Friday, March 22, 2013

Myths in the writer world – Part 2


Michael W. Davis

This post is a continuation of Part 1 released on 2/22. It offers another five myths wantabee and new authors often make about the world of becoming a published writer. I suggest you read part 1 first.

Myth 6: People won’t share their successful strategies – That may be true in some endeavors but it sure as hell is not true for the bulk of authors. Never have I experienced more cooperation, more sharing than from other writers. Need proof. Go to the Author Water Cooler or Writers Beat forums and read the hundreds of published authors responding to questions and inquiries by whatabees and new writers. Consider the TWV blog you just visited and all the members here that spill the good, bad, and ugly of their writing experience. Sure, some authors out there in web world may hoard but most don’t.

Myth 7: Content matters/Titles don’t – Actually had a few newbies reflect this opinion to me when I suggested they reconsider the title of their manuscript. Think of it this way: unless you’re looking for a book recommended by a friend or go strictly on author names you have experience with (which many readers do) you are an impulse buyer. What drives such decisions? Three things: The title, the artwork, and the back cover blurb, in that order. Need proof? Lulu has a free tool that will evaluate your title based on characterizing hundreds of best sellers into a rule based algorithm, and its pretty good. I’ve used it in a post naming mode (title already set in print) and the stories that sold the most did indeed correlate to their higher scores (you can find a link to several writer support tools like the Lulu title evaluator on my link page). What about personal experience? I’ve had three stories that received multiple 5 star reviews yet they were my lowest sellers. When I ran ‘em through the title scoring tool, they were at the bottom. On a specific note, I had a novel with a drop dead enticing cover and what I thought was an amazing title, but when I put it on a lister site (a place where readers are allowed to download a charter for free) after three months I only had three downloads. Normally in that period I get about 200 reads. I decided as an experiment just to change the title viewed by scanners before they read the chapter. Indeed in the first few weeks downloads jumped to 136, a BIG difference. My point? Now, without fail, I always parse several candidate titles through a cadre of friends and readers that sign up for my “new release” list and have them pick their favorites. Regardless of my preference, I go with their vote, and there is always a clear trend (60% to 80% agreement on the “best” title).

Myth 8: Site hits translate directly into sales – Not exactly. The majority of visits to your site will be mistakes. Many will be looking for a topic totally off kilter to writing or your genre (e.g. searching for hot sexy babes and the scan engine compared the word “Hot” and “baby” in one of your excerpts).  Many will be looking for someone that has your same name but jump out when they realize their mistake. There’s a dozen reasons why you get false hits that mean nothing to sales. So how can you use any site hit data? By culling out obvious zero interest hits. If someone flies through (say 5-10 seconds) do you really think that came to view your work? I doubt it. Instead I only record Deep visits that view beyond my home page (excerpt page, awards, bio, etc.) and stay for 30 plus seconds. And what have I learned based on data recorded across five years:

-   Depending on what promo event I’m running at the time, I get between 120 to 180 visits a week
-   Rough rule of thumb, 90% of hits are shallow
-   Hits to my “buy page” (links to were a particular book can be bought) are very important, in terms of sales.
-   Again depending on what promo events I’m running, 34% to half of my hits come in from search engines. What’s that mean? Better insure your macro terms and web design are oriented to lure in the search engines. We’ll discuss doing poor man’s SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in a future post.
-   In my first site design (before I learned the “right layout”) about 5% of deep hits went to the buy page.
-   After four major redesigns, at present 22% of deep hits continue on to a buy page.
-   Visits to my buy page correlate to sells by a factor of 32% to 62% (not sure yet why the variance).
-   Major external events can cause site visits to go haywire. Case in point, Tropical storm Isaac dropped hits 40% for that week but jumped back up within three weeks. Another example was when my deep hits dropped 65% after the election and have not yet returned totally to a pre event state. Several other authors have noted the same observation.

Myth 9: One site design is as good as another - Some believe (like I did originally) that the design for your site doesn’t matter in terms of royalties; it’s the promotions you run that bring them in. True, promo does increase visitors, but if your site is not organized to keep them there, to read excerpts, to convince a reader you are talented, they’ll simply float out before making a purchase. Plus, given a third to a half of hits come from random search engine scans, which are keyed to your design in terms of where you rank in their algorithms,  site design is key. An article on data based experiments of the effectiveness of different site designs can be found by going to my home page and down the left side then click on the “So you want to write a novel” cover art to find a bunch of articles on these topics.
Myth 10: Gender doesn’t matters – There are articles that site the demographics of reader populations by gender vs genre and it goes something like this: The romance market is 95% female, where as the SF genre is 90% male. What’s this have to do with anything? Hard to believe but some will be turned off by their own stereotypes (yes, there are women that prefer to read romance from a female, and men that will only read SF authored by a male). Actually had readers email me asking if I was really a guy, given my suspense novels have a strong romantic element, plus ladies at book signings have noted I couldn’t possibly write romance cause I’m a guy (I kid you not). There is such a strong gender preconditioning among readers, that many smart agents advice their clients to write under a gender blind name when they cross into a sector favored by the opposite sex. Read an article (on my link page) that sited twelve top writers that initially were published under neutered names to hide their gender. Case in point, the author of the Harry Potter series (J. K. Rowling), which is dominated by young males, was advised to only use her initials. Once famous, it no longer mattered and she came out of the closest.
There’s a dozen more myths we all go through, and I’ll share ‘em in future post’s, but this should hold ya for a while (g). Why don’t you share some of yours in the comment section?


Liz Fountain said...

Good titles are a weakness of mine; sometimes I land on one that really speaks to me, and other times... well, I'm glad I have editors, colleagues, and friends.

Big Mike said...

Agree. What surprises me is the agreement between the readers I survey. Usually 70% to 80% pick the same candidate title and most of the time its not my favorite, but I go with what the group sames.

Helen Henderson said...

When I first started out in writing (a female correspondent in a male-dominated field) I didn't encounter any true hoarders. Some hesitance, and maybe some data kept back to keep uniqueness in their own work, but that was it. Not until I switched to fiction did I encounter a real hoarder. In the years since I've discovered that while there is a bad apple in every barrel, the one filled with authors, writers, and let's not forget editors, is full of caring, talented--and sharing--people. Helen

Big Mike said...

Just like you, HH, sharing that is.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)