Tagself-publishing

New Writing Guide — So, You Want to Write Your Own Light Novel?

My post “In Defense of the Original English-Language Light Novel” has been getting a lot of attention, and as a result I’ve had a bunch of aspiring OELN authors coming out of the woodwork to ask me questions. This is fantastic–obviously–but often I just don’t have the time to sit down with them like I want to. So instead of trying to cram a bunch of information into a private message, I had some time this weekend and decided to make a guide to writing and publishing an Original English-Language Light Novel that I can point them at.

 

 

What I’ve discovered during these exchanges is that I’m often not the first OELN author they’ve contacted, but I’m sadly one of the few that have responded. I know from my own experience starting out that there are a few authors out there who can come off as aloof, but others just seem to want to keep the pool of OELN small, even actively discouraging interested writers. What I’ve learned from experience [and practice] is that the larger the pool gets, the more interest it garners—and interest is good! Established authors should mentor fledglings, give them tips, and help guide them toward success. Excluding people gets us nowhere as a community. I have made some amazing OELN author friends in the past year and found wonderful stories in the process. There is no downside to this unless you let ego get in the way.

 

 

So this is my contribution to expanding the number of original English-language light novels out there. You can find the guide under the new [aptly-labeled] “Guides” section of the site menu. If you’ve ever considered writing something of your own, [OELN or otherwise] take a look! It can seem a little daunting at first but with good information, hard work, and a lot of passion–you too can write and publish your own OELN!

 

Believe in the me that believes in you!

The Heart of Your Story

When I was in high school, I took a semester of Theater as an elective. I forget why I did it originally–I suspect I may have been strong-armed into it by an acquaintance–but I’ve never regretted it.

To my surprise, I did well enough that I ended up in two plays. I still have no idea how that happened.

All my English classes taught the bare minimum: spelling, basic mechanics, and the rules of the language. Only one teacher ever went into anything beyond that, and they went the way of personal interpretation. All of them ignored structure–which would have been helpful, since I remember more than a handful of occasions where we were required to write an original short story as an assignment. Instead, I learned about it in Theater, of all places.

We learned the Three-Act Structure, which consists of the following set up:

Act I

  • Introduction — The Main Character is introduced to the audience.
  • Exposition — We learn more about the MC and their relationships.
  • Catalyst — This is the event that motivates the MC and moves the story forward. The resolution of this event becomes the Goal.

Act II

  • Rising Action — The MC is taking actions that intend to move him/her closer to the Goal.
  • Turning Point — The MC finds a way to reach the Goal. This may be preceded by a backslide.

Act III

  • Climax — The outcome of this event determines if the MC reaches their Goal.
  • Falling Action — The Goal has [or has not] been met, and the MC is dealing with the aftermath.
  • Close — A last look at the MC and how the events of the story affected and/or changed them.

This is the classic structure of storytelling, and is the backbone of many tales. This was later replaced by the Five-Act Structure, which is illustrated here as Freytag’s Pyramid:

Though I didn't know it was called that until a few years ago.
Though I didn’t know it had a name until a few years ago. [Source: Wikimedia Commons]

It’s much easier to understand when it is shown to you like this.

  • Exposition — Introduction to Main Character, setting, and backstory.
  • Rising Action — Events that propel the MC toward the climax.
  • Climax — The major event of the story that reverses the MC’s fortune. [Bad -> Good or Good -> Bad]
  • Falling Action — The conflict arising from the events of the climax is confronted and dealt with.
  • Denouement — The end. All previous conflicts have been resolved, and the MC has undergone a metamorphosis.

The elements of those five parts will also have their own shape. They will vary from writer to writer, but there are common ones that tend to crop up. Let’s go over a few of them!

Flat

For the most part, you don’t want this. They are boring, tedious areas where nothing happens to develop characters or advance the plot. Think about a book you’ve read where you find yourself skimming the page, hoping to get to the next scene break. That’s Flat. New writers tend to go flat in the beginning of the story, thinking they have to detail everything about the setting and main character all at once, which overwhelms the reader. If a story is flat for too long, readers will give up on it before you have a chance to get to the plot.

