You have been culled

When it comes to book authorship, the stat that matters is sales. There are lots of other stats you can follow, but they don’t mean much if they don’t result in sales. Most of the stats you can watch don’t result in sales.

If you are an Indie/self-published author, and you don’t have lots of time or money to spend on promotion, you might not see much movement in your sales numbers.

There are many reason why you may not have time for promotion: you work a day job; you have multiple family obligations (e.g. children); you need your limited spare time to write more books.

Likewise, there are good reasons you may lack funds for promotion: your day job doesn’t pay well; your family obligations outgrow their shoes every three months; Uber passengers complained because you were typing at a keyboard while you’re driving in your spare time.

Sorry children. Daddy bought a banner ad instead. You’ll just have share the one pair until the sales start rolling in.

Everyone has their crosses to bear, and anemic book sales is one of yours. Compared to keeping your family obligations healthy and in fitting shoes, it’s not even a heavy one.

But it’s the reason you bother to look at other statistics.

Other statistics are less important, but they’re probably more interesting than the drying wall of paint that is your sales total. They can keep you engaged in your own writing career (using career loosely) until that future day when you actually develop a writing career.

Goodreads offers a full menu of ancillary stats. These stats don’t mean much in terms of charting success, but an author can move them without a huge investment of time or money.

It’s kind of an illusion to make you feel better.

If it makes you feel better, it’s a useful illusion.

The easiest feel-good illusion to create on Goodreads is the “to read” line. You can bump this by giving away a single book. When people enter the giveaway, a percentage of them neglect to uncheck the box that puts the book on their “to read” shelf, making it appear as if new readers are getting ready to read your book.

Like all temporary stupors, this Giveaway buzz comes with a hangover. Periodically, Goodreads readers realize their own mortalities, and that no one is likely to read 250,000 books in one lifetime. They turn to their “to read” lists and weed out some of the whims and un-won freebies. This is your book. You have been culled.

Being culled is somewhere below spilled milk on the list of things to cry over. Yes, a number related to your book has gone down, which isn’t good, but it’s a fantasy number. “To read” numbers rarely translate into “currently reading” numbers, which is the only stat in the same neighborhood as sales.

There is no shame in being culled. It means there was a person who at one time was willing to accept your book if it were totally free and delivered directly to their home, and that’s a start. That person has moved on, and so should you, because it’s time to take your family obligations shopping for shoes again.

 

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Clinging to life in the Goodreads Emergency Room

I’m haunted by this recurring vision in which I have a sudden crisis. I am rushed to the hospital and hooked up to all the most sophisticated machinery. As the doctor hovers over me and shines a light into my glassy pupils, the nurse hooks up the monitor, displaying all my vital statistics, as found on my Goodreads Author Dashboard.

The nurse starts reading important stats for the doctor to consider. “His average rating is stable at 4.29, but it’s based on only 21 ratings.”

“How many reviews?” the doctor asks.

The nursed scans the screen. “Seven.”

The doctor sighs. “That explains why I’m seeing signs of a collapsed ego.”

“It gets worse,” the nurse explains. “There are four books showing, but they only show up 1200 times on ‘to read’ shelves.”

The doctor shakes his head. “That’s only 300 per book. It’s a miracle he’s still writing.”

The nurse gasps as she continues reading. “Oh my goodness! There’s only one ‘currently reading’.”

“For each book?” the doctor asks.

“One, total,” the nurse replies, stifling the instinct to cover her mouth with her hand. “He’s hanging on by a thread.”

The doctor wipes sweat from his brow. “This is serious. Please tell me he has a few followers.”

“Yes, 37,” the nurse replies, trying to sound up-beat.

“That’s not good,” the doctor laments, “but I’ve seen worse. Is there anything we can use to jump start his writing career?”

“Well, he’s got quite a number of blog posts, but not too many people read them, maybe one view per post.”

“We’re going to have to do something to get his numbers up before his ambition flatlines. Set up some Giveaways, STAT! Let’s start with three and see where that gets us. Then I want him in some groups. Maybe we can get him interacting with people, if it’s not too late. If we can’t get his numbers up, he has no chance of becoming relevant.”

Later, the doctor greets my loved ones in the waiting room. “His writing career is not out of danger,” he tells them. “The good news is we were able to raise his average rating slightly, to 4.32. Also, we got his ‘to read’ shelf appearances up over 1300 and his followers to 39. These still aren’t great numbers, but, as far as his writing career goes, it’s a step in the right direction.”

“Doctor, I have just one question,” my wife says.

The doctor leans forward, showing a large, empathetic ear. “What is it?”

“Why do you keep making air quotes with your fingers every time you mention his writing career?”

Of writers, self-promotion, and Christmas

I’ve always been wary of self-promotion. As a self-published fiction writer, this leaves me in an awkward position.  Self-published and Self-promotion are twins, and though they may not be identical, when Self-promotion stumbles, Self-published falls. They’re close like that.

