Saturday, July 30, 2011

Olde Analyst Seeks Hard Data

I write stories.

It's what I've always done.

It's what I need to do, because I've discovered that I'm not really happy unless I am writing. And the absolute BEST thing about writing stories, is having people read and enjoy them.

However, back in the "not-so-good, old days" when I slaved away at a Dreaded Day Job, I worked for many years as an analyst. I learned how to gather data, study and manipulate it, and make some assumptions and conclusions based on it. Over the years I actually became quite good at my job. But just like lots of things in different parts of my life, my analytic tendencies carried over from my professional realm into my personal, and you know what they say about old habits.

When I quit my Dreaded Day Job and started writing with an aim toward publishing novels, I figured my analytic days were done. After all, two complete opposite sides of the brain were involved in these two activities -- the logical side and the creative side.

But the Olde Analyst in me refused to go quietly. Before I sold my first book, the Olde Analyst insisted I look at data from each editor and/or agent before I sent out a submission. Exactly what kinds of books were they acquiring? Not just length, sub-genre, and setting, but also frequency, and ratio of new to existing authors. Yes, crazy I know, but it did help divert me from all those many rejections.

However, once I did sell, and more than one book, Olde Analyst became obsessed with a new mission: What makes a reader buy a book?

Believe me, Olde Analyst is full of theories! Do blog tours sell books? Print advertising? Reviews? Book signings? Giving away swag? Tweeting? But she can't seem to reach any conclusions because there is a shocking lack of hard data!

I mean, there's plenty of ANECDOTAL info... Everyone has an opinion, after all! But where are the actual numbers? Sadly, there aren't any. Or none that are reliable (meaning I can verify them).

I FEEL that the more often readers see my name (like on blog tours), the more likely they are to seek out and buy my book.
I FEEL that the two print ads I placed in Romantic Times Magazine resulted in more sales (I know they resulted in those books getting reviewed by the magazine).
I FEEL like good reviews help (and bad reviews hurt).

But I can't find any numbers to back up my feelings.

As for book signings, swag, tweets, and a whole host of other things -- I have absolutely no idea! And that drives the Olde Analyst bonkers.

So tell me, dear readers, WHAT MAKES YOU BUY A BOOK? Do blogs, book signings, tweets, or reviews matter? And if they don't then what does?

Have mercy on the Olde Analyst and give her some numbers to crunch!

Friday, July 22, 2011

I DO NOT Talk to Recordings!

It happened again this morning -- the phone rang at 8 AM.

This was the third time in a week, and yes it woke me up. Not from a deep sleep, the dogs did that at 7:30, but I always take a lovely little snooze for about an hour after I let them out. But sleep is sleep and I do NOT like my lovely little snoozes interrupted.

Because we had a family emergency last week, when the phone jangled me awake, I leaped up to answer, fearing the worst. I pressed the button and squeaked out hello, only to be treated to that annoying robotic voice: "This-is-an-im-por-tant-mess-age-for..." and then mispronounced my name. I'm sure I uttered a most unladylike expletive as I hung up the phone.

If this mess-age is so very IM-POR-TANT, then have a LIVE PERSON call me! I am sick and tired of companies using automated calling systems. Nine times out of ten, if I press the number the recording tells me to, I'm put on hold for several minutes. If it is so very IM-POR-TANT, why do I have to WAIT?!?! And once I do get a live person, they usually ask for someone I've never heard of, but who has my last name (which they always mispronounce). Since when is it logical to assume that I know every person who has the same last name I do? Or that they ALL live with me and share the same phone? Brilliant logic in place there -- NOT!

More than once I've been connected to YET ANOTHER recording telling me to call a completely different number (NO WAY until I know WTH this is about!) or to call back "during our business hours."

EXCUSE ME?!?! It's okay to disturb ME during NON-business hours but not you? I won't even dignify that with a non-expletive laden response.

I've signed up for every Do-Not-Call list I can find, but apparently it doesn't matter. If my telephone number is listed in the phone directory, I'm fair game for every so-called business that can buy an automated calling device or service.


I'm sorry to say that on the rare occasions I DO actually get a live person, I am NOT polite to them. But what do they expect? I tend to be downright cranky when I'm awakened for a recording that has nothing to do with me! I'll also confess to sometimes being so frustrated that I shout at the recording. Aggravation will do that to a person, especially when it is the third time in as many days.

So as of this morning, I've made a vow: I WILL NOT RESPOND TO ANY RECORDINGS!

Have a live person call, or you won't reach me! Oh, and if you don't know how to pronounce my name, then you don't know me and I am not talking to you!

Okay, rant over for today... until the next phone call.

How do you feel about automated phone calls? Do you respond? Hang up? Get annoyed? (Please don't tell me I'm the only one who rants and raves at recordings!)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ideas From The News

Writer get asked about ideas a lot, as in "Where do you get them?" The snarky answer is to say, in full out serious mode, "From the idea store."

Yes, I admit, I've said it a few times.

But the truth is that ideas (at least for me) come from EVERYWHERE! And yes, I do keep an "idea file" where I jot down interesting tidbits that might someday find their way into one of my stories. Or even become an entire story. I never quite know.

For example, the local news last night had two pieces that could easily be turned into books. Now I'm talking just my local area, not international news where something like a major corporation was found to be wire tapping all kinds of famous people's phones. Or even national news like the mother who was exonerated for killing her toddler even though she blatantly lied to authorities about the child's whereabouts. These two stories were equally tragic, but involved people who live only a few miles from me.

First was the newlywed couple who were on their honeymoon in the Bahamas. They were in a double parasail and the harness broke. She was killed and he was seriously injured. How sad, but also great fodder for characters.

Second was the charter fishing boat that sank in the Sea of Cortez in the middle of the night in an unexpected storm. There were twenty-seven people on board and as of last night six were still missing. There were several local men on that boat who survived the harrowing ordeal. One man was interviewed on two different local news stations. He survived by grabbing the lid of an ice chest and floating on it for several hours. Then he swam five miles to some rocks jutting out of the water, climbed on them, and waited until daylight to be rescued by some other passing fishermen.

The part that really stayed with me about this man's story was how he described being flung into the water as the ship was struck by a huge wave. He said when he got back to the surface and looked at the ship, it's bow was underwater and the stern was sticking straight up in the air " the Titanic" and then it sank.

Truth really is stranger than fiction, and nothing drives home that point better than watching the news! I don't know if I will ever use either of these real-life happenings in a story, but they are definitely going into that "idea file."

What about you? Have you heard or read any story worthy ideas lately? Please share them with all of us!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Picnic Time!

Here in the US, we are enjoying a long holiday weekend. Our Independence Day happens to fall on Monday this year, so we are taking three days to celebrate. The 4th of July has always been a day for picnics and/or bar-be-cues because the weather is usually warm and most businesses close for the holiday.

What could be more perfect than a summer picnic?

So based on a totally unscientific survey of my friends and family, here are the top 5 foods that will be served this weekend at neighborhood bar-be-cues or picnics:

  1. Hamburgers (I happen to like them juicy with ketchup, mustard, and lettuce.)
  2. Hot dogs (These tend to give me indigestion so I generally avoid them.)
  3. Watermelon (Melons don't 'agree' with me, but I do LOVE watermelon!)
  4. Ice Cream (GIVE ME A SCOOP! Any flavor will do.)
  5. Potato salad (Make mine with hard boiled eggs, please!)
What about you? Are you having a picnic or bar-be-cue this weekend or in the near future?

What are your favorite foods to eat at a picnic?