But… Flat doesn’t have to be negative. You can use it to your advantage–especially to heighten suspense, or the impact of an unexpected turn in the story. The key is to keep it brief, but just long enough to make the reader start to wonder where you are going. That’s when you can lead into a Sudden Spike, and turn tedium into a form of tension.

Sudden Spike

When you have tension followed by a major event, followed by downtime, that is the Sudden Spike. Think of a scene where two people who clearly don’t like each other are exchanging dialog. This is the build up of tension. One character will say the wrong [or right] thing, and a fight erupts! This is the spike. After the encounter is over, there is a period of downtime which can be anything from one character having been thoroughly defeated and fleeing the situation, to the two characters realizing that fighting is pointless and deciding to resolve their differences in another way. The event doesn’t have to be physical; it can be anything that causes stress to the Main Character.

Mesa

These occur where the story takes a turn for the worse for the Main Character. You have a rise where things seem to be going well, or maybe the scene begins on a high note. This becomes something the reader expects to continue, which is the flat part at the top of the rise. Then suddenly, something catastrophic happens and the MC plummets from where they had been–losing a dream job, failing to prevent something precious from being taken from them, or being defeated by the villain–all events that become the straight drop of the mesa. At the bottom, you have a flat part where the MC has to come to terms with what has happened before they move forward.

Rise-Fall-Rise

This is one of my personal favorites, because when it is done right it packs a hefty emotional punch. It could also be called “Exchange” because during these one thing is lost in order to gain another. You start during an action scene, and as it comes to its climax the bottom drops out and something bad happens. In order to qualify as a true Rise-Fall-Rise, something good has to come from the bad thing. This could be anything from a precious memento being destroyed in order to save the world, to defeating the villain but having a character die in the process. These moments typically occur at the peak of rising action, or at the end of the climax. It does not count if the reader only thinks the Main Character will lose something, but in the end they don’t lose anything and still gain the benefit. That is a Threatened Rise-Fall-Rise, and while some writers feel it is easier on the reader it comes off as cheap–unless written extremely well.

A great example of a well-executed Threatened Rise-Fall-Rise is the “I Open at the Close” scene in the Harry Potter books; while a classic example of a true Rise-Fall-Rise is during the climax of the first season of the TV series Stranger Things, in the scene with Eleven and the Demogorgon.

Decline

While you traditionally see this during denouement–with the Main Character resolving conflict and tying up loose ends–it can also turn up during Rising Action. This may seem counter-intuitive, but there are stories where this is necessary. If you have a tale of redemption, you need a decline of events to show the Main Character hitting their low point before the catalyst makes them change their ways. If a character needs to lose everything before they heed the call-to-action–then you use a Decline–chaining bad events together until the character has nowhere to go but up.

Keep in mind that
Keep in mind that “low point” is entirely relative to the character themselves…

A good way to see how your story moves is to map out the flow of each scene, then string them together to see the pulse of your story. Overall, you should see something similar to the Five-Act Structure, but you will also see all the little things in between. If your story has multiple storylines running at once, then map out each one individually. You will gain fascinating insights, such as discovering that even if two characters share a scene it may be charted differently between them. [Which you will see below.]

I refer to it as a pulse because it should look like the readout on an EKG–with peaks and valleys–proof that your story is alive. As an example, I mapped out two intersecting story pulses from volume #2 of my Atlantis: TVC series:

The whole book takes place over the span of a day, so the peaks and valleys are more exaggerated than what you’ll see in a story that plays out over a longer period of time. The two characters shown here–Achine [Main Character] and Gialasa–are together for the entire book, except when they are separated at the end. As you can see, each girl’s arc is different, despite them going through the same events at the same time.

