Monday, December 19, 2016

Comparing Book Promotion and Marketing Sites

I've been blessed up to this point to have sold a decent number of books while conducting minimal advertising. In that regard, I'm somewhat a victim of my own success:  my books started selling well right out the gate (something like 10,000 in the first six months), with practically no marketing, so I didn't really see the need to promote. (I did, however, eventually start a mail list, which should really be on the first page of the self-publishing playbook.)

Of course, I was more prolific in terms of writing my back then as well - starting in March 2013, I think I wrote six books during the first 9 months of my indie career. Since then, I've gotten much busier with the day job, and my writing has suffered from a productivity standpoint. (Needless to say, it's a lot easier to stay top-of-mind with readers when you're publishing a new book every two months or so.)

Oddly enough, although I didn't do a lot of advertising historically, I did have a monthly marketing budget; I just rarely used it. Recently, however, I've started looking more and more at book promotion as a way to expand my readership. I mean, I'd already seen the benefits firsthand: I had a BookBub ad in early 2014 that catapulted Sensation back to the #1 spot in multiple categories and into the 300s overall in the Paid Kindle Store.  And just a few months ago, some effective marketing got Warden (Book 1: Wendigo Fever) to a #1 ranking.

In short, it's clear to me now that book promotion is not only a powerful tool but an arrow that most indie authors need to have in their quiver. The problem, of course, is that there seems to be a nigh-limitless number of book promotion sites out there, not all of which are necessarily effective. About the only sure thing is BookBub, which is undoubtedly the gold standard. Unfortunately, they are highly selective, and getting a slot with them seems to rank right up there with winning the lotto in terms of odds.  Thus, most of us will have to look elsewhere for promotion purposes, but it's a lot like picking a tight end in fantasy football: there's Gronk, and then there's everybody else...

That said, I was able to get good results with my Warden promo without benefit of a BookBub ad.  In other words, there are indeed other fish in the sea.  But assuming most self-published authors are like me, they found other book promo sites mostly through positive word-of-mouth and maybe a little research.  Still, there always appeared to be an element of randomness when it came to ads.  One person might have good results with a particular site, while another might do poorly.  Although there are all kinds of reasons why that might happen (failure to discount the price, marketing to the wrong demographic, etc.), it occurred to me that there had to be a way to screen on the front end for sites that were more likely than not to give positive results.  (This is especially important when you consider how the price of book marketing has skyrocketed, as I wrote about in an earlier blog post here, although one of the exceptions to this is eBook Hounds, which has remained $10 for a while.)   

With that in mind, I made a list of various book promotion sites and started brainstorming on how to separate the wheat from the chaff.  In other words, which were likely to give me the most bang for my buck? Plainly speaking, it struck me that it should be the one that puts the most eyeballs on my writing.  Working from that premise (and focusing on factors such as Alexa ranking and newsletter subscribers), I ended up with the following spreadsheet:

Needless to say, there are a lot of moving parts to this thing, so before going any further it's probably worthwhile to give a bit more of an explanation about what this spreadsheet contains, starting with the headings:

Sites - This one is self-explanatory.

Alexa US - This column provides a site's Alexa ranking in the U.S.  For those who may not know, Alexa ranking is essentially how popular a site is based on web traffic.  As with book rankings, a lower number is better when it comes to Alexa. Unsurprisingly, BookBub has the best Alexa ranking (U.S.) of all the sites I looked at.

Alexa World - This simply gives a site's global Alexa ranking.

Newsletter - This column indicates whether a book promotion site has a newsletter.  This is of particular importance to me because of my own habits: when it comes to book promotions, I'm much more likely to open an email with a list of books than I am to visit a website (or Facebook, etc.) to see what bargains are out there.  That's not to say that other methods are ineffective, but based on my own gut instinct and information gleaned while putting all this together (which I'll get to below), promoters with newsletters would seem to offer a greater return on investment.

Subscribers - Refers to the number of subscribers to a promotional site's newsletter.  Any numbers in this column came from the book promoters themselves - either from their website or a direct email communication.  If there is a question mark in this spot it means that (a) I couldn't locate the info on their site and (b) either the promoter did not respond to my query (and I wrote them all when I couldn't find what I was looking for on their website) or simply refused to provide the information.

Visitors - The average number of monthly visitors a site gets. In most instances, this is a number that I obtained from SimilarWeb, which provides web traffic and marketing info. Plainly speaking, most  websites were reluctant to part with this information.  (Those that are blue in this column are numbers that I obtained directly from the book promoter - again, either from their website or in response to a direct query.  In some cases, I was given a range, which led to me extrapolating a final number; for example, if a site reported that they get 30K - 50K visitors per month, I'd list 40K as the number of monthly visitors.)

U.S. % of Visitors - Per Alexa, this is the percentage of a website's visitors that come from the United States.

2nd % Nation - Again based on Alexa info, this is the country that has the most visitors to a particular site when you disregard the U.S. In short, it gives an idea of who you might be reaching abroad when you advertise with a certain site.

(The tabs along the bottom show how the listed sites rank when sorted for the various elements - Alexa rank in the U.S., number of subscribers, etc.)

