Google Alerts for Authors

Google Alerts for AuthorsOne of the things I struggle with in writing these articles is whether or not to talk about subjects that most of our readers already understand. I usually try to stick to topics that I think most people haven’t thought about or where I can share best practices that I don’t think are common knowledge. In this post I’m going to talk about Google Alerts, which I’m sure most of our readers are already using. I’m going to talk about it anyway because it’s so easy and so important that even if only 10% of our readers haven’t set it up, it’s worth it for them.

Google Alerts is a free service provided by Google that can send you an email whenever it finds new content on the internet including a phrase that you’ve entered an alert for. I have an alert setup for “Lizzy Ford”, “Guerrilla Wordfare” and every one of Lizzy’s book titles. Every day I get one email from Google for each alert where it discovered new content on the internet. Sometimes the alerts are from articles we’ve written on our site, sometimes they’re from sites that link to our site a lot like curiosityquills and sometimes they’re from sites I had no idea had linked to us until I saw the alert. The last situation is the reason why you set Google Alerts up. If someone mentions you, your books or your site in a blog post etc., you should check it out.

We’ve discovered blogs which wrote beautiful reviews about Lizzy’s books. Those bloggers should be thanked. Some people advocate offering free copies of other books etc., but that’s a personal decision. If nothing else, a simple ‘thank you’ works wonders!  We’ve met some great people writing about Lizzy and her books via the Google Alerts.  I wouldn’t have known many of these reviews existed if I didn’t have a Google Alert set up for Lizzy’s name and book titles.

Setting up a Google Alerts account at http://www.google.com/alerts is quick, easy, free and worth your time if you haven’t already done it. The first thing you have to decide is what text you want the alert to hit on. As I stated earlier, I have “Lizzy Ford”, “Damian’s Oracle” etc. The other significant options are where you want the alert emailed too and how often you want them emailed (I picked daily). Enter the info, click save and move on to the next Alert. The process will probably only take you a few minutes, and you’ll never have to think about it again, unless you want to add new alerts.

Who Wants Some Free Advertising?

I struggled mightily with what to name this article. I thought about “How to get the most out of a free Google AdWords trial” but that seemed a little boring. “Experiments of a AdWords Cheapskate” was closer to the mark but I ended up going with “Who Wants Some Free Advertising?” because that’s exactly what this article is about.

In a post I wrote a few weeks ago I talked about AdWords, mentioned some pitfalls and said that we hadn’t used it previously, but had just signed up for a free $80 credit to test. I’ve now played with AdWords for a while and identified two strategies that may help an indie author bring visitors to their site.

If you’ve been following my posts, you’ve probably signed up for an AdWords account so you can perform some free and easy keywords analysis. If you haven’t used AdWords for placing ads yet, you should be eligible for a free trial credit. I googled “AdWords” and the top advertisement was from Google and had a link for $75 in free credit. It gave me a code to use when I logged into my AdWords account.  When I applied the code, my credit balance changed to $80. I absolutely love the fact that I never had to give them any credit card information, so there’s no chance of exceeding the budget I pick for my ads.

When you first start, you create a “campaign”. You pick the region(s) you want your ad displayed in, what you’re daily maximum budget is, what by default you’re willing to pay per click, your targeted demographics, what search terms you want your ads displayed for and then you create your ad. I made demographics bold there because you really shouldn’t just gloss over that option. Advertisers a decade ago would have done anything for the type of targeting that we can now do easily on the net. I’ve read some of Lizzy’s books and loved them, but I’m not the target audience. I set our ads up to show for females only.

I made a text ad which stated that we had Free Romance eBooks for your Kindle, Nook, iPad, eReader or Kobo. The ad sat with a status of “under review” for 72 hours and was then declined. When I called to find out why I was told I couldn’t use Kindle or iPad in my ad. That’s lesson one for this. If you’re going to be targeting ads for a specific day (i.e. book launch) then get your ads in ahead of time and get them approved.

