Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Which Paid Marketing Works (and Doesn't Work) for Books

Hi Folks,

See? We're not gone totally! In fact, I have a massive, crunchy, and highly informative blog post for you all today. This post was over a year (and more money than I'd like to admit) in the making. I do hope you all find it useful, we certainly have. Today's post is all about marketing, paid marketing in particular.

Which Paid Marketing Works for Books. (and which doesn't...)

This summer, we embarked on a massive marketing effort for No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. I had the whole campaign planned out with something new and interesting happening every week or every other week. We had our target customers, channels, and funnels all setup. To complete the package, we tracked the crap out of everything we did.

For the important parts of this article, we ran Facebook ads, we used Amazon Marketing Services, we commissioned art, and dropped list bait. We did a LOT is what I'm saying.
We spent thousands of dollars on marketing and today I'm going to share our data with you. 
I cannot bold that enough. This was, at the end of the day, a grand experiment for Aaron/Bach, LLC. We put down serious cash and we hired a professional data-driven marketing firm, Proof Industries to help us put it all together. Additionally, the whole effort coincided during a time of the year (launch) when we had maximum leverage working for us.

Now, I'm going to show you what we actually did, how well it's worked, and compare it to past marketing efforts to show how it stacks up. This is going to be one hell of a post.

So, first...

I want to plug the good folks over at Proof Industries. We threw an entire multi-channel marketing campaign at them in May and they made it happen starting in June. I could not have set up all the tracking infrastructure and hundreds of Facebook ads myself. They also helped us monitor the whole shebang as it happened and ran the post-mortem. 

Big thanks to Zach, Josh, and Ansley for helping us pull it all off!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Needs Must

As I'm sure you already know, we here at Team Aaron/Bach are all about the reals. We constantly look at all manner of numbers to figure out what works and what doesn't work for us in the business of writing, including sales, newsletter sign ups, and website traffic. We also keep an eye on the production side of the equation, mostly by analyzing how I, the source of new words, spend my work time.

This is nothing new. Measuring my time was a huge part how I got my writing from 2k to 10k words a day. But as Travis proved in his Novel Project Management post, actually getting solid, quality time to write is a constant challenge even after you go pro. There are just so many other things you could be doing that fall under the umbrella of "work"--blogging, Tweeting, planning, etc--that sometimes the writing gets shoved around a bit. A foolish mistake, because ultimately, the writing is the only work that really matters.

Over the last year, Trav and I have been involved in a grand experiment to see if we could grow our social media presence in both fiction and non-fiction. The experiment has now concluded, and having run the post-mortem, we've discovered a lot of things we never expected. I'll leave it to my Travis-of-business to go over what we learned about Facebook ads and so forth in another post, but from my perspective, the single biggest discovery in all of this was how much of my work time each week I was spending blogging.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy. I only write one post a week at best. It can't take that much time, right?

I never trust anyone who's more excited about success than about doing the thing they want to be successful at.
XKCD is the truth-sayer of my life.

This is what I always assumed, but the numbers say otherwise. As much as I love talking shop here on the blog, non-fiction is not my happy place. I'm a fiction girl first and forever. Writing books gives me energy. A good day of fiction will often leave me feeling ready to take on the world. Writing essays, on the other hand, takes energy. Energy and time. Four to five hours on average for each post, to be specific. It also interrupts my work flow. I won't go so far as to admit I call off early every blogging day, but let's just that Wednesdays are not 10k days. Too often, they aren't even 5k days.

This has been a persistent problem since we started the Writing Wednesday posts. At the beginning, I assumed I'd just get better, blogs would go faster, and everything would be great. Remember: I love writing these things! I love writing about writing, I love talking shop, and I love paying it forward. With all of that positive energy, I was sure I could get the time price down to something more reasonable. But a year later, the numbers are in, and I have to face the truth: I haven't gotten faster, and I can't keep losing a day out of every week.

To say I am not happy about this would be like saying "Bethesda likes power," but as always, the most important rule of being a good writer is being honest with yourself. The reals must come before the feels if I am to have any sort of accountability, and the reals are that if I want to get back to putting out more than one book a year, novel word counts have to come down, and the weekly time cost of blogging has to be cut. I'm still working on the former, but the latter begins today.