Just to be clear, this is not a "Best Of" list.  These are just some of the book promotion sites that are out there. (You can find several lists of these sites on my Book Marketing and Promotion page.)  I've used a good number of them in the past, others I am interested in with respect to future promotions, and some I just came across while researching.  I was mostly focused on trying to come up with a methodology that would allow me to do an apples-to-apples comparison (or as close an approximation as possible) of the various websites that can be used for book marketing and promotion purposes.

In a lot of instances, the task was somewhat tricky because there simply isn't a lot of transparency, which leads to difficulty in determining, say, how much traffic a site gets.  Truth be told, with regard to that particular figure, even asking the question directly was of minimal effect, since most book promotion sites either didn't respond or basically gave me other stats (like the number of subscribers).  In fact, for this project, the number of visitors that their website gets was the single most difficult statistic to get from book promoters.  They seemed almost more willing to discuss how their wedding night went than to part with that information.

(For those interested, here's a pic of the Top 20 sites on my list based on Monthly Visitors)

This reluctance to share the number of visitors left me more than a little bewildered, because - to be honest - I'm not even sure it's a meaningful statistic for book marketing purposes. Frankly speaking, some number of visitors to these sites is always going to be authors looking to promote as opposed to readers looking for deals.  Unless they draw a line of demarcation between the two (and it's entirely possible that they're doing that), I'm not sure how to assign a value to it.  Regardless, many book promotion sites appear to regard the number of visitors as proprietary information.

In all honesty, I don't really have an issue with them designating the number of site visitors as confidential information in the abstract.  My problem is that, in many instances, part of the marketing package that is sold to us authors is that our books will appear on the book promoter's website.  Much like Nielsen ratings are used to sell television ads based on the number of viewers, if part of what I'm buying is ad space on your site, it seems to me that there should be greater transparency regarding the number of people who visit that site.  Basically, if a promo service is offering you prominent placement on their site, newsletter, etc., then they should be telling you exactly how many people your dollars are letting you reach (and it shouldn't be some ambiguous number like "thousands").  Otherwise, how do you really know what you're paying for?

In defense of their position, a number of book promoters communicated to me that the quantity of site visitors isn't particularly important, because being on the book promotion site doesn't have a powerful marketing effect.  The general consensus seems to be that the websites aren't driving sales and downloads; the item reported as having the greatest effect in this arena was the newsletter/mail list.  Of course, this dovetails neatly into my own theory about the importance of newsletters, but it still doesn't obviate the need for sharing the number of site visitors if that's visibility that we're paying for.

That said, not everyone was a miser with their data.  Several sites were very generous and shared tons of information.  Moreover, while I mentioned that some sites weren't willing to divulge their numbers, I need to point out that everyone who responded to my queries was professional and courteous.  No one was rude or uncivil, and I appreciate the time they took to answer my questions.

Outside of monthly visitors, other data - such as number of subscribers - was somewhat easier to come by. Bearing in mind the importance of newsletters, this is obviously a critical piece of information.  For the sites I looked at, here at the Top 20 based on number of subscribers:

As with so many other stats, BookBub - with 8 million subscribers - is #1 in this category by a large margin.  Undoubtedly, this level of reach is one of their major strengths.  Of course, the difficulty in being accepted for a BookBub ad means that most of us will need to evaluate other options. Fortunately, there would seem to be quite a number of sites out there with an adequate subscriber base.

It's also worth remembering that even sites with smaller mail lists can be helpful to your marketing efforts.  By way of example, if you're promoting over, maybe, a 5-day period, you may find a gap in your marketing calendar that you haven't been able to fill for some reason. Under those circumstances, a book promoter with a smaller number of subscribers can still help you maintain momentum.

Anyway, in compiling all of this data, I tried to identify the book promotion sites that scored highly in all of my categories. At the end of the day, I came up with 8 that managed to be in the Top 20 in all of the areas I focused on: subscribers, Alexa ranking, monthly visitors, and so on. They are, in no particular order (except BookBub, of course), as follows:

     eREader IQ
     Robin Reads
     Free Booksy
     Many Books
     All Romance Ebooks
     Read Cheaply
     eReader News Today

A number of other sites, such as Digital Book Spot (run by BKnights at Fiverr) and Kindle Nation Daily should probably get honorable mention because they came up shy in only one category.

That said, the numbers don't always tell the whole story, and you sometimes have to peel back another layer of the onion. For instance, Book Barbarian didn't make the Elite Eight here, but they have a very focused niche (Scifi/Fantasy) and are generally acknowledged as providing a great return on investment.  Thus, if that's your genre, it would be a mistake to exclude them from your marketing efforts.  Likewise, there are other sites that specialize in particular categories, so their across-the-board ranking here may not fully reflect the value that they offer.

In retrospect, I like to think that I've developed an approach that will serve as a yardstick and allow me to gauge the likely effectiveness of a promotion before I plunk down any dollars.  Thus, as I come across other book marketing platforms, this list is likely to grow. Something to bear in mind, however, is the fact that all of this information is from a single snapshot in time.  That means that the Alexa ranking may have changed for a particular site, as well as the number of visitors, subscribers, etc.  In short, nothing is static. Likewise, as indie authors, our book marketing and promotion efforts should stay in flux as well, so a book promoter that you use today may not be one that you use tomorrow.

