Oh yeah…finished the bleedin’ thing

Posted: November 19, 2015 by David in Coming Soon

By which, yes, I do mean Bleed on the Sky. Or the first draft, anyway, and some early edits. It’s in the hands of beta readers now. Possibly in their brains, too. Maybe even in their hearts and souls, if I’ve done it right. Anyway, I’ve been promised some pretty durn quick feedback, with the holidays and such, so…the book might be available very early in December. Guess I should finish up the cover, huh?

Next project, which ought to go much more quickly (hoping to finish by the end of the month!), is a nonfiction book. My current title, because it maketh me to smile, is: Take Back Your Privacy: The Barefoot Anarchist’s Guide to Today’s Digital Landscape. It starts off with a section on free speech, the chilling effect thereon of mass surveillance, the dangers of self-incrimination even when you’re sure you haven’t broken any laws…and then jumps into the actually-useful bits.

It’s going to cover a lot of topics: Threat Modeling, VPNs, Tor, Telephony, GPS devices, Web Browsing, Passwords, Digital Purchases, Physical Security, and more. The table of contents keeps growing. (Yes, this one has an outline.) It’s going to include a LOT of links, because why should anyone believe me without them? (In general, folks don’t…I’ve noticed this, so very often, and gnashed my teeth to ribbons!)

Anyway, if all goes well the thing will be both informative and humorous. And I really haven’t seen anything else out there that covers these topics in the same way, for the same audience(s), and which in fact distinguishes throughout the book which audience I’m speaking to at the moment: my theory is that it’ll be useful for everybody from Grandma and her Facebook habit to a whistleblower who really needs to tell us all about something horrific. Unlike nearly all of the stuff I read out there, I’m going to be specific about both what works and what each tool’s limitations really are…and in general warn against believing sweeping statements about “security” no matter where you find them.

So, that’s a lot to do, and I need to get back to it.

After that book? Maybe another Owen sequel (there WILL be at least one more), maybe the first Destiny book, maybe a book about Yetis in Southeast Alaska (which I must not must not must not title Yeti Again), maybe a short Marvin novel, and maybe this other near-future semi-superhero fantasy-like series I want to write.

Ideas are plentiful around here. Time? Not so much.

Anyway, what are you guys working on? I’m curious…

Hope you’re having fun out there!

Okay, here’s the thing. I have print versions of my three novels, and also my two story collections, ready to go. They should be available online pretty soon.

So, the obvious question: why has it taken me so long to do this? And the obvious answer: because I’m fairly stupid. Duh.

But seriously–why the years-long delay? The real answer: because I don’t like the way other people do the work. I don’t mean they don’t do it well; some of them clearly do. I mean that I don’t like the way they do the work. And I’ve been freaking busy. You know, life and such.

So, here’s the thing. Suppose you decide you want a book cover for your ebook. Okay, so you buy one. You pay $20-$200 or so, and you’re reasonably pleased with the result. Now…years later, it could be…

  • you want a print book. Did you like that cover art you got with your ebook cover? Well, that’s nice. But now you’re most likely dealing with a different professional, and he or she doesn’t have access to the original art. And, it turns out, the art you have isn’t the right resolution/quality for print purposes. Or…
  • you want a print book. Oh, and you’d like to coordinate the font used on your ebook cover with the font in the interior design. You know, chapter titles and such. Well…your new professional doesn’t have the font available either. Or…
  • you already have the ebook, and that’s all you want. But it turns out you’d like to change something. Something really freaking minor. A subtitle, maybe. Or you have “Author of ThisGreatBook” under your name, and you’d like to change it to “Author of ThatGreatBook.” But when you bought/commissioned your ebook cover, all you got was a lousy T-shirt. No, wait. I mean all you got was a JPG image. Hard to edit that, isn’t it? So a minor change involves either (a) a whole new cover, maybe and maybe not with the original images and fonts, or (b) having to track down the original artist–who may or may not still be in the biz–to get the simple change made. Or…
  • You got your book formatted just fine, for Kindle. You have a MOBI-format file, and you like it. But then, either you suddenly want an EPUB…which, frankly, is an easy conversion and if that’s your only problem you should just install Calibre…or, more likely, you want to use a service like Smashwords to distribute your book more wildely. Or maybe you want to add an excerpt from your second book to the end of your first. Or maybe you already did that, but you’re now on your fifth book and you think that excerpt is a better choice. But all you have is your original MOBI file, and now what? Do you hire another professional? Track down the first? Or…what?

