I got a pretty good gut punch this week. Hazel has been so wonderful since she came out. I don’t know that she ever fell below 300 in her category, and she was usually in the top 100. The marketing was going well. I’d spend about $1 a day and earn just a few buck a month, but she was profiting even if only a little.
Then I got an email.
Apparently, Hazel’s cover is “overly sexualized.” I have to be honest. Given that I removed my name from the original release because of actual sexualized content, this comes as a mind-boggling development, and Hazel has fallen like a rock because of it. It’s still very early in the process. By the time you read this, I will have spoken with Collin about it. We have a backup cover because something similar happened when we were releasing her.
So I’ll probably switch out the cover (depending on what Collin says) and hope that the campaign that was bringing Hazel so much attention gets going again. I activated a few more that are at least garnering attention, but it’s too soon to tell if they’ll be able to make up the gap, and it’s probably only a matter of time before Amazon steps in with those campaigns.
This was a real blow. Caught was my number one selling book before Amazon stepped in, and I wasn’t profiting on anything. Since she came out, I could say, “At least Hazel is profiting.” I took it as progress in the right direction, and now that momentum come to a screeching halt.
I probably took a good day to sit there and mope about it. There really is nothing for it but to try and change the cover and hope it works and then hope things go back to normal.
I’m making slow going on The 1,200. The revisions are necessary and good, but they are time consuming. I will get started on the Alpha Draft of Discovered when I finish this current (First) draft of 1,200. It’s just a labor of love.
In many cases one just has to keep rolling with the punches and move forward, and that’s something I understand, but there are good days and there are days like this. I spoke with some students, who have to interview instructors at certain points in the course I teach, about this today (as I’m typing this). Writing has to be enough.
I’ll never stop writing and publishing. Those are things I love to do. There may come a day when marketing and social media (the efforts to sell the books I write and publish)are things I just don’t have the endurance to continue, but I’m not there yet. I’ll update you on how things progress.
I appreciate those of you who read my blog and send me occasional emails. Those little things mean so much to me, and they help me recover from weeks like this.
In January, I sold three copies of Caught, which was my best-selling book prior to this update.
That total fell to one in February, and I haven’t sold any so far in March.
This means my quota is definitely down.
I still can’t feel too angry about it in a way. First, this isn’t my main job, so it’s not like my family is losing food. Yes, I want to on day let this be my main job, but that may or may not ever happen. It doesn’t keep me from writing and publishing.
This just means I have to increase my efforts in other platforms as well as work on other books. Frankly, it’s been a down time. I’ve only sold six non-Hazel titles in the same 90-day period (including Caught). Without that title to rely on, I have to reassess and move forward.
This is honestly the only real option a guy like me has (I’m certainly not going to quit). If someone has other options, I’d be happy to see them in the comments below.
When I brought down my bids for other titles, I expected a decrease. Losing Caught’s marketing is absolutely a setback, but if I can get my other titles to perform, I could regain that lost ground relatively quickly. I’ll probably do another set of campaigns next month, and that’s all I can really do.
Hazel is still plodding along. She’s easily my number one seller. She’s not making enough for me or Collin to retire on, but she’s earning her keep.
This also doesn’t necessarily mean I’m losing more money. Sure, I’m not selling as many books (and I want to fix that), but I’m not paying as much for all those clicks. Remember, the original goal was to improve my ACOS.
I’m not spending nearly as much on campaigns per month, so when I start analyzing things, I might actually be losing less money. I’ll know more about that when I look at that next month.
This business (at least for me) is a little like running an ultra marathon on a roller-coaster track. You just sort of keep running. I’m making a lot of progress on Discovered, and I’m hopeful to get that out to beta readers sooner rather than later. I have a few more chapters to tweak, and I have to write three or four new chapters just to fill in some gaps. Once that’s done, I’ll be looking for Alpha Readers, and I’ll have my very first completed box set (as soon as I figure out how to make one).
So it’s fun to share the highs, but for this to be useful, it needs to share the mistakes as well as the progress. I’m not helping others if I’m hiding mistakes that you could avoid if I were willing to share them. I hope it helps.