***Just a few caveats for this post:  First, there were a lot of challenges in trying to do the aforementioned apples-to-apples comparison among book promotion sites.  For example, several promoters don't appear to have books on their site, so the number of visitors is a stat that probably carries less weight in those instances.  Also, a couple - such as Indies Unlimited and Read Freely - don't charge anything, so the number of subscribers and visitors may not matter as much since it doesn't cost you anything other than your time. And at least one, Book Browse, doesn't even accept direct bookings from authors. (What's up with that?)  In essence, I've tried to establish as much of a baseline as possible, but it still may not be a completely level playing field.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

New Audiobook: Coronation

I am happy to report that the audio version of Coronation is finally available.  Like so many other things, production fell a little behind on this one, but I'm glad that it's finally done.

This is my fifth audiobook, and I'm fortunate in that the audio versions seem to be resonating very well with listeners. (I'm also enjoying the way that audio seems to bring my work to life.)

All of the current Kid Sensation novels are now available in audio.  I also plan to do an audio version of my Kid Sensation short story Extraction. (That one, however, is a little further back in the queue.) Eventually, as I've said before, all of my work will be available in audio.

That does remind me, however, that I've fallen behind with respect to my writing.  I had intended to have at least three more books out by now (including Kid Sensation #6), but I've just been swamped recently by the day job.  Hopefully I can take some time over the holidays to right the ship in that regard and get back on pace. (Keep your fingers crossed!)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Another Excerpt from Mouse's Tale: An Alpha League Supers Novel

I'm probably a hair's breadth away from being finished with Mouse's Tale: An Alpha League Supers Novel, so I figured I'd post another excerpt. The usual caveats apply (eg, hasn't been edited, etc.). Needless to say, I'm further behind in my writing than I anticipated being at this point.  That said, enjoy!


