Wagging the Long Tail

A few authors sell vast numbers of books, while most authors sell very few. If you could amass accurate data on that, it would probably look like a decaying exponential curve. It would have the Pareto property, where 20% of the authors sell 80% of the books—those on the left. However, today we’ll focus on the right side of the curve. Statisticians, with their penchant for arcane, hard-to-understand terminology, call that part “the long tail.”

The curve I present here is approximate and intended for illustrative purposes only. Note the vertical red line. Believe it or not, the number of books sold to the left of that line equals the number of books to the right.

Out on the tail of that curve are many, many authors who sell very few books. Looks a little lonely out there, doesn’t it? Most of those authors would love to move left on the curve, ideally all the way left. Readers only have so much money to spend on books, though, and they’re more likely to read books by authors they know.

Very few of those “long tail authors” will move much further left from where they are now, and only a tiny fraction will make it near the vertical axis into the stratospheric heights of the best-seller lists.

That may sound depressing, but let’s squint and take a closer look at that long tail. Each author represents a single point on that curve, but book distributors look at the curve differently. These days, they see the near-infinite length of the long tail as a new profit opportunity.

Distributors have realized we now live in the age of instant and easy searches for obscure information. With the ability to print books on demand, it doesn’t matter how few readers seek, for example, alternate history books about trips to the moon. What matters is that the book “A Tale More True” pops up in response to that search and a sale ensues.

In Wikipedia’s article on the long tail, they quote an Amazon employee as saying, “We sold more books today that didn’t sell at all yesterday than we sold today of all the books that did sell yesterday.”

You might have to read that again and let it sink in. I’ll wait.

In fact, now is the best time to be a long tail author. Let’s consider the set of those readers searching for steampunk books about planet-threatening comets. They easily find my book, “The Cometeers.” Among that admittedly small set of readers, I’m a best-selling author!

Here are a few more examples included for instructive purposes, and certainly not for crass self-promotion:

Readers search for books about: They find and buy:
Alternate histories involving the Ottoman Empire To Be First  
Romance stories taking place in Ancient Greece Against All Gods  
Stories involving Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions Leonardo’s Lion  
Sequel to War of the Worlds After the Martians  
Shakespearean clockpunk Time’s Deformèd Hand  

If you’re a long tail author, don’t despair. You have plenty of company; readers can find your books more readily than ever before; and book distributors now regard you as a profitable part of the book-selling enterprise. Happily wagging my tiny part of the long tail, you’ll find—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Please follow and like me:

Getting Inside Their Heads

How do you write a story about a character who’s completely unlike you? How do you get inside his or her head enough to make your story credible? Don’t we all admire authors who can do this well? Conversely, isn’t it boring (and confusing) when every character in a story thinks and speaks the same way?

www.publicdomainpictures.net

I’ve blogged before about creating convincing characters who are the opposite gender from you. But there are many ways besides gender to be different—age, race, time period, nationality, home location, economic status, intelligence, species, planet, etc.

www.wikipedia.org

A few years ago, I read Next, by the late Michael Crichton. In that novel, one of the characters, Brad Gordon, is abnormally attracted to very young girls. If I remember correctly, I read about Brad attending a high school girls soccer game. The scene is in Brad’s point of view, and I read about watching the game through a sexual deviant’s eyes. Not only was the scene disturbing, but I was convinced Michael Crichton knew his character well enough to capture his mindset.

It’s a difficult thing, writing from the POV of a character so unlike you, one who thinks differently, who has different goals and motivations. That character doesn’t share your (the writer’s) basic assumptions about how the world works. The character reacts to events with different emotions than you would. Your job is to make that character realistic.

This character might be very different from your targeted readership. The character might be an extraterrestrial, a British colonialist explorer from the 1880s, a serial killer, or a Tibetan monk. Your readers won’t know if you “got it right,” but you still need to make it convincing. None of those characters should think or act like you do.