I went after females and the keywords “free romance eBooks” and “free romance novels”. Google politely suggested that I pay up to $0.65 a click.  I agreed to their terms and set my daily budget to $10. Google showed my ad 2,700 times and sent me 21 clicks at an average $0.49 a click. $10.33 gone and 21 visitors to show for it. I’m glad it was their money and not mine 🙂 Google left me an alert suggesting that my daily budget was causing me to miss out on a lot of impressions and that I should raise it. No thanks.

For the next two days, I lowered the amount I was willing to pay to $0.25 a click. In those two days Google showed my ad 4,500 times, and I got 88 clicks for my $20.75. $0.24 a visitor is a lot better then $0.49 a visitor, but I wasn’t done yet. I channeled my inner tightwad and told Google I would only pay $0.14 a click. That day Google showed my ad 2,840 times and gave my 59 clicks for $8.21. I was actually happy with $0.14 per visitor but I had to see how far I could push it.

Lowering my bid to $0.12 a click dropped it to 1,927 impressions and 31 visitors at a cost of $3.70. I was surprised I had gotten down this far and was still getting shown. I had to try $0.05 a click, right?? I did $0.05 a click for two days and got 1,029 impressions and 15 clicks for $0.54 total cost. $0.12 to $0.05 was a big drop in traffic.

I knew I wouldn’t get much but I had to try $0.01. To my amazement I got 114 impressions but no clicks. I can’t imagine what sites Google has me at the bottom of with my generous offer to give them $0.01 of their own money back.

I spoke to the Google AdWords representative on the phone and he told me there was no time limit on using the credits once they were applied to your account.  By all means, go grab them now if you already haven’t. How you should use them is up to you but two strategies seem to stand out.

1: If you have a book launch, signing, or other big event you want to draw people into, this could be a free easy way. If I had set my daily budget to $40 and my per click to $0.25, then I probably would of gotten about 250 visitors in that two day period. If that sounds appealing to you, then go for it.

2: If you don’t want to draw a lot of people at once but rather over time at an inexpensive cost, then try the “trickle” method. If my $0.05 numbers hold out over a long period of time then I will pull in ~15 people a day over the course of almost 4 months, for a total of 1600.

If you use the free credits Google offers, you’re getting free, no risk advertising for your site. Remember that these figures are for the keywords I chose, and that the cost for keywords can very greatly depending on their popularity. $0.25 may get you great placement for these words, but no visibility on more popular terms.

If you do take advantage of the Google AdWords credits, please post back here and let me know what keywords you picked, what they were costing you and your results!

People in India Love Free Online Romance Novels

Why should you care that Indians love free online romance novels? Because in late July of this year, Amazon announced that it would be launching in India early in 2012. When I first read the news on Konrath’s Blog I started to do a little dance. We have a huge head start, as India already loves Lizzy Ford.

Lizzy has discussed in several places about how we decided to release all books she planned to write this year for free in an attempt to build a back-list and a fan base. If you’ve read those articles, you know our plan is so far working better than expected. We can 100% take credit for that little bit of careful planning. What we didn’t see coming was that the country with the second most downloads of our free romance novels would be India.

Earlier this year, in an effort to build a fan base, I scoured the internet and put Lizzy’s books on many different websites catering to free eBooks. Whenever I went to check our numbers, the United States always had the most downloads (no surprise there) but #2 was always India. That’s when I first learned that Indians love free online romance novels. I thought that made sense; while only 11% of Indian’s population speaks English, 11% of a billion people is still quite a few people.

The exciting part comes when you realize that people in India don’t have a mechanism for paying for eBooks right now. Amazon hasn’t set up shop yet. The only people with Kindles are ones who had them shipped over from the United States. Indians don’t just want free online romance novels because they’re free, they want them because they’re the only romance novels they’re able to get in eBook format right now. Amazon has rooms full of people much smarter then I am crunching the numbers and deciding to go into India with full force.

