Wednesday, October 22, 2014

algorithms

When the thousand pound gorilla in the room has all the power, it behooves one to find out what it is doing. I did that regarding marketing and rankings of books regarding the thousand pound gorilla in selling books-- Amazon.

One of the frustrations for authors, who are not selling a lot of books, is to go to their Amazon blurb/advertising page for their book and see its rankings heading into the millions. In the case of rankings, being in the millions is not good news. It means you are where millions of other writers are at Amazon-- not selling-- or so I used to think.

My understanding of what rankings meant changed this month when one of my books had three sales in the first part of October. Good news. Rankings would improve. They always had after sales. This one had not. That's when I wrote them. 

One nice thing about Amazon for authors or anyone, they do respond. So we had email conversation where they told me the algorithms had been perfectly right on my book. Its sales were not reflected in its ranking because of how they do rankings, which takes into account the length of time the book has been out, other sales at the same time, and maybe some mysterious other factor which they won't reveal.

(Note to authors: even though I have always said we are not in competition with each other and that your sale doesn't take away my sale-- it does impact my rankings-- so much for camaraderie for those who understand how this works)

There are those, with a lot more expertise than I have, who have spent time to figure out Amazon's policy-- and written about it while warning their reader that it might be wrong since Amazon can change these at any time. Their sole accountability is to their profit margin.


Now, I personally have no interest in beating their system. I simply would like them to take the rankings off the advertising/buy page because it influences readers and has them thinking a book hasn't sold at all when in reality, it might be selling small numbers regularly. The reason its rankings show up negatively is that it's been out there a long time; and although it has had sales off and on, they have not been consistently high enough to keep it up in the rankings. A book out there less time will reflect one sale-- the old guy on the block will not. 
"A book’s Amazon sales rank gives a clue about its likely sales – but only a clue since Amazon doesn’t disclose the actual sales-rank-to-sales ratio. It will change anyway over time (hourly, daily, monthly), and it looks like it’s influenced by where a book is in its sales lifecycle – it treats the same daily sales from a new book differently from sales of a perennial seller." --from Digital Publishing 101 (the link above)
Interestingly, their representative told me that a book's rankings could go up or down when nothing had changed in its own sales.

My first thought when I grasped this, to my limited techie ability, was maybe I should pull my first published books, revamp their stories, add a few words, retitle, and bring them out in a few months as new books. Immediately I saw the problem with that-- what about the readers who already own that book. They would feel cheated if they purchased it under a new name. Bummer-- that is if you care about your readers.

Next time I bring out a new book though, I will look at it differently. What I need are a group of loyal beta readers who will buy my book as soon as it appears-- this makes its initial ratings look excellent. It keeps it where new readers can see it. By having a group ready to buy your books, a network (which some writers do have), you can get the jump on this system. Being the lone ranger, where it comes to selling books, is a losing game on the marketing end. 

It is also important to plan when a book comes out so that it's not when others are coming out. If you come out with yours while a big writer is introducing theirs, you won't show up so well either.  This is where again it benefits someone to not be one lone indie writer and work within big group or a publishing house. The truth of it is simple regarding rankings. You cannot sell a book nobody sees.

Understanding how this works, I see it pitting author against author. If I buy their books (as I have frequently done), it makes my own show up worse, at least if that author does not also buy mine... Okay, just kidding on not buying-- I am not about to cut off my nose to spite my face. When a book looks good to me, I'll buy it-- maybe even someday have time to read it.  

