Saturday, March 28, 2015


Found myself looking at real estate in Homer yesterday. It's a whole lot cheaper per square foot than Anchorage, and you still have both the mountains and the sea, as well as the road system...

Yeah, still homesick.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Antiques, American Style.

Sarah Hoyt, who is a lovely author and American by choice from Portugal, was recently hit by a moment of cultural shock. On craigslist, she found things from the 1970's advertised as "antique."

When she shared her moment of "Argh! AMERICANS!", Peter agreed emphatically that it's considered mildly gauche to call something that's only 100 years old an antique. I giggled. And then I used math.

America has had a coherent identity since 1776 (arguably), making us 239 years old. Something from 1970 is therefore witness to 18 percent of America's history.

England claims coherency as a nation from "the 10th century." Being charitable, let's say the year 900, which makes them 1115 years old. 18 percent of their history is 200 years.

So if 100 years is the borderline for an English antique, that makes it 9 percent of the country's history.

9 percent of America's history is... 1991.

So, I have t-shirts that are antiques.

I think she wanted to throw some bacalhau at my head. Peter just looked at me when I proclaimed he's not yet an American Antique, because he was imported too recently, and then got the look of a man who desperately wanted a drink.

Welcome to America!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Author Marketing: Velocity vs. Trajectory

This was originally published over at Mad Genius Club, but repostibng here for a couple of you (you know who you are), and so it's easily-findable.

Sarah just informed me that the Giant Obvious Change to Amazon’s algorithms wasn’t so obvious – not to authors who are busy writing and moving. So, let’s talk about organizing book promotions in the current market.

About the time Amazon shook up the writing world by releasing a competitor to Scribd and Oyster (namely Kindle Unlimited, or KU), it also implemented a major revision to its sales ranking algorithm. The obvious impact was that KU borrows have the same impact on sales rank as an immediate sale, but no payment is made until 10% of the text is read. This had the effect of decoupling the strict cause and effect relationship between a book’s actual sales and its sales rank.

However, Amazon also implemented a more subtle but much more massive change to the algorithm. The name of the game for promotional visibility is no longer velocity (i.e. the number of sales over a shorter time period like an hour or a day), but trajectory (i.e. the number of sustained sales over a longer period, like a week or a month). The old way to get visibility on Amazon was to promote something by stacking all of your release announcements, advertisements, tweets, and parties on the same day. Now, Amazon keeps track of your trajectory – and the more sudden and sharp your sales spike, the more sudden, sharp, and swift the subsequent decline in rankings. The new way to get visibility is to grow your sales over a period of several days by promoting them across many places and outlets, spreading out the impact of high traffic and large sales.

The objective remains the same: getting your book into the top-100-for-genre, hot new releases, movers and shakers, or top rated lists. The first two are the most important lists for a new release. They’re where people tend to look for new things to read in a given genre. Getting on those lists also gets your story onto the ‘also-bought’ pages of other high-ranked stories in that genre, which will be the major driver of long-term sales.

Why did this change? In a word, Bookbub. Bookbub became so successful at helping the authors who bought a place on its promotional mailing list, boosting their rank higher in the Kindle Store, that it was essentially becoming a new gatekeeper, charging for access to the top-100-in-genre lists. Amazon is customer-centric. It built those lists to be populated by the customers, for the customers. Having a company essentially start taking them over, with entries that were curated by a handful of editors who charged several hundred dollars apiece, was contrary to the very spirit in which the list was built.

This isn’t a new thing: in fact, the same manipulation of lists and ranks was why Amazon changed its associate program to require that no more than X% a month be free downloads, and why it no longer carries your free store rankings over to the paid store when you start charging for a story. (Pixel of Ink was the reigning king in the market during the heyday of free price pulsing as the major promotional tool. However, PoI’s assistance in boosting a free book’s rank no longer carries over to its paid ranking, so it’s affected in the same way as BookBub by Amazon’s new approach.)