Satisfied with what I’d accomplished (especially in comparison to the effort I’d put forth), I left the backroom and went strolling down the hallway. Just as I stepped back into the main barroom, I ran into Vixen (who apparently had been about to head into the area I’d just left).
“There you are,” she said, flashing a lovely smile. “I thought I asked you not to go anywhere.”
“Yeah, I’m not good at taking instruction,” I responded, pushing down a jubilant vibe I’d felt upon seeing her. “I’m weird like that.”
I tried to step around her, but she glided right into my path.
“You know what’s really weird?” she asked. “Guys who don’t do what I ask them to. That’s not something that happens every day.”
“There’s a first time for everything, I suppose.”
 “Maybe…” Vixen seemed to reluctantly agree, giving me an odd look.
“Well, if you’ll excuse me,” I said, preparing to walk away.
“How about we spend a little time getting to know each other?” she asked.
“Sounds nice,” I admitted, “but I’ve got someplace to be.”
Once again, I tried to step around her. This time, she laid a firm hand on my chest, stopping me in my tracks.
“I wasn’t really asking,” she clarified.
Her palm felt as dense and unyielding as forged steel. If I hadn’t figured it out from the blow she’d dealt Sandstone, I certainly knew it now: she was a hell of a lot stronger than she looked.
Vixen tilted her head in the direction of an empty, squared-shaped table nearby. “Why don’t we have a seat?”
I spent a moment debating my next course of action. With her strength, a direct physical confrontation was completely out of the question. Thankfully, I had other options at my disposal, but to be frank, she had aroused my curiosity.  Hoping to get a sense of what her game was, I decided to play along – at least for a little while. 
I went to the table indicated and sat down, with Vixen taking a chair opposite me. Neither of us said anything, so I spent a few moments glancing around the bar.
From my current vantage point, I could see a little more of the place. I spied an aging jukebox against a wall, and also a small dance floor that was maybe ten by ten feet in size.  Not far from the hallway that led to the backroom was a set of stairs that apparently went up to the second floor.
I turned my attention to Vixen. There was a slight frown on her face, and – when she wasn’t glancing in my direction – her eyes seemed to be glued to the door.
“So who are we expecting?” I finally asked.
She turned to me, eyebrows raised. “Huh?”
“You’ve been watching the door like a hawk since we sat down. I assume that when you left before it was to make a phone call and that someone’s going to be joining us soon.”
She smiled sweetly. “Just some friends from work.”
I frowned, not sure what her statement implied. I didn’t know what she was up to, but I didn’t like the idea being pinned in by Vixen and some unknown cohorts of hers.
“Relax,” she said, seeming to sense my mood. “These are the good guys. You already chatted with some of them earlier today.”
She winked as she spoke that last sentence, and it all became clear to me then.
“The Alpha League,” I stated matter-of-factly, my voice clearly expressing that I had no desire for another parley with them.
“You want to speak up a little?” she asked sarcastically. “I’m not sure they heard you in the back.”
I hadn’t spoken in a particularly loud voice, but I understood her point. We were on the bad guys’ turf; it would behoove us to exercise discretion when speaking of the world’s greatest superhero team.
“You must be new,” I said, essentially giving away the fact that I kept up with who was on the Alpha League roster. I was less concerned with that, however, than slipping away before any more of them arrived. Now that I knew who Vixen was working with, I didn’t care to stick around.
“It’s a trial period,” she admitted. “I’m seeing how I like them, and they’re seeing how they like me.”
“I can understand that. There can be issues with having someone like you on the team.”
She gave me an appraising glance. “So, you know what I am.”
I nodded. “Siren. Manipulator of men’s emotions. And actions.”
She laughed heartily at that. “I prefer to think that I unshackle their spirits – give them free reign to do what they feel in their soul.”
“As long as it aligns with your interests.”
She winked. “Well, a girl’s gotta live.”
“I don’t doubt it. Let’s just hope your type of lifestyle doesn’t cause friction with your new teammates.”
She sobered somewhat at my comment. I hadn’t been kidding earlier when I had mentioned Sirens causing issues on superhero teams. Their presence typically led to several male team members – usually two, but occasionally more – battling it out for the Siren’s affections at some point. More than one team had completely disintegrated as a result of a Siren being added to the roster. In short, the Alpha League was wise to have a trial period with Vixen, but even that came with a certain degree of risk.
“So what’s keeping them?” I asked.  When Vixen gave me a puzzled look, I added, “Your new teammates. I would have thought that with super speed, at least Buzz or Alpha Prime would be here by now.”
“As hard as it is to believe,” she replied, “you’re actually not every team member’s top priority.  We still put a premium on saving lives, so some of our speedier members are off dealing with other crises.”
I was about to make a smart-aleck response when I noticed someone heading towards our table. It was some bruiser in a black muscle shirt with a crew cut, and a face only a mother could love. He topped six-and-a-half feet in height easily, and – aside from a couple of gold-loop earrings – looked like a walking advertisement for steroids.
“Would you like to dance?” he said in a gravelly voice after reaching our table.
“She’d love to,” I blurted out with a grin.
Vixen shot me an angry look, then turned to our visitor and put on a sweet smile. “Actually, I’m a little tired right now. Maybe later.”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” the guy stressed to Vixen, then swiveled his head in my direction.
I think both Vixen and I did a double-take at that point. Slightly shocked, I gave our visitor another once-over and realized almost with a start that it was actually a woman. The muscle shirt was actually a halter top, and she wasn’t doing herself any favors with the crew cut, but when you looked closely her feminine attributes were there.
“Would you like to dance?” the woman asked again.
I blinked, and had trouble finding my tongue for a moment.
Vixen put a hand up to her mouth to stifle the sound of laughter, and then - mimicking my earlier comment - said, “He’d love to.”
I gave her a look that encompassed shock, surprise, anger, contempt and a dozen other strong emotions. I looked back at the big woman standing there, searching for words to let her down easy, when it suddenly occurred to me that I could turn this situation to my advantage.
“As a matter of fact, I absolutely would,” I declared.
“Really?” asked the big woman, clearly surprised.
“In fact,” I added, getting to my feet, “why don’t we get out of here and go have some real fun.”
The big woman drew in an excited breath and clasped her hands together in delight. Vixen, suddenly realizing the door she had opened with her attempt at humor, stood up, frowning.
“Actually, he’s not interested,” Vixen stated.
The big woman didn’t seem fazed by this. “I think the little man can speak for himself, and he’s made it clear that he’s up for some fun. And one thing Bellua” – she pointed a thumb at herself – “knows how to do is have fun.”
“That’s fine, uh, Bellua,” Vixen said. “But you’re going to have to find someone else to play with.”
Bellua let out a frustrated sigh. “Look, Red, I’ve had a long day, and I really need to unwind with a man, if you know what I mean. Now, your boyfriend’s a little on the small side, but I prefer a guy who’s willing than one who’s likely to press charges later.”
I fought to keep my face impassive, although Bellua’s words brought several unsavory images to mind. (Of course, she had to be kidding…)
“I sorry,” Vixen said, shaking her head in sympathy, “but he’s not going any–”
There was an audible smack, like someone slapping a raw side of beef, and Vixen’s words were cut off as a backhand from Bellua sent her airborne. She slammed into an exterior wall, smashing the drywall before dropping to the floor. Somewhere in the background, I heard the bartender angrily screaming expletives about not tearing up her place.
Bellua turned back towards me, a frightening grimace on her face that it took me a moment to recognize as a smile. “Now, where were we?”

Friday, October 21, 2016

How to Create a Free Trial Page for Audible Featuring Your Audiobook

***Before I launch into the post proper, I just wanted to say that I still have some promo codes from Audible which allow me to gift copies of my audiobooks for free. Thus, if anyone would like a copy of the audiobook of Sensation, please send me your email address and whether you prefer the Audible US or Audible UK store.


So here's something cool I just learned how to do. As many of you may know, Audible (which is the Amazon subsidiary that handles audiobooks) offers a free 30-day trial membership, including two credits for free audiobooks.  However, it appears that you can actually customize the page showing the trial offer so that it features your audiobook.  For instance, here's what I did with Sensation:

As stated, it's a customized Free Trial Page for Audible featuring Sensation!  Pretty cool, huh?  And it was actually pretty easy to do.  Simply type the following into the address bar of your internet browser:

Then, at the end, add your audiobook's ASIN, which is different than the Amazon ASIN.  (If you go to your audiobook's product page on Audible, you'll see the ASIN in the address bar - it should be the 10 characters before "/ref".)  So, for my book, it was: 

Anyway, I stole this idea shamelessly from a post by Scott Jacobi on the ACX blog, so he has my thanks for introducing me to something so awesome.  (And for those trying this, "asin" needs to be lower case in the address bar.) Hopefully others will find this as cool as I did.

