Lessons: Empire Strikes Back

Continuing yesterday’s A New Hope post, I’m proceeding with my breakdown of Star Wars for the impending writing exercise where I Reboot the Prequels.

I have to say, after viewing Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, with a critical mindset…this might just be the best sequel ever made.

giphy1

Stream-of-consciousness notes follow:

-Fun worlds + using the local wildlife = magic
-Probe droids are efficient.
-Danger, always danger
-Chewie and R2 didn’t need subtitles, nor did they need to speak English. Keep that in mind.
-Significant events have transpired between movies. Characters and relationships have changed without us seeing it, but it works. This is how you achieve the gravity of growth.
-Conflict, conflict, conflict!
-Swears: hell, blast
-Seeing someone learn to use new force powers is exciting. Use this tool sparingly.
-Rebel personnel are everything, Empire personnel are expendable
-“Bounty hunter on ord mandell” and “ears off a gondark” –plenty is mentioned that we don’t see or even understand, yet it works
-Vader didn’t even need to be in the same room as the Admiral he force-choked! He did it during a teleconference! That’s huge!
-Vader is patient…except when it comes to incompetence
-Ion cannons can take out a Star Destroyer, but it doesn’t stop the invasion
-Things that are new to us are not new to the characters. Speeders, Walkers, etc
-TV screens for short range comm, hologram for longer
-Obi Wan had plans at the ready, Luke improvises. Use this characteristic for Anakin.
-Did the Special Edition really add a single AT-ST to the battle? Lame.
-Snowtrooper uniform is legit.
-Heroes barely win. Losses on both sides. Tense battles put our favorite people in jeopardy, not a lot of expendables
-Vader’s meditation pod is legitimately cool. But is it because he was “promoted” since the last movie? Perhaps he’s outside of the Imperial command structure. A Lord, not an officer. Was attached to the Death Star while on his own mission to recover the plans. Now he leads the mission to crush the rebellion/capture Luke.
-Yoda testing Luke while playing the fool is too cool. Don’t ruin this. There is a way to keep this surprise. Does Yoda need to be in the prequels? What if Obi Wan mentions his old master’s wisdom, but Anakin thinks Yoda is more of a teaching metaphor, and not someone who truly exists. We never see the green little dude. And certainly never see him fight with a lightsaber.
-“Who will Leia end up with?” is the original love triangle. Make your own romance as interesting.
-We don’t even see the Emperor until this movie, though he was mentioned. We don’t need to cram every character in every movie
-“Was I any different when you trained me?” This implies that young Obi Wan was temperamental
-“Adventure, etc. A Jedi craves not these things.”
-All hero dialogue is either an argument, humor, or both
-“Jedi use the force for knowledge and defense, never attack.”
-Why is there a domain of evil (cave) on Dagobah? Is that why Yoda is there? To balance out an evil place?
-Imperial officers don’t like bounty hunters, but Vader doesn’t care.
-“No disintegrations.” Have a scene with disintegrations!
-“No ship that small has a cloaking device!” So…big ships can cloak, eh? Interesting…
-The force will show visions of the past, the future, friends. Moments of strong connection.
-“No, there is another.” — Planting seeds of a reveal in the next movie, daaaaaaamn
-Seems like all the heroes in these movies start off hating each other.
-“I love you, I know” has to be the best line ever
-Vader wants order, that is his ultimate goal.
-Vader as Luke’s father is the best reveal of all time. Is there any way not to ruin that if someone sees the prequels first?
-Luke literally watches his lightsaber fall from the floating city…
-It’s a dark ending for the rebellion, but they state their plan for the future. There’s a way forward.

That’s it for now. Up next, Jedi!


Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Is this really the best sequel of all-time?

Leave me a comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

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Lessons: A New Hope

Now that my newest book has launched (and is available in paperback!) and the promos are finished, I’m finally diving into a passion project/writing exercise that has been on my mind for years.

Only this time, I mean it. I’m not starting my next CYP book until I Reboot the Prequels.

giphy

As part of the project, I’m rewatching all four Star Wars movies with a higher scrutiny than ever before. Trying to make myself see them for the first time. Really, focusing on the world and writing, and divorcing that from the existing prequels.

