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Life, the Universe, and Babies

Oh man, so much has happened since I last posted! I’m not even sure where to begin. As I’m sure you’ve all probably figured out, I had my baby at the end of April. It was a boy! 7 pounds, 8 ounces of squishy baby goodness.

He’s seven weeks old now and starting to come out of his “potato” phase. But up until this point we were on a steep learning curve because it turns out the little guy is allergic to a protein in milk. So this means he was rashy, itchy, colicky, and due to all that didn’t sleep well. Of course, that meant we didn’t either. His first week or so of life he was a fairly content, easy baby. [I seem to have a trend of getting good sleepers that sleep six hours at a stretch right off the bat.] But soon he became this inconsolable mess that barely slept. Once we figured things out and got him on the right formula [Read: the most expensive one on the market!] he’s been a different baby. He sleeps through the night again! He is happy and content! He doesn’t scream like his existence is torture! The downside is that it took five weeks to diagnose and I was so sleep deprived that my body now thinks two hours is a fantastic amount of sleep to be getting. I need to retrain it to not think that because despite what it thinks, two hours is not nearly enough sleep to make rational decisions or be creative on.

As for me, the end of my pregnancy was miserable, but his birth was uneventful–quick, even! However, I ended up back in the hospital for three days–I got postpartum pre-eclampsia again. So this means we are done having babies because almost dying a second time was really not on my list of things to do. Ugh. Then within my first week of being discharged we all got sick.  I ended up with the flu [despite getting a flu shot!] and pneumonia. Somehow I was able to keep from passing it to the baby, who just had a cold. If you’ve never dealt with a sick newborn, count your blessings. It’s miserable.

Now that my health and the baby’s well-being have been sorted out I’m able to finally get back to working on volume 3 of Atlantis: TVC. [Which I stupidly thought I would have done before I delivered. Very naive of me…] My issue with not getting it done is that so much more is going on than I had originally thought: scenes that I thought would be a few pages at most are ending up being entire chapters; scenes that I was excited for and looking forward to writing turned into plotting nightmares… so the word count is going much higher than I had initially planned. In fact, I’ve had to restructure the original end of the book [by moving some scenes and plot elements to volume 4] to help control the length. I’m already over my 55,000 word minimum and I’m only two-thirds of the way done! Since returning to writing, I’ve completed two chapters. It may not seem like much, but you have no idea how stuck I was on a certain scene. A critical exchange needed to happen between two characters and I didn’t want to screw it up. I like it the way it is now, but that’s not to say it won’t change during edits. [So much stuff changes during edits…]

On a final note, if you follow me on social media, then you already know that while I was on hiatus someone did a video review of volume 1! I always get nervous when there is a review done of my work; however she had nothing but good things to say–so that was a relief! Writing is such a personal thing, and despite the fact that when people review your work they’re reviewing your work and not you as a person, you still feel like you’ve failed somewhere when someone doesn’t like what you’ve done.

I’m gonna pull a Hermione here though and state for the record that it’s pronounced “Ah-chi-nay”. But the reviewer had a wonderful accent, so all is forgiven. :p

P.S: I love hearing from readers! If you’ve done a review of one my books, or have made a piece of fanart or anything like that, please drop me a line and I will check it out. [I might even showcase it on this blog!]

The Masks We Wear Online

Yep, this again. Another post about social media.

I have three main social media pages I try to keep updated: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter–mostly in that order. I have found considerable positive traction on Instagram [of all places!] and I am gaining a little ground on Twitter now, which I honestly didn’t expect. It goes to show that if you throw yourself at something long enough, eventually something will stick. Though now all I have in my head after typing that is a mental image of me beating the hell out of Twitter like it’s an old console TV on its last legs.

I’ve considered a YouTube channel for a few months now, but that also involves the artistic side of my light novels so it gets backburnered easily. [And we all know what the comments section is like over there…]


Roughly, yes.

Social media has been my bugbear for a while now, but you already know this. I’m a private person by nature, and it’s been difficult for me to come out of my shell while lacking that magic confidence anonymity lends people. As Oscar Wilde said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”. Despite this being stated a century before the internet would even become a thing, it seems to be more true now than when it was originally coined. Human nature doesn’t change much, and with the exception of a few outliers, we all want to be liked and accepted. It gives people a sense of value to feel like others appreciate them and their ideas.