Of course, it’s worse when your targeted readers do match your character and you don’t. If you’re an elderly male author writing romance, your depictions of young women had better be very close to the mark, because your readers will spot any unrealistic actions, thoughts, clothing, dialogue, etc. If you’ve never been in the military and you’re writing a war story, your readership expects you to get in the mind of your POV characters and convey accurate feelings and actions.

In this blog post, Monica M. Clark discusses some helpful advice she learned from author Terry McMillan on this subject. Her three recommendations follow, paraphrased by me:

  • Empathize. Spend time getting in the mind of that character, feeling the passions, seeing the world through those different filters.
  • Listen. If possible, find real people who are like your character. Go to where they live, if you can. Then watch and listen. Pick up the speech patterns, the clothing, the gestures.
  • Apply for a job. No, the job’s not for you, it’s for your character. Fill out a job application as your character would. That will build the bio for your character.

All great advice. Regarding that last item, there are some things you need to know about your character that would not appear on a typical job application, like physical attributes and personality. Write those down, too. As you write your story, refer back to the job application every now and then to check if you have things right.

The better you can convey different characters, the better your stories will be. For example, I do my best to depict characters who are completely different from—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Please follow and like me:

How Do Readers Discover My Books?

Like most writers, I’m curious about how readers come across my books. By what means do they discover them? If I had good information on that, I could focus on the marketing methods that work and abandon those that don’t.

Fortunately, author RJ Scott showed me how to do this. In one blog post, she published the results of a survey of her readers, in which she asked how they found her books.

I decided to do the same thing. I sent out thousands of e-mails to my fans (and acquaintances, and random passers-by) and gathered the responses. I first sorted the valid responses from the spam, advertising, and ugly threats to do me vicious bodily harm.

Then I plotted the data from most responses to least, Pareto chart fashion. Some responses were similar enough that I used slashes ‘/’ to show response variations.

It looks like my presence on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter is working. There’s a lot to be said for plain ol’ dumb luck, too, apparently.

The most surprising result was the two responses saying readers discovered one of my books while marooned on an island. I’m not sure if that’s two separate instances or two people on the same island. In either case, my campaign of wrapping books in bubble wrap and casting them in the ocean is probably not worth further investment.

It’s nice, too, when readers take the time to fill in the Comments section. That allows me to get beyond the mere data and explore the true reasons readers discover me, and my books. Here are all those comments:

  • “Your books are great! I can’t understand why they’re so unpopular.”
  • “You write as well as authors twice your age.”
  • “Buy ???????? cheap! Have more enjoyable ??? now!” [Comment edited for content]
  • “I love your book. It’s keeping my kitchen table perfectly level right now.”
  • “What’s this Comment space for? Am I supposed to type something here?”
  • “Qwert yui opasd fghjkl zx cvbnm.”
  • “That’s the last time I go on Amazon with my two-year-old in the room. Their one-click ordering feature is too easy.”

It’s going to be awhile before I do another reader survey, I think.

Just remember, any way is a good way to discover—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Please follow and like me:

Read an eBook Week – It’s Almost Over!

Now you’ve gone and done it. You dithered, procrastinated, dallied, delayed, hesitated, vacillated, dawdled, and wavered, and look what happened. Today is the very last day of Smashwords’ Read an eBook Week.

It’s insane, really. Smashwords slashed the price for every single book in my What Man Hath Wrought series. The ones that were $3.99 are now $2.00 and the ones that were $2.99 are just $1.50. But only for the rest of today.

Oh, you meant to pick up one or more of my books at half price. The intention was there, but life dangled its distractions in your face, and you let the time get away from you.

Luckily, there are still a few hours left, but you’re burning valuable daylight reading this. Click on any link in this post now to grab a bargain. Just use the code RAE50 (for Read an eBook – 50% off, get it?) at checkout. Tell ‘em you were sent by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Please follow and like me:

My Books, Now Half Price

Yes, the rumors are true. This is Read an Ebook Week, and all of my books listed on Smashwords are half price!

Hard to believe, but it’s a fact. Read an Ebook Week runs from today until March 11. My entire series, called “What Man Hath Wrought,” might as well be called What Man Half Wrought” since the titles that were $3.99 are now $2.00 and the ones that were $2.99 are just $1.50.