It should be noted that I’m essentially starting from scratch; going with what the prequels should have been. This is not “Episode I with less Jar-Jar.”

Feel free to follow along, maybe even tell me when I’m wrong; I’m going to try to do a lot of blogging during the process (relative to my normal hardly-ever blogging). And, of course, the scripts will be available for download once I’m finished.

Here are my notes from yesterday’s screening of Episode IV: A New Hope. I wrote these out stream-of-consciousness, so bear with me.

-Starts in the middle of the “civil war.” Start the prequels with the clone wars already underway.
-Vader lets his troops do the fighting, he interrogates
-What is Leia doing? Mystery!
-Have a consul ship “with an ambassador”
-Use stun settings somewhere
-Droid banter is fun
-Empire is overconfident/hubris. Give a reason why…
-It’s fun to see new worlds and aliens
-Literally every scene has conflict in it and this informs us of character
-Seems like C-3P0 doesn’t really know R2D2. Doesn’t even like him until the end of the movie. Don’t put them in the prequels.
-Owen Lars knows Obi Wan and Luke’s father, but doesn’t want to talk about it
-What if Beru is Anakin’s sister? A literal Aunt and Uncle.
-These worlds are dangerous. People die.
-Jedi trick: Vocal mimicry? Obi Wan made a ridiculous screech to scare off the sand people.
-Jedi healing: Hand over face.
-“Obi Wan” is his official, Republic name. He’s Ben to friends.
-Ben didn’t own a droid.
-Owen thought “your father should have stayed here and not gotten involved.” So Anakin really is from Tatooine. But instead of the exact same start…Maybe have Anakin “fresh off the bus” on Coruscant. Bright eyed and idealistic. The Republic doesn’t need him, they have plenty of people.  Gets swindled by locals and ends up homeless. Until he crosses paths with Major Kenobi…
-Response to “you fought in the clone wars?” Is “Yes, I was once a Jedi Knight. Same as your father.”
-Anakin was the best Star Pilot in the galaxy.
-Wanted his son to have his lightsaber, when he was old enough. Maybe said in the abstract to Ben? In a life or death situation? “I imagined a family,” etc…
-Jedi Knights were gentlemen.
-General Kenobi served Bail Organa in the Clone Wars
-“We’re being deployed. To Alderaan.”
-Maybe a “If you ever need me” moment from Kenobi to Organa.
-Imperial Senate must exist the whole time. It gets officially disbanded in this movie.
-The robes. Jesus, do Jawas wear tiny Jedi robes? No. Those aren’t a thing. Obi Wan is wearing a desert hermit’s outfit, not the official uniform of a League of Badasses.
-Random droid racism in the cantina
-Clone War Idea: Clones take a while to “bake” but they come out identical. If you rush the process, they deform like monsters and are mentally unstable. As the clone wars progress, there are more and more of the latter kind. In keeping with “starting in the middle” most of the clone troops we see in the opening have some sort of deformity and a quick temper.
-Outer systems are the Wild West, Imperial systems are colonial Britain
-Big trooper rifles need backpacks
-Han’s skepticism implies that the Jedi were secret. More powerful if people don’t know your tricks. Obi Wan was a General who was also a Knight in a secret society.
-The first rebel base is on Dantooine. Leave it there so audiences think Leia really did give away the location if they were to watch these in numerical order.
-“I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”
-Tractor beams are things.
-Give Prince Bail Organa a sweet cape. Anakin likes the look of it.
-Remember, this is a high tech analog world. Nothing is wireless.
-None of our heroes agree on anything.
-Most of the imperial officers are old. Maybe the “new” Empire is run by 20-somethings? Hitler-youthesque.
-“Not as clumsy or random as a blaster” no kidding. Those things can’t hit anything.
-“spirited droids” are great. Maybe a little flying one who helps Anakin?
-Same Jedi “sound trick” used on stormtroopers
-Jedi avoid engagement. Outsmart their opponents
-Humor, humor, humor!
-Vader is genuinely surprised when Obi Wan disappears
-The Republic should use new, shiny X and Y wings. The Empire tech later replaces it all. The rebellion uses the junk.
-Surprises and twists!

