Anatomy of a USA Today Bestseller or How I Made the List

Many people have asked me how I hit the USA Today Bestseller list with The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy, so today I am going to share exactly what I did, including more detail and numbers than you could ever want. This is going to be a LONG post.

This method is not the only one by any means, but it is time-tested and many authors have used it with success. Of course, if you want try it, you’ll need to adjust it to your own needs and budget.

A Bit About the USA Today Bestseller List
Each of the bestseller lists is a little different, but USA Today counts sales from Monday to Sunday, so you would want your promotion to mirror this. As the name of the publication implies, only sales in the United States count toward their list. The number of sales you need varies, but the general advice is 5,000-9,000, though I hit the low end of the list with 4,191. The number depends on the time of the year because there are busy and slow periods in publishing just like in any other industry. But the good news is pre-sales count if you are trying to hit the list with a new book. The general rule is that you need at least 500 sales at Barnes & Noble and iBooks in order to make a list, so you can’t try if you are Amazon exclusive. There is debate about whether that 500 is combined or separate or if it is even accurate; some people say the real number is closer to 150 or 200. The point is you need a mix of sales–USA Today won’t count you if you are only on Amazon.

Quick Tips
For those who don’t want to read the whole post, here are some quick recommendations. But I do suggest reading the whole thing because not everything you need to know is covered here.

  • You really need a Bookbub Featured Deal in the U.S. to make this work.
  • Ad stacking is key to gaining and maintaining momentum.
  • Have a budget before you start so you don’t go crazy with your spend.
  • Put thought and strategy behind your advertising, graphics and text.
  • Lower your price at least 3-4 days in advance at all retailers. I did this and still had problems with NookPress and Google Play not lowering correctly.
  • When you put your retailer links into the forms for your ads, save which ones you used. One or two nights before your sale, check all them to make sure they are reflecting the sale price – especially if you use distributors. I had a rouge Barnes & Noble link that was removed from a major newsletter because the price didn’t drop with that link, even though it did with all the others I checked. By the time they told me there was a problem, the newsletter had already gone out and they refused to send the correct link. I will always wonder how many sales I missed out on because of that stupid link.
  • Ask for help! People are so willing to share and do what they can to help you succeed!
  • Tell people you are aiming for a list. That’s not something people get to help others do everyday and I really believe letting people know makes them more likely to share than if you just say your book in on sale.
  • Don’t be shy or get worried you will annoy people. You may, but they will also understand why you are posting so much. And if they don’t, you don’t need to be friends with them anyway.

My Sales By the Numbers
I’m listing these early in the post so you can see what I achieved with the method outlined below.

Total sales: 4,191
Estimated Total Income= $2,136.30
Estimated Expenses = $1,672 (newsletter ads) + $761.40 (social media ads) + $9 (graphics) – $2,442,40
Estimated Total Loss = $306.10

It doesn’t bother me that I lost a little money on this. Profit was not my endgame. My goal was to hit the list and I did. You may feel differently and that is totally fine.

By retailer breakdown:

Amazon = 3,574 ebooks (and five print books, but those don’t count toward the list)
Barnes & Noble = 298

  • Nook Press = 6 (I had issues with them not changing prices, so that is why it is low)
  • Distributed through Smashwords: 283
  • Distributed through Draft 2 Digital = 9 (I don’t use them like I should)

Apple

  • Distributed through Smashwords. (I have yet to go direct with them, but I should) = 224

Kobo

  • Distributed through Smashwords = 91

Smashwords = 5

Smashwords sales

(Google Play was not included because they never lowered my price.)

My Category Rankings
Barnes and Noble

  • #1 in fantasy
    • Held for 2.5 days
    • In top 15 for 4 days
    • Bestseller status for 5 days
  • #11 in ALL Nook ebooks
    • In Top 100 for 3 days

Amazon

  • #1 in three subcategories on Amazon
    • Held for 2.5 days
  • #4 in Fantasy on Amazon
    • Held for 2 days
  • #5 in Sci-fi and Fantasy on Amazon
    • Held for 2 days
  • #40 in ALL Kindle ebooks
    • In Top 100 for 2.5 days

Apple

  • #8 in Sci-fi and Fantasy on iBooks (I only thought to look at this on Sunday, so I’m not sure if it was any higher. It likely was at least on Thursday.)

Smashwords

  • Made their Hot List two weeks in a row.
    • Week 1
      • #1 selling book
      • #1 selling boxed set
      • #1 selling fantasy boxed set
      • #1 in fantasy
      • #1 in fairy tales
    • Week 2 (this is with it back at full price)
      • #4 selling boxed set
      • #1 selling fantasy boxed set
      • 1 in fairy tales

Outsold both George R. R. Martin (2 books) and Nora Roberts at certain points. I know most of their fans likely already have these books so it isn’t like I outsold a new release, but still, these authors are HUGE!

BookBub is Key
You can try the other elements described below without a BookBub Featured Deal in the US, but unless you already have a huge audience, I wouldn’t recommend it. BookBub is expensive, but very powerful. They say most authors average about 3,000-4,000 in sales from one of these deals, but that depends on the category you are in. (I was in fantasy, where they say the average is 2,100. My numbers were just above that at about 2,500.) In my experience, if you want a US deal (which is where the vast majority of subscribers are) DON’T click both US and International, even though they say it increases your chances. Every time I’ve clicked both, I’ve gotten international only. While that is good for increasing sales and establishing greater foreign readership, a US deal is what gives you the chance to make a list. This was the first time I indicated I only wanted a US deal, and the first time I got one.

When you are submitting for a deal, unless you are published by a major house, the general advice is to focus on your ebook only. This is partly because of the costs involved in printing paperbacks, which limit how far indie authors can reduce our prices before we lose money on a sale. It is also because many of the lists count paperback and ebook sales separately, so focusing on both won’t actually increase your chances. Plus, most readers of these newsletters are buying ebooks anyway. (I did find that I saw a slight increase in paperback sales during the campaign even though that book wasn’t on sale, so you may see the same benefit.)

When thinking about your potential deal, there are two big decisions you have to make: which book and what price? As for which book, it is easier to make the list with a boxed set (either of your own books like I did with the Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy or with a set from various authors who have established fan bases) than it is with a single book. This is because readers feel like they are getting greater value when they get more than one book at a sale price. (Hey, I can’t blame them.) It is definitely possible to do it with a single book, but you will have to work that much harder at advertising and rely more on your fan base to promote.

