Saturday, January 4, 2020

5 New Year’s Resolutions Every Full-Time Fiction Writer Must Make in 2020, or Else Get a Day Job

(Courtesy Return of Kings)

It’s the new year and already I can feel change in the air. After all, this isn’t only a new year. It’s a new decade. A new era if you will, where politics are becoming more and more divisive, traditional norms like marriage and religion are eroding, and robots are about to take over the workforce. It will be a time of adaptation and innovation. Anyone who doesn’t plan for the future is making a plan to fail.

That’s especially true of full-time fiction writers. Long gone are the traditional query and wait days (that is, unless you’re a total dolt and choose to go that route), while authors can now get their work to market independent of the New York publishing houses in a matter of weeks or even days with online publishing platforms like Amazon KDP and/or Draft to Digital. If you’re like me, you engage in both the traditional and independent forms of publishing (I guess that makes me half a dolt), or what’s better known as the hybrid method. What this means is, there’s never been a better time to be a genre fiction author.

But unlike ten years ago, when you could upload a full-length novel and expect it to sell, the market is far more saturated than it used to be. Now you need to fight for attention not only with fellow mid-list authors, but also the big leaguers like John Grisham and Stephen King. In order to make your brand stick out from the crowd in 2020, and therefore make a good living, you’ll need to do these five things, or die!

1.     Advertise. For better or for worse, investing even a small amount of capital in Amazon ads is absolutely necessary for getting eyes on your books. I’m not about to get into the nitty gritty of how they work, because it’s still a mystery to me precisely how they work. Just know this: Eyes=Impressions. The more impressions the better chance that someone is going to buy one of or more of your books. That said, I’m going to concentrate on advertising first-in-series books, knowing that chances are, the average serial reader will want to read my entire series. 

2.      Optimize. I have something like 40 indie products. Maybe more. I’ve lost count. After five years of solid writing, and very little attention paid to selling, other than the occasional marketing promo, I’m going to be changing out my keywords with the help of KDP Rocket. I’m also going to take a good hard look at my product descriptions to make sure they pass the quality test. Go for enticement, not a book summary. I’ll also look at pricing. Are my books priced too low, or am I charging what they are truly worth? 

3.      Serialize. Unlike my standalones, which I sell to traditional publishers (for the most part, that is), the indie game is all about books in a series. I presently have about seven series going, but I’m going to increase that number. In fact, I’m never going to stop inventing new series. Simply said, they result in long tail sales. Now that’s the gift that keeps on giving.

4.      Audiblize. Audio books are presently exploding. People are reading (listening) to books on their smartphones like never before. I saw my audio sales triple in 2019 and I expect that to happen again in 2020. To be honest, I never used to pay attention to the audio market until I woke up in quarter three of last year and suddenly realized their awesome potential as a money maker. 

5.      Capitalize. Capitalize on other paper book outlets, that is. Another thing I discovered quite by accident in 2019. While eBooks listed in Amazon KU are exclusive to that program and therefore cannot be sold anywhere else, paper is not exclusive. That means you can set up accounts at Ingram Spark for instance. As an experiment, I bought 10 ISBNs off and published eight paperbacks on Ingram Spark (that’s not a typo. I screwed up two of the ISBNs and lost them, but that’s another story). I immediately started earning low three figures right off the bat. Of course, that will only increase with each new book published.       

In a nutshell, I won’t be just a writing machine in 2019. I’ll actually slow down with publishing (primarily because I have two traditional titles being published), but on the other hand, I will be upping my selling efforts in a big way. It’s not enough to be an artist in 2020 and beyond. You must also be a businessman or woman. You must sell you junk if you want to survive in this brave new world that’s changing all around us all the time.   

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Are Amazon Ads a Money Suck?

Courtesy Jane Friedman

I’ve been actively advertising my books on Amazon’s advertising platform for a couple years now. Originally it was called AMS which stood for Amazon Marketing Services but now it’s called simply, Amazon Ads. Who gives a crap what they call it? Anyway, I digress. 

Unlike the books I publish with real publishers, including the Amazon Publishing imprint, Thomas & Mercer, I also have a stable of 40+ books, novellas, and short stories that don’t move unless you put them in front of potential buyers. The old rule applies here. How can anyone buy your product if they don’t know it exists?

Enter Amazon Ads. Back in the early days, a few of us made some serious bucks selling eBooks on Kindle. I’d sold hundreds of thousands of them, and this led to some major publishing deals. But as the 2010s faded, many of us were finding it harder and harder to sell our books. Theoretically anyway, Amazon Ads could regain the visibility we’d lost with the influx of thousands of new authors.

Not knowing what I was doing, I created sponsored ads for a whole bunch of my books and while sales picked up, it soon became apparent that I was spending more than I was making. Time to educate myself. I took a course on Ads for Authors and it educated me on the ins and outs of making effective ads. It also told me how much to spend or not to spend. So far so good. But it also taught me something that was far more important. Advertising on Amazon is not necessarily driven by feeding it cash, it is driven by analyzing the data.