I really don’t know how much our sales will increase once Amazon is in India. A 10% bump in all of our sales would seem to be a safe estimate. That doesn’t sound like much but a 10% boost for doing absolutely nothing is pretty darn powerful. I also think there’s a chance it could be more then 10% after seeing our stats on Alexa.com the other day.  Our website showed up as being the 464,679 most visited website in the world. Our ranking in the US is 81,277. As I started to close Alexa, I noticed there was a second flag and number beneath the U.S. flag. Alexa is now telling me that our site is the 291,309 most visited website in India. That’s pretty cool! We don’t even have a ranking in the United Kingdom but we do in India.

I checked India’s version of Google (Google.in).  It shows us in the top 10 for several good keywords. Things like this make me even more excited about India’s potential.

In the United States, a romance novel by Jude Deveraux is going to sell a lot more then a romance novel by Lizzy Ford, because Ms. Deveraux has name recognition and a huge fan base. I’m sure some of those advantages already apply in India, and I’m sure Amazon will be giving the top selling authors quite a push.  But it also seems like the early period after launch could be a state of flux that leaves those willing to fight for market share able to grab a bigger piece than they’ve been able to acquire in the U.S., where reading habits have been formed through books bought on store shelves and in airport gift shops.

While I’m still figuring out what steps I plan to take (if any) to try to increase our profile in India, I think the main lesson we learned is that – by using non traditional distribution methods -you may end up reaching markets you never anticipated.

Defining Lizzy’s Target Audience: A Necessary Exercise

I read John Locke’s book, entitled, “How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!” to get an idea of how other indies are tackling their marketing strategies.  I decided to do at least one exercise based on what I learned from him: define my target audience as more than “paranormal romance readers.”  If you read his book, you’ll know he wrote a page or two describing his audience, down to what his readers’ professions are, because he writes with a very specific market in mind.  And it’s worked for him.

I spent my plane ride to DC today mulling over the 500+ posts to my website, several hundred fan emails, hundreds of reviews, and other correspondence with my readers to define my target audience.  This should not be considered a one-size-fits-all description, as I’ve pieced together themes and traits from a whole range of information.  However, in writing the below, I do feel as though I understand better why Katie’s Hellion went over so well.  Haha!

Here she is.  Introducing: my target audience.

My Target Audience still believes in true love while fully acknowledging that Cinderella’s evil Step-Mom probably ruined her marriage to Prince Charming, and Cindy lost her half of the kingdom in the divorce.  Target Audience likes happy endings, but wants to know if Sleeping Beauty would’ve chosen the poisoned apple if she had known there was a 50% chance she’d die and a 50% chance she’d find her true love.  

Life has probably beaten up Target Audience in multiple cage matches.  She doesn’t need things sugar-coated, but still needs to know there’s room for hope and the occasional winning lottery ticket.  Target Audience is tech savvy, of above average intelligence, enjoys puzzles and most surprises, and has a quirky sense of humor shaped by run-ins with the Dark Side.  Target Audience is strong natured, independent in thought and enjoys being around others who are similar.  She loves secret little adventures, finds rainbows when it’s storming (even if she sometimes wants to destroy them), and believes in occasional indulgences. 

Target Audience believes life is a combination of magic, tragedy, and shades of grey.  She’s honest, believes in second chances for (almost) everyone and probably thinks she’s much more flawed than she is.  She’d also really like a Fairy Godmother but realizes that probably won’t happen, so she’ll figure it out on her own.  She likes to use her imagination and lose herself in a good story.

This is a start … 🙂

(L)earning from reviewers

What happens when you start to receive conflicting feedback from your reviewers?  I’ve had this happen on multiple occasions.  At first, I was pretty baffled.  If I thought there was a problem in the readability of the novel one way or the other, I’d have changed it prior to putting it out there!

But I missed something, and two camps of people didn’t.  Only, they don’t agree with each other about what IT is exactly! 