That’s it for now. Time for Empire!


Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Are the prequels in need of a reboot? Excited to check out this side-project?

Leave me a comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Final Results (Freebie Promo)

Final post in the series Lessons Learned from the INFECTED giveaway.

Okay, I promised a final analysis and now–two weeks after the promotion–I’m ready to deliver. Here you’ll see the good, the bad, and the ugly. Time for some results, flaws and all.

Thanks, random sign holder!

The Good

If you recall the results from Day One, my pre-promo sales of INFECTED were low (if not stable) and my sales ranking was a sad state of affairs (jumping between 40k and 100k depending on how recent the day’s sale occurred). INFECTED had never cracked the 20k sales ranking in its history.

The giveaway crushed those numbers.

Best sales rank post-promo, 12 January.
Best sales rank in the paid store, post-promo, 12 January.
January Sales Data: Red indicates the Free promo days. Yellow is a holiday.
INFECTED January Sales Data: Red indicates the Free promo days. Yellow is a holiday.

My post-giveaway numbers are (knock on wood) staying higher than they were before the promotion. The weekend after the promotion saw 79 combined sales and borrows and nearly paid for the whole promo just using those two days. Note that these numbers do not include foreign sales or paperback units, both of which have increased.

Another huge win in the ‘Good’ category is increased discoverability. This may seem strange, but before the promo I had to tell people to search amazon for “Click Your Poison” to find the book, because there were too many things called “Infected” in the kindle store (164 as of publishing this article). Now, I’m the #1 search result, which is huge.

Top INFECTED searchLESSON LEARNED: This is tangential to a promo, but important enough to share. When I originally wrote the story for INFECTED in early 2008, there was nothing out there with that title. When I published the kindle version a little over a year ago, I didn’t bother to check if the title was taken. Granted, you can’t copyright a title, but you don’t want to exist in the shadow of another book either.

The Bad

I did not crack the Top 20 overall free kindle books. This was one of my goals, and I’d missed it. I wanted to be the #1 free book if truth be told, but that didn’t happen. Still, I feel like I did everything in my power to promote the book. In the end, horror just isn’t as popular as genres such as romance. Nothing I can do about that. I write books that I would like to read.

MURDERED sales numbers have not seen a significant post-promo boost. In fact, the sales are worse than they were before the promo.

MURDERED January Sales Data: Green indicates the Free promo days. Yellow is a holiday.
MURDERED January Sales Data: Green indicates the Free promo days. Yellow is a holiday.

You’ll see there was a boost on the last day of the promotion which carried only so far as the day after. Why the drop? I’m not doing anything to promote the book right now, and the buzz is centered directly around INFECTED, so my new release is starting to stagnate. Will it go up once people have more of a chance to read the first book and start looking for more in the series? Time will tell.

The Ugly

The book has gained 12 new reviews since the promo began. This is a good thing. What makes it ugly, is that 1/3 of them were negative. From what I’ve read and seen from other authors, this isn’t all that uncommon. I’ve also heard that negative reviews can help your book, because it makes it seem more genuine. Pre-promo, my 48 reviews were all 4 or 5 stars, giving some people the (false!) impression that I’d paid or begged for positive reviews. If I’m lucky, this’ll shut some of those people up.

What makes some of these reviews ugly isn’t that some people didn’t like the book (I can deal with that), it’s that they actively tried to hurt my success. The first negative review was entitled, Don’t pay for this.” Not much of an opinion so much as a command.

Another reviewer attacked the originality of the book, stating that I stole ideas from The Walking Dead because I set my survivor group up in a prison. Tangent alert! When I wrote the book, I set my survivor group in a prison a year before the cast did so on The Walking Dead. It’s a smart place to go in the event of the zombie apocalypse. But Parallel Development does happen.