Amazon has the power. Are they using it wisely and fairly even where it comes to corporate published books? Who can force them to do so? Right now with monopolies no longer being broken up in the United States, nobody can do anything. Does this kind of monopoly only impact authors? Paul Krugman doesn't think so.
Book sales depend crucially on buzz and word of mouth (which is why authors are often sent on grueling book tours); you buy a book because you’ve heard about it, because other people are reading it, because it’s a topic of conversation, because it’s made the best-seller list. And what Amazon possesses is the power to kill the buzz. 
 Not sure what anybody can do about it other than-- be aware what is really going on. I am still grateful I have the opportunity to bring out my books without an editor forcing me to fit a mold. Amazon has done a lot for writers-- but we have to figure out marketing on our own!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fiona Mcvie interview with Rain Trueax

Fiona Mcvie enjoys interviewing authors. I heard about this and contacted her to see if she'd like to interview me. Her questions were extensive, went deep, and made me think. Check it out:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

using history in an historical

If you have never thought of how complicated writing an historical can be, just think about how much our means of communication has changed in our lifetime. As soon as you set a story in another period, little things like the mails become issues. If you base your story where a lot of records are available, it helps (other than how history often has two views of the same events). 

My third and fourth Oregon historical romances were set in Eastern Oregon from 1865-67. This was a time of great change, inaccurate maps, and little real information even in the many small museums in the area. Read the newspaper columns from then and you quickly get how hysteria and misinformation in journalism is not new to today.

Even when I visited local museums, I found real information in short supply. They would have physical items from the earlier period but that doesn't really help a lot for the kind of story I was writing. How does the post office operate, how often to mails go through, how about the stage route-- daily or weekly? etc.

The complications of research can be shown by these images-- both of Watson but one Camp and the other Fort. 

My hero was serving as captain of this post on Fort Creek which is over one hundred miles southeast of The Dalles and a little less than forty miles west of Canyon City. When he served there, the post was called Camp Watson. 

There actually had been two Watsons.  One was Fort Watson for the 1st Oregon Cavalry, all volunteers who were assembled in 1862 to deal with the Indian problems.  They were disbanded in 1865 when the Civil War was over and federal troops were sent West. At that time, the fort was moved east and called Camp Watson. Or so might be the case and it lasted until 1869 when it was abandoned. If you read that link, you see the problem in all this-- many versions of the same 'fact.'

So the probability is this diagram of the fort is of the first Watson. The drawing might be Camp Watson. I have been in several old forts but all were considerably older than Watson as well as bigger. I looked for other sketches of small posts, the likely layout and found nothing quite as detailed. 


The story goes that the first Camp/Fort Watson was abandoned as it did not have a good source of water. That would indicate the diagram of the fort's quarters is really Camp Watson... (I think the military downgraded some of these to camps to lower costs as after the Civil War, money was an issue). The photo below is during the period where Watson was a lumber camp.


My story is fiction. It is historical romance, not historical novel, but still I like it to be as close as possible to what life was like. The problem is how do we, today, decide what that was? It sounds good to do research, and I totally believe in it. The enjoyment of research is why I like writing historic romances. but it's not always easy to figure out what was a fact and what was an assumption.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

story telling as emotional catharsis

 image from purchased CanStock image

We've all seen the movies (okay, most of us) like Sleepless in Seattle where the women get to talking about a film, An Affair to Remember, and are in tears as they discuss the angst, the very emotional and romantic ending. It's humorous because the men look at them as though they are nuts and then have their own emotional (real or otherwise) catharsis regarding a guy flick of men at battle sacrificing themselves for each other. 

The same thing is played for humor when the author/heroine in Romancing the Stone is writing the ending to her newest manuscript and sobbing as she writes. Her ability to do this, not to mention far out, unrealistic plots, is what had made her a bestselling author, who (in the story) was famous for her romances wherever she went.

I read the same kind of emotional reaction last week in a writer group where I visit sometimes. A reader had just read a book she had read before and described how she was sobbing at the ending. Now she knew that ending was coming (maybe even knew it the first time she had read the book), but the same emotional waterfall happily overcame her.

There are films that totally aim the viewer to have this emotional reaction. The Notebook is one where when... Okay in case people have not read or watched that book/film, I'll go no farther, but emotions are definitely played for all they are worth looking for that emotional release for the viewer/reader.

Thinking about this has made me wonder if it's the missing link in my writing, and it will always be missing for the most avid romance readers. Is there a market in romance reading that likes good stories, characters, interesting plots, emotions, but is not seeking to pull heartstrings to that level? I have never written a book and sobbed at what I had written...

