Thursday, August 28, 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lost In The Amazon … Rankings



SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK


            Like many published authors, I’ve developed a psychological disorder known as OCA: Obsessively Checking Amazon.

            This happens when you get a book listed on Amazon.com, and find yourself waking up in the middle of the night just to check the book’s ranking. When you don’t sell many copies (that would be most writers) your entire day can be made with one sale, or broken by the precipitous ranking drop that comes after that one sale.

            My fourth book came out in May, and my wife had to use a Taser and a crowbar to pry me away from the internet before summer arrived. My rank peaked in mid-May at 68,201, which sounds pretty good until you realize that the previous February, for reasons that remain a mystery, my overall rank hit 9,093.

            Of course, that counts only Amazon sales, as opposed to sales from other sources. I keep a box full of books in the trunk of my car, just in case I stumble across an unwary victim—ahem, reader—with a few bucks for books.

            The other thing is that Amazon rankings aren’t determined by just the number of copies sold. There’s the question of velocity … in theory, if I sold two books in an hour I might get a higher ranking than if I sold one book a week for a month. There are other factors, which are very mystical and may or may not involve a bearded wizard manning a supercomputer.

            That appears to be what happened in February. I sold a few books close together, or the wizard sneezed.

            Through most of the long, outside-instead-of-reading summer days, my overall Amazon ranking hovered in the high 300,000’s. That sounds pretty bad, but with everyone self-publishing these days, and everyone else putting older print books out as e-books, there are millions upon millions of books for sale. For instance, I found The Ghost Of Dibble Hollow, a 1965 book that I loved as a kid, now available on Amazon.

            Then, in early August, my ranking suddenly shot up 200,000 places.

            My first thought was that word was getting around about my recent release, The No-Campfire Girls; after all, it only came out a few months before. (Yes, for those of you paying attention, this was written before I discovered my newer novel had been released without my knowledge.) Maybe campers were coming back home and looking for a fun read. Maybe it was about to catch fire, no pun intended. Maybe I could pay off my credit cards! Word of mouth is a great way to sell books.

            But no.

            It turned out to be, in fact, a small flurry of sales of my first book, Storm Chaser. It came out in June—2011. Don’t get me wrong: the book got great reviews, and I sold a lot of copies early on, but three years is a long time in the publishing industry. When it comes to publicity, I’ve been concentrating on The No-Campfire Girls and my novel that comes out in October (*ahem*). Why now?

            I don’t know.

            You thought I’d have an answer, didn’t you? Silly readers.

            There is one possibility: my October release, The Notorious Ian Grant, is a sequel to Storm Chaser. I tried to write it so that you didn’t have to read the first story to appreciate the second, but I’m not going to tell anyone that. If you find that out, you might not buy the first one. So maybe someone was interested enough in the second to go back and read the first.

            The problem is, I haven’t cranked up the publicity machine (which works about as well as my old lawn mower). I’ve been busy doing summer stuff, or trying to get people to buy The No-Campfire Girls, or checking my Amazon rankings. I don’t think I’ve even mentioned Ian Grant, who’s somewhat notorious, in the last few months. Besides, if it’s all about the sequel, why was there no uptick in sales for my related short story collection?

            So in the end, I don’t know. I went from a rank in the 350,000’s to breaking 100,000, and I don’t know what—if anything—I did to make a difference. Most writers are good at writing, but stink at selling.

We don’t know how to make those Amazon numbers dance. We don’t know the best way to attract a publisher, an agent, or a reader … even if we’ve accomplished it, most don’t really know how. A good turn of phrase? An attractive penname? Getting our query letter to them on a Wednesday before lunch?

            Occasionally a writer will figure out what worked for them, tell other people, those other people will try it, and it won’t work. Nobody knows. You might as well hire that wizard with the beard, only he’s getting better money as the head of the Amazon IT department.

            I guess I’ll just keep whacking away at it, and occasionally take my frustrations out by writing … this. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to check Amazon.


Where am I this week ... day ... hour?

Cheap Doctor Who joke



            Matt Smith came to my house to help figure out why my clothes drier isn’t running—he even used his sonic screwdriver on it. He discovered it is indeed getting supplied with power ... but it still doesn’t work. It’s like the Federal government of driers.

            Maybe I should have called Peter Capaldi?