Okay, enough of that. Time for…

The Final Word

LESSONS LEARNED:
DO use BookBub.
DO prepare beforehand.
DO share word of the promo with your fans, and if people spread the word, DO say thanks.
DO NOT sweat over the results. What will be, will be.
DO NOT let the bad reviews get to you.
DO learn from your mistakes.

INFECTED Promo Results (Day Three)

Continued from Lessons Learned from the INFECTED giveaway.

One of the many promo pics I made to entice readers.
One of the many promo pics I made to entice readers.

January 10th
Today starts the final day of my free promotion, and it is with some apprehension that I begin. I’ve read that the “magic number” is 20k downloads. If you get less than that, your promotion was not worth it. You also need to make it into the Top 20 free books (overall) on Amazon’s best sellers list. Bearing those stats in mind, let’s see how we’ll start off the day:

NOTE: CLICK ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE

Downloads as of 0600, January 10th.
5640 Downloads as of 0600, January 10th.
Somethin'
No change (save for category updates).

Woof. No update in the ranking and a measly 300 downloads overnight. Fear is sinking in… Am I doing this for nothing? Have I spent all this money advertising only to fail? But I can’t think that way. Today is my BookBub day, they’re supposed to be the best of the best, and that announcement hasn’t gone out yet. Holding out faith for “BookBub the Almighty” I’m still worried. I’m listed in the horror category which is one of their smaller lists. As you can see in the pricing chart below, the average downloads for a free horror book are 6,700 with a historical maximum of 10k over the entire promotion.

I really need to get MURDERED on a promotion... possibly to coincide with the launch of book 3?
I really need to get MURDERED on a promotion… possibly to coincide with the launch of book 3?

Seeing as how I’m only using a single day of BookBub, I’m thinking I’ll be lucky to get 6k. Which means <12k downloads. Which means… failure. Well, at this point what’s done is done. Best to let it play out and hope for the best (along with continued plugs on social media). Yesterday’s lesson was to be patient and not to panic, so I’ll try to keep that in mind as the day progresses.

Here’s a mid-day update, after BookBub has gone out:

14090 Downloads as of 1400, January 10th.
14090 Downloads as of 1400, January 10th.
Holy Crepe! Look at those numbers...
Holy Crepe! Look at those numbers…

Whoa! Now that the BookBub announcement has gone out, the downloads are gushing forth like spray from a firehose. I can literally refresh the page every few seconds and see more and more downloads. #26 overall! Maybe I’ll make the Top 20 before the day is through?

LESSON LEARNED: BookBub rocks. Until something changes, don’t do a free book promotion without them. This is my honest advice.

With numbers like this, I’m very very hopeful again. Though I’ll only be “On top of the world!” for a fleeting instant, it’s nice to bask in that accomplishment. When you do your own promotion, don’t forget to do so as well.

LESSON LEARNED: Enjoy yourself.

Topping the combined SciFi & Fantasy chart as of 1800.
Topping the combined SciFi & Fantasy chart as of 1800.
Best in horror as of 1800.
Best in horror as of 1800.

Everything’s going my way! This is amazing! I’m climbing the chart, I’m absolutely killing it, I —- just got a 1-start review. What? Ugh. Hours before my promo ends, someone shows up and says “Do not buy.”

Surprise! Kinda changes the experience, doesn’t it?

LESSON LEARNED: Shrug off the haters. As much as it sucks getting negative reviews or bad press (someone also posted in the comments of an INFECTED blog review how much they hated it…), if you manage to give out 20k copies, you’re bound to have some readers that don’t like what you’ve done. There’s no pleasing everyone.

Okay, time for one last check as the promo ends…

Over 20k downloads!
Over 20k downloads!
Agh! So close...
Agh! So close…

The best INFECTED was rated during the promotion was #22 Free in Kindle Store, so I didn’t quite make the Top 20, but I did (barely) make 20k downloads. Will it be enough? Time will tell…

Up next — Two Week After a Free Promo!

INFECTED Promo Results (Day One)

As promised, here are my results and Lessons Learned from the INFECTED giveaway.