Another fairly big decision is which genre to advertise in. Bookbub only has so many choices so you have to decide which best fits your book and its potential readers. If your genre is straightforward like contemporary romance, it will be an easy decision because they have that as a category–and it is a very popular one. However, The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy is historical fantasy and they don’t have a category for that, so I had to choose between historical romance (which it is not), historical fiction, and fantasy. I’ve learned from previous experience that my Guinevere books sell better when I market them as fantasy, so that is the category I went with, even though historical fiction has a bigger BookBub subscriber number. (A lot of this has to do with anticipating reader expectations. I think straight historical fiction readers could be turned off by my Guinevere books because she is a mythological, rather than historical figure and the book has mystical elements to it.)

Marketing expert Amy Collins told me once that the bigger the price drop you can demonstrate for BookBub, the more likely you are to get a featured deal. How far you choose to drop it depends on your goals for your campaign. If you are looking to make money (or at least break even), you may not wish to go all the way down to $0.99 like I did. (My normal price is $9.99.) However, if you don’t care about a profit and are just looking to try to make a list, as I was, drop the price down as much as you are comfortable. I personally wouldn’t advise free because 1) you won’t make any of your money back and 2) many of the lists don’t count books offered for free.

Rumor has it Tuesday and Wednesday are the best days for BookBub deals because you can then ride the “tail” from the ad for the rest of the week. Mine was on a Thursday, and I did just fine. My sales dropped off pretty quickly Saturday and Sunday, so for me, the tail wasn’t as long as some had led me to believe. If you don’t like the day/date that Bookbub gives you, just email them (quickly – I think their rules say it has to be a certain amount of time before your deal) and they will change it. Mine was originally on a Saturday and I asked them to change it because I was traveling and also asked for a different day based on when other major advertisers had open slots.

You Got a Featured Deal, Now What?

Ad Stacking for Newsletter Lists
The first thing you should do when you find out that you got a BookBub Featured Deal (besides celebrate) is start planning the other ads you are going to run in the week of your promotion. These are usually mostly ads targeted at newsletters/mailing lists of readers. Some of the really popular ones (especially Robin Reads and Fussy Librarian) fill up a month in advance, so keep that in mind when confirming your BookBub date. Also keep in mind that some of these sites are VERY expensive. Don’t feel bad if you can’t afford them. I went into debt for this and I don’t advise anyone else to do so. Below are ones I used, along with the price, which of course, they can change at any time. Some of them are flat-rate pricing and some let you choose what package you want. Here’s a great database to use to evaluate potential ad companies.

Location Date Cost
BookBub Thurs 7/11 $516
Just Kindle Books Wed 7/10 $53
Fussy Librarian Tuesday 7/9 $20
Book Gorilla unknown free, part of a package with another company
BargainBooksy Wed 7/10 $40
ManyBooks Wed 7/10 $78
Robinreads Mon 7/8 $85
ENT Tues 7/9 $35
Choosey Bookworm Mon 7/8 $36
Kindle Nation Daily week $119
BooksButterfly 6/8-6/12 $190
BookRebel Mon 7/8 $25
Riffle Select Wed 7/10 $75
Early Bird Books Mon 7/8 $300
The Portalist Wed 7/10 $100
Total 1,672

There are a few that I would have liked to have used, but couldn’t and why:

Book Barbarian full
Book Cave not accepted
Free Kindle Books Didn’t have enough reviews
BookDealio date conflict
Booksends not enough reviews
Ebooksida not enough reviews
Writerspace not appropriate for a short period promo; better for new release

The best advice I can give is to cluster ads from these types of companies around your Bookbub ad, preferably BEFORE the day of your Featured Deal. Don’t run other ads on the day of your Bookbub Featured deal; just let it do its job on its own. It is better to get some heavy hitters in before your Bookbub deal so that they jump-start your sales and trip Amazon’s algorithms into paying attention. That way your book is primed for the big BookBub day.

Based on my sales, the promotions that seem to have done the best are the ones I scheduled on Monday (Robinreads, Bookrebel, Early Bird Books), as I had 625 sales that day, as opposed to 227 on Tuesday and 220 on Wednesday. I’m only using Amazon as my example because they have the easiest report by day but my sales at other locations showed a similar pattern.

It is still important to continue to advertise after your Book Bub deal. You can do this through ads from the places above and/or through your own ads. I had scheduled all of my ads with other companies earlier in the week, so I relied upon Facebook/Instagram, Amazon, and Bookbub ads that I created during the last four days of my campaign (Friday-Sunday). My sales reflected that as they trended steadily downward. I will go into more detail on the ads I created myself below.

Theme
When you’re planning your campaign, you need to think like a marketer. This means:

  • Being consistent in your messaging through all of your graphics and other communications.
  • Keeping your color scheme and fonts consistent as well.
  • Having a theme to tie together your copy and images.
  • Using images that are professional (I recommend stock photography from iStock, Adobe Stock or some other paid site) and that are consistent.
  • Using comparison titles to help readers understand what type of book you’re promoting.

You can choose to base your theme around anything–perhaps an upcoming holiday, season, news event, TV show or movie that your books are similar to–as long as it gives your audience something to identify with and as well as a clear, honest picture of what to expect from your book.

I chose to target the “showhole” left behind by the end of Game of Thrones because my Guinevere books have a lot of similar attributes (political conniving and maneuvering, murder for the sake of gain (though not as many deaths as GRRM’s books], a quasi-medieval setting [though mine is more early medieval], and a bit of magic). I also played off the idea that in the show at least the women did not fare well, but they do in my books. This also ties nicely into the resurgence feminism is having at the moment. I also wanted to touch on the idea that fans have waited a long time for The Winds of Winter and still have a long wait, so they can use that time to read my book.

Once I saw how the various messages performed (more on that below) and I had some solid success to back up revising my ads (this was on Friday after the big Bookbub push), I decided to keep the basic graphics and message the same, but change them a little to play on the books’ new bestseller status and create a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out), since the campaign was coming to an end.

Graphics
Once I had those basic ideas in mind, I decided to create eight graphics that I would both use as the basis for my Facebook/Instagram and Bookbub ads and share on social media. The reason two were similar is I wanted to see which type of background connected better with people, simple or complex.