Wait, does this mean the blog going away?!

Not at all! Pretentious Title will still be updated regularly with fiction updates, publishing numbers, and business posts as new information comes in. The free sharing of information is my favorite aspect of the indie author community and a big factor in why I decided to go self pub in the first place. Everyone wins when we share, and Travis and I are still dedicated to experimenting and posting what we've learned about the new frontiers of self publishing so that we can all move forward together into a brighter, more profitable future.

But while you will still see regular posts on the blog, the weekly Writing Wednesday feature is being retired so that I can focus on what I should have been focusing on all along: writing books.

Bummer. So are you done writing about writing forever?

Absolutely not. I might be shifting my time focus back to fiction exclusively, but you can't stop me from talking shop. DO YOU HEAR ME, WORLD? I WILL NOT BE STOPPED! 

Can't stop the rock!


So yes, there will undoubtedly still be writing posts, they just won't be on weekly schedule. I'll still update Facebook and Twitter when I post, though, so if you follow me on Social Media, you shouldn't miss anything even if the flow is no longer reliable. Also, all my previous Writing Wednesday posts will stay up, and I very much hope you continue to find them useful.

Is there a good side to all this?

YES! If you're a fan of my work, you've probably noticed the books are coming out mighty slowly for someone who gets 10k a day. We're talking one a year, which is the same pace I was at when I was traditionally published. Not so great for a nimble indie. -_-

Part of this slowness is because the Heartstrikers books have been way more complicated than I anticipated (And longer. Good Lord, those things are bricks), and part of it is because I've been dividing my writing time among too many side projects like this blog. But the great part about constantly analyzing your workflow is that you can see problems like this and fix them, which is exactly what I'm trying to do.

So readers, rejoice! If things go according to plan, you should have not one, but two new Heartstriker novels to read in the next twelve months, finishing out the series in Summer of 2017. Can I pull it off? Well, only Brohomir knows for sure, but it should be very possible. So keep your eyes open for that, and thank you all so so much as always for being my readers. I'm so sorry it's taken me so long to get these books out, but as you see, I'm doing my darnedest to fix the problem, and the waits should be much shorter from here out. 

Finally, a huge thank you to all my Writing Wednesday readers. I'm sorry I couldn't pull it off, but I hope the posts I did get out helped you with your writing. I might be biased, but I think writing fiction is the most noble, worthy, and rewarding of all the arts, and I can't encourage you enough to keep practicing and honing your craft. Even if you never get published, you will still have built a creative skill very few people can boast, and that is a worthy goal in and of itself.

Thank you for reading, and I wish you the best best of luck in all your writing endeavors.

❤s always,

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Tips for Great World Building

Hi folks,

Rachel refused to come out of her writing cave this morning. Something about Dragons, interruptions, and tasty with ketchup. So it looks like I'm going to be doing the blog post today. Mwahahaha! Last week was a business post, so this week I'm going to try to keep it writerly with a post on settings and world building.

Writing Wednesday: Tips for Great World Building

I've been making my own settings since sixth grade. Not for books, but for the table top RPGs that I run for my friends. Surprisingly to me, this experience has been invaluable when I help Rachel world build for her series. In fact, one of the most crucial contributions I make to Rachel's books have to do with her settings. She's even written a post about my world-building help called My Husband, the World Wrecker. 

(RACHEL NOTE: This is true. All of my settings were either blatantly stolen from or enormously improved by Travis. Also, YOU GUYS, he is the best GM ever! Seriously. I learned so much of what I know about stories from being a player character in his games over these last 14 years. Just goes to show that you really do pick up novel writing skills from everywhere!)

I'm not a writer like Rachel, but this is something I've done a lot both together with her and on my own, so today I want to share with you some of the things I've picked up over my two decades and countless worlds worth of experience into what makes for really good world building. Now, this will be less "how to world build" and more "how I world build", but I hope that you all find this interesting none the less.

Starting Out, the Big Hook

All my best worlds start with a hook. The setting itself needs to have a core component that invokes curiosity, "OMG factor," an exciting twist, has implications, or invokes a sense of irony/dread.