***If you are interested in receiving information about my audiobooks - including new releases and free copies - please subscribe to my Audibook Newsletter.

UPDATE (1/16/18):  Audible has made some changes, so the base link now for creating your own Audible Trial page is:

Thus, for the audiobook of Sensation it would now be:

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How to Save Money on Audiobooks

I've mentioned several times in recent posts how enamored I've become of the audiobook market. I'm having fun releasing audio versions of my books, and I appear to be discovering an entirely new audience for my work. In fact, over the past few days, I've had a number of conversations with audiobook listeners, and one of the things I've discovered is that many of them - especially those who "read" almost exclusively via audio - are spending far more for audiobooks than they should. In short, they aren't aware of Whispersync.

Basically, Whispersync is Amazon technology that lets you switch back and forth between reading the Kindle version of a book and the audio version, without losing your place.  So if you're on, say, page 102 of an ebook and about to head out for your 1-hour morning commute, Whispersync will allow you to start listening to the audiobook right where you left off reading. Neat, right?  The only drawback, one would think, might be the fact that you obviously need to have both the ebook and the audiobook to take advantage of this.  That, however, is actually the best part: you can typically get both for an extraordinarily cheap price.

Take my novel Sensation, for example.  Let's say you already own the Kindle version (which is regularly priced at $4.99) and are interested in getting the audiobook.  If you go to Audible and look it up, it'll present you with this information:

Basically, if you look at where the blue and red arrows are pointing, this tells you in two places that you can get the audiobook - which is regularly priced at $19.95 - for only $1.99! In short, you'd pay a little less than 7 bucks for both the Kindle and audiobook versions!  Even if you never read the ebook, that's a far better deal that getting the audiobook at regular price. 

Likewise, if you go to Amazon and look up the ebook, you'll see essentially the same offer:

Here, the two red arrows indicate that the audiobook (which is normally $19.95) can be had for $1.99 after purchasing the ebook. (The blue arrow points to a drop-down passage that generally says the same thing: you can get both the ebook and the audiobook for less than $7 total.)

Surprisingly, I've been given to understand that a great many audio listeners are unaware that these kinds of deals are out there. However, that may be due to a number of reasons, including the way audiobooks appear on Audible.  Take my book Mutation, for instance.  If you haven't bought the ebook and look it up on Audible, the product page will have this info:

Basically, there's no indication on Audible that buying the ebook will allow you to purchase the audiobook for only $1.99, even though that's exactly the case.  Thus, someone whose library consists almost solely of audio works (and who is unaware of Whispersync) might spend a credit to purchase my audiobook. That, of course, requires an explanation of what a credit is.

Without going into a lot of detail, audiobook pricing on Audible is very convoluted, to say the least, and the price of an audiobook may vary wildly based on numerous factors, such as whether the purchaser is an audible member, whether they're using a member credit, and so on. A member credit is exactly what it sounds like: a credit that will let you purchase one audiobook, regardless of price.  So if an audiobook costs $10, you can buy it with a single credit. Likewise, if it costs $100, you can still buy it for that same solitary credit. 

A monthly Audible membership will net you one free credit per month.  Also, Audible sells credits that can be bought in various quantities.  For instance, a 3-pack of Audible credits cost $35.88. In that scenario, each credit would be worth $11.96.  Therefore, if you buy a 3-pack, you're better off paying cash for any audiobook that costs less than $11.96, and you come out ahead using a credit if it costs more than that.

Now, circling back to the purchase of one of my audiobooks, it would be far more economical for an audio listener to pay cash for the ebook/audiobook combo that to buy the audiobook alone or use a member credit. But this doesn't just hold true for my books but for many others as well - look at Super Powereds, Year 3, for example.  The cost of the audiobook is regularly priced at $62.99.  Spending a member credit valued at $11.96 to purchase it might seem like a steal, but wait!  If you buy the ebook ($5.99), then the audiobook is only (drumroll, please)...$3.49!  In other words, you get both the ebook and audiobook for less that $9.50! 

In short, if you're a fan of audiobooks, it would seem to make the most economic sense in many instances to pay cash to purchase the ebook and audio versions of a novel (if they're Whispersynced, of course).  That will save you a ton of cash in the long run, and allow you to use your Audible credits to purchase more expensive items for which there is no Whispersync deal.