So, how has the promotional market responded? It’s learned that a large percentage of promo list subscribers aren’t there for the deal as much as they are looking for an email a day that gives them something they haven’t seen before, guaranteed to be a minimum level of readable. Promo lists have flourished, with lots of small competitors trying to find a better niche and become the next Bookbub. (Personally, I’m rather partial to The Fussy Librarian and Ebooksoda – they have a higher proportion of books that look interesting enough for me to click through and buy them.)

Authors are using stacked promotions across lots of smaller promotional companies, staggering the heavy-hitters on sales to give a better growth curve. When they can’t get into Bookbub (50% of the slots are sold to the Big 5 traditional publishers, so it’s a pretty fierce competition), we stack and stagger the second-tier promo sites like E-Reader News Today (ENT), One Hundred Free Books (OHFB), The Midlist and Free Kindle Books and Tips (FKBT).

A typical savvy non-release promotion, these days, looks like this.

Day 1
Book Barbarian
Free Book Feed

Day 2
Indie Book Bargains
Choosy Bookworm
The Fussy Librarian
Awesome Gang

Day 3
Bknights on Fiverr
Just Kindle Books
Read Cheaply
Mailing List Announcement (that is, sending out a mailing list announcement of the sale.)

Day 4
Genre Pulse

Day 5

In fact, the new bleeding edge of promotions is to keep a spreadsheet of which sites release in which timezone, and arrange the smaller players so they stagger promotions throughout the day. I know people are doing this to great effect, but I can’t guide you there yet, because I’ve been too darned tired with my day job lately to sit down and start playing with the nuts and bolts of that. For more info and links to sites, look at

For release promotions, authors are staggering the release announcement – first to their mailing list and then to social media (or vice versa). Where they used to try to get all their friends to shout about its release on the same day, and chew fingernails when announcements often came in a day late or as other people had time; now that’s a feature, not a bug.

How long will it stay this way? Until someone else figures out a way to game Amazon, and Amazon responds. But for right now, that’s the word from the marketing trenches.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Children's authors have the BEST questions

Authors tend to have lots of questions - often about marketing, advertising, formatting, and other nuts and bolts. And then there are the technical questions: making zombies plausible via virus, escape scenes with people shooting at a swimmer, plane crash survivability...

Then there are the children's author questions.
"I understand that, when boiling down maple sap to make syrup, the fumes cover everything with sticky sap. Has anyone made maple syrup at home, and if so is this true?

If you had a dragon creating the flames to boil down the syrup, what would be the best way to clean off the dragon? given that dragons are immune to fire, would making a big fire around the dragon work, or would it just crystallize the sap into maple sugar?"
For the pedantic, yes, the author was corrected that it only produces a lovely-smelling steam, not sticky vapors. However, the quantity of splashes and spills can produce a dragon who needs cleaning anyway.

If you are interested in kid's books with dragons, fairies, and trolls (and I'm mighty curious about the maple-syrup-making dragon, but it's clearly not fully written yet), see Becca Price's books here:

Dragons & Dreams

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Soft blows

My neighbor gave me the most interesting version of the hairy eyeball today. It could be because I was outside in the uncharming outfit of long-sleeved shirt advertising the Kodiak Crab Fest mountain biking race, a fluffy purple cap, yoga pants, and socks with sandals. Yes, you now have an excuse to drink and get that frazzled housewife image out of your head. You're welcome.

Or it could be because I was holding a rubber mallet, carefully working my way down the length of my car and tapping gently on the ice encasing it. I'd already broken a door free, so I had the car running as I tapped at door handles, pillars, roof racks, and side panels. When it comes to uncasing a car, this isn't my first rodeo. As long as you're very gentle, tapping just enough to fracture the ice, you can get large sheets of ice to break loose and crash painfully down on sock-footed sandals. The more ice broken loose, the faster the car will warm up and deice the glass, the lights, and the general rest of the car you don't want to try thumping with a mallet.

I smiled at my neighbor, trying to be friendly despite the stare. "Always best to get the ice off before it gets really cold and freezes down hard, eh?" The neighbor drew back a little, and proffered an uncertain smile.

