First order of business: Happy New Year! I wish you all health, happiness and success in 2021. May it be one whole heck of a lot better than 2020!
A bit of an update on A Time and a Place before I get on with this exciting and hopefully infinitely better new year.
I woke up to see that Barnes & Noble finally has the softcover version of A Time and a Place on sale. It’s deliberately as inexpensive as my esteemed publisher Donovan Street Press can sell if for: $12.99 US.
I’m quite pleased to have this version out and at such a reasonable price point. The text is slightly updated. It is as typo free as possible (I really hate typos!) and I also updated a paragraph in chapter three to clarify a little plot point. (This is the kind of devotion to perfection that normally you would only find in somebody like George Lucas. Still, rest assured that everybody who shot first in the original edition still shoots first in this second edition.)
A Time and a Place is now available in the following formats: e-book, softcover, hardcover, and audiobook (on both Audible and via Findaway Voices). It’s also available via many different online retailers as Donovan Street Press is reluctant to deal with Amazon exclusively. You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, Scribd, Tolino, 24 Symbols, Vivlio, Baker & Taylor, Google Play, Smashwords, and many more throughout the world, including several bookstores (it can always be ordered via a bookstore even if they’re not stocking it on their shelves).
This coming year I will focus on finishing the follow-up to A Time and a Place (tentatively titled Captain’s Away), which takes place in the same universe as A Time and a Place, a thousand years later with at least one of the same characters (and the descendants of others). I will also do my best to finish a memoir I’m working on.
In the meantime, best of luck to all of you and all the terrific projects you might have in your own pipelines.
This past month I was fortunate to have sold plenty of copies of A Time and a Place. About 1400 copies, all told. And copies of Other Times and Places, too. People have been reading my work, and forming opinions about it. This is great, and I’m pretty happy about it. It has resulted in reviews and ratings on several platforms, primarily Amazon, Kobo, and Goodreads. And not just Amazon Canada, but in the US, Australia, and Great Britain as well, and some of the ratings from those locations have shown up on Amazon India too.
Although I wish I was impervious to reviews and ratings, I’m not. Maybe one day I will be (I kind of doubt it). Whenever I notice a new review or rating has been added, I get butterflies. My curiosity gets the better of me, and I scroll down to see how one tiny portion of the universe has reacted to my work. Sometimes the response is positive; sometimes less so. You have to take it all with a grain of salt. You have to develop a thick skin. But that can be easier said than done.
The work I’ve publicly released into the world, that I consider worthy of an ISBN, that I dare to charge money for, is the best I was capable of producing at the time I created it. I gave it all a great deal of thought and in most cases injected massive amounts of time and effort into it. If someone indicates that they’ve liked it, I’m gratified and feel a tiny bit vindicated. If someone indicates that they really dislike or hate it, I get a bit deflated, at least temporarily. If someone reveals that they’re ambivalent to my work, or they kind of like it but consider it flawed in some way, I’m disappointed but okay with it.
I’ve received a couple of one star ratings on Goodreads. They haven’t been accompanied by reviews, so I consider them meaningless. I’ve heard Goodreads described as “crazy town” by other writers, so some of what shows up there you just have to ignore.
Now that I know how much work goes into writing and publishing a book, I’m a bit bemused by the whole concept of ratings and reviews. Sometimes I think you shouldn’t be allowed to simply rate someone else’s work without an accompanying review. You should have to defend your rating. Shouldn’t you?
A writer spends (in some cases) years of their life working on their opus only to have someone read it in a matter of days (perhaps not even closely) and then dash off a rating in few seconds (or a flippant review in minutes). It doesn’t seem quite fair. Fortunately, this doesn’t bother me too much. I have long since abandoned the idea that life is fair (it’s a recurring theme in my work, after all).
For ratings and reviews to be fair they would have to be produced with integrity. Ideally the reader would read the work reasonably closely and reflect upon it before producing an opinion that they then back up with a cogent, considered argument. Although I much prefer to receive four and five star reviews, I don’t mind receiving a three star review if it’s accompanied by a solid rationale explaining why my book only merited three stars. I might even agree with it.
Myself, I can’t rate any book less than four stars anymore (although I have done so in the past). I just can’t bring myself to do it because I relate too strongly to the authors of those books. I know they’ve worked hard on their book, and they’re trying to sell it, and anything less than four stars isn’t going to help sell the book. I hasten to add (for those of you who have given my work three stars) that this is just me. I’m not complaining about your rating or asking you to change it (something I would never do). Different ratings mean different things to different people. Megan Lindholm (writing as Robin Hobb) posted the following on her Goodreads account:
“I am shocked to find that some people think a 2 star ‘I liked it’ rating is a bad rating. What? I liked it. I LIKED it! That means I read the whole thing, to the last page, in spite of my life raining comets on me. It’s a good book that survives the reading process with me. If a book is so-so, it ends up under the bed somewhere, or maybe under a stinky judo bag in the back of the van. So a 2 star from me means yes, I liked the book, and I’d loan it to a friend and it went everywhere in my jacket pocket or purse until I finished it.”
