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Category: Readers

Targeting a specific audience

Posted in Readers, and Romance

Learn from the experts, I always say. You know who the experts are for this purpose? The writers of Romance.

Something like 50% of all fiction sold is in the Romance genre. The most successful writers in this genre (and some are very successful) are specialists in volume and audience targeting.

Generally speaking, Romance readers are high-volume consumers of their favorite authors. Several books/week is not unusual. No one author can produce enough to satisfy them (though many are incredibly prolific), but they can be confident of selling each new work to their standard audience, which is a great motivator to pin down exactly what their audience wants.

The good news is that there are scores of romantic setups that work for one person or another, and for minute romantic specialties. The bad news is — disappoint one of your readers by not satisfying her (and it's usually “her”) expectations, and she may be gone forever.

The great Amazon reviews drought

Posted in Just for Writers, and Readers

Image of 5 product ratingsIt has seemed to me lately that I'm getting far fewer reviews on Amazon than I used to, considering the number of units I sell. The thought has been nagging at me for some time, and I'm not alone — others seem to be observing the same thing and speculating about causes.

So — you know me. Time to actually crunch a few numbers and try to see if it's true and, if so, why I think it might be happening.

I started running Amazon AMS ads about 15 months ago, and my units sold have shot up gratifyingly. But not my reviews. My ratings are stable and the reviews I get are much the same as they've always been, but there are just fewer of them than I would expect.

First steps — collect the data

I've been meaning to copy my reviews off the retailer sites, especially Amazon, lest they vanish in one of the periodic Amazon purges. So far I've been lucky and haven't lost any, but that can change. It's useful to have them available, not just for ratings on the retail sites, but also as sources of blurb and other publicity text from real readers.

I checked my retailers and confirmed that, yep, I have almost no reviews except on Amazon, and almost all of those on Amazon USA, of course. That made it easy.

I set up a spreadsheet like the one I use for tracking unit sales to track reviews: month/year, source, rating, product, retailer, headline, review text, etc. Then it was off to the races with pivot tables.

Do I have enough data?

I don't make any big push for reviews, just a modest suggestion in the backmatter of the books. I don't have a ton of reviews, but they do keep coming in (slowly), so I'm going to assume there are enough for some valid conclusions. In any case, I don't have any special marketing that might confuse results.

Next — connect the review data to the units sold data

I put a worksheet up with one pivot table for the reviews-by-month, and another with the units-sold-by-month. Then I ran out the data for a comparison from the date my first book came out, in October, 2012.

A model to compare data

The question I wanted to answer was:

Has the percentage of reviews per units sold been declining lately?

The reader as partner

Posted in Just for Writers, and Readers

Understanding ComicsI'm rereading a wonderful book: Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud. If you've never read it, stop reading this post right now and remedy the situation.

I'll wait.

Don't let the fact that he's talking about illustrated work disturb you. His take on how to tell stories is directly related to the writing of fiction in all its forms.

In this post, I'll focus on what he has to say about how the reader is your partner in story-telling.


As McCloud says about the above pair of panels (p. 66)…

Every act committed to paper by the comics artist is aided and abetted by a silent accomplice. An equal partner in crime known as the reader.

I may have drawn an axe being raised in this example, but I'm not the one who let it drop or decided how hard the blow, or who screamed, or why.

That, dear reader, was your special crime, each of you committing it your own style.

All of you participated in the murder. All of you held the axe and chose your spot.

To kill a man between panels is to condemn him to a thousand deaths.

Let me repeat that — the reader does the work; the artist merely sets it up. If you were writing a bedroom scene, think how little you actually need to show for the reader to fill in the details in ways far more vividly than you can conjure. It's a very clear presentation of how less can be more.

Surprise your readers

Posted in Just for Writers, and Readers


When I was in college (in the 70s) I visited the London Zoo in Regent's Park during a summer vacation. They had a wonderful indoor nocturnal exhibit, all sorts of critters in dark terrariums who were awake during visitor hours because their normal schedule was reversed.

It was, not surprisingly, dark in there. It was hard to read the labels. As I recall, there were reptiles, and bugs, and all sorts of things, but they hid in their foliage very well and half the time you couldn't tell what was lurking in the greenery.

At the same time that I entered, a young father came in, carrying his toddler son up against his shoulder so he could see into the enclosures. The two of them followed directly behind me as we circulated along the edge of the exhibit.

I learned three things that day.

First, small children have a hard time trying to see something in a darkened terrarium. As far as the kid was concerned, he and his daddy were taking a walk in a funny dark place with lots of plants. Hints from his father didn't help him (might not know enough words yet, I thought).

Books vs Banking

Posted in Readers

Book & Art Collector: Abraham Warburg

Banker & Patron: Max Warburg

From a review by Ingrid Rowland of Dreamland of Humanists: Warburg, Cassirer, Panofsky, and the Hamburg School by Emily J. Levine (Chicago)

For more on Aby Warburg's fascinating life see here.

A school photograph taken in Hamburg in 1879 shows thirteen-year-old Abraham Warburg among his classmates, conspicuous for his dark coloring and the mischievous, bemused expression on his face. Aby is obviously a handful. He dominates this solemn group portrait as definitely as he dominated his boisterous and numerous family, seizing attention with his quick wit and his tempestuous moods.

Aby knew his own mind. At thirteen, around the time the photograph was taken, he made a deal with his twelve-year-old brother Max: if Max would promise to buy Aby all the books he wanted for the rest of his life, Aby would hand over his designated position in the family bank. Both brothers were as good as their word. Max Warburg, the illustrious banker, would later declare that “this contract was certainly the most careless of my life,” and it would cost him dearly over the years. By 1914, Aby Warburg’s personal library numbered 15,000 volumes, many of them manuscripts or rarities from the earliest days of printing. Max and the three younger Warburg brothers, Felix, Paul, and Fritz, continued to subsidize their eldest brother’s bibliomania up to and beyond his death in 1929. Aby called the resulting collection his Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg or Warburg Library of Cultural Science.

Not long after making his pact with his brother, Aby Warburg decided to become an art historian. This was a brand-new profession in the late nineteenth century, a profession greatly facilitated by the new medium of photography, which enabled scholars to keep extensive, informative visual records of the things they had seen as a supplement to written notes. Aby collected photographs as eagerly, as imaginatively, as he collected books. He assembled his photographs for a specific purpose: he wondered how and why images could trigger such powerful emotions. Hamburg’s most famous Enlightenment intellectual, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, had addressed the same question in his essay “Laocoön,” a poignant meditation on the relationship between beauty and suffering that focused on an ancient marble statue group unearthed in Rome in 1506. The sculpture, signed by its three Greek creators, portrays the Trojan priest Laocoön and his two sons wrapped in the coils of two gigantic deadly snakes, slowly suffocating to death. Lessing marvels that the figures can provide such pleasure with their beautiful bodies and exquisite surface polish as they writhe and grimace in their private agony. (Lessing, amazingly, might have worked from engravings and a plaster cast of the sculpture rather than the real object.)

Like his contemporary Bernard Berenson (they were born one year apart, Berenson in 1865, Warburg in 1866), Warburg took special delight in the sinuous lines of late-fifteenth-century Florentine painting and sculpture, aware that these works had been inspired in turn by the era’s reawakened interest in ancient art (including the remains of frescoed walls as well as works of sculpture in marble and bronze). Both men revered Botticelli, and Warburg also admired Botticelli’s contemporary Ghirlandaio. (Baroque artists such as Bernini, Borromini, and Caravaggio struck them both as monstrous corruptors of the classical ideal.)

Read the whole review.

I met my reader today

Posted in Readers

What I mean is, I met an embodiment of the person for whom my books are written.

Oh, I've followed the advice of other authors who say to make up a person of a certain demographic and set of opinions, the better to target a marketing message at. That never worked very well for me as a concept.

My reader was excited to spend time with an author, in depth, discussing a book not yet read. We ranged all over the conceptual landscape discovering common opinions about how a plot should work, how worlds should be built, how characters should be, what makes a hero. We were someplace where we had the time to do that.

The whole time, I was at least as excited to meet the sort of person with whom my kind of story connects, to feel our mutual enthusiasm.

THAT'S why I'm writing, not just because I can.