2019 Season of Giving

Price Drop, Donations and Royalty Summary

December is a fun time of year, and I’m trying to make it a little bit better in my own way. When I released my book in July, I really knew very little about the art of publishing and marketing a book. I would still describe myself as a rank novice in these spaces, but I have learned a lot.

Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation Logo

One commitment that I made and continue to uphold is to donate 20% of the author royalties and other special events to children’s hospitals. This morning I wrote a check to the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation to support their wonderful efforts. I would strongly encourage anybody who is able to donate to their local children’s hospital as well.

CBE Logo

My second drive has been to try to get my book to as many people as I can. I’ve offered the book to several local schools. So far, only a couple have accepted, but I am handing off a copy this morning to a local school. I’m really excited at the possibility of my book helping to elevate literacy and support our schools as well. For any of you that aren’t from Alberta, there has been a great deal of cuts made to our education budget. If I can help out a little, then I’m thrilled to do this.

FormatPrice
eBook$2.99
Paperback$12.95
Hardcover$34.95

At the same time, I’ve donated several copies of books to the local library, and to little free libraries near my house. This adventure wasn’t about the money when I started, and I still would rather a thousand people read the book and from it earn nothing, than have a single reader give me a thousand dollars.

To this end, I’ve changed the price structure of the book drastically in time for Christmas. (They are as low as I can now make them without taking a loss on each copy sold.) – Prices vary at different retailers.

If you are still looking for your own copy of the book, it can is available everywhere online, and in several local bookstores.

Begging for Reviews

Please
Please Review
Please Post a Review!

One last thing, please post a review of On Swift Wings. Amazon, GoodReads, Indigo, or anywhere else. Better yet, post it to all three! The biggest hurdle I face right now is getting outside of the friend zone. The only way I’ll achieve that is by word of mouth. Recommend the book to a friend, or post a review online. I love feedback. A few readers have been keeping me up-to-date on their progress, and I love hearing their thoughts, feedback, and criticisms. It’ll only take you a minute to type in your thoughts, please help!

Book Survey

I’ve been trying a few things to get On Swift Wings in front of more eyes recently. I’ve offered and donated copies to my junior and senior high schools. (Sir William Aberhart High School accepted) I also offered a copy to the University of Calgary, but they report that they don’t accept self-published books. I’ve also been strategically placing copies of the book in free little libraries around nearby neighbourhoods.

I’m trying everything I can think of to drum up more reviews of the book. I believe that based on the informal reviews and the one formal review I have so far that the book has potential if it can just get out of the “friend zone.” I’m also totally open to new ideas here if anybody cares to comment with suggestions. All ideas are helpful.

I’m posting a few survey questions to see if I can identify how to do better.

I’m really curious what kind of answers I’ll get from this poll. And as a data scientist, I’ll keep whatever is possible open so anybody can review this.

By the way, if anybody would like to know more about something. Questions about the book, the process, things I’ve learned, whatever you want to know, let me know. I’d love for this blog to be a little less me writing the occasional thought, and a little more interactive. (One more poll… a little more direct.)

Thank you all for reading and contributing! I really appreciate all feedback.

BW

Why I Write

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved to write. This included research projects in elementary school on Cheetahs and Jellyfish, through junior high school when I wrote a (just awful) short story about a civilization of fingers called “Fingeroids.”┬áMy strictly academic papers were strong, fact-based, and well-received. My artistic work was rather less so.

English was frequently my poorest subject in school. I just couldn’t seem to find the depth that others found in stories, which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy them, I merely contend that others read far more deeply than I felt a work merited. Sometimes a word has not been hand-picked by an author to mean precisely the opposite of its natural meaning. This came to a head in high school when the teacher assigned to us to read a short story for homework. The short story was to be the subject matter for a subsequent test on our ability to read creatively and to find deeper meaning in a text. 

One of my peers who always did exceptionally well in Language Arts bragged to her friends that she could pass the test without reading the story. She may have read the first and last paragraph if I recall correctly, but certainly didn’t know any of the pages in between. On the other side of the equation, I read the story multiple times, searched for repeated themes, keywords, symbolism, literary devices, and basically spent hours dissecting the story methodically in the manner I had been taught. I looked over at my classmate during the test to see if she was sweating and nervous, but she didn’t appear to be.