Out of those, four played heavily on the Game of Thrones theme:

But I knew not all my readers were fans of the show, so I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. I also created an ad that appealed more to readers of historical fantasy, one for readers of epic fantasy, one that emphasized the award the book recently won, and one to those who are attracted to the romance in my books.

I use Canva to create my graphics. I’ve tried Bookbrush, but I can’t get it to work correctly for me. (Some people swear by it, so use whatever you are comfortable with). All of my images either come from Canva or Adobe Stock. (It is very important to use legally purchased images. Yes, it costs money, but it’s better than getting yourself sued for something you stole off of Google.) I have a running account with them that costs $29.99/month, so I have hundreds of credits to use anytime I need them. I don’t have any special graphic design training; I think I just picked things up over my 15 years in PR and marketing.

Once the Bookbub deal happened and I had several things to crow about, I edited my graphics. You’ll notice the bestseller seals (which I created myself, based off of things I had seen others do). They aren’t on every image and I don’t always include all three because sometimes that made the design too busy. I let the ad dictate what I did and did not include. Also note the change in language. It is simpler and uses terms like “Buy now!” Don’t Miss Out!” and “Hurry!” to create a sense of urgency and FOMO. These graphics also emphasize the end date more which is both a helpful reminder for people and another way to emphasize this is a limited time offer.

 

Prep Work

There are a few things it would be wise for you to do before your promotion week.

  • Make sure your book page is properly formatted on all sites. You’d be surprised how messed up they can get, especially on Amazon (their editor follows no known HTML logic) and Barnes and Noble (which I never did get fixed, despite multiple attempts).
  • Check Amazon your categories. Amazon is always adding new categories, so if you haven’t checked yours lately, you might want to shift them around. It is easier to hit #1 in a smaller, more niche sub-category. But I actually took my book out of the Arthurian niche sub-category and put it into the bigger historical fantasy category because I wanted to see how it did. My two categories are Fiction > Fantasy > Epic and Fiction > Fantasy > Historical.
  • Check your Amazon keywords. These are how Amazon will throw you into a third category, so make sure your keywords really reflect what you book is about. This is how I got into the Sword and Sorcery subcategory
  • Get any typos fixed that you or readers have identified and be sure to upload the new files in plenty of time before your sale.

I also did a few other things that are totally optional:

  • I asked on Facebook if any of my author friends had a newsletter timed to the sale and was willing to mention it. From that, I got nine people who said they were willing to share anything I posted on Facebook, a suggestion for someone to contact who might help, a newsletter swap with author Nancy Bilyeau and an interview and newsletter mention from marketing expert Amy Collins. This is something I would totally do again. The worst people can do is ignore you or say no.
  • I was heading to the Historical Novel Society Conference just a few weeks before the sale and I knew they would have a swag table so I had 25 small cards printed advertising the sale. I didn’t count how many were left after the conference (a lot) but I needed something to do with them. So I handed them out to people I knew at my day job. I have no way of knowing how many people actually bought the book from the card, but as several of my co-workers said, “Hey, if we can ask you to buy cookies and pizza for our kids, you can certainly ask us to buy a $0.99 book.” I would advise checking on your company’s solicitation policy if you’re going to do this, just to be safe. It was fun, but it’s not something I think I would do again.
  • They say the higher the number of reviews your book has on Amazon, the more likely readers are to buy your book, so you may want to try increasing your number before your promotional week. I emailed my newsletter subscribers asking for review in exchange for free book (not sure if that is totally okay or not, but I did it). It only netted me two reviews out of 2,000+ newsletter subscribers. I won’t take that exact tack again, but if I had more advanced notice I might have done Choosy Bookworm’s Read and Review program, which I’ve used before and had success with.

Newsletters/Blogs
Another important step is to email your newsletter subscribers and if you have a blog, write a blog post letting people know about the sale, your desire to hit the list (don’t be shy about this!) and how they can help you. The messages can be pretty much the same. I would advise making your story as personal as possible. After all, if you’re going to ask people to help make a dream come true, it’s only fair that they understand why this is your dream. 

Because I changed newsletter providers, I don’t have access to the email I sent to my newsletter subscribers, but here’s the post that I did on my blog. It’s a little longer than I would recommend, but the important things are:

  1. Include your buy links up front so people don’t have to look for them
  2. Bold the key messages for those who will skim
  3. Provide more detail toward the bottom for those who want it
  4. Say thank you. After all, you can’t make a list on your own; you are reliant on people buying the books and spreading the word. 

You may also want to send a reminder close to the end of the sale period and/or provide updates along the way. This is especially good if you are doing interviews or writing articles to try to attract attention to the campaign. It gives you (and your fans) more things to share online, too.

Here are mine:

These not only may spur some people to action, but it will also serve to keep the energy up around the campaign. And be sure to do a wrap up post after, especially if you make the list!

Also, if you are part of any group blogs, make sure you post to those as well! They will reach different audiences.

Street Team
If you have a Street Team – a group of dedicated superfans who have promised to help promote your books – even a small one (mine is only 29 people, but I know authors who have around 1,000 in theirs), make sure you let them know about the sale and provide them with resources to help tell people about it. I created a page on my website with ready-made graphics for Facebook and Instagram, as well as tweets that could be copy/pasted: https://nicoleevelina.com/spread-the-word-the-guineveres-tale-trilogy-0-99-sale/. I included this link in all my communications with them via email and in our secret Facebook group. The idea is to make sharing your information as easy as possible for them. (When I updated my graphics, I created another page: https://nicoleevelina.com/new-sale-graphics-guineveres-tale-trilogy/ and let everyone know about the updated information.)

I also invited my team members to share suggestions in the Facebook group for how to keep up interest over the weekend. Then I added some of my own, a few of which were good, a few of which were really dumb. I included everything because you never know what might spark an idea.

If you have a large Street Team, you may want to run a contest with prizes for the person who gets the most shares/likes/etc. or something else to reward the people who put in the most effort. This is something I wish I would have thought to do.

If you don’t have a Street Team, start one now. You can begin by setting up a simple sign up form on your website and then ask your fans on social media, your blog and your newsletter if they’d like to join. Then put a link on your website as well. It will grow over time.