When my feet were quite cold enough, I wandered back inside for a cuppa while leaving the car running. The defroster had gotten the windshield clear-ish by that point (the wiper blades were another story). As the tea kettle clicked off, I heard the most interesting WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! from the neighbor's driveway, like someone was wailing away on the inch of ice encasing their minivan. Then their engine started, and idled in the driveway just like mine.

Was I supposed to offer my rubber mallet?

Monday, February 16, 2015

If you can't walk on it, don't drive on it.

Mostly, this applies to ice. Now, many of you in the north are currently driving something equipped with studded tires or really good all-weather treads, and if it's a pickup (and quite a few sedans) there's a bag or three of kitty litter / pea gravel over the rear axle. This enables you to drive normally on truly cold ice and scraped snow. It doesn't help as much as you'd think when it gets right around freezing/melting point.

In the south, "snow" and "ice" never gets very cold - it's always right around that 28-34 F range that even Alaskans dread. Southern ice usually comes with "running water on", but since it's such a rare event, they don't distinguish in the many categories northerners hold. This, along with unfamiliarity, is why they're such terrible drivers on ice and snow: even in Anchorage, I did not look forward to driving on running water on ice, and stayed home if I could.

No matter where you live, if you're going to fall on your butt (hopefully) or shoulder with a wrenching and tearing feeling (hopefully not) when trying to get to the car or through the parking lot, it doesn't matter how well you drive... you still shouldn't be out.

This is like "Nothing good happens after midnight." It's a good rule of thumb that keeps people out of trouble.

If you can't walk on it, don't drive on it.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Low Carb Clam Chowder

Low-Carb Clam Chowder

Cook time: roughly 15 minutes

Kitchen stuff used:
heavy stoneware stockpot, large
stick blender
casserole dish
tea kettle (for boiling water)


1 head cauliflower, raw
1 medium onion (yellow is better)
2 medium turnips
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup bacon, crumbled
1 tablespoon dry sherry
2 tablespoons chicken better than bullion + 4 cups boiling water
(use low-sodium chicken broth as a substitute if need be)
2 cups cream (half and half will make thinner soup for lower calories, but a smidge more carbs)
1 tsp cajun seasoning (tony cacheres, to taste)
1 squirt Worcestershire sauce (1/2 tsp?)
3 cans of clams (6.5 oz cans)
1 tbsp parsley flakes
optional: shredded cheese to top

Caveats: all measurements are approximations, based on handfuls, good sized splashes, healthy dollops, and to taste.

First, chop the cauliflower head up finely, stopping to scoop up the bits and dump them in a casserole dish. (Or, if you have a food processor, use that.) Add two tablespoons of water and cover with lid / plastic wrap with holes poked in. Microwave for 12 minutes. Don't worry if it finishes before you're ready to use it; that just cools the dish down enough to handle easily.

Second, start the stockpot on medium heat, with the olive oil inside. (If you don't have bacon crumbles, skip the olive oil and cut up some bacon to make bacon crumbles and oil.) Peel and dice the turnips into small chunks, toss 'em in. Dice the onion and toss it in, too, then mince the garlic and add it with the bacon crumbles.

Once the diced onion and turnips are rapidly turning sauteed, add the dry sherry and deglaze. (Scrape the browned deliciousness off the bottom of the pot.) Then, add in the chicken better than bullion and mix it until it coats everything. Add the water fresh out of the teakettle. (Or, if you don't have a teakettle, resign yourself to adding hot water and waiting for the mix to come back up to simmer.) Stir well to deglaze the bottom again. Add the cream, stir, and then add the cajun seasoning and squirt of Worcestershire sauce.

Open two cans of clams, and add them, including the juice. Get the cauliflower out of the microwave, and add it to the pot. Get out the stick blender and blend everything to a thick chowder consistency. Open the third can of clams and add it, including the juice, so you still have some nice chunky clam meat.

Realize this isn't going to look perfectly white like high-carb clam chowder, and throw in parsley flakes and stir to make it look prettier. Dish up, and add shredded cheese on top if you want to, just because you can.