Friday, February 1, 2019

Success with Facebook Ads

Since I've been concentrating on my editing program for the last two years, I've let my mailing-list lapse. I wanted to build it up again. Another writer suggested I use the Mark Dawson videos on the subject, which he sends for free when you sign up for his newsletter. They were a little outdated but still excellent. The idea is that you offer a free book to anyone who sends you their name and e-mail address. The catch? You can have words in your photo, and you have a very limited word count to induce someone to click.

Results in a Nutshell

I started slowly at $5 a day and canceled ads that clearly weren't working after a $2 expenditure or a hundred exposures without a click. By spending $58.84 over two weeks, I garnered 245 new names, bringing my total to a more respectable 400 names. My cost averaged 24 cents a subscriber, which was my target range. When I first posted a new ad, a good one would snag 10 percent of the viewers at around 15 cents each. Over time, this would drop. I paused ads that started costing more than 50 cents a name.

Key Takeaways

  1. Keep your budget small, $35 over a week. When I tried the "more is better" approach, multiplying to $25 a day, the amount of money expended went up by a factor of three, but the rate of clicks stayed the same. 
  2. People who are too young may grab the free stuff but don't necessarily have the disposable income to buy your e-books. Fourteen-year-olds might read my video-game novel, but they don't pay for it. Don't waste your limited ad budget on them on the first pass. People who are too old may not relate to my books. Therefore, I chose the age range between 28 and 64.
  3. Make sure to make your first "narrow the audience" filter people with Kindle readers. This limits any audience to people who may take action and become fans. Unfortunately, only about 5 percent of US Facebook customers identify as having e-readers, and they sometimes won't intersect strongly with your intended targets.
  4. Make sure your targeted audience is between 300K and 1 million. This isn't as easy as it sounds. I added UK readers in because although the US has 5 times the Facebook population, we have only 3.8 times the readers. That means we're less literate. Also, some categories I tested scored many more hits in the UK!
  5. There was a direct correlation between how well people responded to these ads and how well the tested nine books performed in Amazon sales (multiply by forty). So if you want to test-market a new release, spend five bucks and do it here first. 
  6. The images you pick must be text free, uncluttered, and eye-catching. This is hard to do. Start with a clip from one of your covers, but if that doesn't work, consider going to Dreamstime. Their site has a one-week, five free download trial that I highly recommend using for your experiments.
  7. People don't speak in books on Facebook; rather, they speak in movies and TV series. By forcing yourself to pick two shows that most exemplify your book, you also communicate better to your Amazon audience.
  8. Fantasy is a harder sell, reinforcing my earlier experiences, where I can sell 2.5 times the science fiction with the same effort.

Images that Worked

What works on Facebook is doubly important because with similar constraints, what works here should also work in Bookbub ads. These were my most successful ads.

1. Alias meets Armageddon (zoom on Jezebel's Ladder cover)

2. Hot Zone in North Korea. What could another SARS epidemic trigger? (image used on K2 cover)
Strangely, 76 percent of the respondents were women. Therefore, I limited the ad to women only so that I would have a higher hit ratio. I'm running a second campaign switching the starting analogy to "The Stand."

3. Giants, evil spirits, and blood-feuding wizards guard the Doors to Eternity (top of Dreams of the Fallen)
I used "Lord of the Rings" and "Game of Thrones" as the audience base.

4. Like Babylon 5 with a bushman hunting alien criminals (part of Union of Souls cover)
I used Han Solo and Firefly fans to start with. This one did much better in England (35-50 percent depending on the time of day). That tells me I should promote my Gigaparsec series more in the UK.

5. Batgirl meets Orphan Black. Spies, quantum computers, & gummy bears. Quantum Zero Sentinel (Dreamstime image)

Since 90 percent of the clickers were men, I limited this to them in order to boost the relevancy.

Be careful targeting images, because some of them only scored among lonely 45-year-old guys late at night--not what I was aiming for.

In the Details

For those who like to see the proof, here's the spreadsheet.

