It’s 2018! You know what that means, right? It’s time for self-indulgent introspection!

Let’s start by checking my 2017 resolutions and seeing how I did!

My 2017 New Year’s Resolutions

I did okay! Okay-ish?

  • I did edit my new YA fantasy, the tentatively titled Garden in the Waves. It took WAY longer than I expected, and it’s still not quite ready to query. But I did finish my second draft. Garden was 115K at the start of 2017, and now it’s 90K–and almost all of that is completely new content.
  • I didn’t query Garden, but I do have a query letter drafted and (nearly) ready to go.
  • I didn’t write any short stories this year, unfortunately. I was hoping that the above-mentioned edits would take ~6 or so months, and… they took 10. Huh. And even when I was done, I still didn’t have time for short stories, because…
  • I did NaNoWriMo! I wrote about 70K of a novel that’s probably going to be 80K. That draft isn’t done, and it also needs to be completely rewritten, but it was nice to blow through something new after spending 5 months writing and 10 months editing Garden.

So I got a fair amount of work done. Let’s look at it in more detail!

Reading: I could have done more.

According to Goodreads, I read 30 books and approximately 10,000 pages. That’s about average. (It’s a little behind the 35 I did in 2016, though.)

The best book I read was–shock! surprise!–not a YA fantasy. It’s never a YA fantasy! I read boatloads of them, I swear! I really like them! But I always seem to run into something totally unexpected–and something totally not YA–that blows me out of the water.

This year, the best series I read was The Broken Earth series (the first of which is The Fifth Season), an exceptionally powerful adult fantasy series with some mindblowing worldbuilding. It’s hugely popular. There’s a TV series coming out. It’s definitely worth picking up. I don’t like morbid, dark, post-apocalyptic stuff, but this series absolutely devoured me.

Writing: I’m pretty inefficient!

If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you know I seriously love tracking how much I write. So I can tell you that I:

  • Wrote 251,078 words this year.
  • 229,534 were just brand new words in brand new chapters.
  • 8,673 of them were related to outlining.
  • …Leaving 8,082 related to editing. But that number’s wonky. I only count my words as “editing” if I’m keeping the majority of the content I’m working on. If I toss out content and rewrite it from scratch, I count it as “writing.” And lemme tell you: I did a lot of rewriting. A LOT a lot. So even though I edited a single novel for 10 months, most of that time wasn’t logged as editing.

This is huge. I wrote approximately 212,000 words last year. I wrote 139,000 words the year before. I am writing a ton of content, and I’m writing more every year!

But that doesn’t mean I used my writing time well. I spent this year editing a YA fantasy that–with any luck–I’ll query this year. I also rewrote the first half of it 3 times. I tossed out my first draft. I rewrote the first 14 chapters, then tossed them out. I wrote 15 new chapters to replace them, then tossed most of that out. Now I have 14 also mostly-new chapters, and they mostly, but they still need edits. Argh!

I essentially took a 115,000-word story and rewrote it. It is now 92,000 words. But I had to write 159,000 words to get there.

And then I wrote a new story, which is currently 70,000 words long. But it was a NaNoWriMo story, it was really quickly outlined, and I… really want to do all of it differently. So that’ll have to be rewritten, too!

So while I created a lot of content, it’s also really easy to feel like I’m running in place–creating and creating and creating, but inching toward the actual act of finishing something and getting it published. I’m close, sure! But it’s easy to feel like I didn’t actually do anything in 2017.

Other Writing-Related Goals!

I was busy, though!

  • I attended my first major writing convention!
  • I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time (and won!)
  • I actually left the house and made some local writing friends!

These are all really good things!

My Goals for 2018

So! 2017 was a… well, it was a year. I did some stuff. It might not have been the year I was hoping it’d be, but it certainly wasn’t a wash. So what do I plan to do in 2018?