So I actually just finished another round of key-wording, which is where I collect new key words and use them to generate campaigns, and while I was doing so, I got notifications about my adds for Caught.
Here’s what the email said:
The following ads are non-compliant to creative acceptance policies :
Your ad titled “Caught: Book One of the Oneiros Log” no longer complies with our current Creative Acceptance Policies. Specifically for the following reasons:
Your ad contains content that is not allowed for advertising. Please ensure your ad does not contain any excessive violence or gore. The ASIN that needs to be corrected Is B01N9N5TUS.
After some research, I’ve come to learn that Caught does indeed violate that policy because the entire book involves some of that content.
The strange thing to me is that the horror genre is sort of based in violence. Still, after I think about it for a bit, I am more and more OK with it. Fans of the horror genre in general are going to find what they’re looking for (as with other forms of content). I would argue the Caught is rather tame in comparison, however, I do accept that there is blood and violence, so it should be restricted.
Then I went to study further, and I’m actually very happy with what Amazon is doing to protect people from content that may not be appropriate for all audiences. So I simply have to focus my efforts on my other projects.
I’ll have to see how this development will affect my sales. On one hand, I’ll save on clicks, so I wonder if I’ll actually end up helping my ACOS. On the other, Caught was one of my better selling books, and I fear this development might affect those sales.
Either way, I support this decision by Amazon. I am completely OK with any measure a company makes to guard against people accidentally getting to content they don’t want.
So I thought I’d mention this as I track sales over the next three months.
Welcome to year five of my eight-year commitment to go all in on becoming a successful author businessman. This is my fourth annual State of the Weech, where I talk about how the previous year went and talk about my plans for 2022.
The most important thing I did during 2021 was improve my marketing. I’ll talk about Hazel more in a moment, but without Hazel, I went from being pleasantly surprised I sold a book to regularly selling nine books a month. I’m convinced that this path is a good one. No, it’s not a fast track, but most good things aren’t “overnight” things. Steady effort in a solid direction usually yields good results, and I’m happy with what one year or so of effort has brought.
I released Betrayed. It didn’t have the response I was hoping for, but without being able to go to conventions, it’s hard to get word out. What I know is that anyone who’s said anything about it loved it, which is encouraging.
Then there’s Hazel. Now that was a success! Currently, Hazel sells about 38 copies a month. I expect that to calm a little. I tend to sell a lot of a book early, and then things die down. However, I’d be happy if Hazel continued to move at this pace. I know Collin and I appreciate every single one of you who’ve tried it.
I managed to finish the discovery draft of Discovered, the final book in the Oneiros Log, and I did a read-through of 1,200 in preparation for a draft I’ll do once I get Discovered to Alpha Readers.
So those are things I have done, but now I need to repeat something I mentioned recently.
I’m still writing as much as I can, but without conventions to bolster sales, money for editors and art is a serious concern. This means I’m going to make whatever progress I can, but I don’t have any real certainty on when things will come out because that just depends on how much I can save, how much I spend in marketing, and how many sales I get. So where the past years I had some pretty solid ideas on when I’d get products out to you, I don’t have that same ability this year.
But I am still working, so allow me to tell you about those projects.
Hopefully in 2023 (but don’t quote me on it): Discovered, the final book in the Oneiros Log. The discovery draft was OK, but it needs some work. I hope to finish the next draft in the next 100 days, which is when hopeful Alpha Readers can count on reading the early version. I do hope to get it out in 2023, but that depends on the things I mentioned above, as do the other projects.
The 1,200: I talked about this recently. I’m actually pretty proud of where that is now, but it does need some work. So each time I get a draft of Discovered done, this is the project I’ll skip to until Discovered is out. This will be the next release you can expect from me baring how long it takes to save up and what smaller projects I might get done.
Visits From A Man Named Nobody: This is my weekly Christian Science Fiction series. It’s larger than I thought (at least this draft). It’s growing in the writing, and I’m discovery writing it, which means it’ll have plenty of kinks to work out. I don’t honestly know when I’ll finish it, but once a draft is done, it’ll take its place in line for release. You can read it now if you want. I’ll do revisions and edits on it before its published through Amazon.