What did this do to you? Tell me. And remember, this is for posterity so be honest. How do you feel?” — Count Rugen, The Princess Bride

January 7th
With everything set up to go the night before, one last stat-check. Below you can see my pre-giveaway sales numbers and the ranking for INFECTED. In the spirit of honesty, I’m sharing my less than stellar numbers. Hopefully that means you won’t mind my bragging after the promotion, right?!

NOTE: CLICK ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE

Sales numbers as of 1730, January 7th.
Sales numbers as of 1730, January 7th.

Yowza! Impressive, right?
Yowza! Impressive, right? [/sarcasm_font]
INFECTED has been oddly steady over the past year, garnering almost exactly 2 sales per day (+/- 1). Usually, it’ll jump to somewhere in the mid #40k rankings, then return to the #100k block until the next day’s sales. MURDERED, as you can see, is still building momentum. Hopefully, that should be one of the side-effects of this promotion. INFECTED has never gone lower (higher?) than #19k in the kindle store, while MURDERED made it to mid #12k. Goal is to crush those records in the coming days. Well, time for bed!

January 8th
Good morning! With Kindle Fire Department set to announce me today, as well as a whole slew of free resources (most of them ask for a giveaway window and there’s no garauntee that they will feature your book, let alone when they’ll do it. It is a free service, after all. I’ll assess which ones worked and which didn’t in my final thoughts), we’re ready to kick off the free promotion. Let’s check the overnight stats:

Downloads as of 0600, Jan 8th
82 Downloads as of 0600, January 8th.
Blah
Numbers are already higher than paid numbers, not that this means anything.

This is before any site announced the giveaway, as far as I know. Interesting that one person bought the book before it went on sale… Thanks, whoever you are! The goal of the promotion is to get your rank as high as possible — it’s a race to #1. If you can make it into the top #20 or #10, then people will start downloading your book just from browsing the top free ebooks on amazon, thus increasing the snowball effect.

In addition to the websites listed on my previous post, it’s also important to do your own marketing. As such, I blogged about the giveaway, tweeted the heck out of it (including a link in my “welcome DM” on @clickyourpoison), and created an event on goodreads and on facebook:

An event is a great tool because it sends a notification rather than risking being lost in the feed. Be careful not to hound your friends too much...
An event is a great tool because it sends a notification to those invited (rather than risking being lost in the feed). Be careful not to hound your friends too much though…

Let’s check the mid-day numbers, after the promotion has been announced:

dfdf
909 Downloads as of 1400, January 8th.
BOOM! Big jump. Off to a great start.
BOOM! Big jump. Off to a great start.

Okay, so from what I’ve researched, these are awesome numbers. Especially for an author with a small fan-base who has never done anything like this before. Which leads us to the first lesson learned. Yup, I’ve already made a mistake.

LESSON LEARNED: Categories. See how I’m already #6 in Horror > Occult? That’s actually not a good thing this early into the promotion. I originally chose this category as “low-hanging fruit” because it’s easy to climb the chart (there aren’t too many books competing for space). Which is a good thing when you’re trying to keep your paid ranking high, but when you’re doing a free promotion, you should shoot the moon. So, I looked up the bestselling books most similar to mine and mirrored their categories. I settled on Science Fiction > Post-Apocalyptic and Horror > United States. I called Amazon customer support to get them to quickly change my categories, so hopefully within 24 hours the rankings will be fixed. Lesson Learned? Update your “shoot the moon” categories before your promotion.

Okay, took a hike just to get away from the craziness, then spent the late afternoon/evening posting on facebook groups and tweeting. I had joined several “zombie fan” groups on facebook in the weeks prior, and now used the opportunity to spread the word. When you’re offering something free, most people don’t mind.

Let’s check the numbers once more before bed, shall we? Okay!

Downloads as of 2200, January 8th.
2236 Downloads as of 2200, January 8th.
Already updated the categories, nice!
Already updated the categories, nice!

In addition to all the free downloads, that’s also 4 sales of MURDERED in 24 hours. Great first day, see you tomorrow!

