I’m pleased to announce I’ll be signing copies of The Dark Servant from 2 to 4 p.m. on Friday, May 29, at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City during Book Expo America 2015! Please stop by the Samhain Publishing display and say hello.
I get the sense that Glenn Rolfe doesn’t just love reading horror, I believe he loves reading. He adores books and always is eager to help his fellow writers. Glenn and I both write for Samhain Publishing, and he was one of the first people out of the gate to support my debut novel last December. Glenn’s newest novella, Boom Town, was released earlier this month, and I’m happy to help him however I can to spread the word of his new work.
I’m always curious about the writing process, so where do you write (at a desk, man cave, Starbucks where you can talk about race relations while writing horror)?
I write the majority of my stuff on my overnight shifts (two nights a week) at the hotel I work at. It is quiet (most nights). I can disappear into my mind. I work at home if I have something that is time sensitive, but my three kiddos usually have a way of barging in and keeping me out of “the zone.” So, yeah, work is the best place to create.
Do you have a specific word count you try to reach?
Depends on the piece. Novels, I aim for 70K words (settle for 63K and up). For novellas, I aim for 20K (and welcome more if they come). For short stories…anything goes.
Do you prefer silence when writing, or is it OK to have music/television in the background? I almost always have music going. Sometimes I use it to set the mood of the scene I’m writing. Sometimes, when you see a song mentioned in one of my stories, it’s just the one that happened to play on my computer while typing. I never have the TV going.
Are you able to write multiple projects at once or do you prefer to focus solely on writing one novel or novella at a time? I always have multiple projects going at once, so I always have something to work on. I have four novels at various word counts going right now. I also have a novella started, and multiple short stories that need to be completed. I have a bit of a writer’s ADD going on. If I get an idea for a story, I have to sit down and start it. I’ll find my way back to it eventually.
You’re a voracious reader – at least I believe you are – so please tell us about some of your favorite books, regardless of genre, and how they influenced you. Oh boy, you want me to talk books? Sure thing.
‘Salem’s Lot has to be at the top of the list. That’s my favorite novel of all-time. It has everything in a story that I want to deliver as a writer myself. A great array of characters. Creepy atmosphere in all the right places (The Marsten House, the dump, the cemetery, faces in the windows). A love story (Does it get any better than Ben and Susan?)
For other King works: The Shining, Joyland, The Dead Zone,The Green Mileare all favorites.
Floating Staircase by Ronald Malfi and Beautiful Sorrows by Mercedes M. Yardley each had a HEAVY influence on Abram’s Bridge. Malfi’s descriptions are perfection. He never over does it. I strive for that in my own work. Yardley showed me that you could bring sweetness into your bloodbaths. I never even considered doing that before. I owe Sweet Kate (the ghost girl from Abram’s Bridge) to her.
Richard Laymon and Bentley Little have their fingerprints on my first novel, The Haunted Halls.
I also have started reading some classics to broaden my range. To Kill a Mockingbird was brilliant, as was Brave New World. Character and storytelling for Mockingbird. More social awareness, bigger picture-type stuff with World. I looked to improve in those areas moving forward.
Brian Keene’s Ghoul and McCammon’s Boys Life are two more of my favorites. They offer up that coming of age magic that bleeds its way into a lot of my stuff, too. And magic definitely feels like the right word there. My goal is to one day write a story as good as Boy’s Life (probably my second favorite book of all-time).
I’m also influenced by plenty of the Samhain authors. Being on this roster with you and the rest of the gang definitely makes me want to be a better writer. I don’t want to spoil the quality of the line.
What is your definition of horror? I’ve always contended it’s a tough genre to pin down. Some might think “blood and guts” others might think “monsters.” I love horror. It give you another set of buttons to push on a reader. You can have the love, romance, mystery, sci-fi, psychological. You can have all of that in a great horror book. Plus, you can get downright scary and terrify the reader so that they have to leave the light on when they’re ready to call it a night. A great horror story should aim to push as many buttons in a reader’s mind as it can. It makes the horror go that much deeper. If you have blood and guts, you better make me care about the people getting torn to shreds. I was taught early on to make sure you earn every drop of blood. I probably miss a beat here or there, but it is something I constantly look at in my work.
What scares you? I mean, what genuinely frightens you? (For me, it’s heights. Hate em.)