You read that correctly. Get The Wind-Sphere Ship, Within Victorian Mists, A Steampunk Carol, and The Six Hundred Dollar Man for just $1.50 each.

 

 

 

 

Get Alexander’s Odyssey, Leonardo’s Lion, Against All Gods, A Tale More True, Rallying Cry/Last Vessel of Atlantis, To be First/Wheels of Heaven, The Cometeers, Time’s Deformèd Hand, Ripper’s Ring, and After the Martians for only $2.00 each.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although the books are listed at full price at Smashwords, when you click on any of them, you’ll be urged to enter code RAE50 at checkout to get the half-price discount.

If I’ve totaled correctly, you can get the whole set, the entire series of 14 books (16 stories), for just $27. What a great way to sample the adventurous imagination of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Please follow and like me:

Analysis of Writer and Non-Writer Morphs

A significant proportion of the Homo sapiens species does not write fiction, leaving that task to a tiny sector of the population that writes all of it. Today we examine this phenomenon and these particular creatures, and draw what conclusions we can from the available data.

Observations indicate the vast majority (greater than 99 percent) of adults within this species do not write fiction. The fiction-writing and non-fiction-writing fractions have not split off as separate species, and seem unlikely to do so. The distinction between the two is behavioral only, so we may define the fiction-writers as the FW Morph, and the others as the NFW Morph. Other sub-species terms such as breed, race, cultivar, ecotype, and strain are not as applicable as morph.

Note: We are only comparing those Homo sapiens who write fiction and those who do not. The term NFW should not be confused with those who write nonfiction books.

FWs and NFWs coexist and both share a similar global distribution pattern. Evidence shows the two morphs consume similar food, display no distinctive appearance differences, and often cohabit and interbreed without apparent preference for their own, or the other, morph. Resulting offspring mature into FW or NFW in the same 1% and 99% proportions, respectively. No statistical correlation is observed regarding passing on the FW trait to offspring. For example, two NFW parents may produce a child who matures into a FW.

In general, the species puts significant value on the education of its young. Nearly all juvenile Homo sapiens are trained in fiction writing, and are encouraged to create their own stories between the ages of 8 and 18 years. Thus, nearly all have the capability to become FW as mature adults, yet few do.

Behavioral differences between the two morphs are significant, and some of these differences are documented below.

  1. Obviously, FWs spend considerable time writing fiction, and NFWs spend no time doing so.
  2. FWs are more likely to read books (both fiction and nonfiction), and to read more often, than NFW.
  3. FWs react in varied and bizarre ways to the acceptance of a submitted story by an editor, and to the arrival of a box of the FW’s own books. These apparent rituals (dancing, fist-pumping, inordinate consumption of alcohol or chocolate have been observed) are thought to be celebratory in nature, but further studies are indicated.
  4. FWs make frequent attempts to discuss their stories with NFWs, rarely with a favorable outcome. NFWs often appear bored, or make some attempt not to look bored. The FW either fails to notice or expresses bewilderment. In extreme cases, an argument ensues and the two separate, usually for a temporary period.
  5. FWs occasionally seek out the company of other FWs. Perhaps this is because they are so rare, or perhaps they understand each other better than they understand NFWs.
  6. NFWs apparently are capable of creative thought and retain vestigial memories of early fiction-writing education. Sometimes an NFW will suggest to an FW that the FW write a story around the idea the NFW just had. FWs almost never do this, and instead suggest the NFW write the story. The NFW will almost never do that.

Since FWs produce a unique product that NFWs consume, and since NFWs produce all other products needed by FWs, an economic exchange relationship has developed. The amount of wealth earned by a given FW apparently depends on the popularity and demand for that FW’s stories among the NFWs.

In an economic sense, it is fortunate that FWs are in the minority; otherwise they would have to pay NFWs to read their books, rather than the other way around.

To the author’s knowledge, this is the first significant study of these fascinating morphs and their interactions in the wild. Clearly, the need for more comparative studies is indicated. Confirmation or refutation of the observations made in this analysis is sought by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Please follow and like me: