Sunday, January 26, 2020

Marketing follies.

You would think a person who's been writing and publishing her own books for as long as I have woul know what she's doing by now, wouldn't you?

Sometimes that's true. And sometimes it's not.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran across an ad for a five-day free course on how to make a profit from Amazon ads -- those little advertisements you sometimes see on the page of a book you're thinking about buying. I knew who the instructor was -- I'd heard him speak at a conference a few years back -- and I realized upfront that the free course would be a come-on for his paid course. But I'd also heard that doing Amazon ads was tough, and I figured it was worth five days of my time to see if I could figure out how to do them. Also, as you know, I'm in the midst of editing the fourth Elemental Keys book and I thought this would be an excellent time to advertise the first three, so the final book would get a good send-off. So I signed up, and began with ads for Rivers Run.

Making the ads wasn't hard at all. And Amazon is showing them to people. I've gotten 1,502 impressions for my books since the challenge started about two weeks ago. But only one click. And zero sales.

I posted about it in the Facebook group for the challenge, and a friend gently pointed out to me that my book cover and title weren't like any of the top-selling books in my genre. Nobody who reads romantic fantasy (which is apparently how Amazon categorizes stories with elves and magic and whatnot in them) would be intrigued enough by my cover and title to think they might, maybe, be interested in reading the book.

The good news is I'm only out the cost of that one click. The bad news is that the rest of the series has titles that are just as genre-nonspecific as Rivers Run. So the really bad, time-consuming, and potentially expensive news is that I'm going to have to change the names of all the books in the series, and get new covers for all of them, too.

I looked at the top 100 ebooks in romantic fantasy and saw way too many shirtless male torsos. I know those covers sell like crazy, but I just hate 'em. Plus I can't envision Collum with six-pack abs. Rufus, maybe, but only because he has the metabolism of a racehorse.

So I did a little more research and discovered this series would fit just as well into humorous fantasy. Think Good Omens, although not that absurd. Or The Dresden Files without the noir overtones. I looked at covers in that sub-genre and felt better. There's a distinct lack of naked male torsos. However, virtually every cover has a front-facing main character on it -- and that makes me nervous. For one thing, you never know for sure what kind of release the model signed, and that could come back to bite you later. For another, it's a chore to go through gazillions of stock photos of people smiling or frowning or looking surprised or what-have-you to find the perfect model with three (in my case, four) poses you can plan covers around.

But then I saw one book with a cover that was obviously generated by a 3D graphics program, and began to wonder. Heck, I know enough about GIMP to slap together a decent cover (genre specific or not), and I taught myself digital video editing so I could make book trailers. How much harder could 3D graphics be?

(insert uproarious laughter)

But seriously, folks: I found a freeware program with basics that aren't too terribly difficult to master. It's called Daz 3D. I've been playing around with it for the past couple of days -- I did a couple of the tutorials, which were enormously helpful -- and I think this is going to work. Here's an image I made from one of the tutorials. Not too terrible, right? I mean, it's not Raney. But for an elven warrior, it's pretty good. Plus learning a new skill is fun.

Now for the titles. I've decided "Magic" is going to be one of the words in the title of each book. Might as well hit 'em over the head with it, right?

Anyway, I'll let y'all know when the new and improved versions are ready.

These moments of bloggy 3D fun have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Teeny-tiny house madness.

As alert hearth/myth readers know, I am planning to retire from the day job this year (in 168 days, according to the countdown app on my phone). And after much touring of parts of the American Southwest and much weighing of the pros and cons, I have decided to settle in Santa Fe, NM.

I don't think I've shared that here before. I know I've talked about my location scouting, particularly in this post from June 2018. The ending of that post threw some people off; I guess it sounded like I was going to put down roots in Back of Beyond, Colorado. Yeah, no. I have lived in cities for too long -- I need my amenities. Restaurants and grocery stores, movie theaters and museums, musical venues and yarn shops -- all of these things make for a well-rounded life for me, and all of them were hours from Back of Beyond, CO.

But Santa Fe has it all, plus history, intriguing architecture, and amazing sunsets. It's also a lot smaller than DC -- about 85,000 people, compared to about 160,000 in my current city. Comparing metropolitan areas, Albuquerque-Santa Fe has about 1.2 million people, while metro DC has 6 million or so. (This is not necessarily a drawback. Living cheek-by-jowl with 6 million other people can get stressful, especially when we all need to get to work at once.)

Alas, like nearly all cities of any size, there's really nowhere in Santa Fe to park a tiny house. So I am planning to rent an apartment to start with, and then maybe buy a condo. Or keep renting. I've been a renter for most of my adult life and it's worked out okay. (Your realtor will tell you that's nuts, but there are a number of advantages -- from yardwork-free weekends, to not having a plumber on speed dial, to moving without having to paint/repair/declutter/sell your old place first.)

But every now and then, I get those ol' kozmic tiny house blues again, mama. And I start to think that maybe I'll need a retreat. Someplace quiet, with a teeny-tiny house where I can hole up and write for a week or so. That would be the best of both worlds, y'know?

That's how I discovered the people who make the Escape Traveler series (the tiny houses I toured at a dealership in southwestern Virginia three years ago) have begun offering teeny-tiny houses that aren't on wheels. You can get just the shell, or you can kit it out fully with a kitchen and bath. They even have a solar setup for life off the grid. They start at $12,000. And they deliver.