In short, I don’t like the way these people work. I don’t want to imply that there aren’t good people out there, providing good value. I’m sure that’s not the case. I just mean that I’m very picky, and want to own the covers and interiors. Which, to me, means I can change them whenever I want, without having to find someone else to do it. So I’ve had to learn to do these things myself.

I wanted full access to source files, so changes are easy, and full access to original artwork, so changes are easy. And, you know what? It turns out that I really enjoy the whole process. Doesn’t actually take that long, either, now that I’m getting the hang of it.

So I’m thinking I’ll start up a new micro-business along these lines, because I can’t be the only writer out there facing these frustrations. My plan, initially, is to offer to format an ebook (using Jutoh, and I’ll be sending the original Jutoh file) for MOBI, EPUB, and the weird Smashwords Style Guide if desired. I’ll also be including cover art, which I design using Gimp (all files will be included–and they can be opened/edited in Photoshop if you prefer) and Adobe InDesign (guess what? source files included!), which will result in one PDF for the book’s cover, and one for the book’s interior. Using this method, you can proof every page before you send the file anywhere. If you want to make changes? You can.

And I’ll do a full cover design, mind you–it’ll include both an ebook front-only cover and a full back-spine-front cover for a print book. If it turns out that the ebook cover needs to be a little different from the print cover? Because, say, the title or author name isn’t as visible as it should be in the thumbnail-size version used by online retailers? Fine; that’s two cover designs. Included, as long as the change is something minor like font size.

Thing is, I need to set up that new website to really get started, here. I also need to fix several of my short-story covers, because I kind of threw those together and they’re not quite up to par. And I need to post some interior shots of my new print versions, because you guys haven’t seen any of that.

But some of you folks reading this are writers. Some of you probably have stuff that’s ready to go, or stuff you’re not satisfied with. And maybe you don’t think my covers totally suck. And I’m going to need at least a couple of testimonials before anybody takes this seriously.

So here’s my early-bird offer: I’ll do all of the above, for free, for the first three projects I agree to take on. What I’ll need from you:

  1. Your current cover, print or otherwise, if any.
  2. Links to covers, in your genre, that you really like.
  3. A back-cover description.
  4. Your book’s content. I don’t really care what format it’s initially. If it’s really weird and I can’t convert it and go from there, I’ll let you know.
  5. For a new cover, I’ll need proposed cover art (I like stuff from dreamstime.com, and the site has the advantage of offering watermarked images for mock-ups…initial browsing/selection should probably be done by you, not me).
  6. And also proposed fonts, if you have specific needs–just send ’em to me, or a link to the stuff you like elsewhere and I’ll see what I can do.
  7. A book trim size, for print. 6″ x 9″? 8.5″ x 5.5″? Whatever; you tell me.

Caveat: I’m talking fiction, here, or maybe narrative nonfiction. I’d love to branch out to new genres, but I don’t want to get into all the images and formatting nonfiction would require. Or, at least, not yet. It does sound like fun. But…not yet.

If this takes off, I think I can be pretty competitive on the price front. And I know I can, by providing source files at no extra charge, and also by combining various forms of formatting into one offer, provide good value. Long-term business value.

If we need to use cover art that costs money? You’ll pay for that, and send it to me, after you’ve selected it. Possibly after I’ve used a “comp” version for a mock-up. Same with fonts. But there’s lots of free stuff available, if you’re on a tight budget.

Other than that, it’s free. For my first three projects. I’ll need permission to use your cover art, and possibly a pic or two of your interior design, for my new website–once I build it. Also, if this is going to be free, I’d very much like a paragraph or two from you telling what you think of the process and the final product(s). Without testimonials, I don’t have a very convincing product.With them, I’ll be on my way.

So we can help each other, here, if you’re of a mind. Final caveat: I am not going to do any form of editing. I probably won’t even read your book, even though I’ll look at every page. That way lies ego-clash, and frankly I’m busy. So, not on the table. Covers and interior design, though? Definitely on the table.