Spiders. Losing people I love. Our government. The future of Rock n Roll. My daughters in their teens (luckily I have a few more years there).
What inspired Boom Town? The spark was a news story from back in 2012. In Clintonville, Wisconsin, they had these nightly underground “booms” that were (at the time) unexplainable. Over the course of four days or so, they hit like mini-earthquakes, shaking houses and scaring the crap out of locals. I thought it sounded like the perfect idea for a story. In the first draft, there were no aliens. I didn’t dare to go there. I figured I had no right in the sci-fi realm, but then I remembered reading that King had said somewhere “Write fearless” or “be a fearless writer.” It was something along those lines. I knew I wanted my “booms” to be alien related. Once I sacked up, and dove in, it came together so easy.
Thanks for having me, Matt.
How many books do I need to sell to make a bestsellers list?
Every author at some point has Googled a variation of that question. Because let’s face it: most of us want to see our name on The New York Times bestsellers list right above or below whichever 50 Shades book is befouling that list, and there’s no shame in admitting that. (Yes, technically it would be nice to be #1, but you’ve got to start somewhere.)
So how do I get on the bestsellers list without cashing out my 401k and buying 9,000 copies of my book? (I read somewhere that 9,000 is the number of books you’d need to sell in a week to get on the NYT list. Whether that’s true, I have no idea. God bless what you read on the Internet.)
My point is you need people to buy your book. And for a majority of us unknown newbies from midsize to small presses, you’re not going to have huge advertising budgets. So it’s basically up to you to spread the word. I wrestled with the idea of paying to put a click-ad on Fangoria’s website (my book is in the horror genre), and it probably would’ve cost around $300. And what would I get? Probably not much—you’re hoping someone who wasn’t looking for the ad in the first place clicks on it to maybe buy a book from a complete unknown author. Time and again I’ve been told there’s little return in investment, so I scrapped the idea. And then late last year I read in the Wall Street Journal what Darcie Chan did. Chan self-published The Mill River Recluse, which went on to be a massive ebook bestseller. To summarize, she budgeted $1,000 to advertise and selected companies that target readers, especially readers who wanted inexpensive ebooks, with email blasts that contain books from the genres selected by the subscribers. One of these companies was Digital Books Today, which offers to feature your book for free on its Weekly Featured Great Read list. Another company is called EReader News Today, which for $60 allows you to be featured as the Book of the Day. Chan availed herself to this, and it got her good exposure. And that’s how it started for me. I checked out these two sites and learned that you need to sign up way in advance to hopefully be selected for these promotions. And there’s your first rule: Plan your promotion in advance, sometimes months out. The quality advertising websites fill up quick. (I’ll list what I think the best ones are at the end of this post.)
I planned for my promotion to take place beginning March 25, 2015. It’s not like late March was an ideal date for a book (The Dark Servant) with a demented anti-Santa Claus theme—that was the time when the first Weekly Featured Great Read slot was available for me. I also attempted to land the Book of the Day slot, but wasn’t successful. I contacted my publisher and explained that I wanted to drop my ebook price from roughly $5.50 to 99 cents. That’s the second rule: The best price points are free (duh) and 99 cents. I don’t believe in giving away free content, especially because I only have one book out. But I’m fine with limited-time discounts. It’s a way to grab readers for less than the price of a cup of coffee (in New Jersey that’s $1.49 for a refill at the Quick Chek, but I digress). And at this point in my career, as much as I would like to earn a lot of money writing books, I need readers first.
Samhain Publishing agreed to drop the price and I waited for March to roll around, and as it did, I realized I hadn’t yet paid any service to promote my book. I was putting my eggs in one free basket. It was then that I fully realized that if I really wanted to sell books, I’d have to open my wallet. And I did. I researched the sites you’ll read about below and ultimately decided to go with them. Samhain dropped the price to 99 cents on March 21, a few days ahead of time, and that actually is important. You want to make sure your book is at the price you tell advertisers it will be on the day of your promotion. So I actually got a few sales before the 25th just by telling people about it, and people stumbling across it. I decided to get the ball rolling earlier than the 25th and officially began promoting my book on Tuesday, March 24. Here’s a chronicle of the sites I used, how much I paid, the size of the email subscription base, the dates of the promotion:
March 24, 2015
Free Kindle Books and Tips ($25). Reach: 750,000 readers. (The website’s operator is very up front and says that while that number sounds like a lot, only 100,000 or so subscribers might take action [i.e., read the post, and not necessarily buy a book].) But it’s a big pool. My results, according to KFBT, I had 65 clicks and 21 sales (a 32% conversion rate), but that was only for Amazon in the USA. It stands to reason I sold a few more from B&N, for instance.
