Tagreview

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!]

Review of Atlantis: TVC — Volume 1

Something unexpected has happened!

If you’ve been on the fence about picking up Volume 1 of my light novel series, Atlantis: The Visionary Continent, then maybe the review J.K. Penn wrote will be the push you need to grab a copy! Check out his write-up here.

He also reviews a few other light novels [Both traditionally and self-published] on his blog, and even has a light novel of his own. [Which you should check out as well!]

What a pleasant early Christmas present! rainbow

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.

 

 

 

 

Rolling With the Punches

Yesterday I was cleaning up the room we’ve been staying in in preparation for our move, when my daughter handed me a red plastic bowl. Inside of it was a dead spider, curled up and dried out. I cried out, “There’s a dead spider in here!” and she happily replied, “TA-DA!”

The day before I also posted an excerpt from a story I’ve been fiddling with [while I let volume #2 sit between edits] on a writing forum I frequent. It’s urban fantasy, and I’m not really a fan of it that I can tell, but the plot demanded nothing less than me going outside my comfort zone. I was having trouble with a supporting character and said as much, but I welcomed any critique people had to offer.

That morning, before my cleaning session, I hopped on to read the replies and received a huge shock–I had one review, and it tore the piece apart. This wouldn’t have been an issue, except that most of what it was tearing apart was based on incorrect information. My first instinct was to be insulted [which is pretty basic human nature] that the person couldn’t even take the time to read it without skimming. But, as I said, I frequent writing forums, and have been training to ‘take a punch’, so to speak.

I’ve been on both sides of critique before, and I know it can sting, so when I offer crit myself, I try to do due diligence; I carefully read the excerpt through once, then go back and read it again, taking notes the second time. If I don’t have time to sit and read the whole thing, I just don’t do it, because that isn’t fair to the author. Technical errors are one thing–they’re wrong because they break established grammar rules and it breaks concentration. Those jump out pretty quick, and are usually done because the person doesn’t know better. Go ahead and note those first. If you can tell me how to fix them–not just that something “seems wrong”–even better!

But then there is the content aspect of the story, and that becomes more difficult to critique; you have to ask yourself, “Can I give a truthful evaluation of this story, even if I do not like what it is about?” This means that if you normally read murder mysteries, can you read an epic fantasy story without telling the author they are doing it wrong because there aren’t enough serial killers for your taste? If you can’t be objective, you should stick to technical errors, preface it with, “I don’t read these types of stories normally, but…” or back away slowly. But sometimes when you put your work out there, you will get people who forge ahead anyway, because you asked for it.

And now we come to the content part. For starters, this person definitely skimmed because throughout the crit they kept demanding answers to questions that were already answered in the text that was posted. [Main character’s name, where the story started, etc. Strangely enough they started using the character’s name after they demanded to know it, which was odd in itself.] In the excerpt, the main character finds a book in her grandparent’s basement, and her grandmother tells her to take it with her when she goes to school . The person writing the critique demanded to know why she stole the book.

At this point, I really wanted to write off the whole crit because it was obvious that the person offering it did not read it all the way. I even asked my husband’s opinion, and he thought it was someone trolling me when I showed him. My husband hates my writing, and has no problem telling me when I am being too sensitive about anything, so clearly something was off.

I wanted to respond. Knee-jerk reaction: I wanted to point out all the things this person got wrong or missed. I wanted to be snarky, to be defensive, to point out how obnoxiously confusing it is when they tell me three sentences is too long to spend talking about the airport, but in the next statement tell me I should have described the chairs in the terminal more and made the character say/think something this character would not think or say. But the number one rule of being an author is that you don’t engage with negative reviews, and I felt that it could also apply in the case of weird, incorrect, semi-aggressive feedback. The only one who ends up looking bad in those kinds of situations is the authors. They look desperate, and defensive–even if they’re trying their hardest to not be.

In the end, I thanked the person for their feedback, and they thanked me for taking it so well. I didn’t expect them to respond–so that was a shock–but the part about me taking it well floored me. Part of me wondered if I was supposed to take it well at all. Most writers should take critique well, especially if they ask for it. Negative feedback regarding your story isn’t about you as a person, it’s about your writing. You can’t let your ego get in the way of improving your work.

Then they told me it was an interesting story, and to keep working on it. At that point the whole thing hit levels of absurdity I wasn’t prepared for.

After I packed/cleaned a bit and mulled it over, I took a shower and realized the spider story kind of applied to this. As writers, we put ourselves out there, delighted grins on our faces, dead spider in bowl. After seeing it that way I spun it around to the opposite view; the person offering the crit is just another person. When you put your work out into the world, be it art or prose, people will find it. Whether or not they like it is always a variable you can’t account for. What made this critique so weird, I finally realized, was that it was smothered in the personal opinions of the person writing it, and they wanted it to be a completely different story. Even critically-acclaimed authors get people who don’t find their work appealing. Did you hear about that guy who lambasted Terry Pratchett recently? Dear gods… I’m not even going to link it and drive traffic to the article, but it was cringe-tastic. It was so bad, it needed a portmanteau.

But even the harshest review can have seeds of truth in it, and this strange critique I received probably does too, once I figure out what is actually valid advice. So now when I return to it, I’m going to go over what I wrote and see if I can see what this person was seeing. In the meantime, I’m also waiting to see if anyone else gives feedback, so I can compare it to what this person said.

I’m still very confused by it as a whole though. So, so confused. [Like, why did they think she stole the book?!] But it does make me realize that I take my beta readers a for granted just a tiny bit. Thank you, guys, for always reading carefully and being concise with your feedback/suggestions. I appreciate it. I so do!

P.S: I’ll have Atlantis: TVC Volume #2 ready for your eyes after I move, I promise!