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Publisher’s Weekly’s Review Double Standard

For those who don’t know, Publisher’s Weekly is the trade publication of the book world, a periodical that publishes book news and reviews. To be reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly is something of a big deal.

So how does one get reviewed? Assuming you were published by somebody else:

Submissions must be sent (3) months–preferably (4)–prior to the 1st day of the month of publication.

You must send (2) copies of every title submitted. Submissions of a single copy will not be considered.

All galleys should have the following information on the cover:

– Title
– Author
– Price
– Publisher and imprint
– Format
– Number of pages in the finished book
– 13-digit ISBN
– Month and day of publication
– Distribution arrangements
– Publicity contact information

An accompanying letter should contain a description or synopsis of the book, and any pertinent publicity information, including the author’s previous titles, blurbs, or previous reviews. Book club, paperback, audio or movie rights sales, author tours of 5 cities or more, a print run of more than 10,000 or an ad/promo budget of more than $30,000 should be noted.

Now if you’re self-published you have to submit to their PW Select Program:

PW Select is a quarterly supplement that presents self-published books to PW’s trade audience. Like our announcement issues, these features will include author, title, subtitle, price, pagination and format, ISBN, a brief description, and ordering information. Authors are required to pay a processing fee for their listing; for PWsubscribers, the listings are including with the price of your subscription.

Publishers Weekly aims to provide a valuable service to the growing community of self-published authors. From amongst the titles submitted, approximately 25% are selected for a published review in each supplement… The entire PW editorial staff will participate in the selection of the titles being considered for review

Great, so how do I get in? Publisher’s Weekly says:

If your book is already published and for sale, you can choose:

1) Print Book | $149
-you’ve published your book in print and already have your ISBN and it’s already available for sale at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and/or other retailers.

2) E-book | $149
-you’ve published your book as an e-book and already have your ISBN and it’s already available for sale at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and/or other retailers.

And there we have it: Publisher’s Weekly’s double standard, plain as day. If you’re traditionally published, go ahead and send in your book in for review consideration free of charge…but if you’re self-published, please send us $150.  Before I blast them on that, though, I’m not done.

What do you get for that $150?

With All Three Packages:

The registration fee of $149… entitles you to a listing of your book–title, author, illustrator (where applicable), pagination, price, format, ISBN, and a description of the book’s contents–all of which will appear in the supplement and seasonal online database. You should also include the address of the Web site where the book can be ordered.

….

As part of your registration you receive a 6 month digital subscription to Publishers Weekly. Current subscribers, whose subscription and authorship are in the same name, receive one free listing as a subscriber benefit… During registration please include your subscription number, from your print label instead of the credit card info.

Book Review

Each period, from amongst the books listed, approximately 25% will be selected by PW’s review staff, based on merit, and assigned for a full review. These reviews will also appear in the supplement. There is no charge for reviews, and all reviews, positive or negative, will be published.

I’m guessing the $150 goes to pay for the PW Select supplement. I have no problem with that. I have to pay a lot of money to list my pet sitting business in pet sitting listings. In fact, I just signed a contract to pay a guy $444 for a quarter-page ad in one publication. So again, the idea of paying for a listing in PW Select does not bother me.

The shady part is that for self-published authors to even be considered for review and potentially earning the prestige a PW review can bring, they have to pay, while traditional authors don’t. To Publisher’s Weekly, we’re not real authors – worthy of consideration for free – because we’re not part of the club. We decided to go outside the system and therefore we should be punished for that by extorting us. We have to pay to even be considered worthy of a review. This is the major way traditional publishing can keep us down because otherwise they’re quaking in their boots.

Why should I spend years trying to get published? Even if it worked, I would have my book’s shelf life measured in weeks, I would have to do most of the marking and I would probably have a print run so low the book would most likely fail regardless. That doesn’t have to be the case anymore. The secret is out.

Take this quote from a blog post I found about a romance author who quit being a Harlequin author and went completely self-published after she only earned 2.4% royalties on her bestsellers:

Everyone fears Amazon, because they someday may give authors less than 70% royalties.
Less? Like the 2.4% Ann earned on a book that sold almost 200,000 copies?
It would take Amazon becoming the devil incarnate to give authors a worse deal than the traditional publishing industry does now. And since traditional publishers aren’t about to give authors a fair deal, what do they do to those who abandoned them…or in my case, never even tried to approach them at all? They close off the one thing they have left: the mark of legitimacy. Publisher’s Weekly is fully involved with this racket.  And the irony is that this whole legitimacy thing was created by the publishing industry in order to keep anyone with a printing press from infringing on their turf.  After all, Wikipedia states in their article on vanity presses:
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was common for legitimate authors to, if they could afford it, pay the costs of publishing their books. Such writers could expect more control of their work, greater profits, or both.
The publishing industry, to maintain its status, labeled self-published authors vanity authors and told everyone that they aren’t real authors. Too bad that attitude is now coming back to bite them. The way Publisher’s Weekly treats reviews of self-published authors is just one more way the traditional publishing establishment can pretend their entire business model isn’t slowly going down the tubes.
Ultimately, Publisher’s Weekly will have to let us self-published authors into their legitimacy club free of charge like traditional authors can. Self-publishing is back and we’re not a passing fad. We’re the future, whether traditional publishing likes it or not. And if Publisher’s Weekly doesn’t start taking us seriously, then they can die the same slow death that the rest of the industry currently is.
Author News Opinions

What Pet Sitting and Self-Publishing Have in Common

Yesterday, I posted a very important post about 99 cent eBooks, why they weren’t a good option for me anymore, and that my prices were going up. However, what I didn’t talk about was where my business insights were coming from: my pet sitting business.

