie. And for LotR, there’s only one possible:

One ring to rule them all.

So what would the logline and tagline be for SoH? 🙂

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Some Marketing News

My full round-up of sales and marketing will come at the end of the month, but since I did my first 3rd party promotion this week (and my first ever use of the email book recommendation industry), I thought I’d do a mini-update this weekend.

Why do a promotion? Well, it’s the anniversary of the launch of the Bite Back series and the book that launched it, Sleight of Hand, was selling a little slowly. Hidden Trump had picked up a couple of zero sales days. It was time to do something. But what?

There’s an industry which has sprung up around Amazon. Companies develop email lists of readers and then get authors to promote through them. A win-win-win idea. The readers get a daily or weekly list of books that are being discounted for promotion. The writers get their book cover and blurb in front of readers. The company gets income if the readers click on the link and go to Amazon to purchase. But there are quite a few of these, which should I use?

I decided to use BookGorilla. No, that’s not quite true. I decided to use BookBub, but they’re starting to sound like agents – “your book is undoubtedly excellent, but it’s not a good fit for us at this time”. And, anyway, BookGorilla (http://www.bookgorilla.com/) is run by a guy with the wonderful name of Windwalker, and they got my business.

I had to reserve a place a few weeks in advance and promise to drop the price for the promotion.

I’m against playing with book prices for a variety of reasons. It feels like I’m rewarding people who come late to read my books. The mechanism itself is fiddly and requires two operations on Amazon (if your blurb is set up like mine). And surely, surely, there aren’t people out there sitting on the fence wondering about the difference between $2.99 and $3.99 for a book.

Even if there are, how would they ever notice that I’d changed the price?

Well, there are and they do. And I decided to go the whole hog and drop the price to $0.99 for a week.

Now, SoH was booked in for the email that went out on 14th August. Once I’d chosen the offer price, I had to ensure that it was set in Amazon before that, otherwise the book would be excluded from the email and I wouldn’t get my money back. Amazon won’t commit to a specific time before a price change is reflected, so I needed to do this about half a day before.

But hold on. Changing the price is a marketing ploy in itself. So I decided to drop the price on the 12th August, and see what effect that had.

Okay… daily sales for SoH in the run up to changing the price … 5,4,2,2,2
On the day I changed the price : 69
On the 13th : 26
On the day of the promotion : 64
On the days after : 29,11

Very interesting. The effect from changing the price was as big as having it emailed to lots of people!

How does that work? The only mechanism I can think of is that readers have SoH in their wish lists on Amazon, and they filter their wish list by price drops, so something like this goes to the top of their list.

Does anyone out there have a better idea?

It costs about $50 to get an entry on a BookGorilla email. The emails are sent to people who have indicated an interest in the genre, and they have thousands of subscribers in total.

There are others that I’ll try out, such as
BookTastic (http://booktastik.com/) … and …
The Fussy Librarian (http://www.thefussylibrarian.com/)

Return on Investment…well, not sure, not yet. Naturally, I am hoping that readers of SoH will go on to read the rest of the series, but there’s no way to directly measure this. I’ll be keeping an eye of average daily sales of HT and WC and I’ll tell you if something happens.

Does anyone out there use email recommendations, either as a writer or reader?

Writing sex!

I promised a while ago to write a couple of posts on sex. Not how-to manuals… well, not about sex itself anyway. I want to talk more about sex on the page than between the sheets.

It’s often said that a lot of good writers write bad sex. I believe that’s more about how it’s received than their skill in writing. I’ll explain in a second.

I’m not entirely sure how my own sex scenes are viewed. That’s not to say I haven’t received feedback – I have, both positive and negative. Given the tiny proportion of my books that sex takes up, the amount of feedback is disproportionately large and sometimes, let’s say, emotional. In Wild Card, sex takes less than 3,000 words including build-up and cool-down, in a book that is nearly 172,000 words long. That’s about 1.7%. From the feedback, you’d think it was 10% or more. My sole 1-star review for Wild Card on Amazon is from someone who didn’t like the sex scene. S/he had read Sleight of Hand, Hidden Trump and Wild Card, that’s in excess of 420,000 words, and 3,000 killed it. (Another reader added a comment to the review which I enjoyed – thank you, Mike, if you’re reading this).

So, readers get upset by sex in books. Because they don’t want any. Because they do, but not like that. Because they do, but not those people. Because the words felt wrong. Because it was gratuitous (a favorite word for people who really don’t want any).

Given all this, why do writers still write sex scenes at all? Why not fade to black (FTB)?

This isn’t a manual of how to write sex scenes, but it’s an overview of what I grappled with, answering these questions. I hope it might be of use or interest.