To put the end on the story, I received a serviceable grade on the test, below my standards, but acceptable for my least proficient subject. On the other, my ill-prepared classmate received a better than perfect score. The teacher announced that she had written in beautiful flowing prose the kind of clever, deeper analysis that hit upon themes that even the teacher herself had not at first grasped in the work. This was the kind of student we should all strive to emulate. I had spent hours preparing and she didn’t even do the minimum and I was told to be more like her. Let me tell you that this experience further pushed me away from subjective subjects for quite some time.

Despite the frustration above, I continued to write. One motivator was a poem that I wrote while coming home from school in grade eight during the spring. I always enjoyed kicking rocks and making dams and on this day a rock that I kicked happened to stop right in the path of a stream of water in an alleyway causing the stream to back up and find an entirely different channel. Sometimes a little thing like that can be an inspiration because I started thinking about how just this tiny little pebble, smaller than a marble, had stopped and forced a lot of water to change its course. I saw this as a metaphor for how something small and insignificant can make a big change, either positive or negative. The poem that I wrote, Just One Little Rock won awards as a poem about racism, it was also published at my nana’s funeral as a symbol for the cancer that took her life.

Just one little rock
So easy to throw
Can stop such a force
It’s called H2O.

The Power of life
Its power so free
Is stopped with a rock
So very easy.

The water no shape
Goes down as it may.
The rock in its place
Makes the water stay

The water of life
Surely in race
Is stopped rudely by
The rock in its place.

The water i moves
So easy, so free
Is put to a halt
Like its mother the sea.

Just one little rock
Amid some debris
Turns into boulders
And nobody sees.

Just one little rock
If it was put free
Would let buildup go
And make water free

Just one little rock
So easy to throw
Can stop such a force
It’s called H2O.

Apart from academic papers in school, I didn’t write much for fun. I think the last big piece of my puzzle was my master’s thesis. I wrote the entire thesis in October 2004, including all the figures and editing. This was a big mental foundation block, that I could write something that long in a fairly short time. I knew, with children, a job, and other endeavours simultaneously, that I wouldn’t have an enormous amount of time to devote to this, so if I didn’t know I was capable of writing that much, I probably never would have started. I also would get criticized at work for writing long, difficult, verbose emails. I was told to stop doing that, so instead I started writing a story.

I give all this background information for the same reason that I led off On Swift Wings with background information about the fictional author, and because George Orwell, in his essay, “Why I Write” suggested the same reason. The subject matter about which I write is shaped by current events and my own experience. I also recommend reading his essay, for he brings up some excellent points about the traps of writing while under the influence of temperament and current events. I hope that I have somewhat tempered my own view of the modern world. Orwell says, putting aside the need to earn a living, which my writing most certainly does not provide at this time, I share a similar set of motives for my writing.

  1. Sheer egoism. I’m not going to lie and pretend that one of the major motives for my work isn’t out of an abundance of egoism. It is certainly part of a desire to sound clever, to achieve something significant, to be talked about and remembered that drove my desire to write my first book. I think this is more common, if not universal that everybody wants to be well thought of. The timing of the book ties in with this as well. I read Gulliver’s Travels to my son as an infant and I want him, when he is old and I’m not around to be able to say, my dad was smart, and check out this legacy he left behind. I’ve always desired to be known as intelligent. I’ve often tried to think of myself as smart, but a point from The Cleric Quintet by R.A. Salvatore, a favourite author of mine throws the idea out there that smart people never actually know they are smart, and they question themselves. I want to prove to myself and everybody else that I can contribute something meaningful.
  2. Historical Impulse and Political Purpose. Orwell separated these two, but I’m going to combine them. I’m a fan of history, and an observer of politics, if I keep myself outside of the fray directly out of a sense of displeasure at the current slate of options. I’m interested in looking at the world today and analyzing things, but also providing a few of my thoughts without (hopefully) being too preachy. I use the word “political” in a similarly broad context to Orwell. I wish that my ideas help provide some direction for society towards what I believe to be a better alternative than the hyper-polarized place we live in today. I also feel that just about any work has a political purpose like this, whether intentional or not, even if loyal fans disagree.
  3. Obligation. I used to read or hear people say they did something because they had to do it and felt that it was a little bit disingenuous or a cop-out. Having written my first book, I find that a part of my head always lives inside the book. I never really turn On Swift Wings off, as the messages and purpose that I wrote remain very important to me. To this point, I find that the characters are all alive in my head, and I think about their untold stories. Sometimes I find that I lay awake at night telling a story in my head, refining it, writing it, rewriting it, all without putting a word down on paper. This has become an untenable situation and the only thing that I can do about it is to write it. I feel a sense of duty to share my thoughts and ideas and to write a second (and likely more books.) Either I write, or I don’t get to sleep anymore and my head will explode with these unstructured fantasies that I can’t even talk about because nobody knows them but me. So will keep writing.