Not all Pet Sitters are Created Equal:

I’ve been pet sitting since I was a clueless kid charging five dollars per visit. Ironically, I got more clients in terms of sheer numbers back then than I do thirteen years later as a fully bonded and insured professional who charges at least twice as much. Because I both did this as a summer job and a “real job,” I know something most of my professional competitors either don’t understand or won’t admit: we’re not really competing against each other so much as we’re competing against family, friends, neighbors, kids and adults. These adults are people who go, “I walk my own dog just fine, this should be easy side money!”

Family and friends typically work for free but know the animal and the owner well and do just fine. Neighbors typically work for very little if they are paid at all, but again, they know the family and the animal well.

It’s the kids and “side-money” adults who are the riskiest to work with. Kids can do a very good job, like I did, but they lack the life experience and common sense to deal with problems and mistakes or ideally prevent them from cropping up at all. When I first started out, I didn’t use client forms which spelled what out I needed to do, I just wrote it all down in a notebook as the client told me. This caused me to make an error with one client that is so embarrassing and horrible, I’m not even going to talk about it.  Needless to say, after that I had client forms and that mistake never occurred again.

However, I still didn’t have a legalese contract which spelled out what the client would pay, how they would pay me, what would happen in inclement weather and so on. This caused me to get jerked around by clients who, for example, suddenly decided to pay me less than what we had verbally agreed upon. Now I have a legalese contract that I can point to. People tend to hate legalese up until it saves them, then they can’t get enough of it. It was these blunders that me a better businessman and pet itter. While I still make on-the-job mistakes now, they’re very few and very minor. I’m able to fix them in no time.

Finally we come to the “side-money “adults, found in any business with extremely low cost barriers to entry. Not only do these adults lack job experience like kids, i.e. they don’t use forms or contracts, they are typically lousy at their jobs. Side-money adults don’t have the experience and reputation of someone like me to get away with charging professional-level rates, which generally range from ten to twenty dollars or more a visit depending on the clientele and the size of the business. These people will work for far less than ten dollars per thirty minute visit – rates that I can’t go under because of advertising expenses, insurance premiums and dues to NAPPS. They advertise almost exclusively via free means, namely classifieds like Craigslist, they don’t have insurance and they aren’t members of a professional organization.

The biggest problem with “side-money” adults is that kids will work hard for five dollars a visit because they value that five dollars, but to an adult five dollars is nothing. When coupled with the fact that they’re not in it to build a reputation and a business, this lack of dedication will show in sheer laziness and corner-cutting. For example the most common complaint I’ve heard about is “side-money” adults who say they’ll walk a dog for twenty minutes, but only walk for ten. A thirty minute visit is about twenty to twenty-five minutes of walking time depending on the dog.

The end result of this is numerous clients who turned to me after getting burned by a “side-money” adult, realizing not all pet sitters were the same. These people turn into very good customers. Unlike “side-money” adults, I’ll always make sure I walk for twenty minutes, mostly by taking routes that take twenty minutes.  The only times I won’t do this are on days with really bad weather, either code red days during the summer or sleet during the winter. In those cases, the dog doesn’t want to be out just as much you don’t.

The slogan on NAPPS’s website says it all: “For best results: Hire a professional pet sitter.”

Not All Self-Published Authors are Created Equal:

Most self-published authors are technically “side-money” adults. As they say, “don’t quit your day job.” Unless you sell massive amounts of books, it won’t be a career like pet sitting can be. But there’s a difference between those self-published authors who simply are in for the vanity, who write only to say “Hey I wrote a book, I’m so special, please read my pride and joy,” and self-published authors who are in the business to build a reputation and a reader base, like yours truly.  I’m going to distinguish between these two groups as vanity authors and indie authors.

Vanity authors are easy to spot. They sell their books for 99 cents, advertise only via free methods have bad covers and don’t have editors. The indie authors will price their books around $2.99 to $4.99, pay to market, pay handsomely for covers and have editors. The only difference between vanity authors now and before the eBook revolution was that they didn’t have to pay to published. In addition, self-publishing is now a viable option for authors, unlike times previous. An author can now use a “vanity press” to launch a real career.

The distinction between a vanity and indie author I was one I didn’t really understand until the last few days. When it comes to pet sitting, I’m a veteran with years of experience, but in self-publishing I’m a sixteen year-old kid charging five dollars a visit all over again. I might have been writing fiction for years but when you start publishing your work the game completely changes. Nine months ago when A Clear and Feathered Danger was released, I didn’t know tidbits like how to market, the difference a good editor can make and other tricks established self-published authors know. While I’ve made some serious blunders and ill-advised decisions as an author, I’m learning from my mistakes and becoming better every day. Yes, A Clear and Feathered Danger is nine months old and has sold a few copies, but in the larger scheme of things, it hasn’t really been read at all. I can still recover and play catch-up. I used to think I was failing, but now I realize I haven’t even begun to try to bring my unique vision to the world.

On Twitter and Goodreads, I seem to be mostly marketing to other authors. This is something I need to move beyond if I want to build a following, hence the Facebook ads and the idea to submit K23 Universe stories to short-story magazines. But even so, traditionally-published authors and indie authors turn into readers while vanity authors don’t, because vanity authors are mostly interested in going “hey look at me, I’ve written a book” and won’t buy others’ work because this isn’t about reading others and improving their craft, it’s about their egos.