Interested? Contact me, and we’ll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, I’m still working on Bleed on the Sky‘s first draft, and it’s getting complicated. So, I hope to hear from you soon, but I need to get back to it.

Have fun out there!

Progress report

Posted: November 2, 2015 by David in Coming Soon, Humor

Well, Draft the First isn’t done yet. My brain’s apparently only willing to daydream at the keyboard for so many hours a day. It’s sort of frustrating, because I want to see how the story comes out!  {8′>

And now progress will slow somewhat, ’cause I’m working on other projects too. But FWIW I still expect to have a somewhat readable first draft of Bleed on the Sky done sometime next week. If that works out, I’ll be starting something new, and I’ll tell you about it at that point.

Meanwhile, with all the typing for BotS, plus working on one of my super-secret projects (which New Release Club members will be the first to learn about), plus my already-sore knuckle on the finger of my right hand? My hands are aching. So I’ll just stop here, ideally with the following thought uppermost in your minds: “What the heck did he do with that finger??”

Have fun out there!

Going dark! No, really!

Posted: October 26, 2015 by David in Coming Soon, Publishing

Just a quick note to let you know I’m very busy with Bleed on the Sky and won’t be posting, or even checking email more than once a day, for the rest of this week. We’ll have visitors this weekend, and that always disrupts any writing projects I have going–so my goal is to complete a very rough first draft by the end of the day on Friday.

I don’t know if it’s even possible. I’ve certainly never written that much that quickly before. But it’s what I’ll be trying to do. I’ve pushed everything else aside this week…so here I go! Vroooom! (Maybe.)

Meanwhile, how’s about y’all have some fun out there too?

Bleed on the Sky: Preview

Posted: October 23, 2015 by David in Coming Soon

Chapter One


The dank smell of dead fish fills the twilit marina in Port Aransas, Texas. Pretty standard, for July. Everything dies, and in July everything rots.

But it’s not just that, this time. Supposedly. A passerby noticed a smell, he’d said, in an anonymous report—from a payphone!—but is that likely or practical? Ramirez, first on the scene, doesn’t buy it. Or smell it.

The dispatcher only gave him the slip number, not the name of the boat. But Ramirez knows the name without looking for it, now that he’s seen the boat for himself. He’s been on it before, and once had a beer with its owner. Another time, he and his partner found a dead body inside. But he has no warrant today. Legally, he has no business here.

On the other hand, he’s pretty sure the owner would want him to check it out. And, after all, he’s covered—there was a stench, right? Something rotting. Something large. Otherwise, why is he here?

He steps onto the boat, grabbing a stanchion in case the boat rolls under him…it doesn’t; it’s large and heavy…and raps on the door. “Police! Anyone here?”

Nothing. He eyes the door’s handle. If it’s locked, what then?

But it isn’t. Gingerly, he tries the knob. It turns.

A quick glance is enough. This one’s even worse than the last. And this time, he’s not going in there. Better to leave it for the detectives. Not a scene he wants to wake up thinking about in the middle of the night. Though it’s probably too late already….

Ramirez shudders, letting his eyes go out of focus. The last time he’d seen this boat it was over in Corpus Christi, though. Maybe the owner has sold it, since then? Maybe it isn’t him in there?

Sure looks like him, though. A big guy, anyway.

Was the guy who’d called it in actually the killer, or was he climbing around on the boat for some other reason? Looking for stuff to steal? He’s gone, either way. Absolutely typical for Port Aransas, in Ramirez’s opinion—an interesting little town with too many colorful characters, and a noticeable shortage of civic virtue. Though, to be fair? The tourists are worse.

Ramirez’s partner finally shows up, his near-perpetual beer-breath almost strong enough to cloak worse things. Ramirez wonders what died in there—in the guy’s mouth—but doesn’t ask.

“Hey, Sancho! What’s the squeal?”

Ramirez rolls his eyes, then contents himself with jumping off the boat, stringing crime-scene tape across the boat’s stanchions, and waving curious dock-walkers to go around. “Not much,” he says as they pass by. Then, with some privacy: “Keogh. Call me Sancho one more time? I’m shoving you in the water.” Though actually it might be worth doing, he mused, just to clean the guy up a little.

