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.

International Book Tour and Book 2 Progress

At a little-known stadium somewhere in Rome. Mostly just rocks and sand as far as I can tell.

Apologies for the missed post this past week. I’ve been on an international book tour to Italy and France. Of course, when I say an international book tour, I entirely mean that I spent a couple weeks sauntering about Venice, Rome, and Imperia in Italy, and Nice in France, and a bit of time on the beach in Comox, BC. I thoroughly enjoyed inhaling and absorbing the history and locales about which I’ve read and studied so much. All of the places to which we went were incredible and have proven to be a great inspiration to me. So cool to visit three places so geographically close but so extensively different and unique. Every time I travel, my world grows and I feel a much better person for it. I hope that the inspiration I’ve received will reflect in my upcoming works.

It wasn’t all fun and games, I did get down to work and have prepared the storyboard for my second novel. I have prepared character profiles, elaborated upon the setting, and prepared the major plot markers. Alright, I admit, this is fun and games, as my wife tends to point out. Every time I figure out something clever, or funny, or I advance a key plot, I am pleased as punch to go cryptically tell her what I’ve thought up.

I’ll talk a bit about the plan for the upcoming novel next week. I intend for it to be quite different from the first in many ways, but similar in others. I’m going to take my time to plan it all very carefully to ensure the highest quality work of which I’m capable.

Thank you for reading my blog, I hope you’re enjoying On Swift Wings. On that front, I received some news that Indigo is going to put a number of copies on their shelves at Chinook and Crowfoot, and I will likely do a book signing there in the coming weeks. (More on that to come.) A few informal reviews have begun to trickle in, but nothing yet on any review site like Amazon, Indigo, GoodReads, etc. Generally people are saying that it is challenging but rewarding, and the satire is well done. I am really looking forward to hearing and reading more feedback to help with the planning of the second novel.

BW

Little Library and Big Bookstore

Free Little Library in Comox, BC – The Bookaneers (On Swift Wings is on the top shelf in the middle)

A short little post on this Tuesday morning:

One fun (and challenging) part of the journey has been to get the book out so that people are aware of it. I really appreciate everybody who has shared the word of my book, and especially recommended it to others. I found this cute free little library in Comox, British Columbia with a couple copies of my book (thanks mom and dad.)

I got a little traction with Indigo books as well. You can now order my book online through their website:

Indigo Hardcover – $39.95

Indigo Paperback – $22.95

Kobo eReader Version – $9.89

They are also talking about ordering copies for a couple large format Calgary stores. (I will definitely be taking a picture if/when that happens.)

I love seeing people with a copy of my book. Please reply with a picture holding the book and where you are located. I have a couple craft-type ideas that I’d like to try and do if enough people respond with pictures.

I’m also talking with Indigo about doing a book signing in the fall at Crowfoot and/or Chinook Centre in Calgary. More details to follow. Thanks for following things. I’ll be working on my second novel in the next couple weeks. With a little luck, the planning stage will be nearly complete and I’ll be writing by September.

BW

Libraries, Archives, and ISBN

My local library – Louise Riley

This past week I’ve been busy adding On Swift Wings to libraries and archives. I discovered that the Calgary Public Library had accepted my request and picked up two copies of the book. Even cooler than that, both copies had been checked out and a hold was waiting on one of them!

I was already in touch with the Calgary Public Library to donate a few more copies to their collection. They requested an additional three copies which I sent off yesterday. I’m very excited to have more people read the book. (It isn’t about the money, it is about the story and ideas. I really hope people get something out of the book.

Library and Archives Canada

At the same time, I’ve been in touch with Library and Archives Canada about including my book available to the fourth largest library in the world tasked with keeping a record of Canadian history. They too have been extremely friendly and helpful, and I’ve donated a hardcover and paperback version to them as well.