So that’s what a two star rating means to her. It’s not what it means to me! Myself, I’m appalled that she would even consider rating the work of a fellow writer two stars. Three stars I could see: the existence of three star ratings accompanied by a well-reasoned review helps lend integrity to the rest of the reviews. But two stars? That’s just insulting. And I say that as a fan of Megan Lindholm’s work. The Wizard of the Pigeons is one of my favourite books. I rated it four stars (instead of five) because of the ham-fisted execution of the final three pages, which, in my opinion, almost completely undermines the quality of what comes before. Perhaps I should revise my rating to two stars.
I know that ratings and reviews are ultimately meaningless. All that really matters is that we do the best we can when we produce our work. We mustn’t derive our self-esteem from external sources. True value (and self-worth) comes from within.
As promised, a brutally honest account of my BookBub Featured Deal.
It was quite the ride. I’m still not sure quite what to make of it.
Brief recap: A few weeks ago I applied for a BookBub Featured Deal for my novel A Time and a Place. This is a newsletter that goes out once a day to (in the case of science fiction) about 1.7 million people in India, Australia, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. Statistically they figure that if you discount your book to, say, 99 cents for a few days around that time about 1900 of those 1.7 million people will buy your book (there are different packages involving different price points, including giving your book away for free). I gather BookBub gets about 200 submissions a day of authors trying to get their books into this newsletter, of which BookBub chooses one book. The books they choose are carefully curated; they only pick books they think will appeal to their audience.
So anyway, I applied for the science fiction package involving discounting my book to the painful price point of 99 cents, of which I would only receive 29 cents of each sale after Amazon and Draft2Digital take their cut (from Amazon, at least… BookBub would also direct potential readers to Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple. They would have included Google Play but I didn’t have that set up yet; one of several mistakes I made during this promotion). The BookBub package itself cost $754 US. To my surprise, they accepted my book.
I was immediately suspicious.
At the time I had only the vaguest notion of what BookBub was all about. I quickly researched to determine whether this was a scam (um, if you can call a search on Google research). Cuz ideally the money flows to the writer, not the other way around. I quickly determined that, no, it wasn’t a scam. In fact, it’s considered one of (if not the) best ways to promote your book in the world of indie fiction. Many indie authors have taken advantage of it multiple times.
So I accepted their offer and the BookBub Featured Deal promotion was scheduled for Sept 13th, this past Sunday. My research suggested that a good way to optimize the promotion was to “stack” multiple promotions with other, more modest newsletters in the days leading up to and following the BookBub promotion. So I purchased additional promotions with Manybooks (Sept 11th, including an Author of the Day feature), Read Freely (Sept 12th), eBookSoda (also Sept 12th), The Fussy Librarian (Sept 23rd, the closest date they had available), and Reading Deals (a free service; never did figure what day, if ever, this ran). All of this cost $225.96 Canadian, on top of the $992.69 Canadian that the BookBub Featured deal cost, for a whopping total of $1218.65.
Hey, you only live once, and I wanted to give this a serious try.
So how did it work out?
It’s not quite done yet, as The Fussy Librarian promotion has yet to run, and the book is still featured on some of the newsletters’ websites, including BookBub. But this is where we’re at as of Thursday Sept 17th, four days after the BookBub newsletter went out.
I don’t get my sales results in real time because I’m mostly with Draft2Digital which only produces results the day after. Monday morning, the day after the Featured Deal ran, I woke up around 7am and saw that I’d sold about 300 books.
I was kinda bummed.
I checked again around 11am and that figure had jumped to 899.
I was less bummed.
Still, I had a ways to go to make up the cost of all that promotion. Over the next few days I watched as A Time and a Place clawed its way to number one on several platforms, garnering the coveted #1 bestseller tag on both the Canadian and Australian Amazon platforms in its category.
I sold roughly 1200 copies within a span of 24 hours. I thought, wow, if this keeps up I should easily make my money back by the end of the week. BookBub is apparently well known for its “tail,” where books keep selling long after the promotion. Unfortunately, sales dipped precipitously the following day, and now sit at 1287 for Amazon, Kobo, B&N, and Apple. I’ve also sold one copy to Overdrive, four audiobook copies, and 4 copies of my collection of short stories, Other Times and Places. I do have books on other platforms, but they’re new there and I don’t anticipate any appreciable sales from those.
