What can a permafree book do for you: My testimonial

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Every author out there can back me up when I say generating book sales is hard. It’s funny, when I tell non-authors I wrote this or that book, their eyes light up, beholding some sparkling hardcover emblazoned with my name, prominently displayed in the front case of a bookstore.

Naturally, I understand. I still trip out on those fantasies myself sometimes.

The humbling truth though is for those of us who haven’t become a household name – Stephen King, James Patterson, Anne Rice – landing opportunities for readers to discover our books, in big ways at least, is tough, tough work. It’s easy getting a book for sale at on online retailers like Amazon, but those retailers carry millions of titles, stacked somewhat helter-skelter in a virtual megawarehouse that visitors wind their way through, often with a specific author or book title in mind, often for just a couple of minutes. A complex set of criteria determines the ‘visibility’ of titles, and besides the ones you pay for (i.e. advertisements), they’re dependent on lots of people buying and reviewing the title first so that it ends up on a gallery like “bestsellers.” “new releases,” or “new and noteworthy titles.”

I’ll stop there with the explaining, though drop me a comment, and I’ll happily go on with what I know about algorithms, interest data, and other geeky things. I’m not an expert for sure, but I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned.

A strategy I had seen in marketing articles and author discussion boards was pricing the first book in a series as permafree. Smashwords publishes annual reports with excellent information about pricing, sales and trends. Here’s their 2017 Survey, which includes a section: Does free still work? (Spoilers: Yes, but it’s still worth reading the report for the details).

It makes logical sense. Lower the barrier for readers to download the first title in the series, and while you’re not making money from those downloads, the increased activity boosts the visibility of the title so more people will download it. A percentage of those downloaders will read the book, which retailers track and use as an indicator that other readers will read the book too. A percentage of those readers will like the book, post a rating and/or review, and buy the next book in the series. If they’re hooked, they’ll buy books three, four and so on, and each title will get a boost.

By indie press standards, the first book in my Werecat series, The Rearing, had sold reasonably well in its first year (2013) and garnered favorable reviews in the blogosphere and on Amazon and Goodreads. Though sales declined pretty rapidly, and besides a modest spike when the first three books were packaged together in 2015, the follow-up titles were not performing so spectacularly.

Happily, the publisher still believed in the series and took on the fourth and final installment with some new marketing ideas in mind. One of those ideas was to make The Rearing permafree when the fourth book was released on June 27th.

At one month out, I reported that the impact was pretty exciting, particularly for the permafree title, which got over 2,000 downloads in that thirty-day period, which is more ‘sales’ than it had made over the four years that it had been available for $1.99 and more recently $.99. It also received a new batch of ratings and reviews, and there were indicators of a trickledown effect for books 2-4. You can see my full report here.

Now, at a little more than two months out, downloads of The Rearing have tapered off a bit, but it’s still hovering between 1,000-2,000 on the Kindle bestsellers chart, and between 1-20 in its category (Gay fiction), which is really helpful for visibility. Over four years, the title received nine ratings/reviews on Amazon and twenty-one on Goodreads. Since going permafree, those numbers shot up to sixteen Amazon reviews and thirty-eight Goodreads reviews, by and large very positive, especially on Amazon.

A brief tangent: the average rating for the title dropped a bit on Goodreads as a result of those recent readers who got the book free, a slight cautionary tale for authors considering the permafree route. I suspect that buyers of free books may behave differently than those who pay to read. Perhaps they don’t vet the title as closely to determine if it sounds like a book they would like. A sideline curiosity.

Over two months, there have also been steady, if not dramatic sales of the other books in the series and a smaller increase in reviews. As one might expect, the second book has benefitted the most at this stage. I’d certainly like to see bigger results across the board, but for a series that was dwindling in sales overall, I’d definitely say that making the first title permafree was a shot in the arm.

I have been doing other things to promote the series – sending out review requests to bloggers, some ad runs at Goodreads and The Romance Reviews, promoting it on social media and to my mailing list. The publisher is also running ads on Amazon for The Rearing. My hope is that the cumulative efforts will lift the series over the long term, and I’ll happily let folks know how that goes!