“Nice,” Keogh replies. “Seriously, dude. What’s up?”

Ramirez turns to study his partner more carefully. In his full uniform today, which is a plus. Probably going commando under it, which Ramirez wished he didn’t know. Typical half-grin, typical hand motions when he talks, typical devil-may-care lack of concern. Welcome to Port A. Look, it’s Officer Friendly.

“Murder,” Ramirez tells him finally. “It’s another one.”

“Shit,” Keogh says, then breathes onto his left hand and sniffs it. “You figure Tequila will show?”

“Count on it,” Ramirez says, grinning a little in spite of himself. “You gonna call her that in person?”

A quick laugh, a quicker grin. “Not today.”

They wait.

* * *

The dock has gone mostly quiet. Gulls shriek their stories, paying no attention to each other. A sea turtle swims up to the boat, considers it carefully from all sides, and swims away.

Darkness falls. Hand-carried generators start up out on the South Jetty. Ramirez can’t see them from where he stands and Keogh sits on the dock, but he can hear them. He’d much rather be out there tonight. His uncle had gone out most nights of the year, never holding down a job but managing to catch and sell enough fish to provide some support for his family. Ramirez had followed the guy around when he was a kid, but lost touch during his teenage years. Hadn’t talked to him for nearly a decade.

And then Uncle Roberto’s body had been found stuffed behind a dumpster. Not the first of the bloodless bodies that had been found around town this summer. And not the last either.

“They’re coming,” Keogh says quietly, standing up and squirting something vile into his mouth.

* * *

Detective Phil Gordon grimaces as he pulls into the Port Aransas Marina’s parking lot. A tourist in an SUV, trying to jump in line to get to the ferry to the mainland, had bounced over a curb and nearly sideswiped Gordon’s unmarked Neon. Then the guy, with what looked like twelve long-haired and un-seatbelted passengers rattling inside his brand-new deathtrap on wheels, had flipped Gordon off.

Well, it’s The Island. Even if Gordon had been in a well-labeled cruiser, policy would have been to ignore it.

He gets out of his car and hears a beep from his personal phone.

A text from Sower: Left the doc. On my way. Twenty minutes.

Gordon leans back against the door of his Impala, drumming the fingers of his right hand on its hood. He can see where Ramirez and his fuckup partner are positioned out there. No crime scene techs, of course. Nobody from the coroner’s office either.

Port Aransas didn’t have a lot of resources, the official story went. And most crimes in the area involved drunkenness—which was rarely if ever prosecuted—and petty theft. So when things happened, of course the much larger Corpus Christi police department got pulled in to help. But…quietly. Mustn’t disturb the tourists.

Gordon lights a cigarette and inhales. No rush here. Tequila would just go over the same territory, and speaking of territory she’d get all pissed if he went in first anyway. Never mind who was the senior detective—Margarita Sower didn’t like men in front of her.

Maybe the rumors were true and she didn’t like men at all. Gordon grinned. Could’ve fooled him. But he knows how to keep his mouth shut. Sometimes.

It’s more like forty minutes before she pulls up on her Harley.

“Waited for me?” she asks with a smile.

Gordon smirks at her helmet hair long enough to be sure she sees him do it, then gives a one-shoulder shrug. “Ramirez is down there.”

She rolls her eyes. “Phil, he got a promotion out of that transfer. More money. You know? He has a wife and kid. You could cut him a break.”

“Could,” Gordon agrees. “I figured he had it under control. Might as well wait up here.”

Again with the eye roll. And another shrug.

* * *

Gordon’s lips purse when he sees the houseboat.

“Something?” Sower asks him over her shoulder, not slowing.

“Maybe. Think I know the owner.”

They get down to the boat. Ramirez doesn’t look at either of the detectives, but makes an all-yours arm sweep toward the boat. “I went onboard twice,” he says. “Took a look inside, then called you guys from out here. Went in the second time to chase out a couple of seagulls before they screwed anything up. Closed the door. Hatch. Whatever. Been waiting a while,” he adds in a bland tone, his eyes twitching toward the parking lot where Gordon had waited.

