Try, Try Again

Amazon ads (1)We all know the old adage: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. It’s what comes to mind when I think about advertising for my books.

Advertising is expensive, especially for independent authors with lean budgets. Is it worth the money? I believe it is.

Last month, I conducted an experiment using Amazon ads with my latest novel, Murder in Aspen Notch. I found 300 keywords that seemed to best fit my book and genre, then set the cost per click higher than I ever had before.

Experienced ad users may laugh at my parsimonious 51 cents per click. My $10 a day, didn’t cover the number of clicks I was receiving so, with a throw of caution to the wind, I upped it to $26 a day. Clicks increased astronomically; sales rose nicely though not to the extent of my ad cost. My Kindle Unlimited reads were thousands of pages per day, more than I’d ever had. Those, however, are not included in the income-generated report.

When my ad cost reached $300 and my sales $200, I shut it down. My ad costs were too great, and I was operating at a loss. Immediately, sales dropped to $0; KU reads hovered around 200 pages. Obviously, my ad had worked.

After a week of no sales, I decided to try again. I stayed with the 51 cents per click, but set my daily budget to $15. I used some keywords that were successful previously, but found another 200. I culled those that showed I had no chance of competing with the more costly sponsored ads. I didn’t have the resources to extend to $1.50 or more per click. As soon as my campaign went live, book sales and KU reads increased. Amazon ads work.

Experts advise that something’s wrong if people click, but don’t buy. The cover may be enticing, but the blurb isn’t. A keyword may be generating an ad in the wrong genre or I haven’t attracted the right reader. There may also be other authors searching for keywords, clicking on my ad to see if the book fits as a keyword to use in their ads. It’s complicated, for sure.

One of these days, I’ll get it right. If anything, I’m persistent. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Mise en Place

mise en placeBy definition, Mise en Place means “putting in place.” The skill is exemplified in the world of cooking where chefs are taught to have all of their tools and foods ready before a recipe is started. Knives are sharpened, the cutting board is clean, herbs are ready, vegetables pared, and the meat is prepped. All that’s left is putting it all together to make a delicious meal.

As an author, I hadn’t given much consideration to the term. I suppose my preparation was more academic. I had learned the rules of grammar, took creative writing courses to know how to craft a story, and read thousands of books through the years to understand what captivated me as a reader. In a sense, I thought that I had put into place what was needed to be a writer.

As an independent author, however, I was far from prepared. My story was written, but I’d put nothing in place for it to be successful. Julia Child would have been appalled with my lack of mise en place.

I watched tutorials, read writing blogs, and listened to podcasts to learn what I needed to do as an indie author. Step by step, I began to build my author’s platform–Facebook, Goodreads, AllAuthor, and Amazon author’s pages, a website, Twitter and Instagram accounts. I learned how to find keywords, create ads, and write a newsletter. All were time-consuming, taking me away from making progress on my next book.

Why is mise en place so important for an author? Regardless of whether he or she is traditionally-published or goes the independent route, books don’t reach bestseller status without a following. Publishers make sure that all of the required elements are put into place before a book launch. Independent authors need to do the same.

I’m working on it, slowly but surely. Rome wasn’t built in a day. I even enjoy some of the marketing elements, though not all. I don’t like watching the cost per clicks on an ad increase without a corresponding rise in sales. I don’t like to beg for reviews of my books on Amazon or Goodreads, though I know we all read reviews before we purchase anything on-line. I don’t like to spend time trying to expand my mailing list despite being told that I need at least 10,000 subscribers. Really? 10,000?

What I love most about being an independent author is that I can connect directly with my readers. Their support and encouragement keep me writing. I’ll get better with the mise en place stuff. Julia will be proud of me. I promise.

 

 

 

Time Flies

I don’t know about you, but I find that the hours in a day are gone before I’ve accomplished all that I had intended to do. Is it because I get sidetracked, flitting from activity to activity? Is it because I don’t plan well? Is it part of the aging process?

