My Insane Book Launch Plan

I decided to do something a little different with my sixth novel. I’ve written novels with absolutely nothing but an idea for a first scene and let it go where it went. I’ve written with an outline that I thought was a whole book, but turned out to be just a quarter of a novel’s worth of idea (and then I “pantsed” it from there). I’ve written with a quarter outline, wrote that quarter, outlined the next quarter, and so on.

This time, I decided that I wasn’t allowed to start writing until I had a full 100 scenes outlined. (A scene is one set of characters, one place, one plot point, written in one sitting, average of 850 words. 100 of those is 85K words—a novel.) It took months. I got the main story arc done pretty quickly with about 40 scenes, but then I needed to think of subplots and character development mini-arcs that would fill 60 more scenes. Turns out that’s incredibly hard when you haven’t met the characters yet. But I did it! And then I started writing, and it’s going incredibly well. I’m averaging 1.6 scenes per day.

I have two alpha readers who get the scenes as I write them. They are invaluable to my process, because they help me understand what the reader is thinking. (They also find typos.) My alphas have always told me they love getting a new scene every day, so I was thinking I might launch that way. Finish the book, get it all edited and ready for publication, and then send it out one scene per day.

And then COVID-19 happened.

A lot of people are stuck at home. A lot of people are extremely stressed. As much as we love the idea of alone time, forced social isolation turns out to be extremely difficult. People need something to look forward to. They need a distraction.

So I decided that I’d launch now. The book is half-written (I wrote scene 50 yesterday). I set up a website at perplexitybook.com where people can read the scenes as I post them. It’s a WordPress site, so if you subscribe, you can get the new scenes right in your email. If I keep up the scene-a-day pace, I’ll be able to stay well ahead of the scene-a-day distribution pace. It’s super weird publishing a half-finished novel, but I have faith in my outline.

I went to social media, and various email lists that I participate in, and even to the other employees of my company (gulp!) and encouraged people to sign up. This novel is appropriate for teens, so I also encouraged people to have their teens sign up to read along. (An 850 word scene only takes a few minutes to read, so as long as they keep up, I suspect even reluctant readers will stay with it to the end.)

Scene 1 is on the site now, and scene 2 will go out tomorrow (March 19) at 7am. (I’ll use WordPress’s delayed publish feature so I can get a few queued up to go out on schedule.)

Go sign up at perplexitybook.com to follow along with everyone else. Use the #perplexitybook hashtag to find other readers on social media. It’s a thriller/mystery, so there will be lots to talk about along the way.

Pulling the Plug on Amazon Ads

SingularityWhen last we met our hero, he had determined Kindle lockscreen ads were garbage, automatic targeting is garbage, and targeting similar books is garbage. But doing Amazon ads targeting categories seemed to be working okay, at least in terms of getting impressions and the occasional click at a reasonable price.

I’m calling it: Amazon ads don’t work for me. At least, not for this book. They might work for my trilogy that has a lot more reviews and lives in the romance genre, but they don’t work for my new-ish financial thriller with a mere eight 5-star reviews.

I spent $25 on ads, racked up about 80,000 impressions which led to 65 clicks. That turned into 2 e-book and 1 paperback sale. Note that Amazon pretends that your ROI is the gross revenue from these sales ($23), instead of the royalty ($9). So if you look at the dashboard it appears I nearly broke even, when in reality, I didn’t come close to breaking even.

Oh well. I’m planning my next novel now, so that’s where my head will be for the next few months.

Amazon Ads – Nothing Yet

When last we met, I had thrown in the towel on Kindle lockscreen ads ($20 in ads led to zero sales). I set up a couple regular Amazon ads to see what would happen. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • “Automatic Targeting” doesn’t work. I have a 50¢ PPC bid, which is more than Amazon recommended, and no impressions at all on that campaign.
  • Book targeting doesn’t work. I’m getting a few impressions, but it’s negligible. It seems that you would have to manually adjust the bid for every book, because the recommended bid levels have a huge range. So at a fixed 50¢ bid, I would win on books nobody looks at, and I lose on books that people actually visit. The bid required for bestsellers is bonkers ($3.67, for example).
  • Category targeting does get impressions, so that’s something.
  • So far I have 1,665 impressions, and have spent 89¢. That’s 3 clicks, or a CTR of 0.18%. So basically, no clicks and no sales.