Work quality is largely unimportant here outside of proofreading, because unlike pet sitting subjectivity plays a huge role. When pet sitting, I’m judged on one single concrete criterion: Did I do what the client asked me to do? I either walk the client’s dog for twenty minutes between 11:00am-1:00pm five days a week and put the poop bag in the trashcan out back or I don’t.  With books, once the errors are out, it all comes down to whether or not readers like my writing style and setting. One man’s art is another man’s trash. I thought Twilight was one of the worst books ever written, for instance, but plenty of teenage girls thought otherwise.

Therefore, what separates the real authors from the vanity ones is how one conducts their business. Someone can write the greatest book in the world, but as long as its presented as a vanity work it will always be treated as one.

Therefore I’m going professional. Twitter meltdowns are not happening anymore, I’m now venting offline. Freaking out on Twitter might get me a few sales, but as I start becoming “higher profile” due to my recent marketing blitz it can be counterproductive. The Twitter feed will remain business as usual otherwise. It’s become an attraction in itself and I enjoy running it. I’ll still be advertising the books, consider it the price of admission, but books won’t be the main focus anymore. I’m finally going to just go ahead and get a “professional looking” picture, for instance.

Also don’t expect to see me putting any of the novellas up for free. That’s why the Side Stories exist, though I will be giving away three copies of the Print Collection later this month. And of course I’ve raised book prices. I haven’t raised them a lot, just enough to pull myself out of the bargain basement. While I know there might be secret grumbling, businesses learn to ignore the bargain hunters. They simply aren’t  lucrative.

For me at least, self-publishing is a business, not a social club. I believe that the authors who realize this and treat it as a business are the ones who stand out. While I’ve said this before, back then there wasn’t the wall between my business-self and my personal self that exists with my pet sitting business. I act differently when I’m out walking dogs and caring for cats, I treat my clients differently than I would a friend. I’m almost neurotically clean, something people who know me in person know isn’t the norm for me.

I’ve built a wall between my professional self and personal self, one I created after my trials as teenager. It doesn’t hurt that pet sitting is one of the very, very few fields in which my autism, is not a factor beyond getting hired. Once I’m hired, I’m very good at what I do and my clients love me for it.

As an author, autism is great for creativity. It’s not so helpful for other things, but scifi/fantasy is chock full of autistic writers – fellow indie NV Binder is autistic, for instance – and so I’ve run into issues that I can and have overcome. Unlike other high-functioning autistic writers, I’m more open about my disability. While you won’t find it in my bio and ads, I do talk about it because its part of who I am. I believe it’s key to how I’m able to write a body work of so different from the norm that it pretty much stands alone. It’s part of my brand.

The important thing is that I’m building that wall between my personal self and my author self. I’ll try to be kooky and offbeat, but not crazy. It’ll be a tightrope walk, but I think I can handle it.

Conclusion:

Pet sitting and writing might seem to be two completely different fields with two completely different skill sets. However, all businesses, whether it’s caring for animals or writing fiction, require a level of professionalism that will separate people with real dedication from pretenders. People who care do everything they need to do in order to present themselves in the best possible light and do the best job they can. The pretenders, the “side-money” people, just go through the motions.

I’m not saying a hobby writer shouldn’t put his book up on Amazon or that somebody needs some extra cash shouldn’t walk dogs. What I am saying is that you shouldn’t expect to make something of yourself unless you put in the time and effort to do so. Behind every success story is years and years of toil and hard work along with ten people who failed. Everyone starts out a clueless kid in business, but nobody will become an adult unless they grow up.

And unless you’re willing to grow up, you’ll always fail eventually. It might be easier to succeed in pet sitting than writing, but make no mistake, you can fail in pet sitting. Cyberspace is littered with the forgotten web pages of the fallen. I worked my butt off over thirteen years and now I have so much business I’ve had to turn away clients on occasion: pet sitting’s “mark of success.” I’ve even been referred by other pet sitters I’ve never even heard of or met – now that’s a reputation! I’m not going to post the link to my pet sitting website since I want to build a wall between my author side and my pet sitting side but I still can be found rather easily on Google if you know what to search for.

And when you do find my website, look up my testimonial page. Those were all real clients for which I performed exceptional service. I never would have found success if I had never built that professional wall. I may never find success as an author…but I’ll never have any chance at all unless I step up to the challenge.

P.S. if you do happen to find my webpage, live in my area and want top quality pet care at an affordable price, there’s a service request page you can use! 😉

Author News Opinions

99 Cent eBooks: A Lesson Learned

Why the 99 Cent Price Point is a Problem:

People love 99 cent ebooks. They’re extremely cheap entertainment. John Locke makes huge sums of money selling full-length novels for 99 cents. There’re entire sites devoted to promoting 99 cents ebooks. Heck, my three novellas were 99 cents.

Here’s the thing, 99 cents may be great for the reader; they’re cheap and they can buy tons of books for 99 cents. For authors, though, 99 cents will lose them money, especially if they sell on Amazon. 99 cents only pays 35% royalties, so I only get 35 cents back for every one book sold. In order to break even on my expenses, I have to write a blockbuster book.

Here’s a math problem for you, if I incur $100 in expenses, how many books do I have to sell to make my money back if I were to sell at 99 cents exclusively on amazon? The answer is 100/.35= 271.71, so 272 books. Smashwords and other distribution services pay 65%, but that still means I have to sell 150 books at 65% royalties to break even.  The average number of eBooks sold varies. I’ve heard estimates from 100 to 264, but I’m going to venture it’s closer to 100 since the outliers (like John Locke)  push the average up.

Unless your expenses are near zero, you will be losing money at the 99 cent level, period. If you want to make money, you have to spend money. Editing, cover art and advertising all cost money. Sure, you can get your book edited for free, but trust me when I say that’s not a good idea.  I now have a permanent editor who will even edit my blog posts going forward. He’s good, he’s a fan, he’s not too expensive but he adds up quick.