Bargain Booksy Horror Feature ($25). Reach: 40,913 Horror subscribers. Results: 87 clicks, 15 sales.
March 25, 2015
Digital Book Today’s Weekly Featured Great Read (Free, expired on March 31). Reach: hard to say. According to the site, as of March 15, 2015, there are between 20,000 to 24,000 visits per week (my book was one of seven displayed on every page); 80,000 to 110,000 visits per month; 205,000 to 265,000 clicks into Amazon per month; and a daily email subscriber list of more than 13,400. DBT does not provide click/sales data. I figure, it was free, so I really can’t complain. Thank you DBT!
BookSends ($15). Reach: 100,000 overall subscribers, 17,000 in the Horror category, although the web operator said those numbers are a little outdated and should be 15% to 20% higher. Results: 125 clicks, 47 sales. Put BookSends on your advertising list right now. I mean it. It cost me $15 and I more than made that back in sales.
Ereader News Today ($15). Reach: 118,000 subscribers (I don’t know if that consists entirely of horror fans or is the overall subscription base—I’m assuming the latter). Results: 215 clicks (23% conversion rate) with 50 sales, although the site operator said I probably sold more than that number. (I know what you’re thinking: Wait, wasn’t Matt unable to secure an Ereader News Today Book of the Day slot? Correct. But ENT offers other paid advertising options, and for $15, I’d go with them again.)
I should note here that my book was hovering between 50,000 and 60,000 on Amazon around March 21, when the 99-cent sale started. On the morning on March 25, my book hit 3,074 on Amazon’s paid Kindle list, and on March 26 it his 2,516, a number that bumped me into the 60s for Amazon’s Bestselling Kindle Horror, and in the low 90s for Amazon’s Literature/Fiction Horror category, which means, if various websites that estimate rank compared to book sales are to be believed, I was selling somewhere around 70 to 100 books a day. At this point I’m thinking, awesome! I hit the Amazon bestsellers list only a few days into my promotion! Everything’s going according to plan. I’m going to keep building, one advertisement after the next, that 2,500 will turn into 1,000, then to 500, then to 100 and then I’ll hit the NYT bestsellers list with that crappy 50 Shades book(s)! Not so fast. What happened over the next few days was indeed humbling. Let’s continue.
March 26, 2015
The Fussy Librarian ($10). Reach: 48,000 readers. Results: 30 clicks, 9 sales. Readers that downloaded a free book first, and then purchased mine, aren’t reflected. So the number could be higher. OK. That was my first moment of queasiness. I had read good things about The Fussy Librarian, and that’s why I decided to try it (hell, it was $10). But I took a bath on that one. More baths would come.
Buck Books (Free; in exchange for you becoming an affiliate and pimping them on your website and social media, they include your book in an email blast to subscribers who want 99-cent books). Reach: they don’t provide subscriber numbers. Results: 67 sales. I actually believe they ran my promotion on the 25th (because that’s when I noticed it) instead of the scheduled 26th date, and that would help account for my book doing as well as it did on Amazon. But whatever the case, I’d go with them again, and you can see how I pimp them on my website.
BookLemur ($56). Reach 9,200. Results: 16 clicks, 7 sales. This one hurt. The guy who operates the site couldn’t have been kinder. There wasn’t a specific horror category on BookLemur, so I picked two genres I thought would work: sci-fi/fantasy and thriller. Here’s the third rule: Do not advertise with sites that do not specifically offer your genre. It’s my hunch that thriller and sci-fi/fantasy fans are a picky bunch, and if a cover doesn’t look like it belongs in their genre, or if jacket text doesn’t read like it’s in their genre, they won’t buy. (And this easily applies to other genres too.) Also, more important than that: the promotion reached only 9,200 people. If you’re going to pay $56 (or any sum of money that equals the power bill) make sure you’re reaching at least 92,000 people, not 9,200.
