Genre survey – the results!

If you never ask, you’ll never know.
That’s where this started.
Sales of Rangers and the rest of the Sam & Sam collection have not been what I hoped they would be. I’ve been putting them in the right places, recently, though some of the higher-tier advertisers won’t accept my ads yet, and I have been selling, but it didn’t feel like I was meeting my benchmarks. I have a number of author groups I hang out in, and we spend a lot of time talking about the big three for packaging:

1) Cover
2) Blurb
3) Sample

Your cover brings in readers, your blurb entices them to try the story, and your sample proves that you can tell a story they want to read. The first, biggest, and potentially most important gate is that cover.
I’ve posted the Rangers cover a few places before and had people ask for the name of the designer. I love the cover, and how well it captures the feel of the series and the peculiar person that Samantha is. She’s not flashy and pretty with thick flowy hair and a warrior stance. She’s a chick in jeans with a chainsaw.
Booyah.
(No, she’s never handled a chainsaw in the books, *actually*, but I’m looking for my first, earliest opportunity to fix that.)
The problem is that, even if the cover fits the book, it needs to fit the genre, too.
If the cover doesn’t communicate genre, it’s not going to attract readers who are interested in it – it’s going to attract readers who are looking for something else entirely. The same problem goes with where a book is shelved – if I don’t tell my readers what it is, accurately, the right readers and I are going to miss each other.
And I was pretty sure Sam & Sam were Urban Fantasy.
So I asked.
I posted the covers for the first four books and a brief description in one of my favorite writers’ groups, and an interesting conversation ensued about whether or not a book with that cover belongs in urban fantasy. Whether or not I even was urban fantasy. What those books said they were.
And, sitting and watching these well-informed, intellectual conversations, I realized that they weren’t going to help me at all.
Authors know that Urban Fantasy is a book set in the real, modern world, usually an urban (city) setting, with a paranormal twist, usually involving magic.
But what do readers think it is? That’s what actually matters.
So I asked.
And I got answers.
Answers that have clarified a lot of things, and made me very confused about some other things. I promised to talk about the results for my newsletter, and I did, but I want to use graphs. And talk a lot more. So I also promised that they could check here for the real download on my survey results. And my immense gratitude that they took the time to answer my questions.
I’ll go through them by question, from here, and talk about what I think I learned. Feel free to straighten me out in the comments if you think I’ve missed something important.

Question 1: You’re reading a book with a scene where a demon’s still-beating heart is tacked to the door with a knife, a pair of eyes are duct-taped to the window, a swordfight is going on as the two people involved use copious amounts of magic and all of this takes place in an abandoned warehouse in a large city. Is this:
A) Urban Fantasy
B) Horror
C) Dark Fantasy
D) Fantasy
E) Ew.
F) Other

I allowed them the freedom to choose all that applied. This is the compiled response:

capture
First, for the person who said “ew”. I totally get that. I do. Please don’t read Sam & Sam. It kinda gets worse from there. Portal Jumpers is potentially still a really great fit for you.
So. I thought the answer here would be urban fantasy, shoo-in, with a perfectly reasonable case for dark fantasy, maybe fantasy, and perhaps ‘other’. I thought I would get a certain number of ‘horror’ responses, because it’s kind of graphic, but I’ve thought from the beginning with this series that it isn’t horror because it lacks dread anticipation – the style of suspense is just *wrong*. So, hooray, I actually agree with these results. Completely. The number of Urban Fantasy + Dark Fantasy responses was really encouraging. Others included Paranormal (totally agree) and this, which won the whole survey for me (I know I promised no wrong answers, but that doesn’t mean some can’t be more right than others): “That depends on what city. If it’s a city in this world, it’s Urban Fantasy. If it’s an imaginary world it’s fantasy.”
So, so far, so good. I agree that I’ve got my book on the right shelf calling it dark fantasy or urban fantasy. Yay!
Question 2: What genre is this cover?rangers-ebook-cover-kindle

A) Horror
B) Urban Fantasy
C) Dystopian
D) YA
E) Zombie Apocalypse
F) Is this a trick question?
G) Other

Again, pick as many as you like.