  • I need to finish my third–and hopefully final–edit of The Garden in the Waves. I want this one to go much faster. I’m 90% of the way there!
  • And I’m definitely going to query it this year. Fingers crossed!
  • I need to rewrite the Justice Unending sequel from scratch. I got a lot of ideas down on paper, I wrote 70,000 words, and now I know a lot more about what I actually want to do.
  • I’d really like to write 1 or 2 short stories this year. I haven’t published any since 2015! I had a few out on submission in 2017, but I didn’t write any–I just kept a few old 2016 stories out on rotation. It’s time to put those to bed and focus on something new.

And that’s that!

It’s been a productive–if not slightly frustrating–year. I might not have accomplished everything I wanted to do, but I definitely did a lot.

I didn’t query, no. But, with any luck, I’ll be out in the query trenches in a month or two. And once I’m there, I promise: I’ll cover everything that I learn along the way here on the blog.

And for those folks who follow me: thank you for another year! I’ve loved chatting with all of you and hearing about your experiences. I hope you all have a wonderful new year!

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Cover of 'Help! My Facebook Ads Suck.'

Image from Goodreads.

A month or so ago, I tried my first Facebook ad campaign. It was unimpressive. “That’s just what marketing’s like!” I told myself. “You never make back the money you put into ads. You’re paying for exposure!”

I’m not yet convinced that’s wrong. When I see someone talking about making big bucks in marketing, I assume they want to sell me their books.

But, then again, I also know absolutely nothing about advertising. I know I made mistakes, and I know I can do better. And while I’m a long way away from running profitable ads, I’d still love to know more about running better ones.

So I picked up Help! My Facebook Ads Suck. Is this going to turn my ads around? I have no idea. Is the advice in this book helpful? I haven’t tested it out.

But it did tell me that my Facebook ads did, in fact, suck. Here’s what I learned.

I shouldn’t have done a 30-day campaign.

This was something I discussed in my Facebook ad postmortem. Facebook gives you two ways to do ads:

  • You plug in a time period (like a week or 30 days) and give it a budget. It divides your budget over those days.
  • You give it a daily budget (which can go as low as $5) and let the ad run until you stop it.

I did the first one: $30 for 30 days. This meant Facebook gave me $1 of ads a day to play with.

My Facebook Ads Suck confirmed that this was a bad idea. It suggests that ads should “fail fast.” I cycled in ads and let them run for one or two weeks at a time. The book suggests running ads at $5 a day and letting them go for three days. Then you check numbers, gauge success, and pull the ad if it doesn’t measure up.

It’s obviously easier to do this if you’re running an ad day-by-day. You run them for a few days and only spend more than $15 if the ad is doing very well. By scheduling my ads for a 30-day period, I spent less per day, kept my ads up longer, and kept so-so ads running for weeks at a time.

I had no idea that images with text on them perform less well on Facebook.

According to My Facebook Ads Suck, Facebook doesn’t like images with text on them. Apparently, if your ad image has text on it, Facebook will show it less often and charge you more per click.

Consequently, the author suggests not using book covers as ad images. He suggests using stock images instead.

This is… curious. I don’t honestly like stock images, or like the idea of associating generic images with my work, but…

I was paying way, way, way too much per click.

…Maybe I should consider it, because my ads didn’t work that well.

The first chapter of My Facebook Ads Suck is about math. There’s a lot to it, but the end result gives you how much you can afford to pay per click on Facebook. Basically, you can only afford to spend so much on ads. You want to make ads that average a certain number of sales, then make sure you pay less to get those sales than you make in a sale.

But if you don’t want to do the math, he gives you a ballpark: keep your Facebook price per click under 30 cents.

This is tricky. Unlike Goodreads, you don’t set your price per click on Facebook. You plug in your budget and audience, and then Facebook wiggles its fingers and decides how much it costs to reach those people. Lots of things result in a higher click rate–My Facebook Ads Suck describes several of them. But two of the ones I want to think more about are:

  • The image you used
  • The audience you selected.