I could really use a little help from my readers on this subject. I had the book added to my own public library, but for those of you outside of Calgary, would you be willing to check your own library to see if they have any copies, and assuming they don’t, could you put in a request to add the book to their collection? Libraries are able to order the book at a 55% discount to the retail rate from IngramSpark.

Proudly Canadian

One great thing about being Canadian (and there are many) is that registering for an ISBN ( International Standard Book Number) – think serial number for books, required to sell in bookstores or online, is free. As long as you’re a Canadian citizen, getting an ISBN is totally free. If you’re an American, you have to pay Bowker $125/ISBN for the same service.

A unique ISBN is required for each book format, Hardcover, Paperback, and eBook. That means that my book would have cost an extra $300US if I wasn’t Canadian. Sweet deal. Pretty happy to donate a couple copies of my book to LAC instead.

Going it alone (with freelancers)

July 31, 2019

Image result for freelancers
Hiring service providers brings its own challenges and rewards.

Once I had decided that I was going to self-publish, a whole new world opened up. Without a traditional publisher, and keeping away from vanity publishers, I would need to research, find, hire, manage, and pay each of my various contracted freelancers myself. I have mentioned before that I really didn’t know anything about publishing at the start, and totally overestimated my own abilities. I’m OK with that, I’d rather think I can do more than I can and pull back when I realize my own limitations than to underestimate myself and achieve less than my potential. At basically every stage where I ultimately hired a service provider, I experienced the same or a similar process.

Stage 1 – I will do it myself!

Original plans called for me to do everything. I was going to plan, write, edit, and format the book. I was going to draw my own cover art and market the book on my own. Tag me as arrogant, but I wanted to try all of these, and I felt like I could do a good enough job if I tried hard enough. I am ok at all of them, but I definitely didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Stage 2 – Research requirements

Image result for book research clipart
Self-publishing requires a lot of research.

Unlike a school project where a teacher tells you all the things that need to be included, there is no definitive requirements document explaining what you need to do to properly edit a book, format the interior, and design a cover. Even now that I’m done, and properly understand the end requirements from experience, I’m not sure that I could properly do any of these myself. Anyway, I researched each one before I gave them all a first try. A blessing and a curse of writing is that the other people who are experts are also writers. They like to write, a lot. There are a lot of resources out there (like this blog is turning into) of people who are eager to tell you everything about their experience. Many of them have written books about how to write books and have them published, I’m not planning on doing that, but rather than a calm stream of helpful advice it is a bit more like a tidal wave of information. Once I had found her, my editor helped to filter some of the more important things. I can’t emphasize how valuable it is to have a guide on this travel.

Stage 3 – Try and try again

I edited my book several times myself, checking for grammar, consistency, idiocy, structure, content, etc. I made several book covers, sought feedback on my Facebook page, edited, and refined them. I formatted my own document using a template I bought online. I took each part as far as I could manage. I did my best, and I felt I did OK, but not good enough. I resolved early on that I would not let myself say, “imagine if I had actually…” like an athlete who sabotages himself before a big race. I wanted to run right through the finish line. The right way to do that is to get the correct people on my side.

Stage 4 – I shouldn’t do it myself!

I concluded that I couldn’t get it sufficiently edited for a professional product. I came to the same conclusion that for a good book, a properly created cover was necessary. With the formatting, I felt confident that I could put a reasonable product together on my own experience, and I think I did come up with something passable. I trusted my editor at this point, who suggested that proper formatting would be a worthwhile investment.

Stage 5 – Research the freelance market

There are a lot of freelancers out there in every field. Whether for editing, cover design, formatting, etc. I wanted to find people compatible with my communication style, who were interested in my book. I did a lot of research, I searched on Editors Canada for Calgary-based editors and found a few people to talk to, I polled my network to see if they knew anybody and drummed up a couple names from there. For the cover design, I considered doing a design competition, but pulled back on that idea when it became clear that experiences there varied dramatically, with all parties generally being dissatisfied with the result, both the artist who feels undervalued and the buyer who doesn’t feel like they got what they wanted. It also hardly feels fair to ask hundreds of people to do the work and only have one or two get paid anything for their troubles. Ultimately I found a few people online who had done a number of covers that I quite liked. Formatting was easier, my editor recommended someone she had worked with and I trusted her judgement.