Perception of War: Images of Truth: I’m honestly frustrated I haven’t found a chance to finish the discovery draft. Other projects are more urgent, but as soon as Discovered and The 1,200 are out the door, this puppy is getting some work. This is a very ambitious project, but I can get the writing done, and I plan to. Again, this project is massive! So while I’m going to work very hard on it, it’s going to take time.
New Utopia: This is another older project that’s probably been sitting in a drawer for too long. It needs love, but the the next draft of this story (pitched as Mistborn meets Avatar), won’t be done until Discovered and The 1,200 are as far as I can get them and the Discovery Draft of Perception is done.
Mercer: Now this project could move in a lot of directions because it’s a series of shorter works. I call this Dresden meets Bones, and I love the premise and basic ideas. I haven’t really played with this much in a while, but that’s only because I owe fans of Oneiros a conclusion to their story. I’ll probably start chipping away at this once in between the above projects. So you might see Season One, Episode One before New Utopia.
Leah Saldawn and The Nick of Time: This probably the “older” project that’s farthest from being out. It’s a teen/young reader book that I think is cute, but it’ll have to wait behind those much larger projects.
I’m still working my way toward 60 sales a month. Because of Hazel, I have three averages: My total sales per month, Collin’s and my Hazel sales per month, and my non-Hazel sales per month. The goal for sales per month is still 60, and that’s always been an initial goal aimed at growing after I meet it. I lose less and less each year, and I’m hopeful I get to that first profitable year soon.
If I’m being honest, I’m never going to stop writing. The eight-year goal has always been more about putting in hard-charging, never-back-down energy. It’s spending money on marketing and things like that. I’m hopeful that bears some fruit, but if all I do is write and publish stories I enjoy, that’s OK. I’ll work as hard as I can, and if after eight years, I’m not earning an income, well, I’ll slow down on the costs of publishing and focus more on the writing.
If you’re interested in helping, the best way to do that is to purchase one of my books, read it, rate it, and review it. You can take it to the next level (if you like the book) by recommending it (or buying it) for a friend. In addition to God’s will, which I will always cheerfully submit to, this dream of mine isn’t possible without loyal readers.
I want to finish as I always do, by praising God, and thanking Him for all of you who read and enjoy my work. I’m blessed to have anyone enjoy my books, and a lot of you are just so wonderful to me with emails and help with reviewing drafts. Thank you.
God bless you all, and thank you for another year. I hope your hear has been amazing.
I think it was last week that I mentioned disappointment. Well I’m only 18 days into June and I’ve already met what I consider my current quota for the month. That got me to thinking about my current goal. Sure, I want to write more books, and I am. I’m just about six chapters from being done with Discovered. However, I’ve always had a pretty solid idea on where I was going, and I thought I’d share the math.
This all started when I started taking a more critical look at my AMS ads and what they were doing. I realized I can’t spend $200-plus dollars a month on ads that only get me 10 or so sales a month. That led me to the current plan to optimize my campaigns.
The general goals are to reduce campaign costs without losing too many sales. Then, once I become balanced, to increase both to become profitable.
What would that look like? Well, I went back about three months. I currently spend about $109 a month on marketing. In order for me to break even I’d have to sell about 60 books a month. That’s about eight times what I currently sell, so I obviously have to keep bringing down my costs. However, that gives me a definite target to work toward.
Obviously I can only do that one month at a time, working on my marketing, finding profitable keywords and eliminating money wasters.
It’s important to have goals in pretty much everything one does. Goals are what give people direction. They allow people to break those goals into smaller chunks.
For instance, I’ve already cut my cost per month in half. If I can do so again, and double my sales per month, I’d actually only be about $20 away from a break-even ACOS (average cost of sales percentage). Any author using AMS needs to work to get his ACOS to 70% or lower. The closer you are to 0%, the more you’re profiting per sale.
This 60-per-month goal feels every bit as ambitious as it seems challenging to reach, but it’s an important goal to have.
But to a much more unfortunate degree, I learned that where there are people trying to do cool things, there are people who are horrid.