 

Capture3.PNG
The results here were… troubling. Horror. YA. Zombies. Dystopian.
I’m really not anywhere near any of these.
The rate of people picking UF was low enough that I have concluded that I’m going to have to put re-covering the series on my list of things to do, because I’m not selling to the right people. I’m just not.
Loud and clear, I think, and I’ll try to learn from it.
I think that the woman on the cover is probably too young, the color scheme is wrong, and… I might have to give up the chainsaw.
Le sigh.
I can work with that.
Once more, thank you.

Question 3: Which of the following TV shows would you consider ‘Urban Fantasy’?

A) Charmed
B) Grimm
C) Supernatural
D) Buffy the Vampire Slayer
E) True Blood
F) Arrow
G) Medium
Here, I knew there would be some gaps, because not everyone has watched every show, or even heard of them, but I used TV instead of books because it gives me a better shot at finding stuff people know well enough to have an opinion.
First, let me walk through why I picked these.
The ringer is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It has literally every core element of popular Urban Fantasy, including featured but not central romance plotlines, a kick-butt heroine, the elder mentor, the grimoires, magic, vampires, angst, and a dark cityscape setting. And almost everyone has heard of it. I can’t come up with any reason to argue against Buffy being UF.
The next one on the list is Supernatural. There’s a case to be made that Supernatural is horror. I don’t agree with it, but I could see why you would ‘shelve’ it there, rather than UF. It’s also often quite rural. Other than that, this is my second-strongest case for UF. Magic, paranormal, adventuring, hero’s quests… On and on. Also very popular and well-recognized.
Grimm. I don’t watch Grimm. I started and it never hooked me. I consider it a little-brother to Supernatural, with a lot of the same mythological elements, the hero’s quest discovering the mythology of the world… Again, rural, and this time the world is a bit further away from ‘real’. Just a little, but it’s there. If you wanted to call it ‘mythological fiction’ rather than ‘urban’, I could see my way to agreeing that you have a valid perspective.
Charmed. The big sister of grimoire witches. Just about every mythology ever showed up at some point, the same kick-butt feminine leads. I figured that the only big miss on this one was that it’s been off the air for… kind of a long time, now. And the cityscape wasn’t quite so ‘urban’ as consistently as Buffy.
True Blood. This is the first one on the list that I might not have picked, because I think the romantic plotlines dominate the story more than a classic UF. I will admit, though, that I’ve never watched an episode – I’m going off of press and raves. I don’t know who the hero is – human or vampire. I just know that if you asked me, cold, what type of story it is, I’d call it paranormal romance.
Arrow. Another very-close-to-the-line pick. I was hoping to find that my core group of shows popped up everywhere, and that True Blood, Arrow, and Medium would show up in smaller subsets. I would say, ‘aha!’ and explain that they do have UF elements, but they’re missing core pieces. True Blood would be the central plotline outside of a romance, and Arrow is magic. I only made it about a season, but Arrow is, at its roots, a superhero plot. Can Superhero be UF? Fascinating question. Absolutely fascinating. My results didn’t help answer that question at all, I’m afraid.
Medium. This was my biggest stretch. Partially because Medium doesn’t look like an Urban Fantasy. The cinematography is well-lit, open and airy, even if it is urban. (Going solely on ads, here. Mea culpa.) It’s also a procedural, rather than an adventure. That matters. It’s also the weakest match to my core audience. I figured, of all of the shows I referenced, this would be the one that was least-often recognized, and you can’t categorize a show you don’t know. Here, at least, I think I was right. For what reason? Dunno.