Images with text on them are (apparently) more expensive. Reaching certain audiences is more expensive. Choosing the wrong audience makes it more expensive. Choosing overly large or extremely popular audiences can drive up your cost, too.

If your ad is going to a carefully tailored audience who is closely associated with what you’re trying to sell (i.e., they’re actually readers and actually like your genre), and it’s not an oversaturated marketing term, you should have a lower price per click.

My most effective Facebook ad cost me 40 cents a click. That’s expensive.

I probably had low amounts of interaction, too.

The book suggests that good ads get roughly one sale for every 30 clicks. My ad campaign resulted in 57 clicks and one sale. So a truly effective ad might have gotten two sales for that much interaction, but with numbers this small, it’s hard to definitively say “My ad resulted in half as much interaction as it should have!”

But I was paying too much those impressions (40c/click), and my $1/day budget didn’t buy me a lot of impressions in the first place. If I had played with my ads until my Facebook-calculated cost-per-click was lower, then one sale for 57 clicks would have… well, maybe not been approaching profitability, but it would have been more cost-effective, because then I’d be getting a lot more sales out of $30 of investment.

Furthermore, I didn’t even know what the “relevance” score was when I ran my ads. This is Facebook’s attempt to see how relevant, on a scale of 1-10, your ad was to the audience you targeted. My Facebook Ads Suck suggests you aim for 8 or higher. So, of course, my best ad was 7. That means my ad was reasonably well targeted to my audience, but something was off. That definitely implies that I could have done better by changing my audience.

So where does that leave me?

My campaign was, unsurprisingly, not very effective.

This was my first time advertising on Facebook, and I didn’t go into it with a ton of information. So none of this is surprising! But if I was going to do it again, I would do a few things differently:

  • I’d run campaigns at $5 a day and decide whether to stop them in a matter of days, not weeks.
  • I’d try out using text-free images and possibly even stock images.
  • I’d fiddle with the audience. I need a much more intelligently focused audience–people who read “young adult books” or “fantasy books” is definitely not narrow enough.

The risk is, of course, that spending $5 a day makes it really easy to waste a boatload of money. This means that just testing an ad costs $15, and any ad that approaches viability is going to cost you $35 a week to keep up. Those costs ad up quickly–unless, of course, they start making more money than they cost to keep up.

And that still seems like a far-off dream. In the meantime, maybe I should just keep fiddling. And learning. I definitely have a long way to go.

Of course, there’s also the other option: write more books. (I’m working on it! I promise!) I’ve seen several places suggest that you shouldn’t bother marketing at all until you have at least 3 books out. And even My Facebook Ads Suck spends a lot of time calculating the value of a series, because a certain number of people who read book #1 will read everything the sequels. I only have one book out right now, and that seriously limits what I can do.

Ah well. One step at a time!

The Goodreads logo.I ran my first Goodreads giveaway back in October. I wrote about the experience here. I was pretty happy about it! I gave away 3 copies and 480 people put it on their to-read list. After one month, I haven’t seen any reviews (or sales) that I can attribute to it, but it only cost me $35 dollars.

All of that changed on November 29.

Here’s how it used to work.

Goodreads used to have one type of giveaway. You gave out print books. This cost nothing.

It wasn’t really $0 for an indie author, though. You had to buy your own print books. Then you had to buy shipping materials. Then you had to ship them.

Back in October, the Goodreads FAQ included a section on a not-yet-released feature: e-book giveaways. These, they said, would cost you $119. In exchange, you’d give away 100 free e-book copies.

But now Goodreads wants to charge for print giveaways.

On November 29, Goodreads unveiled something subtly different. Instead of what everyone expected (print books = free, e-books = $$$), Goodreads announced that ALL giveaways would cost money after January 9, 2018. The new pricing is:

  • $119 to give away up to 100 print or e-book copies
  • $599 for the same thing, but with special placement on a “Featured Giveaways” page.

But for print books, the rules are the same: you still have to ship them yourself.