I had to switch to Zoom to allow for recording. I shared the link. I was very happy to see people stopping in. That is until one person appeared on camera without clothes. I told him I wouldn’t stand for that sort of thing and immediately removed him. But that doesn’t mean that myself and those who were on with me weren’t subjected to completely inappropriate and unsolicited material. If there’s a way to preview who is allowed into a call, I’m not aware of it.
I reported the incident to the police, who (I am told) are investigating. This means I have to be more careful.
To that end, I am still hosting Zoom meetings where I talk about covers. I will happily share the links to any who send a request via email. That request must include your email and your Zoom profile name so that when I see your request, I know it’s you and not some pervert.
I’m honestly disgusted I need to take such measures, but I can’t risk that sort of thing happening again. I still dream of being able to sit and chat with people about several things. I just have to be sure that the people I allow into those meetings are joining to talk about books and things like books rather than just shock people.
I’ll still share the links with some of my author groups and the like, but I’ll be more careful who I actually allow to join.
That said, the plan is still to do a Q & A followed by the long anticipated cover reveal for Betrayed. The date and time are still set for 2 p.m. (EST) April 10.
I have contact Carlos to see if he’ll be able to make it, but the hope is he will be. But I do hope you will post questions (below) for me to answer and join me on Zoom to celebrate the new cover. I do intend to do weekly talks as well. So again, if you want to be a part of them, shoot me an email providing your name, email and Zoom profile name so I have a record of who’s coming. Remember, I will be posting these reviews on my YouTube channel, so don’t join and don’t turn your camera on if you don’t want to be on YouTube.
I’m actually typing this April 2. I have quite a lot to do leading up to the tenth, but I still hope to do Week 2 of my Book Covers talk (or whatever I’ll end up calling the segment). I hope to add to the talks too, but for now, we’re starting small. I hope you’ll join me whenever you can, and I truly hope you’ll at least stop by for the reveal to Betrayed.
As is usually the case with me, I’m constantly trying new things. One thing I want to try is to get my YouTube channel off the ground. This means I’m using a lot of different tools, so I had an idea.
I’m revealing the cover for Betrayed via a Google Meet video conference that will be posted on Facebook and Youtube (at the same time if I can pull it off).
I’m hoping you’ll all decide to attend.
What will I be doing?
Well naturally I’ll be doing the reveal, but here are some other thoughts:
Conversation with Carlos, the artist. My first hope is that Carlos will be available to talk about the work and his process. I’ll reveal the cover after the conversation, and anyone interested can talk to us about our work or the cover.
I also want to do a Q & A. In order to do that though, I need Q’s to A, if you follow the joke. If you’d like to help an independent author out, please post any question you’d like to ask of me in the comments below or email them to me. You can ask whatever you want, but I reserve the right to choose which questions I answer.
I plan on the event lasting 20 minutes. It will be Saturday, April 10 starting at 2 p.m. I hope you all can make it! Please comment below if you plan to be there.
Right now, this is all in the idea phase. My intention is to do between 2 and 3 videos per week. One will be general “Writing Advice;” one will be general “book talk;” and the last is bringing back a favorite. My plan is to bring back my book cover of the month. This time, I’ll be looking at covers and talking about why I think they work. I’ll create polls for people to vote in and announce the winners. This is going to demand some time, and I’ll have to see how well I manage it. But it’s something I’ve been mulling over, and I want to give it a shot. It should take less time than the original format because I’ll be highlighting seven covers each week and using those to do the polls. So the time it took me to find covers is the only time I’ll need because I’ll be doing it live.
You can get a head start by heading over to my (very puny and unproductive) YouTube channel now and subscribe (don’t forget the notification button). I actually plan to release my first set of videos starting next week. I’m probably biting off more than I can chew, but you’d all help me be motivated to keep at it by viewing, liking, and sharing the videos as they come out.
Once I finalize the general plan for the cover reveal on April 10, I’ll share the Google Meet link for you to join.
As Betrayed gets closer and closer to release, I’m starting to gather everything I need. One of those things is art! I haven’t had Carlos start working on the cover yet (saving up money), but I was able to commission the chapter icons for the new POV characters.
First, I’d like to introduce you all to Ignacio. I sent out feelers on Twitter, and he responded. I looked at his work, and it was a pretty easy decision after that.