I hope that this rambling essay is illuminating and meaningful. It sometimes feels like this blog is being read by nobody but me, and I’m ok with that. I use it to provide direction for my own writing, and a lens upon myself to keep me aware. Lacking introspection, I could become blind to the reasons why I’m doing what I’m doing, and this is a dangerous path. I would love to hear that people are reading this, and especially to see their thoughts on my writing (both my book and this blog.)  Just for my own interest, please leave a message below indicating that you read it, even if you just write “Read it.”

Book Analytics

A good novel can be read on many levels. There is always a superficial layer, the story itself. A compelling story can be followed and enjoyed by the widest targeted audience. Beneath the surface, there are often layers of complexity and literary devices at play. Metaphor, themes and satire can be cloaked or revealed transparently. We all learn about this in grade school, and some go further in university really dissecting books for everything the author intended (or maybe didn’t) to present the reader. Here is a slightly, more data-driven way to dig into a book. I loaded the entire content of both On Swift Wings and Gulliver’s Travels into a data analytics workflow to compare and contrast the styles and contents. A few tools used here include sentiment flow, word correlation, word complexity and vocabulary. There are some fascinating details that can be revealed. I hope you’ll enjoy this data analysis of these two novels.

By the way, the script I wrote takes about 5 seconds to run once I have the manuscript, whether from Project Gutenberg or a text/word file. If you’d like to see the same analysis about your book, or a favourite public domain book, just let me know.

Comparing Sentiment Flow

Sentiment Flow Analysis in On Swift Wings
Sentiment Flow Analysis in Gulliver’s Travels

I think these two graphs are particularly interesting. The top two bar charts are an analysis of sentiment value in On Swift Wings (my book) and the bottom two are for Gulliver’s Travels. You’ll note that I’ve blocked out the end of On Swift Wings. I don’t wish to spoil any surprises about whether the ending is happy or sad.

For background, the BING model determines a raw count of whether a word should be deemed “Positive” or “Negative.” Simply put, if the bar is above the line, then the corresponding 1% of the book has more positive words than negative ones. The AFINN model scores different words according to whether they are very positive, somewhat positive, somewhat negative, or very negative and assigns a value that way. In this way, the AFINN model measures the use of emotions with strength. Words like “Torture” and “Ecstasy” bear a greater weight than “Good” or “Bad.”

The first interesting finding is that in general I use quite a few more negative words than Jonathan Swift. The overall balance in terms of raw scores flows from positive at the beginning of the novel to more negative in the later stages. Swift tends to be more positive throughout, in fact, using more positive words particularly near the end of Gulliver’s Travels. (Note, I’m still not talking about the actual end of On Swift Wings.)

While I tend to use more negative words than positive, by weight (AFINN) On Swift Wings has a similar weighted score to Gulliver’s Travels. Most parts of the book are positive, and to a similar degree to Gulliver’s Travels. I think this is particularly interesting. Evidently, I use stronger, more impactful words to counterbalance a general negativity.

Sentiment Word Maps

On Swift Wings Sentiment Cloud
Gulliver’s Travels Sentiment Cloud

To the point about the strength of words used, these word clouds illustrate for each book how commonly different words are used that carry sentiment (size of font) and how impactful that sentiment is (lighter colour = less impact). Both books show many similar words (Great, Like, Good, No, Dead), but there are differences. There are a greater quantity and distribution sentimental words used more frequently in On Swift Wings. Both images were generated using the same code, the difference in shape is due to a difference in style. I invite you to look at the words and compare them yourself. I could look at these two figures for hours.

Again, if you’d like to see your favourite public domain novel, let me know, I’ll run the script and send the results. (I’ll probably put the code on GitHub soon too)

Word Correlation Map

On Swift Wings Correlations
Gulliver’s Correlations

These two figures demonstrate word combinations. Words that are used frequently together are connected. The more often, the thicker and brighter the line. Again, many differences can be seen between the two works. I tend to use a few words together frequently while Mr. Swift has a few clusters of interconnected words, and few other patterns he repeats.

Word Summary Statistics

Measure On Swift Wings Gulliver’s Travels Comparison
Word Count121,426104,280116%
Unique Words11,8488,359142%
Unique Word Ratio9.758.02122%
Average Word Length6.396.21103%

Here’s a really quick little analysis counting the number of words, how many of them are unique, what the ratio of unique to total words is and average word length. It isn’t a valid measure of quality, but On Swift Wings is 16% longer than Gulliver’s Travels, there are 42% more unique words in On Swift Wings, and each word is on average 4% longer. Reading On Swift Wings, you’ll encounter a new word approximately 22% more frequently than reading Gulliver’s Travels.

