Marketing Your Book – A Primer – Part Eight

A Quill Ladder is almost ready for release, as is the next installment in my environmental thriller, The Complicated Weight of Air. Both will be out in the next four weeks. Review copies of A Quill Ladder are available for a short period of time so if you are interested, please sign up for my email list.

I wanted to finish my series on marketing your book, which I started in the spring and never quite completed—in part because I put the strongest strategies near the front and some of the ones at the bottom of the list are hardly worth talking about because they don’t really work. However, I’ve been meaning to write a post on cross-sales and participating in an anthology, which were on my original list. The two are related as of course—one would hope that participating in an anthology, if the anthology does well, will lead to sales of one’s own books. Normally when I prep these posts, I do as much research on the issue as possible. However in the case of cross-sales of books I really could not find any other data. So this post is based on my own experiences.

Photo by:  Anita Hart  / flikr/  Creative Commons

Photo by: Anita Hart / flikr/ Creative Commons

I was lucky enough to be invited to be part of Synchronic: 13 Tales of Time Travel this spring. I was extremely excited to be in the company of all of the other amazing writers in the group, and most of them are better established in the indie and traditional publishing world than I am. Synchronic has sold well—very well. During a sale, and with the help of a Bookbub ad and a number of other promotions, it reached #16 overall in the Kindle store. More recently, as a result of being a Kindle Daily Deal, it again crossed over into the Top 100 in the Kindle store. These were very exciting days, but it has also sold consistently well between promotions and is continuing to sell well.

In addition, as a result of the Bookbub promotion and sale, and the Kindle Daily Deal, I had the wild experience of being in the top twenty science fiction authors on Amazon—twice. There’s my smiling face there in the screen shot to prove it.

So, what have I learned about cross-sales as a result of being in the top twenty science fiction authors on Amazon and participating in the Synchronic adventure?

1)   Cross-sales are not do not appear to happen on the day or week of release or promotion of the bigger selling item.

When Synchronic was scheduled to come out, I still did not have my adult novel, In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation out. I knew that Synchronic would likely do well on release, so I moved up my production schedule slightly thinking that I would be able to take advantage of cross-sales. There was no need to do so. Synchronic sold well on its first day out of the gates, but it did not contribute to any sales of my own books until about three weeks post-release. People had to first buy Synchronic and read it, and then decide that they liked my story enough out of the 13 to check out some of my other work. Many people did and sent me nice messages indicating that they had found me through Synchronic, and I will be forever grateful, but these cross-sales did not happen on the release day (or any of the promo days). I have found this to be similarly true for my own work. I hurried to get A Quill Ladder up for pre-orders to coincide with a promotion I did on A Pair of Docks. Again there was no need. Pre-orders have occurred, but not in the same week as the promotion.

2)   Cross-sales are probably more likely to occur on books that are in precisely the same genre as the big seller.

Synchronic is a time travel anthology generally geared toward adults. I write time travel fiction for children (although many adults like it) and environmental action-adventures for adults. These are not as aligned with Synchronic as might be useful. People who like time travel fiction in particular tend to be very genre specific and are not necessarily going to be interested in something slightly different. I certainly did not have time to write a novel on time travel for adults to release around the same time as Synchronic, but if I had been able to, it certainly would have been a good strategy.

3)   Being in the top twenty science fiction authors on Amazon does not seem to influence sales at all.

It’s fun though! My sales are usually pretty steady (which is a good thing), but I haven’t seen any spikes at all associated with being in the top twenty. Amazon’s algorithms and inclination to suggest books to people seem to be book associated not author associated.

4)   Appearing in the also-boughts may or may not influence cross-sales.

Everyone gets all excited about the need to appear in also-boughts in order to drive sales. I no longer appear in the also-boughts for Synchronic and in fact, neither do most of the Synchronic authors, with the exception of Michael Bunker and Jason Gurley and two of the others who have had very recent releases. We all appeared in the also-boughts for the first several months post-release. I do believe that appearing in the also-boughts helped my sales through July and August, and although I have noticed a slight drop off since I am no longer there, it is not significant.

Overall, cross-sales are important, but are just another contributing factor in building an author reputation and brand. Synchronic certainly has helped get my name and work onto more people’s radar, and I believe it has positively influenced my sales. However it has not done so in a dramatic way. Nevertheless, I would not hesitate to participate in an anthology again. There were many additional benefits associated with participating in an anthology. It allowed me to build connections with other writers, many of whom I hope to work with again in the future. A writer’s work can be well… a bit solitary, and the camaraderie associated with a joint project is something that writers don’t always get to experience. Writing a ‘long’ short, or novelette, was also a new story arc length for me. And I also got to learn from some masters of marketing, Susan Kaye Quinn, who organized the super fun release day party, and Michael Bunker, who arranged the Bookbub promotion blitz. Observing their approaches to social media has also been very enlightening.

What have your experiences been with cross-sales? Since I'm about to launch A Quill Ladder, the sequel to A Pair of Docks, I will be able to report on buy-through sales on the series soon. I will also be updating my earlier 'Marketing Your Book' posts with more information regarding which promo sites work, and which ones have had limited effect.