            Okay, not the same Matt Smith. Seriously, it was nice of Matt to confirm the problem wasn’t with the plug, and now I’m going to start my own Kickstarter type program: When I sell $350 worth of books, I buy a new drier. It’ll work until everyone figures out I have to buy a new drier, whether I make any sales or not.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Speak of the Devil: Four Score And Seven Sequels Ago

Mel Gibson to win the Civil War ... against the British.



Speak of the Devil: Four Score And Seven Sequels Ago: Some links before I get myself started today. Yesterday was a Snippet Sunday  at our joint blog. Krisztina has  a different kind of challe...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Doctor Who/Harry Potter fanfiction: "The Headmaster's Doctor"



I promised myself that with every major writing milestone I'd have some fanfiction fun as a reward, so this is to celebrate the release of my novel, "The Notorious Ian Grant".

It's also, of course, a nice way to mark the first TV appearance of the 12th Doctor--even though what I'm giving you is the 10th, for reasons that will become obvious.

###
 
The fun part is looking, and while looking Luna Lovegood discovers a strange blue box in Hogwarts - and an even stranger man inside, with a simple request: "take me to your leader". 



THE HEADMASTER'S DOCTOR 

            Luna Lovegood wandered through the halls of Hogwarts, looking.

            She didn’t know what she was looking for, but she always found something. Looking was the fun part.

            Sure enough, she found a new something in a dead end corridor, empty except for tall windows and a stone Gargoyle: a tall blue wooden box in the shadows, perhaps big enough for a few people to stuff themselves into, with the words “Police public call Box” along the top. She paused, her head tilting as she studied it.

            “Hello.” It was clearly alive, so it was only polite to greet it.

            The box’s door swung open, and Barty Crouch Junior stepped out.

            “Oh.” Luna reached for her wand, then paused when the man smiled. “You look like someone who’s … no longer there.”

            “Well, I can’t be that person then, can I? I’m here!”

            That made sense. Plus, this man looked remarkably more sane, and seemed older, and Luna was fairly certain Crouch Junior could not have pulled off such a dashing look in a pinstripe soup and brown duster. “Are you a professor?”

            “No, I’m a Doctor. I’m looking for a professor, though: a man by the name of Dumbledore.” The Doctor closed the box’s door and locked it behind him.

            “Come along, then. My name is Luna.” If this man was not a student or a teacher, the Headmaster was exactly who should be alerted. But she paused when they reached the gargoyle. “I’m afraid I don’t know the password.”

            “Really?” The Doctor took a wand from his pocket—a very unusual looking wand that made a strange whirring sound when he waved it toward the gargoyle. Luna instantly wanted one of her own. “Ah.”

            The gargoyle leapt aside.

            “Most wands don’t do that,” Luna told him.

            The Doctor glanced at his wand, then tucked it into his jacket pocket. “It’s sonic.”

            “Of course. That explains the sound.” Luna knew what the word sonic meant, and assumed it must be a kind of magic, or at least not the kind of technology the Muggles used.

            Together they climbed the circular staircase, and The Doctor didn’t seem the bit perturbed about it moving as they went. They paused at the oaken double doors. Instead of using his wand The Doctor gave three quick knocks, and the doors swung open.

            Headmaster Dumbledore stood before them, and exchanged a hearty handshake with The Doctor. “Welcome Doctor, welcome! Come, sit. Miss Lovegood, by all means, do come in also.”

            Was Dumbledore sick? He didn’t seem sick … maybe The Doctor wasn’t that kind of doctor. Luna followed the two men in and perched on an armchair, looking around curiously as they exchanged pleasantries and sat on either side of the desk. The books that lined part of the circular room called to her, but she silently told them she couldn’t read right now.

            “You look well, Albus.”

            “As do you, Doctor, younger than ever. I was paid a visit by your granddaughter earlier this year—she says hello.”

Granddaughter? Luna studied The Doctor.

Dumbledore pushed a glass bowl of candy toward the other man. “Please, help yourself.”

            “Hm …” The Doctor rubbed his chin. “I’ve rather lost my appetite for those, after that dust flavored bean—I was thirsty for days. But I brought something I believe you’ll find just as tasty, and less of a risk.” He reached into a pocket, and produced a small bag. “Jelly Baby?”

            “Why, thank you.” The Headmaster took a handful, then The Doctor offered the rest to Luna. “You can take the bag, Luna. I recently found a whole cabinet full of these, so there’s plenty to go around—and no surprises, like those Every Flavor Beans.”