Social Media
I am active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, so that’s where I posted these graphics. I did daily posts (with a different graphic each day) on Instagram and Facebook (both profile and page…yes, I know technically you aren’t supposed to do that kind of thing on your profile). If you are aiming to hit a list, TELL PEOPLE. As one of my writer friends said, “You should never be modest about your accomplishments [or in this case, goals] as an author.” I think most people really want to see you succeed and if they know you have a goal like that in mind, they will be more willing to help than if you just say, “Hey my book is on sale.” Sales happen all the time; it’s not every day you can help someone hit a bestseller list.

Instagram

  • I did daily posts with a different graphic each day.
  • I used a core group of about a dozen hashtags and then added others that were more specific to the given graphic. For example for the one with the guy on the side that talks about Lancelot, Arthur and Aggrivane, I used the ones below. You’ll see the specialized tags about romance at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

  • The graphic that did the best was the Winds of Winter ad. Instagram has hidden the number of likes for me, but I was mentally keeping track and it got over 1,000. I have never had anything like that happen before and I can’t explain why it was this one that hit. I used the same hashtags. This was even still the case when I updated my ads with the award seals.
  • When I started to get great numbers and making bestseller lists at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I took screenshots and posted those as well. That was mainly just me being excited but also a little to show others how well the book was doing in the hopes they’d want to jump on the bandwagon and but the book, too.

Facebook

  • I did daily posts with a different graphic each day on both my profile and my page. (Yes, I know you aren’t supposed to advertise anything on your profile, but with the low percentage of people who see anything you post to your page, I do it anyway.)
  • I pinned my favorite post to the top of my profile on Monday. That way it would be the first thing people saw all week.
  • When I started to get great numbers and making bestseller lists at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I took screenshots and posted those as well.
  • I asked everyone on FB over and over to please share my posts that had the graphics and buy links. I estimate that atleast 30 people shared over the course of the week.
  • I drove everyone I know crazy with the above, I’m sure.
  • I also posted to about three or four different Facebook groups a day, totaling about 15 groups. There were several others that I never got around to posting in.
    • Here’s my whole list. Some will apply to you, some won’t. But you can find ones in your genre.
    • Be sure to read a group’s rules (usually the post pinned to the top in the main area or over on the right-hand column) to see if they allow promotions. Some do, some don’t, and some only allow it on certain days or in certain ways (i.e. you have to comment on a post the admins start; you can’t start your own.)
    • Don’t do too many right in a row or even in the same day because Facebook might accuse you of spamming and lock you out for a period of time, not something you want during a promotion.
    • It’s a good idea to participate in the groups first so you don’t just look like a spammer.

Twitter

  • I did daily posts with a different graphic each day. I pinned that tweet to the top of my profile.
  • When I started to get great numbers and making bestseller lists at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I took screenshots and posted those as well.
  • When I was getting close to number 1 in Canada, I started doing specific tweets aimed at Canadian readers. This was my only Canadian promotion; I hadn’t done any ads (mine were specific to the U.S.). The rest was word of mouth.
    • At the same time I also asked my friend, Canadian author Susanna Kearsley, if she would mind sharing my promotion to to her fans. She did. 🙂
      • I was very careful in who I asked and how. This is not something you want to take advantage of. If you are going to ask other authors to share your promotion, it is best to stick to the ones you know well, and ask politely. Some may say no or not respond and that is okay.

Pinterest

  • It didn’t occur to me to add my promo graphics to one of my boards (I have one called “Book Shelf (My Books)” for this very purpose) until Friday.
  • The reason to do this is to get the graphics onto the boards of your followers for free. I have 18,900 monthly viewers, so that is a lot of people. I wish I would have done it on Monday instead so they would have had longer to see them.
  • Two of the graphics were in my top 10 pins for that week, netting a total of 1,018 impressions for free.
  • I also promoted a pin, which I will talk about below. It is not included in the numbers of the bullet above.

Advertising (non-newsletter lists)

Facebook/Instagram

Total spend: $353.78

  • I ran a total of five ads using Boosted Posts over the course of a week. In total they reached 13,872 people, 5,062 who engaged (liked, shared, etc.) with the post and 24 of whom clicked a link.
  • My most popular post in terms of both reach and engagement was The Winds of Winter ad (which isn’t surprising since FB and Instagram are now linked). I just wish I understood what made that one so popular.
    • Interestingly, I didn’t even post that one until Friday.
  • The two that posted on Monday and that ran the entire campaign had very different results. The one I thought would do better only had 1,430 reach and 646 engagement, but the other one that was female-focused blew it away with 5,206 reach and 846 engagement. Go figure.
  • I had one ad (the bottom one in the image below) that wasn’t doing well at all, so I killed it right away.

Pinterest

Total spend: $16.28

Strategy

  • This ad was a last-minute decision that I made on Friday night on a lark.
  • I decided to promote one of my pins (the romance one with the guy) instead of creating an ad. It is a new option and frankly, way easier. I chose that pin because I felt like it appealed to the widest variety of people and aligned well with Pinterest’s mostly female audience.
  • I only had two days left in the campaign at that point (less once Pinterest approved my pin), so I didn’t throw a lot of money at it – only $20, of which I actually spent $16.28

Results

  • The results were 10,328 impressions, 1,400 close up views, four saves and 132 clicks on the buy link, for a click through rate of 1.28%.
  • Verdict: I would totally do this again, but keep my spend low.

Bookbub

Total spend = $383.37

Strategy

  • I broke my ads up into ones that would run in the early week before the BookBub Featured Deal and ones that would run in the end part of the week.
    • They say the average click-through rate for a BookBub ad is about 0.5%. even though we should all be aiming for at least 3-5%.
    • There are a lot of complexities about how you set up your ads and how that affects your rate. I’m not an expert, so I just tried different things to see what worked.
    • These ads appear at the bottom of the emails, so opening the email counts as an impression but doesn’t guarantee that the ad is seen or clicked on.
  • I targeted my ads both by category (fantasy and historical fiction) and author because just doing category alone made my audience too broad. Authors I targeted included Deborah Harkness, Patrick Rothfuss, Terry Brooks, Philippa Gregory, Diana Gabaldon, George R. R. Martin, and Susanna Kearsley.

Results

  • The Bookbub ad that did the best for me.