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Reading Short Stories (Synchronic on sale)

Just a short post today, as I am officially on holidays (which means I have been carted away from my house by my husband and do not have to do consulting work for two weeks, but I am still editing A Quill Ladder like a fiend).

Synchronic: 13 Tales of Time Travel, the short story anthology I contributed to in the spring, is on sale today and tomorrow (August 14 and 15) in the United States for only 99 cents. For those of you who have not read it, it is an amazing collection of short stories that come at time travel from a multitude of perspectives. Despite the different approaches taken by all of the authors in the anthology, there are some surprising interconnections among the stories in terms of how we view time and what time travel could potentially mean for us as a species.

I have to admit, before participating in the anthology, I was not a huge fan of short stories. I had studied the art of writing them of course, and drafted many for submission to literary journals (which is how Canadian writers are advised to get their start down the road to traditional publication). I had also slogged through many short story collections in an effort to fall in love with them. But aside from a mild interest in Alice Munro’s stories, I had never quite found most of them to my tastes.

Imagine my surprise then, when I read the Synchronic anthology and discovered that I loved most if not all of the stories. I spent some time thinking about why, and why you should consider buying it, even if you have not previously been a fan of short stories.

Why you should buy Synchronic

1) They are long short stories

The Synchronic stories are up to 15,000 words in length. The conventional length of a short story is under 10,000 words. Many literary journals limit their submission length to 5000 words. Thus many of the short stories you have read in the past are really short. Some stories can be told in 5000 words, but some need a little more rope to achieve their arc. This slightly longer format allowed the Synchronic authors the flexibility to consider a wide range of stories and tell them in the detail necessary to make them come alive, which is often only achievable in a novel.

2) All of the contributors have different styles and tell different kinds of stories

Many short story collections feature only one author. I often find I like one or two of the stories, but am less keen on the others because I have already dissected that author’s style. Synchronic allows you to sample a bunch of different authors and experience a many different styles.

3) Some of them have happy endings!

I don’t know about you, but the convention in literary fiction short stories in Canada is to have short stories end with a bitter unexpected twist, or just fade into the mundanity of every day life. Often the more bitter, or mundane the ending, the more likely the story was to get published. I often find this dissatisfying and depressing. That is not the case in Synchronic where the authors were allowed to craft whatever kind of ending they wanted – some of them happy, some of them not, but most of them unexpected.

4) It has lots of great reviews on Goodreads and Amazon

Not sure what else I can add here :-). Obviously other readers have agreed with my sentiments!

So there you have it – some reasons you should consider checking out Synchronic. I would write more but I have just received memo from husband that the vehicle heading into Portland for the day is leaving in fifteen minutes and if I do not want to see the sights in my pajamas, I should get a move on.

My new short story series

Also, for you short story fans, I am planning to post my new short story The Complicated Weight of Air 1 – Manifest on Amazon tonight. It is a 10,000 word short story and the first in a series about life in an industry town and environmental disaster. Here is the short blurb:

James Allenby is a runner and a budding documentary maker. He is also the son of one of the local smelter executives. He finds himself on the wrong side of the tracks when he decides to make a movie regarding Curtis, a local homeless man who likes to issue dire warnings regarding the trains that serve the smelter.

Watch for it! The next story in the series will be coming in a few weeks. Of course posting it will be dependent on whether there are some unknown holiday activities awaiting me today, and the outcome my expected battles with Calibre to format it. This will be the first time I am doing my ebook conversion by myself so we will see. It may end up going live a few days from now. I will do a blog post about my do-it-yourself ebook conversion soon as well (even if it fails).

Update: Do not try to format a book to mobi on your own. I have just spent the last seven hours battling with Calibre with the help of my programmer brother-in-law and we both know some html. We could get the epub to look great, but could never get the mobi quite there - there was always some indenting problem or line spacing problem. Conclusion - let the professionals do it.

Update again: So KDP accepts epub, word, html and pdf files and will format them for you! I can't believe it. I have been paying to get mine done. There must be some catch. I will be investigating further.

What Makes Great Characters

So I was tagged in a blog tour (again) by Lyn C. Johanson. I seem to be imminently taggable. Maybe that’s because I almost never say no. In fact, I suck at saying no – which probably explains some of my life choices (but I digress). Or maybe someone stuck a “tag me” post-it note on my back. But blog tours are usually fun, and I saw this one about Meeting My Character as an opportunity to both answer the questions, and then consider what makes great characters.

Photo Credit:  Ian Wilson  / flickr /  Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Ian Wilson / flickr / Creative Commons

Then I had the challenge of trying to actually pick one of my characters. I did consider Robin, the main character in my upcoming Tales from Pennsylvania novelette, which I am exceedingly excited about. I mean we are talking Michael Bunker here. But since I don’t want to risk any spoilers associated with Robin, I decided to go with Abbey, the main character in my fantasy science fiction adventure series (could I add any more descriptors there?), since the second book in the series, A Quill Ladder, is coming out this fall.