Creators put the intimate workings of their mind on display for people to pick apart and dissect–whether it be music, writing, or artwork. Social media makes two things easy: putting your ideas in front of millions of people the world over all at once, and allowing them to judge it–and you–from behind the safety of their own mask.


Sometimes multiple masks at once…

I don’t like taking off my mask. It’s not that I am secretly a cruel or unpleasant person, [Though I feel that I am much more amicable online than off…] but that I feel my discomfort and worry bleed through my words. I’m scared. I hesitate. I re-word, erase, and refine: “Will they like this? What if someone thinks it’s awful–what if it goes viral for being terrible?” [Like that last one? I always jump to worst case scenarios.]

But to be a writer–nay, an author–you have to have a thick skin! That means you can’t be afraid to take off your mask. You can’t be afraid to put yourself and your work out there! You need to handle criticism and praise with equal parts grace and aplomb. If you even hint at uncertainty, your peers will repeat this as if it is a magic incantation that will remove your doubt. I even find me telling myself this sometimes, which is awkward.

So what is a writer to do when they need to be honest and real on social media in order to connect with others in an authentic way, but find themselves full of anxiety and fear? They either stop writing, or do the exact opposite of what they are instructed to do: they create a new mask.

But… the goal was to not have a mask, right? Well, we see what happens when famous people use social media without their masks on–it doesn’t work. They alienate people, and quickly; a few of them even lose fans, and access to their own accounts for it. So you end up creating this half-mask, like the Phantom of the Opera, where you are both open and honest, but also guarded. Telling people how they should feel is stealing their agency–if something someone says about you or your work bothers you, you have every right to be upset about it! But the way you wear your own mask when others are watching says more about you than any thinly-veiled rant or tear-stained tweet ever could.

Ultimately, the magic author incantation is a lie. You cannot follow it as written. There is no way you can completely turn off your ability to care what others think about you, even if you try to convince yourself otherwise. We’re only human, and fall easily back into old habits… we trade one mask for another. It’s not a bad thing; this way we can fulfill the spirit of the incantation while being honest to both ourselves and our followers.

I believed in it for too long. I tried to bend my own feelings to fit it, trusting that it was right despite it feeling all wrong. I should know by now to listen to my gut, even when it contradicts what seems like solid advice. I took an impromptu trip to visit family recently, and had a lot of time to think about my online presence while not having much of an outlet through which to curate it. I didn’t pack my laptop, so I had what I could reach with my phone. [It was mostly Instagram, and it was largely pictures of the forest around my parent’s place in Missouri. It was… quaint… and you didn’t miss too much. Just some lousy photography of trees, flowers and my poor, misplaced-but-well-taken-care-of cats.]

I worried about leaving it quiet for so long, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. Now that I’m back and updating, having had this revelation about masks, I am seeing a better response to my posts and tweets. It’s kind of magical in its own sense, but I know that it’s because I learned from my past experience, and was willing to go against what I was initially told to do.

The lesson in this is: Don’t be afraid to be yourself online, but don’t forget to protect yourself either. Remember that we’re all wearing masks out here–even when at first glance it may appear that some of us aren’t wearing one at all.

Advertising: Facebook Versus Google

I recently ran an ad campaign, because over the holidays my sales slumped. Why were my sales slumping? Well, initial excitement over my second book had tapered off, and people were all wrapped up in holiday stuff. It’s fairly common. If I was smart, I would have set up a sale and ad campaign to run right after Christmas, to catch the eye of all those people getting e-readers for presents! But alas, I was caught up in holiday stuff as well, and didn’t take the opportunity. So I promised myself I would run a campaign for the next holiday, which was Valentine’s Day.

E-readers make excellent gifts! E-books… not so much.