I’m going to suspend those two campaigns and set up two new ones based on this information: manual category targeting only. Stay tuned!

Amazon Lockscreen Ad Verdict

Singularity

My new novel!

Last time we talked, I had launched some Amazon “Lockscreen Ads” to see if they might be an effective strategy for my latest novel. This one just happens to be a trendy topic with broad appeal, so I figured it’s a good candidate for the Amazon advertising machine. Alas, these ads were a complete failure.

Over the course of a month, the three ads (you can see them in this post) generated 44 clicks at 50¢ apiece, resulting in zero sales. Those 44 clicks were tied to about 16,000 impressions, which means 0.27% click-through-rate (about a quarter of the 1% CTR I’ve experienced with Twitter ads). From this we can theorize:

  • Very few people click on Kindle Lockscreen Ads
  • A lot of those clicks are probably accidental

A conversion rate of zero books from 44 clicks just doesn’t makes sense if these were intentional clicks. Other bloggers have theorized that a lot of the clicks on lockscreen ads don’t even lead to a product page because the device is offline. I don’t know if that’s true, or if those clicks get charged, but it would be consistent with my results.

So what’s next? Straight-up Amazon Ads. The creative for Amazon Ads is the same as for lockscreen ads: just a tweet’s worth of words. I’m going to use the same words I used in lockscreen ads #2 & #3 (those got more clicks than #1, but I suspect that has more to do with targeting than the words in the ad).

For one of them, I’m letting Amazon target automatically. For the other, I am targeting a couple relevant book genres and a whole bunch of individual books that talk about cryptocurrency. I’m bidding 50¢ and letting Amazon lower that bid if it wants (but I’m not letting them raise it). I’ll report back when I get some news.

Trying Amazon Lockscreen Ads

The last time I tried Amazon Ads it was a fiasco. But most of that was related to the book I was selling being filthy, and although Amazon loves to sell filthy things, they don’t so much want you to advertise filthy things. Seeing as my latest couple of books don’t have any sex in them at all, I figured it was time to give Amazon Ads another shot.

When I went to set up an ad, I was given a peculiar choice. In addition to the normal ads on Amazon.com, I could set up a “lockscreen ad” which would appear on people’s Kindle devices. After some blog searching, I learned that everyone advises against making these kinds of ads because they don’t think they work. And while that might be true, an under-utilized ad channel is prone to be a much more affordable ad channel. So I figured why not try it myself?

The setup was pretty simple. You target groups of readers, and come up with a very short tag line. Your ad is your cover with that tag line under it.

I set up three ads:

Ad 1: After being catfished by a reclusive millionaire, will Eileen be a pawn in his high-stakes game, or will she become his queen?

Ad 1 Targeting: Humor & Entertainment: Humor; Mystery, Thriller & Suspense: Mystery; Romance: Contemporary, Romantic Comedy, Romantic Suspense.

The caption here is designed to pique the interest of romance readers.

Ad 2: A consortium of tech and finance companies has created a stable cryptocurrency. What could possibly go wrong?

Ad 2 Targeting: Business & Money: Accounting, Business Life, Economics, Entrepreneurship & Small Business, Finance, Industries, International, Investing, Job Hunting & Careers, Management & Leadership, Marketing & Sales, Personal Finance, Real Estate, Skills, Taxation, Women & Business; Mystery, Thriller & Suspense: Heist, Legal; Other: Computers & Technology.