A decently drawn cover, depending on the artist, can cost upwards of $300. I happened to luck out with my artist wh0 did  my covers for $100-125, but her rates are slowly going up as her name gets out thanks in part to me (Florence Wong: vivadawolf at gmail dot com. Tell her I sent you!)  If you’re taking your ebook to print, open your wallet, because the price will be doubled because of the back cover. That’s not even including other artwork – the snazzy hominia map cost me $150. There hasn’t been much other artwork, like New Delta cityscapes and creature drawings I’d like to have, because those will cost an arm and a leg.

There’re plenty of free advertising options but effectiveness is limited due to those options being flooded with other authors. I’ve taken to paying for Facebook advertisements to boost my Facebook page. The impressions to page likes to sales conversion rate is extremely low, but it’s getting my name out there. So far, my ads are being shown to over 300,000 potential customers, the largest audience yet.

Many authors have the pricing strategy of starting at 99 cents then raising prices of future books. Initially I used this strategy; however, I’ve realized that it only works if the next book outsells the first, because the second book has to not only bear the costs of its own production, but also the previous one as well.  I’m not starting at 99 cents anymore.

K23 Detectives Pricing

I have and will cntinue to work my ass off getting the word out, but doing that costs money and K23 Detectives, even if it gathers a decent cult following, will always be in the red as long as my books are sold at 99 cents. Note, however, that profit-wise I’m not as bad as I could be, due to the K23 Detectives Three Pack with Bonus Novels, now known as the K23 Detectives Collection. It cost me nothing to put it out. The original cover was just a mash up of the original three and any editing costs were incurred for the individual novella editions. The money I spent editing the two  Cybermagic novels were sunk costs as they were edited when they were written. Therefore, at 2.99, which has an amazon royalty rate of 70%, it was 2 dollars of pure profit I put into help defraying costs.  Also, The Three Pack’s existence guaranteed that the two sequels got sold.

However, when I decided to rename the Three Pack and put out the Collection, I did have expenses (the cover, the map, etc.) But in this cases the profit is split between print and ebook versions. Now the print price is $21.99, not cheap, but that wasn’t my choice, it was Createspace’s. The eBook Collection is currently $2.99, set because originally it was the price of three novellas put together. Today the ebook price is going up to $4.99 and the reason is Sandworm Rodeo.

Sandworm Rodeo and all future eBooks will be $2.99. As long as the Collection is the same price as smaller works, future books are going to be a tough sell even if someone absolutely loved the Collection.  I don’t expect anyone to pay the same price for less.  But there’s still the issue that the three original books are .99 cents. They’re going up to 1.99. I believe in A Clear and Feathered Danger, What Lies Within and The Impending Darkness. I believe that while they aren’t perfect (no book is) they are groundbreaking. I’ve done what most fantasy authors strive and fail to do. I’ve created an original, working and compelling mythos. While one could say my ego’s inflated, I would’ve quit by now if I didn’t think I had something. Besides, its pretty self-evident that I’ve  created an entire mythos.  99 cents is selling myself short; devaluing what I believe to be the future of fantasy. $1.99 isn’t too much to pay to experience something new.  After that, if you like what you’ve read and decide you want more, one more dollar isn’t too much to ask.

So the new eBook pricing model is:

First three novellas individually: $1.99

Sandworm Rodeo and all future single work releases: $2.99

The K23 Detectives Collection: $4.99

I think this is a fair system that allows me a better chance of recovering costs while not being too expensive.

99 Cents and You:

While time will tell how this pans out, I do think 99 cents is not a price point for authors serious about building a following. 99 cents may be enticing to some readers but it also says an author doesn’t have faith in their own work. They say you get what you pay for, a book at a rock bottom price means rock bottom quality to many.  It’s also a money losing proposition regardless of how one does the math.

So indie authors, if you want to rise above, raise your prices.

Opinions

Response to an Internet Troll

There’s this guy out there whose decided his sole purpose in life is to troll me. This is what he wrote in a (deleted) comment: “You actually just fucking suck at writing, which is why nobody buys your furry-fantasy bullshit.”

Now the best thing to do is to just ignore him and let him go away. But I’m not, for this post only, to make a larger point.

The reality is, as much as I rant and rave about sales on twitter, A Clear and Feathered Danger, sales numbers wise, has done alright for a self-published book with extremely limited appeal in an over saturated market during an economic downturn. The review consensus  seems to be, for all it faults, the book tells an  entertaining story. (On Amazon, it has a 4.3 rating. On Goodreads, 4.0)

I could go on, but any explanation is lost on him, because his mind is made up, he’s targeting me to make himself feel better. He’s a broken, empty person who attempts to find meaning in life by attacking other people who feel they’re beneath him. I am an easy target, I’m autistic, have problems proofreading(applies to blog posts as I pay people to edit my books, I’d go broke if I had to pay for blog proofreaders) and my work can be a little ridiculous. Still pretending to be some one I’m not only makes me feel worse. On the other hand, that troll’s  identity is obscure and he reveals nothing about himself. His twitter icon obscures his face. He is anonymous and that’s the way he likes it, if he bared who he tuely was, the world would see he “has no clothes.”

Sure I piss off a lot of people with my highly controversial sales strategy, but its something which works for me, and something I don’t do all that often to my sales detriment precisely because it pisses people off. Most of my time on twitter is spent talking about media and pop culture. And those people who disagree  with me and get in arguments with on twitter, they either block me or I block them and that’s the end of it. I don’t go after these people and they don’t go after me, because we have better things to do with our time.