I have been letting Self-promotion stumble, with the anticipated result to Self-published. But if there’s one time to give Self-promotion a hand, it’s Christmas. At this most Holy and Commercial time of year it only seems appropriate to give alms to Self-promotion.  I won’t go so far as to suggest the Baby Jesus would endorse it, but I think the Three Wise Men would. After all, how could they afford gold, frankincense, and myrrh? They were wise men who built their brands through self-promotion.

I am now going to attempt to be a wise man, though I still probably won’t be able to afford any frankincense or myrrh by the end of the day. Following is an introduction to my books, which just might make decent Christmas gifts for the readers on your list (hint, hint).

Temp

Temp coverTemp is a great book for past or present temporary and low-level employees, and the people who love them. It’s also for people who like a good laugh in general. If you started out at the top of your field, love no one, and hate laughing, it might not be for you. Otherwise, you’re the bullseye of the target demographic.

(Book description/How to buy)

A Smile Through a Tear

BookCover9AA Smile Through a Tear is a collection of short stories, some funny, some serious, covering several different genres of fiction. If variety is the spice of life, this collection is a literary bottle of tabasco. If these stories get into your eyes, tears may result. Remain calm. It will be from your emotions, not physical damage; the hot spice thing was just a metaphor.

(Book description/How to buy)

A Housefly in Autumn

A Housefly in AutumnA Housefly in Autumn fits all sizes from young adult to old adult. If you’ve ever wondered what YA fiction would look like without vampires, post-apocalyptic survival tips, little people with pointy ears, or the ubiquitous love triangle, this is the book for you. Although I can’t promise there’s not just a hint of love triangle, but it’s certainly not beaten like a dead horse. SPOILER: There’s an actual dead horse for that.*

(Book description/How to Buy)

*Just kidding. Nobody beats the dead horse. It’s all very tasteful.

Well, that’s my self-promotion for this year. I hope I helped you get your Christmas shopping done.

Author, Publisher, Promoter, Exporter . . . Exporter?

Since I last wrote about Goodreads giveaways I’ve opened my giveaways up to more countries besides the U.S. This worked fine when the winner lived in Canada, but after trying to get a book to South Africa, I think I’ve hit my limit.

The shipment to Canada I mailed myself. It cost more than I’d expected but it was easy. In the South African case, it would be less expensive to send a copy directly from Amazon.com to the winner.

Shipping cost $14, on top of the price of the book. I was pleasantly surprised at how reasonable this was, and that’s when the surprises stopped being pleasant.

During the ordering process I learned that South African customs requires the national ID number of the recipient of a package. I suspected the recipient could provide this number to customs when the package arrived there, but I wasn’t sure. Not wanting to ship a book that might never get to its destination, I paused to investigate.

Online searches yielded no helpful information.

Since Amazon had alerted me to the requirement, I decided to ask them about the particulars. I called customer support. The representative assured me all I need was the recipient’s address. Great. I asked him why Amazon requested the recipient’s national ID number in that case. He put me on hold. A minute later, he returned with a changed mind: I certainly needed the ID number to ship the package. I decided to try a different Amazon representative.

Via web chat, the next rep told me I could substitute my own national ID number. The only national ID number I have is my Social Security number, and I’m certainly not plugging that into Amazon to buy a book. Besides, it’s hard to see how my Social Security number would do South African customs any good. I hope they don’t have a database of all American’s and their most personal information. When I asked the rep about this, she began answering questions I had not asked, but not the ones I did. I said thank you and goodbye.

The humble, little humor novel that caused all the trouble. According to Amazon's shipping department, it might just be explosively hilarious.

The humble, little humor novel that caused all the trouble. According to Amazon’s shipping department, it might just be explosively hilarious.

Still confused, I broke down and did the unthinkable. I sent a message through Goodreads to the winner of my giveaway. Goodreads strongly discourages this, but under the circumstances, I hope to be forgiven.

The winner was a very nice man, who even apologized for his country’s red tape. Though I’d been careful not to ask for his ID number, he offered it anyway, along with a more specific address than the one supplied by Goodreads. I returned to my Amazon shopping cart. Problem solved.

Or not.

Amazon would not ship to the new address at all. A pop-up box explained that I might be sending something that South African authorities would not allow – for example, weapons or explosives. Well, I have handled hundreds of copies of this book, and it has never yet exploded. What the pop-up box didn’t mention is that the new address contained the phrase “PO Box,” which is more likely the reason Amazon didn’t want to deal with it. But it was convenient to blame it on the South African authorities.

I went back to the non-PO Box, address. Combined with the winner’s national ID number, no warning lights flashed and no gates came crashing down. I was free, as far as I know, to ship a humble, non-toxic, non-invasive, paperback book to South Africa.

What do you guess the odds are of it making it to its destination?