            Luna rather liked surprises, although she’d found the liver flavored Bean less than savory.

            Dumbledore leaned forward, his smile fading into a grave expression. “I must apologize once again for that unfortunate unpleasantness at the Ministry, Doctor. I realize it could have been ages or minutes ago for you …”

            “It wasn’t at all your fault—“

            “Perhaps, but I was blind to what was happening, and you’re the one who suffered for it. Barty Crouch Junior was a youth when that spell diffused you into his body, so no one noticed as he grew to resemble you—and sadly, I knew you only by another face. If I had not managed to remove you at the moment of the dementor attack, you may have been trapped even longer …”

            “To me it was only a few hours.” The Doctor’s voice was gentle. “Just the same, I’d rather not have it happen again. Can I assume a Time-Turner is no longer in the hands of Barty Crouch?”

            Luna’s attention had been wandering to the arched ceiling, but now it snapped back onto the other occupants. Time-Turner?

            “Barty Crouch has, I’m afraid, passed away.”

            “Oh—I’m so sorry.” And The Doctor did look sorry, although Luna surmised something Crouch did had caused the strange man many problems.

            “Perhaps it’s for the best.” Dumbledore leaned back, looking suddenly much older. “The punishment for trying to change his son’s past would have been very severe indeed, had Barty survived. And of course he would have had to deal with the fact that his disruption, in the end, made no difference at all—and even caused his son’s mental imbalance.”

            “Having two minds trapped in one body will do that. But they can’t be faulted for trapping me—Crouch didn’t even know I’d been drawn into the spell.” After a moment The Doctor waved his hand, as if putting it all behind him. “And the Time-Turners? I tried to convince the Master that humans were not yet capable of handling a device like that, but he does like sewing chaos.”

            “All destroyed in a conflict at the Ministry of Magic. All but this one.” Dumbledore pulled a necklace from a desk drawer, and handed it to The Doctor.

            The visitor studied it as it dangled from his hand. “I suppose he expected the human race would destroy themselves with these. And they might have, too, if your people hadn’t tracked them all down.”

“What will you do with it?”

            The Doctor shrugged. “The Master stole them from our home planet, but I can’t take it back there. I believe I’ll just hold onto it, for a while.”

            “Perhaps you’ll find someone else trustworthy who can make use of it.” Dumbledore rose. “And now, Doctor, I fear I must take my leave of you. These are perilous times, and I find myself pulled in every direction.”

            “Of course.”

            “Miss Lovegood, will you show The Doctor back to where you found him? And do try not to be late for your next class.”

            “Yes, Headmaster.” What an odd comment—Luna didn’t have another class until after lunch. But she obediently rose and led The Doctor through the door and down the stairs, where the gargoyle again stepped aside for them.

            “How long have you known Professor Dumbledore?” Luna asked, as they headed back toward the box.

            “Oh … a hundred years, give or take. He journeyed with me once, for a short time, after a friend of his passed away.”

            “That sounds like fun. I suppose everything is a journey, but some are more interesting than others. ” They paused by the box, and Luna gazed up at it. “It’s bigger on the inside, isn’t it?”

            Turning, The Doctor examined her more closely. Then he smiled. “You like to travel? As it happens, I travel a lot.” He opened the door, and she gazed in with wide eyes and an open mouth. It was, indeed, bigger on the inside.

            “But I need to be back by my next class,” she breathed.

            “Oh—didn’t I mention it’s a time machine?”

            Luna grinned. “Of course it is.”

            “Fantastic!” The Doctor led the way in. But, just as Luna was about to follow, she heard a cough behind her.

            She turned to see a tall man in a flowing black robe. He gazed at her, mouth in that perpetual frown, face partially hidden by long strands of dark hair. “Miss Lovegood.” He held his hand out. The Time-Turner dangled from his fingers. “You will take this with you.”

            “Oh. Where did you get that, Professor?”

            “From you.”

            The Doctor stuck his head back through the door. “Hello, Severus!”

            If anything, Snape’s frown deepened even more. “Doctor. Miss Lovegood, you are going to be a few hours late.” The Doctor looked offended, but chose not to speak.

            “Thank you very much.”

            “Now that you know you will be late … I expect you will not … be … late.” Snape spun on his heels and stalked toward Dumbledore’s office.

            “Thank you very much, Professor!” Luna walked into the box, and let the door shut behind her.

This would be interesting.