However, I'm not a fan of every type of world hook. I definitely feel like some are better than others. Specifically, I'm a big big believer in the power of,
The contradiction. Aka, the mystery, the thing-that-doesn't-add-up, the glaring exception...
All the coolest settings I know of (including Eli, Devi, and Dragons ^_~) have the contradiction deep within them. Our brains are desperate for order. We instinctively crave for everything to make logical, or at least explainable, sense. When we see something that doesn't make sense, say a broken rule of the universe or society, the urge to know why it doesn't drives us nuts.

In story, just add on the fact that not-knowing might have deadly consequences and you'll get some great baked-in tension.

For example,

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How to Build Your Newsletter Using List Bait

Hi Folks,

Today I'm going to talk about the Heartstriker short, Mother of the Year. I'm going to go over what it is, why we made it, and why it's available as it is. I'm sure ya'll will find this educational as there's a lot going on here. So far this experiment has been a rousing success, so read on and we'll get into,

What We Did With Mother of the Year and Why

This post started when Tom Sweeney asked,
"My only question (you didn't think i was going to politely leave without a question, did you?) concerns the Mother of the Year gambit.
I know you are not selling it, just making it available for those on your list, and this likely resulted in a LOT of people signing up. I'm just wondering how effective it was for the end game goal, not building a list per se but selling books. I understand your data probably doesn't have enough granularity to determine how many of the new signups went ahead and bought one or more of the Heartstriker series books. You could have each sold lot of MotY copies at $.99, so do you think you came out ahead with enough Heartstriker books sold to cover the loss of revenue had you sold MotY?"

@Tom Thanks! Also, I love questions! Please feel free to ask away.

My reply was a wall of text and I realized that it'd be better as a blog post. So let's talk all about Mother of the Year.

First off, what is Mother of the Year?

MOTY, the short story you can download, is an interview with Besthesda, The Heartstriker about her 5th autobiography titled Mother of Year. It's about 4000 words long and is less of a story and more of a TV show transcript. The work is supplemental to the main series, meaning that you don't need to read it to appreciate Heartstrikers. So while it might make some parts cooler, it's not essential.

It is only available for people who sign up for the new release mailing list. This last bit is the most important part. You cannot buy MOTY. It is list exclusive content.

Why is it list exclusive and not [also] for sale?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Creating Settings Readers Can't Forget (And You Can't Mess Up)

What ho, loyal readers! Rachel back again from the word mines where I have been slaving under dragons (very nice ones, but dragons nonetheless) to talk about...settings!

{Insert Cool Stuff Here}
Settings are one of those writing necessities that too often gets overlooked. If you've done any writing research, you've already read dozens of articles about crafting characters and worldbuilding and plotting. But while these elements are all very important, surprisingly little ink, digital or otherwise, is spent on how to craft and imagine the actual physical space your characters, world, and plot inhabit.

This is especially weird when you consider how important set design is to other story telling mediums. Theatre, movies, television, and video games all have professionals who've made careers out of set design. Likewise, comics--both American and manga--spend an enormous amount of time on backgrounds.

In all of these, what the space where the action takes place looks (and sounds) like is clearly a huge part of the experience of the story. So why do we as authors, who have the entire reader imagination at our disposal, who spend months to years perfecting our characters and plots, so often delegate our setting to cliches like "dark forest" or "big stone castle"?

The obvious answer here is that, unlike all the things I mentioned above, writing is not a visual medium. Other than our covers and the very occasional illustrated edition, we don't deal in pictures. Quite the opposite. Saying accurately what something looks like is one of the hardest things to do in writing. "A picture is worth 1000 words" can be a literal statement when you're writing a book, and who wants to waste that kind of narrative space on what's basically a long, info-dumpy description? No one, which is why one of the most common pieces of writing advice I see in Fantasy circles is "don't stop to describe the scenery."

Make no mistake, this is good advice! We've all read (and most likely put down) books that stop the action completely to spend 5 paragraphs describing a castle on a bluff or the crowds in a city market. These are both setting-establishing elements that a movie director could establish in one camera pan, but would take us writers pages of tension-breaking description text to achieve the same effect, which is why you don't see them much in good fiction. They simply take way too long to do.