My father used to talk about being on the “slippery slope” when he was up in years. I’d assumed he was referring to how slowly the years pass when we’re young versus how fast they speed by once we’re old enough to talk about the good-old-days.

Sand in the hourglass seems to drop more quickly after a certain age. As a child, waiting for Santa to arrive on Christmas Eve seemed like an eternity. We’d count the days, then the hours, until the magical morning dawned. Now I blink, it seems, and a month is gone.

Three afternoons a week, I take Maggie, my springer spaniel puppy, to doggie daycare for four hours of socialization and play. Of course, I’ve mentally scripted a list of things to do without an overly energetic puppy interfering with incessant demands. It would be my time to write, work on marketing, blog, open the mail, pay bills, shop for groceries, swim, read, fold the laundry, put the toys away, use the dustbuster to pick up the bits of leaves and sticks that Maggie managed to bring into the house. You get the picture.

I blink, and my four hours are gone. I’ve slid down the slippery slope, wondering how time could fly so swiftly.

I’m not alone, I know. I hear my friends complaining about the same thing. There are just not enough hours in the day. Maybe there comes a time in our hectic lives to step back awhile. Enjoy each moment, rather than filling each moment. I’ll think about that. In the meantime, I have to go pick up Maggie.

 

Can’t See the Trees for the Forest

forestApparently, the proverbial “can’t see the forest for the trees” was noted in John Heywood’s glossary, dated back to 1546. It described someone who is so taken with details, he or she doesn’t see the whole picture.

I’ve come to a new awareness that I’m the opposite. I can’t see the trees for the forest. It’s an astonishing admission on my part. For all my years, I’ve considered myself to be detail-oriented. How could I have missed such a mind-boggling character flaw?

My mother fully admitted that she wasn’t observant. When dad pulled into the driveway after her one day, she was surprised to see him. He laughed, saying that he’d been driving behind her for at least 5 miles. At the time, I thought it was funny. Now I’m not laughing. I must have inherited her genes.

I’ve been known to say “the ink is never dry before I find a mistake.” That usually referred to a report or flyer that I’d just printed, requiring me to fix it and print it again. I hate wasting time and paper.

But now I’m an author, and pesky typos show up in every manuscript. How does that happen with editors and beta readers helping me find those hidden gems? I use spell check and grammar check, and re-read the entire book at least a zillion times. Still, a misplaced to or of creeps in.

Now that Murder in Aspen Notch is published, a friend called to say that she found three typos. “Are you kidding me?” I screeched. Unbelieving, I went back and read the entire book again. I didn’t find them. Not one.

She assured me that they were there. It wasn’t until she supplied the page numbers and phrases that I was able to locate them. Yep. I missed them. I’m my mother’s daughter.

On top of that, I also replaced the name of the puppy in my story with my own puppy’s name. Only once, thank goodness. That was a freudian slip, not a typo. Oops.

Rest assured, I’ve gone back and fixed the errors. In the future, I promise to focus on the trees, as well as the forest.

 

Somewhat the same, but simply different

First day home 5.6.19On May 6, 2019, I welcomed an 8-week old springer spaniel pup, Maggie, to my home. It was important to me that it was a springer with a docked tail and that he or she would pick me. I wanted a puppy, not a rescue, so that I could bond early, using my training tactics.

It was good, I thought when Maggie picked me, that she was female and tri-colored. I wouldn’t constantly compare her to my Pete, who crossed the rainbow bridge in March of 2017.

Still, it’s only natural, I suppose, to expect similar traits between two pure-bred springer spaniels, especially since they were born in the same geographical vicinity. How wrong I was! Maggie and Pete are somewhat the same, but simply different.

Pete's sofa

Springers are smart and loving. I learned early on that Pete spoke with his tail and Maggie is following suit. Their vocabulary is remarkable, even at a very young age. They’re not called velcro-doggies for nothing. They will lie at your feet or on your lap, and follow you from room to room, including the bathroom. You won’t find a more loyal dog. Maggie and Pete both shared those characteristics.