I decided I needed to take three steps:

  • identify the underlying issue whose symptoms my reviewers were seeing.  For me, this almost always involves writing trade craft or mechanics.
  • fix the defect affecting my storytelling ability
  • experiment until I found a balance between good storytelling and good writing trade craft/mechanics

 Here’s an example:

 In my first novel, Damian’s Oracle, I had folks (hereby known as Camp 1) say they didn’t like the first half of the novel.  Some said it was too flowery, others that it was too slow, and still others that it was wordy.  Camp 1 liked the second half of the novel, where there was less prose, more action/dialogue.

Camp 2 said the first half was ideal, as it gave them insight and the ability to learn about the characters and setting.  This camp said that the second half of the book was rushed with not enough quality time with the characters.

Soooo … What did I do with these conflicting messages?! 

The underlying issue was clear: there was a change of pace and writing style mid-story that people noticed.  Bad or good – it was there.

 My first decision was to smooth out this in the sequel, Damian’s Assassin.  For Damian’s Assassin, I chose the style of the second half of Damian’s Oracle: less time with the characters and more action/dialogue.

The reviews: Camp 1 detested the pace and lack of character time, saying the book was over-edited and too rushed.

Camp 2 loved it.

Soooo … what does this tell me?!

Sounds bad, but it tells me I did one thing right: there was no split about which part of the book was better, so I smoothed out the mechanics of my storytelling.  Rather than call it quits at this, I took another look at the book and realized I needed to find a way to balance the mechanics with the storytelling (plot and characters) a little more.

This leads me to my third novel, The Warlord’s Secret, which will be out soon.  We’ll see if I managed to balance the two and what else I can do to improve!

(G)oing guerrilla

I’ve known since I was in the third grade that I wanted to be a writer, but I’ve never been able to get an agent or a publisher to give me the time of day.  So … what happens then?!  Giving up on my dream isn’t in my nature. 

There are a lot of blogs dedicated to discussing the pros and cons of either going indie or staying with the traditional publishing industry.  I won’t go into those arguments.  I really don’t care – I want to get my books to readers.  Period.  I will tell you what I’ve learned over the years and why I’m happy I went guerrilla.

1. I played the slush pile lotto game and agent game off and on for ten years without success.  Even the agents who got back to me initially didn’t get back to me again after reading whatever it was they requested.

Before I epublished Damian’s Oracle, I sent queries to quite a few agents, of which, roughly 1/3 didn’t respond, 1/3 eventually responded with a form letter saying they didn’t have time to read all the mail coming into their office and 1/3 that responded with one sentence form letters that said thanks-but-no-thanks.

After I epublished Damian’s Oracle, I sent queries of a different kind.  Instead of using the industry standard form letter for query letters you see advertised EVERYWHERE, I spent the letter telling them not only who my audience was, but how many readers I’d reached to date with my books, what their demographics were, what the reviews were, and so on.  I included ONE SENTENCE in the letter about the actual project.

My ratios were: 1/3 didn’t respond; 2/3 responded within minimal time requesting more information/partials/full mss. 

Lesson: What others tell you to do in terms of form letter queries is less likely to land you an agent than a sales pitch.  Write a sales pitch with substantiated information that shows you can not only move a product, but produce a product people want, and maybe you’ll increase your chances.

2. ePublishing removed a lot of the stink that accompanied the dreaded ‘self-published’ label.  You’ll still find the literati snub their noses at the self-published, but you’ll also find more people – especially readers – open to self-published ebooks.

Before, I believed the misperception that only people who weren’t good enough to land a publisher decided to self-publish.  It depressed me, because I couldn’t land a publisher (or agent!) either, and I had no alternative to put my writing in readers’ hands.   I’m a compulsive writer with a gift for storytelling – was there no way for me to do what I love with my life?!

With the advancement of technology, I began to see something different: technology offered writers (without connections to the industry) a means to get their work out there, and market themselves and their writing to an international audience.  It’s accessible, CHEAP, and puts my books where people can read them.  I stopped believing ‘self-published’ was for losers (like me!) and began to appreciate what technology offered me: the ability to do what I love and share it with the world.