This is not good for indie authors. Or small presses. Or most people, really.

For a small-time author, this is disappointing.

You used to be able to run small giveaways. You wanted to give away 2 books? Sure, have fun. You get some promo, you get some attention, and you can spend less than $20 or $30, depending on how cheaply you can get your books.

Now? If you want your money’s worth, you’re giving away 100 books. You’re paying at least $119, if you give away 100 e-books. If you give away print books? You get to buy and ship those all yourself, on top of that $119 fee.

And know what’s maddening? These are giveaways! You’re probably not going to sell anything! Sure, people will see your book, add it to their lists, and possibly buy and read it in the future. But considering that the new Goodreads giveaway forces entrants to add the book to their to-read lists (when you could choose whether to do it before), it’s not like you’ll know if the people who have your book marked as “to-read” actually want to read it.

All in all, this is bad news. This makes Goodreads giveaways much worse for indie and small-time authors. Big publishers will continue to do giveaways because they’re willing to pay for it–and will eat the charges for their authors–but if you’re publishing for yourself (or with a small press), you’re out of luck.

If you’re an author, keep an eye on this.

As-is, it feels like Goodreads is about to become much less useful for promotion.

But keep an eye on this. The announcement’s pretty new, and there’s a lot of backlash out there. And once the change takes effect, it’ll take time for the advertising gurus of the writing world to decide whether the new program will actually benefit an indie author.

I personally can’t imagine paying $120 out of pocket to promote my books. But this announcement is still very new, and I’ll be keeping an eye on how this unfolds.

 

Banner that reads 'Winner: NaNoWrIMo 2017.'National Novel Writing Month ends tomorrow, November 30. So if you’re still pushing toward 50,000 words, you still have time! Go go go~!

Like I said a month ago, this was my first serious attempt at NaNoWriMo. It’s been a wild month, full of write-ins, friend-making, and writing-encouragement cake. I had a lot of fun, but it was also really different. Here’s how it went.

I went to a different write-in every week and I met a ton of interesting people.

During NaNo, people hold “write-ins,” where you meet up with other people at a coffee shop or library and write for a couple of hours. There was only one write-in anywhere near me (and it was held at a time when I couldn’t regularly attend), so I ended up driving to a lot of random events.

And I’m glad I did, because each write-in was a totally different experience. My first write-in was super awkward. There were seven people there. Great turnout, right? But when one suggested we write, almost everyone left. Only three of us stayed to write anything. That wasn’t a great start.

But I kept at it, and every other meetup was awesome. I got to meet the author of Big Top Burning, a MG non-fiction about the 1944 Hartford, Connecticut circus fire. I attended an awesome, big-scale event with catered food, cake, and people who were as into fantasy as I was. I made friends! It was fun.

I wish I was in a more active area.

I live near a really large city. Not in, but near. And yet my entire NaNo region was dead.

There was no municipal liaison. The forums were empty. There were one or two write-ins, all thinly attended, and the most successful ones were ones cross-posted from another region. I ended up having to mine events from a different region, which meant that everything I went to was 40-60 minutes away.

This made socializing an absolute pain in the butt. I met awesome people, and they were far. I saw several cool libraries, and they are far. I learned about writing groups that are far away.

I am seriously tempted to apply for the liaison position next year, because there are  millions of people where I live and why are they all driving downtown to write?! This must be fixed.

I wrote a lot, and in a totally different way than I usually do.

I normally write like this:

  • I outline for 1-3 months.
  • I write approximately 2 chapters a week.
  • I usually write an entire chapter (~3,000-4,000 words) in a day or two.
  • Once I write a chapter, I edit it the next day. I usually change large details, restructure it, or reframe it. I move to the next chapter when it’s good enough.

I don’t do a lot of work on each chapter. But I do want each chapter to accomplish something specific, clearly show what mindset the characters are in, and set up a launching point for the next chapter.