At the same time, though, creating an interesting, memorable, atmospheric world is a huge part of writing memorable fiction, especially in genre. However interesting your characters, plot, and world are, if you set them in a very generic Fantasy setting that relies on cliches to fill in your backgrounds, you are setting yourself up to be at least partially forgettable.

So how do you strike a balance? How do you create and then describe a setting that's unique enough to be memorable without spending a thousand extra words and killing your tension in the process?

It's a tricky balance, but there are definitely a few best practices I've learned over the years to make it easier. So, without further ado, let's talk about...

Writing Wednesday: Creating Settings Readers Can't Forget (And You Can't Mess Up)

"Sci-fi City" by JadrienC on DeviantArt
Unless you have a very strong image of a place or scene in your head already (or you're actively writing one right now), chances are you haven't given much thought to your settings yet. To be clear, I'm not talking about World Building. I've gone over that whole other kettle of fish in detail already. This post is all about actual, physical location. The places where your characters live and your action takes place.

If we were working on movies or video games or any of the visual mediums, we would call this set design, and it would be a huge freaking deal. How many movies have you watched where just looking at the set was enough to create strong expectations of what was coming before any characters spoke or any plot had been laid down?

Hobbiton, I'm looking at you.
Oh yeah, that's powerful mojo. Of course, we writers don't have these visual elements to work with, but that's no excuse not to have creative and interesting locations. We are still storytellers and entertainers. It is our job to be as interesting as possible, and creating really cool settings is a huge part of that, so let's talk about how to do it.

The Foolproof Guide to Settings #1: Matching Your Emotions

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Book Marketing Tactics Round-Up

Hi Folks,

I'm sure you are wondering what I'm doing here on a Wednesday post instead of Rachel. Well, after last week's blogging ate three of Rachel's mornings, we have come to the long-building conclusion that we're both blogging too much. Books aren't getting written and that means Things-Have-To-Change(TM) around here.

We're still going to update everywhere Wednesday with new advice and helpful posts, but Rachel and I will be alternating who's up each week.

Anyway, there's been a lot of requests for marketing posts and, as I'm always asking for post requests, I'm going to try my best. Marketing is a HUGE topic ya'll. People get degrees and spend lifetimes perfecting it as a skill. In a way, we're always talking about marketing here in some form or another.

Since "marketing books" is too big a topic, I'm instead going to list and talk about every single book marketing tactic that I know of. It's going to be a,

Book Marketing Tactics Round-Up

We all need some practical, effective, actionable information to sell books with. While there's loads of abstract marketing strategy we need to talk about, books still need to sell and we all have work to do. SO, let's focus on the pragmatic stuff today and I'll have more abstract strategy talk for ya'll on another day.

What, specifically, can you do to market a book?

I'm going to try to list things in the order of power/importance they will have on your book's sales.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Know Thy (Publishing) Self

The other day on Twitter, I posted

I originally wrote this as the second part of a response to someone replying to Trav's (awesome) business post about the mechanics of a commercially successful series. The commenter in question had mentioned that business posts were basically intimidating, and I absolutely agree. Big pages of numbers and math can be very intimidating if you're unfamiliar with them, but part of self publishing is getting familiar with stuff like this. This is the business part of the self-publishing business, and if you hate it, then maybe self publishing isn't for you, and that's cool. There's tons of other ways to get your book out there! No big deal.

That's all I was trying to stay. I didn't think it was anything special or incendiary, just the facts as I saw them, and yet this tweet got a lot more attention than I expected. At first, I wasn't sure why. It's hardly my most eloquent statement. But then I realized what I saying--that it's okay to choose not to self publish if that's not what works for you--was actually kind of radical in its own weird, publishing politics way.

So (since I didn't have anything else to talk about today) I thought I'd take a look at why that is, and what it means for all of us as individual writers. Onward!

Writing Wednesday: Know Thy (Publishing) Self

If you've spent any time (and I do mean any time) researching your publishing choices on the internet, you've probably seen someone telling you that there is only one smart way to go, and if you choose anything else, you're wasting your writing, your money, and your time. Sometimes this is said very politely with lots of excellent case studies showing exactly why one publishing path is better than the other. Other times you're flat out told you're a moron who's being swindled if you don't do as the author in question suggests.

No matter how it's said, though, there is always an opinion one way or the other. Pretty much every writer you ask, whether they're a multiply published veteran or someone who's only one chapter into their first book, has very definite ideas about which is better: trad or self.

Whenever you have a topic this divisive, there's going to be conflict. Even though most authors (with a few loud exceptions) are extremely polite, reasonable, and eloquent about their thoughts on the subject, picking a side for yourself can still feel like an emotional decision rather than one based in fact. This is especially true if one of your favorite authors is an outspoken supporter of one camp or another. When that happens, choosing anything else can feel like a betrayal. Even if the one choice makes sense for your situation, if someone you respect and like so much is constantly calling what you're considering stupid, it's only natural to think "am I being dumb? Am I actually throwing my writing future away if I do this?"

This is the part of the self pub vs. trad pub debate that I hate the most. Not the discussion--that's very good, very necessary, and a great tool for bringing to light the pros and cons of each path--but the absolute division. The constant refrain--sometimes boldly shouted, sometimes tacitly implied--that the other side isn't just wrong, they're dangerously, career wreckingly wrong. That if you sign with a traditional publisher, they'll hit you with an abusive contract to take all your money and keep your rights forever. Or if you self publish your first novel and it flops, no traditional publisher will ever look at you again.

To be clear, this isn't fear mongering. Both of the examples above can and do happen, but they're also both worst case scenarios, and that's what makes the question of what you should do with your novel so difficult. Because the truth is that both trad and self publishing have horrible pitfalls and incredible heights. Neither of them is easy and nothing is guaranteed. So how do you know which is right for you?

This is the point where pretty much every respectable publishing advice blog will say some version of "the right choice depends on you and what you want from your career." I've actually said that exact thing in my own post about self publishing and money. But what does that actually mean? If you've never published a book and never had a publishing contract and never worked with a publishing house, how do you know what's actually right for you? After all, whatever you choose, you're going to be locked into that decision for that title for years, maybe even forever.

That's not a choice to be made lightly! But while there are plenty of blogs that talk about the practical differences between the two (including mine! Click here for my Authors & Money posts on trad vs self), in my experience, the real difference between the two isn't actually in the business, but in what each one expects from you, the author.

That's what this blog post is really about. Every publishing blog under the sun (again, including this one) has posts about the practical, business differences between trad and self like royalty rates, contracts, marketing, and so forth. But while all that stuff is really important, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how great the numbers are if you, the author, are unhappy with your choice. You could succeed beyond your wildest dreams in either self publishing or trad, but if that path's version of success doesn't match yours, then it doesn't matter.

In the end, this isn't a really choice of which publishing road is better. It's about which one is better for YOU, and the only way to figure that out is to figure yourself out.

Again, no small feat! "Know thyself" is a life long journey. But as someone who's seen the ups and downs of both the self pub and traditional publishing paths, maybe I can help put this old, bitterly contested question into a more personal light.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Let's Talk Numbers: How Long Should Your Series Be?

Hi Folks,

Travis here. I've been talking about career planning and such lately, so I felt that today would be a good day to provide another tool for ya'll to use in that regard with an in-dept look at how the length of a series affects you commercially.

Obviously from an artistic standpoint your series should be as long as it needs to be, but there's a lot of wiggle room within that band. The idea here is to give you the information about how different novel lengths and series structure affect your bottom line as an author so that when that choice does come up, you have the tools to make the best one!

There's a lot of topics in this post that I've been dying to get onto the blog, so I'm really excited about this one. Let's go!

Let's Talk Numbers: How Long Should Your Series Be?

Are you ready for some graphs and charts?! Cause I am. It's been a while since I've dug into the nitty gritty behaviors of book sales. Today though, we are going to look at the economics and math that power our mainstay fiction series. 

We do so in the attempt to answer the question of, "how long should your series be?" Really, I hope to provide you with the tools to help answer that question for yourself.

Let's start with the most common genre fiction method of publishing: writing a sequential series of books. These are books that are meant to be read in order and they are published one after the other as they are written. (Since it's so common, this is going to be my assumed definition for the word "series" throughout this post.)