Lesson: Technology + my writing = happy readers.

3. I realized publishing is a business.  Sounds stupid, but new authors are risks to companies with slim profit margins.  I cost them money.  Would I give my money to a paperboy who won’t guarantee he’ll deliver my paper every day?  Nope.  Neither do publishing companies. 

This, too, helped me realize that my inability to get an agent or publisher wasn’t necessarily tied to my skills as a writer.  I’m not a loser – I’m a risk no one was willing to take.

Lesson: I’m taking the risk no one else will and throwing myself and my writing out there for the world to judge for my 12 month experiment.

4. If I don’t invest in my writing, no one else has a reason to, including agents, publishers, and READERS.  It’s not enough to write a good book and a query letter.  There’s more: improving my trade craft, investing in an editor to guide my growth, pursuing my online presence, continuing to grow as a writer, and refining my story telling ability based on readers’ reviews. 

Lesson: My growth as a writer STARTS when the book is done. 

I’ve learned more from the first three months of my 12 month experiment than I did in ten years of following the rules laid out in mainstream writing books/digests, how-to books on writing/marketing/online advertising, and participating in critique groups and contests.  I look forward to everything I’ll learn through the rest of 2011, and I’ll be sure to share it for other guerrilla writers out there!

(F)eaturing cover art by Dafeenah

For those who visit regularly, you know my next novel, The Warlord’s Secret, is due out pretty soon, in about 2 weeks (or less!)  I’ve posted the cover art and synopsis for two reasons: 1- I hope you read my book!  2 -I wanted to show just how good of a cover artist Dafeenah is.  The blurb below is all she knew about my book, and her initial mock-up was pretty darn close to the final version below!  She’s talented and absolutely wonderful to work with.  She’s just now foraying into cover art but managed to capture and portray the depth and mystery of the book beautifully!  Thank you, Dafeenah! 

The Warlord’s Secret synopsis: The demon-possessed Queen of Tiyan is at war with enemy kingdoms and her own impending madness.  She discovers the answer to both her problems in Taran, a slave-turned-scout obsessed with vengeance and determined to have Tiyan and its queen for his own.

You can contact Dafeenah via her blog.

(e)Lance: hunting for indie editors

About a month ago, I decided I needed to find an editor.  I’ve read a lot about what makes an indie author successful among the thousands of indie authors publishing ebooks, and I’ve read a lot of reviews of other indie authors’ works.  The major theme I noticed: a well-edited book is important!  Poor editing is criticized mercilessly by readers.  (By editing, I mean everything from bad grammar/spelling to a story’s structure, flow, development, etc.)  I’ve received several comments about typos and character development in reviews of my books.  Even the most successful of indie authors (AH) lamented the comments she’s received about the shape of her books. 

For those who know how much good fiction editors can charge, you know you’ll likely need another part-time job to hire one, more so if you’re trying to produce, say, 12 books in a year!  It’s also difficult to know where to go to find freelance editors with good reputations.  Finally, for me, it was scary to venture into Editor-land, given the general view of writers that editors are at least going to ask me to do something that bruises my pride in my work or at most, will tell me my work sucks and I shouldn’t quit my day job (had that happen once.)  What I had to remind myself is this: it’s an investment in my writing and me. 

IT Sherpa recommended eLance, an online site for professional freelancers of every kind and the folks who hope to hire them.  The site lists the providers’ profiles and resumes, displays their reviews from others they’ve worked for, and -in many cases – outlines an approximate cost.  The process of placing a contract for indie editors to bid on is simple: describe your job, define the price target range, and post a contract.  It’s also FREE to post a contract, which is big here at GW. 