But, my-oh-my, Maggie’s personality is totally different from Pete’s. She’s feisty, independent, headstrong, adventurous, and afraid of nothing. She has yet to bark at a storm or fireworks or a vacuum. But she’ll bark if I move a toy to a different location from where she left it or if a drop of water from her water bowl got into her food.

When I told Pete that I was the boss, he’d settle down immediately. Not Maggie. She’d go into attack mode, nipping or clawing me. Of course, that wasn’t acceptable behavior. I’d react in anger, voice raised, which only escalated the situation. With feisty Maggie, I’ve learned to redirect and give the silent treatment. When she calms down, I can softly say “You have a screw loose, but I love you.” She wags her little tail, probably saying “You’re the one with the loose screw, but I love you too.”

I can compare this experience of Maggie and Pete’s similarities and differences with my writing. I’ve just completed a manuscript for Murder in Aspen Notch, a sequel to No Gifts to Bring. It surprises me that my style is the same in all of my books. There’s always an element of history and mystery, regardless of the genre. There’s always a feel-good aspect with likeable characters, even though the story is different from the one before. These things aren’t planned. They just happen. I think that’s cool.

You can’t change the stripes on a zebra, they say. But patterns can vary. So it is with my books. Somewhat the same, but simply different.

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Needing a Sign

Maggie3Whenever I have a big decision to make, I have to mull–and I need a sign. This can be a very lengthy process since I’ve learned over the years that some of my choices based on impulse were totally wrong for me. Big time.

Finding the sign isn’t easy. I mean, I literally pray for the sign and then wait patiently for it to appear. Kind of like the joke about the guy who asked God to save him from drowning. When he got to heaven he asked God why he didn’t save him. God replied, “I sent a rowboat, a motorboat, and a helicopter. What more did you want?”

So, anyway, I’ve mulled for two years about getting a new puppy. I wanted a springer spaniel like Pete https://kathleen-mckee.com/pete/ but wondered if I was too old or too set in my ways, or if I’d find one with the characteristics of Pete that I found so endearing. I wanted the right pup to show up on my doorstep–literally. Obviously, that wasn’t going to happen.

For two years, from time to time, a thought would pop into my head. Call the farmer. Quite honestly, it was as if I could picture my dad standing next to me. Call the farmer. Since I’m not totally crazy, I ignored the image.

Those of you who know Pete’s story realize that my dad picked out Pete from a farm in Lancaster. Call the farmer. Dad’s no longer with us, sad to say, but I’m sure he’s watching over me. Call the farmer.

So, last week, I went to Pete’s file and found his original papers. The farmer’s name and address were included, but no phone number. I googled the address and the farmer’s phone number popped up. When does that ever happen? With goosebumps, I called the farmer.

You’d think that was my sign, but it wasn’t enough. Nor did the farmer raise springers any longer. But he put me in contact with another local farmer, who put m contact with another one. Eventually, I spoke to the owner of 8 new springer pups. Wow.

But I still needed a sign. I went to visit the pups, with very clear expectations. I wanted the same markings as Pete, a docked tail, and no tan eyebrows. They make the dog look like Groucho Marx. And the pup would have to run toward me.

Darn if the first pup to come to me had the eyebrows and totally different markings than Pete. But she was a sweetie. Still, I was ready to walk away until the owner told me that she had worked with Native Americans out west for a year. They believed that those eyebrows were a marking of the Great Spirit. That was my sign.

So, I introduce you to Maggie. She will soon be old enough to come share my home. Don’t be surprised if someday there’s a companion book to Pete’s story. If anything, I know that Maggie will be an adventure.

I had a sign.

 

It’s All in the Formula

mathematical formula

Long ago, in a college physics class, the instructor turned to the blackboard and began writing an unbelievably long and complex formula. “This,” she said, “is the mathematical formula for the reflection of a mirror. And I always include it on the final exam.”

Every student in the class cringed, wondering how we’d remember such an unwieldy formula. I thought, Are you kidding me? There’s math involved in a reflection?  Who knew? Well, maybe Einstein or someone. Certainly not me.

