I always try to do a year end assessment this time of year, then follow it up with a business plan in the new year. This is the assessment post.
My goals for 2019 were to step back from social media a bit and to explore sequels in my stories. In this, I was successful. I used to make custom tweets and make time to share them, make the occasional post on all the other formats out there, but honestly, they accomplish nothing. I keep these formats, and this blog auto-feeds to them, but the main goal is to point people here.
Currently, social media is for my own entertainment, but I try to share favors. Meaning, if someone tweets about my books, I try to follow and share their pinned tweet. I like finding out about all the baseball trades, bulldog pictures, and simple stuff on Facebook, but that’s about all it’s good for. I joined a big group event on Facebook that was promoted like an online trade show. It was a total failure, and I won’t make that mistake again.
I stopped paying for Facebook ads and Amazon ads last year. They never really did much, and the last few times they did nothing. My promotional efforts these days are in the form of blog tours, and a promotion company. Even then, I don’t always hire the promo firm.
When I released The Hat, the promo company really paid off. I got a bunch of early reviews, and sales were great. Things really tapered off after that. I used them for Viral Blues this year, and got one review from the NetGalley portion of the bundle.
As far as exploring sequels and series work, I count it as a major success. Success means different things to different people, so some explanation is in order. I’ll include covers and links, but I’m skipping the blurbs. This isn’t about promo, but assessment.
The first thing I published was Voyage of the Lanternfish. This is a crazy pirate fantasy with magic, monsters, and gunpowder. I’ve heard the term Flintlock Fantasy thrown around, and that might be a reasonable description.
It’s important to note this is not a sequel to anything. It’s the original book in what is destined to become a series. I published it on New Year’s Day, so it counts as 2019.
This book sold fairly well, and the comments I got on it led me to the trilogy idea. Reviews are lagging, so I’m a bit concerned.
Something else came up in a lot of the discussion. Two characters clicked with people, and they came up a lot. One isn’t so much a character as a collection of root monsters. I count them as one, because they function in swarm capacity during the action scenes. In my mind, they were just a bit of silliness to fill in the corners while Lanternfish was on a long sea voyage. Kind of like how Scrat fills out the edges of the Ice Age films. However, people loved them. I even had one ask for a root monster stand-alone book.
I don’t see that happening, because some of my over-the-top characters are better in small doses. A little is wonderful, too much can lead to brain damage.
Once I decided this could fit the classic trilogy format, I panicked a little. It would take at least a year to produce the next volume, and likely more than that. How am I going to keep fans interested during that time? This is where the other standout character came into play.
Lanternfish is set in a fantasy environment, mostly because I want to avoid comparison with Pirates of the Caribbean. There are some parallels to real world places, and it isn’t hard to understand that Serang is from pseudo-China. Her character, and this part of the world, made it easy to write her story.
Serang was raised by monks, then fled the country to become a pirate – kind of. This is a stand alone title, but it supports the Lanternfish environment. My hope is that Lanternfish fans will learn more about Serang by reading her book, and that it will tide them over until HMS Lanternfish is ready in 2020.
There is also a chance that people will read Serang first, then follow her into the Lanternfish stories.
Honestly, I dropped the ball on promotion of Serang. I released her story about 60 days after Viral Blues, and did an extensive tour for it. (More on that later.) When Serang published, I worried about my regulars suffering from tour fatigue. I took her on tour, but cut it short as a business decision. I also did not use the promo company for her story.
As of this writing, she only has four reviews on Amazon. This is partially because Amazon won’t let some people post reviews. They can still post on BookBub and Goodreads, and she’s doing better there. It seems odd to me, because these people review a mountain of books. It isn’t like they’re all shills for C. S. Boyack, but there’s nothing any of us can do about it.
I think she deserves better, and all of the reviews have been glowing.
The third book was a true sequel. My first one. It’s called Viral Blues, and is the follow up story to The Hat. The Hat sold incredibly well, and is the best reviewed book I have. Because of this, I thought Viral Blues would do better than it did. I paid the promo company for this story, and pushed the hell out of it around the Halloween season. It did well, but maybe I expected too much.