As I've talked about before, not everyone who reads book 1 in a series will go on to read book 2,3,4, etc. in the series. Since the books are sequential, this creates a funnel effect whereby 99% of people who read book 5 are people who've also read all the books before it. Same goes for any length of series be it three books or a hundred.

This creates a bit of mathematical tyranny for authors. Let's look at the theoretical earnings of a well written series that sells 1000 copies of its book 1.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Writing Wednesday: The Rule of Cool

I've been on a bit of a film critic kick lately. This isn't because I'm some kind of huge movie buff, but because I really enjoy listening to intelligent deconstruction of story, and movies are a lot simpler to deconstruct that novels. This is because movies and television--being vastly shorter and more limited in scope than novels, which are hemmed in only by the author's imagination--can't afford to waste story time.

Script writing is famously unforgiving. There is simply no room for anything but the most efficient and deft strokes of plot and character. Scripts are storytelling condensed down to its purest form, which means that when mistakes happen, and they happen a lot, the way the story fails tells us a lot about what is really important in narrative and why.

I just wanted an excuse to use this picture.

If you're interested, I highly recommend Every Frame a Painting for super insightful classic film criticism about why good movies are so good. Movie Bob for a funnier, more topical criticism on current releases, how they came to be, and why they succeed or fail. And finally DigiBro for an incredibly insightful and thoughtful look at the unique storytelling and directorial work that goes on in anime.

All of these channels are really good in their own areas, and while I have zero interest in ever writing a screen play or getting behind a camera, I've learned a lot from all of them. Writers have a bad habit of thinking our art form is unique, but at the end of the day, on screen or on the page, stories are still just stories. They have the same rules, same tricks, and same pitfalls regardless of medium. Tropes that appear in film and TV often appear in books. This is especially true as our modern generations grows up and starts writing stories that draw inspiration not just from our childhood novels, but also from the movies, TV, anime, comics, and video games we grew up with. My own stories are just as inspired by those shows as they are by the books I've read, and as I keep digging for new ways to become a better writer, it only make sense to turn to analysis of these other mediums to find my new tricks.

So now that I've written 200 words about how I got here, I'm going to get to the good stuff and talk about my latest favorite story concept I've gleaned from watching all these critic videos, and that is the Rule of Cool.

Writing Wednesday: The Rule of Cool

Monday, August 22, 2016

Author Career Planning

Hi Folks,

Sorry for the break in business posts, it's been a busy end of summer for me. Day camps stop 1 week short of school starting. Our son Nate also started 1st grade, which has come with a bright and earlier-than-ever schedule. I've just had my hands full parenting and keeping the house functional is all.

We're back on today though and I'd like to talk about career planning. In my opinion, the trad vs self publishing choice is just a microcosm of figuring out a real career path for yourself. There are many more and deeper choices to be made. By the end of this post, I hope to have helped guide you through some of them and that you will have a much better idea of where to go with your publishing future.

Rachel and I do this kind of exercise all the time cause we love looking forward and painting a bright future for ourselves. I hope you will too.

Author Career Planning

It starts with goal
A mentor I once had (Hi Greg!) always said, "start with the end in mind". This isn't just great advice for developing software, it's a good method for writing a book, and it's also the key for developing a career strategy and a plan.

For authors, there's a handy way of quickly finding a big goal for yourself,
Is there an author whose career you want?
This is my way of really asking you about what kind of authorial career you'd like to have should everything you try succeed reasonably well. It's a thought exercise that goes far deeper than the classic money vs fame decision of trad vs pub. I like asking people whose career they want because it's a lot easier to analyse (read: superficially judge) someone else's life than your own. 

Also, I bet that there are a surprising number of successful authors whose career you wouldn't want to have. Maybe you don't like their fans, or maybe you don't like how fast or slow they write, genre aside - maybe you don't like their books, or maybe they just travel too much. Pay attention to who you'd like to be but also who you don't want to be. I bet you'll learn something about yourself in the process.

Take a minute to think about it. Then we'll move on.

Good? Great!

Now, I'd like to ask you some questions then.