Gordon nods and lights another cigarette. “Tequila?” he asks, deadpan. “Ready to go for a look?”

She steps aboard without acknowledging him. Ramirez’s idiot partner grins openly, then wipes it off his face when Gordon glares. Ramirez stands, stolid and not quite slumping, but obviously not happy.

Gordon blows a smoke ring, then favors Ramirez and his partner with one more glare, flips the cigarette into the water, and follows his partner. Without the damn kiddies around he’d have just kept the butt lit. It cut dead-body stench better than anything else he knew. But…maybe it wouldn’t be the best example to set, especially with a couple of baby cops here whose job it was going to be to interfere with the investigation. If any. Tourism, on The Island, is king.

Gordon climbs aboard.

* * *

Dank, dark. Sower flips a light switch but the bulb is dim and anyway obscured by all the junk lying around. Going through this stuff is going to take days—and Gordon doesn’t even know what half of it is. Computer equipment, of some kind, obviously. Some fishing gear, looking as if it had been used and set down in a corner with no effort toward putting it away. Pizza boxes. And, yeah: junk.

The body’s stench isn’t as bad as Gordon expected, given that someone had supposedly sniffed it out from the dock—Gordon isn’t looking at the body yet; that isn’t his system and anyway Sower is kneeling next to it right now—but the dishes piled in the boat’s little kitchen? Pretty rank.

Gordon walks through the rest of the boat, hands in his pockets, just letting everything he sees soak into his mind. He doesn’t take notes. His way of absorbing all the information he can, not particularly paying attention to any one thing he sees but forming an impression of the man who had lived here. Or refining it, anyway. Gordon hadn’t expected such a mess from him.

“Same thing with the blood,” Sower tells him, still staring at the corpse. “Either he didn’t die here, or…”

Gordon nods. Or somebody had collected the blood. Right here. And left with it.

Sower looks up at him, giving a half-snarl. “Any chance of surveillance video around here?”

Gordon doesn’t bother to answer. It had been a rhetorical question. And she wasn’t snarling at him, anyway. Tell the Port Aransas PD they could solve more crimes with a camera and they’d make an effort to remove any they found. Not exactly a crime-solving sort of town.

“Fits the other vics too, maybe,” Sower says. “Fishermen, homeless, guys living alone. Nobody anyone cares about. Nobody with friends.”

Gordon shuts the door they’d entered, reaches into his pocket, and pulls out yet another cigarette. Bodies were always bad, for him, in spite of his job. Strangers were tough enough to deal with, but…

“Might be a little different this time,” he says.

Sower cocks an elegant eyebrow. “Yeah?”

“This guy ran a computer company,” Gordon tells her. “Or partly. There are people who will notice he’s gone.”

Her expression closes off slightly. “You really knew him, huh? A friend? We could give this one to—”

Gordon cuts her off. “Didn’t know him that well. Didn’t much like him either. But yeah, I know who he is.”

* * *

Viktor Bentley sits in his office, staring at his assistant. “You disturbed me for this, because…?”

Atkins, smiling slightly, shrugs. “It’s not a coincidence. Somebody knows.”

Viktor purses his lips. Somebody knew, indeed. And…“I think it’s time to enlist some assistance,” he says.

Atkins’ smile grows a touch more scornful than Viktor likes. But it isn’t the sort of thing a show of force would help with. Or at least…not yet. Viktor, as a rule, prefers to gather more information before striking.

Viktor turns back to the spreadsheet he’d been studying before his…flunky, he decides…had come into the office, then pretends to notice Atkins is still there. “You have no further tasks?” he inquires, scowling faintly at a column of insufficiently large numbers onscreen. “How fortunate for you.”

Atkins stands a moment longer, enough to establish that he is indeed chafing at Viktor’s reins, and then leaves Viktor’s office.

As the footsteps recede Viktor rests his head in his hands. Getting old, he chides himself, was never actually part of the plan.

Nor is having his throat torn out by puppies he can still cow into submission, though. When he needs to.

He reaches for the phone.

* * *

The Hermit breathes deeply. Slowly. Calmly–or near enough.

He opens the main hatch and stumps into the cabin of his houseboat. Trying not to listen to the splashes and thrashing in the water outside, behind him, just off the bow of his home.