This was dubbed the Valentine’s Heartwarming Sale*, and it recently ran over the weekend of Valentine’s Day, which was very convenient. I ran the promotion for three days in all, and I decided to try out a new ad delivery service, Google Adwords. I’ve run ads on Facebook before, but I’ve avoided Google in the past because I feel like with light novels the covers really help with letting the reader know what they’re purchasing. Google ads are… just words, like it says on the tin. But because there was also a promotion, I figured the sale aspect would generate a few clicks on its own. So I ran one ad on Facebook, and another on Google, just to see how they stacked up.

I have to say, I was totally blown away by the results! Here are my experiences with both sets of ads.

*=Because I like cheeziness, and I found this really cute stock photo of a heart-shaped mug of cocoa in snow that I really liked. Seriously.

Facebook

I have run an ad campaign on Facebook before, so this was nothing new to me. Or so I thought. My ad ran overnight, but then was pulled for having “Too much text on it”. Turns out, the text on the images of my book covers on the ad counted towards their 20% limit.

So I stripped all the text off–except for the name of the sale–and resubmitted it. What irked me the most is that I lost out on four to six hours of ad time on the first morning because Facebook never notified me that the ad was pulled. If I had never checked my stats to see how it did overnight, I would have never noticed it wasn’t running!

Ten points from Facebook!

Their interface is intuitive, though there were a few bugs with the targeting and demographics areas that I managed to work around. Other than the approval mess, it was a smooth process.

Pros:

  • Ads connect to your series page, author page, or directly to your website
  • Can use an image
  • Ads can also appear on Instagram
  • Can set a detailed target audience
  • Can set daily price limits or total campaign limits
  • Can set custom time period
  • Can choose to pay per click, per impression, or per unique view
  • You can choose where your ad shows up [mobile devices, the side bar, apps, etc.]
  • Easy to read reports

Cons:

  • Does not notify you if your ad is not approved/removed
  • Will run your ad despite it being in review status, and make you pay for clicks/views in that time period even if they do not approve it
  • Buggy Interface [Image upload and audience targeting, specifically.]
  • Ads appear to be served in a set rotation with other ads which keeps the impressions low
  • Cannot have different ads to cycle through in the same campaign
  • Help center/FAQ is difficult to navigate and did not answer many of the questions I had

 

Google Adwords

I’ll admit, their stark interface had me worried, but it really is a full-featured program. There are many options, one of which is the ability to pause a campaign, which I really liked. I was also impressed that there was phone support available–even if I didn’t need it. [Compared to Facebook’s help center, which was… bad.] And when I poked around the advanced reports, a step-by-step tutorial walked me through building a custom report. [Which gave me a ton of data. Seriously, loads!]

Maybe… too much data.

It holds your hand quite a bit, which was comforting to a newbie like me. The hardest part was staying within their character limits! People who do that Twitter thing will feel right at home; for me it took an hour to figure out how to say what I needed to with so few words. Now that the ad has been running for over 7 days, the tools that help fine tune your ads are offering suggestions, and everything they recommend is working. Today–with no sale running–I received 25% more clicks than I did during the peak day of my sale! I went in with no expectations since I’m technically a little fish to Google–but I came away pleasantly surprised.

Note: Today I noticed they had options for image ads and YouTube video ads available now, which is pretty cool! I don’t know if I unlocked those somehow, or if they were available from the beginning. I may experiment with an image ad and see how it performs versus the text-only ad.

Pros:

  • Ads can connect to any web address
  • Can set daily price limits
  • Can set custom time period
  • You only pay for click through, not for views
  • You can define a custom bid per click setting
  • Ads can show up on any partner network–YouTube, Gmail, Blogger, etc.
  • Can create multiple ads within a set that will cycle randomly, or only appear for certain keywords
  • Can set ads to only run during certain times
  • Has instant tools to help you optimize and tweak your campaign to get the most value
  • Has step-by-step tutorials for any non-intuitive feature
  • Many ad blockers have them whitelisted because they are unobtrusive
  • Give coupon code for $100 worth of free ads for new accounts that spend at least $25 in their first month
  • Free Monday – Friday, 9 AM to 8 PM EST phone support
  • Tons of data available through advanced reports
  • Image and video ads available

Cons:

  • Text ads are limited to a title, and only 2 lines of 36 characters each
  • Relies on search keywords to define audience
  • Ads can fail to be served if they have a low relevancy rating on any of your keywords
  • Ads can fail to be served if your bid per click is lower than competing ads
  • Initial reports are straightforward, but detailed reports need to be manually compiled
  • The position of your ad is based off relevancy rating and the amount of your bid per click settings
  • Ads are unobtrusive, and are sometimes ignored

Results: Facebook

Total Impressions: ~7,500

Click Throughs: ~20

Total Cost: $15.72

0.26% Effectiveness

Best Day: Saturday

Best Hours: 12 PM – 6 PM

Peak Hour: 2 PM

Results: Google Adwords

Total Impressions: ~12,500

Click Throughs: ~40

Total Cost: $1.23

0.32% Effectiveness

Best Day: Saturday

Best Hours: 6 PM – 10 PM

Peak Hour: 10 PM

Final Thoughts:

Overall my sales tripled from the combined ad campaign! For a self-published author writing in a niche medium, that is amazing for less than twenty dollars total!

Though sales have dropped with the end of the promotion, they haven’t leveled off. Why not? Because the Google ad was so cheap, I decided to keep running it! It seems to be pulling me an extra couple of sales/lends per day, and it’s only costing me pennies a day to maintain, so why would I not? I know a 0.32% rate looks dismal, but I’d happily pay $2 for it as opposed to $16 for 0.06% less. That’s just smart shopping. As far as Facebook goes, I’ll stick to boosting posts for $5 if the mood strikes me, or when volume #3 releases.

Maybe someday I’ll get brave and try Twitter ads, but I really don’t care for Twitter. Plus whenever I clicked “Get Started” to explore pricing it just took me back to the analytics page in a constant loop. Not particularly inspiring.

Later, I found an independent site that listed Twitter’s rates as $0.50 – $2.00 per ad click. No thanks, Twitter.

No. Thanks.

 

 

 

 

The World of Social Media

I know I touched on this topic a bit back in this entry, but I want to revisit it again now that I’ve had the better part of a year to explore different platforms.

Right before Christmas the fan on my heatsink died, and I couldn’t find a replacement for it. I had to special order a new heatsink, a new fan, and wait two weeks for them to be delivered. Since the screen on my laptop is broken, and my desktop was dead–I was officially computer-less.

So I turned to the last option I had left–my phone. Just the two of us, out there in no computer-land.

Now, browsing the internet on a phone is an okay thing, provided it’s done in small amounts. If you want to write on it, you’re out of luck. Trust me, I tried. I tried several times, but it just didn’t work. And drawing? Well, typically I’d say forget it, but I have a Galaxy Note, and drawing is totally feasible on one… but I wasn’t inspired to draw at all for those two weeks. So, in a fit of… I dunno… curiosity, boredom–maybe both–I decided to set up an Instagram account.

[I’m poking fun at myself, because my first post was of cheese. I like cheese.]

I originally stayed far away from Instagram because of the failure that was my Twitter [More on that in a bit] and because it’s a visual medium. I didn’t think it was a good fit–until the computer died. Then I thought, “Hey, light novels have pictures. I have a lot of images of my characters, actually. Maybe this could work…”

Within fourteen days of starting my account, I have tripled my monthly sales, and all I did was post some pictures–sketches, some previously unseen completed artwork, some pics of stuff from my day-to-day life–a random smattering of things. I don’t even have that many followers. I really regret not utilizing it sooner. Something I was neglecting to take into account is that people are highly visual these days, and they are often browsing social media quickly between tasks. You only have a small window to capture their attention–and as the saying goes, pictures are worth a thousand words.

PICTURES!