    I ran a few different ads with a few different goals:

    • In the early part of the week (Mon-Wed) I ran five ads.
      • Three were different graphics, just to see which performed better.
        • Missing Westeros? Visit Camelot: 6,597 impressions, 17 clicks, click through rate of 0.26%
        • Historical Fantasy at its Finest: 6,682 impressions, 26 clicks, click through rate of 0.39%
        • A Woman Rules Camelot: 7,302 impressions, 18 clicks, click through rate of 0.25%
      • I also ran ads that just targeted certain retailers, i.e. Apple or B&N, to try to drive up sales there. That didn’t work at all. My click through rate for those were 0.03% for Apple and 0.08% for B&N, which is abysmally low. I won’t be doing this again.
    • In the later part of the week (Fri-Sun) I ran three ads, two which I designed myself and one of which I used the Bookbub ad generator for.
      • Historical Fantasy at its Finest: 2,259 impressions, 3 clicks, click through rate of 0.13%
      • Missing Westeros? Visit Camelot: 2,046 impressions, 0 clicks, click through rate of 0%
      • Bookbub generated ad: 12,364 impressions, 37 clicks, click through rate of 0%
  • Things I learned:
    • Simple ads with little text and the book cover work the best.
    • You may as well just use Bookbub’s ad generator instead of spending the time to design your own.
    • The more money you throw at an ad, the more impressions you will get (my budget for the BookBub generated ad was twice that of the others) but that doesn’t necessarily mean much higher click-through (that one had only 0.30% vs one of the ones I created with 0.39%)
    • I need to take some classes on how to create ads that work.
  • Will I do Bookbub ads again? I’m honestly not sure. I am reading that some people thinking they have gone the way of Amazon ads: too popular and too expensive to really make a difference anymore. If I do them again, I won’t budget as much money, that is for sure.

Amazon Advertising

Spend: $2.75 (lockscreen) + $5.22 (product ad) = $7.97

Strategy

  • I originally had two ads going, a lockscreen ad (shows on the locked screen of a Kindle) and a sponsored product ad (shows in the product listing on Amazon when people search for certain terms or authors that you define).
  • Amazon doesn’t give you a lot of options for customizing your ad. Your image will be your book cover and you have only 150 characters for your ad copy.
  • My ad copy was: “Missing Westeros? Visit Camelot. Priestess. Queen. Warrior. Guinevere was much more than a sinner. Experience life through her eyes in a 3-book set.”
  • My copy focused on Game of Thrones, but I also told my audience a little about who the book was about (a Guinevere, who is not your average portrayal. She is a priestess, a queen and a warrior who was more active than the traditional sinner) and what they should expect (there is an implication in the roles I mentioned that they will get magic, political mechanations, and action, plus you know that you will be reading her experience as it happens).
  • I chose manual product targeting by category. My categories were 1) /Books/Science Fiction & Fantasy/Fantasy/Epic Fantasy 2)/Books/Science Fiction & Fantasy/Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery Fantasy and 3) /Books/Science Fiction & Fantasy/Fantasy/Historical Fantasy. I picked these because they are my categories for the book within Amazon as well as the categories I thought my readers would read. Interestingly, these are the three categories I hit #1 in!
  • I also targeted a few products, mostly GRRM books, The Mists of Avalon, and the categories of Arthurian Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Romantic Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery Fantasy, Fantasy Anthologies, Mythology and Folk Tales, and Myths & Legend Fantasy.

Results

  • I stopped the lockscreen ad after only a day and only spending $2.75 (with 0 sales) because Amazon just wasn’t pushing it out. I won’t do lockscreen ads again, as I’ve noticed from personal experience that they are HEAVILY weighted toward Kindle Unlimited books. (Plus a lot of people have them turned off in their settings.)
  • Interestingly, my sponsored product ad wasn’t pushed out much either. I only spent $5.22 for 16,846 impressions, but made $44.15 in sales from it. I had an average click-through rate of 11.82% which is really good.
  • Verdict: I might do a sponsored product ad in the future, but I am finding Amazon Ads to be less and less effective.

Things I Would Do Differently
No matter how good any marketing campaign is, there are always lessons learned and things you would do differently next these are mine:

  • I didn’t find out about merchandising with major retailers (Barnes & Noble, Apple and Draft2Digital) until my campaign was almost over. Apparently if you tell them you have a sale (and mention BookBub if you have on because they understand how important that is) they may help promote your book. I emailed all of them and only heard back from Barnes & Noble. It was too late for this campaign, but now I have the links to their forms for the future. 
  • May not use quite as many newsletter ad services in the future. I don’t know. I’m on the fence about that.
  • Add my graphics to Pinterest on the first day of the campaign rather than when it was almost over.
  • Contact a few people I know (Chuck Wendig, Joanna Penn)  who might have helped promote the book. 
  • Possibly engage a VA like Kate Tilton on the campaign.
  • Look at Apple stats earlier. That just totally slipped my mind.
  • Run a contest with prizes for the person who gets the most shares/likes/etc. or something else to reward the people who put in the most effort.

I’m sure there are other things I could have done differently or better, but that is what is coming to mind. If can think of anything else, please let me know!

Questions?
If you’ve made it this far into the post, congratulations! If you can think of anything I haven’t covered or that you want more detail on, please comment and I will totally share!

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How You Can Help Me Make a Dream Come True

Being a writer is full of “dream come true” moments.

Some happen with each book, like typing “the end,” or holding a hard copy in your hands for the first time, or celebrating your publication day.

Some happen more rarely, if at all, at least for most authors. Hitting a bestseller list is one of those, especially for an indie author since we don’t have the distribution power of traditional publishers.

This week I have the chance to make that happen. You see, I have a Bookbub featured deal in the United States today for my Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy. The whole thing (all three books in one volume) are only $0.99 in ebook through July 15. If enough people purchase it by then, I could possibly hit the USA Today bestseller list.

I’m a firm believer that God helps those who help themselves, so I am not being shy in asking for your help. I only ask one thing of you in return for a series that took me 19 years to write: please download The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy by June 15. Even if you already have one or more of the books in another format, even if you don’t ever intend to read it, please consider spending $0.99 to support my dream.

If you aren’t tied to Amazon for your ebooks, please consider downloading from Barnes and Noble or iTunes (authors have to have a certain number of sales from there to make the list; Amazon alone doesn’t qualify.)

amazon-logo-icon nook-icon-150x150KoboIconWeb

Tell Me More
What’s the book about? You can read the full description here, but in short, it is the story of King Arthur and Camelot from Guinevere’s point of view—her life story.