Stage 6 – Contact

Image result for email clipart

With the exception of the formatting, which was done on my editor’s advice, I had the same thing happen with both the my choice of editor and book cover design. I contacted several people about doing my editing and my cover design. In both cases, the person who I had thought would be my likely first choice rejected the contract.

The first editor to whom I spoke said that I had done a great job of staying very true to the original in terms of tone and voice, and that her editing style was better suited to a close narrative distance. The second editor, who I ultimately picked, was Bobbi Beatty of Silver Scroll Services. When I got in touch with her she wrote me a novel of advice even before I hired her. I felt like she was thoroughly engaged immediately, and I liked her communication style. She seemed interested and excited. I told my wife that I think I had found my editor.

A similar thing happened with the cover design. I found a group that I thought had done some really great covers, but when I contacted them with my book and idea they told me that because my book included ‘fantasy’ worlds and characters, they would be unable to source appropriate images. I don’t hold any malice about this, they didn’t understand my book, and obviously weren’t familiar with Gulliver’s Travels. I pushed on and found a great team at JD&J Book Cover Design. They responded virtually immediately, gave me a timeline and details, took my information and ideas. As with Bobbi, I felt confident with these guys that I had the right people for me.

Stage 7 – Contract

This was pretty easy in every case. Each of my team requested some percentage of the contract up-front. I wanted some details like non-disclosure agreements to protect my own work. (As with most first-time authors, I was unreasonably afraid that somebody was going to steal my ideas.) Each of them provided me with the cost up-front, the timeline within which they would get the work done (and all of them succeeded in completing on schedule) and communicated with me any issues or concerns.

Stage 8 – The Waiting Game

Hungry hungry hippos!

Oh man this is a hard part. Sending something I’d worked on for so long to the editor, formatting, and even book cover designer was like sending my kid to their first summer camp… which I haven’t done yet, so I can only imagine. I told each of my team that I wanted to be the model client. I promised to pay them immediately upon receiving the invoice, to respond promptly to any questions, and to not pester them. I asked them to take their time and do a great job, rather than worry excessively about hitting deadlines. I meant it! I even said that if the book was bad, to just tell me that. I meant that too!

Once the manuscript was out of my hands, I couldn’t do anything about it until it was returned. Every day felt interminable. I waited with bated breath, unsure, and lacking confidence that somebody wouldn’t come back and say, “your book is awful.” Even though I had told them not to worry about deadlines, I still had them circled on my calendar hoping that they would meet them anyway. (they did)

Stage 9 – Final refinements

At each stage, there is always a little back and forth as some details are touched up. A little font change here, a couple last questions about the edits, a few details on the cover, etc. As I had chosen people with whom communication was easy, these refinements went smoothly and quickly. As well as I could have hoped. Ultimately, I was very pleased by the results.

Stage 10 – Payment

promised I would, and I believe that I did pay each of them within a couple hours of receiving their invoice. I know it is important to be paid promptly. One way to show respect and appreciation is to pay quickly.

Stage 11 – Thanks

Really mean it!

I can hardly emphasize how valuable it is to find the right people for your team. I wouldn’t have nearly the final product today that I’m proud to say is mine without all their help. They were worth their weights in gold.

Bobbi, my editor, was my MVP. Beyond cleaning up my rambling, comma-soaked, first-timer manuscript, she provided the guidance and feedback that I increasingly realized I desperately needed. Her ability to match her edits to the tone and voice that I desired was fantastic, her comments and direction were right on point, and her attitude was brilliant. I would strongly recommend her, and when my second book is complete, I will certainly get in touch with her again.