In the meantime, if you’ve read The Rearing and any of the other books, I’d love it if you would post a rating/review, particularly on Amazon. As I’ve heard, books with fifty or more customer reviews on Amazon get a nice boost in visibility on the site.

The Rearing, Werecat Book 1

CoSG Flash Sale!

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The City of Seven Gods

**Flash Sale Alert!** Just through 11:59 PM EST today, Bold Strokes Books has The City of Seven Gods on sale for just $2.99 in honor of its recent Silver Falchion award.

What can you get cheaper than that? A small coffee perhaps. A single subway ride (barely these days). But in any case, you need something to read while you’re on the train drinking your coffee. 🙂

You can buy the book at the webstore here. Feel free to spread the word to every single person you know.


And the award goes to…

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I attended the Killer Nashville International Writers’ Conference this past weekend, and I return with some pretty darn amazing news.

The City of Seven Gods won a Silver Falchion for Best Book of the Year, Horror and Fantasy!!!

I’ll remember the awards dinner forever, sweating it out as the program approached my category, the surreality of the announcement with my book on the big video screen, sharing the moment with my fantastically supportive husband, and adlibbing a short acceptance speech, which I really should have given more thought to!

Here’s what the Silver Falchion looks like.

And here’s what I looked like up at the podium.

Photo courtesy of my hubby Genaro Cruz

Since 2008, the Silver Falchion awards recognize outstanding new titles by authors whose work incorporates elements of suspense, thriller, and mystery. Some of the other winners this year include Kathyrn Lane (Waking Up in Medellin) for Best Fiction Book of the Year, J.A. Jance (Clawback) for Best Adult Thriller, and Randall Reneau (The Medinandi License) for Best Action Adventure. The 2017 awards program also featured the presentation of the John Seigenthaler Award to graphic novelist and author Max Allan Collins (Road to Perdition).

I’ve described The City of Seven Gods as somewhat of an adult companion piece to my young adult Atlantis series (The Seventh Pleiade, Banished Sons of Poseidon) in that it explores the same sort of ancient world mythology and folklore but takes on some grittier themes. All of my titles are special to me, though in some ways, the recognition The City of Seven Gods has received is particularly meaningful. I took some chances with portraying sensitive themes like temple prostitution and slavery and really pushed myself in developing the two main characters’ voices, Kelemun and Ja’bar. I’m so happy that the result has been well-received, and I thank Bold Strokes Books for believing in the book, my super editor Jerry Wheeler for helping to make the manuscript shine, and to my family, friends and readers for believing in me as well.

And here I am with the Silver Falchion when I got back to NYC on Sunday.

The event was a quick trip for me by necessity, and I had a great time on Saturday as a panelist for the morning session: “Go There: Writing Protagonists Who Bring It,” as well as attending the lunch program featuring Max Allan Collins and the afternoon breakout sessions. I met some really fabulous people, and I have to give a shoutout to Joseph Terrell (author of the Harrison Weaver mysteries) and January Kerr (The Patriarchy Project) who I really enjoyed getting to know.

I’m basking in the glory for a short while. Genaro and I are also taking a trip to one of my favorite cities Montréal this upcoming Labor Day weekend as a sort of awards and birthday celebration. But I expect to be back to work on the follow up to The City of Seven Gods really soon.

Come see me at the Killer Nashville International Writers’ Conference!

Retrieved from Killer Nashville’s website

I’m headed out to Nashville this weekend for the first time. That’s because The City of Seven Gods is a finalist for Killer Nashville’s 2017 Silver Falchion award: Best Novel (Horror/Fantasy)!

So yeah, I’m pretty excited about that. The book has gotten some great reviews, some nice buzz, garnering a finalist spot for Book of the Year in the 2016 Foreword INDIES awards earlier in the year.

Killer Nashville’s International Writers Conference and awards program is the premier forum for writers in the areas of mystery, thrillers, crime novels and suspense. Since their founding in 2006, they have expanded to include fantasy and sci fi that incorporates those elements, which of course I’m always glad to see. The conference takes place August 24th – August 27th at Embassy Suites South Nashville/Cool Springs. You can find information about registration and the conference schedule here.