***On a side note, Audible has actually provided me with some promotion codes that allow me to gift copies of my audiobooks for free. I've just received more codes for Sensation, so if anyone would like a copy, please shoot me your email address and whether you prefer the Audible US or Audible UK store.  (If you do not have an Audible account, you can get a 30-day free trial and a copy of the Sensation audiobook by signing up here.)  Finally, if you are interested in receiving information about my audiobooks - including new releases and free copies - please subscribe to my Audibook Newsletter.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Excerpt from Mouse's Tale: An Alpha League Supers Novel

For those interested, I'm still hard at work on the Mouse book (working title: Mouse's Tale).  Since I've been talking about this one for a while, I thought it might be fun to share an excerpt, so - bearing in mind that this has not gone through the editing process - here you go:


The first to come in was Buzz, the speedster. He was a young guy with dark hair and a lean, athletic frame. From the way he moved, I got the impression that walking at what could be considered normal speed was unnatural and awkward for him.
Next was Esper, a natural beauty who was generally considered the most powerful telepath on the planet.  Although I’d never heard of her misusing her powers, she was definitely someone you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of.
Finally, there was Alpha Prime. Handsome and statuesque, with a chiseled physique, he probably could have been a movie star had he so desired. As was usual for the most powerful super on the planet, he simply floated in. (Apparently walking was a pastime for mere mortals.) At least he had the good grace to close the door behind him.
I gave them only a casual glance – long enough for them to know that I’d seen them – then went back to puttering with the microwave.  Although it was already repaired, I took satisfaction in giving the impression that even a broken-down, obsolete appliance merited more attention than my visitors.
As they approached the counter where I was seated, Alpha Prime glided to the front of the trio, with his companions flanking him.  When he got close enough for it to become clear that he wanted my attention, I looked up.
He was already tall, at least six-six, and floating several inches off the floor probably made Alpha Prime seem even more imposing to most people. Rather than crane my neck looking up at him, I leaned back in my chair. I spent a moment letting my gaze shift to each of them in turn.
“Can I help you?” I asked no one in particular.
Alpha Prime frowned slightly. My guess was that he was used to people being overawed by the presence of the Alpha League in general (and by him in particular).
Sorry, buddy, I thought. Fresh out of awe.
“We’re looking for the owner,” Alpha Prime said after a moment, his voice a magnificent baritone.
“You’re also looking at him,” I countered.
“You’re Dale Theodore Goodson?” Esper asked.
“Every day,” I replied. “But most people call me Mouse.”
“That’s right,” Buzz chimed in, snapping his fingers once. “You were Power Piston’s sidekick at one point. I think I remember you.”
“No you don’t,” I corrected him. “You just remember the facts you read in whatever file or dossier you pulled up on me before you came here. And I wasn’t Power Piston’s sidekick. I was his partner.”
Buzz, turning red with anger, was on the verge of saying something when Esper suddenly stepped forward.
“We have something we’d like you to take a look at,” she said. At that point, I realized that she was holding a folded piece of paper. She opened it up and laid it on the counter in front of me. “Do you know what this is?”
“Sure,” I said, glancing at what was on the paper. “It’s a portion of the schematics for a suit of power armor. To be precise, this shows part of a shoulder-mounted cannon.”
“Are you certain?” she asked.
I nodded. “No doubt.”
Her brow crinkled slightly. “How can you be sure?”
“Because I’m the one who designed it.”
“A-ha!” Buzz practically bellowed, like he’d just caught a kid with his hand in the cookie jar. “So you admit it!”
I frowned. “Admit what?”
“That you built this,” Buzz said as he step forward and tapped the sheet of paper with the diagram on it.
“No,” I declared, shaking my head. “I said that I designed it. I assume that the guy I sold the schematics to built it.”
“And who would that be?” asked Alpha Prime.
I crossed my arms defiantly. “I’m sorry, but my client list is confidential.”
“List?” Esper repeated. “How many of these designs have you sold to people?”
“That’s confidential as well,” I replied. “But I will say that I do more than just armor. In fact, I can design almost anything a client wants. It makes for a profitable niche.”
“Let’s just go ahead and clear the air here,” Alpha Prime said. “We know that the client you sold these schematics to was Gun-Greave, and you can stop all the ‘confidentiality’ nonsense because he’s dead.”
Although this was surprising news, I kept my voice neutral. “Gun-Greave’s dead? When?”
“Last night” Alpha Prime replied.
“What happened?” I asked casually.
“He went criminal,” said Esper.
I shook my head. “Doesn’t sound like the fellow I dealt with. You must have the wrong guy.”
“No, it was him,” Alpha Prime assured me. “He got caught trying to break into a museum vault.”
“Yeah,” Buzz added. “And he just happened to be wearing the power armor you designed when he did it.”
I shrugged. “So what’s your point?”
Buzz placed his hands on the counter and leaned forward. “My point, asshole, is that you’re in league with criminals.”
“First of all,” I said, “he wasn’t a criminal when I sold him the design. He was a guy with dreams of maybe joining a superhero team, but his crappy armor wasn’t cutting it, so he came to me.”
“Well, that makes sense,” Buzz sneered. “Since you know all about not cutting it, don’t you?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I practically demanded. 
“I think you know exactly what it means,” Buzz said. “You went out for the Super Trials three years in a row and failed miserably every time. Later, you barely made it as a sidekick.”
“Buzz!” Alpha Prime barked. “That’s enough.”
“I’m only quoting what’s in his file,” Buzz said innocently.
I was starting to fume. Buzz had inadvertently settled on the one issue that was definitely a hot-button topic for me. Normally I try to keep my face impassive, but something must have shown because I felt Esper once again trying to surreptitiously poke around the outer rim of my mind – this time, presumably, in an effort to keep me calm. (In fact, she’d been scanning me since she and her colleagues had entered my shop, but I’d made sure she hadn’t gotten anything worthwhile for her efforts.) I got a grip on my emotions and intentionally leaked enough calm to convince her that I wasn’t going to blow my stack. Satisfied, she ceased her efforts to pacify me but didn’t withdraw completely from my head.
“I apologize for my colleague,” Esper said a second later. “He gets a little passionate when it comes to bad guys.”
“Don’t worry about,” I stated in a monotone voice. “But as I was saying, Gun-Greave didn’t start off as a bad guy, and I just tried to help him out. I couldn’t predict that he’d get tired of walking the straight and narrow.”
“Well, your efforts are what probably got him killed,” Buzz said.
I frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“Your designs were a significant upgrade to what he’d been capable of before, and it became clear that he wasn’t going to let himself be captured,” Alpha Prime said. “With innocent people caught in the crossfire, the only way to take him down was to take him out.”
There followed a moment of silence, and then I muttered stoically, “Well, that’s a damn shame.”
“Yeah,” Buzz said sarcastically. “I can tell you’re really broken up about it.”
I gave him a hard stare.  Obviously, the speedster and I had somehow gotten off on the wrong foot, and he was taking every possible opportunity to needle me. However, before I could respond, Esper interjected.
“Look,” she said, “this wasn’t intended to be antagonistic. We’re actually speaking to you here, instead of at our headquarters, as a courtesy to Power Piston and out of respect for the fact that you two worked together.”
“That’s laughable,” I said, guffawing. “Power Piston would be the last person to show me any favoritism if he thought I’d done something wrong, and there’s no way he would ask it of his teammates.”
Alpha Prime nodded. “You’re right – he wouldn’t ask. He doesn’t even know we’re here, because we thought it would crush him to know that his old partner and protégé might be working outside the law.”
“You’ve got to stretch the facts pretty far to get anywhere close to that conclusion,” I countered. “I haven’t heard anything that implicates me in any illicit activities.”
“Doesn’t it bother you that some of your clients might be criminals, or use your work for illegal purposes?” asked Esper.
I snorted derisively. “It’s not illegal to engage in business with criminals.  It’s only illegal to engage in criminal business. If you’re going to harass me about what I’ve done, are you also going to go after the guy who sells criminals their groceries? How about the power company that supplies their homes with electricity? The department store where they get their clothes?”
“None of those other services directly enable the bad guys to engage in criminal behavior,” Alpha Prime countered.
“Touche,” I said. “But I still don’t see you going after gun manufacturers after their weapons have been used in a robbery. Or taking on auto manufacturers after one of their vehicles is used as a getaway car.”
“Stop trying to spin this like you’re some honest businessman,” Buzz said testily. “You’re as guilty as the criminals you sell to.”
My eyes narrowed. “We’re done here. You can leave now.”
“We’ll leave,” Buzz stated. “But you’re coming with us.”
I blinked. “What?”
Buzz sneered. “We’re not done talking to you. You’re coming back to HQ with us.”
I shook my head. “That’s not gonna happen.”
“We can do it, you know,” Esper said. “Like most superhero teams, we’ve got the authority to take suspects into custody.”
“Maybe with probable cause,” I acknowledged. “Which is sorely lacking in this instance.”
“Even without probable cause, we can detain you if we feel it’s warranted,” said Alpha Prime.
“You can try,” I said, casually stretching my hand across the countertop. Of course, the object I was reaching for wasn’t there, and I spent a few seconds glancing around as if bewildered.
“Looking for something?” Buzz asked. He held up a hand and I saw that he was palming a small square-shaped, metallic device with two buttons on it – one gray and one black.
“Give that back!” I demanded, coming to my feet.
“I don’t think so,” Buzz said with a leer. He turned his attention to the device. “Let’s see… I wonder what will happen if I push this.”
His finger hovered over the black button.
“Don’t press that!” I yelled.
“Or what?” Buzz said, then pressed the button.
There was a momentary crackling sound, and the air in the shop between me and my visitors seemed to flicker for a moment. They realized almost immediately that something had happened, but obviously they had no idea what it was.
I gave them a grin that was practically magnanimous. “I told you not to press that.”