Results:

Capture4.PNG

The part of the results that were most mind-boggling to me weren’t the final distribution. It actually looks about right. The core 4 are best represented with Buffy winning, and the other three tail off in exactly the distribution I’d have expected. What was unexpected was how they came in.
I had three people pick six of seven. A bunch at five. I had a few pick three or four. Almost everyone else picked two or one, and the twos didn’t come in patterns. They were random. (Except Medium.)
Grimm, Supernatural, and True Blood.
Grimm and Buffy.
Supernatural, Buffy, and Arrow.
Just Arrow.
Just Charmed.
Just Grimm.
Just Supernatural
Supernatural, Buffy, and Medium.
And it goes on.
Going through it all once more, I think that I do find the trend I expected – that the young lead discovering and adventuring through a mysterious magical world full of supernatural conflict is the core of what readers see is UF – but there were a lot of combinations I didn’t understand.
Was it because I watch more TV than is good for me? That could be. It’s hard to know, given that I didn’t ask which ones they’d *seen* before I asked which ones they’d categorize, but I thought that that was overly-complex. Still think I was right, there.
So.
That’s what I got.
Really sitting with the data in front of me and pulling it apart to write this, I think I’m reassured more than I’m troubled.
Rangers needs a new cover. Darn.
But the genre is what I thought it was. The tropes of adventuring and discovery of the paranormal resonate. And readers care enough to show up and tell me about it, when I ask.
Thank you.
So much.

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Mailing lists – why?

I’d been planning on doing this blog for about a month, now, because next month I’m a part of a number of different promotions aimed at increasing my mailing list.

Does that feel like icky marketing stuff to you?

Because it did to me for quite a while – give me all your information so I can pester you with buy links! – and I’m coming around on this being a lot more than that, and nothing like as scammy and sell-y as I thought it was.

Stick with me on that.

The reason the timing is… interesting… is the ‘pocalypse going on among a bunch of the Amazon-exclusive authors right now. I’m not going to talk a lot about it, because it’s business-y and it’s highly data-driven, and… well, a lot of the authors involved are kind of struggling not to sound whiny, despite some very sound data running around to support them. I try very hard to keep my positive voice on, when I’m in public, because the internet is forever, but you can’t blame them, when they’re seeing a business model potentially impode on them.

And that’s the part that’s relevant, here. Continue reading “Mailing lists – why?”

#ProjectNovember

My writing calendar revolves around November.

Four years ago, I promised myself I was going to try to make a career out of writing, and that journey began at NaNo (National Novel Writing Month, in November).  While a lot of people quite legitimately feel like NaNo falls in the middle of what is already the most stressful season of the year for meeting obligations and finding time to get things done, I find it reinvigorating to repurpose a dark, cold season into the peak of the writing year.  The first few years, I intentionally took off the entire month of October, in order to be sitting on a pile of creative energy, come midnight, October 31st (not to mention a pile of leftover candy with its own kind of energy).  That hasn’t worked out for scheduling reasons, lately, but it’s still day 1 of my writing calendar, with a sense of new, with all of the shortcomings and the lots-of-work from the previous year wiped away.

November.

This is also when I take a close look at what I got done last year and what I plan on getting done next year, because anything that I don’t have on a glide path to finished by November isn’t going to get done in 2016 – it’s going to have to be next year’s project, anyway.  And this has been… an interesting year.

For reasons that aren’t worth listing out, here, I had a large break in publishing called ‘2015’.  I didn’t publish anything between Warrior, which came out Dec 30, 2014, and HDM: Miami, which was May, 2016.  (It’s worth noting that I didn’t stop writing, through this period.  I had two successful NaNos, and a few other really strong writing-challenge months, so the work is written.  I just have to get it *done*.)  They say that a gap in publishing that big is a momentum killer, but I didn’t have any momentum to speak of, anyway, so I figure it didn’t make all that big a difference to me.  Regardless, when I looked at this year, back at NaNo2015, I wanted to get books out, again, but that particular muscle had atrophied quite a lot, and it took five months to get the HDM novel organized and put out.  From there, things have rolled a bit more smoothly, but without really seeing the results I was hoping for.