I cannot relate to sobbing at the ending of a book-- unless a dog, cat, horse, or beloved animal gets killed (Bambi does not have a place on my DVD shelf nor does Old Yellar or any other story that goes 'Black Beauty' on me). I love animals too much, have had too many of my own sad endings with those beloved animals and thus relate too much to that kind of painful loss in fiction. 

So, while I could get emotionally pulled around by a story, I choose not to by not seeing or reading them. It won't happen to me in romances-- not any of them-- from the best to the silliest. A little teary from a movie? Sure but not sobbing.

If one seeks that kind of emotional catharsis, it certainly is safer to have reactions to romantic books because, at least in them, they will end happily. Jane Austen may not have had a happily ever after in her life, but she gave one to all her heroines. Stories based around animals give no such assurances. 

I think I used to have more emotional reactions to films and can remember years ago getting teary at An Affair to Remember. I've had a few tears in my eyes from emotionally significant moments in films but books, can't remember any that did that. Now I am wondering if this is a missing link in me which won't let me really relate to what romance readers most want from their stories-- i.e. an emotional experience that moves them so deeply they sob. 

As I mentioned the last blog, I do go for trying to feel the emotions of my characters and hence the photos I use to inspire me to keep those feelings real, as I find words to describe them. But manipulative writing where I deliberately have something happen, not because I think it would for these characters, but with the reader in mind and how I know it will take them on the teary ride they want, that's something I haven't done. I wanted more realistic romances, but in wanting that, have I cut myself off from what the average romance reader wants?

So if anyone reads here, who is a devoted reader, of any type of book, is that emotional catharsis what you hope to receive from a book? The same thing is doubtless true for men in reading adventures. They vicariously get the adrenaline rush for what the hero braves that they don't have to.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

making the characters feel real


 Writing a romance has its own challenges if you want the relationship to feel believable. Well, the truth of it is a romance is both fairy tale and reality. It should feel like it could happen all the time it's a mythology that carries the reader to a higher plateau than their usual routine-- they hope because romances have danger or angst as part of their repertoire. In real life, we prefer easier paths-- well most of us do. We though can vicariously experience other worlds and ways through what we choose to read.

Making the romance believable is something constantly on my mind as I write this new story where I have two characters with independent goals. Realizing they love each other is not the end of their struggle. Next comes-- how the heck is this going to work out? 

For every book I have written and by now there have been 15 published (one of those has 3 separate romances within it), I am always presented with the challenge of the general plot swirling around these characters-- but most of all this couple and how they have come to want each other. The stages of romantic love are important to keep in view. The images on a board help me do that.

In a genre romance with a mandatory happily ever after, the reader knows it will work out. Any talk of cliff hangers is just a question of 'how' it will work out, not if. A good writer will make that seem believable even as it could also seem it'd have gone the other way.

With this current work in progress, I have images on my bulletin board to remind me what to keep behind my words. I bought images from Period Images, printed off some, and set them in my backdrops. For this new couple, only one of the images I bought will end up the cover. It is this one, and the emotions I see in it are his conflict, torn between the world he has lived for over ten years, much of it involving wars, and now this woman in his arms, who sees his doubts and has her own conflicts to overcome.


The others are for my writing and will be in trailers-- probably. I put them on my bulletin board to keep in mind the stages of a romance, the joy, the passion, and the concern.


Along with the couple, in this series, there will be four romances-- the first one began in 1852. This is the Stevens family and keeping that family always in my mind makes for a better story, I think. Relationships are not just about the couple but the community in which they have grown up, live, fight, and love.

Besides the people, the other important character, for me in any story, is the landscape (top image) in which the story is set. So it also is pinned to my board to keep me always remembering what they see, smell and feel when they look around their world.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

useful visual tools in writing


When writing something original, as I am now into, it can be life consuming. The stories pull me into them and the energy of what is happening becomes as real to my daily life. I might be talking to my husband or a friend about other subjects (I still keep informed as to what's going on in the world), but my characters and what they do next are always in the back of my mind. I am caught up in the romance, the danger, and adventure. It also becomes my life in a strange sort of way. For me, this immersions is part of what makes writing so rewarding.