Achine’s pulse has several Mesas, and the one right at the climax also doubles as a Rise-Fall-Rise. In sharp contrast, Gialasa’s begins from a higher point [part of carry over from volume #1] and continues as a Decline, marked by two small Sudden Spikes that only continue the downward trend. As you can see, this character is having a difficult time. The bottom of Achine’s Rise-Fall-Rise is Gia’s lowest point, and the two arcs begin to rise together just after the climax. During denouement, she ends up in a better position than Achine, and it shows in the ending height of their respective pulses.

What’s interesting to note is that as I stated earlier, the girls are both in the same bad situation throughout the book, but their pulses are vastly different. Achine’s determined personality makes her proactive, which creates sharper rises and steeper falls in her pulse as she tries to improve their situation. Gialasa has a anxious, meek nature, and this causes the steady decline of her arc’s pulse as fear renders her unable to function for the majority of the story. It only rises towards the end, when she is finally forced to act.

If you find your story is receiving negative feedback about pacing, or if you feel it is missing something that you can’t put your finger on, try taking its pulse. Seeing your story in a different way may highlight parts where you can improve.

For me, seeing my own characters’ pulses side-by-side shows the difference an active character and a passive character can have on the same story. If Gia were the main character she wouldn’t be able to advance the narrative in a meaningful way on her own, and it would make for a frustrating read! But because she is a supporting character–and she has precedence for behaving the way she does–she becomes an important foil for Achine during the course of the story. Gialasa’s weakness is part of what motivates her to act.

However, you can’t tell subtle things like that from pulse comparisons. So while they are great for seeing the rhythm of a story or arc, you can’t gauge whether it is good based on its pulse alone. But when used together with feedback from a trusted source [editors, beta readers, etc.], it becomes a valuable tool for fine-tuning your story.

Kill Your Darlings

Nope. I’m not going to trot out the same tired advice to trim word count by slashing plot and/or removing characters. I’m going to talk about literarily killing your characters. [Ha! Puns.]

Since my long-running series is fantasy-based, this will all be from the perspective of a fantasy setting. However, that shouldn’t stop you from applying what you learn here to a realistic world. [Provided it’s not a simple case of the magic-user used magic and the victim totally died, because that’s difficult to pull off when magic doesn’t exist in your world. You’re smart–you’ll know how to glean what you need from this.]

We could go on for hours about swords, instant-death spells, and arson; but those are pretty straightforward ways to kill or incapacitate someone. We’re going to go into the realm of cloak, dagger, and intrigue. That’s right–poison.

Poison is the perfect medium! Need a long, drawn out death? Poison. Need something that kills near-instantly? Also poison. Need something difficult to detect, or that mimics natural causes? Poison can do that. Need a reason to send your characters on a quest where they set aside their differences and come together in order to find an antidote? Poison’s got your number.

And as an added bonus, not only can it do all those things, but it’s discreetly administered. Aside from becoming liquid insurance for an assassin’s blade, it can take the form of an ingredient in a sumptuous meal or delicious tea. It could even be released into the air via deadly but wonderfully-perfumed incense. Poison can be everywhere. Not only that, but most poison is derived from natural sources.

That’s right! There is so much out there that can kill someone without you needing to make anything up. If you want to lean hard into the fantasy setting, you could devise any number of fantastic plants or venom that could be made into a plot point. But if you’re like me and want a touch of realism in your stories, you just need to look at things that are common in our world.

My favorite example is rhododendron ponticum. It’s a beautiful, ornamental shrub common to many parts of the globe. In fact, it’s called Common Rhododendron. Look at this thing. So innocuous.

It’s beautiful for something that will cause nausea, vomiting, breathing difficulty, and heart failure if you consume any part of it. But the best thing about it is that honey made from its pollen is so toxic, even the bees that make and consume it are poisoned. In fact, jars of this honey strategically placed in a village took down almost an entire army of Roman soldiers in 401 BC. Though, to be fair, they were left in 67 BC to take down a different invading army. As a plot device, readers and writers alike would call that deus ex machina BS. [But it’s history!]