Something about aging is making his hard-won self-control harder to maintain. He’d thought it would work the other way. In fact, until recently he’d been grateful to be included, even peripherally, in the discussions and decisions of a few of his shape-shifting friends. Nice to be valued.

He doesn’t want them to stay away. But he needs more distance. Luckily, the children so far seem willing to believe him to be simply uncomfortable with their nudity just prior to their Change. And he is happy to have them believe that, if it means he can turn his back.

In fact, though: it’s just hunger. When they weren’t right in front of him? He wanted to help. He wanted to advise. But as time passes, he’s having more and more trouble not seeing his visitors as food. Tasty food. Especially when they thrash about….

Later, when silence comes and his mind clears, he goes back out on deck and picks up the swimsuits–one male, one female–and removes the empty soda cans. Not that he particularly cares whether his boat looks well-kept on the outside. But…it might be time to get away for a while. By himself, as he used to do. Move on down the Laguna Madre for a time.

But the children had brought unwelcome news. They–and the boy he’d helped raise, the boy who had grown into a fine young man, the boy whom The Hermit would do anything to protect–are about to get into deeper trouble than they can imagine.

So he can’t leave. Not now. He has to find a way to control his predatory urges.

The Hermit chuffs out a short laugh. People were not supposed to be food. Or, at least…most of them weren’t.

On the other hand: maybe, if he acts decisively, he can resolve this situation himself. And quickly.

He drags over a chair, and sits heavily. Too many secrets, he muses. Too much he simply can’t reveal. To anyone.

Yes. Action is the solution. Personal involvement, however distasteful, is clearly necessary. Inescapably.

The Hermit sits for hours, considering his options. Scowling.



Fun so far? Let me know. It’s an early draft, so things may change, but the gist should remain.

And have fun out there!

And yes, reviews are definitely a business! Though not necessarily for me! {8′>

As I’ve mentioned before, I really didn’t expect anything at all when I (finally!) published The Secret: A Thriller back in September. But it sold fairly well for a while (especially in the UK!), and it was probably borrowed many times by Kindle Unlimited users. My other novels got a minor boost too.

I don’t really know about the number of borrows. Amazon no longer gives out that information, though I think it’s probably used to calculate “sales rank.” But I do know that many thousands of pages were read by KU or Amazon Prime members, because that info is available. Given that the sales rank never got into stratospheric territory (and is now pathetic!) I’m going to go ahead and guess that the number of borrows was in fact not too high, but those who did borrow the book mostly read it all the way through. This is not bad news! In fact I’m so encouraged that I’ve been inspired to make lots of progress on a sequel to Shiver on the Sky–mostly because it’s going to turn into a trilogy at least, and the likely-useful forms of book marketing of which I’m aware typically seem to work best when a full-on series is available.

Still, there’s this information gap. I’d given up completely on ever selling Shiver again, and mostly for that reason hadn’t worked on its sequel(s) for a while. But it did somewhat better after The Secret came out…so I decided to try running some cheap ads on Amazon via Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) to see what I could discover.

Guess what? Both books got about the same click-through rate (CTR) at a given price (roughly 1.1% to .6% depending on price listed). But a much higher percentage of folks who clicked through to the books’ detail pages actually bought Shiver (this percentage varies by price point…anywhere from 20% for Shiver at $.99 to slightly over 1% for The Secret at $3.99). Now, that could be due to any number of things. Book cover? I’m guessing that’s not it, because after all the CTR was about the same, and the ads showed a thumbnail of the cover. Price point? Nah, because they were mostly identical and I’m controlling for that. Price I bid per click? Nah, that didn’t seem to make much difference to anything–except the number of impressions, of course, but even then it wasn’t as straightforward as I’d expected. (FWIW, anything between $.09 and $.25 seemed to get impressions, but it varied so much day to day that I don’t yet have enough data to draw any conclusions.)