March 27, 2015
Choosy Bookworm (Free, you have to sign up for it and hopefully get picked. There are paid options too. I managed the free one.). Reach: 36,000 newsletter subscribers. Results: I don’t know. The Choosy Bookworm people never got back to me. So, my advice, if you can land the free spot, why not do it? The government already has your sensitive information stored somewhere for future use, so it’s not like anything’s private anymore. The paid option prices aren’t too bad: $8, $20 (although I’m not sure what they get you). I’m not inclined to return. That’s just me.
March 30, 2015 (I took the weekend off)
More For Less Online ($25; there is a $15 option). Reach: 3,200. Results (get ready): 106 clicks, 1 sale. You read that right. One sale. Now, the reason I signed up with them is because I read some good things about them. But when you realize that you’re playing the percentages of how many people will even open the email blast, you can’t expect much when your book is going out to only 3,200 readers.
Rule number four: Really research the sites you’re considering. By that I mean find out up front how many subscribers a site has. Some sites make the information readily available. Others don’t. But most of the operators will respond to you. So ask.
Hot Zippy ($45; it’s a service that feeds to Pixel Scroll and Bargain eBook Hunter). Reach: I don’t know. The information wasn’t readily available on the website. I emailed the site twice asking for subscriber numbers and click/sales data and have heard nothing back. My promotion ran on both the 30th and 31st. I signed up to receive both Pixel Scroll and Bargain eBook Hunter email blasts and I only received Bargain eBook Hunter. Hot Zippy was a gamble. I’d read one author had success with them, while another did not. I hit on twelve and was dealt a king. What can you do? I won’t be returning.
March 31, 2015
ebook Soda ($10). Reach: 1,662 Horror subscribers. Results: a 3.1% click-through rate. That’s all they could offer, so I have no idea if I even sold a book. I picked eBook soda because it was cheap and I didn’t have anything else for March 31. Here’s where some research would’ve really come in handy. Fortunately, it was only $10. Lesson learned.
April 1 and 2, 2015
Discount Books Daily ($35). Reach 25,000 subscribers. Results: No sales data, but the following comes from the site’s operator: I had an average open rate of 8% and 57 clicks. The email went to 20,711 on April 1, and 18,552 subscribed to the Thriller category on April 2. DBD also didn’t have a Horror category, so I believe I picked General Fiction, and Thriller as target audiences. I’m not so sure it worked out. Here’s why:
By April 2, my ebook had reverted to roughly 25,000 in sales rankings. That’s a far cry from the 2,500 I’d hit a little more than a week earlier. Essentially I was hoping for a snowball of book sales that would propel me to even greater book sales. That didn’t happen with the assortment of advertisers I selected from March 27 through April 2. But everything changed one day later.
April 3, 2015
BookBub ($245). Reach: 720,000 Horror subscribers. Results: See below. You read that right. I spent $245 on one advertising website. That email blast went out sometime Friday afternoon, and by that evening I was able to post photographs like this one.
And that wasn’t even my best showing on Amazon. By Saturday morning, April 4, I hit #411 on the paid Kindle list (Author Central had me at #409), #10 on the Literature/Horror list, and #5 on the Kindle Horror Bestsellers list. And on B&N.com, I reached #73 overall. People were buying my book. How many? BookBub got back to my publisher and provided the following click/sales data. While my book was feautured in one initial email blast on April 3, the book was still visible on the BookBub website through April 8. Here are the figures that encompass US/UK/Canada sales:
1. Amazon: Total clicks: 1,747; Sales: 583.
2. Nook: Total clicks: 392; Sales: 64.
3. Apple: Total clicks: 218; Sales: 72.
4. Google: Total clicks: 249; Sales: 83.
5. Kobo: Total clicks: 124; Sales: 25.
Total combined clicks of all USA/UK/CA sites: 2,730; Sales: 827.
NOTE: Apple, Google, and Kobo do not provide hard sales figures, so BookBub extrapolated the sales numbers based on clicks.
Now, how this translates into overall sales, I won’t know until I get my royalties statement from my publisher, and that won’t be for a while because statements always reflect what happened two or three months ago. As I write this, my book is 3,696 on Amazon and #89 on the Kindle Horror Bestsellers list. So it’s still selling. And I’m getting readers. That’s what I wanted all along. All totaled, I spent $506 advertising my book to readers. I’m thinking I will break even and perhaps come out ahead based on Bookbub alone. BookBub estimates Horror authors can expect to sell anywhere between 180 to 2,670 books (this applies to discounted books at 99 cents, books priced between $1 to $2, and books priced in excess of $2). I’m confident I sold somewhere around 1,100 books, hopefully it’s more than that. But my gut tells me I did OK.