Ignacio was wonderful to work with. I sent him some rough sketches I made, and he came back with wonderful images. The image for Zac (below) took a few attempts. You see, his chapter icon is an actual element of the story. It’s a patch for Zac and Dom’s old unit, and it’s also a tattoo that Zac has on his arm. So I needed a much more literal representation of the thumbnail I originally sent. The down side was that the concept wasn’t actually an artistically interesting. That’s because most military patches aren’t exactly works of art. But where I was worried I’d annoy him or frustrate him, Ignacio took it in stride and sent me at least six different versions of the idea for me to choose from.
This patience is what really stands out to me. As an artist myself, I know how possessive people can be about their work, and Ignacio was nothing but polite and responsive. Folks, if you’re looking for art, you should consider looking him up.
Now that I’ve raved about his professionalism, it’s time to show off his actual work! I proudly present the new (additional) chapter icons for Betrayed.
This is the image for Dom. Dom was a side character in Caught, but he gets a starring (if not leading) role in Betrayed.
His story was the inspiration for the title and general overall structure. Dom has the heart of a patriot.
In this story, Dom is yet again pushed and hurt by the nation he so earnestly wanted to serve and protect. This image is designed to represent a batter soldier still loyally carrying an equally battered American flag.
This image is for Mariana. Mariana is Zac’s daughter.
She is introduced in this book and only has a small role, but her story is just beginning.
This book only hints at the role she’s going to have and how her story is going to affect her. This image represents the idea of a young girl whose innocence has just started to wither. Mariana is very different than Kaitlyn. The interesting dynamic in Betrayed is her relationship with her father. She’s currently in a world where she only knows love and kindness. That world is absolutely going to change.
Here is the previously-mentioned challenging logo. It was only challenging because I needed such a specific rendering. This logo represents Zac. This patch was his (and Dom’s) unit patch.
Zac loved this patch (and the team mates associated with it) so much he tattooed it on one of his arms. The shield and lightning bolts were inspired by the Army Special Forces patch. I replaced the sword with the number nine (Special Operations Unit Nine).
Zac and Dom were best friends before Dom was “recruited” to be a part of a “special operations training unit.” This was all part of what happened long before Caught. Now, years later, Zac is called on a mission that will force him to choose between his loyalty to his country and a friendship that parted ways years ago.
Please respect the copyright I hold on these images. I’m happy to present them to you here, but I ask that you don’t copy or reproduce them without my expressed permission.
That said, what do you think? Do you have a favorite? I’m actually torn between Mariana’s and Dom’s. I haven’t really decided yet, but I love them both. Please take a moment to hop over to Ignacio’s Twitter page and give him a follow and maybe tweet him a message telling him what you think of his work.
Every now and then, one of the students at the Defense Information School where I teach will approach me to write a feature about my writing. I typically get the same sorts of questions, and one of the more common ones is about where I get the ideas for my stories.
I have to admit that this is a very hard question for me to answer. You see, I have ideas all the time. I’m more baffled when people tell me they have trouble coming up with ideas. That gave me the idea (see what I mean?) to do this blog you’re reading.
For me, ideas are very natural. Even when I was trying to think about what I was going to blog about today (I spent about five minutes thinking), I was more considering options than I was trying to think of just one.
Idea Generation Method 1: Let your life inspire you. This is probably my primary method. I have a very active imagination, so when I see something, I sometimes take it to a fantastic degree, and that leads me to a story idea. Bob Drifter came to me while watching my dad and his dog interact. There are some other childhood trauma things I won’t get too far into, but I’ll only touch on them by saying there were people who left my life, and I had trouble dealing with it, so I created this world where souls were passed on. This isn’t remotely Biblical, and I acknowledge that as a Christian. However, it was a lovely thought for a 17-year-old who wanted to feel more connected to the people around him. I really loved the idea that people can leave pieces of themselves to other people they’re close to, and, in a way, we do.
I’m struggling between going into where the ideas for all my books came as examples of this process and offering other methods. I’m actually articulating this so you see how my mind works as well. So the happy medium is to give you another example of letting life inspire you before moving on to other techniques.