So that leaves two obvious candidates to explain the difference I saw in the data: book description and number/quality of reviews. The book descriptions are in fact very different, in both content and structure. But so are the review-counts. The Secret has three (3) reviews. All favorable, but hardly impressive in number. Shiver has 23 reviews–gained over a longer span of time, and with the first listed being posted by an Amazon Top 500 reviewer (thanks again, Dianne!) (See how I suck up?) (Oh, and the relevance of the ad’s headline to the book’s description might be a third factor, but if anything I’d say Shiver‘s the loser on that front, so if it’s a factor at all it’s strongly outweighed here.)

Incidentally, if you’d like to check out the current book description pages and see if you come up with another theory? Here’s Shiver. And here’s The Secret. Normally, for Amazon US at least, I use affiliate as well as Smile-compatible links…but I can’t do it here because Amazon says it’s a violation of their Terms of Service to send ’em out via email (most of you) or RSS (some of you). You’re welcome.

I mentioned before that I’d love to get information from Amazon about conversion rates on detail pages. It would let me do some testing of book covers and descriptions, yes? And I could modify them? Well, I’ve done that. Or some of that–The Secret might still benefit (or not!) from a more conventional description (I based the idea for the one I’m using on something Blake Crouch once did for Run–though I note that his current description is very different). (Oh, and guess what? Headlines help!) But I decided to focus on reviews for a while.

What did I find? Well, lots of stuff. The Author Marketing Club has a tool that lets users search for a book on Amazon and then automatically extract the reviewers’ contact information if they chose to provide it. The idea is that you could then export the data into a spreadsheet and email the reviewers to ask if they’d be interested in reviewing your book. This sounds to me like spamming people, though if the tool also provides a link to each reviewer’s profile you could go and read some of their stuff. It’d result in better targeting, more-informed review requests, and probably a better experience for the reviewer…but you know what? Maybe all that is a waste of time. Maybe it simply pays off better to spam people. Maybe those who respond are more desperate for freebies, or maybe they actually are intrigued by your book description, or maybe it’s worthwhile from a strictly-business perspective to take this approach even if it offends people because it saves so much of your time. Which you could then use by spamming many more people! After all, what’s the downside? Few potential reviewers will actually go through with an evil plot to get a freebie and then trash your stuff via a one-star review…right? After all, they could do that without even reading the damn thing. I don’t think it happens very often.

I also found some online services that sell fake reviews. Let’s just assume that’s a bad idea, and move on.

Yet other sites offer a review service–you pay them an administrative fee, and they find reviewers for you. The reviewers are unpaid, and the site keeps looking for more (either via sending freebies to book bloggers or by growing their own stable of regular reviewers) until you get the number of reviews you’ve paid for. This actually seems semi-okay…but are the reviews truly objective? A book blogger, it seems to me, is not as likely as a casual reader to post a negative review. First, they want to get more books to read. Second, if they care about Amazon reviewer rankings, those are apparently more strongly affected by “negs,” or “not useful” votes, than by the reverse–and negative reviews attract down-votes from an author’s fans. So who needs the hassle? And a stable of book reviewers used by a review-hunting service have to be affected, at least subconsciously, by the fact that the service will get a better reputation among authors if the reviews are generally positive. I don’t mean to imply that either group has any sort of unpleasant ulterior motive–I’m just looking at their incentives and assuming they affect human behavior.

So that deal might be okay, I guess. It’s probably even compatible with Amazon’s current rules (I haven’t checked), as these services claim.

But. Is soliciting reviews at all a good idea? I don’t know! I’ve done freebies for that purpose before, and enjoyed the process, and after all it’s not so dissimilar in concept from Amazon’s own KDP giveaways. And maybe it’s a way to get people to at least consider your book if you have nothing else going on.

Thing is, I want to do a major promotion of Shiver sometime before January, after I have at least one sequel out and have print versions of all my books available. I’d like to use Bookbub and some other services for it. How the hell do I know whether a bunch of reviews that state the reviewer received a free copy from the author will obscure the reviews Shiver already has, and possibly mean it’ll no longer be considered eligible for promotion with the bigger sites? How do I know whether there are currently enough reviews to qualify? And if the reviewers don’t mention that they got a free copy, what are the potential long-term consequences to me for violating Amazon’s Terms of Service? (And, separately, isn’t my timeframe sort of stupid given that lots of people will be competing for slots near Christmas?)