This means I usually end up with 8,000 words a week, all lightly edited. I could not do this for NaNo. There simply wasn’t enough time for me to write 50,000 words and edit them.

The end result is weird. It’s much, much rougher than my usual first drafts. It’s more like a long-form outline than a novel. I want to rewrite… pretty much all of it. The beginning should not have happened the way it did, I needed to introduce a bunch of characters earlier, I need to change the motivation/conflict that drives the first half of the novel… Yeah. Big stuff.

But you know what? I’ve written first drafts–slowly written, lovingly edited–that I did that to, too. I recently finished draft #2 of a 90,000-word YA fantasy that I lovingly, slowly wrote. I still threw out the first 14 chapters and rewrote them from scratch.

This draft is uglier. But I’m throwing most of it away, so who cares?

I’m not sure that I’d write everything like this–it’s nice to have more time to be thoughtful about the content–but it was an interesting exercise. I’ll probably post more about that in the future.

And I’m not done.

I’m done with NaNo. I have my shirt, I’ve got my WINNER tag, and I’m officially at ~51,000 words. But this novel isn’t done.

This novel is probably going to be 80,000 words long, which means I have several chapters left to go. So I’m going to keep writing this through December. When I’m done, I’ll have a first draft that requires… really, really considerable rewriting, and probably a complete re-outlining.

But it’s still been an awesome experience. I met some awesome people, did some fun things, and saw some wonderful libraries. It’s definitely a fun experience–but the best part about it is the people.

 

National Novel Writing Month logo

National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) is one of the most well-known writing events out there. Every November, NaNoWriMo challenges you to write a 50,000-word novel by the end of the month. People hold local write-ins in their communities, meet other local writers, and write like crazy.

And it’s hugely popular. Every November, every author community becomes NaNo central. Heck, I’ve had people who aren’t writers at all ask me if I’ve done “that NaNo thing.”

Despite this, I’ve never seriously considered doing it. I tried once–half-heartedly, for a week–during NaNo 2002, but it really wasn’t for me. And why is that?

Well, it depends on what your goals are.

When I didn’t know how to write a novel, NaNoWriMo was really stressful.

NaNoWriMo is a trial by fire. That’s the whole point of it. Hitting 50K in 30 days means you have to average 1,667 words a day every day of the month, without stopping. It’s not an impossible number, but it’s relentless, and missing just a few days can leave you struggling to catch up.

But when I was new to writing, NaNo was… agonizing.

I didn’t outline. I had never finished a book. I didn’t know story structure. I did write then, but I was all over the place–“writing,” to me, meant coming up with a half-cool concept and immediately starting on Chapter 1. I didn’t plan anything.

Consequently, I had no coping mechanisms:

  • How do you know what comes next?
  • What do you do when you run out of ideas?
  • What’s the difference between fluff and meaningful story development?
  • How do you break a big idea into a smaller, linear sequence of events?
  • How do you write the middle of a book without it dragging?
  • How do you finish a book? (Not like I ever finished anything back then.)
  • For that matter, how do you start a book?

For NaNo 2002, I did what I always did: I wrote 3 chapters, didn’t know what to do next, and quit.

NaNoWriMo is promoted as a great way to force yourself to write a novel if you–like so many people in the world–have an idea you want to write, but have never gotten around to doing it. It forces you to put in the hours and time to learn the process.

For some people, this is a great way to finally get their butts in a seat and learn this thing they’ve been putting off forever. It’s hard, and they struggle, but it makes it all the cooler when they finish.

But I’m not a “learn on a deadline” kind of person. If I don’t know how to do something and you give me a deadline, I panic. NaNo felt like failure to me. It was a great, big, glowing reminder that I had no clue what I was doing.

I needed to learn how to write every day, forever.

What helped me the most was creating a regular writing habit.

NaNo is not sustainable (at least for most people.) 12,500 words a week is a pretty high number for someone who doesn’t write for a living. But since I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to make writing part of my life, I needed a schedule that I could do forever. Every day. For the rest of my life.