Authors–self and traditionally published ones alike–have to do their own promotion nowadays. For new or aspiring writers, this can be a tough task! It is difficult to sell yourself and your work, but having the right platform to do it through can make all the difference. This is what I have gathered from my personal experience with Social Media:

-Facebook-

Age of Account: 1 year+

Pros:

  • Large, diverse audience
  • Your page can be “suggested” based on other things people have liked [it’s like a free targeted ad]
  • Ads are cheap
  • You can schedule status updates

Cons:

  • Sometimes smaller pages and posts get lost if you don’t tune your page settings
  • Audience tends to be older
  • After a certain amount of free “reach”, you have to pay to stay in people’s newsfeeds
  • When posting links, preview pics seem to be pulled at random

-Twitter-

Age of Account: 1 year+

Pros:

  • Large, diverse audience
  • Able to post images

Cons:

  • Difficult to gain followers
  • Unless you post often you are lost in the crowd
  • Hashtags eat into your character limit
  • If your posts don’t fall under “trending” tags, then they are rarely seen
  • Pictures use up a portion of your character limit
  • Cannot schedule tweets unless you pay
  • Character limit

-Tumblr-

Age of Account: 7 months

Pros:

  • Highly visual
  • Younger audience
  • Able to categorize posts with hashtags

Cons:

  • User base has infamous reputation
  • Hashtags are abused
  • People heart and reblog, but don’t really interact with or comment on your stuff
  • Difficult to build a following

-Instagram-

Age of Account: 2 Weeks

Pros:

  • Extremely visual
  • Easy to use app
  • Hashtags actually bring people to your work
  • Ads work just like on Facebook [same parent company]
  • Small image size [keeps image theft down]

Cons:

  • Only able to update through a phone
  • Random tags from spammers
  • So. Much. Random. Porn.
  • Small image size [Hard to show large-scale artwork]

In conclusion, if I was forced to choose only two social media accounts, then I would pick Facebook, followed by Instagram. The others have [sadly] been useless in driving people to my work, or even encouraging people to engage with me. Those two outlets, combined with this blog and the natural mysterious powers of Amazon, have been the driving force behind my sales. For standard authors, I don’t think Instagram would be as useful, but because light novels are visual it works to my advantage. But this is just my opinion/experience. I know of many authors that have gained traction and sales on Twitter, but had poor luck on Facebook. Your mileage may vary.

PS: Follow me on Instagram!

Bugbears and Naked Cannonballs

Social media is a bit of a bugbear for me.

While I get [and enjoy] Facebook, and like keeping a blog, I find something simple like Twitter just baffles me. I mean, I understand the base concept–say something meaningful in a limited amount of words. Abridgment. I totally get that.

I don’t understand how it applies to engaging with my audience. I have a twitter account. I follow people. I post on it.

Nothing happens. Silence. Crickets.

Maybe I’m too old for Twitter. *laughs*

But in all seriousness, when I launched my page on Facebook I got a few likes and follows right off the bat. So far I’ve been on Twitter a few weeks and… nada. It makes me question why it’s one of the major things guides mention when they talk about how you need to self-promote. It’s usually #1 or #2 on most lists! Part of me wonders if it’s worth it, but I’m going to give it a while longer and see if it’s just a late bloomer. [I’m still really confused at how stagnant it is, and I’m still confident that I’m doing it all wrong, but just letting it wander about unchecked feels like the right thing to do here.]

How often am I allowed to use this?

I’m actually fairly introverted, and find it hard to be social, so “social media” is a bit of a hurdle for me anyway. My default is to be sitting on the sofa with a cup of something [soda, coffee, whatever.] and a book, TV show, or video game, and a cat or two, not having to worry about whether or not the person I am speaking to is fascinated by what I am saying–or if they’re staring intently because I have something on my face. [During the conversation, I’ll think I nailed it; after I’ll always assume there was something on my face.]

It feels a lot like this, actually…

I used to help run a few social media accounts for a website I worked for, and strangely, I didn’t feel as uncomfortable then as I do now when I post something to Twitter. Of course, that site had a built in audience, and I was anonymous, so that probably helped.

Now I’m being… me; all strange and boring, putting my weirdness and uncertainty out on the internet for everyone and their future children to see. At first I wasn’t sure why I was detailing this as a blog entry. I don’t want to feel like I’m whining about things, or feeling ungrateful for the following I do have. In the end I realized that there are probably others starting out, scared to dip their toe in, [Dipping toes is so not the case here. I feel like I stripped naked and did a cannonball right into the deep end.] but the point is this:

I am scared.

I am scared, but I know that I am not alone–and you, the author fresh on their feet–I want you to know you are not alone either. For better or for worse, we are putting ourselves out here, and even if we fail, it’s better than not trying at all.