Before the hate rains down, please remember that this is all good fun. Gulliver’s Travels is a great book, and I strongly recommend it. I only hope that On Swift Wings will be intriguing and entertaining as well.

Weekly Review Section

Thank You Stewart Adams

I received my first review on Amazon this week! As hoped, the book is a challenging but rewarding read. Please keep the reviews coming! Amazon.ca or Amazon.com, Goodreads, Indigo. Reviews are desperately needed to spread the word and get the book in front of more readers. Please.

An interesting modernization of Gulliver’s Travels. There are some great concepts in the book including “perfect” societies and how one person can make a difference.
It is not an easy read due to the meaty sentences, but I am glad I read it.

Worth your time. Stewart Adams – Amazon Review

Cash and a Cold Start

It has been an interesting couple of weeks. My book has now been out for just under three months. This means that I’m starting to get my first royalty payments. In a typically convenient moment, during a span of two hours today, I ran into two things related to the top of my mind issue I’m dealing with right now. (Reviews – Please Review On Swift Wings)

  • The first relates to a favourite cartoonist of mine, Brian Gordon, who is releasing his third book shortly. If you’re a parent, I guarantee that you’ll find his work funny. I’d definitely recommend his books. He posted about the importance of pre-orders for a struggling author. Getting pre-orders helps deal with my second related event.
  • The second came while I was working on a data science course as part of my other job, the one that keeps me from struggling. It was talking about recommender systems like those used on Netflix and Amazon, and the “Cold Start” problem, where until an item has a certain number of reviews, and a sufficient number of people have commented, recommender systems are generally incapable of recommending an item.
Cold Start
Thawing out the cold start

Anyway, I’m trying to figure out an incentive to get reviews online that doesn’t fall foul of the rules and regulations put forward by Amazon and co. I’m not allowed to buy reviews or have family review it, and I don’t intend to risk it.

The other cool thing as mentioned previously is that I got my first royalty payments this week. This is for the few pre-orders that I did receive. Since I didn’t really try to drive pre-orders on my first book, I didn’t expect or get many, but it is pretty cool to get a little money. Now I get to watch the money trickle in.

A little update on the Immortals – book #2. I’m now working again on the plan for the book. I had put it down for a couple weeks to focus on other things, but I’m back at it. I currently have about twenty pages of notes. I think I might show how data science-y I am in a subsequent post, demonstrating my tabular approach to planning, making sure that I am handling all of the themes, characters, and plotlines appropriately throughout the novel. I’ll also show some of the natural language analysis I did of the first book when it was getting close to completion, as compared to Gulliver’s Travels, particularly around sentiment analysis.

Coming Soon: Data Science and Novel Writing

Reviews and Marketing

Please review On Swift Wings

My son (the joker) and daughter at the Coles-North Hill near my house at the store where I bought my first books. (On Swift Wings is now on shelves at Coles and Chapters in Calgary)

If there is one thing that I’m learning, it is just how difficult it is to market a book. While there are over a hundred copies of my book that people have bought and are reading, and I know that a few of them have read it from cover to cover, I still have no formal reviews. This is stalling my marketing efforts. As a first-time author, nobody is going to drop $20 on a book that nobody has said is a good read. Most of the people that have read the book are related to me, and are therefore precluded from providing reviews. My brother jokes, “even a bad one?”

Ultimately, I have to get some reviews (and hopefully positive ones.) I’ve foolishly tried to market On Swift Wings without them, and I’ve come to the conclusion that without reviews, marketing is a bit like yelling at a wall. I’ve heard that people are finding the book challenging but rewarding. The satire is amusing. I appreciate that feedback enormously. (Please make your thoughts public. Also it’d be great if your thoughts were positive :))

Please review my book!

Paid Marketing Efforts

I’ve tried a bunch of things, and as I learn more and more, I keep adding to this. I’m sure I’ve made a ton of mistakes, but that is part of the fun of this little venture.

Facebook

I’ve paid for Facebook marketing efforts. I put an advertisement for the book targeted at fans of Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, and included a note that 20% of all author royalties will be donated to the Children’s hospital. Currently, I think that amounts to about $80, as well as my own share attempt at launch, where each share of my post I donated a dollar to the Children’s Hospital (76 shares). I’m happy to donate, but this didn’t really drum up sales (see review problem above.)