As I have mentioned before-- I know the basic plot for any book before I begin laying down words. Between the time I get an idea for a story, there is a lot of thinking and research. I get the basics in my head. That does not mean I won't learn things and find new surprises as the details unfold. For this book, the fourth Oregon historical, I've found a lot of what I planned to use isn't going the way I expected, but it is still happening-- just in a different order. That's another thing I love about writing-- how it seems the story is there waiting for me and it's all about me being able to see it.

When writing fiction, I write fast. On a writing day (not all days are as I do have a life to manage also), that can be from 3000-5000 words. I usually make myself stop at 5000 because I still want that meditating on what happened or comes next time. I do like to get the basics down, but then often, while still moving forward, I'll go backward and redo parts that weren't fitting with what just happened. Or something comes up that requires a change in something earlier. 

The beauty, of having written four historicals with none published, is I can rearrange anything even in earlier books if the fourth needed it. In this case I have not yet had to. There is none of that persnickety business of worrying what someone else already read. I can fix it if I see a need. 

Since I do not tell anyone else my plots, I have total freedom to make those changes. Only in the last year have I begun to discuss plot options with my husband. I have to say I am enjoying laying out options to him especially when they involve some kind of violence. Some writers believe you should tell nobody your ideas as they might undermine your confidence. Others like to have other opinions (letting others read the words) all the way through their writing. It's an individual choice as to what works the best.

Writing a rough draft is fun for me as I get to live through the adventure for the first time. It is as new to me as my characters right up until the minute I write The End. In the case of this book, I think that will mean going back right away to add flavor and details. That's not really editing, which comes later, but part of the original draft.

The map at the top is a tool I have found quite useful in outdoor adventures where my characters need to travel between Point A and B and I need to remember what that they'd see and experience. I like maps that show the contours of the land although since it's a current map, the roads may not be what would have been there in 1867. 

The problem with using old maps, and I have quite a few of them, is they weren't always that accurate for the contours or even where rivers ran. Mapmakers didn't have the tools that they do today. I like looking at both to get a feel for how the hero and heroine got around, where there were communities and what might be in their way. It helps a lot that I am familiar with this country.


After I started writing, I redid my bulletin board. I am loving having that as a way to have up what I will be verbalizing in the story. It is a great tool for someone like me who is verbal and visual.

From research, I have a selection of old photos of the communities. Below them are what I plan to be the covers for the four books (although I know the titles, I will wait on adding them-- this is about the energy of the characters for each). Below that are the hero and heroine for the fourth story-- looking to the right are scenery images. I have spent a lot of time in the John Day area, but photos refresh my memory and bring it back to me. Above, unrelated to this book are the three covers from my Arizona historicals-- below that a couple of snaps from the Starz series, Outlander that represent passion between a man and woman-- something I always try to keep on my mind when writing a love story. 


The card on the board was an opening card for one of my Tarot decks. It is from the Encyclopedia of Tarot by Stuart Kaplan. It fits how I see a lot of writing as well as Tarot. Since I think it'd be impossible to read in the photo, it says, 'What we see in the symbology of tarot derives in large measure from our own intuition and, once revealed, reflects back upon each of us to further enrich our lives.'  When I am writing, I feel very connected to my muse and to intuition. I count on it to point me right-- and see writing as very good for my life

Don't ask about marketing... This week I read an excellent piece on what you have to do if you want your books to be seen. Argh! I just don't think I can emotionally do all that. But what I can do is write with joy and maybe, without all that marketing effort, my books will disappear from view but I still have them all to enjoy-- and one reason writers write is to have books they love to read. :)

You might notice there is a space on the board alongside the third Arizona historical. That is because most likely there will be a fourth. I kind of laid the groundwork for it in the epilogue for Arizona Dawn. That will be my work for next winter or even the spring. I need to think long and hard. I know who the heroine is (you would too if you had read that story) but what I don't know is her backstory or who the hero will be-- there are two good possibilities. I also don't know all that will stand between them, the barriers they will face or the dangers. I do though know its setting and it's one reason I think it'll be written. By the time I start writing that one, as yet untitled, it will probably be January or February. Then I will know my plot and characters a lot better. I am not doing much thinking on it while I am writing this one. 