Trolls like the man i’m referencing are not going to make me stop writing and go away, he can’t, because of those people who tell me to keep writing, to keep doing what I’ve been doing. If they weren’t there, I wouldn’t be here, and that’s the honest truth.

Even if I fail in this endeavor, I can live on knowing that i gave it my all. I did something constructive with my time. But trolls post flames or even go as far to post 1 star reviews of stuff they haven’t read, destroying my sales. And for what? A few seconds of euphoria that quickly fade. I pity them really.

Pit bulls are trained to be attack dogs by depriving them of contact with anyone but the owner. So when the owner does bring them out into the world, the dogs attack others out of fear. Internet trolls are people so deprived of meaningful contact, when they contact other people, they lash out because they’re afraid deep down inside; afraid of admitting their own misery.

I might only whip them into even more of a frenzy with this post, but I don’t care, because I know the truth. I’ve written a niche, but decent novella;  they’ve done nothing of merit, and never will until they decide to grow up.

Opinions

Next Project: The Animal Zombie Apocalypse

I’ve decided I’m going to alternate releasing a K23 title and a non-k23 title. It gives time for books to sell and be read as well as stretch my writing muscles. I won’t ever improve as a writer if I stick to one thing. So after Sandworm Rodeo, I’m going to write and release a zombie book with a little twist.

Zombies are really popular, but when most  talk about zombies, they’re  talking about the human kind. Very rarely do zombies of other species ever pop up, and if they do, they’re generally of the canine variety. While there are books with  other kinds of zombie animals in it, such as Dead Seas by Brian Keene, the undead animals take a back seat to the humans.

BORING!!!!

The Animal Zombie Apocalypse is going to ask the question, what would happen if every vertebrate(animals with backbones)  but humans turned into zombies?  There will be everything from zombie cats and dogs, to zombie cows and pigs, to zombie bears, deer, bass and crows. The only thing there won’t be are human zombies. Not a single one.

Sound ridiculous doesn’t it? Even I crack up thinking about say, a flock of zombie chickens coming for my flesh. Some other filmmakers though the image was funny enough to make a movie  out of it.  But my book isn’t going to be a parody, its going to be serious horror.

Consider the chicken: In December 2010, there were 455 million chickens alive in the US.  In In the same month, the US Census announced the US human population at 308,745,538.  Worldwide the number of average chickens alive is about 19 billion. As we all should know, the worldwide human population is roughly 7 billion.

So while a few zombie chickens might not be scary, a few million zombies chickens definitely would be, especially if you live in or near huge poultry producing areas like I do (Maryland is one of the largest poultry producing states in the US).

And that’s just one species…..

I could only find this worth1000 contest for good zombie animal art. But it gives you a good idea of what I'll be aiming for.

Will there will be an environmental message here along with the terror? Absolutely, but its kind of hard not to have one considering the subject matter.

When I’m done, you won’t take the creatures we share our planet with quite the same way ever again.

The Animal Zombie Apocalypse should be out later this year.

My very next work, Sandworm Rodeo and Other Stories, will be out in February!

Opinions

How to spot a twitter spambot from 82 miles away(and then some).

In addition to my hard selling tactics I spend a lot of time sifting through my followers list so I’ve developed a keen sense of who is a spam bot and who is not. Now of course this list is not exhaustive but this is a solid start.

Basic Bot Spotting:

The most obvious bots can be detected without even reading a single one of their tweets.

The bots who aren’t hiding anything:  these will generally have at least 3 of the following characteristics, unless they meet item 6, which means they are always a bot, ALWAYS

  1. Ridiculously skewed following to followers counts, like 1449 following and only a 100 followers. If they haven’t tweeted anything yet, they are spam bots. If they have, they probably  still are spam bots too(or just horrible feeds).
  2. No bio. This is another key almost all obvious ones have.
  3. If they have an egg profile pic, though there are some non-spam egg users, they’ll have a bio.
  4. twitter handles that are either jibberish,  common names with long numbers on the end or random sounding first and last name combinations
  5. If they have profile pic, its of a young attractive female(this is only a dead giveaway when combined with the other characteristics).
  6. they @ you out of the blue with links. The bots will never meet item one, as they follow almost no one and no one follows them, but they have 8 billion tweets.

My pet peeves:  The online marketers, inspirational quotes and team follow back.

online marketer bio  keywords and phrases dead giveaway: Networking,connecting, marketing, money, Entrepreneur, SEO(and similar abrriviations), “showing ___ how to…” “connect with ___” “Increase ____”

Inspiration/self-help: Potential, inspire, success, goals, happiness, quotes, achieve, mentor.

Teamfollowback: any bio with a permutation of word “follow” in it EXCEPT those that say “will not follow back”

All businesses(for profit or not) are spambots in practice: They are there to market to you only and do not give the least bit about anything you have to say. You can follow these if you’re interested in them, don’t expect any friendships even if there is somebody on the other end.

Again there are exceptions, but as you’ve figured out by now, there are all always exceptions.

Other bio giveaways: If somebody tells you they write an amusing or entertaining feed, or how they’re here to make friends, you’ll find just the opposite. I don’t mention how crazy awesome my feed is in my profile, it should be self-explanatory after awhile. Also be wary of anything like “Keeping you informed of” that is all that feed will do.

Intermediate Bot Spotting:

Now we come to the bots where you have to read their tweets. This is intermediate because there are tons of cases where the people here are not bots. However, everyone here will use twitter automating software to some degree.

