Chart Watching

He looked at the chart but he look in vain

Heavy cloud but no rain

Sting, Heavy Cloud No Rain, Ten Summoners Tales

Originally, this was a post about publishing.  I’ve been singing this song for the better part of a month feeling that it related to my efforts in self-publishing. Having the ability to have live updated sales results is not really as fun as it sounds. Or at least it’s not good for ongoing peace of mind. The world of publishing has changed. Now every author must do the work that previously was performed by publishing houses – namely, marketing. And the secret thing about marketing that every marketing professional would prefer you not know, is that you can never quite tell what’s going to work. So with every fresh effort, I flip back to the chart to see if there’s rain or not. Some sprinkles, some gushers, some droughts – and that is the way of the writing life now.  But there’s more to that song, and the rest of the lyrics are more applicable to the real world right now than they are to any personal concerns I have about my writing and sales.

Turned on the weather man just after the news

I needed sweet rain to wash away my blues

He looked at the chart but he look in vain

Heavy cloud but no rain

Much of the state of Washington, my state, is on fire. This song isn’t much of a metaphor; it’s what we’re all doing. We’re literally out of firefighters and the ones that are on the line are working days in a row with little to no sleep. Firefighters from Australian and New Zealand arrived on Monday to help and we couldn’t be happier to see them. We literally need all the help we can get.

There is a line of mountains between the fires and my house and still the sky is frequently a hazy yellow from smoke. Yesterday, I could look at the sun directly because there was so much smog that it was only a burning circle of orange in the sky.

Sometimes my state feels culturally divided by that chain of mountains, but this fire has turned us all into obsessed weather forecast watchers. My facebook feed is filled with pictures of rain – a virtual rain dance for our home and our friends. Weather forecasting has taken a giant step forward due to computing speeds and modeling, but Washington is still one of the toughest places to forecast. All the data in the world can’t entirely predict if rain is going to fall. We all watch the chart, but so far, heavy cloud, no rain.

So, if you’re a praying person, pray for some rain. If you’re a donating person, you can view this article from local reporter Jesse Jones, for where to send donations. Washington thanks you.

Welcome to Hell

Promotion, for a writer, is the seventh ring of hell. By nature we are quiet types who like to sit at home in our PJ’s, eating things like cereal and wine out of boxes and inventing people to talk to. (Yes, I’m aware that’s also the description of crazy people, but I don’t think we need to point that out at this juncture – thank you very much.) So promoting the book, being out in the public, is a terrible fate. Only slightly less awful is talking about promotions in front of other authors. (Oh God, oh God, oh God, what if I’ve been doing it wrong? They’re all going to know I’m a fraud!) But since my other job is a graphic designer, I’m privy to a great marketing secret: you can’t do it wrong because none of it works. Or all of it works depending on your point of view.

Legend has it that when Google presented all their brand new ways of tracking online digital ads to Viacom President and one-time ad man Mel Karmazin, he blurted out, “You’re fucking with the magic!” But the paradigm of ads and marketing being more art than science is still more true than anyone would like to admit, even in this age where digital data practically streams from our ears. Digital tracking will accurately tell you when and where a sale was made, but it never fully encompasses why a sale was made. But at the end of the day, one thing is still true, the only sure fire way to make a sale is to tell someone that you have a product for sale. Marketing is just selecting how you’re going to tell someone about your product.

I’m not a marketing expert, but I know enough to get myself in trouble. So I’ve tried a variety of promotional vehicles that break down into three basic categories: on-line, print, and person to person. By far and away the most successful vehicles are person to person. People telling other people, or the author telling someone to go buy their book works better than just about anything else. (I once sold a book to my state representative when she came doorbelling for votes.) But in the end, you can’t reach everyone you might want to reach in person.

My print experience has been minimal and I think we can all agree that newspapers are dying, so I’ll just skip straight to on-line. I’ve tried Facebook ads & boosts, newsletter ads, and google ads, just to name a few. And in my experience, very few of these things work optimally alone. I get the best results when I do multiple things at once – run a sale and an ad, and then boost the sale on Facebook. This shotgun approach makes it hard to track the mythical beautiful data of click-throughs, but it is very clear when I take one channel away that sales dip. The hard part comes at the end, when I must assess the ROI (Return on Investment) and whether or the sales justify the expense of a particular marketing channel.

UnseenCurrent-DigitalCoversEach author must find what works for them. My only real words of advice are to keep trying. Keep talking. And keep writing. And by the way, have I mentioned that I have a book on sale? An Unseen Current – a great late summer read for only $4.99.

Dear Brain…

Originally published on The Stiletto Gang 07.22.15

Dear Brain,

While I appreciate your many efforts and strong creative solutions, I would very much appreciate it if you could focus on the problems at hand. Thanks so much.

Sincerely,

Self

 

I have a writing calendar that tells me what I’m supposed to be working on. Outlining, editing, actually writing, it’s all scheduled out. Since the release of High-Caliber Concealer, third book in the Carrie Mae Mystery series is right around the corner (November 17!), that means I should be busy working on draft one of book 4 – Glossed Cause. That also means that last month I should have finished an outline of said fourth book. Do you know what I have not completed? Yes, that’s right – the outline. I had completed  about 75% it and stopped because… Well, I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. And then last week I realized what was wrong with it. Not that I know how to fix it, but at least I know why I’m not excited about it. So I’ve been twiddling my thumbs, enjoying the summer, pretending that I have all the time in the world, and hoping that inspiration would hit.

Then last night it did hit. I woke up with a fantastic idea.

For a different book.

I came up with a great idea for the sequel to my recent release – An Unseen Current. I even have a great name for it, which practically never happens. It’s really, really exciting and not at all what I need. But if I’ve learned anything about creativity it’s that if you fight it sometimes it stops all together. What do you think? Should I work on this new idea for a bit and see if inspiration strikes for Glossed Cause or should I set the new idea aside and focus, focus, focus