So I made a deal with myself.  Writing year 2016-2017 is *the one*.  Everything I have been promising myself I was going to get around to, everything I’ve been meaning to try, all of the identified causes I have for not being as successful as I want to be – I’m going after them.  And that starts with a blitz of content all targeting – November 2016.

The things that are already done for #ProjectNovember:

-New cover for the original His Dark Mistress novel.  (The old one was a formative attempt at proving to myself that I’ve got no idea what I’m doing, designing a novel.  I’d love to say that that lesson is officially learned, but…  Quite frankly, I’m probably going to continue trying.)

-Publish and release Dragonsword.  My favorite book of the ones I’ve written to date, I’ve been sad to see it languish as much as it has, so far, and I hope that as I get further into #ProjectNovember, some of the readers who really enjoyed Sam & Sam will find that they enjoy it as much as I do.

-Release the Sam & Sam box set.  The first four books are really one story.  It has three natural breaks in it, which are where the four books come from, but this is how they were always meant to be.  I don’t know if I’ll do another Sam & Sam box set with any of the other books I have planned; perhaps a box set of Sam & Sam companions, as they come into existence, but probably not with the linear (numbered) Sam & Sam novels.  They just don’t go together the way the first four did.

-Various behind-the-scenes advertising and promotional work.  I find this a bit tawdry to discuss here, so I won’t.  Suffice to say, I haven’t done it before, and they say that in order for readers to know that your work exists, you have to tell them.  I find it difficult to argue with the inescapability of this logic.

Things that are yet to come before November:

-Sam & Sam paperbacks.  Yes.  This is happening.  The covers are done, it’s just a question of getting the layout finished, which takes time, and JJ is already underwater with the amount of stuff I’m asking him to do.  Like, you know, publish two books and a box set in two months, and a bunch of other things.  The first four books plus Dragonsword will all be ready in paperback by the end of October, though, or I promise to beat him.

-Isobel.  Oh, Isobel.  Isobel has been digging a hole in JJ’s brain for years, and he asked me to pry her out and pin her to a story, so that’s what I did.  She lives in the Anadidd’na universe – not that she knows it.  She’s the first of the Sam & Sam companion stories, and is an odd format, compared to the others.  I’ll be posting a short story (or at least, part of one, depending on how things go) to my blog here to help get a feel for how Isobel goes.  The cover is done, the editing is mostly done.  Isobel should be up by the very end of the month.

-More advertising and promotion.  I should note, here, that if you want to find out about all of the big groups of discounted books I join up with, be sure to sign up for my mailing list.  There are going to be more of these, going forward.  They’re a great way to find other authors who are writing the same kind of stuff I write, at great prices.

-Potentially the first Book of Carter novella.  In all, there will be four novellas, and my plan is to release them quickly across the end of this year and the beginning of next year, and then combine them all into a single book.  The first one is called Rage.

November.  The writing year starts in November.  And I’m going to do everything I can to make it a big one.

Wish me luck.

Borrow My Book

Among the things that authors war over, the existence and use of Kindle Unlimited is way up there on the list of things that they are unable to reach agreement about. Some authors think that it’s anti-competitive, because Amazon requires exclusivity on the part of the authors who participate, diminishing the competitiveness of the other book-selling platforms. Other authors believe that it devalues books and sends book prices into a downward spiral toward free as readers get used to the idea that they ought to be able to go online, choose any book they want, and read it at no marginal cost to them. A third group resents the lack of control they have over their pricing and the fact that they are losing the opportunity to grow a readership on the other sales platforms.

I was doing some editing work last night and came across a character who, in the face of three brothers who believed that justice, bread, and faith (respectively) were the basis of civilization, said that they were all wrong: that money is the basis of civilization. If you’ve followed my blogwork at all, you’ll hear that my voice harmonizes with hers. With intense respect for the value of all three of the others, I believe that a dispassionate investigation of economics often reveals the most virtuous decision, and I think that that’s the case, here.

