Jeanne: More About Amazon Ads

Kindle UnlimitedI’ve been playing around with Amazon Ads since my first book, The Demon Always Wins, released a little over a year ago. Here’s what I’ve figured out/read about/had someone teach me so far. These ideas may not work for you, but maybe some will.

1)  How many keywords do I need?

More keywords mean more opportunities.

You can have up to 1000 keywords, but they need to be keywords that will generate clicks and those clicks need to convert to sales or KU reads. So don’t go for glitzy keywords that really don’t relate to your book. You need strong, relevant keywords.

2) How do I generate a list of strong, relevant keywords?

The best way to generate a strong keyword list is to purchase a subscription to something like KDP Rocket, which provides suggested keywords based on data the proprietors have scraped from Amazon’s sales data. As well as suggesting keywords, it will tell you how often a specific search term gets entered.

If you don’t feel like you can afford that, you can generate a strong keyword list by making a short list of authors whose books are like yours in genre and tone and voice and have similar covers. Then go to and enter the author’s name in the search box. This will bring back a list of sponsored products. Go through the list of sponsored products and review the covers, blurbs and Look Inside! for authors who aren’t already on your list. If their book(s) seem like a good fit, add them to your list.

I don’t use titles as keywords, just authors, but you have 1000 keywords to play with, so do whatever you think best.

2) How much should I bid for a keyword?

Before we get into that—when you initially set up your ad, Amazon will let you enter a default bid for all the keywords in that ad set. By default, Amazon sets the default to a quarter. Set this default to the amount you expect to use most often, because otherwise you’ll have to reset the bid for each keyword individually. If you have 1000 keywords, or even several hundred keywords, that’s a recipe for carpal tunnel.

The easiest way to enter keywords is to key them into a spreadsheet and then copy or load the spreadsheet into the keyword page. If you do this, all of them will start out with your default bid.

When you enter a keyword manually, Amazon will provide a suggested bid. I don’t recommend using this amount. This number is designed to maximize your likelihood of winning the bid and to maximize Amazon’s profits. It’s really easy to bid so much that even if you do sell a book, your royalty won’t be enough to make it profitable.

Instead, I generally bid $.05 or $.10 on each keyword. I call this the “crumbs from the table” approach. Ginger over at the Hidden Gems blog explained the logic behind this. The big hitters, the authors with large budgets, will bid high amounts and will win all the bids early in the day. But as the day progresses, even their large budgets will be exhausted. That means that as the evening comes on, your piddly little bids will have very little competition and your budget will still be fresh as a daisy.

This means you can win some bids without having to spend your kids’ inheritance.

3) How much should I set as my daily budget for a campaign?

Here’s where I do something that I personally find scary as heck, so if you don’t want to try it, I don’t blame you. I set my daily campaign budget to $500.

“Wow!” you may be thinking. “That’s a lot of nickels and dimes.” Here’s the thing: When I set a small, safe budget, I didn’t get many impressions—less than 10 a day. But when I set my daily budget to $500, I started averaging around 500 impressions per day.

It appears that your daily budget is one of the factors that the Amazon algorithm looks at when choosing a bid winner.

I make it a point to check my AMS account several times a day because I’m still pretty paranoid that something will happen and I’ll suddenly be on the hook for $500 in advertising for a single day, but so far it hasn’t worked out that way.

Over the past seven days, I’ve spent $7.34 for 3334 impressions and 15 clicks. I’m doing a little better than breaking even on reads and sales vs. money spent and I’m keeping my books and my name in front of potential readers while I slave away on the third book.

The harsh reality is, you can’t really do well on the money front until you have several books–I’ve heard seven mentioned as the magic number–available. Then you use the first book as a loss leader and make it up on the later books.

How about you? Any hot tips for using Amazon (or FB or IG) ads more productively?


Jilly: Short Story–Challenge Accepted

The MacHugh saga continues 🙂 .

Last week I wrote a short story about Jordy MacHugh, the Canadian music teacher who inherits a derelict estate in the Scottish Highlands and decides to build an outdoor opera house by the sea.

Elizabeth continued the story and raised the stakes by introducing Jenny, a tourist from Kansas, who discovers twin babies in a basket, courtesy of the mysterious MacHugh Blessing Stone.

Maeve, the local seer, pronounces Jordy, Jenny and the twins a family, but as Jenny observes (via Kay) in Friday’s writing sprint, the whole setup screams Trouble with a capital T.