And that was much, much less than 12,500 a week. Heck, even now I average somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 a week. When I started, it was closer to 3-4K.

Almost immediately, I started finishing novels. And since I didn’t have a deadline, so I couldn’t “fail.” I could take all the time I needed to learn.

This scheduled worked out so well that I didn’t feel like I needed NaNo. I usually finish an 80K to 100K novel in 4 months. Four months! That’s not terrible at all! And since NaNoWriMo pushes you to do 50K in a month, which isn’t even a full-length novel for most genres, I could win NaNo and still not finish a novel. I’d have to keep going another month.

So I’d be doing a 4 month project in 2 months. In exchange, I’d be stressing myself out. Was that actually worth it?

For a long time, it wasn’t.

But now that I have several projects under my belt, it seems like an interesting idea.

I’m in a very different place than I was 15 years ago. I’ve written several novels and have one published. And now that I actually know how to write a novel semi-quickly, there are some actual benefits to NaNo:

  • I have too many projects I want to do right now. This is the big one. I’m almost ready to query a novel (which could potentially have sequels), I have a new series bouncing around in my head, and… of course, there’s the book I already have out. Which ends on a cliffhanger. Oof. Too many books! If I wrote these all at my normal pace, I’d be done with all three books in 2021. Ahh!
  • I could make some local friends!
  • Since I already have a strong writing habit, writing 12.5K a week is less of a life-changing sacrifice and more of a manageable increase in my workload.
  • And, most importantly… since my next novel is going to be at least 80,000 words, I don’t honestly care if I win NaNo or not, since this project would take at least 2 months anyway. If I hit 40K and got halfway done, that’d still be twice what I do in a normal month.

So here’s what I’m doing this month.

I’m writing a sequel to Justice Unending. So, uh, all you people who keep writing reviews that include the phrase “I’m looking forward to the sequel”? It’s in the works.

My goal is to get at least 40,000 words into it, which’d put me in an excellent position to finish a first draft in December. If I actually hit 50K? Sweet. But I’m not going to kill myself.

My main goal is to actually meet writers in the area. I’m capable of writing a novel already, but I am absolutely abysmal at getting out of the house. So that’s one of my main goals! I’m going to go to at least one write-in, and preferably more.

Because of this, blog posts will be few and far between this month. But I’ll toss in an update every now and then, even if it’s just on Twitter.

And if you’re doing NaNo this month, good luck and have fun!

Screenshot of the Goodreads Giveaway for Justice Unending.I finished my very first Goodreads giveaway last week, and it was was awesome. Since it’s still fresh in my mind, this seems like a great time to share what I learned.

Let’s get to it!

You are going to need print copies of your books.

Goodreads only has one way to do giveaways at the moment, although that’s changing in the near future.

  • Print Giveaways. This is all you can do right now. They’re also free. (Well, “free.”) First, you have to get several physical copies of your own book. Then you run the giveaway. When it’s over, you have to get your butt down to a post office and ship those books to the winners.
  • Kindle Ebook Giveaways: These were announced in March 2017. The program’s in beta, and is not currently available for most authors. In the Goodreads blog post, they explain that you’ll pay a flat fee of $119 to give away 100 Kindle ebooks.

So if you want to do it now, you need print copies. Be prepared to buy and ship them at your own expense.

Think about shipping costs when you decide who’s eligible for the giveaway.

You can choose which countries are eligible for your giveaway. This is important if you want to keep your costs down. International shipping is pricey!

For example, I opened my giveaway to people in the United States and Canada. It cost me just shy of $4.50 to send an envelope within the country. It cost me $15 to ship the same envelope internationally.

So consider that when you make your giveaway. You can afford to send a lot more books if you only send them inside your own country–but you’ll also get fewer entrants.

You only have to offer one copy of your book.

But you can offer as many as you want.