The second ad is targeting business and technology readers. Those people are likely to know about Libra, which is an actual cryptocurrency proposed by a consortium of tech and finance companies (Facebook, in particular). It turns out that Libra is very similar to the fictional cyptocurrency in this novel. It shares the same key advantage (stability) which is simultaneously its key design flaw. (It just occurred to me that the cryptocurrency is following the super-villain trope that its key strength is also its key weakness.)

Ad 3: Between online dating and stopping a cryptocurrency-induced economic meltdown, Eileen’s life is about to get interesting.

Ad 3 Targeting: Business & Money: Economics, Finance, Investing, Taxation; Literature & Fiction: Action & Adventure, Contemporary Fiction, Genre Fiction, Literary Fiction; Mystery, Thriller & Suspense: Conspiracies, Legal; Romance: Romantic Suspense.

This ad is a shotgun approach, trying to hit a wide variety of kinds of readers with a fairly generic message.

With those ads defined, the next thing I had to do was pick a CPC (cost-per-click) bid. I started at 20¢. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • The Amazon Ads dashboard says “no data available” when you are getting zero impressions. I wasted a week waiting for the data to become available before I increased my bid, and then started getting data almost immediately.
  • You cannot get any impressions with a CPC bid below 50¢.
  • Click-through rates are quite low. So far, I’m seeing 1 click per 750 impressions. In contrast, my Twitter ads typically have a click-through-rate of 1% (1 click per 100 impressions). Twitter ads have 7.5 times the rate I’m getting on lockscreen ads.

Three weeks in, I have two clicks (so I’ve spent $1) and no sales from this channel. That’s not great, but also not terrible. And I like the idea of getting all those impressions for free. So I’ll leave these running awhile, and I’ll report back when I have more data.

My Next Novel is Coming Soon

Hello, my name is Joshua and it’s been almost a year since my last blog post! Wow.

I’m getting ready to launch my next novel. I’m switching genres yet again, because why not? As is the case for all authors and all books, there is no perfect fit in choosing the genre, but this time I’m closest to “Financial Thriller,” which conveniently is not one of the genres Amazon lets you choose, because of course it isn’t. Sigh.

My print titles made the move from CreateSpace to KDP Print last year without a hitch, but this is the first time I’ve had to create a print edition from scratch in KDP Print. It was fairly straightforward, except that they wanted the cover in a slightly different format. They give you a PNG template but want you to upload a PDF, and getting your PNG into that PDF has to be exactly perfect or it doesn’t work right. Sigh. Anyway, that’s all sorted out, and my print proof cover looks perfect.

The site I use to make universal links (so people clicking a link end up in the right Amazon store for their geography) is still around and still free, but you have to know the secret URL to find it. If you just go to mybook.to, you end up at the parent company’s pay site, which is ridiculously expensive at about $120/year. The trick is to go to booklinker.net. That gets you to the place where you can still make short universal links for free.

The trick I discovered to post reviews during pre-order still works despite the switch from CreateSpace to KDP Print. The only difference is that you can’t unpublish immediately after publishing, because that option isn’t available. You have to wait for Review/Approval to finish, and then you can unpublish.

Also, I discovered that KDP Print requires you to use HTML to get extra line breaks into your description, while plain old KDP happily takes blank lines. Kind of a weird difference, but whatever. I’m waiting for my update to fix my description to go through so I have the line breaks I want. Seems like they’re taking the whole 48 hours they threaten.

That’s it for now. Once all the book pages are up and correct and linked and whatnot, I’ll be back to post an announcement of pre-order availability.

Apotheosis: A New Release from Joshua Edward Smith

Maggie Jane Schuler

There are pitfalls people fall in over the course of a lifetime, and Cynthia is one of those folks who has fallen. She’s a midlife divorcee who recognizes she needs a change in order to live her life and fill the empty void. Apotheosis tells the tale of one woman’s journey in search of owning her own happiness. Her sojourn takes her through an emotional cleansing of sorts and mixes her foundational beliefs with a blend of cultural experiences, self-esteem building, and the path to loving oneself and having the love returned.