Read on to find out what happens next. Using the prompts from Friday’s writing sprint, our character(s) face a challenge. And the story includes the words equipment, belly, aimless, baffling, noise, bloke, fuzzy, clever, beekeeper, footwork, glass, dream, corduroy, setup, lump and artist.

Challenge Accepted

They couldn’t go on this way. Somebody had to make this village of dreamers face reality, and apparently that someone was Jenny.

Sunday service was over, and she emerged from the small stone kirk into the sunlit, postage-stamp sized churchyard. She settled the oversized wicker basket at her feet and chatted politely with the villagers, all twenty of them. They were kind and friendly, but their warm welcome wasn’t for Jenny herself. Not really. Her true value to them was as companion-dash-housemate to the new laird, Jordy MacHugh, and as carer for his adopted twin daughters.

“Swap you!” Moira from the But & Ben bistro, a vision in purple tweed and moss green corduroy, handed Jenny a covered basket and picked up the larger one that contained Elspeth and Isla, snug as a pair of bugs in their fuzzy romper suits. She deftly lifted the blanket and checked for rattles, nappies and all the equipment required to keep the twins clean, dry and contented for a couple of hours. Then she departed for the village at a brisk clip, offering Jenny a conspiratorial grin over her shoulder that said I know what you’re up to.

She didn’t. Nobody in the village did, and Jenny intended to keep it that way.

She’d fallen into her current role through a combination of her own aimless lifestyle and Maeve from the Pointing Dog’s fancy footwork. Now people were making assumptions. She had to unwind the setup with Jordy before somebody got hurt.

The laird-come-lately let himself out of the side door that led to the organ loft, bell-tower, and Maeve-the-Beekeeper’s rooftop hives. Jordy was Canadian—an incomer like Jenny—but you’d never have known. It was baffling, but from his curly red-gold hair to his Sunday best kilt, he belonged in the Highlands. He smiled at Jenny and she swallowed her nerves down deep into her belly, where they burned worse than Moira’s infamous loganberry liqueur.

“What’s that?” Jordy raised an eyebrow at the covered basket.

“A picnic. I thought we might walk out to the lighthouse.” Jenny tried to sound casual. “Moira said she’d watch the twins for the afternoon.”

“Fine idea.” He was even starting to add a Highland overlay to his transatlantic drawl. He treated her to another easy smile that faded to a concerned frown as he met her eyes. “Right. Let’s go.”

He settled the basket on one muscular arm, offered her the other, and they strolled out of the churchyard and along the cliff path that led to the lighthouse.

“What is it?” he asked as soon as they were safely alone. “Problem? Can I help?”

“No. Yes.” Jenny dropped his arm and turned to look out to sea. High in the cloudless sky a mob of bright yellow-headed gannets plummeted at high speed, one after another, toward the glass-smooth ocean. “We need to talk about the twins’ future. To find the right person to care for them after I’m gone.”

For a full minute there was no sound but the waves below the cliff, washing gently against the rocks. Then the scuffing noise of a basket hitting the turf.

“Gone?” Jordy echoed. “What do you mean, gone?”

Continue reading

Michaeline: A First Kiss Fortune Teller

a paper fortune teller with eight outcomes for a first kiss: in a car, dance floor, under a desk, under the stars, sofa, under a tree, on a boat, in a library

First kiss fortune teller, created by E.M. Duskova for Eight Ladies Writing.

1. What is this?
2. The Questions to Ask and how to play.
3. Printing and folding instructions.

Feel free to skip to the section you want right now. You can read this in any order.

What is this?

Some of you may remember this paper sculpture game from elementary school. When we did it, we wrote the name of four boys on the outside (see the big red hearts), then numbers on the inside, and sometimes more boys on the inner triangle, or sometimes fortunes. We called it a fortune-teller, but you may have more luck googling it if you look for “cootie catcher”.

I made this particular version for Eight Ladies Writing, and it’s supposed to help you pick a lane for a plot point – where is the first kiss in your romance story? Once you know your main character’s name and the setting, a lot of things grow organically from those starting points. You can use the ideas here, or make up your own. I think a hand-written fortune teller is the most charming way to go, and allows for custom options, but a printed version occupies my stupid thinking brain and lets the Girls in the Basement go to work on their own. Be prepared to write after making one! Who knows what those Girls come up with while sifting through multiple possibilities.