About 6600 people saw my first Facebook post ($150). 582 people liked the post. I’m not aware of anybody that actually bought the book that way. The second post was more focused, only 1100 people saw that one ($100), and 165 people liked the post. I’m a data scientist, so the insights about who actually likes the post is quite fun. Facebook shows some basic demographics about location, age, gender.

  • 80% of the people who see my ads are women
  • 35% of the total are women over the age of 65
  • 83% see the add on their mobile app, 10% on a desktop, and the remaining 7% are viewing Facebook through a browser on their phone.
  • 20% of viewers are in England, 14% in Ontario

It costs between $0.25 and 0.50 per engagement (click, comment, or share.) So for $250, I have a bunch of post-likes, but definitely not $250 worth of sales.

Amazon

I’ve tried a couple giveaways on Amazon. The nice thing here is that I can test to see whether people are buying the book or not (without reviews, they aren’t.) Giveaways work by the seller buying x copies of the book and providing it to every y-th entrant. For paperbacks, the smallest number is 700, so every 700th person to enter wins a copy of the book during the 9-day giveaway window.

The first giveaway cost me three copies of the book @ $15 each. 2100 people were reached by the ad, but as far as I know nobody bought a copy. At least three people have the book now, maybe they will review it.

The second giveaway cost me nothing. I added a condition that to enter the person has to follow me as an author. I got 698 entries (2 short of the first copy.) At least 90 people actually looked at the book, which suggests to me that they considered buying it. Fortunately it cost me nothing, unfortunately, nobody got a copy of the book. Also, nobody bought a copy after looking at it either.

Kindle

I also have a long-running ad on Kindle when the user locks the screen. It has been posted 5,777 times, has cost $1.94, has generated 11 clicks (and zero sales.)

Donations

I’ve donated several copies to public libraries, and tried to give copies to my old schools (but haven’t heard back from either of them yet.) I’ve long said that it isn’t about the money, which is good, ’cause I ain’t makin’ any. I hope people read On Swift Wings, are entertained, and that it makes them think.

Back to Reviews

At this point, I need people to read my book and to post reviews to Amazon, or goodreads, or Indigo. I’m not allowed to offer incentives or free books, I can’t have my family do reviews, I can only ask nicely. Please read and review my book. (If you’re in Calgary, there are several library copies you can borrow for free, both hardcover and paperback.)

Library and Immortality

On Swift Wings at my childhood library… with my child

Photo credit: Des Wiens

I took my son to the library so he could see his old man’s book for the first time. I think I was just about as excited as he was to see the book at the same library (Louise Riley) that I visited as a child. It is pretty incredible to see it there, even if my last name (Wiens) relegates the book to the furthest wall from the entrance. It is out there and people can read it whenever they want. How cool is that? Oh, and my son was the second person in the city to check out my book.

Book #2 – Working Title – Immortals

I did an author interview with Indie Book Publishing a couple months ago. The interview itself hasn’t been published yet, but something did come out of the exercise. One of the questions was who are some of your favourite characters and why. I hope I’m not stealing the wind from Indie here, but after thinking about it for a while, my answer was Ryuudrikje. I had thought about writing a second novel, but I hadn’t thought much about what I would write. With Ryu, I had already created a world with secondary characters ready, and interactions pre-established. Furthermore, I already had created some conflict and and underlying plot.

While I was on vacation these past few weeks, I thought about what I would like to say. (I’ve already said that I write with purpose, and the purpose drives the story.) I knew how I wanted the story to end, I knew some of the major events, so while we were visiting Venice and Rome, I was taking inspiration and backwards planning the second novel from my desired conclusion in my head. When we got to Imperia, and while my family was swimming in the pool, I took the backwards-planned plot from my head and wrote down the major events.

I expect the second novel to be quite different from the first. Instead of the essayist, travelogue, first-person format that was copied from Mr. Swift, I am intending to write the second novel in more of a modern fantasy format, written in the third person, with several interweaving plotlines. Readers of the first book might catch a few extra tidbits, but it will stand on its own without duplicating the content of On Swift Wings. There will be crossover, but written from an entirely different perspective, that will, I anticipate, be entertaining both to the reader and to myself in writing the story.

I would love to hear any thoughts people have about this idea. I’m not setting any deadlines for myself at this time, I have a lot of work still refining details and ensuring that the plot is interesting enough and keeping the themes in mind before I even start writing. I would be quite pleased if I could have this book written by the end of 2020, but I won’t hold myself to that schedule yet.