Joshua Edward Smith takes the Pacific Northwest by storm in Apotheosis. He creates a lost soul in search of the road to salvation in his heroine. Cynthia is never the meek and miserable type woman, but she is struggling to make sense of a life she feels has been unlived. Smith demonstrates a realism in this work. He…

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Joshua Edward Smith – Gravity

Maggie Jane Schuler

Sir and Lisa’s journey explores the inner self and the road to a strong emotional and physical bond with a partner. Joshua Edward Smith’s final installment of the Entropy Series is a beautiful tribute to the human condition. While he uses the erotic nature of BDSM to convey the message, the Entropy Series is more of a philosophical exploration of the lifestyle. The complex themes of unconditional love, trust, and genuine happiness truly run their course through the series. From the unraveling of growing apart from one’s partner to personal tragedy, and rebuilding a life, The Entropy series covers it all and much more. Smith’s eloquent style deepens the richness of the text and leaves the reader critically analyzing the complex structures which exist among people with regards to the vulnerable acts associated with affairs of the heart. For a sophisticated and elegant read try your hand at the Entropy Series, you won’t be disappointed

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Joshua Edward Smith – Entropy

Delightful new review of my first novel…

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REVIEW

This book breaks the standard formula for a romance novel. First, the concept of an online romance is uniquely fantastic. To make things more interesting, it is a D/s relationship.  Coincidentally, I had just first heard of the concept of an online D/s relationship a few days before I started reading the book. I felt like I was reading an entirely new genre, which was new and exciting.

The ebb and flow of the developing relationship is less linear than most romance novels.  There are a number of issues that derail or set-back the progression of the relationship.

The depth of Lisa’s feelings grow incrementally throughout the book. The author never seems to make those unexpected leaps that ruins the believability of the book.

I fell in love with Lisa’s character when she starts tweeting from her hospital bed.  (Hey, it’s in the first 20% of the book, which I’ve…

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Read Me a Story, Siri

The economics of audiobooks are basically a disaster. They cost a lot to produce, the sellers don’t let you set your own prices, and the volumes are too low. So unless you have a mega-hit or you are doing it as a charity/vanity exercise, your book isn’t ever going to be an audiobook. But people love audiobooks. It’s so convenient to be able to listen to the book while you drive!

I decided to see if I could listen to a regular e-book by having my phone read it to me. I got it to work (I’ll explain how below, if you want to try). It was a little weird. The reading was completely emotionless. It so happens that I was “reading” Calculated Regrets by Thomas Jast at the time. And the main character in there is a sociopath. And it’s in the first person. So the lack of emotion fit the character and it all kind of worked together. But for other books it’s not such a good fit.

Anyway, if you want to try, first get an iPhone. I’m sure it’s possible to do this with Android, but I have no idea how.

Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Voice Over

Drag the speaking rate slider to the exact middle. The default rate is way too fast.

Now go back up to the Accessibility settings and scroll down to the bottom. Select Accessibility Shortcut. Set it to VoiceOver.

If you are in your car, do whatever you do to listen to music from your phone through your car speakers. Stop the music, obviously.

Now go to your e-Reader. iBooks and Kindle both work. Make the text as small as possible. VoiceOver doesn’t know how to read hyphenated words, and making the text tiny minimizes the number of those you’ll have to decipher as you listen.

Update: iBooks has a setting (over in the Settings app, not in iBooks itself) where you can turn off hyphenation. I can’t find a setting like that for Kindle, but it solves the hyphenation problem if you listen to a book in iBooks.

Swipe up from the bottom and go into Airplane mode. When you get a notification, VoiceOver will read it and then stop reading the book. That will drive you crazy. Going to Airplane mode is a quick way to stop notifications.

Triple-click the home button. That turns VoiceOver on.

Swipe down on the top of the page with two fingers. It will start reading and just keep on reading until you triple-click the home button again.

Let me know in the comments whether it works for you, and what you think of the experience.