The lovely thing is that honey is so innocent. In fantasy it’s often used as a sweetener in place of sugar, and even in our world it is common to drizzle it on pancakes, over oatmeal, in yogurt, or spread it on toast. No one would suspect a thing.

Delicious agony…

And that’s only one of the things that you can use. There are agents out there that come straight from the ground itself that can kill. Want to venture into the land of slightly-absurd-but-still effective poisons? Look no further than diamond dust.

Luxurious agony!

Yes, seriously. Though it’s not a poison on its own, when ingested the shards will embed themselves in the organs of the victim, causing infection–which leads to sepsis–and death. It’s a slow process, taking several months to work. It is an older method of assassination used most frequently during the Renaissance. It wouldn’t work in a modern setting due to the advanced medical technology we have nowadays.

The poison a character chooses can say a lot about them. What is more fantastic and decadent than a monarch using diamonds to take out the ruler of a kingdom they are at war with?

Another benefit of poisons: they don’t have to kill. In fact, sometimes there is more to be gained in incapacitating someone. Have a scheming advisor that wants power? Killing the king would make the throne go to the next in line. But what if the king becomes too ill to rule? The advisor might become regent until the king recovers… [Spoiler alert: Unless a protagonist steps in, the king will remain “ill” indefinitely.]

You can use poison to enhance tension as well. Finding an antidote can take time your heroes don’t have, and making or procuring it can be difficult on top of that. This is a good way to divide a large group, bring characters together, or send them off to another part of your world. Want a cure to be even harder to obtain? Combine your poisons. Not good enough? Mix real world toxins with ones you invent. The only limit is your imagination and how dead or incapacitated you want your characters to be.

Armed with this knowledge you can now go out there and not just poison your darlings, but do it catastrophically!

P.S: Here is a handy list of poisonous plants to get you started. Have fun!

 

 

Research and the New Writer: Don’t Overthink It

One of the major stumbling blocks I see new writers trip over is research. On writing forums you’ll see variations of these three questions being asked:

  • How should I organize the information I already have?
  • How do I perform research?
  • How do I know when I need to do it?

The answers are as diverse as literature genres, the first point especially so. Since we all think and organize differently, even if you start out mimicking someone’s method, you will eventually tweak it to fit your own habits. Some writers keep large files, while others just keep a running sheet of notes. I personally keep a large file [My file for Atlantis: TVC is so large I indexed it. Fourteen pages of characters, world building, and magic.], and a ton of super-organized bookmarks in my browser. But that’s just me. As I said, how you arrange it is best done in a way that accommodates you. If having individual files for each topic/chapter/character/place is how you roll, then who am I to say it’s wrong?

That’s not the part everyone seems to get hung up on, though. How to do it seems to be the most difficult aspect of research for new writers. It may come as a surprise, but that is the easiest part!

The information of the world is available at instantaneous speeds due to the internet–information just sitting on a server somewhere waiting to be accessed, or even a lone stranger on a backwater forum waiting for you to ask the question that will prompt them to shower you with the data you need–all of it is just a click away. When they ask how to do it, either they are admitting that they don’t know how to use a search engine, or that they really don’t know what they need.

That’s the difficult part. You’re told that you need to research, research, research! But what do you look up? It feels like you’ve purchased a new dresser, opened the box, spread out the pieces, then realized that it didn’t come with directions. It’s overwhelming, but I have good news: the answer is to stop.

That’s right. Stop looking. Instead, write. Whether it’s notes, an outline, or your actual manuscript, getting things out of your head and on to paper will lead you in the right direction.

I can’t tell you how often I will stop writing to find more information on something–the proper name of a weapon, a picture of a poisonous plant, how horses act when they are scared, etc.  Depending on the answers you find, you can end up in a several hours-long sinkhole of data that changes the direction of the plot. [Personal experience.] You’ll just be typing away and stumble over something that you need to know more about. Then you search for it. That’s all there is to it. There is no magic formula, or list of topics anyone can point you at, because everyone writes different things. [Unless it’s a technical question, like grammar, or formatting; if you need help with that, I have a wonderful Resource List you should take a peek at!]