Why that thought popped into my head after so many years, I’ll never know. But I was thinking about reflections, realizing there are reflections–and reflections. Two homonyms. The same spelling but different meanings.

So, now you know. The reflection of a mirror is based on math. Many of my writing reflections, those pesky thought processes that never leave my brain alone, are also based on math. Sounds crazy, right? Just like I never really understood the formula for the reflection of a mirror, I’m still struggling with marketing algorithms.

I’m not alone. Many writers, like me, can’t really tell you what formula Amazon uses to place your ads or cull your reviews. Facebook is another enigma. Who, at any given time, actually sees your posts? Likes and follows not withstanding, should you pay to have your posts boosted? And Twitter? #WhoReadsTheTweets?

Anyway, it’s something to reflect upon. And it’s all based on math. Some day I’ll crack the code.

 

Applesauce Cherry Crumble

Applesauce Cherry Crumble

Cherry pie in a bowl. Yum!

Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Keyword Applesauce Cherry Crumble
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 2

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Cherry Pie Filling
  • 1/2 cup Unsweetened Apple Sauce
  • 1 tsp Almond Extract
  • 2 Tbsp Butter
  • 2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 3 Tbsp All Purpose Flour
  • 3 Tbsp Old Fashioned Oats

Instructions

  1. In a small mixing bowl, combine cherry pie filling, applesauce, and almond extract. Stir to incorporate the ingredients.

  2. In a cereal bowl, combine the butter, flour, oats, and brown sugar. Stir with a fork to incorporate the ingredients, then use your fingers to make sure the butter is in small, coated pieces.

  3. Spoon the applesauce-cherry mixture into 7 oz. oven-proof ramekins, evenly dividing the sauce. Top with the crumble mixture. 

  4. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet in a pre-heated 350 degree F oven. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbly. Serve warm or cold. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Recipe Notes

I used granulated brown sugar, which worked fine in the recipe. I did not grease or spray the ramekin. There was minimal sticking of the syrup.

Creamed Spinach with Pearl Onions

Creamed Spinach with Pearl Onions

A tasty side dish

Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Keyword Creamed Spinach with Pearl Onions
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 6

Ingredients

  • 10 oz Frozen Chopped Spinach thawed and drained
  • 3 oz Frozen Pearl Onions thawed and drained
  • 1 Tbsp Butter
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp All Purpose Flour
  • 1-3/4 cup Plain Almond Milk Regular lowfat milk can be substituted
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Black Pepper
  • 1/8 tsp Nutmeg

Instructions

  1. Defrost spinach and pearl onions. Let spinach drain in a strainer, then squeeze out excess water.

  2. In a 10 inch saute pan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour to create a roux, then add milk. Stir with a whisk until creamy and smooth. Add seasonings, continuing to stir until mixture begins to bubble. Lower heat, continuing to stir until the sauce thickens. 

  3. Add the drained spinach and pearl onions to the white sauce, Stir to incorporate. Cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste to adjust seasonings to your palate. 

  4. Serve warm. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Recipe Notes

The almond milk worked fine in the white sauce and it added a nice flavor to the creamed spinach. Regular, Low-fat, or Non-fat milk can be substituted.

Mom’s Easy Cole Slaw

Mom’s Easy Cole Slaw

Creamy with just a little tang.

Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Keyword Mom’s Easy Cole Slaw
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Cabbage thinly sliced
  • 4 Tbsp Mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp Sweet Gherkin Pickle Juice
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Black Pepper

Instructions

  1. Slice raw cabbage against the grain very thinly. Place in a medium sized mixing bowl.

  2. In a small mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise, pickle juice, salt, and pepper. Stir until all are incorporated to make a smooth sauce.

  3. Add the sauce to the sliced raw cabbage. Mix well. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Recipe Notes

I use the light mayonnaise and the juice from a jar of “no added sugar” sweet gherkins. Mt. Olive and Essential brands make the “no added sugar” sweet gherkins. I like the blend of spices, rather than using vinegar.