I wrote a contract that expressed my writing goals, my accomplishments to date, my weak points in writing, the project, AND INCLUDED LINKS TO WHERE THEY COULD FIND MY WORK.  I didn’t realize how important this was until I started to receive proposals from freelance editors.  The shape your work is in will most likely determine how much someone will charge you to fix it!    

You can also peruse through all the profiles of the indie editors on the site, invite ones you feel will be a good fit, and sit back and wait for proposals.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I was stunned to receive about 17 proposals bidding on my contract within about 3 days. 

What was more amazing was the quality of editors.  These aren’t just people who will run spell check on your manuscript: they were real book editors who do this for a living.  I’ve listed the top few who really impressed me below.  What these editors have in common: provided personalized responses to my contract, read my work and gave initial impressions, were just beyond qualified based on their past work, and were flexible in their pricing and their schedules.  

Ultimately I went with Christine, whose bio I posted on Monday.  I was also very impressed by the following: JoAnn, Rebecca, and Amber.  If you contact any of them, tell them you received their name from Lizzy Ford!

eLance also allows you to track and pay for the work done online, and provides a pretty simple-to-use dashboard so you can manage your contracts as well as communicate with your indie editor.

Christine is working on her first project for me, so I’m totally thrilled to see how the next step unfolds.  I’ll post again down the road with more details!

The (A)rt of Wordfare by Lizzy “Sun Tzu” Ford

For my first blog entry in April’s A-to-Z Challenge:

I love the Art of War by Sun Tzu and think a lot of his advice can be applied to life in general.  If Sun Tzu were still alive, he might provide us indie writers advice such as the below. (Note: I denoted the commonly translated chapter titles for each of the 13 chapters of the Art of War in quotes.)

1. “Laying plans”

Be well organized, disciplined, and perseverant in your approach to writing.

2.” Waging war”

Find cost effective ways to execute the basics, such as marketing, web hosting, distribution, etc.

3. “Attack by stratagem”

Approach writing as a business that needs a business plan, complete with evaluations of strengths and weaknesses of the industry, marketing/distribution/etc. you chose, and of your own writing.

4. “Tactical dispositions”

Pursue opportunities, such as self-pub and epublishing, while waiting for agents/publishers to return emails/calls/snail mails.

5. “Energy”

Understand how the traditional publishing industry works, then look for ways to leverage non-traditional ways to be successful.

6. “Weak Points and Strong”

Pursue technology (epublishing, blogging, Twitter, etc.) that publishers have not yet begun to dominate.

7. “Maneuvering”

Don’t try tell agents/publishers/editors how good you are – show them with your ability to move books without them.

8. “Variation in tactics”

Be flexible and adaptable to everything from feedback from readers to shifts in epublishing technology to learning from other indie writers, so you don’t make the same mistakes.

9. “The army on the march”

Evaluate the publishing landscapes as you go so you know when/where to adapt your business model

10. “Terrain”

Understand the opportunities and shortfalls offered by your publishing options

11. “The nine territories”

Refer to your business plan and goals as you go in order to keep in mind where you’re going and where you need to adapt because of changes outside your control

12. “The attack of fire”

Be smart about creating a brand in your approach to self-publishing by learning from others and be ready for all types of feedback.

13. “The use of spies”

To get good insight into the publishing industries (epub, self-pub, trad’l pub), do your research on all of them and keep updated on what’s going on.

Editing and the self-published: a quandry

I rec’d a review this week that made me think.  Someone gave a really positive review of “Damian’s Oracle” and said it was really good – for a self-published book.  It wasn’t a slam by any means, but it did make me think.  I want to be really good BY ANY STANDARD. 

I reviewed all the comments to date on both books.  I do have clunky sentences, some grammatical/typos, and flow problems that my readers have commented on.  I see them, but admit – I don’t always know what to do to fix them!!!  The answer isn’t as easy as running spell check!!!  I decided I should probably find an indie editor who won’t cost me a fortune. 

I am wondering, though: is it worth the financial and time investment for an indie writer to hire a professional editor?? 

I’m not sure … any thoughts?!