Basically, if you’re hung up on research, you’re trying too hard. Your heart is in the right place, but you can’t look for the answer to a question that hasn’t been asked. The beautiful part of writing is that the questions that need to be asked will find youand possibly land you on some government watch list depending on your subject.

The Self-Promotion Hat

If you ask about promotion or marketing as a new self-publisher, people usually say something vague like: “As a self-pubbed author, you need to wear many hats!” as they direct you toward social media, or paid book promotion services, and… well, that’s it. “Here’s a link to Twitter, and another one to Goodreads. Now go forth–and don’t forget to wear your marketing hat! Even traditionally published authors have to do this now.” Others will recommend that you have a nice cover and tell you to try to utilize word of mouth. Barring that, you’ll get told to pay someone else to do it. No one is wrong, but no one is telling the full story, either. To market successfully, you need to use everything available to your advantage. Things like:

A Finished Book

  • Eye-catching cover that instantly conveys your book’s genre
  • An edited, polished manuscript beneath that cover
  • Intriguing back cover blurb that introduces the main character and asks more questions than it answers

The actual book is half the battle, but it’s the most important thing you can work on. This is the end product. Everything you do after you write it will be designed to lead readers to it, and when they leave, they should feel at best satisfied–and at worst, neutral. They should not feel tricked or offended by taking time from other tasks to look at your work.

Your Audience

These are the readers you had in mind when you wrote your book, and the ones you will need to keep in mind as you build your campaign. Who do you think would like your story? Ask yourself questions like:

  • What type of stories do they normally read?
  • What element of your story would pique their interest?
  • What other authors would they read?

The more questions you ask, the closer you will come to seeing your ideal reader. Once you have your ideal reader pinned down they are who you want to aim for as you plan your ad campaign.  Any marketing you do should target them, and anyone else you may catch will ripple out from that center.

A Social Media Presence

  • A blog branded with your name or pen name*
  • A Facebook Page
  • A Twitter Page
*= If possible you should start this before you finish your book

This is the bare minimum for social networking. I highly recommend buying your author name as a domain and having it direct to your blog if you do not open a website. I also advise you to join a third social media of your choice, this one visual. Pinterest or Instagram are great choices, though I have personally found great success with Instagram–especially since it cross-links so easily with Facebook.

That’s another thing–if you are more comfortable on one type of social media than another, there are resources that allow you to make a single post on your preferred platform and send it to others, maximizing your exposure. [This is a great article detailing the most popular options available to you.]

Speaking of exposure, there are several different ways to achieve this. Simply putting yourself on the web will not sell books! You would be surprised at how many authors stop here and wonder why they couldn’t sell to people other than friends and family. The web is a vast, busy place. You have to make yourself visible. You have to make yourself and your book stand out. There are several ways to do this:

Visual Aids

People are visual creatures. First impressions are important–some readers won’t even read your back cover copy [or your back blurb, as it is sometimes called] if they hate your cover! With split-second decisions like that being made, you’ll need to have cover art that can work double time for you in advertisements. If you are going to market your book, you’ll need a few visual aids:

  • A high-resolution copy of your cover art
  • A high-resolution copy of your final book cover
  • A photo of yourself that is not a selfie [Author’s Headshot]

These should all be at least 2000 px in height, and 600 dpi; preferably saved in a lossless format, like PNG or TIFF. The cover art is what you are going to use whenever an ad requires a picture, and the image of the cover whenever you want to display an image of your book. [Such as in banner ads] Your author picture will be used when you create an official profile for yourself. You should have one on any website you sign up for, and display it on any “About” pages you have the chance to fill out.