1019 of those sales were with Amazon.
92 were with Apple.
90 were with Barnes and Noble.
88 were with Kobo.
4 were with Audible.
And 1 was with Overdrive.
So far I have made $457.04 in Royalties, which puts me at a deficit of $761.61. So yeah, I’m probably not going to make my money back for some time.
Now, I know that some of this is my fault because I’m new at this and did a few things wrong. Really, the promotion was way premature because I only have one other book out, a collection of short stories. To make this work, I should have had at least two other books out in the same series, so that the promotion drove readers to those books at a higher price point. Also, I lost money because I had the book through Draft2Digital as opposed to direct with Amazon. And I should have had Google Play properly set up and ready to go. And I probably should have skipped those other newsletters (except the free one). Hey, I’m still learning.
Still, I don’t regret it (I’m good at rationalizing). It has put A Time and a Place in the hands of 1288 additional readers (and maybe one additional library). And I’ve learned a few things.
Most importantly, that I need to write more books.
Yesterday I started a week long 99 cent promotion for the ebook version of my novel A Time and a Place with marketing courtesy of Manybooks. I was the Manybooks Featured Author and you can see advertisements for the novel up their site now. They also promoted A Time and a Place on their Facebook and Twitter feeds.
The Manybooks team has been great to work with and have delivered exactly what they said they would. There was one little glitch when their promo indicated that my promotion price might be wrong, and that potential buyers should double check, but that may have been my fault; it’s possible I indicated the wrong start date for the promotion when filling out the paperwork. I emailed the Manybooks team right away and they corrected the problem within minutes. So, some nice professionalism all round.
But the big question of course is what impact is this having? The fact is making a single book stand out is a herculean task. It’s not like promoting a movie, where you’re only up again other new releases which that year might number in the hundreds. With a book, you’re up against two hundred thousand. Millions, if you want to talk about all the potential books a reader might be interested in reading, cuz they’re not necessarily only interested in new books.
For the sake of other authors interested in marketing who might be following along, I want to be brutally honest as I track my progress. Casual readers interested in books might also want to know.
A caveat. This is just the beginning of the campaign. And I readily admit that I only barely know what I’m doing (unlike, say, fellow Canadian author Mark Leslie Lefebvre, who’s so good at marketing that, look, here I am helping him by name checking for no reason other than his name just popped into my head. Though isn’t that what we should all be doing? Helping to promote one another?) . Figuring out how to market a book properly is like trying to drink a lake. A tasty lake, with delicious fish in it, but it’s going to take a while to get through that lake.
So how are we doing on Day Two? Manybooks has 1870 followers on their Twitter feed (I have 2071). Their tweet featuring me was liked four times and retweeted four times. I’m one of the retweets, and my retweet was liked once and retweeted once. Highly unlikely that the Manybooks tweet generated any sales.
The Manybooks Facebook post generated zero comments and zero shares. I posted a link to it on my personal Facebook page, my author Facebook page, and the SF Canada Facebook page, of which I’m a member. A handful of friends and family shared the post (thank you! I feel the love) on my personal pages. The SF Canada post reached 38 people and generated zero engagement.
I have no way of knowing the traffic on the Manybooks pages that now feature my book. I can track sales. As of this writing, this effort so far has generated three ebooks sales and one audiobook sale. I can also track some rankings. Right now, A Time and a Place is ranked #328 in Time Travel Science Fiction on Amazon.ca, which is no different than yesterday. It’s ranked 10180 on Kobo in Science Fiction & Fantasy, which is also no different than yesterday.
Here’s the painful part. The Manybooks newsletter promotion cost $39.33. The Manybooks Author of the Day promotion cost $66.45, for a total of $105.78. The revenue generated by the campaign so far (with a promotional price point of 99 cents I get 35 cents for each sale on Amazon) is not enough to even reach the threshold required for Draft2Digital to pay me, though Audible might sent me the 40 percent they owe me for that one sale.
But no matter. This is only the beginning. Today I have promotions with Read Freely and eBooksoda. (Why do I feel like I’m promoting them just as much as they’re promoting me? And for free…) All of this is part of a strategy called Promo Stacking, the idea being to generate buzz in and around the big promotion that happens tomorrow, when A Time and a Place will be a BookBub Featured Deal, theoretically reaching millions of potential readers, as opposed to the smaller newsletters, who reach tens of thousands.