Lizzie and The Hat are back, but so are a bunch of old favorite characters. I’ve gotten some nice comments about Lisa Burton returning to a story, and admit she’s kind of a scene stealer at times. I’ve also gotten some great comments on Clovis. Both of these characters came with existing fans, so it was fun putting them in a new tale. Lizzie and The Hat carry the story, but it’s kind of like a superhero team-up.
I doubt there will ever be another story like Viral Blues, but it was a blast to create it. Lizzie and The Hat will go on, but it will be in their own adventures. These stories are paranormal with a lot of dark humor and snark.
I don’t want to jump ahead to my Business Plan, but I have some fun ideas for Lizzie and The Hat.
My goals for the two series are different. When it comes to Lanternfish, a trilogy almost demands prerequisite reading to carry on with the story. Stories about The Hat, can be read as stand-alone volumes with more available if you enjoyed the one you picked.
My Story Empire friends helped me scratch out some branding ideas for the series. With Lanternfish, there is no mistaking that figurehead. If it appears on all the covers, that should be good enough. When it comes to The Hat, I commissioned a small badge I can include on all the subsequent tales. It’s Lizzie playing her upright bass. It’s just a small icon that will let readers know it’s part of the series.
When it comes to the other parts of writing, some things changed. With three publications, they almost had to. Writing all those tour posts takes time, even if they are excerpts. All of my tour posts are unique, so I don’t wear people out when I run out a new story.
I didn’t return to blog posts about the writing cabin until late Autumn. This was a mistake. It’s easier to blog about what I’ve been doing than it is to fictionalize the same information and converse with Lisa. However, my stats clearly demonstrate that readers prefer interaction with Lisa.
I didn’t post as many Idea Mill posts this year, and they performed well. I need to step it up on that front. All of us need ideas for our stories, and sharing the oddball things I stumble across is kind of fun.
I also skipped Macabre Macaroni this year. I was neck deep in promotion for Viral Blues during October, and didn’t have time to write scary micro-fiction for the blog. Honestly, it passed without much notice. It’s one of those things people love when it appears, but don’t seem to miss if it doesn’t. No idea what to think about this.
Lisa Burton Radio slipped a bit, too, but that was on purpose. Here’s a bit of my thought process. Feel free to disagree with me, but I’m just being frank. As an author, I know how hard it is to find good free promotion. Even then, there is only so much you can do. Talk about your main character, maybe your antagonist, plot. Sometimes share an excerpt.
I created something unique, in that Lisa interviews the character of your choice. It’s different enough to draw attention, and they are always popular posts. I started out asking people to give me a chance. I even advertised on various sites to get guests. I wound up posting weekly without much gap for two years. We moved some books, too.
However, there is a downside. They take a lot of work to put together. This is a collaborative effort, and it eats into my time. Many times, the guest author never even shows up, or publishes one comment to the group in passing. These posts work when the author pushes the hell out of them. I have one guest who still tweets out his older post from a year ago. That’s how it’s done.
Lisa Burton Radio is still available upon request. I’m not begging for guests any more. It’s a choice slot, and you get out what you put into it. I’m using the time I gained to write my next book. If you’re interested, Lisa will be happy to talk with your character.
To close the year out, I did something I swore I’d never do again. I held some Amazon free days for one of my books. The Playground is an older title, but several characters from this book made an appearance in Viral Blues. It also has a loose Christmas theme behind it. Honestly, we moved a crap-ton of books. My stats even showed it reaching single digits on one of the categories. I could call it a best seller at 100, so at number 9 I was kind of impressed. What I’d like to see as fallout are people following Clovis and/or Gina over to Viral Blues. A few reviews would be nice, too.
It isn’t lost on me that Serang, Voyage of the Lanternfish, and The Hat could make timely free books when the sequels are ready for publication. Watching the fallout from my Playground promo closely to figure this out.
Obviously, there is more to life than my author career, but this is a writing blog. My life has health issues, pets, relationships, and a 40 hour-per-week job, too. This post is an assessment of my 2019 success and fumbles as an author. My goal has always been to entertain people for a few hours. It’s even the name of the blog. With that in mind, I think 2019 goes in the win column.