Goodreads, USA.

In this post last month I commented on the fact that my Silent Symmetry free Kindle ebook promotion was far more successful in the US than in Canada and the UK:

On another note, if any self-published authors out there have the slightest idea why the Silent Symmetry ebook was downloaded over 2,500 times last week in the US but only 9 times in Canada and 58 in the UK, I’d love to hear their theories! Since Facebook,  Twitter and blogs are essentially international, I can’t for the life of me figure out why these figures are so disproportionately skewed in favour of the US. More copies were downloaded in India than in Canada where I live and wrote the book! As Jerry Seinfeld used to say, “What’s up with that?”

Well, Jerry, I think I’ve found the answer. I had never tried out website ranking site before, but yesterday I used it to check on the readership stats of a couple of indie publishing blogs (basically to figure out the potential reach of writing a guest post for them). Then, for the heck of it, I entered the Goodreads URL. Within seconds I had the answer to my conundrum. And I might have found an extra answer too! Scrolling down the Alexa page for Goodreads, I saw this graph and accompanying information:

Goodreads Alexa stats

I don’t know why this appears so small. Just click on it to enlarge. Sorry!

There you have it! 42% of Goodreads visitors come from the US, while only 3% are from England and 2% from Canada. Tellingly, giving my original observation, 16% come from India. All this leads to one inescapable conclusion: the Goodreads ad campaign that I ran during the promotion attracted far more readers who then downloaded a free copy than all of the tweeting and coverage on blogs combined.

Hold on a second, I hear you say – if that’s the case, and there are about 10 times as many Goodreads visitors from the US than the UK, how come the book was downloaded 50 times more often by Americans?

Good question! And the answer is also the extra bonus answer to my original question: First off, a chunk of those 2,500 Americans might well have heard about the freebie through sources other than Goodreads. Fair enough. And maybe Silent Symmetry also appeals more to Americans than to Brits. Also fair enough. The crucial thing is that Amazon’s free ebook charts create a chain reaction that tips the balance further and further in favour of a popular book (or at least their charts did until they were nerfed earlier this month; a topic I’ll be blogging about soon) because once a book appears in the top 10 of one of their charts, its visibility increases exponentially, which leads to more downloads until a critical mass is reached and there’s a nucl-ebook explosion. Groan.

Since Amazon’s charts are separate for each territory, the exponential impact of Silent Symmetry’s top-10 appearance in the US due to the higher Goodreads ad visibility wasn’t mirrored in the UK, where the Goodreads ads didn’t reach nearly as many people in the first place and the book only hovered in the top 100 freebies on, thus creating no critical mass.

As for Canada, it just shows how Facebook isn’t really all that powerful for a free ebook promotion.

If anyone’s still reading at this point… well done! You deserve a free ebook. Sign up for my mailing list using the link at the top-right of the page and I’ll send you one.

A scene makeover

This week I rewrote a scene from my YA novel Silent Symmetry, the goal being to make it a bit more suspenseful. I’m sharing my rewriting method in case it’s useful for other writers, either aspiring or already published.

When I need to give a fiction or screenplay scene a makeover I find it unproductive to work on the existing scene. Why? Because I’m too precious about what I’ve already written. Oh, those wonderful turns of phrase and deliciously appropriate vocabulary choices! Right. It wouldn’t need a makeover if it was so amazing…

Blank pages

The dreaded blank pages can be your friend!

So I find it best to set aside my original scene, start a new Word or Final Draft document and rewrite it from scratch. That way, the best bits from the first version of the scene should automatically pop into my head when needed, while the chaff will be forgotten. Even though most writers hate the blank page, it’s actually the most effective tool if you want to truly revamp your scene rather than simply tinker with it.

Then, when you have your brand new version, you can see whether it’s an improvement on the original and incorporate whatever elements you’d overlooked but were actually good (since the human mind, and hence this method, isn’t infallible).

Oh yeah – here’s some news – the Silent Symmetry rewrite is done. I started proofreading yesterday. Out loud (as I discussed in a previous post). It’s kind of fun and really is the only way to make sure the sentences flow and that you haven’t made any mistakes.

And now it’s time to get back to it!

[“Image courtesy of adamr/”]

Going with the flow

I am not a spontaneous person. There, I’ve said it. But before I said it, I thought about saying it for a while, which only proves my point. I like to plan things, to know what’s going to happen, and while I wouldn’t label myself a control freak, I do like to be in charge of my own fate.