I gave out 3 copies for my first giveaway, because it seemed like a nice, small number to test the program out on. I’ll probably do larger giveaways now that I know more about how it works!

Run your giveaway for at least two weeks.

I did a couple of things:

  • I ran my giveaway for just shy of a month.
  • I wrote the blurb (and timed the giveaway) around Halloween. Justice Unending isn’t a horror novel (it’s solidly YA fantasy), but it IS about being possessed by a murderer.

I had about 200 entries the end of the first week. The requests slowed down after that, then spiked heavily during the last week (due to the fact that Goodreads has a “Giveaways Ending Soon” list.) By the end of the giveaway, 1,149 people had requested my book.

So why did I run it for so long? I was only offering 3 copies, so it’s not like I needed hundreds more people to request it. But people weren’t just signing up for the giveaway–they were adding the book to their “to-read” list. And people added my book to their reading lists every single day that the giveaway was up.

So, speaking of that…

Expect a TON of people to add your book to their to-read list.

When I started my giveaway, fewer than 10 people had my book on their to-read list. When it was done, 488 had.

Of course, someone marking a book “to-read” doesn’t mean they’ll buy it. In fact, many people have thousands of books tagged on Goodreads–far more than they could ever realistically read. So it’s not clear how useful a metric this is.

But it does translate to awareness. And it can’t hurt, right? More than 480 people have tagged my book on Goodreads now. Isn’t that better than the 10 who had it tagged before?

And there’s one other benefit: if I do another giveaway for this book (and I will!), all of those 480+ people are going to get an email saying “One of the books on your to-read list is having a giveaway!” And that gets my book in front of their eyes all over again.

So what do I think?

Goodreads giveaways are awesome.

Like other forms of marketing, doing a giveaway doesn’t translate into direct sales. You’re giving away free books, after all–and there’s no guarantee that anyone will buy their own copy. Heck, there’s no guarantee that the winners will read your book, much less review the thing. (Goodreads does claim that a high percentage of winners do both, though.)

And since these are print books, this isn’t cheap. Even though I get a discount on purchasing my own print copies, it still cost me about $12.50 to send it within the country and $23.00 to ship internationally. And that’s per book!

But you know what? With other forms of marketing, I’ve ended up spending about the same amount of money for far less in return. Facebook netted me 65 clicks and one sale. Goodreads ads (which I haven’t written about yet) have, thus far, gotten me less than 30 clicks in nearly two months, and I’m not sure they’ve gotten me any sales at all. Those are low numbers for big bucks.

Meanwhile, it cost me roughly $35 in books, packaging and shipping to get more than 1,100 requests and 480 people showing direct interest in the book. That’s a lot more social interaction for about the same cost.

Will this actually result in any sales? We’ll see. The giveaway ended on the 21st, so it’ll be a while before I see if I get any reviews (or sales!) out of it.

But in terms of raw exposure, Goodreads giveaways are a straightforward, easy way to get your book in front of a lot of people. And it gives you a ton of bang for your buck.

Cover of Thanks for the Feedback

Image from Goodreads

If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’ve probably noticed that I looooove to break things down: “writing” isn’t just “writing,” it’s a collection of skills ranging from grammar to description to character building. You can’t just ask for an “edit,” because there are levels of edit.

So it’s no surprise that I love thinking about how there are multiple kinds of feedback.

I’ve been reading Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well because I wanted tips on giving feedback. And, er… that’s… not actually the focus of the book. But I still love this book.

You see, Thanks for the Feedback slots feedback into three buckets: appreciation, coaching, and evaluation. And that got me thinking about how those apply to the writing world, where feedback often takes the form of a beta reading.

So let’s talk about the book’s three kinds of appreciation and how those look in betas!

Feedback Type #1: Appreciation

Thanks for the Feedback makes it clear that “feedback” doesn’t mean “stuff meant to help you get better.” It just means a response, of any sort, to what you’re doing. And sometimes you don’t want a deep, analytical analysis. You just want to be noticed.