Title Sales Subscriptions Projected  left to sell
jezebel 4578 89 3568  done
doors 3207 36 1443   oversold
void contract 610 27 1083 473
k2 virus 585 43 1724 1139
foundation 339 19 762 423
quantum zero 227 24 962 735
scarab 144 4 160
contagion 77 1 40
Messenger 56 2 80

I have 25 novels in my catalog and limited funds for ads. This data helps me to direct future advertising dollars and effort. Clearly, the lower three don't have a market, no matter how good they are. The top two have hit Amazon bombs and sold more than I expected over the years. The sweet spot is in the middle. K2 Virus is seems like I will get the most bang for the buck, followed by QZS with the Batgirl reference, and Void Contract in the UK. Unfortunately, Foundation doesn't have a good connect rate, and people don't often read the rest of the series. So I'll hold off on that and try it in the UK at a later date, once I learn the ropes with Bookbub ads.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

the Myth of Weak Verbs

I've read a lot of editing gurus (including the makers of Autocrit) who say that "weak" verbs should be replaced with strong ones if you want publishers to take your book seriously. Their goal was to make the book less "tell" and more "show." One even insisted that every instance of "walk" should be replaced with a more specific version, like "strolled". To me, this smacks of purple prose and those people who sold "said books" in the era of the Hardy Boys--when you shouldn't bore readers by using the same words for said and ask. I was skeptical, so I did some numerical analysis.

Here is the list of "weak" verbs I used:
{ Every form of the verb IS (to be)
"get",  "gets", "got",
"move", "moves", "moved",
"walk", "walks", "walked",
"put", "puts",
"go", "goes", "went",
"smile", "smiles", "smiled",
"hear", "hears", "heard",
"see", "sees", "saw",
"look", "looks", "looked",
"watch", "watches", "watched",
"witness", "witnesses", "witnessed",
"stare", "stares", "stared",
"notice", "notices", "noticed",
"begin", "begins", "began",
"start", "starts", "started",
"feel", "feels", "felt",
"help", "helps", "helped",
"let", "lets",
"love", "loves", "loved",
"hate", "hates", "hated",
"knew", "know", "knows",
"stay", "stays", "stayed",
"meet", "meets", "met",
"keep", "keeps", "kept",
"appear", "appears", "appeared",
"sound", "sounds", "sounded",
"need", "needs", "needed",
"grow", "grows", "grew", }

Autocrit also highlighted forms of have, touch, and could, but that was overkill.
Next, I had to lay some ground rules to keep the comparison fair. First, my program detects the part of speech from context because most of these words could be either a noun or a verb. We only care about the noun usages. Second, I ignore dialog, because people use these weak terms in conversation all the time. I had to reduce the noise and focus on narrative only. Third, I had to exclude first-person point-of-view novels, since that is effectively conversation.

To test the range of weak content, I first ran the tool on all 25 of my books. I came up with an average weight of 18.25% weak, plus or minus a 3 percent range. Then I did the same thing for 26 common-domain masterpieces of literature. They averaged a whopping 28.47 percent (from 20.7 to 34.6). About one sentence in three violates this rule editing. Hmm. By this metric, these hacks like Tolstoy, Wells, Kipling, Twain, Burroughs, Dickens, Chopin, Joyce, and the like must not be very popular. 

But Scott, these were examples from the 1920s. English has improved so much since then. I'll bite. Getting a word or text copy of any current novel is difficult. Luckily, Brandon Sanderson has a website where he shares and workshops his novels with fan support. I downloaded version 6.1 (final version before handing over to TOR) of the novel "Warbreaker." It scored 25.2, in the same range as the 1920s stuff. A fluke? I downloaded three more novels from some friends at Fiction Vortex, and they averaged 25.6 (+-7 percent range).

Therefore, good and popular writers use "weak" writing a quarter to a third of the time. By Autocrit logic, to be successful, I should inject my work with more weak verbs like a butcher grinds more fat into the hamburger. If we only flagged those books significantly above the classical metric, half the sentences in a document would be highlighted for change--and the recommendation would be wrong most of the time. My conclusion is that only a few weak verbs matter for pre-editing.