Friday, September 16, 2016

TiVo, Where Art Thou? (And Where's My "Lifetime" Service?)

In the early part of this century (or millennium, however you want to style it - around the year 2000, dammit), I purchased a TiVo.  At the time, I was a hardcore television junkie. I wrote in a previous blog how watching television  is a like a second job (the average American watches 34 hours of TV per week), and I was a textbook example. I spent a lot of time wrestling with video cassettes, setting timers, screaming bloody murder when I accidentally recorded over something I hadn't watched yet...

For me, TiVo was almost like the second coming. It could record tons of shows, I could watch them in any order I wanted, I could get a "season pass" and record every episode of a program - it even learned my preferences and recorded things it thought I would enjoy.  Frankly speaking, within weeks I was wondering how I had ever lived without it. (Had that uncultured, uncivilized Neanderthal with the VCR and box full of VHS tapes truly been me?)

Fast-forward a decade-and-half: TiVo and I are still going strong, a powerful and graceful symbiosis of man and machine. And then the rug gets yanked out from under me: TiVo is being bought by entertainment company Rovi. The buyout in and of itself wasn't terrible news - companies get bought and sold all the time. However, what almost sent me into a raving fit was the fact that the combined company is no longer going to support the TiVo Series 1 (which, as you might guess, is the series I own).