That’s feedback type #1: appreciation. When someone’s looking for appreciation, they want acknowledgement, recognition, and encouragement.

I’ve actually gotten beta reading requests from people who only–or mostly–wanted appreciation. And that’s… dangerous. Not because there’s anything wrong with it, but because that’s not what all feedback-givers think to do.

For example, when someone asks me for a critique, I hear “give me a thorough explanation of what didn’t work, why, and how to fix it!” I mean, sure, I’ll mention things I like. I’ll throw in a compliment sandwich. It’s just not the focus. We’re here to find things to work on, right?

But if I default to that, and my beta reader’s hoping for appreciation, we’re going to have a capital-B Bad Time. Because I’m giving the next type of feedback: coaching.

Feedback Type #2: Coaching

“Coaching” is feedback that tells you how to improve at something. This is what people think of when they think of “constructive criticism.” When someone is coaching, they point out the things that need work and suggest improvements.

Sounds straightforward enough, right? There’s just one hitch: there’s a third kind of feedback.

Feedback Type #3: Evaluation

Evaluation is the third and most jarring form of feedback. Evaluation ranks someone: it’s giving them a grade, a yes or no, or a pass or fail. Unsurprisingly, this is also the most threatening type of feedback. No duh, right? It’s heavy stuff!

And while true evaluation is the realm of agents and publishers (the people who say “Yes, I want to read your full manuscript” or “I’m sorry, this isn’t for me”), a typical beta can still include evaluative feedback. For example:

  • When someone’s grammar is wrong. Grammar and spelling are either right or wrong. I may not be a bestseller, but I can still tell you that.
  • When you’re reading about something you have deep knowledge about. If you repair cars for a living, you’re qualified to provide right-or-wrong feedback on a book where car repair plays a major role.
  • When someone’s not following the unspoken rules of their genre. There are some things you are strongly encouraged not to do, like starting chapter #1 with a dream or a paragraph of description about a boring, uneventful day.

When I see these, I have a strong, knee-jerk urge to reply with “Don’t do this!” No suggestions, no corrections, just no. Wrong.

This type of feedback often feels very black-and-white: you’re right, the author is wrong, and they should fix it. But at that point, you’re not giving coaching, you’re providing evaluation. And because evaluation is the touchiest form of feedback, you’re more likely to get an emotional response from the author, whether it’s “I’m so embarrassed! I’ll work on that” or “Screw the rules! I can do whatever I want to!”

The ideal beta includes a mix of feedback types.

The most valuable betas combine all three kinds of feedback:

  • Appreciation helps tell people what they did right. This is the positive stuff, the stuff you liked and enjoyed.
  • Coaching helps you point out the things that you think could be improved.
  • Evaluation should be used sparingly and tactfully.

The best beta includes a hearty dose of both appreciation and coaching. That’s straightforward, right?

Evaluation is the tricky one. It feels like coaching when you find something that doesn’t need discussion–it’s just wrong, and it needs to be fixed. And while this can be valuable information, remember: you’re not just giving coaching. You’re passing right-or-wrong judgement. And that’s feedback you need to treat with extra care.

The Solution: Be excessively explicit about what you want.

The trickiest part of a beta is that we all want different betas. Some people want 90% appreciation with just a dash of the gentlest coaching. Some people want the most brutal read you can give them.

The solution’s obvious: talk more.

What type of beta reading do you want? What ratio of appreciation-to-coaching do you need? Tell your beta. Be extremely detailed about what you want them to focus on, what you don’t want them to focus on, what you care about, what you don’t care about.

And if you’re reading, get as much information from the author as you can. Try to gauge where they’re coming from. Does the author seem confident and resilient? Or do they seem anxious, scared, and discouraged? Do they look like they can handle big, heavy evaluations? All this can help you figure out what kinds of feedback you should focus on.

That’s always the answer for everything, isn’t it? Communicate more! If only it was as easy in practice, huh?