I have felt all along that my "Senescence" editor was right saying that narrators should rarely "start" or "begin" to do something; rather, they should just DO it, clearly and cleanly. My editor "Katie" was also correct that "get/got/gets/gotten" are a crutch that I should eliminate. Beyond these, I will add on a case-by-case basis. To one who knows how to mix a palette of words, no word is truly weak when it's direct and intentional.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Free Sci-Fi Pageturner

In honor of my annual newsletter membership drive, this week I am giving away e-books of my most popular Sci-Fi novel, "Jezebel's Ladder."  Amazon Page   To get a free copy, click the subscribe button to the right with your e-mail address, or send a message to with the title "Jezebel Giveaway."

If you liked "Armageddon", "Alias", "Orphan Black", or "Contact", you'll love this present-day thriller.

Note that this offer is not available to children under the age of 13. Your name and address won't be sold to anyone else, and I don't send out newsletters often (maybe once a season). If you enjoy it, please take a moment to leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Automating Style Sheets

My next feature for my pre-edit software is to automate the creation of editor style sheets. I already have a feature that collects all the possible misspellings. In using the Story Shop planning app (, I noticed that it's an error-prone process to rely on human memory to create an element card for every person/place in the story. Therefore, I put a small add-on into my tool to collect, weight, and group each proper noun in a novel. Fiction Vortex intends to incorporate the feature.

The example below is from my book "the K2 Virus."  The computer can't tell if two similar names refer to the same person. In this case, even gender clues won't help because Tony and Tonia are the same person. My favorite is how Big Bang is a member of Warden Bang's extended family, and Mr. Park is right next to Olympic Park. That's okay. A human can very quickly convert this into something usable. Already, I've used the tool to find incorrect spellings (Reuben vs Rueben) or Dr without the period. The weighted nature helps to weed out noise and stress the relative importance of each character. I chuckled when I saw that the tool labeled Blood and English as key elements in the story because it's right.

Daniel Mann
    Tonia Benedict
    Tonia Marian Benedict
Varsity Kohl
Sister Ahn
Mr. Jero
    South Korean
    Korean Air
    Korean War
    Republic of Korea
    North Korea
    South Korea
    United States Forces Korea
Corporal Webb
Uncle Dae
Mr. Yeonlihan
Officer Tamguja
Henri LeBeau
    Seoul Central
    Seoul National University
    Seoul Internet
    Dr. Benedict
    Doctor Benedict
    Benedict Arnold
    Tony Marlin Benedict
    Doc Benedict
Colonel Branson
    Chinese Red Steppe
    Red Cross
    Red Snow
    Warden Bang
    Mr. Bang
    Mrs. Bang
    Big Bang
Sister Elizabeth
Dr. Young
    Monsieur Mann
    Mr. Mann
    Mrs. Mann
    Dr. Mann
Hong Kong
Christmas Massacre
    American Embassy
    Kaesong Industrial Park
    Olympic Park
    Bangi-Dong Park
    Mr. Park
Ryongchon County
Sinuiju Medical University
Hanawon Center
Aunt Eun
Officer Mylinsatu
Hamilton Hotel
Mr. Avery
Major Ganghan
United States
Sad Sack
Blue House

Monday, August 6, 2018

Do Goodreads E-books Giveaways Work?

Short Answer: If you own Amazon stock, then it's pure profit. If you're an author, it's an invitation for abuse.

Long Answer:
If you're not an independent author, you have no idea how hard it is to garner reviews. The rules keep changing. Amazon says that it's to stop "false" reviews. Hmm. I've found one Vine Voice reviewer who gives only five-star reviews without reading the book and others who OPENLY SOLICIT bribes: a donation to their foreign orphanage reading program or demanding I send the e-book as an Amazon gift which they cash in for something else. When I tried to turn these people in, Amazon had no interest in upholding the integrity of their system. So I think the real reason policy changed is that Amazon doesn't make money when an author gives away free copies. Note that Amazon requires Vine Voice folks to review a minimum number of books they send for free, so they've exempted themselves from the rules.