  • Book 1, Daughter of Destiny, covers her early life as a priestess of Avalon and her first love during a time she never dreamed of becoming queen, as well as how she met Morgan and Arthur.
  • Book 2, Camelot’s Queen, tells the story we are all familiar with, Guinevere’s time at King Arthur’s side, but it also provides a twist on why she had her famous affair with Lancelot.
  • Book 3, Mistress of Legend, includes the fall of Camelot and Guinevere’s later life as she seeks to reestablish her identity once she is no longer queen and preserve the legacy of her mother’s people from the invading Saxons.

In case you are wondering what others have said about the trilogy, I’ll quote from a few reader reviews. (You can read the trade reviews on the book page.)

“The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy shows us not a passive woman, but a strong one…This is a must-read for anyone who loves adventure woven with a touch of fantasy.” – K9freind1

“Loved this series! Strong, vibrant characters. The world building is detailed and pulls you right into the story…I’d highly recommend it for a great summer read.” – John

“I didn’t want this story to end!…This book is 100% book of a lifetime to read!” Kristinann

Going Above and Beyond
If you are so inclined, please also share information on the sale on social media. I’ve created a page that has ready-made images (just right-click on them to download) and sample tweets and links to where the book is for sale to make it as easy as possible to share.

What do you get in return? Three books that are my baby. If I could list with this single-volume boxed set, it would be especially meaningful to me because I originally imagined Guinevere’s story as one gigantic volume (ala The Mists of Avalon). While I certainly don’t mind it being broken up into a trilogy, I love that I can offer it the way I envisioned it as well.

If you’ve already helped my dreams come true by buying, THANK YOU. If you have time to leave a review, that is always appreciated and may encourage others to buy. Here’s the link to review on Amazon.

Thank You
Thank you for any help you can give. Know that your support makes you agents of fate in my life. Let me know how/when I can return the favor for you. 

In the meantime, if you need me, I’m going to be fighting the temptation to look at my Amazon rankings every five minutes…I’ll let you know in a few weeks if we were successful in hitting the list!

Summer Reads: What’s on YOUR list?

We’re having Juneuary, that stretch of time between the end of May and the Fourth of July when the temperature sits in the 50s and 60s (that’s 10-15 degrees C) and it rains and everybody whines about how summer’s never coming. It’s a Seattle thing. We always act like rain in June is a huge surprise.

Every year.

At least I haven’t turned the heater back on. (Yet.)

To remind myself that it is summer – on the calendar, at least – I thought it would be fun to make a list of the books I’m most looking forward to reading once beach weather starts for real. Lately my kindle has been heavy with non-fiction – cool stuff, but not light and fluffy beach reading material.

For example, I’m in the middle of “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World” by Melinda Gates. She uses personal glimpses into the lives of women world-wide to illustrate the appalling way women are treated, and while I have no doubts about her commitment to her foundation’s causes, I wish she’d taken a more academic, less-Hallmark tone. She’s walking the walk when she really doesn’t have to, and I respect that. That said, when I finish, I’m definitely going to be ready for something lighter.

With that in mind, here’s a handful of books I can’t wait to dive into!

Caveate: I’ll have to start a couple of these in the next week or so – before Seattle’s summer meanders in – because the Seattle Public Library has a way of dumping *all* my hold requests on me at once.

Who needs to clean house? Not me…sigh…

First up is “The Affair of the Mysterious Letter” by Alexis Hall. It’s a Sherlock-adjacent fantasy novel, and I cannot wait! Here’s the blurb:

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham is drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas’ stock-in-trade.

This book has had such amazing reviews! I’ve never read anything by Casey McQuiston before, but a number of my reading buddies have been singing the praises of “Red, White & Royal Blue”, and I can’t wait to dive in. Here’s the blurb:

What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius―his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

And finally, I’m dying to read Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian. It’s a cozy mystery set in post-war England and it has LIV’S CATNIP written all over it. Here’s the blurb:

A jaded spy and a shell shocked country doctor team up to solve a murder in postwar England.

James Sommers returned from the war with his nerves in tatters. All he wants is to retreat to the quiet village of his childhood and enjoy the boring, predictable life of a country doctor. The last thing in the world he needs is a handsome stranger who seems to be mixed up with the first violent death the village has seen in years. It certainly doesn’t help that this stranger is the first person James has wanted to touch since before the war.

The war may be over for the rest of the world, but Leo Page is still busy doing the dirty work for one of the more disreputable branches of the intelligence service. When his boss orders him to cover up a murder, Leo isn’t expecting to be sent to a sleepy village. After a week of helping old ladies wind balls of yarn and flirting with a handsome doctor, Leo is in danger of forgetting what he really is and why he’s there. He’s in danger of feeling things he has no business feeling. A person who burns his identity after every job can’t set down roots.

As he starts to untangle the mess of secrets and lies that lurk behind the lace curtains of even the most peaceful-seeming of villages, Leo realizes that the truths he’s about to uncover will affect his future and those of the man he’s growing to care about.

“A Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics” by Olivia Waite is another book that’s had great buzz. It just came out this week, and I can’t wait to dive in! Here’s the blurb:

As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.

Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.

While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?

So yeah, this is shorter than my usual to-read posts, and it also seems to be very white. Hmm…I need to make diversity more of a goal. Is that something you think about? What’s on your reading list for the summer? If you have any suggestions – diverse or otherwise (as long as it’s not some heavy non-fic tomb) I’d love to hear them.


Heroic Sacrifice

This weekend, here in the U.S., we celebrate Memorial Day. It is a day of remembrance, when we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country; when we pay tribute to all the brave men and women who have lost their lives in armed conflicts over the years. Most of us know someone (or many someones) who we thank and honor for their service on this holiday, whether we spend the day itself visiting national monuments, leaving flags and flowers at cemeteries, or just spending time with those closest to us.

It may seem strange to honor fictional characters as well as real-life heroes, but I often think about the fact that literature and pop culture act as both mirror and tribute to the real world. Books, movies, and TV give us access to stories we might not otherwise be exposed to, and teach us lessons about ourselves and the world we live in. Through stories, we learn to be brave, to be selfless, to fight for the things we hold most dear, and to always stand up to injustice. We spend this weekend honoring and remembering real-life heroes, but here are a few of the most poignant and selfless fictional sacrifices in literature and pop culture that have inspired me also.