I was pretty excited -- but then I did the math. A fully outfitted EscapeSpace would cost me $30,000. That seems a little steep for a 96-square-foot shed, even if it does come with solar power and indoor plumbing.

It's a crazy idea. But still I'm intrigued. I wonder if there's a cheaper way to do it...

These moments of teeny-tiny-house blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A musical interlude.

Earlier this week, I ran across an article (shared by a friend on Facebook, naturally) about how singing in a choir makes you happier. It turns out that singing triggers chemical reactions in the brain that release a number of feel-good substances: endorphins, which blunt our pain receptors; dopamine, the happiness hormone; and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps us regulate appetite. In addition, music plows durable pathways in our memory. Folks suffering from dementia can sing along with songs from their youth, surprising themselves as well as their caregivers. And music has the ability to transport performers -- and listeners. When I shared the article on Facebook, I confessed that listening to my daughters' high school choir performances would leave me in tears, and not just because I was the proud mama. Oddly, drum and bugle corps performances have affected me the same way. Not so orchestra or band concerts, maybe because I performed in enough of them as I was growing up that I got over it.

Anyway, I'm about to put all of this stuff about singing to the test. I signed up for a Smithsonian Associates program called the Boomers Chorus. We'll be singing songs from the '60s and '70s -- which is perfect, because I kind of specialize in knowing those oldies, having grown up listening to them on the radio.
cdd20 | CC0 | Pixabay
Unlike other musical groups I've been involved in, the program for this concert is already set. The choir director emailed us, explaining that because there are no auditions for this group (you pay your money and they have to take you) we're likely to have people with all sorts of musical ability and experience, from those who sing regularly, to those who used to, to those who have always wanted to. So while some of the songs will be performance-ready by the time the concert rolls around in March, not all of them will be -- and that's okay. The point is to get people singing, learn a new skill or brush up on an old one, and have some fun.

When it comes to experience level, I'm sort of a hybrid. The vast majority of my musical experience has been instrumental, although I sang in the chorus of my high school musicals every year. And of course, I always sang along with the radio. Given the state of audio technology back then, I might have to relearn some lyrics.

I'm especially excited about one of the songs on the program: Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." It's a great choice for a choir, with that symphonic ending. When I was in high school, we played an arrangement for symphonic band that raised the hair on everyone's necks -- and I mean that in a good way.

Here's the original from 1970. I hope we do it justice.

These moments of hair-raising musical blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The modern hunter-gatherer.

Alexas Fotos | Pixabay | CC0

The Washington Post published an op-ed this weekend that has raised a few eyebrows. The author of this piece is a middle-aged white male who works as a creative director at an ad agency in Cleveland, and he says everyone should do what he does and shop for food every day. Not just at one store, either. No, this overachiever visits three or four a day, and five or six on Saturdays.

I'll save you from struggling with the paywall and sum up his argument: Shopping more often keeps food waste down. He says, "In the United States, we waste up to 40 percent of the food we produce, and a sizable chunk of that comes from people throwing away spoiled food, which, in landfills, releases methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Planning ahead might be good for retirement, but not for food shopping. How do you know what you’re going to feel like eating for dinner next Thursday night? What if you end up working late? Or your kid’s soccer game goes long and you stop for pizza on the way home? There goes the graying ground meat you planned to use tonight."

But saving the environment is a side benefit to his real reason for living the way he does: the joy of the hunt. He shops every day, or nearly so -- at an Asian market, an Indian market, a Lebanese market, his neighborhood grocer, the local farmers' market, and so on. An avocado, he says, is only perfectly ripe for six hours, and he's willing to go to five stores to find one.

He is, in sum, the modern hunter-gatherer. Let's call him MHG for short.

My mother was a hunter-gatherer, too. Thursdays were for grocery shopping. On Wednesdays, she would sit down with the local paper and go over the display ads from the grocery stores. She would write down who had what on special that week, including the sale price. She clipped coupons. And on Thursday mornings, she'd drive the 20 minutes to town to do the circuit. When I was a kid, it was National, A&P, and Kroger. Later, she added Al's. Then it was Al's, Kroger, and Bernacchi. (We had a Jewel but Mom thought they were too expensive.) When my hometown got an Aldi, she added that to the mix.

But all of them were grocery stores -- not the sprawling supermarkets of today. You can get through a little grocery store quickly, especially if you stick to your list. Mom would leave around 9:00am, visit all the stores, and be home by lunchtime. And too, she could shop on a weekday morning when the stores weren't terribly crowded.

I can't do that. And I can't do what MHG does, either. In fact, I'm one of the folks MHG takes issue with. I have a day job in a large metropolitan area. I ride public transit to and from work. My preferred time to shop is 8:00pm on a Monday, because the store is virtually empty. Weekends are impossible -- all the other worker bees are shopping then, clogging up the checkout line and snarling traffic.

And yes, I only go to one store. I might visit a second store, but not on the same day. Who has time?

I'm like MHG in one respect, though: we both live in metro areas that can support multiple grocery stores. I'm not sure he's aware of how lucky (some would say privileged) he is, but I am. I don't live in a rural area where the only choice is cheap packaged food from Family Dollar. And I don't live in an urban area where the only choice is 7-Eleven, if that. We, too, have multiple international grocers, organic markets, specialty cheese shops, and so on. I just don't feel like blowing every evening and/or a whole day on the weekend to shop at all of them.

So kudos to MHG for making his lifestyle work for him. I have zero interest in doing the same.

These moments of not-so-foodie blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.