I simply don’t know. I’ll probably just leave stuff alone, except for contacting a few people who’ve previously reviewed my stuff and offering freebies. I kind of want to do that anyway, regardless of whether they post any more reviews, because I’m grateful. But, yeah, I’m hoping.

I ran into some other stuff too. One service contacted me this morning after I submitted Shiver to ’em (they say they want to do a review before agreeing to promote anything). They said they liked the book’s cover, description, and other stuff. But they also said it needed to have “tags” added (which Amazon discontinued years ago) and said there were keyword problems because they tried “eight major keywords” (emphasis theirs) and didn’t find my book thereby. Well…duh. The book’s ranking is currently so low that it wouldn’t show up on anything but a search by author name or title anyway.

But. I got some more email, and discovered they recommended putting keywords into the book’s description, and possibly also into external pages linking to my book’s page. I have some problems with these notions.

First, it’s never to my knowledge been demonstrated that keyword-stuffing is all that helpful in gaming Amazon’s search results. In fact, given that I do have actual conversion-rate data, I’m unwilling to discard my tweaked descriptions based on an unsubstantiated theory–though, yes, I could always write new descriptions and test them too. I might even do better! But I simply won’t act solely on the supposition that it’s “supposed to be” better to do so.

Second, about those external pages? I’ve run into this idea before. But I’ve designed systems before, too. If I were setting up Amazon’s system, I wouldn’t be likely to crawl external pages to find out what sort of keywords were on them. I’d be much more likely to simply track the number of views a particular page receives, and also the number of sales (or borrows), and from that I’d get a conversion rate. I’d be more likely to give a boost to book detail pages that actually convert well than to rely on an algorithm that could be so easily gamed. Though here’s a caveat: maybe, if lots of people are actually clicking through to a detail page from somewhere else? And they’re converting to actual sales at a good rate? Then I might want to give that book a boost for a while just to see if it’ll work. And I might even index that external site’s page to get more keywords just to find an excuse to show the book’s page even more often! But. Unless people are actually clicking on the link to come to my site (because I’m Amazon here), what the hell do I care that somebody posted content that isn’t doing anything useful for me?

So again I’m theorizing in the absence of data. But I’m sort of disinclined to give people like that my money. If I don’t know the answers here, why would I think they do? Given that they want me to pay them, I think I’ll just do something else instead.

Some more stuff I’ve observed:

  • Most of the money I’ll make since The Secret‘s release (so far) has come from “borrows” vs. sales. It’s not even close. Maybe that’s because I’m still a newbie author, and people are more willing to take a chance on me if it doesn’t actually cost them money. Or maybe it’s that the people most likely to read stuff by indies have generally subscribed to KU by now?
  • My sales in the UK were pretty damn good–much better than Amazon US in every possible way–right up until I increased the price beyond $.99. Then they fell off a cliff and never recovered. (Plus I got a nasty and very short and oddly punctuated one-star review from somebody who has never reviewed anything else…but also a very short four-star and a longer 5-star, so who knows what had which effect?) (Also, if you’re one of those reviewers and you’re reading this? Thank you!)

I have a theory that Amazon UK is still counting sales of low-priced books as equivalent to sales of high-priced books for purposes of determining sales rank, which many people believe is no longer true at Amazon US. If so, maybe–and this is weird–I should actually aim my future efforts at those guys. Amazon’s KDP site strongly suggests using their $2.99 price point for everything. They have this dingus that claims to compare your book to others and give the price that optimizes author income, but AFAICT it always gives the same recommendation. But you know what? That same dingus shows there are clearly more sales at $.99. And my job now is not to maximize income. It’s to attract new readers!

I have become skeptical that people who download freebies are likely to pay for my other stuff. But people who pay, even $.99? Maybe not so much. And of course my heroes are the KU users. Their borrows improve my page rank, and if they actually read the book I get more money than I would if they’d bought it–at the cheaper price points, anyway. (So, putting all this together, I see no reason to leave KDP Select and seek sales outside Amazon at this point…except possibly for Pagan Sex, which I’m considering making “perma-free” for a while, mostly to see if it can gather some legitimate reviews.)

That’s it. It’s all I know. If you have other info, or theories, I’d love to hear about it.

Have fun out there!