If you wish to get creative and make banner ads, or advertisements with text on the images, I highly recommend paying someone with more experience to do it. It works out well to do it by yourself when you’ve spent the last twelve years freelancing as a graphic designer [like I did], but if you are planning on using any kind of template tool or paint program to create your images, you’re probably going to have a bad time. This is the one point in the self-publishing process where I would err on the side of caution and hire someone. If you can’t afford it, do text only ads. It is so difficult to overwrite a bad first impression. It can be done, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Advertising Yourself and Your Work

Free Options

  • Social Media Hashtags
  • Word of Mouth
  • Getting cataloged by webcrawlers

Don’t underestimate the power of hashtags. Put them on all your social media statuses! Make them relevant to what your book or series is about, but don’t forget about vaguely-associated ones, like the platform you sell from [Smashwords, Amazon, etc.] or the cost of your book–especially if it’s free or on sale! Word of Mouth is another powerful, free tool–especially if friends and family are buzzing about your book! And if all else fails, a webcrawler will eventually catalog your blog or shop page. It could take several weeks or months for that to happen, though.

Paid Advertisements

Social Media

Social media can work for you despite having a small initial reach or audience.

  • Promoted Status Updates
  • Promoted Website Links
  • Promoted Pages/Profiles

These are done through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can set your own budget per day, and set the number of days the promotion will run. These are most effective when used with a sale or giveaway.

Ad Networks

These are low cost options that reach many people, and are great for an author who has just launched their first book, or a seasoned author with a slim advertising budget.

I ran an ad campaign simultaneously with Google and Facebook. You can read about my experience here.

Concierge Advertising

This is for authors trying to break into the big leagues! You are set up with a consultant who will tailor an ad campaign just for you. Unfortunately, these services come with strict qualifications and/or a hefty price tag–some starting at a couple hundred dollars. These services target readers specifically, and if you have a large amount of positive reviews that can drive sales, then using a service like these can catapult your book into a bestseller slot.

Book Promotion Newsletters

These can be a low-cost option for promotion, and can start as low as $10. But they usually have strict guidelines your book must fall within in order to participate.

Most of these require your book have at least 10 reviews and a 3.5+ rating prior to submission.

Special Promotions

Giving away your book free for a limited time is a great motivator to pick it up, especially if it’s new and doesn’t have many reviews. If you are writing a series, your first book is a good candidate to offer for cheap [or even free] whenever you can–this drives people who like it to pick up the remaining books in the series, and is known in marketing terms as a Loss Leader. [But it only works if you have two or more books released for the series.]

  • Contests
  • Giveaways

The chance to win something is a great motivator! People love free stuff, even if it’s a copy of your book. You can offer a simple lottery-style giveaway, or you can require certain terms for entry. On Facebook a popular strategy is to offer a single chance to win for a “like”, and a double chance if they share the contest status. This spreads your message organically, encouraging others to enter while promoting your book or page. How much that prize costs is up to you–a free e-book doesn’t even cost you shipping! [Note: Make sure you read the rules of the sites you plan on running your contest on so you can make sure it doesn’t accidentally violate one of them!]

Other Writers

These two options are great if you are willing to do some legwork, and are often free! Don’t be too discouraged if people don’t get back to you right away–they often have large backlogs of requests to go though, so a reply time of several weeks isn’t unheard of.

Summary

As I said earlier, using all of these will drive sales; but for some self-pubs things like concierge advertising are a pipe dream. That’s okay–there are plenty of free and low-cost options here that will help you out! Mix and match the ones you feel will work best with what you have, and you will still bring readers to your book!

I know–this was a long, serious article. Have a cute kitty for your patience!

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.

 

 

 

 

Grand Theft: My Intellectual Property

I know I said I was going to let my shoulder rest, but this is too important to wait on.

I was informed of a website where an unauthorized copy of my latest book, Atlantis: The Visionary Continent, Volume #2: Awakening, is being offered! I couldn’t believe it, so I had to go see for myself. When I confirmed it, I was furious. Livid. Enraged! Other synonyms for insanely pissed! The more I investigated, the angrier I became. It was being offered for free!