For me, the answer to the question above:

  • Sex is part of life, and one which almost all people have an interest in. To exclude it from a book seems perverse.
  • I seek to exercise my readers full emotional spectrum!
  • It is relevant to my world-building. Not all has been revealed yet, people. Not by a long way.
  • The scene includes plot information which needs to be revealed in such a scene because only there is it in context.
  • And FTB is the coward’s way out.

So, when I got down to producing the scene, my writing brain went through these hoops below. Mild spoilers ahead if you’ve not read Wild Card.

Relevance
I’ve covered above some of my reasons for writing a sex scene.
Additionally, in a general sense, I have a feeling that my characters need rewards and complications. I felt that Amber and Jen making love fit that description well.
In a specific sense, why did I put it there? The pacing of the story required a pause for breath, a simple, physical and obvious bit of the plot after the complexity and obscurity of the confrontation with Kath and the near mental breakdown which followed. The following scenes were again high paced, and also required Amber to be caught out. What more reasonable reason might there be than this scene which shocked, lulled and distracted her?

Body parts and graphic descriptions
Although my style in naming of parts had been started with the scenes from Sleight of Hand and Hidden Trump, it’s worth revisiting here.
Cute names – no, no, no. Would just make people laugh.
Scientific names – worse! Nothing kills the buzz for me quicker than Latin names.
Four letter names – Well, better than the above, but what am I writing, porn? My gut feel is I would lose many more readers by using these names and graphic language.
So; I’m left with a style where I’m actually trying to get readers to write the scene in their own heads. I just hint and point. Any reader old enough to be reading the book should, I hope, know exactly what I mean even if I’m sometimes using a pronoun in place of a body part name.

Context
I wanted the sex to flow naturally from the situation, and this helped me to achieve what I also wanted, which was more talk and emotion than actual sex.

Senses
I distrust the visual in sex scenes – too much looking feels porn-y to me.
It started as a bit of a joke to add in the blindfold in the Wild Card scene, but it worked for me.
I try and concentrate on the other senses; taste, scents, textures, sounds. And of course, being paranormal, I cheat a little with the sensations that you get through eukori.

Content
There’s an old maxim for writers that you should write only what you know.
Riiiiiggght. Straight guy writes f/f love scene. All I can say is I did research. I read scenes written by women for that market, and I talked with readers who enjoy that niche. That helped cement and confirm my general style points.

Reality
How real should I get? My feeling is if you want real sex, do it. If you’re reading about it, you’re looking for an idealized version. That’s what I’m trying to deliver.

How long
No, we’re not back to body parts. If I were writing erotica, I would spend more time on the sex. I’m not. All I’m trying to do is exercise your full emotional spectrum. So, once I have enough to get the reaction, it’s time to cool it back off.

 

With all that in mind, how did it turn out structurally?
I started with a deliberate tease. Amber believes Jen has thrown her out. Despair! I spent about 300 words on this.
Then when Amber realizes that it’s the exact opposite and Jen has moved Amber’s things into her room, there’s a section about 1,000 words which are still flirty and teasing, but I’m trying to build up the erotic tension slowly. Flirty finishes about the time they first kiss. From there on, as a reader, you should feel you know what’s going to happen next. Of course, in one of these books, what will happen next will be Basilikos launch an all-out assault. 🙂
All this time, I keep interrupting the increase in temperature and speed of action with little nervous jokes, because in Amber’s shoes, you’d be nervous too AND this was specific feedback from readers of f/f – that the build-up should feel less intense, more light-hearted than m/f. What do you think?
Thereafter, there are a mere 500 words from undressing to orgasm, and 500 words to the end of the chapter, which is the cool-down phase, even if it includes a little more sex.
The cool-down part was necessary for me to sneak some information in, just the same way they do in Game of Thrones. I understand these scenes are called info-humps. 🙂

And that was that. I wrote it and published it, and despite the volume of feedback, there hasn’t been a preponderance of negative reaction, despite everything…

Yes, there’s a point I’ve avoided in all of the above: why Jen and Amber? The majority of my readers would probably prefer a sex scene between Alex and Amber. The answer is quite complex, and isn’t entirely down to my chromosome makeup, as has been suggested. The topic is something for another time, as is a discussion of what might follow between the sheets in the next books.

As always, I’m very interested in your reactions.

July round-up

NEWS

Well, mixed news.

First, a short message in my bad German for my newest readers:

Ich werde eine Nachricht in Deutsch zu versuchen.
Der Verkauf von “Die verborgene Hand” in den ersten zwei Monaten waren 57 und 332.
Das ist spannend!
Der Verkauf von “Sleight of Hand” in Amerika in den ersten zwei Monaten waren 50 und 357.
Deutschland ist dicht hinter, Amerika ist ein viel größeres Land.
Ich habe 3 Kundenrezensionen, alle 5 Sterne. Danke!
Die Frage, die sie fragen: “Wann ‘Hidden Trump’ werde übersetzt werden?”
Peter arbeitet jetzt, und ich werde den Entwurf an Haike im September zu senden.
Ich hoffe, dass Sie in der Lage, ‘Hidden Trump “im Oktober zu kaufen.
Vielen Dank für Ihre Geduld!

