You probably need to sign up for a Goodreads account, which if you aren’t familiar is a huge community of book readers. People share what they want to read, what they are reading, what they have read, and reviews. You’re welcome to connect with me on Goodreads here as well. It is another public forum where you can ask questions or discuss the book. A favourite activity for me is discussing the book with my friends who are actively reading On Swift Wings right now and hearing their thoughts about various subjects and ideas presented therein. All interaction there is helpful as well. Engagement helps keep things relevant. It would also be really cool to hear some cross-talk among readers as well.
I mentioned that On Swift Wings has been nominated for a number of awards in categories like Debut Author, Literary Fiction, Fiction, Fantasy, and Adventure on ReaderViews.com, IndieReader, and Readers’ Favorite. A few of them are progressing. Readerviews and IndieReader are closed for new entries, while Readers’ Favorite closes on June 1. Fingers crossed.
One thing that I definitely didn’t know about when I started this was marketing. I honestly thought that I could just publish a book, somebody would read it, pass it on to the right person, and it would catch on all by itself. This has unsurprisingly proven to be naive, as a million other books are hoping for exactly the same thing. This is why I need your help to pass on the word and review the book (hopefully positively.)
I’m formulating a more detailed plan now, and it is wimpy and simple, but still miles ahead of where I started, comments and advice are always welcome.
Step 1 – Get the book into people’s hands.
I got it out to a number of friends early hoping to get reviews, I’ve added the above giveaway, I tried an Amazon giveaway. I’ve donated books to libraries and schools. Right now, the goal is to get people to read the book.
Step 2 – Get reviews and get known
I underestimated how important reviews were at first, I wanted to get reviews (and still do) but it dawned on me a while ago that nobody is dropping money on a book that has no reviews or that wasn’t recommended by a trusted friend. I’m pursuing this more actively now, through the giveaways and contests. If I can get a dozen reviews, that would help immensely. When people start to see that a book is well reviewed and that most people like it, they are more likely to buy it.
Step 3 – Advertise
Once the book has sufficient reviews and maybe an award, advertising should help a lot.
Step 4 – Publish a new book
This is a long way off, no doubt, but continuing the momentum and restarting the cycle should help.
Thanks everybody once again for your support. May your world always grow!
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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
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
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
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.