Blog Tour Questions

What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Abbey Sinclair. She is fictional. Some people think she is me of course – friends often seem to do that with writers. But I’m not nearly as geeky or accomplished in science as Abbey… well I hope I’m not quite as geeky anyway. (Some of the main characters in my other books are strippers, alcoholics, murderers and adulterers – so I’m hoping that the friends thinking the main character is me is short-lived).

When is the story set?

The story is set in the present day. But it is kind of intended to be timeless.

What should we know about him/her?

Abbey loves chemistry and physics, is fourteen, delicately pretty with red hair, has an IQ of 165 and is sometimes a bit socially awkward. She has a twin brother named Caleb and an older brother named Simon. She also may be a witch, but she doesn’t really believe in that.

What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

Having just returned from an adventure using the time travelling stones that allow people to see their future, Abbey must decide if she is going to use the list of clues her future self left for her to try to prevent the event that apparently caused the world to split into three futures. But solving the clues would probably mean using the stones again, which she has been forbidden to do. And of course the witches she helped free from Nowhere keep dropping by looking for her help, and offering to teach her about magic, and her mother is sneaking out early in the morning to use the stones herself...

What is the personal goal of the character?

Abbey wants to keep her family safe and prevent the future catastrophic events that she now knows are coming. But she's also very curious and can’t help but want to solve the mystery and learn about her future. Her natural caution sometimes gets in the way though.

Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
It is called A Quill Ladder and I will have a cover reveal and blurb up next week. But for now here is a sneak peek at the cover as I am once again so excited about the amazing work of Andrew Brown at Design for Writers.


When can we expect the book to be published?
October 31, 2014

What Makes Great Characters

Okay so which of these are important for writing great characters? Hint: The answers to questions 3, 4 and 5.

It should be obvious that the answer to question 3 is important. Great characters have to have personality, quirks, flaws, and strengths. They also have to be complex and fully realized to be interesting. Abbey’s favourite colour is pink. She has a crush on Orlando Bloom. She is very brave, but she does not believe she is and gets sarcastic when she is afraid. She likes to reason everything through, whereas her twin Caleb operates more on emotion and instinct. It is important for the writer to consider a lot of detailed aspects of their characters, even if those details don’t make it into the novel, such as – what is their favourite book (Abbey would say The Principles of Chemistry, but really it is Prince Caspian), what do they wear to bed (pink polka-dotted flannel pajamas), what are they afraid of (spiders), and do they like bacon (Who doesn’t like bacon? Just kidding. Abbey does, reluctantly, after she failed at being a vegetarian).

Questions 4 and 5 relate to what is driving the character both internally and externally. Great characters have to have motivation and agency, and generally must experience both internal and external conflict. Motivation pushes them along. It is about what they want or need. Agency is how they go about seeking it and responding to the internal and external conflicts. Agency is about being active, not passive. The internal and external conflicts are the obstacles and challenges they experience along the way that act as both inciting incidents, leading them to the initial action, and the continuing call to action.

Not included in the set of questions is another key component of great characters. Great characters also have to be capable of change and growth. Most people read books to see the main character change or learn something as a result of their actions in the book. Books are often not just about the external adventure, which is often the main plot arc, but also that internal character arc. Abbey will change in important ways in terms of how she views science, intuition, emotions and witchcraft over the course of the Derivatives of Displacement series – the derivatives of displacement in physics are ultimately about rate of change over time.

Also not included, but important, is that great characters have to have a history and backstory. They did not just drop from the sky into your book. Unless you begin your novel on the first day of their lives, they had important life-altering events that took place before the time period of your novel. And while you should not necessarily provide your reader with a long and boring description of that backstory, their history should come into play and affect their responses when they are in a wide variety of situations.

Finally, great characters should be mostly internally consistent, but still able to surprise. Writers must think about everything they make their character do. Would their character do that? Is the character acting in character? Readers get upset when characters act randomly, unless randomness was a main element of the character from the start. At the same time, if characters are too predictable, they become boring. It is a fine line and writers have to walk it. You can never allow the reader to be too sure what a character is going to do, but it is also bad to completely shock them.

Of course there are other things that writers believe contribute to great characters such as larger than life qualities, a great and suitable name, a unique look, friends, secrets, and likability, and I could write a whole post on the necessity of writing memorable characters versus good enough characters (and perhaps I will), but the character attributes above are the essentials. Great characters need to be complex, real, motivated and active, capable of change, internally consistent but not predictable and they need to have a history. They also need to face internal and external conflict, because really that is what a story is all about.

I am glad I was tagged in this blog tour as it has been a good exercise in checking in on Abbey and making sure she is as great a character as I want her to be.

I also have to tag someone else in my post so I am going to tag Susan May, an Australian writer, who can be found at and recently released a novelette, Back Again. Here is the blurb:

A tragic accident takes Dawn’s only child right before her eyes. The following surreal days are filled with soul-destroying grief and moments she never wants to live again—until, inexplicably, she finds herself back again, living that day. It’s a chance to save her son. But changing fate is not as simple as it first appears. Between life and death lies fate.

Back Again is going to be released as a novel in the fall. Check it out!