My books are in Kindle Unlimited, today. Where there are legitimate arguments against it (particularly the one that complains that I have no idea what a borrow is going to be worth until after it happens – that’s a wild business model: I send you product, and you sell it, and then you tell me what you’re going to pay me for it… hmm…), the economic incentives favor being there over not being there, and so I stay. The moment that those incentives tip (well, within the three months after that), I’ll drop and sell everywhere. In the meantime, if you are in the market for a book and faced with what is sometimes cast as a moral decision between buying my book and borrowing it (Did you know that you can borrow one book a month using Prime? You do now.), let me say quite happily: borrow it.

The way that Kindle Unlimited is currently stacked, short books get penalized for each reader who chooses to borrow over buy (assuming that reader actually reads the book…), but longer books have to be priced pretty dearly before that ratio shifts over.

And I write long books.

Going over my list of novels that are presently available, all but one of them make more money for a borrow than a sale. Looking at the list of ones in the production line, there are another three that make more for a sale, compare to seven that prefer borrows, but that doesn’t entirely capture it. For a book like Portal Jumpers – not just long, but very long – the ratio approaches 50% higher for a borrow than a buy. For all of my written work, there’s a difference of 15% between KU and a regular purchase.

Not only that, but KU gives me an opportunity to reach readers who might not otherwise be willing to risk a new series and a new author. A very large fraction of my readers are using KU, and I’m grateful that Amazon gives them this path to reading my work that’s more akin to a library experience than a bookstore experience. I get paid (pretty well, actually) so long as they like my work and actually read it. And these particular readers tend to read *all* of my work, if they like any of it.

Score.

That’s a relationship I love to have.

I’m sorry to miss out on the Apple shoppers, and the ones who prefer to use Nook or Kobo to get their books, but that ease of interaction that Amazon gives me and my readers – they’re not going to get any complaints from me about that.

Now. I’d love to know what I’m going to make on the things I’m selling before I sell them. I’d love to see more consistency from book to book on what my per-read compensation is (I have a 10% variation across my current library, and that’s after a 20% devaluation earlier this year that I never found an explanation for). I’d love to get more transparency on how Amazon calculates the length of a book. (And no secret devaluations, dawgonnit.) I’d love to have a book market where Amazon’s competitors were stronger and made this a bad economic decision, because Amazon having to compete for my products is better for me. But I also believe that subsidizing a poor business model that doesn’t efficiently put in front of readers books that they absolutely want to buy is not in my best interest, because it diminishes the pool of readers. (If everyone could find a book they could not put down until they finished it, a lot more of them would buy books instead of watching movies or TV. First-world consumers have plenty of entertainment dollars to compete for in aggregate, and the book market is not exactly a stellar example of how to do that, outside of Amazon. Strictly my opinion.)

I have similar complaints about the audiobook market, though, and notwithstanding those complaints, I will jump in with two feet the very moment it appears that using the best tools-to-market for audio is going to generate revenue in alignment with the effort it takes to generate it. I certainly wish I had access to mass market paperback distribution channels, but I only have access to trade paperback, and so I will put my books out in trade paperback – slowly, compared to e-book, because the revenue per effort for paper is much smaller than e-book, but inevitably, because I want my books to live on my bookshelf – and I will be glad to have the readers I get in that format.

I have to take the world as it is, not as I wish it would be. So does everyone else. Should I try to change it when it’s unpalatable or unfair? Sure. But only when the other option is better. KU is a great option for me, right now – bonus – and I’m glad for the opportunities it gives me.

So borrow a book.

Read it.

If you enjoy it, there are more where that came from, and I’m endlessly glad that we got a chance to meet.