This isn’t a bad character trait for a professional writer. Ordering your thoughts, knowing who your audience is and delivering a message that they will understand demands a methodical mindset. I like to plan my stories or screenplays in advance. Maybe not the entire thing, but I’m never faced with blank-page syndrome because at the very minimum there’s always at least one new scene that I have mapped out prior to sitting down at my desk.

There are always exceptions though. Like the dream I mentioned in a previous post that inspired me to create an entire new character for my YA trilogy and centre a novel around him. Or like researching a location on Google Earth, then finding a bunch of interesting features in the vicinity that I hadn’t intended to incorporate in that section of my book.

But no matter how creative I am, I know very well that in real life I like it when things run smoothly. So when I found out last week that my epublisher was closing its doors, only a month before publication of my novel The New Sense, I was suddenly outside my comfort zone. This was enforced spontaneity. And you know what? I think it might be doing me some good! I’ve already run a few tests using Google’s epub coding tool Sigil and am now far more confident about being able to achieve the relatively complex formatting that The New Sense requires (although clearly defining fonts for an ebook is as pie-in-the-sky as page numbering).

Sigil is Google’s free epub coding tool

Now that it looks like I’ll be able to code The New Sense myself, the other big decision I have to make is whether to distribute via Smashwords or through each ebook store separately. And that will probably be the subject of another post.

Crisitunity knocks…

I’m back from vacation and reality has hit with a nasty thump. Because what you don’t want to hear when your novel is a month away from being published is that your publisher has decided to close his company. But that’s what happened to me yesterday.

My immediate reaction was one of shot. No, that’s not a typo for “shock”. I literally felt like having a shot of tequila. My second reaction was to look on the bright side. What positives can I take from this? Well, The New Sense has improved since my publisher, Chris, became involved. I now have an edited manuscript, a cover, a video interview and a half-completed promo video. What I don’t have is an epub version of my book.

Tequila shot

Solution #1

Any fellow self-epublished authors reading my tale of woe might at this point be thinking, “Well, that’s no big deal – just use Smashwords!” After all, I created and distributed my short story collection Life is Good through Smashwords and it worked like a charm. The trouble is, The New Sense has some complex formatting and several visual elements that have always put me off trying to go the Smashwords route with it.

The novel is based on the main character Sara’s daily journal that she eventually converts into a blog. But a large portion of the book is also a series of email exchanges between Sara and the other main character: the mysterious father of her unborn child who she calls B—. It’s important for me that these emails look like emails, with the From, To, Subject and Time/Date fields, not just from a realism perspective but because sometimes these details are significant for the mystery. In my MS Word manuscript these emails are even in a different font, which is something that is almost impossible to reproduce across a range of eReader devices.

Now, however, I have no choice but to do it myself. And to quote Homer Simpson when informed by Lisa that the Chinese use the same word for “crisis” as they do for “opportunity”, this is a “crisitunity”.

The downside of this situation is that I have to do a lot more work myself; time that I could be spending on writing and epublishing my YA novel Silent Symmetry. The upside has several angles: I can control the publication date of The New Sense so it doesn’t compete with Silent Symmetry, I’ll learn a lot more about epub formatting, and of course I’ll earn a higher royalty on sales.

Chris advised me to try using Google’s free epub online coding tool Sigil. Since Smashwords will be accepting epub uploads before the end of this year, this might be an option. I’ll run some tests of the more complex sections of the book to see if I’m happy with the epub results. If it works and I have an epub version of The New Sense in hand, it will be up to me to decide whether to distribute through Smashwords or through each separate channel myself. Either way, it seems pretty clear to me that The New Sense will have to wait until after Silent Symmetry is epublished to see the digital light of day.

I didn’t end up doing the tequila shot yesterday. And today with a clear head I can see a brighter new horizon ahead for The New Sense.

Photo credit: mrmatt / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Earth to Goodreads: Testing, testing…

Maybe you’ve heard of Goodreads, a great site for book lovers. Readers can rate and review books they’ve read, create a virtual bookshelf and share it with other users. plus buy books through link to the major online retailers. To my eternal shame, I’d never heard of Goodreads until my publisher Chris Trudeau mentioned it to me as a great way for authors to promote their books. Okay, so my shame wasn’t eternal, it lasted about 18 seconds. And it wasn’t really shame, just mild surprise that I wasn’t aware of a site this, um, good. But I’m going for melodrama in this otherwise dry post, so eternal shame is the phrase I’m using.