Apparently, Rovi's current software won't run on the Series 1, which is the first generation of TiVo devices.  Adding insult to injury is the fact that, when I bought the thing, I paid like $200 for the Tivo "Lifetime" service (referring to the Tivo subscription service that provides software updates, scheduling info, and so on). Granted that 15+ years is certainly a long time, it doesn't quite meet the definition of "lifetime" in my opinion - not when both I and my TiVo are alive and kicking.  And make no mistake: my TiVo still works.

As you can imagine, I'm a little PO'd about the entire situation, as are plenty of other TiVo owners. To give them credit, TiVo has attempted to mollify the masses by giving us $75 gift cards (which I have yet to receive, mind you).  Taking that into consideration, I'm sure someone will say that I should be satisfied.  After all, bearing in mind the value of the gift card, it would mean that over a fifteen-year period I spent $125 for service that regularly costs like $15/month.  But I'm not satisfied, dammit. I paid for Lifetime service; I want the effin' Lifetime service!  Like the guy in the Xfinity commercial below, I believe that if you sell a product or service, it should work:

Basically, if you sell a lifetime service, it needs to work - and be available - for a lifetime. Not a day, not a year, not a decade.  A lifetime.  Can you imagine the response I'd have gotten if our situations were reversed?  If I had called up TiVo a year ago and said, "Hey, I'm not going to be using my TiVo any more - I've unplugged it and now use it as a paperweight. Can I get a refund on the balance of that Lifetime service contract - say, $75?" They would have told me to eff off, that a deal's a deal, and then suggested that I perform an anatomically impossible act upon myself.

See, those mother-bleeping bleep-sucking, mother-bleepers would have demanded that I honor our deal, so I'd be within my rights to demand no less of them. I expect corporations to exhibit the same level of integrity that I expect from natural persons.  Still, it's probably not worth wrangling over legally (although I could see a class action lawsuit arising out of this).  It'll just have to be enough that I never buy another TiVo/Rovi product again.  Of course, I had the same mindset with respect to the lack of backwards compatibility for the Playstation 4, initially saying that I'd never own one and later breaking down. Somewhat. (My wife bought it for me.  What was I supposed to do, tell her it was a terrible gift???)  

In short, while I know I should never say "never," at the moment I feel that the odds of me ever buying anything from them again are somewhere between slim and none.  And, as they used to say in the old days, slim's outta town...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Exponential Increase in the Cost of Book Promotion

A couple of years ago, one of my early posts on this blog was How to Beat the High Cost of Indie Publishing.  In that post, I basically outlined what I thought was generally required for an author to produce a quality novel. However, while I covered a lot of the basics leading up to the final production of a book (editing, cover, etc.), I failed to address one of the important things that comes after a book's release: marketing and promotion.

As most indies (and even some traditionally published authors) quickly learn, book marketing and promotion is a necessary evil. Unless you are very lucky - almost lotto-winning lucky - getting and maintaining visibility for your work is an ongoing effort. Thus, at some juncture, almost every indie will turn to one of the book promotion sites.

With that in mind, I was recently doing some research into where to apply my marketing efforts for one of my novels.  (This book promotion thing has actually become a bit of a pet project of mine, with me even going so far as to add a Book Marketing and Promotion page to this blog.)  As I investigated, it occurred to me that prices for book promotion seem to have been on a steady increase for a while.  In fact, going back and plugging in some numbers from the past few years yielded the following results:

Needless to say, this is not all book promotion sites, nor all of those that have increased their charges. However, I don't mean to imply that all such sites have been raising their prices. In fact, many of them have not. Still, as you can see, the numbers have shot up significantly for a number of these venues.  That said, some of the dollar figures may seem paltry, but when you consider that many indies will promote a single title across a score of sites simultaneously, it adds up pretty quickly.

Businesses, of course, will typically charge as much as the market will bear. Moreover, indies have shown that they're willing to pay top dollar in order to reach their audiences.  However, the kind of price increases noted above can't continue without some kind of effect.  In many instances, the end result may be that authors will have to raise prices. (Although, in truth, an increase in prices should eventually be expected as a result of ordinary inflation.)

In short, while no one assumed that the cost of promoting books was going to remain static, the exponential increases are worth noting.  That's not to say that the sites that have raised their prices aren't worth it.  (BookBub, for instance, is the gold standard and worth every penny.)  The real takeaway is that, for those of us with limited dollars, it's become more important than ever to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to marketing our work.  In other words, it's time to figure out which promotional sites are actually offering some bang for the buck, because you need every marketing dollar that you spend to work just as hard for you as you did in earning it.

(***Just a quick note about the chart above:  it denotes what promoting on the listed sites cost at various times in the past.  The term "Cheapest Available" generally means the most inexpensive promotional opportunity for a paid book that I could find on a particular site at present.  That said, I tried to make this as much of an apples-to-apples comparison as possible, which meant, for instance, sticking to the same genre when feasible. By way of example, the $160 BookBub promo in 2013 was for the Sci-Fi genre; a promo on BookBub in that same genre will cost $600 today.)

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