In the meantime, I need breaks from writing-- for my own mental health. To do that, I intend to read other romances. During my time of editing this summer and writing this story, I only have been reading non-fiction. My Kindle is loaded with what look like good stories. Hopefully in a month or less, I will give myself time to get inside those stories. Every book on there, that I have purchased, looked interesting. I can have a marathon reading session once I start :).

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Why shouldn't books and films make us feel good?


In some ways I find it ironic how romances, which are stories of the finding of what is one of the (if not the) most important chosen relationship in our lives, are so demeaned. This happens even when it's a book like Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. She didn't want it to look like a romance because she knew how they were seen by the elites of publishing-- money cows but ill respected. 

So here came the mini-series, which follows the first book on Starz (and hopefully will eventually be available on DVD). It is demeaned also by those who think it's only for women. It's not. It's about a country and a time. It is about what a man and woman can find together-- and that isn't seen just through one relationship. My husband has enjoyed it as much as I have. If it reminds me of anything, it's the HBO series Deadwood-- not for the romance in that one but for the violence.

Here was a good article about this series and also about our society and how we see romance or sexual relationships between men and women in entertainment.



So a film that shows human beings as the lowest of the low, that one is considered to be arty but one that shows them as real people where passion and love can grow into something powerful enough to get past the terrors and difficulties of life, that is not arty... 

Something is badly askew with our media or what we expect from it. 

What I liked in the article was how it made the point why should we not celebrate male beauty as we do female? Why can't women appreciate a good looking man? This is one of the darts that is thrown at romances-- the gorgeous men. Except aren't beautiful women a staple of many other forms of entertainment-- and I might add young, beautiful women?  



This leads to the question I have asked more than once. Why shouldn't books make us feel good-- well unless they are non-fiction? Why do we seek out things that show humans where none are likeable and yet that is considered 'art'? Is this really what people today want? Well if it's so, don't pretend it is real life. It's fiction too-- but just designed to upset.

Gabaldon's books are not just romances, but they have very romantic moments that come as close to real life as the less attractive view presented in say Gone Girl. I am not saying both don't exist as being how relationships can be. But I am saying that Outlander is as real as the other and one is put down as romance or chick fare and the other revered as noir or art.

What we put into our heads is what impacts our view of life. When we read non-fiction, a view say of torture and whether it benefits those who use it as a state technique, that's a very unpleasant topic to consider, but it is based on real life. It's worth getting upset in knowing what is being done to a culture, to earth, to individuals when they condone torture, [insert many words in that spot], but my opinion is only when it is non-fiction. When it's fiction, which is manipulated to feel real but is still fiction, then what goal does it have for us?

I know what the goal was with The Wedding episode in Outlander. It was how it can be between a man and woman. It was to celebrate beauty. It was to delve into what makes it work between a man and woman who are mated for life. Nobody can say it's how it always is. This is for a couple who will be together through a lifetime with as difficult of circumstances as today or in any era, a time of powerlessness and the ruthless behavior of those who seek power over others. It is though about the strength of a real love that will keep these people bonded even when it's not easy. Why isn't that a better aspiration than a very well written story, excitingly paced but admittedly of two despicable persons and a marriage that was a disaster?

After I wrote this piece, I came across the following article where it discusses showing men fully nude in films and how it's been the no-no. Well given how women react to a sexy man's chest, as a no-no on a book cover (at least if it remotely suggests sexuality), I wonder if it's men here who, in a film, don't want the full Monty or it's women... anyway here's the link: