Amazon

Milestone! My First (Sort Of) Negative Review!

Ok, so I’m probably weird to be excited about it, but The Stone and the Song just got its first 2-star review on Amazon, and I’m actually feeling kind of bubbly. Am I crazy? Here’s what I’m thinking:

1. It’s a review. Right now my big goal is to get 25+ Amazon reviews. While I obviously prefer good ones, every Stone and Song Cover 4 - High Resolutionreview adds weight and validity to the book’s presence on Amazon. Every review is a visible indicator to every future reader ever that someone read it and cared enough to talk about it. And, while it’s probably a bit of a fallacy, I think every review adds to the invisible implied crowd of many other readers who didn’t review it.

2. It’s a rite of passage. Since I’m breaking into the publishing world after self-publishing became really viable, I have pretty minimal experience of getting rejection letters. My plan back in the day was to collect them and set goals to reach a certain number. I never got that chance, so a negative review is one small way to join the universal brotherhood of authors in facing rejection graciously. (My writer character Zen, in the meantime, does collect his rejection letters, and writes thank-you notes for them along with his next submission.)

3. It adds legitimacy. Because seriously, as good as it is to have all 4- and 5-star reviews, until you hit some pretty serious numbers that just looks like you got a bunch of friends to say nice things about you, even if that’s not at all the case. Or, as it may be, only sort of the case.

4. My rating can take it. If most of my reviews were negative, it would be getting pretty hard to take around now. But Stone & Song had a 4.8 rating before this and has a 4.5 now. For a minor, early work, I’ll really be satisfied with anything above a 3.5. Well, ok, anything above a 4.0. But still. I admit I’m a little sad this took the visual down from 5 stars to 4 1/2, but xkcd is a comfort in times like this.

5. For a negative review, it’s pretty positive. The main thrust of the review is something like, “Seems like he’s trying to do something interesting here, but I didn’t really get it.” For a bad review, that’s not half bad. If that’s the worst thing a reader sees when she checks the negative reviews, I’m in good shape. Especially in the context of the other reviews which, if I may paraphrase, say something like, “He’s doing something really interesting here!”

In short, many thanks to Voracious Reader for taking the time to read my story and leave a thoughtful review, and thank you to the (so far) 10 other reviewers for your thrillingly kind words. I deeply appreciate it.

Cheers!

—Ben

PS – If you haven’t read The Stone and the Song yet, you can get it here. If you have read it, it would make my day (and help other readers) if you add your review: Amazon | Goodreads. Thanks!

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Building Momentum on an Amazon Launch: Early Lessons

We’re one day into pre-orders and The Stone and the Song has hit the Amazon Hot New Releases list and #21 Best Seller in Fairy Tales! As an author with a tiny budget and minimal platform, I count that as a big win, though still a preliminary one. Here’s what I’m learning so far. (And you can pre-order here if you want a copy.)

150211.0930 Stone & Song FT Best Sellers 21

Almost up to the front page!

What Went Well

Presentation matters. Everybody says it, and it’s true. Get your cover and your product description as polished as humanly possible. What you’re watching for is a visceral reaction when you show someone. My cover and my description have gotten some big reactions—people exclaim or jump up or lean forward. They’re my friends, but the key here is that I watched people go from just being happy for me to being genuinely excited about the book itself. It’s beautiful and intriguing and it looks like the real deal. That added a whole different energy to the launch.

Use trackable links. I used Bitly to post my links, which gave me clear line of sight on how the message was spreading. I don’t know of any way to see how many people have viewed your Amazon product page, but I was still able to keep on top of how many people clicked through to see the product page. Leave me a comment if you know of a better way to do this. (For the record, I got about 50 clicks on the first day.)

Set a clear goal and communicate it. For this project, I’m not mainly focused on sales numbers. My goal is to get 25 Amazon reviews within 1-2 weeks of release. I have mentioned this over and over, on Facebook, in person, on the blog. Basically any time I tell people the book is available, I tell them my goal as well.

This works on a lot of levels. A review (especially a good review early on) is a lot more significant long-term than a sale. With the pre-order discount, I get about 35 cents per sale. But say you’re browsing on Amazon. Think about how differently you’d approach a book with dozens of fairly high reviews and a book with one or two reviews, or none. The latter looks bare and amateurish, and you have no way to get a sense of the book’s quality and content. The former looks well-established, fairly popular, and has plenty of reader experiences for you to connect with as a potential reader.

But this goal also gives my readers and friends a project to get behind, something that’s beyond just me and my sales numbers. It gives us something to push for together, a message to pass on, a sense of purpose, and (I trust) a big moment to celebrate together in the near future. It’s a great way to bond with readers and add energy to the launch whlie building a solid foundation for future sales.