Crafty bots: These bots have bios that don’t have the usual keywords. Read their tweets. If they talk about their family and fishing, but tweet about twitter software, they are bots.

Auto following/unfollowing: Look at the ratio, if a feed has roughly 25k followers and 25k following, they are using the software. In fact most non-celebs with high followings use this software(hi there). All of the basic bot spotting bots use this. The hard part is not everyone who uses it is a spam bot.

Auto tweets: Now we come to the feeds of real people but who have automated their feeds to the point they don’t tweet themselves anymore. They key here is ratio of automated tweets to non automated tweets.

Promo Links: These almost always have hashmarks on them and sound like promos. Not hard.

single @ thank you for following messages: The message sets the tone of the overall feed. My DM thank you message is very impersonal and sounds like an auto-tweet. but it’s “in universe” which means my feed might be very interesting.  Here are a few general pointers.

  1. Are they are selling you stuff off the bat? They’re probably going to bombard you endlessly with promos as a general rule.
  2. Do they want you to connect elsewhere, such as face book? In that case, their twitter feed is generally auto-tweet only as its a means to funnel.
  3. Do they use your name? My name is Noah Murphy. If I tweet says “thanks for following, Noah’ These are not autotweets, though they might be copy/pasted, which can be fine because it means someone is still driving the wheel.  If they say, “thank you for following Noah Murphy,” that is an autotweet.
  4. You can’t tell much from DMs as its just you, but mention column thank yous can be telling because of reasons that should be obvious by now.

Single @ other thank yous: Frequency and repetition. Will always be mentions

Multi-@ mentions and thank  yous: The rule of thumb is how  often. Many times these are hand-crafted, but they won’t be the only thing in the feed.

Retweet only feeds: I hate these feeds, I find them lazy, and with 8500+ users, I’d do more service RTing some of them. Not all of these are spambots. Often times its just someone who picks and chooses what to autotweet. Figuring out whats a spambot and what is not is virtually impossible so don’t take guesses. Follow at your leisure.

Quotes and news links: Same deal. Frequency and repetition.

Don’t forget, some feeds will use a mixture of all of those components.

Advanced Bot Spotting:

This stuff only comes with experience:

True-Twit Validation: You get these DMs that say “___ uses True Twit Validation please go here and validate.” The intention behind the service was for real people to use to sift out the bots. Instead, most people don’t use it. Its become a way for the spambots to make sure only real people are following them.  If someone uses true-twit, 9/10 its a bot and I unfollow.

Protected Feed: Protected feeds,  unlike true-tweet feeds, are always real people as there is an manual step involved on the part of the feed(accepting the follow request).  As far as I can tell true-twit can’t force an unfollow.

Lurkers: These are the accounts which have not tweeted in a long time but recently followed/followed back. There are two types. One is a real person, one is not. If the following/following count is low, real person. If the count looks they use software, bots.

Dates and Times: People have lives outside of twitter. When I’m busy with other things, I might not tweet much at all for days but leave my software running, three latest tweets twitter shows you might not be enough.  You’ll have to look down their tweets a good ways to get an idea, but it will always come out.

Sounds like a person: A few months back, I got a huge rash of spambots that tweet random comments about their lives, with only a very occasional promo. The only way I spotted them was because multiple bots tweeted the exact same identical comments about their boyfriends, down to the punctuation.

Sounds like a bot: These feeds I’ve mentioned before, real people crafting tweets that sound like autotweets but are merely cut/paste jobs.  In one case, I mistook a real guy for a bot.  The way to tell here, reply to them, if they respond back in a casual manner, then they’re cool(like with that guy). If they don’t, move on.

Don’t speak English(or whatever): There are lots of languages on planet Earth. I, due to my disability, can only understand one. As much I truly would like to learn Spanish, French, Hebrew or any other foreign language, its not going to happen any time soon( I was pretty good with Latin in high school, but nobody uses it outside of academia except for Catholics). Unless I have reason to suspect otherwise(like profile is in English, tweets are not) on the block list you go. What you do is up to you, because you very might well be bilingual.

Won’t go away: Some spambots will never unfollow. Others will refollow you again and again. That is why I block so much.

Feed Funnels: On many occasions one feed will be used to funnel to another Like one case, i followed one feed to get a DM that said to the effect of “please follow @____ as this is only a dummy account, I will not follow back.” I blocked both feeds. Bio terms to watch out for are “affiliated with,” tweeting for”  or “Please follow.”  The feed funnels are rare, but when you find them, they are some of the worst  you can find on Twitter.

These may sound like I’m just blabbing on about the obvious, but if you think that, chances are you have less than 500 and certainly less that 2000 followers. Once you go above 2000, the floodgates will open and the bots will come, and it will only get worse and worse.

But why care about spambot followers at all? Because followers read your stuff and only real people will care. For me, sifting is essential, because every follow is a potential sale. And even if you’re not trying to make money off the feed, do you really want to shout into a vacuum? I think not.

Now if you excuse me, I am have some bot blocking to do.

Opinions

Authors time to stop being doormats!

Last night was it. Last night I wasn’t going to take it anymore. Last night Book Rooster told me A Clear and Feathered didn’t have enough appeal to get ten reviews so I’m getting my money back(waiting to hear on Barbarian Girl). What the fuck? That’s why I paid them in the first place, because A Clear and Feather Danger didn’t have built in appeal. But Bookrooster was playing nice, they didn’t shove it down ten members of their community’s throats and say “REVIEW IT OR YOU’RE NOT GETTING ANY MORE BOOKS!”

