Kay: Hey, Kid, Wanna Buy a Book?

We all know that writing books is a lot different than selling them. The activity of it, as well as the mindset. When you write a book, you sit somewhere, stare at a blank screen, then open a vein and bleed on the keyboard. When you (try to) sell a book, you bang your head against a wall, sometimes accompanied by throwing money out the window.

The world of the author. Simple.

I’d decided at the beginning of the year that I’d take this time to try to straighten out my writing drawers, so to speak. I have a bunch of manuscripts sitting on my hard drive that needed revamping. And I haven’t sold more than a few copies of any of the books I did publish in years. It’s been all about the writing, right? That’s what I like to do. Writing is creative. It’s Andy Warhol, Beyonce, and Louise Penny all rolled into one. It’s where the magic lies. Selling… that’s for Willy Loman.

But Covid-19 gave me a lot of extra time, so I thought I must as well use it to fix up the languishing manuscripts, get new covers for everything, and do a few things to sell a few copies. Clean out the drawers!

I know you’re all wondering how that’s going so far. The mostly good news is: So far, so good. I got a couple books out, and the new covers are happening. But the sales effort! Friends, I am clueless.

What I have learned from Mark Dawson, David Gaughran, Ricardo Fayet at Reedsy, and a host of others, is that advertising pays. And based on their advice, I’ve thrown a bunch of money at Amazon and BookBub in an effort to increase sales. And it’s paying off! Sort of. That is, I’m breaking even or a little better, making back in sales what I’m putting out in costs.

But the mystery of it. Who’s buying my books? On Amazon and BookBub both, you can choose—within a range—where your ad shows up. You pick authors who you think are roughly like you, and your ad will show up when someone searches for that author. (All those irritating “sponsored” things you see on all the pages? That’s where I am. Maybe you’ve seen me there.)

I thought Janet Evanovich would be a lock for me. Turns out, no. Nothing like. But why the heck not? Her Stephanie Plum is a lot like my Phoebe Renfrew. My books are screwball comedies, like hers. Janet Evanovich readers should love my book.

And maybe they would, if they ever bought it. Maybe Janet Evanovich readers get their books from the library? Maybe that’s why I sold two copies to OverDrive? I have no clue.

Who was a lock? Jana DeLeon, an author I was unfamiliar with. I got her name by going to Janet Evanovich’s profile page on Amazon and seeing what her buyers also bought. And it turns out Janet Evanovich authors also buy Jana DeLeon. So I tried that, and then for a month I watched as readers who searched for books by Jana DeLeon saw my ad and bought my book. For more than a month, more than half my sales came through Jana DeLeon.

In the last couple of weeks, she’s fallen off precipitously. I guess that means that people who read Jana DeLeon who might be interested in my book already bought it, right? I think so. But I’m not sure. She’s got a huge audience. Surely I have not exhausted those folks yet.

And now, what else I don’t get? I bought an ad for the second book of the series. And it’s getting no traction whatsoever. I’m talking flatline. Book One, however, still is going gangbusters. “Gangbusters” by my standards, anyway.

So it’s all a mystery to me. What experience do you guys have with marketing? Any clues for the hapless?

And now, back to something easy. Like bleeding on the keyboard.

(P.S.: Which cover do you like?)

 

 

 

 

Kay: Writing in Residence

Tao HouseA friend of mine recently was accepted as an artist in residence at Tao House, the former home of Eugene O’Neill located in Danville, California, which is a designated National Historic Site managed by the National Park Service. Applications are accepted year round, and artists are constantly in residence. 

Eugene O’Neill and his third wife Carlotta lived at Tao House for only seven years, the longest time that O’Neill had lived in any one place. In that time and already beset by illness, he wrote his best-known works: The Iceman Cometh, Hughie, A Moon for the Misbegotten, and Long Day’s Journey into Night, for which he received posthumously his fourth Pulitzer Prize. Continue reading

Kay: RIP, Leverage

Leverage

Publicity shot of the first Leverage cast.

I seem to spend more time talking about the television I watch than the books I read, but… I guess that’s the way it is right now. And I am here today to lament the reboot of Leverage, one of my favorite TV shows of all time.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the original show featured a bunch of crooks who banded together, initially unwillingly, to right a wrong. And then they made a career of it. The hitter, the hacker, the grifter, the thief. And the mastermind.

I loved that show. My favorite character was Parker, the thief, who unabashedly loved money and was so funny and innocent but also amoral: the perfect pickpocket and lockpicker. Together, though, these people could do anything, con anyone.

And I guess the management team at Electric Entertainment, which produced the original program, thought a reboot would be even better, so they brought back most of the original cast and shot a bunch of new episodes, now called Leverage: Redemption.

Friends, I am not happy. If I hadn’t seen the original, maybe I’d say there’s nothing wrong with the reboot. Most of the original cast returns. They’re still lovable. The new cast members are fine. The essential Robin-Hood-esque plot types are intact.

But to me, it’s a little bit off. The actors are a decade older. The handstands and backbends and splits that Parker did ten years ago to avoid laser alarms now look contrived. The giddiness of “Let’s steal an island!” seemed to fit better with younger characters. The new story lines have more explosions and chases. The fights go on longer. The cons don’t seem as intricate, and the storylines that compelled you to care (“They dumped toxins and my child got cancer; now they won’t pay for treatment”) are now bigger and more abstract. The beneficiaries are “thousands” of hungry children. I worry about hungry children in real life, but in a story, it helps to focus on just one.