(No big spoilers for anything released in the last 3 years.)

Sydney Carton, A Tale of Two Cities

Sydney Carton is a brilliant but depressed drunkard, full of cynicism and self-loathing for his wasted life. He falls deeply in love for Lucie Manette, but she marries Charles Darnay, Carton’s client and eventual friend who bears an uncanny likeness to Carton. When Darnay is imprisoned and set to be executed in Paris during the French Revolution, Carton smuggles himself into Darnay’s cell and swaps himself for Darnay, ensuring he will be executed in his place. I was always deeply touched by this dissipated character who trades his own life for the happiness of a woman who could never love him.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

Buffy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

There were many sacrifices on this series *coughSPIKEcough* but none which brought on the waterworks like Buffy’s death in Season 5. In order to prevent the hell-god Glory from murdering her younger sister in ritual sacrifice, Buffy realizes her greatest gift is her ability to die for her friends, her family, and ultimately the world.

“She saved the world. A lot.”

Hodor, Game of Thrones

In one of the most affecting episodes of Season 6, we finally learn the background and history of Bran’s sweet but simple-minded ally, Hodor. When wights led by the Night King attack Bran’s hiding place, Hodor bravely holds the door to save Bran, losing his life in the process. But his heroic gesture ripples through time and space, and we discover it was this harrowing event that broke his mind many years ago.

Donna Noble, Doctor Who

Donna had one of the most inspirational character arcs as the Doctor’s companion, going from a spoiled and self-centered woman to a compassionate and empathetic time traveler. But when she develops near-godlike powers, she poses a threat to herself, the Doctor, and the world. Her mind must be wiped of all her memories with the Doctor, and all the growth and learning she did on her journeys. While Donna doesn’t technically die, her mind, personality, and growth are all erased, returning her to the person she was before she met the Doctor.

Obi Wan Kenobi, Star Wars

Star Wars has a number of heroic sacrifices to choose from, but Obi’s always struck me the hardest. In order to give his protégé Luke time to escape, Obi-Wan faces off against Darth Vader, ultimately letting Vader kill him. Obi willingly gives his life for the greater good, but Luke has to lose his friend, guide, and surrogate father in order to achieve his destiny, which is always a heartbreaking moment.

“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

Lily Evans, Harry Potter

Another series with so many sacrifices to choose from! Yet the selfless sacrifice at the heart of these books is the one made by Lily Potter on the night Voldemort came to murder her infant son. Her willingness to die in Harry’s place works such powerful magic that Voldemort cannot harm him. She saves her son’s life, nearly kills He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, and sets off one of the most iconic stories of our time, all with the power of a mother’s love.

The Iron Giant

*deep breath* I’m getting a little weepy just thinking about this one.

A lonely boy meets an enormous robot who is being pursued by the military. As their friendship unfolds, Hogarth explains to the metal behemoth that he doesn’t have to be the villain the army paints him as–he can choose to be a hero instead. So when a nuclear missile inadvertently hurtles toward their small town, the Giant says a heartfelt goodbye to his young friend before flying into the sky to intercept the bomb. He forces the missile out into space, and it begins to detonate, smiles and whispers:

“SUPERMAN.”

Who are the heroes you honor on this Memorial Day? Real or fictional, let me know in the comment section below!

GRRM and the Three Bears…

…or, the virtue of leaving clues that are visible to the average reader but not ham-handed, neon-bright arrows.

I’m going to start with a small qualifier: I have neither read A Game of Thrones/A Song of Fire & Ice, nor have I watched the HBO series. I am, however, a sentient human being with access to the internet, so I know the last episode – in which the Mother of Dragons went postal – created something of a stir. Or a shitstorm. Or therabouts.

I know this in part because Chuck Wendig made a tweet thread in which he argues that character should come before plot – accusing implying that GRRM &/or the series creators may have overlooked this small detail.

You can read his thread HERE, and you should. He knows his stuff. Also, he deconstructs the episode – and the series – HERE. (And if you’re really into it, fashion bloggers Tom & Lorenzo also have a detailed review you can find HERE.)

The big concern with the Game of Thrones episode seemed to be that Daenerys Targaryen behaved in a way that was inconsistent with her character. Maybe or maybe not – I did see at least one tweet prior to the episode suggesting that the Mother of Dragons might end up being the Big Bad, which tells me there must have been at least a couple hints along the way.

Hints that the vast majority of the television-watching public apparently didn’t notice.

Sunday night, while the rest of humanity was glued to HBO, I started a mystery by a new-to-me author. It was a pretty standard trope: Big City Woman is dragged back to her small-town home for Reasons, where she Learns Things, Figures Out Whodunnit, possibly Falls In Love, and then decides to Stay Forevermore.

Sadly, I bailed on it by about 30 pages in, because:

  • I didn’t connect with the main character. At all.
  • Which turned on my editing brain, so that every time her eyes wandered around the room, I lost a little more patience. (Her gaze wandered. Her eyes stayed in her head. Thanks.)
  • As a result of my lack of connection and super-editor, the clues to the character’s arc were glaringly obvious.

The main character was the only one in the family who had the time to take care of the problem in the Small Town, even though it meant leaving her job in the middle of a project and pissing off her boss. Because apparently a woman’s work is never too important to interrupt.

Whoops. That’s another blog post.

Anywhoodle, her stated goal was to return to her uber-exciting life in the Big City, but from just about the moment she arrived, she had Feelings. Right there in her internal dialogue, she noticed a strange connection to the place, one she could not understand. “Why do I feel this way?” she’d ask herself.

Why?

Because it says in the blurb that you’re going to have a change of heart, sweetie, and you’ll want to stick around.

*ahem*

Leaving aside the (potentially sexist) set-up, to me these “what an odd emotion” moments were clunky, too-obvious road signs to her character’s development. I think it would have worked better if she’d had a chance to earn that sense of connection rather than just stumbling into it like a slap-happy princess in some insta-love romance.

And honestly, maybe she did. I mean, I did quit at only 30 pages. But hey, I’m over 50 and there are too many books left for me to read to waste time getting annoyed.

Although the stories are very different, I think the essential problem is the same. Daenerys’s behavior took a wild left turn from her established character, and the mystery character’s “odd feelings” didn’t relate to anything intrinsic to her personality. In the one case, the clues were too subtle, and the other, too blatant.

Seems like we should be able to split the difference somehow.