Then I went on Twitter and said in bold caps and curses “Why are you all following me(all 7971 of you) if you won’t buy my books?” That’s didn’t get the reaction at first, but what I said next did caused a little firestorm: If you don’t have any interest in buying my books, unfollow me, I have no interest in you. P.S. I got your attention didn’t I? 😉

That did it, I got scores of tweets going “You’re the rudest author I’ve ever met.” “You don’t appreciate other people”  And I hemorrhaged 75 to 100+ followers. And I didn’t care on single bit. Why? That whole stunt sold four books, putting me(as of this writing) at 25 kindle books sold over 22 days(not counting a book I gifted which I’ll get to in a moment), putting me well ahead of my very modest goal of 30 books over 30 days.

And that is the only metric I live buy, the bottom line; not how many followers you have, or facebook friends or customer reviews or likes on amazon or guest blog posts you have. What I’ve found is they don’t sell me one single book. What has sold my books is doing the hard sell, going on twitter, getting on my soapbox, and going: “You like fantasy? You like cyberpunk?  Are you tired of the same old tired slop? Then buy A Clear and Feathered Danger. Come on people, click that link, click buy it now what are you waiting for?” And if that doesn’t work, I get even pushier. It works. While it maybe only one or two sold at a time,  its a start.

But what I’m doing is considered taboo in the book industry. Authors aren’t supposed to be pitchmen, we’re supposed to be friends. We have to engage and connect with our readers. We’re not supposed to be pushy. We’re supposed to be nice to people, befriend them, and then hopefully, when do we post a promo, they’ll click and buy our books.

Fuck that!!!

The reason is people are lazy. I know I am. We won’t buy something unless we’re pushed into doing it. See that product on the shelf? We won’t touch it unless someone comes along and pitches it to us, giving us the reasons and keep on giving the reasons until we buy. And if we won’t buy, they’ll move on until find they someone that will, or quit if nobody ultimatly does.

But somehow I’m the villain in all this. I’m the asshole.  Yet what I’m doing is simply selling my books how the rest of the world sells their products. Would you condemn a real estate agent for refusing to continue to show homes to people who won’t commit on a house(as my own agent did)? No. So why should I be condemned for refusing to have anything to do with people who won’t ever purchase my books? I shouldn’t.

Authors, its time to wake up and release the way we’ve been conditioned to sell books is retarded. We’re supposed to sell books by doing everything but sell books. We’ve been conditioned to go “Hi, how are you? It’s so nice to meet you, let’s connect up and chat. P.s. here’s my book, check it out 🙂 🙂 :)”  Quick poll, how often does that work? I’m betting the answer for most is none. Because even when I connect, I have to bug people to buy. I have to bug people to even read my free stories. I used to complain about this, but then I noticed it worked, and so I embraced it, and viola, finally I’m beginning to sell books.

One woman said to me, “So you’re sacrificing 20+ potential sales for 5+ immediate ones. Good going!” What she didn’t understand, and I do, is that there were never 20+ potential sales, there were 0. The people unfollowing would never buy. No amount of connecting would never result in a sale.  I had over seven times the followers she did, so this is a dynamic you only true see you get a ton of followers. When you have very few followers, your followers tend to be the ones that care. But as you gain followers you stop getting people following you simply because they care about what you have to say.  You get followers who follow due to your  following size and nothing more, spambots, online marketers, #teamfollowback ect

I ended up blocking that woman, but I don’t miss her, I didn’t know who she was until she yelled at me. And guess what, I’ll do just fine without her.  It’s a process I call sifting. I sift through my followers, getting the ones who don’t care and won’t buy to unfollow, therefore leaving just ones that will buy. And I engage those who will by on a level few authors seem to. Consider these three points:

A) I’m letting my readers choose what side stories are going in the Side Story Anthology. No other author would let their work be shaped by will of the people. I am. Aside from 36 Hours in Gruck(which is half a story), I have the 4 other short stories I’d put in already picked out. But what my personal favorites may not what others enjoy the most. Hence the poll. K23 is still my world and I’m still the final arbiter of what goes in, but giving others input doesn’t hurt from time to time.

B) I gifted a book to a woman out of the blue for her birthday because I felt like it. She’s not only liking the book, she said she’s going to buy the others. Mission accomplished. Authors give books away all the time, but they have to promo the give away, entice people to get free stuff. I could always make A Clear and Feathered Danger  free but not in the near term. Instead, every once in a while, unannounced and unexpected, I’ll gift a book. It makes the reader feel good, and if they like, they’ll buy the sequels. This is the only area where being nice really works, but only if you have a book worth reading, because remember that horrible video game you got last Christmas…

C) With 7900+ followers, there has to be a way to be seperate the wheat from the chaff on twitter. Therefore, I have a list, a list of those people who interact with me on a regular basis. These people are the people I soft sell, these people are the ones I befriend and chat with. But they have to take initiative, they have to show interest. They’ll get rewarded for doing so. I’m being an equal here, not being a doormat, but that’s only if I get something in return(and for a few feeds on my list, its not book sales).

So in conclusion, Its a balancing act, I can’t solely pitch, nor can I solely soft-sell, but my methodology is slowing beginning to get me noticed. I’m impressing people with my methods because I’m an indie who is beginning to move books by trying something different, just like my work is something different.

And I’d love it if more people copied me. It would make twitter a far more interesting place and I’d buy more books if authors gave me a reason to. Because right now, hardly anyone is, and that’s a shame.

 

Addendum 11/27/11: I meet my 30 book goal on the 23rd. Now up to 34 books sold! So this does work.

Opinions

Fuck You inspirational Quote Feeds!