Continue to INFECTED Promo Results (Day Two)

Lessons Learned: Free ebook Promotion

[In keeping with my New Year’s Resolution, here’s some info about what I’ve done right and what I’ve done wrong. First entry in the Lessons Learned category]

First, a quick overview for those not in the know (or wanting a refresher) about a KDP Select ebook promotion over amazon. To be enrolled in KDP Select, an ebook must be exclusively available for sale on the amazon kindle for a period of 90 days. During that 90 days, the book may be offered for free or as a $0.99 sale for up to 5 days. I went exclusive with Amazon last year because, as another perk, readers can “borrow” your book for their kindle for free (while the author still enjoys a royalty) and these “borrows” are still incorporated into sales ranking. My sales from all outside ebook channels were quickly eclipsed by borrows, so I’m very pleased with that decision, but this is my first KDP promotion.

Why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free? I’ll admit, it seemed counter-intuitive to me at first. How can you possibly make a living as a writer giving your books away for free? First and foremost, it should be noted that this tool should be used wisely, and in such, promotions should be limited. Give away your book too often, and your sales will fall through the floor. That’s why I chose to promote INFECTED a month after the release of my new book, MURDERED (after it had time to gain a few reviews), and why I’ve made clear that it’s available for free 8-10 Jan ONLY.

It’s all a game. A free ebook promotion should be treated like a strategy game, with free downloads counting as so much monopoly money. The only difference is, if you win, to the victor go the spoils. That is to say, if you play the game right, you can see some rewards in the real world. The first benefit is increasing your standing in the amazon ranking system. You know that section under the product description on an amazon page where it says “Customers who bought this also bought”? That’s you now. With this marketing tool, every free download counts as a purchase. So, with several thousand downloads, your book will now appear all over amazon’s sales rankings.

Amazon is the banker, and it’s your job to make sure your book passes “Go” as many times as possible. C’mon, doubles!

Second, is increasing your book’s presence. As any new author will attest, getting people to discover that your book exists is the hardest part. Giving away your book is a great way to increase word-of-mouth buzz, especially if you have multiple books in a series. People who enjoyed your book during it’s limited free promotion may convince their friends it’s worth it to pay for the experience once it’s no longer free. They may also check out your other books themselves.

The cornerstone of your strategy is visibility. There are many websites out there dedicated to letting readers know when a great free deal comes along, and it’s in your best interest to use them. Some are paid services, but have proven worth it to many authors. The bigger ones have hundreds of thousands of subscribers who might be interested in your book. It’s likely that many who frequent free book email-blast and announcement websites weren’t out looking to buy anyway, so don’t think of these free downloads as lost sales. Think of them as new opportunities.

Allow me to break my strategy down for you. I went with a “go big or go home approach” and I used a total of 44 websites to announce my giveaway (staggered over the three-day period), only 4 of which were paid services. I also used the model put forth last year by Elle Lothlorian, combined with a few other tricks I’d picked up in my research. Like her, I’ll break down exactly what I did and how it worked out for me.

Paid Services: BookBub, an oft-touted service considered by many to be the #1 way to announce your promotion, was my front line. I contacted them first to check their availability and settled on Friday, January 10th for their announcement. The second heavy hitter is Book Blast, and they were able to accommodate me for January 9th. The third biggie I chose was Kindle Fire Department, who had an opening to feature INFECTED on January 8th. Not that it was my intent, but I ended up being featured by these websites from least popular to most. I think this has actually helped my “snowball effect” greatly. As I’m writing this on day two of the promotion… we’ll see! The fourth paid service was Sweet Free Ebooks, a $5 posting set to go off on January 9th.

Free Services: For the other 40 announcements, I used a list on eBook Booster (you can pay to have your book submitted automatically, but I took a full day to contact them myself) and the list on Author Marketing Club. INFECTED was set to be reviewed by Horror Novel Reviews and I asked if they could time it to coincide with the promotion. I also had reviews set up for MURDERED over at Evolved World and You’ve Got Red On You and asked if they would give a shout out for the promotion as well. All three requests were kindly granted.

So… Ready for some results and numbers? Check out INFECTED Promo Results (Day One)