The Stone & the Song hits Amazon Hot New Releases!

The Stone & the Song hits Amazon Hot New Releases!

Things to Improve

Be available. I made a quick Facebook post announcing the pre-order and a minimal blog post, then didn’t touch it all day because I have a day job (and no smartphone). I have amazing friends, so within 4 hours this still became the most-seen and most-clicked announcement I’ve ever made, but Bitly and my more-connected friends both told me that the action died down around 11am. I bet if I’d been able to check in periodically, even just for brief thanks, likes, and answers to some questions/issues that arose, it would have maintained a slow burn throughout the day and helped the word spread even further than it did.

Fresh eyes. I sent the final version to Amazon at 2am after a grueling day and night of post-production—writing marketing copy, arranging final layout, tiny corrections, check, tiny corrections, check again. Needless to say, my brain was mush, and I ended up missing a pretty glaring issue on the front page. Luckily a friend caught it early on, but probably better to sleep on it, get another pair of eyes on it, and then post it for the world to see.

Looking Ahead

Slow and steady. I got 20 pre-orders the first day. What excited me far more was that I had 5 more a few hours into the second day, up to 8 around noon. While I’m incredibly excited and grateful to have such loyal and vocal friends, one of my big fears is that I’ll tell them about my book, they’ll all buy it, and that will be the end of it. My second-day pre-orders are an indication that I might be setting up for sustainable sales, not just a flash in the pan.

I used to think in total sales, but I’ve found that the more meaningful metric seems to be sales per day. It’s not really about getting a big crowd to do something; it’s about establishing the visibility and credibility you need to consistently keep drawing new readers. My friend Bill has a great analogy about rolling snowballs; the bigger the initial snowball, the easier it is to get momentum, but the real point is to get the ball rolling so it keeps growing. Your crowd is your initial snowball, but the win is to get a steady stream of new readers too.

To assist with this, I’m actually staggering my announcements a bit. I’m going to be sending emails to potentially interested friends-and-relations who maybe didn’t see it on Facebook, and telling different circles of friends as I naturally run into them. From what I hear, this may also help maintain a higher or more stable sales rank, since Amazon now looks for sustained sales rather than raw totals.

Keeping the readers I get. The book includes a sneak peek of my next novel and links that make it easy to read more, sign up for my mailing list, or support me on Patreon. I’d love to get this book to as many people as I can, but I’d especially like to find the people who like it and the sample enough to stay in touch.

So that’s what I’m finding so far. What about you guys? Any interesting questions or findings or ideas for me?

Also, don’t forget to pre-order The Stone and the Song. It’s only 99 cents through 2/21/15. And be sure to leave a review! (Heh heh. See?)

Cheers!

—Ben

Patron Perks, Stone & Song Edits, and a Prototype

I’ve got a few exciting production updates and goals today. Here’s what I’d like to finish by the time I go to bed.

Patron Perks for the January Bonus Bundle

It’s time to deliver the January Bonus Bundle to my wonderful patrons! I still need to finish some of the writing and get the post-production completed. Today I’d like to finish all 3 parts:

– The History of the Moustache (A Modest Contribution #2) – These are short, funny bonus episodes hosted by the Dream World Collective’s resident geek, Otto. Always sure to be highly edifying and inaccurate. Tons of fun to write. Should be about 1000 words.

– Character sketch of Sushi Vasquez (3 sections) – $3+ patrons also get a peek at my character design sheet for Sushi. This one should be easy to finish, but the original was lost with the theft of an old laptop long ago, so it will still involve some rewriting. Guessing this will be 500-750 words; the outline-ish format will make it easier, as will the fact that I know most of the content already.

– Kitchen Adventures #1 – A cooking show with Summer (also from The Dream World Collective). This is the first one I’ve created and I’m unusually nervous about it. Maybe because it has to be funny but also end up with a recipe that (more or less) works. Otto’s the guest on this one, which should help. This goes to $5+ patrons, so currently has a very small potential audience, which may also contribute to the jitters. Best guess is 1000-1500 words, but I’m going to play this by ear. Could be shorter if the focus ends up more on the recipe than the adventure by which they get to it.

The Stone and the Song Preliminary Edits

So I’ve committed myself to a very quick turnaround on this (cf. my early experiences setting up an Amazon pre-order). I need to finish all my edits, proofreading, and post-production (including any CTAs and the Dream World Collective preview I’m including) and upload the final manuscript by midnight Wednesday 2/11/15. Not sure if that’s midnight at the beginning or end of Wednesday. I suspect the former. Will be done Tuesday night just in case. I committed to this before I’d really even previewed the manuscript to see if it needs any rewriting or just proofreading and tidying up.

The Stone and the Song, coming Feb 21, 2015 (!)