Now here’s where things get real sticky for me. I am not a spread sheet guy. I am not a data analyst. I cringe when it comes to math, and I am so dumb, I didn’t even know what an ACOS was before I took the course. ACOS is the most important statistic to pay attention to, because it tells you the Average Cost per click. That is, how much you’re paying every time someone clicks on your ad. If you’re ACOS is above %100 percent, you are losing money. In theory that is. BUTTTT…and this is a big but…if you’re in Kindle Unlimited, an ACOS a little above 100% is okay since it doesn’t count page reads.

Anyway, it turned out that for two years, my average ACOS was something like 600%. No wonder I was shaking my head at how much money was going out as opposed to coming in. So what to do?
I’m now stopping every ad that doesn’t have an average ACOS of 200% or lower. I’m going for a baseline here. I’m also going to concentrate only on books that are pilots of a long tail series. That way, I might attract readers who will give me a read through. I will also check my ads every day, as opposed to once per week. As I begin to achieve some success, I will scale up, and right the ship, as they say. After all, I’m in this to make some money, not hand it over to Mr. Bezos.

Be careful with Amazon Ads. Do them wrong, and you will lose your shirt and your pants. Do them right, and you can make build a nice little fortune.  

Monday, December 23, 2019

Why Must Writers Blow their Brains Out?


I know, I know, this is supposed to be a festive time of the year. It’s supposed to be a time of great cheer and good will toward men. And for me, it is. Who doesn’t love Christmas? But I just watched a documentary on the life and suicide by handgun of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas author, Hunter S. Thompson, and it got me to thinking, What’s with writers (especially famous ones) committing suicide?

Admittedly, the subject has fascinated me all the way back to my military school days when my second year English teacher, Frank Nash, introduced me to Ernest Hemingway, of which he was a sort of amateur scholar. Even before beginning our required reading, A Farewell to Arms, he pointed to the famous black and white Karsh photo of the bearded and sweater wearing Papa that hung on the wall above the blackboard (we had real black boards at The Albany Academy for Boys), and he talked on and on about the debate over whether or not Hemingway placed the barrels of the double barreled shotgun in his mouth, or he pressed it up against his forehead. While the end result was the same, there was something almost eerie in Nash’s description of both methods of suicide. Something I never forgot while reading all of Hemingway’s novels, and while becoming an amateur Papa scholar in my own right.

Let’s face it, Hemingway lived a life we could only dream about. A life I’ve tried to emulate in my own humble way. Hunter Thompson also did the same, but instead of facing down lions and angry bulls, he found his adventures with hallucinogenics and drugs of all kinds. Both men shared a love and passion for guns, something Thompson engaged in almost pathologically. According to his ex-wife, at one point he owned 22 different long and short guns and all of them were loaded.

Both men were rare talents and they became wealthy off their writing. They also enjoyed legions of fans. Why then would they decide to end it all in a bloody haze of spattered brain and bone matter? I guess the answer initially resides in the fact that we, as writers, spend our days alone. We have vivid imaginations and we tend to over think things. We dwell on stuff that irritates us. Like a pimple that suddenly pops out on the middle of your back, it’s impossible to lance. It pesters you night and day.

For Hemingway, he couldn’t write anymore. Weeks of electro-shock therapy destroyed his short term memory and it was an enormous struggle for him to put even two words together, much less a short story. His nerves were shot and so was his liver. One morning in July, he got up, went downstairs, grabbed his favorite Italian made shotgun, loaded both barrels and…well, you know the rest. It was a sad day for words and the world.

Many years later, Hunter Thompson would sit at his typewriter in the kitchen of his Owl Creek, CO, home and while his son and grandson were in the room next door, he typed out his epitaph.

No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun – for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax – This won’t hurt.

He then put the barrel of his revolver in his mouth and pressed the trigger. Bye Bye Gonzo journalist.


Sylvia Plath killed herself, as did Virginia Wolf. David Foster Wallace cashed it in way too young by hanging himself. Richard Brautigan (a big influence on the young Zandri) ate his piece. And check out this one, Peter Tyrrell, the Irish writer, committed suicide by soaking himself in gasoline before lighting up one final smoke. Now there’s a man who hated himself.

But there is a kind of bright spot to all this literary carnage. Another one of my influencers, Jim Harrison, contemplated suicide many times, but stopped just short of it when he thought about his daughter. He died of natural causes while writing a poem.

As for me, I don’t see the sense in taking one’s own life before your regularly scheduled time is up. Life is too damn short to begin with, and to be totally honest, I’m having the time of my life and actually getting paid for it.

My problem is not robbing myself of my life, but not being able to steal more years. But the clock, she ticks away and there ain’t a damn thing we can do about it, other than live the life we have as best we can. If you find yourself down and out, remember, even the next beer and a pizza with extra cheese and pepperoni is worth hanging around for.