I wish I could say I knew how to avoid either mama bear or papa bear details. I’m researching Victorian London with an eye to writing a mystery, so I’ve done a lot of thinking about how to leave baby-bear style clues – hints that give readers just enough to keep going, but don’t beat them over the head.

The best advice I can come up with is that character trumps plot, and to be ready for a shitty first draft and lots of editing. To that end, I’m brainstorming characters’ goals and motivations and secrets and wounds and all the good stuff that will (hopefully) help me construct a story that’s character driven, and not the other way around.

With a plot Chuck Wendig would love.

Wish me luck!

Writing Under a Pen Name

Not everyone knows I have a nom de plume, which I do. I started writing under Leila Bryce Sin almost as soon as I started publishing under this name.

My first series was a YA series but I found that I had a little bit of talent at writing racier content and came up with this idea of a race I called Bright Elves. Bright Elves were kind of a take on a succubus who didn’t kill. They raised magic and power through lust and love and all that good stuff.

But, since I was starting out as making my name as a YA author, I was a little worried about the wrong audience picking up something they weren’t expecting from me.

So I decided to publish under Leila Bryce Sin. One of the cool things about writing paranormal erotica was that I didn’t have put out full-length novels every time–a lot of readers of that genre like novellas and short stories. I liked it too because it helped me hone some writing skills. When writing fantasy and world building I tended to get lost in descriptions and narrative, but if your word goal is less than fifty thousand words, you tend to focus on character and plot.

But then I had an idea for a novel. A story set in Las Vegas, one of my favorite places, following an actual succubus who was hiding from the other demons of Hell and working as a bartender at an Irish pub. Billie the Bartender.

I love Billie and her story was pretty well formed in my head when I first set out to write her book. I didn’t realize it was going to be a full-length novel, let alone the trilogy it turned into, but some characters demand more stage time than others.

I got the first novel, Hellfire, and the second novel, Holyfire, written in good time while trying to balance writing under my real name. But the novels I was working on as Shauna Granger definitely took precedence and I realized, as I was starting to hit a creative wall thanks to a massive word count I was building, I didn’t have anything left in the tank to figure out the third and final book.

I’d ended book two with a cliffhanger and the start of a war, I couldn’t not write the ending. But I also couldn’t write it. While I’d given myself a creative outlet for a different audience and type of story, I’d also pushed myself to the limit and couldn’t find it in myself to keep going.

So there was a very long break between publishing Holyfire in April of 2016 and even starting the outline of the final book this past autumn. Honestly, if it wasn’t for NaNo last year, I don’t know if I would have finished writing the book, let alone be ready for it to be live tomorrow. #shamlesspromo

But I did.

So what I can tell you about writing with a pen name is that it gives you a lot of freedom. You can delve into new genres or age categories that you don’t normal wade into. You can try new techniques and voices that don’t lend themselves to your normal milieu. And if those genres are a bit racy and you don’t want friends and family to know it’s your work, they don’t ever have to know! But you need to be careful. As with any creative job, it takes something from you, so if you’re not careful, if you don’t find a balance, you can wear yourself out and burn out before you’re ready.

Rhythm in Writing

The other day, a friend asked me to beta-read her newest story. (Meaning the project was still a draft and she wanted me to make comments on what worked and what didn’t work.) I love her stuff and was happy to give her new one a read.

Here’s the comment I made on the very first line: You might want to cut <redacted> because it’s a cliche and it messes up the rhythm of the sentence.

Now, ranting about cliches certainly deserves it’s own post, but for today, I want to focus on the second half of that comment.

“….it messes up the rhythm of the sentence.”

Do you pay much attention to the way a sentence flows? I do. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing. I love fiddling with words, because sometimes a small change can take a mundane idea and make it pop.

Here’s an example from my story Change of Heart:

My family disproved the term poor as dirt. See, we was poor, but we had plenty of dirt. We just couldn’t get much to grow.

Now, there are a bunch of different ways I could have communicated the same ideas – the character’s family was poor and their farmland was worn out – but for me, the paragraph’s structure emphasizes the beats.

Is that vague enough for you? Let me see if I can break it down a little more. To my ear, the first sentence has four even beats: my FAMily disPROVED the term POOR as DIRT. The commas in the second sentence scramble that steady rhythm: SEE (pause) we was POOR (pause) but we had PLENTy of DIRT. And then the last sentence picks up the steadiness of the first sentence, but with three beats instead of four: we just COULDn’t GET much to GROW.

Now, when I wrote that paragraph, I didn’t set out with an agenda. I didn’t think “I want X beats here and Y beats there.” I just kept fiddling with the lines until they sounded interesting. I only analyzed the rhythm after the fact – like today, writing this post.

Here’s another example where the rhythm of the sentence really works for me. This is from Alexis Hall’s book, Glitterland.

And when he kisses me it feels a bit like fear and tastes a bit like tears, but it’s as bright and sweet as sherbet, and I decide to call it joy. 

The music in this sentence comes from the way he links the phrases together, mostly by repeating the word “and”. Alexis is a master of cadence. He’s one of the writers I turn to when I need some inspiration to break out of a slump.

Another example is from Sarah Perry’s fantastic The Essex Serpent

He felt his faith deeply, and above all out of doors, where the vaulted sky was his cathedral nave and the oaks its transept pillars: when faith failed, as it sometimes did, he saw the heavens declare the glory of God and heard the stones cry out.

“….and heard the stones cry out.” … sigh …

I’ve only recently discovered Sarah’s work – I read Melmoth last week and OMG spooky and wonderful – and she’s a lovely writer. Her words just flow.

Writing prose isn’t like writing lyrics to a pop song, where there’s a set number of beats to every line. But it is like writing lyrics to a pop song, because when the rhythm is right, your work will sing.

As long as I’ve got your attention, I’ve got a couple books on sale this week. AQUA FOLLIES (gay romance set in 1955 Seattle) is marked down to $0.99 (regular $4.99). Also, HAUNTED (Reluctant psychic meets skeptical historian. Shenanigans ensue) is on sale for $0.99 too!
Jump HERE for AQUA FOLLIES.
Jump HERE for HAUNTED.

Happy reading!!

Margie Lawson has a post over on the Writers on the Storm blog that talks about creating compelling cadence – same idea, different words. Margie’s an excellent teacher, so you should check out her post!