After signing up and rating about 80 books I’ve read, I then created an author profile and uploaded a link to my short story collection Life is Good. Here’s what it looks like:

John B. Dutton Goodreads author page

This what it looks like when you haven’t had any reviews… Click the image to go the the book’s Goodreads page.

So far, so good. But what also attracted me to Goodreads is that you can advertise your book on the site. And you can target it by age range or subject matter, which is a fantastic way of reaching an audience that your work might appeal to. You set your bid level for clicks and an overall budget for the time period you choose. This ensures that you won’t overspend your marketing dollars (if you feel like spending is a good idea, of course), because you only pay for clicks, and as long as you’ve written an accurate, enticing ad, some of those clicks should spur purchases. And some of those purchases should translate into (hopefully) positive ratings and shares on readers’ bookshelves.

In other words, you’re kickstarting a viral campaign (which is what online sharing really means). Because depending on friends and family to repost on Facebook or retweet on Twitter probably won’t be enough to get your work known outside your social circles.

Having said all this, I’ve chosen to run my Goodreads ad for one week as a test. In fact, the whole campaign is really a test for my upcoming Young Adult novel, Silent Symmetry, when ad targeting will be even more important for reaching the right readership.

(Speaking of which, I had a creative meeting with designer Alex Nereuta for the cover the other day. It’s going to be good…)

Check out Goodreads if you like to, you know, read good books. It’s fun to rate the books you’ve read, and the auto-suggestion system works very well to remind you of similar books you’ve read that might have slipped your mind. And hey – you might just see one of the ads for Life is Good!

And so it rebegins…

Yes, I know, rebeggining isn’t a word. But that’s how it seems when you set aside your manuscript for a couple of months, then pick it up again to rewrite it. Everything is fresh, and you almost feel like you’re reading a book written by someone else. And that’s the key idea – the only way to do a proper rewrite is to come at the work as objectively as humanly possible. If it’s not humanly possible, train your cat to do it.

Cat using an iPhone

Cats are now using smartphones.
[Photo: koratmember /]

Because you have to put yourself in the skin of a first-time reader in another city or country. Rewriting can turn a work from good to great, from interesting to a page-turner, from meh to wow. (Or, if you’re using the cat method, from meh to meow.)

So today I start the rewriting process for my Young Adult novel Silent Symmetry. I used to think that rewriting was a chore, but now I find it the most exciting part of writing. Why? Because this is my chance to kick it up a notch, catapult it to greatness, and… a bunch of other overused idioms.

Who knows how long it will take. When I write a first draft, my usual habit is to rewrite the previous session’s output before starting the next chunk, so there has already been some superficial rewriting that should have removed a great many mistakes and clunky turns of phrase.

Cat food

Cats work for cat food.
[Photo: kongsky /]

But the advantage of setting the novel aside since late May and coming at it afresh today is that I will truly be able to get a feel for the flow. Did I overuse a verb or adjective? Are there places where the action lulls? Are there other places where I skimmed a scene and could add more detail? All these questions and more will be answered over the next few weeks.

Besides, I have no choice. I don’t have a cat.

The imaginary boss

As you’ll have read if you clicked on the bio tab above, I’m writing a YA (young adult) novel called Silent Symmetry. I set myself a 3,000-word weekly target when I started back in January, and I’ve stuck to it apart from one vacation week and one insane work week (when I actually did spend time plotting out the ending). I find that the only way to get any real work done is to have an imaginary friend. Except that this one isn’t your friend – he or she is a horrible boss. And you signed a contract with this boss to churn out X number of words or pages per week. If your imaginary boss is slightly less horrible, your contract may be to work for a certain number of hours per week, but, as it says in the title of this blog, sitting at your desk isn’t work. Just like a real boss who prowls around the cubicles, if he or she isn’t demanding measurable output, you’ll work as though you’re sitting in a cubicle. You’ll do research that slides into surfing. Or to take a “reward break” on Facebook that slides into YouTube. Or create a blog about writing that slides into tweaking a colour scheme…

Writing is easy. People write stuff every day. But if you actually want to produce a written work, you need to hire yourself an imaginary boss. The good news is, they work for free. The bad news is, so do you. For now.