“I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow. ” ~ Woodrow Wilson

It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe. – Robert W. Service

“The fundamental cause of trouble in the world is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”- Bertrand Russell

Stop acting as if life is a rehearsal. Live this day as if it were your last. The past is over and gone. The future is not guaranteed~Dyer

These quotes were taken from different feeds but all tend to have the same message, you need get up and go forth in order to succeed, usually to whatever the feed spouting the quote is selling, and most of these feeds are… you guessed it spam bots and online marketers.

These quotes point a school of self-help thought that says your lack of success is purely your fault and no, it couldn’t possibly be the economy or anything else beyond your control. Only by continuing to trudge forth(and buy our line of BS self help) can you reach the pinnacle of success.

Unfortunately, welcome to 2011, when the economy is still shitty, unemployment is still high, and there are massive protests around the US protesting the status quo. And those protestors, most of them aren’t slacker tree-hugging hippies(as the corporate  powers that be want you to think), they are regular people who went to college, swallowed this line of inspirational BS and got fucked over, and one day woke up and realized their lack of success isn’t their fault.

Now in my case, my lack of success of in finding normal employment was my fault(I’ve got aspergers) but I didn’t know it at the time. Before I was diagnosed I tried endless to fit into accounting and various other lines of work and none of them worked. I ate this inspirational bs and tried to better myself to fit in the “corporate drone” mold and success didn’t happen. Then I was diagnosed with aspergers and I realized I just wasn’t cut out for that life and struck out and tried my own path, ignoring the inspirational BS, and I’m much happier for it.

So to all those feeds which spew quotes to get you to be a drone, I have one of my own: “Go fuck yourself.”

One quote is all it takes for me to unfollow….

Opinions

Unfollowing and You!

As this writing 12:40pm on 10/31/11, on twitter I have 5278 followers with 3994 followings. 128 of those followers were gained since 11:30pm last night when I 5263 followers and about 4400 followings. What can you conclude from this? The two most obvious are that I unfollowed over 400 people and the gains I made in followers was virtually nullified from the people unfollowing me. However, I didn’t unfollow just 400 people today, I unfollowed roughly 600 people today. The reason it doesn’t seem that way is that tweetadder added one following from every feed it unfollowed(have 48 hours to follow back). The extra 400 came from Twit Cleaner, an excellent apps which shows which feeds post only links, RT all too often, don’t interact with followers, don’t follow anyone, are no longer active ect. It basically tells me which accounts are garbage. Of course, I don’t unfollow every feed that gets flagged. I keep Retweeters if they retweet my stuff).

Regardless, my point is, I unfollow massive amounts of people every day. Some days I’ve unfollowed nearly 1000 feeds with the help of another app called tweet karma. I have to do in order to continue adding followers because I’m still limited by the 1.1 followings to every follower rule. Also, unfollowing the garbage feeds keeps my own feed easier to read.

In addition, a massive amounts of feeds unfollow me,  usually because I’m selective about who I follow back. I call this sifting, or throwing out the people who don’t care about me and the ones I  don’t care about(though some feeds stick around anyway). This helps me network and build a base.

But then there are people who get mad and tell the world that I unfollowed them. Like “@K23detectives unfollowed me(checked with Filwrs.com)” Filwrs is an app, among many, that will tell you who exactly unfollowed them and will broadcast. My only guess for this is to shame you into following back. Many of these feeds who did this never followed me back in the first place, so chances are I had no idea I was even following them. And if I did actively unfollow you, its because A) You showed up on twit cleaner B) didn’t  speak english C) wasn’t tweeting about anything I care to read about, D) spammers or  E)are inactive and therefore why should you even care? And if you were one of those(except E obviously), trying to shame me isn’t going to bring me back.

People unfollow me for a variety of reason  but in the last two weeks I’ve gained at least 1500 followers net, an average of 107, despite somedays getting 250+ new followers in total. If I went around shaming all those people who unfollowed me, my total number would drop because who wants to follow an asshole?

Your twitter feed, like most social media, reflects who you are as a person. I’m very aware of this and always seeking to improve the way I use it as I try to improve myself. Shaming people who unfollow you tells me you’re a narcissist who only uses twitter number to boost their egos, and was not worth following anyway.

Opinions

#teamfollowback = not following back!

#teamfollowback  is the twitter hashtag for those people who want to amass followers simply to amass followers. It is the gutter, the slum, where the worst of the worst twitter has to offer congregate. These people have nothing to offer you. To them, you are nothing more than a number, one more person they can add to their cult of vanity. Tweet using #teamfollowback signals, “I don’t care who follows me just as long as they follow.” If I see someone in their profile or tweets using #teamfollowback, I’m not going to follow back or will unfollow you if tweet adder followed you.

#teamfollowback people are quite sad to me. They might have 100,000 followers but not a single friend. They are alone in life, not having anyone outside of the net, so they create a world where they’re popular, where people  care about what they have to say, but they don’t, because most of those followers are other fellow #teamfollowback users or spambots.

And even if I am wrong, and some of users are social butterflies off the net,  using #teamfollowback means you have nothing meaningful to say to begin with. Go ahead, go scroll down the listing of #teamfollowback. You will find bots of all kinds, people making random comments about nothing or replying to others in unrelated conversations, just with the hash tag. Except for possibly the news spambots, there is not one useful or interesting feed on there. Why? Because the interesting feeds don’t have to resort to cheap tricks to gain followers. They gain them because they have merit and are worth reading.

As much as I hate it, I don’t want it to go away. #teamfollowback and those hashtags like it(#autofollow) signals not to follow for those who actually want to use twitter for anything other than to boost their ego.

So thank you #teamfollowback for having the exact opposite effect of your intended purpose.

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