To get 50 reviews for my books "Jezebel's Ladder", I had sell 4500 copies, e-mail about 800 copies to critics, and about giveaway thousands more via Amazon giveaways. The problem with Amazon giveaways is that people download it because it's free, not because they are even interested in Science Fiction. I had one guy rate a book one-star because it didn't have bondage like he expected. But I have to find some method to stimulate reviews because every year, Amazon finds more reasons to delete old reviews, and they won't give you a justification. I worked hard for every single one of those reviews, and now I'm at 47.

What can an Indie do? Goodreads paperback giveaways traditionally got about 30 or 40 percent review rate. For $100 in paperbacks, I might get 3 reviews. If e-books do half as well, the 100 e-book giveaway program should get me 15. My latest thriller had 35 hard-won reviews, and I could finally see what happens when you reach 50! For the first year, Amazon restricted the program to only traditional publishers and its own 47 North imprint. I was so excited they finally opened the program to everyone. You pay $120 for a chance to get reviews. I decided to roll the dice. Within a week of the event ending, 4 people gave me drive-by rankings on GR, and two people gave me text reviews. I get 5-9 a month normally, so that didn't justify the money. I also garnered one review on Amazon, but this led them to delete two old ones at random. Net loss. That flagpole is greased. The new review was also the dreaded "this isn't my normal genre" type. Don't panic. I reread my terms and conditions, and two months after the event, Amazon is supposed to send out a reminder to the winners to rate the book. If 6 people responded without prompting, surely more would with the e-mail. As Ronald Reagan was fond of joking about the boy who got horse manure for Christmas, "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere."

I was wrong about the pony. Two and a half months later, not one more person out the 94 other winners so much as clicked another button. When I asked Goodreads to double-check that the reminder had been sent, I was told: "Goodreads does not require winners to post reviews.  The primary goal of running a giveaway is to build awareness for your book, while reviews are a potential bonus.    It might also help to keep in mind that not every book is a good fit for every reader.  We've all had the experience of starting a book that sounds great and then discovering it's not what we were expecting."
So basically, I'm told my product that 2/3 of reviewers rate 5 stars isn't good enough to get anything. If it sucked so bad, someone would have complained. Total silence seems statistically unlikely. I doubt they went through the trouble of sending that reminder e-mail at all. Why bother when there is no way for the customer to check? If I private-messaged even one of those winners to see if they received the book or an e-mail, I could be tossed off the site for abuse.

Shortly after that customer-service query, Goodreads deleted 30 of my old reviews with no explanation.

To recap: I paid $120 to incur a huge net loss on both Amazon and Goodreads. This reminds me of the 1987 film "The Pick Up Artist" with Robert Downey Jr. He moves heaven and earth to finally pay off someone else's $5000 gambling debt. At the end of the show, the gangster in the casino orders his men to break Downey's kneecaps anyway. To which he responds loudly "What do I get for $10,000, rape and sodomy?" That's how I feel about the recent Goodreads experience.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Enter to Win a Free K2 Virus e-book

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The K2 Virus by Scott Rhine

The K2 Virus

by Scott Rhine

Giveaway ends May 30, 2018.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Monday, May 14, 2018

Word of the Day -- Gazingstock

I'm in the middle of upgrading my PREEN pre-edit engine to recognize archaic words, specifically common-domain novels from a century ago and the original King James Bible. Many of the words like "spaketh" are out of usage because English dropped the personal form of you, thou (like the Spanish word tu). Some are alternate spelling still used only by the Church of England or obscure agricultural textbooks. A few, however, are worth reviving.

We all know the term "laughingstock," the object of ridicule and derision, but how many of us knew that someone who is stared at by everyone who passes (for whatever reason) is called a "gazingstock." This could be a woman in a bikini or the idiot who wrecks his car while gawking.
This weekend at my house, it was the sign my daughter made my wife for Mother's Day.
No automatic alt text available.
Other fun ones included:
winebibber--a high-end lush like Penny on "Big Bang Theory."
sith--before "Star Wars," it meant since.
whoremonger--much more fun to say than pimp.
firkin--a quarter-barrel, also fun to say after you've had a few drinks.
knop--an ornamental knob, sort of a cross between fop and knob.
hap--chance, fortune, happening. Ever wonder where the word hapless came from? Now you know.