Stealing Freedom came to mind when some riots were happening a few years back. The details are fuzzy in my memory, but what I remember is a person drove a car into a crowd. There was a lot of debate about protesting and how people respond. I worried that people would start to discuss “limiting” free speech for the “protection” of others. I had a mental picture of a little girl wearing a shock collar. Then I thought about one of my sisters being that girl’s mother. “She’d burn the world down before she let that happen,” I thought to myself. And there it was, the opening chapter to a new story.
The method (if I try to explain it) is to look at something happening in the world around you and then try to add fantastical elements to it. You can try it now. Look at one thing that happened to you today and then apply some strange or even just ridiculous element to it. Then start trying to come up with ways to rationalize that element. This will form a situation if not a full blown story.
This is easily my primary method for coming up with ideas, but there are others I’ve either heard others talk about or offered to others.
Idea Generation Method 2: Combine and Twist: What are your two favorite books? If you were going to write fan fiction and try to combine these worlds, how would you do it? If you can follow this line of thought, you’re halfway to coming up with an original story. All you need to do then is come up with your twist. Ask yourself what you can do to put a new spin on the two worlds or magic systems. Because almost all of my stories were used with the above technique, I can’t point out any one of my own stories. Neither can I name a Combine and Twist story I’ve seen off the top of my head. So we’ll have to come up with something together.
I love Dragonriders of Pern and Wheel of Time. What if owning a dragon gave you powers, but your will was always at odds with the will of your dragon? (I actually love this idea, but I promise I have enough books to write). Let’s go with this a bit further. Say we live in a world where dragons exist, and a select group of people could mentally connect with those dragons. However, if one took over a dragon contrary to one’s will, they’d have to constantly maintain control of the bond lest the dragon take over the human’s mind. That gives me an idea for a main character. What if my main character had the idea to find and bond a dragon who actually agreed with his line of thinking. How much more powerful would both become if they worked together rather than engage in a perpetual mental battle for access to the powers the dragons provide? If you like that idea, feel free to write it. Just give me a nod in your acknowledgments page (and maybe buy and recommend a guy’s books?).
Idea Generation Method 3: Fix A Broken Story: What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen or book you’ve read? Why was it bad? I’m actually currently reading the worst book I’ve ever read (I feel obligated to finish it). Now, I have that opinion of this book because I’m at a loss as to how I would even go about fixing it (it’s that bad). But, this is a great way to come up with ideas. I actually do have a personal example of this. You see, I don’t really like YA fiction. I think that there are some very overdone aspects of it that just make it predictable and unrealistic. When I had a life inspiration moment for Repressed (people were debating the right to let others legally immigrate), I knew that Kaitlyn (originally from Caught) would be perfect for that situation. However, Kaitlyn only fits two of the list of things YA characters have. She was (she’s 19 now as I’m writing the end of Oneiros) young, and she’s a compelling character. I didn’t like the stories of the young girl who meets a dangerous boy and falls in love trying to change him. That’s putting it mildly. I’m not at all against people meeting and falling in love. I’m not at all against young people of either gender wanting to find love. What I hate is what I see as the glorification of toxic relationships.
So that’s the part I changed. Instead of a girl meets bad boy plot, I had a young girl who was driven to a different goal. Can YA be about young people learning about themselves rather than falling in love with the worst possible person? The plot and writing of Repressed was easy after that.
So those are three things you might try if you’re struggling to come up with ideas, but I leave you with a different challenge. Is it possible you don’t actually struggle coming up with one idea? When I talk to students, the struggle they have is that they’re waiting for that “perfect” idea. I don’t have that problem at all. My recommendation more than how to find ideas is this: Once you find an idea, write that book. It doesn’t have to be the greatest book ever. It doesn’t even have to be that good an idea. What doing this does is train you to ideate and then create. This way, when you do have that one great idea, you’re already practiced at writing and developing it. Don’t get stuck. Don’t wind up never writing anything because you’re chasing after a better idea. It’s a fool’s errand. I sincerely hope each idea you have is better than your last one, but that doesn’t actually mean the first idea was bad. So have ideas and then write them. Practice that positive habit, and you’ll find a whole bunch of books you’ve written ready to evaluate when you’re done.