I’m not into it.

It’s got a 9.1/10 rating on imDB, and every review I’ve read seems to love it. What about you? Have you seen the Leverage reboot? What do you think?

Kay: Good News!

I complain so often and so regularly about the problems I have with writing or publishing or marketing (or even finding topics to blog about) that when I fretted to a friend today about what I could talk about, she said, tell people that your book came out.

And I said, nobody cares about that, and she said, if they care about your complaining, why wouldn’t they care about your successes?

So that’s my news for this week: Ms. Matched came out, seventeen years after I first put pen to paper. It’s been three long revision passes, a 25 percent word reduction, and about six title changes, but finally this story has been taken out from under the bed, dusted off, and sent out into the world. I’m happy for her. She’s a cute little thing. And my critique partner Patricia said that I’d created a new genre, too! One that has no antagonist and no conflict of any kind. And she had to worry about something, so she worried about the gold fish. (Spoiler alert: the gold fish is fine.)

So that’s it for me today. Ms. Matched is flexing her muscle in the marketplace. While I am here, working on the revisions for the next book. And complaining about it, of course. What about you?

Kay: Whitstable Pearl

whistable-pearl

Kerry Godliman as Pearl Nolan in Whitstable Pearl

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m a fan of mysteries, both to read and to watch on TV. Now that I subscribe to the Acorn channel, which showcases television primarily from the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but also from other EU countries, as well, I’m just about as happy as a pig in mud. There’s always something good on!

Continue reading

Kay: Writing to a Standstill

from Double Debt Single Woman

I have several manuscripts—all my early ones—sitting on my hard drive. Some time ago, I decided I should revise them into acceptable shape and put them out there.

Well, that’s easier said than done. The first one, which had had two heavy edits over the years, went great. It’s my first book, and in working on it again, I remembered how much fun I’d had with it all those years ago when I’d started it, how my spirits lifted every day when I sat down to it and I thought, I can do this. One light edit later, I finished it, and I’m happy with it. The cover’s done, and with luck, I’ll get it published in the next few weeks.

However, the second book is, as we say, another story altogether. When I wrote it all those years ago, my critique partner said several times that my hero wasn’t heroic enough, so I put it aside until I understood what she meant. Now I do. And I realized in shock that not only is my hero not heroic enough, he’s a jerk of the first water. How did that happen? Continue reading

Kay: Learning Experiences

I wrote here a couple weeks ago about my first three novels and how they’ve been languishing on my hard drive—and my recent efforts to finally bring them into the world. I did a few strong passes on the first one, tightened the language, sharpened the conflict (what little of it there is), and cut about twenty-five percent. Now it’s almost ready to launch.

I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but writing these books was a learning experience. You’d think I’d get the hang of it quicker, but no. Well, you could make the argument that every book presents its own challenges, and I’d be happy to make that argument myself. But I still always feel that I should be finding my characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts a lot sooner, not to mention figure out what they like for breakfast or where they go on vacation. Continue reading

Kay: Finally Getting There!

Phoebe 2 cover smallI’ve been in a flurry of literary activity lately, finishing up my endless trilogy (the Phoebe novels) and contemplating whether my first three books can be resuscitated. (They can! Or at least, one can, for sure.) This effort then requires time spent scheduling editors, formatters, and cover designers. Sometimes I have trouble keeping it all straight—is this the book that’s going to formatting, or going to the editor? What’s due from the cover designer? But the good part is that I think that I’m finally in the home stretch for many of these projects. Not only with my newer work, but also my older work.

I’ve complained so often about the problems I’ve had with the Phoebe trilogy that you all are probably happier than I am that I’m finally finishing them up. (There are way too many links to post back to. Seriously, you don’t want to revisit any of that.) But now that I’m finally getting past my logjam with them, I thought I’d show you the new cover for Phoebe 2. What can I say? I love the cheerleaders. (Editors note: I admit I was a high school cheerleader, but I deny all insinuations that this novel is autobiographical.)

What about you? How are things going on your side?

Kay: What’s in a Name

blondePhoneThe first book I ever wrote has languished on my hard drive for years. I was woefully ignorant when I started this book, but still, it wasn’t bad. A well-known publishing company held onto it for two years, promising acceptance and revision letters as editors revolved and changed and the company reorged. Ultimately, they rejected it.

As time passed, I learned more about writing. I did a couple of strong edit passes on it, and a few months ago, needing a project, I decided to look at it again and see if I could salvage it.

Continue reading

Kay: Getting a Clue

I’ve been thinking about murder mysteries as a genre lately, I think in part because the trilogy that I’ve been working on for what seems like forever is winding up. I’ve thought about these books primarily as romances, but there’s no question there’s a mystery element to them. No one dies, but villains attempt dastardly deeds and, ultimately, are thwarted by my heroes. Motivations are revealed, and justice prevails. So I think they could fall under a mystery label if “murder” wasn’t part of your requirement.

The main reason I’ve never attempted to write a full-on murder mystery, even though I enjoy reading them, is that I’m not clever enough to plot one. Every time I get to the finish of a well-written mystery, I am pleased and astonished at the outcome. I know I couldn’t do that.

And then recently I read this short article by Dana Stabenow at WritersDigest.com. Stabenow sets her mysteries in Alaska, and setting is an important element of her books. She has several long-running series; her first Kate Shugak novel won an Edgar. Her seven tips on how to write mysteries make it sound so simple! And the good thing is that most of these tips apply to any kind of writing. Continue reading