On Saturday, August 26th, I’ll be on a 9:20 am panel entitled: Go There: Writing Protagonists Who Will Bring It, moderated by mystery author Joseph Terrell and including panelists Cate Holahan (The Widowers Wife), Howard Owens (the Willie Black mysteries), Kerry Peresta (The Hunting), and Reavis Worthham (The Sonny Hawke and Red River series). I’m also scheduled for book signings at 11:20 – 11:40 am and 1:20 – 1:40 pm that day, so stop by and say hello!

The awards dinner is at 7:00 pm if you want to have a nice meal and cheer on my book. I’m really looking forward to meeting authors and readers and checking out the panels and workshops throughout the day!



On protests and being an ally

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Every now and again, I chime in on current events, mostly social justice issues. I write stories that are not overtly politcal or educational, but I’m always aware of the two-way connection between literature (culture) and politics. Literature can deepen understanding of cultural diversity, or strengthen, even create harmful beliefs and attitudes. Beyond that, I’ve always cared a lot about social justice, in part because of my upbringing and later when I confronted stigma and prejudice quite personally as a gay man. Though my platform as an author is small, I’ll gladly use it to denounce bigotry and boost the signal of individuals and groups who are fighting the good fight.

There’s a lot to say about the White Nationalist “Unite the Right” rally, the deadly violence, and the counter-protest that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. As the country moves forward by removing statues of “confederate heroes” that were installed across the South as symbols of white supremacy, a response to black progress in the Reconstruction Era and de-segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, it is sad though not surprising we are witnessing a backlash from whites. We don’t have to look to archived, black and white photos, grainy camera reel from a much earlier era, to see what mobs of White Nationalists look like. Their images – carrying torches, rifles, ugly placards – their sounds – reclaiming America, they’re everywhere in social media and daily newscasts, and a frightening reminder that social change does not come easily.

There’s also a lot to say about President Trump’s incitement of white nationalism during his campaign and continuing through his presidency. His speeches have been polluted with racist propaganda, sometimes remarkably overt in the case of his defamation of Mexicans, his calls for violence against media outlets and his political rivals, which dare to characterize him as racist. His slogan: Make America Great Again, is easily decoded as: Make America White Again, by both his supporters and his opponents. He foments distrust, fear, hatred of brown-skinned foreigners, Muslims in particular, with fake news narratives about the threat to white American safety.

Trump’s reaction to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and the anti-racist protestors who bravely met them there (bad behavior “on both sides”) shows once again whose interests he represents. He defends the cause of preserving confederate statues, says the anti-racist, anti-fascist counterprotestors had no right being there, suggests they got what they deserved. It is not acceptable. The Resistance must fight even harder to oppose what I call an anti-human agenda because it encompasses so much, is targeted so widely: anti-black, anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-transgender, anti-women, anti-poor, among others.

All of these things are important to talk about, and what’s on my mind the most are the courageous counter-protestors, one of whom Heather Heyer made the ultimate sacrifice. Those counter-protestors were black and white, and mostly white according to participants. That’s likely due to many factors such as the composition of the college town and the privilege of white folks to protest without the fear of police brutality (at least a lessened fear, without historical precedent). White anti-racist activists are no more righteous than black anti-racist activists, and by elevating their courage, their herocism, I mean in no way to suggest that, or to move focus away from the core of the “Unite the Right’s” intention, which was to terrorize people of color, to “put them in their place.”

Movements need allies, and that’s exactly who Heather Heyer was, an anti-racism ally. I hear this discussion a lot from friends and colleagues who are people of color. It’s time for white people to stand up, take responsibility for racism in our own community. Anti-racist work is hard. It’s sometimes deadly. Black people cannot do it on their own, nor can Muslim-Americans, nor transgender people. At times like this, I evaluate myself as an ally. I talk the talk, but do I walk the walk as much as I could? I confront racism when I hear it spoken, most recently in conversation with the owner of a newstand (which also led to deciding to buy my midday soda and snack at a different newstand). I have participated in Black Lives Matter protests and helped students use photography to promote anti-racist messages. I could do more. There’s no question about it.

This is one thing I had to do today: to honor Heather Heyer along with all of the counter-protestors from Charlottesville. They are national heroes.

Heather Heyer Memorial

Retrieved from cnbc.com