I also want to make it clear that this is not about convincing (or guilting) more of my friends and family to buy copies of this book. Anyone the least bit interested has already done that, contributing to the 500 sales of A Time and a Place that have already happened. This is about seeing if it’s possible to take it to the next level. A little anecdote: shortly after the novel was published, a guy at work asked me what was next. At that time I told him that it was about taking it to the next level. Aware of how challenging publishing can be, he said, “What’s that? Taking sales from dozens to hundreds?” I said, “No, from hundreds to thousands. ”
Even then I had few illusions about how difficult that would be.
A consequence of my publisher, Five Rivers Publishing, shutting down operations this year was that the novel I had published with them, A Time and a Place (which I will henceforth refer to as ATAAP in this post), was delisted from most book sellers. It therefore became imperative that I get it back out there lest it become well and truly out of print.
My experience with Five Rivers has been a uniformly positive one all the way through and this proved true at the end as well. I say Five Rivers but really I mean Lorina Stephens, the soul, essence, and driving force of Five Rivers. Lorina ensured that the transition of rights was as painless as possible, transforming all the rights for ATAAP back to me (and the rest of her authors) without any fuss or bother. The situation with Audible proved a little problematic for some of Lorina’s other authors as Audible was a bit of a stickler with third party producers involved, but it turned out to be easier for me as I was the sole performer and producer on the audiobook version of ATAAP. Three or four emails with Audible and we got that all sorted out.
Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Indigo and so on was a little more time consuming. I decided to release what turned out to be a second edition of ATAAP under my own publishing house, Donovan Street Press. I took the opportunity to scour the manuscript and eliminate about eight typos that had driven me crazy since the original publication. Even though I had gone over the manuscript umpteen times after we finished editing it back in 2017, I’d still managed to miss those eight. It is unbelievably difficult to catch every typo in a novel. Your eye scans right past them. Every time I read a book from one of the major publishers I delight in spotting typos as they make me feel better about mine. Typose exist in just about every book you will ever read (and if they don’t, I don’t want to hear about it).
Typos in the original version of ATAAP included (in no particular order):
P 186 the only way could think of (missing the “I”)
P180 passenger street (should be passenger seat)
P363 excess spaces in sentence
P291 made a mess of it (should be make a mess of it)
P289 eying (should be eyeing)
Diane Savident (should be Diana Savident) (this was rather embarrassing for me as Diana was a family friend)
P28: should be “the two of them vanished…” (Not the two of them had vanished)
P181 print version: should be Nissan Rogue (not Nissan Rouge) (invariably over the last three years I’d be out running errands and I’d find myself behind a Nissan Rogue, and I’d think of that typo. I’d grit my teeth and think, “I’m following a typo.”)
P375 “You’re here, where ever here is, allowing people to use you (to) wipe out entire civilizations” (missing “to”)
Rereading the manuscript, I was also horrified to discover a story glitch, a missing bit of narrative hand-holding regarding the nature of Sebastian. Probably not a big deal to the average reader, as Sebastian’s nature eventually becomes crystal clear, but it really needed to be made explicit early on. So this was an opportunity to correct that with the addition of a bit of extra dialogue in Chapter Five.
Finally, one reader had pointed out in private correspondence that I had exhibited a particular fondness for the word particularly. You will find far fewer instances of this word in the Second Edition of A Time and a Place (and in any future novels I write).
Despite the over abundance of the word particularly, ATAAP has managed to receive some pretty good reviews since its original publication in 2017. Releasing a second edition was an opportunity to include some of those reviews off the top of the book. I’m grateful to the following authors for their kind words in support of the book: Andrew Weston (author of the internationally bestselling IX series), A.B. Funkhauser (author of Shell Game: A Black Cat Novel), Brian Wyvill (author of The Second Gate), and comedian, actor and writer Matt Watts (Newsroom, Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays).
All these updates required getting a new ISBN and hiring Eric Desmarais to produce a new layout (Eric had done an excellent job on the original layout). I’ve also contracted an updated cover from original cover artist Jeff Minkevics which I hope to make a part of ATAAP‘s Second Edition sometime in the next month or so.
Because it was important to get ATAAP back out there, I’ve already released the ebook and Kindle version on the sly through Draft2Digital. You will find it at every major online book retailer. Physical copies are still available but they will be second hand. I’m waiting to publish the second edition of A Time and a Place in physical form once I have the new cover in hand which, as I mentioned, will hopefully be in the next month or so.
I should also point out that the version of ATAAP up on Audible is the original version. Maybe I’ll update that version too one day, but to be honest I’m not in a rush to do so. Too many other important things to do, like finish my second novel, Captain’s Away. More on that later.
So, long story short, there’s a new, updated version of A Time and a Place out there, folks. Feel free to check it out.