So, from that you can gather that I’m happy with the take-off of sales of the translation in Germany. The numbers come quite close to the first two months of sales in America, but I will be amazed if that continues! America has about 4 times the potential readers, but I did see somewhere that German readers individually read more books on average. We’ll see.

In the USA, Amazon’s new initiative (Kindle Unlimited) was always going to hit sales and rating, as my books are not in the scheme. I’ve kept them out (but see below) because I would need to make them exclusive to Amazon.
Having said that, there are no disasters, just a slowing down. And summer has been a slow season for my books before.

SALES

I passed 20,000 for Sleight of Hand!

Raw Deal 19,614
Sleight of Hand 20,076
Hidden Trump 14,455
Wild Card 5,362
Die verborgene Hand 389

MARKETING

I’ve taken Raw Deal off Kobo and put it into the Kindle Select and Kindle Unlimited schemes. There hasn’t been any response from new readers yet. I didn’t really want to do this, because I wanted to keep Raw Deal free for anyone who emails me, but I need to test out the KU scheme. Since the payment for a KU borrow is the same regardless of the length of the book, it seemed a better return to use RD for this.

I still have a pre-prequel on the back burner, comprising Amber’s last mission for Ops 4-10 and her first failed job as a trainee accountant back in Denver. I guess when that’s done, it’ll be the freebie that I offer for anyone who emails me about the series.

On that, I have hatched a plan with other writers to do an anthology which would be marketed initially in the same way, i.e. free, but only available if you email us. More in due course.

I’ve also been reluctant to play with pricing on existing books, and I’m going to change that this month as well. Sleight of Hand will be available at a lower price for a couple of weeks this month, and that’s to co-ordinate with a Book Gorilla mailing. Last year, while I was on holiday, Book Gorilla put Raw Deal on one of their mailings (without asking/telling me). At approximately that time, I had a surge of 5,000 downloads. I can’t get Book Gorilla to confirm how many were due to them. That’s frustrating. They know this because when you click on a book from their email and it takes you to Amazon, they get a cut from your purchase, so they have the data.

PROGRESS

Bian’s Tale 1, Reach of Lies, is on the back burner. I know what needs to be fixed, but I’m letting it stew a bit. Instead, I’ve been concentrating on Bite Back 4, Cool Hand. I wish I could say that has resulted in a huge leap forward, but it hasn’t. Writing has been slow. I will say that writing from Amber’s POV feels good, and I believe the quality of Cool Hand is right up there with the others. As always, I’ve written the start and the end and I’m working out the messy middle. 🙂

The audio book is coming along. I’ve only heard a couple of chapters so far, but I’m excited. Kimberly has pointed out to me that Amber’s favorite gun manufacturer is called Heckler and Coke in the USA. I’ve always used the German pronunciation Koch, which is like Scottish Loch, and which is most definitely not Lock. I should really put a link in here… so here’s a Scottish guy whose upset that you don’t know how  to pronounce Loch :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRiWBRS3OC8

OTHER

Books I’ve completed this month that I’ve enjoyed.
Jacqueline Carey’s Santa Olivia. Urban Fantasy / SciFi with young heroine and adult themes.
James Corey’s Leviathan Wakes. SciFi collaboration between two authors. Real page-turner space opera.
Madeleine Robins’ The Sleeping Partner (3rd book of Sarah Tolerance, best read in order). Regency female ‘private detective’.
Leigh Lane’s Jane the Hippy Vampire. Just a wacky vampire novella, great fun, but also asks an interesting question.

A host of others that I’m dipping into. I’ll do real reviews in due course.

FAMILY NEWS

Most of you also have a look at the Bite Back and personal Facebook pages, so you’ll have heard by now that my daughter has been cast to play Lady Nymeria in season 5 of Game of Thrones. If you’ve heard before, my apologies, but please indulge a proud dad. Lady Nymeria is the second eldest daughter of Oberon Martell who died in a fight with Sir Gregor last season. Her special weapon is a bullwhip, and Jessica’s been practicing on our drive.

Jessica’s currently in Belfast rehearsing and filming. During the summer, she’ll also be on-site in Spain, and we’ll be going out to see her there. She’s been issued with her armour which she said is ‘fantastic’, and has met her screen sisters this week. HBO has a trailer of the three of them and other new season 5 castings on their site.

She also has a smaller part in another major film and she’s finishing writing a book (Epic Fantasy about dragons)! I’ll keep you posted.