Sites I hope to use again in the future:
- BookBub ($270 [the price went up])
- BookSends ($15)
- EReader News Today (hopefully for their Book of the Day, but certainly for their $15 advertisement)
- Buck Books (Free)
- Free Kindle Books and Tips ($25)
- Digital Books Today (Free weekly feature)
I’d avoid the rest, and not necessarily because the sites were unprofessional. Some just didn’t work for me, others were overpriced for what they were offering.
What I learned:
- The more subscribers to an advertising site, the better. Find that out ahead of time. I’d say anything lower than 75,000 overall subscribers isn’t worth the money. I pulled that number out of the air, but you get my drift.
- Does the advertising site look professionally done? If it looks like a glorified blog, perhaps look elsewhere. One of the sites I looked at had updates from last year, nothing current.
- The more reviews you have, the better your chances of being selected by some of these sites to be featured. Many of these sites set requirements for your book: length, a minimum number of Amazon/BN reviews, a minimum 4.0 review rating, professional-looking cover. Get as many reviews for your book as you can. If you have endorsements from bestselling and/or award-winning authors, play that up wherever you can. Numerous unknown writers are submitting books every day to these sites for selection. Try to make yourself stand out.
- If the site doesn’t feature your specific genre (like horror), don’t risk including your book in genres that might not apply. Move along.
- Be realistic. Yes, you want to make the NYT bestsellers list, but not everybody can be Darcie Chan. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try advertising like her.
HorrorHound Weekend has just concluded in Cincinnati, and if you’re like me, you were supremely grossed out upon seeing this:
Those were selling like bloody, disemboweled hotcakes at the popular horror convention that features movie and television stars, authors, artists (tattoo and otherwise), and vendors galore. All of them in some way affiliated with the horror genre.
This was my first go-around as a Samhain Horror author. My Cincy-based publisher helps to sponsor the convention, and provides plenty of books for its
authors to sell to fans. And that’s exactly what my fellow authors and I did over the last three days, and it was fantastic fun getting to interact with new and prospective readers.
HorrorHound is probably one of the best conventions for authors to reach readers, and our booth was busy (and that’s good, given the state of the publishing world). Now, when you consider the hotel bill ($130), gas (at least $100), entirely too much fast food ($20) and souvenirs (I’m not saying how much because my wife might read this), you’re not going to break even by selling 25 books priced at $8 each. But making money at this point in my career isn’t paramount. Sure, I’d like it to happen, but to me this convention was all about getting my name out there, meeting the people who actually work for my publisher (they’re based in Cincinnati), and meeting my fellow authors, most of whom I’ve corresponded with on Facebook and Twitter, but never met in person.
The other fun part of HorrorHound is slipping away from the table to see which stars of the stage and screen are milling about, and to digest some of the perverse memorabilia up for sale. Case in point, this:
Sorry it’s grainy. Celebrities now charge you money to take photographs of them, so you have to kind of do it on the sly. So I’ll give you three hints: E.T., Red Dawn (Wolverines!), and a somewhat recent episode of Criminal Minds. OK, one more: The Hitcher. That’s right, it’s C. Thomas Howell! (And it looks like he’s seen better days, and he has—back in the 1980s.)
Yup, it’s Zack Galligan from Gremlins, Gremlins 2, and Not Much Else. I don’t fault these guys (and gals) one bit for hitting the convention circuit. It’s how they make their livings (and they make a lot more than you and me combined by doing it). And if they can help people relive some of their favorite TV and movie memories, then I’m all for it.
I did not see Norman. Although he must’ve been in the building because, and I am not kidding, thousands of people came to see him. That crowd picture doesn’t come close to portraying how many Norman Reedus fans swarmed that convention hall. I think some of them are still there. By the way, one Norman Reedus autograph: $80. You do the math.
Another fun part of HorrorHound: checking out all the creepy costumes people donned.
Here are some things that were for sale at HorrorHound that I did not buy:
I did not purchase anything nearly as expensive as that. Just a Majestic Demon bust cast in resin.
It takes roughly 9 hours to drive from North Jersey to Cincinnati. That was the only downside to the weekend, but not bad enough to keep me from wanting to attend next year’s convention. I cannot wait.