 

Shameless update: Dragonsword, book 5 of Sam & Sam is due out any day. Keep an eye out here or on Amazon for the release, or check out book 1 (Rangers) for only $0.99.
What I’m reading: La Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory
What I’m watching: Chopped (it’s good dinner fare)

Kindle Scout: Portal Jumpers is Complete

Well, it’s over. My thirty days of Kindle Scout exposure for Portal Jumpers have come to an end, as of about midnight last night, my time. The big results won’t come out for a little while – Amazon reserves the right to take up to 15 days to make a decision on publishing the books that go through Scout – but the small results have been notable all month.
First, I am not a networker, a promoter, or a campaigner. Shocker, there. I write under a pen name that very few of my friends or family know, and I maintain a separate e-mail account, Facebook account, and bank account for. (I have a DBA that makes my signature as Chloe Garner legal. This pleases sixteen year old me.) I knew, going into my Scout submission that I was going to be missing one of the big planks of a Scout campaign: people I’ve met in person. I also knew that I wasn’t going to be willing to go to a bunch of shouting rooms and post digital posters asking people to nominate my work. I have nothing against people who use those spaces the way they were intended to be used – the people who shop there expect exactly what they’re getting – but it feels impersonal and out of character for me.

-So I found KBoards, where the crew has been nothing but encouraging to every single author who ends up there, and where the experience runs deep. Those are good people.

-I found a thread on Goodreads, which was smaller, but where the people were no less sincere in the interest of supporting and encouraging each other.

-I e-mailed my mailing list and I e-mailed a few beta readers and other ground-level promoters, and I heard back from some of them that they forwarded on that e-mail.

-I posted to a couple of Facebook groups where there was an open invitation to put up that kind of information, and I posted to my wall.

-The night before my campaign ended, I posted to Twitter.

And that was it. Continue reading “Kindle Scout: Portal Jumpers is Complete”

What is a book worth?

So, this has come up a few times, in the circles I wander, and there are a lot of strong opinions out there. It’s my opinion that there is a methodical way of answering most questions like this one, if you analyze motivations and economics coolly.

How much is a book worth?

It’s something a friend asked me several years ago as we were wandering laps at a Target talking about writing and art. In the context of ‘art’ it feels nebulous and fearsome. What am I worth to the world? What is the value of the contribution I am making to society and culture. On a snarky day, I’d capitalize those, but those are real things with real value. The problem is that the value of society and culture doesn’t come in dollar units. It just doesn’t. It can come in more and less, but not in dollars.

Pushing the price of a book up or down doesn’t have anything to do with society and culture.

What it does do is change the type of reward that an author gets from his work. Continue reading “What is a book worth?”

His Dark Mistress: a primer

His Dark Mistress has lived in my head for a long time. She started with a coat and then a hat, or maybe with Carmen Sandiego, I’m not sure. I loved the idea of Carmen Sandiego, but I always loathed how little of her story we ever got. We were always chasing her. Chasing and chasing and chasing, but we never got to meet her. It was like we were never good enough for her, and I grew up in awe of her. There’s a juvenile part of me who still wants to be the kind of person Carmen Sandiego would want to meet.

At any rate, the woman with the jacket has stalked me from the back of my head for years. I wrote her myth, the bit stashed a the end of the first book, (the one everyone either loves or hates; I get it) years before I wrote her first story. Let a friend read it, and he didn’t get it, so I put it away.

Thing about His Dark Mistress is that she stalks me, not the other way around. Continue reading “His Dark Mistress: a primer”

The Myth of Validation

I self-publish.

What that means is that I write what I want to write, based on a lot of factors, like how I feel, what I’m interested in, what my upcoming schedule looks like, what I’ve already finished, what my beta readers are pestering me for, and what I think will sell. After that, I work on it until I decide it’s done, and then I arrange for it to be assembled, laid out, covered, blurbed, categorized, and button-pushed. I don’t ever push the button myself; that’s not in my skillset.

And then I see what happens.

It’s entirely possible with anything I write that no one will like it. And that bothers me plenty.

Because I want to be liked just as much as the next guy. More than a lot of them.

And this is why the professional writing industry has more work coming to them than they could ever seriously consider. Writers want to be liked.

More than that, though. They want to be liked by the right people. It’s the it-clique in high school. The money doesn’t matter. They want special, important people to wave a magic wand and dub them special and important, themselves. Continue reading “The Myth of Validation”