Me, after reading my email.

I fumed. The book has barely been out for three months! After a half-hour of spitting anger, I started getting over my shock and began to formulate a plan to deal with this. I ran a Google search, but there really isn’t anything regarding stolen e-books, except advice to not offer books as a direct download from your site. [Which I was not doing–they’re exclusive to Amazon at the time of this posting.] I found some advice regarding DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act, yo.] and decided to do a Whois search on the domain, so I could figure out who to send a takedown notice to.

This turned tricky fast, due to the culprit having a ton of domains that point to other domains, which then pointed to subdomains. I was going in circles. I took a closer look at the site to see if I could find any more info. 293 downloads? Anonymous people with no avatar posting very recent and generic comments? Something didn’t smell right. The work of other authors was on the site also, so I checked some of their listings–the number of downloads varied, but the pages were identical–right down to the comments.

I clicked through to the download page. I reached the instructions, and suddenly, the situation became clear. I quickly viewed the source code of the page, and discovered that my story wasn’t being offered illegally. They didn’t have the actual book–it was being used as bait for a phishing scheme!

Now, I know the classic argument is: “If people are looking for free copies, then they weren’t going to buy your book anyway, so you’re not losing sales“. This is a valid argument, except that what is actually happening is harming public opinion of my brand itself. That is much more difficult to recover from than a sales loss!

The setup is a common one, where the site offers a file: a program, MP3, video–or in this case e-book–and leads you to a page where you can download it. EXCEPT there is a catch–before the download link becomes available, you are usually directed offsite to apply for “special offers”. These look like credit card and loan applications, or free trials to subscription services. They ask for vital info, like social security and credit card numbers, home addresses, etc. More often than not, these are elaborate phishing scams where they use a person’s willingness to get something for free to convince them to give up sensitive info. You don’t get anything except a lot of spam email, and the hassle of having to freeze your credit and apply for a new bank account. Then if you can actually download the file, it’s usually not what was advertised–often it’s a Trojan designed to infect your system so these people can get more information from you. Then they either sell the data they collect, or use it for themselves.

Since the file wasn’t actually on the original website, I had no valid DMCA claim. I went to the root of the site to see if I could glean any info, when suddenly I was on… a legitimate cloud storage site? After poking around a bit, I discovered that the root site was set to redirect to a legitimate site–even though the file is clearly not on their servers. Why would that happen…?

The site is mocked up to look like a filesharing site, but it’s owned by the same person who owns the original site I found the listing on! This is an elaborate deception–this person thought this through, and wants to remain hidden. [Probably because the information they scrape and the malware and viruses they distribute are their main source of income.]

They didn’t even host the cover image themselves! It’s hotlinked from Amazon! The download link sends you to the fake filesharing front, which then redirects you to affiliates where you fill out the offers that will supposedly allow you access to my work. Well, as I said before, I viewed the source file and there is no download. Everything forces you to a file “locking” site that has a pretty bad safety rating itself.

File locking sites are commonly used for something called an integrated affiliate advertising redirect*, also known as a forced click. [Read more on them here.] When you click the download link, it forces you to view ads in an non-closable window, makes you apply for a “free” offer, or sometimes you’ll be told to take a “survey” before it lets you have access to the files you want. [Completing these actions supposedly unlocks the real download button or link.]

Every time you click the download link, the scammer running the fake site gets paid–sometimes even if you back out and don’t follow through! Not only that, but a savvy coder could use it to gain a click and steal your info. Several thousand clicks a day, plus sell-able or exploitable data? That adds up, especially the way this person has it set.

You see, at the end of this person’s setup, the user is presented with a blank white window. That’s it. No file. You are no longer useful. Your clicks and data have been taken. Get out.