How to play and Questions to Ask

First, make, cut out and fold your fortune teller. (See section three if you don’t know.)

This game works well with a partner, but you can do it yourself, especially if you are spatially challenged and forget which outcome is connected with which number.

Picture of a prepared fortune teller

A finished fortuneteller looks like this. Picture by E.M. Duskova

Put your forefingers and thumbs in the cups of the fortune teller. Bring all the points of the cups together. Spread your forefingers and thumbs to open the fortune teller. This is Move 1. Pinch your forefingers and thumbs together to close again, then twist your wrists outward to open the fortune teller in the opposite direction. This is Move 2. Repeat as necessary.

Question One: What is your main character’s first name? The main character is the one who drives the story, and choosing the main character is the first step to molding your story; bestowing a name on your character also shapes that character in all sorts of practical and mysterious ways, so getting these two items sorted out is an important step in moving your story forward. Spell the character’s name, while opening and closing the fortune teller (one move per letter). End on the last open position so you can see the numbers inside.

Question Two: How many kisses do you want? “You” being the main character, of course. Is your character starved for love? Do they only want one kiss? Or do you want to modify the “1” to “0” because you’ve got an enemies to lover trope going on? Sorry, you can’t do that – it would make it impossible to play the game. But it’s important to know. (Modify the question, instead. How many slammed doors do you want? Or something relevant to your main character.) Counting the numbers slowly, open and close the fortune teller (again, one move per number). End on the last open position again.

Question Three: By this time, you know a little bit about your MC and the love interest, so I’ll let you decide on your own numerical (1 through 8, or possibly 1 million through 8 million) question. “How many fucks do they give?” was my first thought, but you can definitely change it to something more family friendly. “How many aunties does MC have?” is a favorite trope of mine. I like a lot of community in a romance.

After you decide the number, gently peek under the flap and see what you get.

For example, I like Mike. 1-2-3-4. How many kisses does he want? Oooh, about 7. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. How many ex-girlfriends does he have? Let’s say 5! Open Sesame, Mike and Angie have their first kiss on a boat, and wow! How did they get on a boat? Whose boat is it? How the heck are they getting off Mr. Dangerbridge’s fifth luxury yacht in as many years without alerting the Dobermans? (The Dobermans are the caretaking couple.)

How to Print and Fold

How to print: I think all you need to do is copy the image to a document, pull it out to enlarge as big as you can (I recommend A4 paper for adult fingers), and print. Take care that you don’t accidentally skew the ratios and wind up with a rectangle. Or, if you are going the Etsy-Betsy hand-drawn version, make a square piece of paper, fold and then fill out the squares and triangles as above, with as many modifications as you’d like.

How to fold a fortune teller

How to fold a fortune teller by user MichaelPhilip via Wikimedia Commons. You may want to use the video for that last transition between 2-D paper and a 3-D salt cellar.

How to fold: White side up. Fold into a triangle, then fold again. Open up, and with the white side still up, fold the corners of the square into the center along the lines. Flip. Again, fold the corners into the center, hiding the ultimate outcomes. Hello, numbers! Fold into a rectangle (numbers to the inside), then open and fold into another rectangle. This will give your creases between the heart squares. Hearts side up, gently work your fingers under the hearts, and push it together to get your 3-D fortune teller.

Ugh, you know what? A video is worth more than 170 words, that’s for sure. Here’s one that teaches you how to fold and play a fortune teller. Let me know if it doesn’t play in your country.

How about you? What possibilities do you have in mind for your first kisses in your WIP? Feel free to share even if they are a done deal – kisses are great, and the first one is very special!

Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints

Well this week has been a little out of the ordinary for many folks here in beautiful California.  Fall brings the return to school, hockey season, the baseball plays-offs and, unfortunately, fire season.  High winds, abundant growth, and warm temperatures can sometimes be a deadly combination.

To combat that this week, with high winds expected, many areas have been without electricity; the power intentionally turned off to eliminate the possibility of power-lines downed by the high winds sparking a fire.

The theory sounds good, but the reality has been problematic for many.  It’s amazing just how much we depend on electricity for day-to-day life.  I (so far) have been lucky enough to live in an area unaffected, though my coworkers were not so lucky.  On the plus side, I now have steaks in the refrigerator, courtesy of a co-worker who lost power and didn’t want them to go to waste.