The Stone and the Song, coming Feb 21, 2015 (!)

It’s only about 30 pages and I finished preliminary edits on the first third or so yesterday. Today I’d like to get through at least proofreading and formatting on the rest of the manuscript. I think at least one scene needs a minor content revision. If I can get that done too, so much the better. Tricky thing there is that it’s based on a possible minor plot glitch, so I may actually need to figure out what’s going on (unseen to the reader), which can take an unpredictable amount of time.

A Prototype!

I’m really excited about this one. For February I’ve got a really fun scheme in mind. I’ve developed an elegant little mechanism for folding a single sheet of paper into a mailable letter with just a few folds: no cutting, adhesives, or envelope required.

Idea is to create little fill-in-the-blank notes and letters that you can print out, fill in, fold up, and pop in the mail to someone you love (or like, or know, or don’t). I’m kind of going to shanghai Valentine’s Day and take it beyond romance, because love comes in all sorts of forms and people are valuable.

Only problem is that I think the current version ends up about half an inch too small to fit USPS machinable mail guidelines, so I’ve got to rework it a bit. Here’s a preview in the meantime.

Letterfold – Blank (Prototype 1)

And So Much More!

Oh my gosh. So many things going on right now. I also need to get the patron-only preview of the next section of Dream World Collective up so I can post it publicly over the weekend.

And I need to get the landing page for the letterfold project up. (By the way, is calling it the Share The Love event too cheesy? Any better ideas?) I’m also setting up a proper mailing list host and possibly even an autoresponder. Really should get that going by the Stone & Song release date at the latest so people who read it and love it have a good way to get in touch with me.

I’m really excited, though. This is a time for pushing hard to lay a ton of infrastructure, which should really help as the first couple novels reach completion.

Thanks for being in on the journey with me! What are you reading/writing/working on these days? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Cheers!
—Ben

The Big (Tiny) Amazon Self-Publishing Experiment Begins! (+ Cover Reveal!)

I just learned an important and slightly disappointing lesson about putting a book up for Amazon pre-order. Logical in retrospect, though. But I should back up.

I’m finishing up a couple novels and plan to self-publish them when the time comes. I’m looking forward to sharing the process of completing them, getting them ready, publishing them, and getting the word out. Thing is, they’re both major projects—150k and projected 120k words—and I’d kind of like to have a little experience with the basics of self-publishing so that I can put them up without wasting time on errors or inefficiencies, especially when it’s a time sink that would scale up with the length of the novel.

Recently I remembered a fairy tale I wrote a few years ago. It’s early work but it’s actually quite beautiful and the ending still brought me to tears when I re-read it, and it’s a story that’s worth getting out there. Thus was born the Big (Tiny) Amazon Self-Publishing Experiment. The story is around 30 pages long and in mostly finished form.

I realized if I can put aside my perfectionistic tendencies I could put on a pre-made cover, convert it with minimal editing, and publish it on Amazon within weeks or less with very little effort.

Big if.

I ended up ordering a pre-made cover and, while the designer was incredibly friendly and responsive and did a beautiful job adjusting the background image for me, it turns out I have pretty strong views on matters of design (and I like getting my hands dirty and testing different options out), and the “make a suggestion, wait a day, make a suggestion, wait a day” cycle was killing me.

So—don’t try this at home—I basically took the second or third version he gave me, completely edited out the title in GIMP, and did my own typography for the main title. Here’s the result. I’m pretty excited.

The Stone and the Song, coming Feb 21, 2015 (!)

The Stone and the Song, coming Feb 21, 2015 (!)

And the disappointing lesson about pre-orders? I decided to put the book up for pre-order to give me a chance to make a few final edits and complete post-production while already having a legit Amazon product page I could direct people to.

The way this works is that you enter your book information and upload a cover and a content file (either draft or final—mine was a draft because the whole point is that I’m finishing it up while pre-orders are open).

Then you pick a future release date and Amazon generates a deadline by which you have to upload the final copy, about 10 days before the release date. This deadline is all very scary and official and bold and red, especially because before your final submit you have to confirm that if you don’t get your final version in before the deadline, you’ll lose access to pre-orders for a whole year.

That’s pretty serious stakes for what started out as essentially a lark.

I decided I needed a kick in the butt to short-circuit the perfectionism and ship the book. So I gave myself a nervous-makingly short deadline of about a week and carved it into stone. That’s when I learned that it doesn’t actually put up the product page until you submit the final draft anyway. So the whole pre-order thing is kind of moot. Either I get a few days to finish post-production or I get a few extra days with a legit Amazon pre-order page, not both.

Lesson learned. And really that’s what the experiment was for all along.

Have you guys done anything like this? Anything I should be aware of going into it?

Cheers!

—Ben