It’s bullshit because it’s using my hard work to trick my unsuspecting readers into giving away sensitive information, and earning money fraudulently while doing it. Not only my readers–but anyone who might think it’s a legitimate source for free e-books! They scrape Amazon, using the allure of prose authors have slaved over as bait. They poison brands authors have worked hard to build in the mind of the people they trick. Not. Cool.

At first, it seems hopeless. How can I DMCA content these people don’t have? How can I go after them, not knowing who they are, or even knowing what country they are in? The person who set this up knows this. This is the cloak they wrap themselves in.

But me? What can I do?

Vocaloid. Specifically Hidoor Utopia by Miku
Vocaloid.  Specifically Hidoor Utopia by Hatsune Miku.

I know the affiliates won’t care–after all, they make money through the ad clicks. Web searches care, because the site is linking to content that could harm someone’s computer. They’ll pull the data, but it will be restored by the next web crawl. I could report the shady behavior to the domain registrar and get the domain revoked. That could work–for the amount of time it would take the person to figure out the domain is cancelled and buy a new one. So what can you do? What can I do?

For now, this is all I have been advised to say. I have several options, but in the meantime, I am going to focus on educating people. The more people that are informed, the less often these kind of sites will trick people. My hope is that over time, the profitability of these sites will drop, and they will no longer be worth opening. So share this post, [and the post linked above] and help get the word out!

Please remember you can ONLY purchase my books from Amazon.com! Volume #1 is $0.99 cents right now!

 

Thank you all for your support–stay safe out there!

 

*= What, you couldn’t cram “synergy“, or “omnichannel marketing” in there too?

 

P.S: If you are an author and want to check the site to see if your work is being used, please contact me through one of the methods on my contact page, and I will PM you the url.

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!

Atlantis: TVC Volume #2 is Now Available!

It’s here, it’s here! It’s release day!

I am absolutely floored that I got it done on time. I didn’t hit my original end of summer deadline, but I did make my fall one, and it feels good. I hope you all enjoy volume #2!

As for me, I’m taking the rest of the holiday season off to rest and spend extra time with my family, then start on volume #3 in the new year. I’ll still post here, so don’t worry about that!

I’m wondering if there is enough time left this month for me to kind of half-assedly participate in NaNoWriMo. [I keep swearing I’ll do it, but I never have time.] Maybe I can do it for real next year…

*coughs* Anyway, I wanted to say thank you all again for your support and patience. An author is nothing without readers, and I truly appreciate all of you. heart

atlantis_volume_2

[Volume two can be found here!]

Second Chances

One of the awesome parts of self-publishing is the ability to manage everything yourself. One of the horrible parts of it is the ability to manage everything yourself. So, you have to own any awful decisions you make.

The original cover of Atlantis: TVC volume #1 was a debacle. I originally made my artwork too small, and since it wasn’t vector it didn’t scale up well. I was in love with the concept of past and future Achine standing back to back and I didn’t want to let it go–nor did I want to start over from scratch. I compromised by scaling up the colors, and re-traced the lineart to be larger in Illustrator. The end result was what I launched the book with. It looked okay from far away, but close up… it was a mess.

When it came time to make the cover for the second volume, I tried to use the same template and the graphic designer part of me revolted. She threw up, then proceeded to mentally beat me until I learned what I had done wrong. I did learn, and I set out to redesign the cover template from the ground up. Once I finished my shiny new template I was forced to admit that the old concept for the first volume not only looked awful, but it was probably hurting sales, and needed to be changed.

Yesterday I rolled out the new cover in anticipation of the release of Atlantis: TVC volume #2 later this month. I have to say, I am really liking both the new template and the new image for the cover. It is leaps and bounds better than the old cover, and will hopefully give a boost to sales since volume two is coming out in a few weeks.

Speaking of which, here is the new volume #1 cover side-by-side with the cover for volume #2. Sneak peek!

If you missed it the first time around, volume #1 is available to read for free if you have a Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime account. If you don’t have either of those, it will be free for everyone for a limited time this weekend! [November 7th – 8th, 2015] You can find it here.