Always a bright side.

Since I’m here with power; warm and well-fed, I’m thinking I should do something productive like giving today’s story prompt and random words a try.

Care to join me? Continue reading

Kay: Quiz for Y’all—Which Cover Works?

The current cover, circa 2012

I was so pleased with the covers I commissioned for the “Phoebe” trilogy I just finished that I took a look at the rest of my books with a new eye. Back in the old days, six or seven years ago, when ebooks were still pretty new and finding freelancers who had good skill sets for book design was more difficult, I had some covers commissioned that I thought in the end were all right but not wonderful.

This first cover to the left is one of them. I like the image a lot, but I’ve never liked the type treatment. And these days, it’s design best practices to have some kind of tag line on the cover that gives readers a third hint (after the image and the title) of what’s in the book.

Maybe, I thought last week, it was time to redo these old covers.

Betting on Hope is set in Las Vegas. Hope, our heroine, holds her family (sister, mother, niece) together with a lick and a prayer. And then to her shock, she finds out that her father, a professional card player, lost their ranch—the family home and her sister’s livelihood—in a poker game.

Cover 1

Cover 2

A child prodigy poker player herself, Hope had given up the game long ago after too many betrayals by her father. But when the family is given thirty days to move out, she decides to try to win the place back from the east coast Mob boss who won it.

She enlists the professional players from her past to help her brush up her game. They introduce her to the hero and his daughter. The Mob boss brings his moll to Vegas and then the wife shows up. Not to mention, the Russians. Hijinks and shenanigans ensue.

Cover 3

Cover 4

There’s a lot of poker playing in the book, and a lot of the reviews on Amazon think the story is “about” gambling. When I wrote it, I thought the book was about what family is and means. I read thirteen (count ’em! Thirteen!) books about Texas Hold ’em, the game Hope plays, and by the time I was finished reading those books, I’d decided that people who play poker professionally can benefit from luck, but they must have skill to win consistently, which is what makes professional card players not the same as gamblers, who rely solely on luck, unless they cheat.

Cover 5

But as we learned at McDaniel, the book you write is only half the experience. The reader brings the other half.

I mention all this by way of pointing out that some of these covers are more about card playing, and some of the covers de-emphasize this aspect. But I’m interested in what cover best reveals the story.

I have my favorites. What do you think?


Elizabeth: Short Story – Finding Home

Okay, technically these cliffs are in Ireland, not Scotland. Just pretend for now.
©Eldridge Photography

I loved Jilly’s short story The Laird’s Legacy using last week’s Writing Sprint prompt words.

Then I came across the picture to the left in an old post in my Facebook feed and I got the germ of an idea for a short story of my own.  As always, it took a slightly different turn than I had expected when I started out, but still I’m pretty happy with it.

Apologies to Jilly for summarily commandeering her characters and setting for my story – it just sort of happened.  🙂

Anyway, without further ado, here is a Jilly-inspired short story using this Friday’s prompts: a character who found something unexpected, incorporating the words basket, symbol, siren, bottle, freewill, baby, future, confusion, absurdly, little, grabbing, aroma, banana, vision, identical and robbery.

I hope you enjoy it. Continue reading

Jeanne: A Whole Different Kind of Writing

20817926 - vintage wooden door in the old part of jerusalemAwhile back, the preacher at my (teeny-tiny) church approached me about giving a sermon. He was interested, he said, in having different voices represented in the church, more than just white guys.

I declined, explaining that I’m not a speaker, I’m a writer. A couple of months later, though, he approached me again. We’ve been doing a series on the broken heroes depicted in the book of Judges and we were coming to Judges 11, the story of Jephthah. He knows how fascinated I am by the story of Jephthah. (In the early 2000’s, I wrote a book with this story as the underlying theme (though not the story).

The story of Jephthah and his daughter is the saddest story in the Bible. It makes Romeo and Juliet look like the pilot for a sitcom. I’ll spare you the theological analysis, but I thought I’d share my retelling of the story itself.

Jephthah was a great warrior from the land of Gilead, but his mother was a prostitute. His father had other sons by his legitimate wife and when he died. Jephthah’s brothers said, “You are the son of a whore. We are not sharing Dad’s estate with you.”

So Jephthah left Gilead for the land of Tob, where he gathered a band of ne’er-do-wells and malcontents and they lived off the land as bandits.

And life was good. Continue reading